• Alyce Bender

Of Pronghorn and Pika: Photographing Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park in June

Updated: Jul 8, 2021


Grand Teton at Sunrise | A Bender Photography LLC
Nikon D500 | Tamron 18-400mm | 1 sec | f/22 | ISO 64 | tripod mounted

After my whirlwind trip around the southwest (you can read about it here if you missed my last newsletter), I decided I needed something a bit less hurried. Thankfully I had booked campsites in the Tetons and Yellowstone many months ago, as this year many campgrounds that previously operated on a first come-first serve basis have gone to reservation-only systems due to the exponential growth in demand.


Travel tip: If you are planning on visiting these parks in say September of this year and you don't have lodging reservations yet, I highly suggest you get on it! I was making my plans for late September the week prior to this trip (so in late May), many campgrounds were already fully booked. For late September, I couldn't get a camp spot in Mammoth Spring Camp (Yellowstone) for consecutive weekdays either. I was able to get reservations the site, but have to jump spots each night while there. Download the Recreation.gov app for easy access in searching, booking, and confirming your campsites on federal lands across the U.S.


I started driving towards Colorado from Texas on June 1st. I set a personal record (my second longest drive day ever) clocking-in at just under sixteen hours driving from San Antonio, TX, to Fort Collins, CO. That travel route also gave me a touch of altitude sickness as I crossed over Raton Pass (7,834 ft). As a flatlander, I have found that changes of more than 5,000-6,000 ft of elevation in a single day (outside of pressurized air travel) will activate altitude sickness for me. This is obviously a hinderance to me as a nature photographer and means I do have to allow myself more adjustment time than others in this career for locations such as the Rocky Mountains, Eastern Sierras, or Cascades. By making it to Fort Collins, my overnight rest would help me acclimate since the city lies at about 5,000 ft. By comparison, my home in San Antonio sits only at 700 ft above sea level. Taking this time to rest meant that by the time I reached the Tetons, where the average elevation is about 6,500 ft, I would be adjusted enough to do light hikes and basic photography my first day in the park without adverse effects. The longer I am in the area, the more adjusted my body gets to the thinner air and the more I can do. This is another reason for me to take my time while up there.


Once in the park, I was greeted with bright blue skies, unseasonably warm temperatures, and a multitude of wildflowers. This was the latest I had been in the parks during spring, so the added pops of color in the landscape were a welcome change. My main goals for this trip were to work on adding to my collection of pronghorn images and, when in Yellowstone, photograph low elevation pikas. However, when I rolled into Grand Teton through Antelope Flats, there was not a single pronghorn to be found. To clarify, when they say 'antelope' in this part of the country, they are referring to pronghorns. Prior to this trip I had never come through this area and not seen at least one or two of these animals in their namesake habitat. It was at this point I began to worry I may have made a mistake in the timing of my trip.


Getting checked into camp at Gros Ventre Campground at the south end of the park, I inquired with the ranger on animal sightings. She bluntly stated that after the previous weekend (Memorial Day weekend) saw an overflow of the campground and everything that comes with excessive numbers of people - noise, traffic, and saturation of humans exploring the woods - combined with an unexpected heat wave, most of the animals seemed to have headed for the hills. Where in previous years the Tetons often felt like photographing fish in a barrel, this visit was going to make me work for my images and test my skills in this field. And that is exactly what it did.


For those who follow me on Instagram, I have mentioned a few of the challenges I faced since I started sharing images from the trip. After covering so many miles while searching for wildlife throughout the parks, I like to focus on specific challenges I faced (rather than locations) in hopes it helps you overcome similar hurdles you may face when out photographing.


The over-arching challenge for wildlife or landscape images was the persistent clear skies. Some of the best weather you could ask for as a hiker is often some of the most challenging to work with as a photographer.


Unlike with traditional compositions, that typically rely on an interesting sky to bring an additional element to the scene, sunrises with clear skies led to working to minimizing the sky in images instead. My favorite sunrise location in the Tetons is the ever-popular Schwabacher Landing. The landing is a favorite location of mine, and I could easily sit here all day, enjoying the sound of the water flowing over the beaver dam, warblers singing, and the smell of the evergreens on the breeze. All this comes with the majesty of the Tetons towering, ever present, over the valley.


Pre-dawn sunrise at Schwabacher's Landing | A Bender Photography LLC
Nikon D500 | Tamron 18-400mm | 20 sec | f/16 | ISO 320 | tripod mounted

By introducing foreground elements beyond just the reflection of the peaks, there is less room in the image for the clear sky and it gives the viewer an additional element to contemplate. Instead of entering the image and going straight for the mountain peaks under a wonderous sky, the introduction of a foreground such as the river bank, helps guide and ground your viewer to the scene and minimizes the lack of an interesting sky. There is still no doubt about it being a bluebird day (a day where the sky is as blue as a bluebird, without cloud), but it gives viewers a perspective of this famous range at sunrise when they themselves may usually still be abed.


Logistics tip: If visiting in June, be aware of exactly how long the days are this time of year. If you are going to be getting up pre-sunrise and staying out past sunset, make sure to block out time in the afternoons for a nap. This will not only keep you sharp behind the camera, but also behind the wheel. With sunrise happening at about 5:40am the morning these images were taken, this meant that I was up about 4:15am to leave camp by 4:30am to arrive at the Landing by 5am in order to claim a parking spot for both my vehicle and tripod. Sunset was after 9pm that night with light lasting until almost 10pm. June 21st is the Summer Solstice and the longest day of the year with Grand Teton seeing almost 16 full hours of sunshine.


Photo tip: Don't pack up early, even if you think the sunrise/sunset is not going to develop into an epic spectacle. You are already there and you owe it to yourself and your craft to work at it. You also can never be certain that nothing is going to occur that you otherwise would want to capture. The image below, along with the very first image in the article, were taken about 35 minutes after the image above. You can see where the alpine glow went from almost non-existent to a full and deep magenta that washed all the way down, almost to the very feet of the mountains.


Sunrise at Schwabacher's Landing | A Bender Photography LLC
Nikon D500 | Tamron 18-400mm | 1 sec | f/22 | ISO 64 | tripod mounted

The other type of landscape image I worked on were those of flowers with the mountains in the background shortly after sunrise. Those of you who have followed my work for any amount of time will know I have a deep love of shallow depths of field rather than doing a focus stacked images where both flowers and mountains would be in sharp focus. These are the types of decisions in field that you, the photographer and artist, make in order to see your vision come to life. Doing this enough will allow you to find your own voice, your own style... your signature look. As these traits build throughout your body of work, it will create a cohesive portfolio.


Lupine in bloom with Grand Teton mountains in background | A Bender Photography LLC
Nikon D500 | Tamron 10-24mm | 1/320 | f/5.6 | ISO 200
An intimate landscape of yellow and purple flowers lupine are the focus of this image with both a soft foreground and background | A Bender Photography LLC
Nikon D500 | Tamron 150-600mm G2 | 1/1250 | f/6.3 | ISO 1600

Clear skies also meant that when I did find wildlife it was often in harsh light. The lack of clouds and the time of year meant that I had little to no soft light in the morning as the sun came up in all its fiery glory. By evening when the shadows did get longer and there was a touch of softer golden hour, the temperatures were such that most wildlife was long gone and had yet to reemerge from their day time shelters.


Photo tip: Harsh light requires a bit of editing in post to bring down the highlights and bring up the shadows. To ensure you have enough detail in both the highlights and shadows to work with, watch your histogram like a hawk. The movement of a tree limb can increase or decrease the light on your subject when in harsh dappled light; if you subject is moving in an out of the shadows, the light can reflect differently from their coat.


Photographing pronghorn during "midday" (starting about 9am and lasting until about 6 or 7pm) came with the additional challenge of ensuring I did not overexpose the white in their coats and lose all detail of the fur.


Female pronghorn in sage brush | A Bender Photography LLC
Nikon D500 | Tamron 150-600mm G2 | 1/2000 | f/7.1 | ISO 640

This time of year the female pronghorns (does) gather together in small herds in order to maximize protection for themselves and any newborn fawns they have. While I saw several fawns while traveling to and from the parks, I did not actually find any with the pronghorns I observed within the park. However, many of the does showed signs of impending birth.


A herd of pronghorn does in golden morning light | A Bender Photography LLC
Nikon D500 | Tamron 150-600mm G2 | 1/1600 | f/6.3 | ISO 500

The males tend to roam alone, marking territories and grazing to put on weight and horn for the coming fall rut. I was thrilled to find this buck in a field of blooming dandelions - even though it was in harsh late morning light.


Pronghorn buck in field of dandelion flowers in Grand Teton | A Bender Photography LLC
Nikon D500 | Tamron 150-600mm G2 | 1/1600 | f/7.1 | ISO 800

Photo tip: In scenes with bright colored flowers like yellow or red, be sure to look at your color histograms as well to make sure you are not blowing out the yellow or red highlights. Just like the grey scale histogram, these let you know when you have lost detail in the red or yellow highlight areas meaning you will not be able to pull any detail back into those spaces even in post processing.


The below image was not taken in the parks, but on the side of the road somewhere in Wyoming on my way back home. I think it is a good example of how sometimes you can get creative when faced with less than ideal lighting. It is also an example of how mistakes can become works of art. I was excited to find a doe close to the road and in an area I could safely pull over. When I got out of the car, I had forgotten I had spot metering mode on (usually in harsh light I will use matrix meter to give me an average read of the scene and adjust from there as needed per my histogram). Focusing on the eye gave me a very dark reading and this meant I overexposed the vast majority of the image. Yet these details remained and, honestly, it is one of my favorite pronghorn images.


High Key artistic Pronghorn portrait head shot image | A Bender Photography LLC
Nikon D500 | Tamron 150-600mm G2 | 1/200 | f/7.1 | ISO 800

Back in the parks, with the heat being what it was, I was really surprised to actually be able to find a moose. While it was still relatively early in the morning (about 1000), the heat was already above 75°F. But when they are hungry, the heat and mosquitoes won't stop a growing bull moose from his veggies. Moose are such dark animals that they are notoriously hard to photograph. In this situation where the morning light was highlighting the background tree line while the side he had towards me was being lit by reflected light, I had to carefully balance my exposure to ensure detail in him without just blowing the entire background out.


black and white image of a moose eating in a vegetation covered pond | A Bender Photography LLC
Nikon D500 | Tamron 150-600mm G2 | 1/1250 | f/7.1 | ISO 800

Due to this stark contrast, I felt that converting the image to black and white would be best as it allows the viewer to see the details, such as his eye and coat, while not being distracted by the extremely green background.


An close up image of a moose eating vegetation in a pond | A Bender Photography LLC
Nikon D500 | Tamron 150-600mm G2 | 1/1250 | f/8 | ISO 1600

Beyond the open harsh light, the other lighting challenge I continuously faced was backlighting. Some photographers love backlighting and, done well, it can create really stunning results. For me, it is probably the lighting situation I had the least experience with as I routinely try to position myself for front or side light on my subjects. After this trip, I think I gained enough experience in backlighting to last me a while! It really did seem that Mother Nature was throwing all her curve balls at me. The following is a collection of images from this trip, with a variety of backlit wildlife from elk to pika.


A backlit female elk cow in a field of lupine in golden morning light | A Bender Photography LLC
Nikon D500 | Tamron 150-600mm G2 | 1/3200 | f/6.3 | ISO 1250
A yellow-bellied marmot stands up in a patch of grass | A Bender Photography LLC
Nikon D500 | Tamron 150-600mm G2 | 1/1250 | f/7.1 | ISO 800
A young fox kit blacklit and sitting on a sandy hill den | A Bender Photography LLCin the forest
Nikon D500 | Tamron 150-600mm G2 | 1/1000 | f/7.1 | ISO 1250
A pika siting on a rock in Yellowstone National Park | A Bender Photography LLC
Nikon D500 | Tamron 150-600mm G2 | 1/1250 | f/7.1 | ISO 2000

As I mentioned earlier, the end of the day did usually provide for a couple hours on either side of sunset that had either golden or even lighting as night fell. It was during these times that I became the most productive and had several amazing wildlife encounters that I had not counted on when planning this trip.


American bison are quintessential residence of both parks. I was lucky enough to come across them during golden hour several times. The first was in Grand Teton where a band of bulls were strutting across one of the fields.


An American bison bull walks through a field at sunset in golden light | A Bender Photography LLC
Nikon D500 | Tamron 100-400mm | 1/500 | f/7.1 | ISO 800

The other time was in Yellowstone. Here there was a good size herd of bison cows with their red dogs (calves) close to the road. Stopping to watch them I was thoroughly entertained when the calves all started getting "zoomies" (technical term I assure you). This created a cascade effect among all the little red dogs resulting in seven or eight calves all running around, jumping, bucking, and side swiping the adults for about 30 minutes before they exhausted themselves. It was hilarious! During this time I decided to create both traditional and creative captures of the action.


Two american bison calves red dogs running through a field | A Bender Photography LLC
Nikon D500 | Tamron 150-600mm G2 | 1/400 | f/5.6 | ISO 5000
American bison calf red dog running between adult bison | A Bender Photography LLC
Nikon D500 | Tamron 150-600mm G2 | 1/320 | f/5.6 | ISO 5000
An abstract impressionistic photograph of an american bison calf red dog chasing a bird | A Bender Photography LLC
Nikon D500 | Tamron 150-600mm G2 | 1/20 | f/13 | ISO 1600
An American bison calf red dog kicks up its heals in Yellowstone National Park | A Bender Photography LLC
Nikon D500 | Tamron 150-600mm G2 | 1/400 | f/5.6 | ISO 5000
An American bison calf red dog plays and bucks at sunset in Yellowstone National Park | A Bender Photography LLC
Nikon D500 | Tamron 150-600mm G2 | 1/320 | f/5.6 | ISO 5000
An impressionistic artistic photograph of an american bison calf red dog running through the bushes at sunset in Yellowstone | A Bender Photography LLC
Nikon D500 | Tamron 150-600mm G2 | 1/30 | f/13 | ISO 1600

Photo tip: Situations like these reinforce the need to know your camera and what it can handle. Here I needed to use a higher ISO in order to capture the quick movements of the calves for traditional images. That being said, I know my Nikon D500 is capable of handling low light with limited noise at higher ISOs so I am comfortable shooting at ISO 5000 in situations like these. On the other hand, older cameras or more introductory level bodies many times cannot handle higher ISOs as well. To combat this, shoot in RAW and invest in a noise reduction program like Topaz AI DeNoise. It can make all the difference in the number of images you are able to keep after a trip.


Pronghorn and elk were more frequently seen once the sun had gone behind the mountains and the air started to cool. Still having to use higher ISO settings, I was able to continue shooting even as the light left the sky.


Two female pronghorn does stand next to each other at dusk | A Bender Photography LLC
Nikon D500 | Tamron 150-600mm G2 | 1/800 | f/6.3 | ISO 3200
Large bull elk in a field of sage at dusk with velvet antlers | A Bender Photography LLC
Nikon D500 | Tamron 150-600mm G2 | 1/100 | f/6.3 | ISO 8000

Less than a week into the trip and I had clouds at sunset for one night. Wandering around for a bit to see if I could spot any wildlife, I headed for Schwabacher Landing again. When the sun sets behind the mountains, using a longer exposure after sunset will allow you to still capture the details in most of the foliage and the mountains. The remaining snowpack on the mountain peaks adds interest and contrast to their shape, giving the image just a bit more pop. Getting there a bit earlier than most, I lined up on the iconic beaver pond shot of Grand Teton peak framed by evergreens and reflected in the calm dammed waters of a Snake River braid channel.


The color in the sky behind us started developing and showed great promise of a stunning sunset should we have the fortitude to wait it out as the clock was already approaching 9pm. Suddenly whispers rush through the rather large group of bystanders who had come to enjoy the sunset as well...a moose was coming out of the trees on the other side of the beaver pond! As a lighter colored calf trotted out behind her, I have never been so happy to have my Tamron 18-400mm on my camera as I was instantly able to go into wildlife mode. Pushing my ISO, I was able to rattle off a few frames before the mother took the baby back into the brush.


A young moose calf stands reflected in the water in Grand Teton National Park | A Bender Photography LLC
Nikon D500 | Tamron 18-400mm | 1/320 | f/6.3 | ISO 3200 | tight crop

As suddenly as I had jumped into wildlife mode, I changed once more to landscape photographer as the sky lit up into one of the top ten most fiery sunset displays I've photographed. Rushing back to my tripod (which had been abandoned in place when I leapt into action after the moose) I was able to easily recompose and secure an image of the blazing sunset over the Tetons.


Schwabacher's Landing Grand Teton fiery sunset with reflection in pond | A Bender Photography LLC
Nikon D500 | Tamron 18-400mm | 1/0.5 sec | f/22 | ISO 100 | tripod mounted

One might think that that evening meant my luck was changing. Unfortunately, that was not so. Shortly after sunset the clouds dissipated and we went back to blue skies and harsh lighting. Moving away from lighting challenges, I want to switch gears and talk about the heat. Obviously, heat means that animals are more likely to seek shade and bed down for the majority of the day. Understanding your specific subject and how they relate to heat when looking for specific images can be incredibly important as well.


For example, my goal while in Yellowstone was to photograph low elevation Pika. I realize it may sound odd for me to be going to Yellowstone National Park (considered the "Serengeti of North America,") to look for a small, rabbit-related rock dweller, but that's exactly what I did. I was hoping to get enough images to do an article on them for the Journal of Wildlife Photography where my quarterly contribution is highlighting species of special concern. Pika, especially low-elevation pika, are at great risk with populations declining steeply over the last couple decades. Much like the canary in the coal mine, the pika are considered to be an indicator species by scientists as to how climate change is impacting alpine ecosystems. For these and other reasons (including their denied protection under the Endangered Species Act in 2010), I want to shed light on this often overlooked, unacknowledged, and difficult to locate species.


A pika sits on a talus pile in morning light in Yellowstone | A Bender Photography LLC
Nikon D500 | Tamron 150-600mm G2 | 1/1600 | f/6.3 | ISO 1250

One trait of the pika is that they are built to withstand colder temperatures, so when the ambient temperature gets above 75°F, the pika retreat to their burrows until the weather cools. If I had remembered this the first day I was there, I might have saved myself some long hours waiting. Over four days I spent 16 hours waiting and observing a particular talus pile (the angular loose rock field at the base of a cliff or slope) about a half mile from a usually quiet picnic area south of Mammoth Hot Springs. Dressed in jeans an t-shirt, I spent five hours out of my first afternoon sitting in the sun with high hopes of seeing and photographing my first pika. I should have realized if it was warm enough for me to be in a t-shirt, it was too warm for the pika to be out.


By the time I realized my mistake, evening was getting close so I waited another hour in hopes that the air would cool and the pika would show itself. While no pika appeared, I did rally enough to photograph an American dipper as it foraged for underwater invertebrates along a branch that had fallen in the river. The color reflected in the water is from the golden light off the surrounding trees.


An American dipper stands on a log in a river getting splashed at sunset with colors reflected in the water | A Bender Photography LLC
Nikon D500 | Tamron 150-600mm G2 | 1/1250 | f/6.3 | ISO 2500

Nighttime temperatures were still dropping into the 30s (°F), so I made sure I was back out in the field at the bottom of the talus pile at sunrise the following mornings. Even then, the pika are shy creatures and being at the bottom of the food chain has made them wary of sudden movement. This meant it would take a while for them to show themselves after I arrived, and even longer still for them to get the courage to come forage within close enough proximity for me to capture useable images. Several times they were scared back into hiding by hikers coming to explore the area (one issue with photographing in popular parks and near trails is that rarely do you have them to yourself for long).


A pika ventures out on a rock in the grass in Yellowstone National Park | A Bender Photography LLC
Nikon D500 | Tamron 150-600mm G2 | 1/1250 | f/7.1 | ISO 2000

While the pika were active during these early morning visits, I could count on them disappearing by about 0930 to 10AM due to the increasing daytime temperatures. This meant I didn't have long to work.


A pika calls from a rocky outcrop in Yellowstone National Park | A Bender Photography LLC
Nikon D500 | Tamron 150-600mm G2 | 1/1000 | f/7.1 | ISO 2000

The one whose territory I was sitting in allowed me about twenty minutes over the course of the four days to photograph it. Most of the time it was visible it was on what I started terming its "lookout rocks," one of two select rocks that it seemed to favor so it could watch over the area. Such is the life of a pika, I guess.


A pika stands tall on a rock listening in Yellowstone National Park | A Bender Photography LLC
Nikon D500 | Tamron 150-600mm G2 | 1/1000 | f/7.1 | ISO 2000

When the pika were hiding, often the yellow-bellied marmots were out. They showed little fear of the humans as long as the humans didn't look like they were going to grab them. I took this opportunity to add a few images of marmot to my collection as I had not taken the time before to photograph them. As many may know, I can be a bit of an impatient photographer, so this helped pass the time while the pika were being uncooperative.


A yellow-bellied marmot catches a spotlight of sun on its face while in deep shadow | A Bender Photography LLC
Nikon D500 | Tamron 150-600mm G2 | 1/2000 | f/6.3 | ISO 500
A yellow-bellied marmot suns itself on a talus rock pile in Yellowstone National Park | A Bender Photography LLC
Nikon D500 | Tamron 150-600mm G2 | 1/2000 | f/7.1 | ISO 800
A close up portrait of a yellow-bellied marmot in Yellowstone National Park | A Bender Photography LLC
Nikon D500 | Tamron 150-600mm G2 | 1/2000 | f/7.1 | ISO 800

Further into Yellowstone, I did take time out from wildlife watching to wonder around the Mammoth Springs area. For some reason I don't really connect with the landscape of Yellowstone. I believe this lack of connection shows in the images (and sometimes lack thereof) that I capture within the park. These were the few I was happy enough with to share. They are abstracts of the Earth's skin in this area; an intimate look at the nuanced curves and lines created over eons through geothermic processes.


Two dead trees stand in the geothermal Mammoth Hot Spring area of Yellowstone National Park | A Bender Photography LLC
Nikon D500 | Tamron 100-400mm | 1/160 | f/16 | ISO 1600
Intimate abstract landscape of Light colored mineral deposits at Yellowstone National Park Mammoth Hot Springs area | A Bender Photography LLC
Nikon D500 | Tamron 100-400mm | 1/160 | f/16 | ISO 1600
Abstract mineral rock patterns of orange and white in the Mammoth Hot Springs area of Yellowstone National Park | A Bender Photography LLC
Nikon D500 | Tamron 100-400mm | 1/640 | f/6.3 | ISO 1600

My most memorable wildlife encounter by far happened while I was watching a den of foxes. When I returned from Yellowstone and was back in the Tetons, I was tipped off to an active fox den. Of course I wasn't going to turn down that sort of opportunity! On and off over the course of the next five days I spent about 22-24 hours waiting and observing this family of foxes. I was rewarded with several great sessions where the kits were playing within photographic range and others where they seem to be posing on top of the den, enamored with the paparazzi that had taken up residence "next door."


A young red fox kit sits on a mound of dirt in the forest looking directly into the camera | A Bender Photography LLC
Nikon D500 | Tamron 150-600mm G2 | 1/500 | f/6.3 | ISO 4000

Tricky lighting continued to challenge me even in the relative shelter of the forest. Due to the position of the den, the morning light came from behind before working its way above us, causing harsh dappled light that changed with each breeze.


A young red fox kit is backlit while standing on a sandy mound in the forest in Grand Teton National Park | A Bender Photography LLC
Nikon D500 | Tamron 150-600mm G2 | 1/1000 | f/7.1 | ISO 1250
Two young red fox kits play on a sandy mound in the forest in Grand Teton National Park | A Bender Photography LLC
Nikon D500 | Tamron 150-600mm G2 | 1/800 | f/7.1 | ISO 2000
Two young red fox kits squabble play rough house in the forest in Wyoming | A Bender Photography LLC
Nikon D500 | Tamron 150-600mm G2 | 1/800 | f/6.3 | ISO 4000

As the sun dipped low in the sky from late afternoon into evening, the forest began blocking much of the light and plunged the scene into deep shadow much earlier than in other environments. This meant again working with high ISOs in order to capture the rapid movements of young fox kits.


Two young red fox kits rough house play argue on a sandy mound in the forest | A Bender Photography LLC
Nikon D500 | Tamron 150-600mm G2 | 1/800 | f/6.3 | ISO 4000
Two young red fox kits sit next to each other where one has a paw on the other and one looks to be whispering something in the other's ear in the forest | A Bender Photography LLC
"The Secret" Nikon D500 | Tamron 150-600mm G2 | 1/800 | f/6.3 | ISO 4000
Two young red fox kits sit on a sandy hill in the forest in Grand Teton National Park | A Bender Photography LLC
Nikon D500 | Tamron 150-600mm G2 | 1/800 | f/6.3 | ISO 4000

One encounter I had with the mother and the most outgoing of the three kits made all the challenges worth the effort. It was in that time of deep shadow in the woods, before the sun had actually set. The mother had been back for a little while and had taken the kits up to the forested hill behind the den. We had not really seen them in about ten minutes, so I decided to walk a bit away from the other photographers down a side trail to see if I could catch a glimpse of them. While there was not a view of the den from this area, if the family was on the forested hill I could usually make out when they started back towards the den in order to be ready when the kits appeared. I call it vigilance or looking for other opportunities, but it could also be impatience on my part.


Whatever you call it, my wandering paid off as just as I had turned the corner, the vixen trotted out of the bushes not twenty feet from me. My initial reaction was to crouch. This does two things: one, it puts me at eye level with my subject; and two, more importantly, in most cases this allows me to look less threatening as I'm not looming over the wildlife.


A female vixen red fox on a trail with ear tags and radio collar in Grand Teton National Park | A Bender Photography LLC
Nikon D500 | Tamron 150-600mm G2 | 1/800 | f/6.3 | ISO 5000

Much to my surprise and glee, one of the kits decided to follow its mom as she made her way across the trail! This was the first time in almost a week of watching them that I had seen any of them come close to this "boundary line." The little kit slowly yet confidently came out and started following in its mother's footsteps, allowing me to capture several images.


A young red fox kit emerges from the bushes along a trail sniffing the ground | A Bender Photography LLC
Nikon D500 | Tamron 150-600mm G2 | 1/500 | f/6.3 | ISO 5000
A young red fox kit trots down a trail towards the camera with a piece of grass in its mouth | A Bender Photography LLC
Nikon D500 | Tamron 150-600mm G2 | 1/500 | f/6.3 | ISO 5000
A young red fox kit lopes down a trail after its mother | A Bender Photography LLC
Nikon D500 | Tamron 150-600mm G2 | 1/800 | f/6.3 | ISO 5000

Once they crossed the trail and I shifted just the slightest bit to enable myself to keep shooting, the kit spooked. Jumping into the bushes, it nervously looked around as its mother urged him to go back to the den. Not wanting to stress them more than my presence was, I simply froze. No shooting, hardly breathing. The vixen was used to park life and living at the edge of campgrounds, and therefore more accustomed to the presence of people. She ended up circling me so close I could have reached out and touched her had I wanted. Yet as she did this she wasn't particularly paying attention to me - she was observing her kit. It was as if she wanted to show her kit I was not a threat, and that it could safely cross back to the den. To my relief, the vixen's coaxing worked, and as she stood in the middle of the trail, the kit cautiously loped back across and into the brush. With her kit returned to the protection of the forest, the vixen took a last look and trotted off across the trail again resume her hunt. It was only then I allowed myself to finally get up.


That was by far the best wildlife encounter I had on this trip and in recent memory.


A few more days in the park using the "we see what we see" mentality had me driving even more hours and coming up with very little. However, I did encounter a large bull elk one morning. He was so close to the road and in a densely thick area that I needed a shorter lens (!) as I could not get back far enough and still get a shot. Without time to change my lens, these are the images I captured using my longest lens.


A close up of a large bull elk with velvet antlers eating wildflowers in Grand Teton National Park | A Bender Photography LLC
Nikon D500 | Tamron 150-600mm G2 | 1/400 | f/6.3 | ISO 5000
A large bull elk with velvet antlers bends to scratch an itch with his rack | A Bender Photography LLC
Nikon D500 | Tamron 150-600mm G2 | 1/400 | f/6.3 | ISO 5000

On my last morning in the park, the clouds finally showed up for dawn. I set up at Oxbow Bend and captured that mornings sunrise as the air turned a soft pink and the mountains lavender. It was a good note to leave on.


Sunrise from Oxbow Bend in Grand Teton National Park where the sky turned pink with clouds and the mountains were reflected in the river water with a bit of fog lifting up | A Bender Photography LLC
Nikon D500 | Tamron 18-400mm | 3 sec | f/22 | ISO 50 | tripod mounted | 5 shot vertical pano

Even with the challenges I faced, I consider the trip a successful one. As we come into summer, my schedule slows down before picking back up in September. Until then I will be exploring more of what Texas has to offer during the warmest months of the year.


Until next time, cheers!


A brown grizzly bear walks through a field of tall grass while looking off to the left in Grand Teton National Park | A Bender Photography LLC
Nikon D500 | Tamron 150-600mm G2 | 1/2000 | f/6.3 | ISO 1600



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