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A Single Photo is Just a Split Second in Time

A few weeks ago I traveled to Yellowstone to view the wildlife and scenery before the cold and snow arrived. Unfortunately, I chose to visit at the same time that our government decided to shutdown the National Parks.

The scene went something like this: As I passed through the north gate at Gardiner, MT at 7:30am on October 1st, the park ranger informed me that Yellowstone would be closing at 8:00am, just about 30 minutes from now. Having just entered the park, I was temporarily elated to think I’d have the entire place to myself.

 

My plan was to drive southward to Norris for some hiking in this amazing geyser basin.

As I approached Nymph Lake, I was awed by a lone bison foraging near a mountainside of steaming fumaroles.

I immediately pulled off the road onto the shoulder and grabbed my camera. Here’s the shot.

But my stop off here didn’t quite end after taking this photo as you’ll soon see.

Bison at the Fumaroles

 


In the above photo, the bison was standing about 150 yards away across the main highway.

As I stood next to my car, the bison slowly troded towards the area in which I was standing. You can see the asphalt in the foreground.

The bison didn’t stop there, he kept coming towards me. I always adhere to the “wildlife ethic” of not approaching animals, but this was the reverse situation.


From the above photograph you can’t tell that there were already six or seven other autos parked on the shoulder.

These visitors had already spotted the bison and were admiring the dramatic view.

Little did we all know that the bison wanted to admire our autos. She strode right over while all of us wisely gave her plenty of room to wander.


She remained just feet from me for several minutes.

So as not to disturb her, I stood very still and captured her portrait. I shot over the hood of my auto to keep some distance between the two of us.


As it turns out, this bison was the mother waiting for her calf. The calf was also across the road, but out of sight. He came hobbling over to mom a few minutes later.

When they were reunited, they walked off along the tree lined path. The calf had a very visible injury to its rear leg.

Here’s hoping that he’ll make it through the winter.


 
After I lost sight of the pair of bisons, I hopped back in the car and continued driving southward. Little did I know that most of the viewing areas and parking in Yellowstone would be barricaded with orange cones including the Norris Geyser Basin due to the government shutdown. There went my hiking plans.

Was I disappointed? Yes, but not depressed. Having stopped at this and several other roadside areas in the park was still exciting and exhilarating both emotionally and visually.

The single photograph “Bison at the Fumaroles” is but a split second during my visit to Yellowstone. Along with the other photos, these five split seconds actually add up to much more than the fifteen actual minutes that I spent near Nymph Lake.

I don’t think I can put a number on the amount of enjoyment this stop off brought me during this visit to one of my favorite places.

 

 
Written by: Arnie Lee

 

 


 

 

 

 

National Park Shutdown

20th October 2013

Just Slightly Disappointed

My plan was to photograph scenery and wildlife in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. I aimed the car towards the west, drove the 1900 miles to Jackson Hole and arrived on Sunday. I would spend a day in the Tetons and the evening in West Yellowstone, MT., explore the Lamar Valley and Mammoth Hot Springs on Monday, get some rest in Gardiner, MT. and then drive a short distance to Norris Geyser Basin to marvel at its thermal features on Tuesday. Of course neither I nor the hundreds of other visitors had an inkling that the parks would be closed.

On Tuesday (October 1, 2013) morning at 7:30am, I left Gardiner and passed through the grand arch on my way to the north entrance of Yellowstone. The ranger at the gate informed me that all entrances would be closing at 8:00am due to the government shutdown.

I thought, how lucky I am: “Since I’ve made it into the park, I’m going to be able to hike through the geyser basin at Norris.” I’d soon find out otherwise.


As a drove past the all of the turnoffs – Mammoth Terraces, Midway Geyser Basin, Biscuit Basin, West Thumb – I found orange cones barricading the entrance ways. Apparently, the park service anticipated the shutdown before the 8 o’clock gate closing and were already set to abide by the orders from Washington, DC.

While I was disappointed that I would not be able to visit Norris, I realized that all was not lost. There were plenty of places along the Grand Loop Road at which to stop to enjoy the scenery and wildlife.


There’s plenty of wildlife in Yellowstone and as far as I can tell none are aware that the park is closed so they’re out doing their own thing.

As I was driving in the northern part of the park just north of Obsidian Cliff, I saw this bison grazing in the field against the snow-covered mountains.

This was a lone bison, but during my short stay, I saw more bison in the park than any other species.


Continuing down the road a few miles, I pulled over at Roaring Mountain. It’s adjacent to the highway so anyone passing by can stop to admire the view.

The huge hillside is packed with dozens of fumaroles spewing steam and water into the air. It’s an amazing site.


My next stop was at Nymph Lake which is also adjacent to the highway.

Here I spotted another bison that was warming himself by the thermals and offered a picturesque view.

Although the bison was about 150 yards distant, one of my cameras had a long telephoto lens and was able to produce this capture.


Then I turned around to see another nice view.

This is Nymph Lake which also has thermals surrounding it. You can see how the trees towards the middle have been stripped of their needles and the trunk and branches absorbed the minerals from the hot springs.


Driving to just past the Midway Geyser Basin I pulled aside the highway again.

This is the Firehole River. Do you know how the river gets its name?

Here you can see the hot waters from the uphill geysers flowing over the rocks and feeding the river. The rocks gain their color from the various bacteria that inhabit these hot waters.


My next stop was at Old Faithful. I’ve been here many times but never have I seen as empty a parking area as today – fewer than 50 cars. Inside the Inn only the gift and coffee shops remained opened serving just a few visitors. Back outside I found a sign announcing the closing of the Old Faithful viewing boardwalk. The visitors ignored the sign and Old Faithful erupted as usual.

I walked around the boardwalk and snapped a few photos including this one of the Blue Star Spring.


Having lost hope that most of my favorite stop off areas were closed, I thought it was time to depart.

I continued on the highway towards the south entrance. When I reached the Lewis Falls area, I again stopped to admire the calm yet colorful foliage along the Lewis River.


As I exited Yellowstone at the south entrance, I stopped to take a souvenir photo of my shortened trip to my two favorite national parks.

I actually have a second photo that shows a closed Grand Teton National Park.


Before heading home, I made one final stop at another of my favorite places. Oxbow Bend is just outside the Grand Teton park boundary.

Here the Snake River makes an abrupt turn in a large flat that exposes the gorgeous Teton Range.

I’m thankful that this location was not barricaded.

Unfortunately, I saw buses of visitors that were unable to enter the park. I’m sure they are very disappointed by the shutdown. Although my visit was cut short, I still had a few days to enjoy my two favorite national parks and take back a few memorable photographs.

On the other hand, there were hundreds of thousands of government workers who were furloughed. And then there were the employees of the private enterprises that rely on park visitors – hotels, restaurants, gift shops, gas stations, more. Compared to these others, I suffered only minor inconvenience. I hope this doesn’t happen again to any of us.

Please feel free to leave your comments or observations.
 
 
Written by: Arnie Lee
 
 


 
 

A Long Lens Story

12th June 2013

Avoiding the $8,500 shock

Those of us who like to hunt wildlife with a camera know that you can never have enough mm of lens. But sticker shock kicks in when you look at the prices for a fast super-telephoto lens. Last year I made it a high priority to seek out an alternative way to acquire one of these highly sought after gems and ended up with a prized lens at a bargain basement price.

My lucky catch doesn’t have the features of late model glass, but neither does it doesn’t carry an $8,500 price tag. Instead of the a brand spanking new 400mm f/2.8 with auto focusing and vibration reduction I picked up a used 400mm f/3.5 manual focus lens. As you’ll see, although it lacks the convenience of the high price spread, it performs very well for my type of shooting. And at a price of about $600, it is a steal. If you’re a lover of long lenses that isn’t willing to take a mortgage out to buy one, follow along to see if the used lens approach can satisfy your equipment wants.

To be exact, my “find” is a Nikkor ED IF AI-S 400mm f/3.5 lens. There are no marks or scratches on any of the lens surfaces. The lens body shows heavy wear and a few scratches to the paint. It has a tripod collar, a built-in lens hood and accepts affordable 39mm drop-in filters or expensive very 122mm external filters.

Mechanically, this lens has high quality optics; manual internal focusing (lens barrel does not extend or retract as it is focused) and automatic indexing so that the camera can determine the aperture setting.



To try out the lens, I mounted it on a Nikon D600 body. Notice the white dot on the lens.


Simply line up the white dot on the lens with the white dot on the camera body and twist counter-clockwise.

This monster of a lens weighs more than 6 pounds. You won’t want to handhold this camera and lens combo for very long.

While it is possible to mount this combo directly onto a tripod, a more practical solution is to use a gimbal mount.

Here’s one that I use.


Using the tripod collar on the lens, the combo is screwed onto the gimbal. The gimbal itself is mounted and balanced onto the tripod.

With the arrangement, you can now frictionlessly tilt, swivel and pan the camera and lens combo to take aim of your subject.


There’s one final step to complete before we can use this older lens with a newer camera body.

Newer Nikkor lenses owe their intelligence to a tiny CPU which controls the exposure settings. Since this lens does not have a CPU, you must “register” this lens to the camera by setting its maximum (widest) aperture. The Tools menu has an item for doing this.


Having registered the lens, there are two options for setting the exposure: ‘M” manual, where you set both the shutter speed and aperture or “A” aperture priority, where you set the aperture and the camera sets the appropriate shutter speed.

In either case, you rotate the aperture ring on the lens to the desired lens opening. In “M” mode, you also dial in the camera shutter speed. In “A” mode, the camera automatically sets the shutter speed.

You’re all set to take aim, carefully focus and fire away. Here’s a few of my first shots with the lens.



This photo is a full frame capture of a colorful duck. The lens’ large focusing ring lets me easily bring things into sharp focus.

To give you an idea of the quality of the lens, this is an enlargement of the duck’s head taken from the photo on the left.


How sharp is this lens? Full frame shot at f/5.6.

The enlargement here looks pretty sharp to me.


In this comparison of the same capture at f/3.5 and f/5.6 you’ll see a noticeable drop in sharpness when using the widest opening. The lesson for me: stop down to achieve the sharpest photographs.

At first I was a little hesitant about buying an older lens without the autofocus and autoexposure features that I’ve come to expect from newer lenses. After all, this lens comes from the early 1980s; isn’t it obsolete? Now that I’ve had some positive experience, I realize that quality equipment lasts for many years.

I feel that I hit the jackpot with this lens at a great price. Now I’m hoping to find some time to capture many more birds in the future.
 
 
 
Written by Arnie Lee
 
 
NOTE: While this article featured Nikon equipment, I’m hoping to look for similar money-saving angles for my Canon equipment.
 
 


 
 
 

In Search of Nemo

11th June 2013

Underwater Photography – Blllllrrrrrpppp!

For those of us who spend their winters in the frigid cold, surrounded by ice and snow for months at a time, a visit to the tropics is a blessing. To me, the mention of the tropics brings warmth and water to mind. And that’s precisely what we were after when we booked a trip to the Big Island of Hawaii.

The weather there is predictably warm so it’s easy to pack: a couple of bathing suits, a few pairs of shorts and several shirts. And don’t forget the snorkeling equipment! As an avid picture-taker, my luggage also includes a camera or two so that I can record the events that we may encounter.

The least enjoyable part of the trip is getting there. It’s an all day affair starting with a short hop from our home in Grand Rapids to Chicago followed by a very long, 9-hour flight from Chicago to Honolulu.

Clouds covered most of the flight path to the islands. These sparkling beaches of Oahu (to the right) are about the only sites that we see along the way and this only upon leaving Honolulu on a 45 minute connecting flight to Kona.

And owing to a six hour time difference, we arrive in time for dinner.


Being in the middle of the Pacific, there’s water galore everywhere. The next morning, with our snorkeling gear in tow we head down to one of the local beaches.

For this trip, I’ve taken a camera that can be used underwater. I’ve never invested the thousands of dollars needed for a “real” underwater outfit, but this Olympus Tough 6000 will do the trick.


The Big Island is surrounded by shallow reefs lined with coral. Many of the popular beaches attract bathers for this exact reason. The coral is teeming with tropical fish and wildlife just a few feet below the water’s surface.

Without heavy scuba equipment and expensive deep water photo gear, my small, relatively inexpensive camera makes it possible for me to record these amazing wonders of the ocean. Here’s some of my “catch” made simply by gently kicking my flippers, goggles and snorkel facing downward and camera in hand.






Colorful sea anemone among the coral.

We even spotted this mermaid among the coral!

Big Island Turtle – my wife captured this short video of a turtle that was swimming nearby.

A lovely sunset on the Big Island

 
So I returned home with a slight tan, a relaxed body and a nice set of photos of some spectacularly colorful fish. Of course these photos aren’t of the same quality that you’d expect from a full-blown underwater outfit. But I’m happy just the same having recorded some of nature’s gorgeous water landscapes with a very affordable camera.
 
 
 
Written by Arnie Lee
 
 


 
 

Wild Misdirection

16th March 2013

Making Wildlife Appear Even More Wild

I consider myself pretty honest and straight-forward – both in business life and in personal life.

So you may wonder why I am writing an article about deception. Maybe this is too harsh a word – let’s just call it misdirection.

Let me explain. Often photographs tell only part of the story. If I am clever, I can photograph a tiger in a zoo by carefully orchestrating the background, lighting, angle and surroundings to make it feel that it was taken in the heart of the Bengal jungle. I might lead you to believe that I shoot for National Geographic.

Following are a few examples of how you might creatively use point of view (POV) to enhance your wildlife photography skills and put you in line for work at the nature magazines.


The blue heron on the left was standing across a shallow ravine about 50 feet from me. At that distance it was easy to capture him among his surrounding.

By kneeling down and zooming the lens, I was able to isolate his head and avoid the cluttered background in the above photo.


The lovely anhinga on the left was drying his wings on a nearby branch. Again the presence of the branches detract from the fine detail of the bird.

A few minutes of patience paid off. I was perfectly positioned to capture this bird as he became airborne. The trees in the background are blurred by the shallow depth of field. Overall, this photo gives me a better sense of wildness.


These wood storks in the left photo were very fond of the tree. But somehow photographing a flock of birds in the tree wasn’t the feeling I was seeking. By isolating a single bird using a longer focal length, I was able to maintain more of a sense of wildness.


Here’s a series of photos that show that these vicious looking alligators were actually in a tame part of the Everglades. The wood deck protects the visitors from all of these alligators.

Above, without the onlookers, the group of alligators appear in a more “wild” environment except for the inclusion of the wood railing in the foreground.

Left, I’ve again isolated the creature from the human elements. I think this method enhances the wildness factor.

Those of you who have already used photographic misdirection, please raise your hands!

Of course, creative point of view can be used for any kind of photography, not just wildlife. So get out there and change your point of view around.

Written by Arnie Lee
 
 


 
 

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Shooting Birds

Certainly one of the reasons that I enjoy the profession so much is that there are so many types of photography to choose from: architectural, wedding, journalism, nature, portrait, fine art, and the list goes on.

And like many other photographers, I often jump from one type of photography to another when the job calls for it or when I feel the need to “escape” to a totally different subject.

Each type of photography utilizes different skills.

For example, portrait photography is most successful when the subject can comfortably relate to the photographer who then combines creative posing and technical lighting to record a likeness of that subject.

A food photographer may use many tricks to enhance the appearance of a gourmet dish – with sprays, glue or gels, perhaps. These are skills that make the food look good; you probably wouldn’t want to eat the food after the photo session.

Having participated in many of the types of photography over the past 40+ years, I have learned that some types of photography require a higher level of skill than others.

From my experience, “photography degree of difficulty” varies from snapshots and event photography at the low end to wedding photography at the high end. And somewhere near the high end is wildlife photography. For the last few years, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to improve my wildlife skill level.

Birds are among the most nervous types of animals to photograph. Approach a bird perched on a branch and he’ll quickly fly away.

Consequently, most of my photos of birds are from quite a distance using a long telephoto lens.

On my last outing, I snapped several bird photos which drew complimentary comments from several viewers. While I’d like to think that the photos were the result of my great skills as a nature photographer, in this case it’s not true.

Last week, I was doing a little winter hiking in Bryce Canyon NP and stumbled upon this colorful Stellar’s jay.

This photo was taken with long telephoto lens from about 50 feet away. I hesitated to approach the jay any closer for fear that he’d take off.

Surprisingly, the jay flew closer to me. In fact, he ended up landing on a tree branch that was only 20 feet from where I was standing.

I can only surmise that in the cold wintery weather he was acting differently than he would if I encountered him in warmer weather.

My telephoto lens has two settings: one to accommodate close focusing (2 meters) and one for more distant focusing (8 meters). So as not to disturb the bird, I very slowly changed the lens setting for close focusing and snapped.

Bingo. Here’s the closeup that I ended up with of the Stellar’s jay.

I can definitely say that this photo was more a matter of luck than skill. Anyway, for me this photograph is a definite keeper.

As a counterpoint, here’s a less lucky encounter that I had about an hour before.

As I was hiking along the hard packed, snow covered trail that descended into one of the canyons, I heard a screech overhead. I gazed upwards and saw a large, majestic set of wings in the sky.

I hurriedly changed lenses to my long telephoto and looked up again. But during the minute that I spent changing lenses, the predator had climbed higher and farther away.

I quickly snapped a half dozen photos before the eagle was out of range. Unfortunately, I wasn’t as lucky here. The photo is blurred owing to the distance and my rushed attempt.


So this time out, luck played a role in my capturing the Stellar’s jay. But I wasn’t as lucky with the golden eagle.

Still, I know that unless I’m out there hiking the trails and observing my surroundings that luck won’t have a chance to take hold. Each time I’m out enjoying nature I’m hoping that for that lucky catch.

Take enough photos and luck will come your way too. It’s a promise.

 

Written by Arnie Lee

 


Last Friday Mom flew from Grand Rapids to Phoenix as many other snowbirds do for the winter. I volunteered to deliver her car to Phoenix so that she’d have wheels for her six month stay. To make my drive more productive, I turned the 2000 mile journey from Grand Rapids into a mini photo trip.

Just as many retirees make the trek to warmer climates in the late fall, so do many northern birds. One of their gathering spots is the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. I leave Grand Rapids on Tuesday at noon (ahead of Mom) and set the destination in my GPS for Socorro, New Mexico – about 90 miles south of Albuquerque, New Mexico.
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It’s that time of the year again. Almost all of the leaves have fallen from the trees, the days are noticeably shorter and the temperature has decided to fall as well. With the onset of winter, this is when Mom is preparing to leave Michigan to head south for warmer environs. She’s booked her flight to Phoenix and is anxious to again become a “snowbird”.

Of course she’ll need a car in Phoenix for her winter stay. For the past several years, I’ve been the chosen one – I drive her car to Phoenix and then fly back home to Grand Rapids.

This year I’ve decided to make a slight detour on the drive to Phoenix. I’m planning to join the migrating birds at Bosque del Apache, a large bird sanctuary near Socorro in western New Mexico. I’ve heard about this wildlife refuge for a long time so now is the time to take the plunge, so to speak.

In preparing for the visit to Bosque, I found out about another close-by site. The Very Large Array (VLA) is an astronomical observatory made of 27 antennas each 80 feet in diameter. The VLA collects large amounts of data from outer space. Being only 50 miles from Socorro, I’m planning a short stop at the VLA following my visit to Bosque.

My drive is a southernly route taking me through Missouri, Oklahoma, the Texas panhandle and to Albuquerque; then south to Socorro. Up to here, the route is all interstate highways and the weather should be snowfree in early November.

When I leave Socorro, I’ll head west following US 60 which takes me through some mountainous and forested areas in New Mexico and Arizona before flattening out near Globe, AZ. Hopefully the snow will hold off until later in the month. From Globe it’s clear sailing to Phoenix.

Many consider a cross country trip such as this an arduous undertaking. I have always enjoyed driving long distances and welcome the chance to stop at Bosque and VLA. I’m hoping that they will both offer me some interesting photography opportunities.

If the cameras are working and I make good with the photography opportunities, I’ll have some pictures here soon.