Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer Goes West

Rocky Mountain National Park-The First Destination Of Our Western Trip

The morning of August 27 found my wife and I traveling with our daughter Amy and husband Justin, to BWI-Marshall airport as we embarked on a nine day western trip.  The morning was marked by anxiety rather than  anticipation of the trip, as hurricane Irene was due to arrive later that morning.  After checking our baggage and passing through TSA security we proceeded to the boarding area to find that the airport was closing at 12:00 noon.  We were scheduled to leave at 11:45 and it was none too soon.  There had been no wind all morning and little to no rain, but as we waited for take-off, angry clouds arrived, the wind began to stir, and a light rain started falling.  We had to wait a few minutes for transfer passengers from another flight, but soon they arrived and the flight began.  In no time the plane flew into sunny, beautiful weather and we landed in Denver, Colorado to bright sunshine and temperatures in the 80s.

Our first destination was Estes Park, which we used as our base for one evening and three full days of  exploring Rocky Mountain National Park.  One of the primary attractions of the park is the stunning scenery and it seemed there were beautiful vistas almost anywhere one pointed the camera.

Horseshoe Park From Fall River Road

We only saw a few mule deer, magpies, and crows on Saturday evening,  but this changed on Sunday morning when we took scenic Fall Road from Horseshoe Park to The Alpine Visitor Center.  This is a one-way, narrow, dirt and gravel road with a lot of switchbacks.  We saw a lot of elk as soon as we got to timberline, but all were too far for good photography, although I did get some excellent video as I used the T3i and 500mm lens with the 3x crop mode.  This rig enabled one to "really reach out and touch them", especially if one used the 1.4X extender also.

Needless to say, we returned that evening to photograph the rutting activity.  By this time we had learned that the weather is very unstable at this elevation, and one can expect a rain squall to suddenly materialize, but when we arrived at timberline this evening there were only a few fluffy white clouds in the sky and elk were everywhere, with a bachelor group of several young bulls lying so close to the road that the 70-200mm f2.8 and the 28-135mm were the best choices for photographing them.  I went into action with the 70-200mm on the 7D and the 28-135mm on the T3i.  While I mostly used the T3i for video, I took the two photos below with it as the it was already on the tripod and the 28-135mm gave the composition that I wanted, without the hassle of changing lenses.

Seven Bulls In High Mountain West-28-135mm lens at 117mm
 Pennsylvania has an excellent elk herd, that is usually fairly easy to photograph, but dare I be somewhat disloyal by saying that while the elk themselves are just as photogenic, that the western scenery in many cases presents a more stunning backdrop against which to photograph them--although I must say that Pennsylvania Elk Country does have a charm of its' own and is very beautiful in its' own way.  Perhaps it is partly because that we were brought up thinking of elk as western animals and in a way they look more at home in the western meadows, but we must remember that they are every bit as native to Pennsylvania as to Colorado and it was the uncontrolled hunting and exploitation of the species that caused it to vanish from  Pennsylvania's woods (although there is some grounds to believe that a few of the native elk did survive).

Bulls Resting In The Stunning High Mountain West

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill


Bob Shank said...

I am jealous, Willard! You skipped out during the hurricane and went west. How dare you??! Seriously, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this blog entry and catching up on your trip out west. Your photos are amazing, once again! They look almost like paintings! Is the western light really that good or did you do a little post-processing? They look awesome! I hope we get to see many more of your western photos here on your blog!!!

JimB said...

Very nice scenery as well as elk pictures. Very good job on that landscape picture that must have had a very wide range of light. You are certainly corrct about the background for the elk photos.

Willard said...

Jim & Bob,

Thanks for the comments. The landscape was fairly evenly lit by the late afternoon sun. I waited until there were no clouds obscuring the sun and there was little to do in the way of post processing except I tweaked levels a bit, and used the local adjutment brush in camera raw to darken the sky a bit and lighten a few dark areas in the trees. Both this and the elk looks pretty much how they appeared to the eye.

I did a bit more work with the elk but not much. I used local adjustments to tone down their pale sides and again to even out some of the lighting on the distant slope in the second photo, and as usual I boosted the levels a bit until there was some snap in the highlights, but not enough to blow them out.

Coy too thought that the elk photos resembled paintings. The bottom line is that it was just so beautiful out there when the light was good, which was a lot of the time except during mid-day when it was flat. It changed soon after those photos were taken, which will be the subject of another post--perhaps the next.

Willard said...

Also I used a circular polarizer on the scenic shot, which really made the clouds show up.

HANNIBAL said...

What a great start to your trip! These images are stunning! It's like a painting to me because it's like you plucked elks down in the perfect spots for symmetry, then surrounded them with pines for a great scene. Wonderful!

PaWingers said...

Wow! All these are incredible pictures. I'm not sure which I like best. Excellent pictures!!!!

Ritchie said...

Hi friends,

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Wildlife Photographer