Sunday, May 11, 2008

Ronald J. "Buckwheat" Saffer: A True Crafstman

There is an old saying, “birds of a feather-flock together” and that is the case in Pennsylvania Elk photography, where the photographers who shoot Canon Digital SLR cameras with the big L series telephotos soon seek each other out and spend hours discussing the merits of different lenses and cameras. Of course I am sure there are many who shoot Canon pro equipment that are there for a day or so, or shoot other areas other than Winslow Hill, or they may be primarily elk hunting oriented. Most if not all members of the group featured today are not supportive of an elk hunt anywhere in the Winslow Hill area.

The undisputed leader of this group is Ronald J. Saffer, better known as Buckwheat.He was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident nearly twenty years ago and almost lost his life. He has little to no use of his left arm, which he wears in a sling and he is in severe pain at times from the effects of the injury.

This was a life-changing situation and Buckwheat took up wildlife photography after recovering from the accident. My earliest memories of him are from stories that Billie Cromwell told about his excursions to Elk County from 1988s through the mid-1990s. These stories commonly involved how Billie was photographing elk, often in a remote area, when Buckwheat would suddenly materialize beside him, and once the photography was over they would discuss cameras and lenses.

I came to know him personally in 1995. I was primarily into video while he was a dedicated still photographer so we did not talk as frequently as now, but both realized that each was seriously interested in his chosen field and often compared notes. At that time his primary tools were a Canon 300mmF2.8 and two Canon A2 film SLR cameras. This was my first exposure to a Canon L “prime” lens and I was suitably impressed by it. The camera and lens were affixed to a Gitzo tripod with a Bogen head. He practiced until he could use the rig fluently. I feel confident in saying that he can deploy a tripod mounted SLR more quickly and effectively than I can with the full use of both arms!

I bought my first digital SLR, a Canon 10-D in October of 2003, and shot the Elk rut the following year with it and a 100-400mm Canon L Zoom. That fall I decided to pursue serious still photography more intensively and in December purchased the Canon 500mmF4 lens, and the 70-200mmF2.8 the following summer. That autumn Buckwheat and I discovered that we had quite a bit to discuss now as he was shooting digital also and I became a regular member of Winslow Hill’s unofficial Canon L lens brigade.

Buckwheat and his 300mmF2.8: Photo Courtesy of "Salty" of Country Captures

Buckwheat is a meticulous craftsman who is highly critical of his own work and is constantly striving for perfection. He is a widely published photographer and among other successes, has been frequently featured in “Bugle” the official publication of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation as well as providing the cover photograph for the PGC Elk Video.

Odie Swartz, Buckwheat, Randy Quinn

Odie is an excellent photographer and Buckwheat's close side-kick. Randy is an up an coming young photographer who pursues his work with extreme seriousness. To see some of his work visit his website.

Pa Wildlife Photographer with XL-H1 Camcorder: 70-200mmF2.8, Odie Swartz looking on: Photo Courtesy of "Salty" of Country Captures

One Of The Animals That Keeps Us Returning Year After Year!

Not pictured, but not forgotten are: Billie Cromwell PGC Retired, John Eastlake DCNR Retired, and of course "Salty" of Country Captures, PGC DWCO Retired.

If I have neglected to mention anyone else, I do apologize for the oversight.

Also I am not inferring any position that anyone may have about the hunt, other than Billie, Salty, Buckwheat and I. We are glad to socialize with anyone of opposing viewpoints as long as the discourse is courteous and professional in nature.


DeeMom said...

Awesome Post

This Is My Blog - fishing guy said...

Willard: Thanks for sharing all the information on this dedicated group of hunters. They certainly hunt the magnificient animal of the PA forest.
I think this Elk photo is outstanding. I've never seen a rear view like this capture.

Tom said...

Great post again Willard, and a nice insight to what goes on out there. I can well imagine the banter you all must have as well. I followed the link and saw some great shots over there. Well worth my time.

You all do a great job there, may you all keep doing so for many many years to come.

Anonymous said...

Wow. This is a very nice post, Willard. It is good to see some experts in this field. I enjoyed the websites you linked.

Also, were you talking about the XSi Rebel when you mentioned ISO of 1000?

Just curious.

Anonymous said...

What an interesting post Willard--I enjoyed it!

Buckwheat is simply amazing. If he can deploy that heavy and cumbersome rig that quickly it tells me that he spends an incredible amount of time using it. I can empathize with his injuries as well, and am inspired by what he has done.

My auto accident two years ago left me with 3 fractured vertebrae (surgically repaired) and all five lumbar disks herniated (not repaired--way too risky). Don't know if I made the right decision, but I can't walk more than 50 yards without rest. About a mile is now my tops and will be in pain for a week. WOW--that guy inspires me to get over it and just do it.

Nice photos too!

BTW, that 100-400 L zoom was a big disappointment in terms of resolution. I traded mine in for a 400 f/4 L which suits my purposes for landscape, but not enough focal length or aperture for serious wildlife work.

Odie said...

Last weekend Buckwheat called me and said to check out Willard's website. So I did. I was quite impressed with it, and went back to read more, and in the middle of reading, you updated it with Buckwheat's article. I called Buckwheat and told him about seeing his pictures and article. Thank you for including me in his article. Buckwheat was really impressed and he said to tell you thank you. Odie

Willard said...

It 's good to hear from you. Thanks so much for your kind comment, and thanks to both of you for the good times we had last fall. I look forward to many more to come!