Good Photography

Last week my buddy John who I traveled Central America with, and who I will be traveling again with soon, sent me a message on facebook telling me to check out his banner photo. It was a photo from Yosemite, a shot of Yosemite valley. I looked at it and wasn’t all that impressed with it and actually kinda wondered why he used it as his banner photo when there are so many other great photos out there of the same spot. I told him it was a nice shot and left it at that. I was really thinking it was too dark, there is no contrast in the sky, and there is too much water. He responded, telling me it was one of my shots and I needed to protect my images better on Smugmug. Anyway it made me go through my Yosemite album from 2010 along with a few others removing bad photos that I once thought were great shots. I was surprised how many bad shots there were. I have become a much better photographer since then and most of what I have learned is from talking with other photographers and trial and error. Here is what I have learned makes for good photography.


Shooting in RAW format is the single most important change I have made. RAW format saves a lot more data, 25mb of data vs 8mb. This means that more can be done with the photo in the post processing areas such as color correction. When shooing in JPEG it is difficult to bring out the colors and make the image look as seen in real life. All professionals from wedding photographers to wildlife photographers shoot in raw. It makes life much easier.


Even at the beginning of the summer I would get excited about everything I saw and would try to get as tight of shot as I could. I wanted the close up shot where you could see a flee on the bears nose if it was there. Now I still like to shoot some tight shots but I prefer to get more of the surroundings. Brings out more emotion in the images. There are millions of close up shots of wildlife but there are very few shots where you feel like the landscape is the main focus with an animal in it as a bonus. Tom Mangelsen represents this the best.

I was planning on getting a 500mm lens this spring but instead I think I am going to get a arsenal of smaller, high quality lenses.


Two years ago I really did not know much about the camera and didn’t take the time to learn about it. I was happy with the shots I was getting and didn’t take the time to improve. There was pretty much just one setting I used and most things were on auto, like ISO, a big No-No. I have much more control of the image now so there is less post processing needed. If I want to blur the background of a close up on a bears face, I can shoot for that. If I want everything in focus on a landscape shot, I can do that to. I don’t leave it up to the camera and hope to get lucky. All manual baby!


Knowing the camera, and getting lucky is 75% of the battle. You also have to have good equipment. Good glass is key and very pricy. I have made some pretty hefty investments in camera gear in the last year and another big investment is in the works. It well worth the price. Cheap lenses do not pull in enough light, are slow, and do not get the ultra sharp image desired. Sure you can get lucky once and a while but more times than not you’re going to get frustrated. I know I did for the first two months here in Jackson. I wound up getting a job to pay for a 100-400L series lens from Canon. It was a great investment.


Wildlife photography is about knowing your gear, being prepared, putting in your time in hopes to get lucky. To get that one in 10,000 shot that will sell or at least look good on your wall. When shooting wildlife you have to work with what is presented to you. Lighting, surrounding, distance, weather, animal cooperation, and your preparedness all have to work with you to get that one shot. If one thing is out of whack it could, and usually does, ruin your whole image.

Getting lucky involves putting in the time, and practice. I still mess things up all the time. I messed up the Northern Lights the other night. They were out of focus because my widest angel lens in not the best quality so Auto Focus at night doesn’t work and Manual Focus at night in nearly impossible. A big part of getting good images is going where what your looking to capture is the densest. If you want to capture an image of a grizzly catching fish your going to go to Alaska. If you want an amazing shot of the sandhill crane migration, your going to go to somewhere along their main migration route. It just makes sense. You have to put yourself in the best place possible to get the shots you want. That is why I am here in Jackson hole. I can find Grizzlies most days in the summers, wolves are not that hard to find either but getting them close is another story. Elk, Moose, Coyotes, Fox, Bald and Golden Eagles, and Bison can be found anytime, usually within an hour. Wildlife is so dense here it is almost guaranteed. What is not guaranteed is getting in a photo worthy spot. You gotta get lucky. To increase your luck you have to spend a lot of time in the field.



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Wolf Days of February

I have never seen so many wolves in my life as I have this month. In the last two days I have seen 22 or 23 wolves here in Yellowstone. Today alone I saw 17 or 18 wolves in three different packs, Lamar Pack, Canyon Pack, and Molly Pack, along with one lone wolf. I watched seven wolves from the Molly Pack hunt a buffalo, singling out one of the buffalo and separating it from the rest of the group. It was not a easy task and two of the wolves got launched into the air by an angry bison. The pursuit was intense but the bison came out victorious. A few miles down the road I came across an elk kill. There were many people lined up at the kill waiting for the wolves to show up but since the carcass was move from where the car hit it down the road a quarter mile, the wolves hadn’t found it yet. I got lucky and was first to see the wolves come out of the woods where the elk was hit and got some nice shots.


Yellowstone Vacation!

I am geting burnt out of the on mountain photography thing and arranged for a three day weekend which I used to take a vacation to Yellowstone! It was a seven hour drive but already after the first day totally worth it. Normally when I am out building up my portfolio I put on a ton of miles trying to get lucky and find the shot I am going to love. Today everything seemed to just come to me. I drove less than a mile before I found my first Coyote, and three miles before I found manny more. While watching the Coyotes all day all kinds of animals came out of the air, water and grasses including wolves, eagles, and dippers. The following are some photos I took today while watching Coyotes eat an Elk carcass.



Wolf Action, Heating Up!

Wolf action in the Elk Refuge is picking up. There was a pack of 11 grey wolves bedded down there this morning. I found this black wolf last night during the first half of the Superbowl. I am pretty sure it is the same black wolf I saw with a friend a week before. We watched it last week for over an hour as it made its way towards us from over a mile away. It still only got to about 350 yards. This time I was lucky enough to have it cross the road in front of me and walk up the hill and along the ridge of Miller Butte, fifty yards away at its closest.


Moose Under the Teton Range


Bear Jam 2012

Grizzly 399 decided to make her first appearance of 2012 and last appearance of the 2011 bear watching season. It was a beautiful cold winter night, and the last night anyone will see of Griz 399 and her two cubs till spring. They finally decided to hibernate, nearly a month after most people thought they would. I wasn’t able to get any shots of them but I was happy I was able to watch them head to their den after months of poor timing an work keeping me from a sighting. They were looking fat and healthy, a relief to all of us who spent countless hours watching and photographing these bears. Goodnight 399. Goodnight cubs. See you in spring.


End of December in the Tetons

Today was a good day as far as wildlife viewing and photography are concerned. Blue skies and warm temperatures covered the northern end of Grand Teton National Park as rain, snow, wind and sleet took care of the southern half for the majority of the day. Warmer temperatures got animals in the park moving. Yesterday a grizzly, more than likely 399, and cubs was spotted near Black Tail Bute. Reliable sources confirmed that it was actually a bear which got many photographers and videographers amped up to find her, including me. I put on over 200 miles looking for her and other wildlife in the park today and here is what I found in chronological order.
A butt shot of a big mule deer. I didn’t feel like waiting around for a head shot, there were bears to find.
I decided to head north where I could look out over the overlooks glassing for the bears and shot this at Ansel Adams famous Snake River Overlook.

I started to take some pictures of the famous Ox Bow Bend but that was short lived because the swans were more interesting.

It is nice because in winter no one is on the roads in the park and you can just stop in the middle of the road anywhere and have a conversation with someone. After getting the latest news from Tom in the middle of the road by Willow Flats I headed north to see what Jim was finding. Jim was heading south on the main road and after seeing each other we both locked up the breaks and slid far past each others windows. After backing up, Jim told me about a good spot north of Moran Junction, Buffalo Valley Rd. Our conversation was short because a plow was bearing down on him on his side of the road. I headed to BVR which was very scenic but I guess what isn’t around these parts.
I started to head south after the scenic detour and found some bison crossing the road. They surrounded a family in their van.
Shadow Mountain is where I spent many nights this summer and especially fall so I have to post a shot of that.
Jim called and said there was a flock of Cedar Waxwings and I have always wanted to see them because they’re so colorful. Today was the day but the lighting was awful. There were was also a cow and calf right behind where we were parked. They wanted nothing to do with us.

There was some good light on the Sleeping Indian so a photo was a must. Quite happy with the way it turned out.
Last effort of the day was searching for wolves. The first pullout there were no wolves but some swans buzzed right over Jim and my heads.
And finally all light was gone. No wolves or bear were found. Disappointing but a good day none the less.


Cougars in the Hole

Today was a sad day for the Green Bay Packers blowing their winning record, and to the Chiefs?! Really?!?!?! It was sad. After the game it was time to find some wildlife because I will be working for the next three weeks straight to take advantage of the christmas rush. There was not much going on in the elk refuge so I headed to antelope flats looking for the gigantic deer again. I found them but then heard of something much more interesting. Cougars. Or rather their tracks in the snow along Gros Ventre Road along the river. I headed out to find them and saw one of my photographer buddies already scoping them out. At first we were not all certain that it was a big cat but then I pointed out that the animal used the EXACT same track for the rear paw as the front. It was amazing how precise it was. This is knows as shadow stepping and no other similarly sized animals in the park shadow steps. It could be none other than a cougar. Possibly a big male from the size of the track. It was an exciting find and hopefully one of us gets video or photographs of the cougar.

A new show has come out by National Geographic. It is called American Cougar and it was filmed right here in Jackson Hole or more specifically the Gros Ventre Wilderness. I went to the primer of American Cougar last week where the filmmakers and scientists answered questions and talked about cougar research and conservation. American Cougar is playing now on the National Geographic Channel and I highly suggest you see it. It is a very mysterious animal not likely to be seen or heard unless it wants to. This makes it very difficult to evaluate the health of the population which means studying it is vital to its survival.


Sharing the Knowledge

I love Grand Teton National Park and I love teaching people about the park along with its wildlife. Lately I have been working at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort for Elevation Imaging as one of their photographers. The other day I took a picture or a family of four and their grandparents. I like to encourage people to go into the park to see wildlife so I told them a few spots they could go find moose, elk, big horn sheep, eagles etc. The went today and it was also my day off. I had just gotten into the park and in front of me was a big black Ford SUV with no license plates. I thought it might have been them but quickly got distracted by a monster buck. I got some shots and then stopped to talk with my friend Daryl. He took me to a spot where we saw four of the biggest bucks I have ever seen. I left him and that is when I found the grandma and grandpa of the family I shot days prior.

They told me they hadn’t seen any wildlife but I knew they passed a few deer, eagles, and moose without noticing. You get a trained eye when out in the field as much as I am and generally do not miss much. I took them around Antelope flats and showed them the moose and deer. While looking for moose on the Teton Science School road I had to pull them out of a ditch with my Subaru. I love that car. I showed them the most photographed building in Wyoming and then parked my car and hopped in with them. We headed north to see the bison where we also saw some coyotes. I then took them through the park gates and showed them oxbow bend and the view of the Teton Range from the dam which are both amazing sights too be seen. We were tight on time and headed back to Dornans in Moose where they bought me lunch before they had to go get their grandson.

I had a great time with them and enjoyed showing them around the park. I am glad we were able to find wildlife other than a squirrel but, we did find that too. After I left them I headed to the Elk Refuge (another name for a gigantic bait site for hunters to walk up to a elk and blast it) where I saw some good big horned sheep fights over the ladies. It was a good day.