Archive for the ‘moose’ Tag

Rocky Mtn National Park Alternatives: Avoiding Crowds   13 comments

Sunrise over Brainard Lake, Rocky Mountain Front Range, Colorado.

Sunrise over Brainard Lake, Rocky Mountain Front Range, Colorado.

I’ve been stranded with vehicle problems lately but it has not been all bad.  I’m in a beautiful place, near to Rocky Mountain National Park.  Now this is not the most out of the way place I’ve ever been.  In fact Rocky (the name locals use for the park) is now the third most popular national park in the country, visited by more people than either Yosemite and Yellowstone.  So it can get very crowded, especially on summer weekends.

Besides visiting during the week, there are a few ways to avoid most crowds at Rocky.  One is to go over to the west side of the park, in particular staying away from Bear Lake, the most popular destination within the park.  Another is to go hiking but to summon the energy and continue on up the trails, past popular destinations in order to get more solitude.

But an alternative is simply to not enter the park at all.  The Rocky Mountains don’t stop at the park boundary and public land (mostly Forest Service) extends in three directions.  I’ve been checking out a few nearby natural areas recently, mostly to see something different.  As I suspected most of these places are also very crowded on weekends.  But since they mostly attract locals, they tend to be quieter than the park during the week.

It's peaceful along the Colorado River in the western part of Rocky Mtn. National Park.

It’s peaceful along the Colorado River in the western part of Rocky Mtn. National Park.

Brainard Lake Recreation Area

One place that is hard not to be impressed with is Brainard Lake Recreation Area.  It’s only 35 miles south of Rocky, about an hour’s drive down the Peak to Peak Highway.  A busy campground (get there early or reserve a spot) is located conveniently just below Brainard Lake itself.  Several small picnic areas are scattered about, and fishing is popular.  In recent years a population of moose has moved in.  Popular with wildlife photographers, these are Shiras moose, the smallest subspecies.  Although definitely smaller than Alaskan moose, bulls can reach 1200 pounds and are dangerous in the fall rut.

The area is also famous for its hiking.  Several trails head up into the Indian Peaks Wilderness to beautiful alpine lakes.  Energetic hikers and peak baggers continue up the spectacular valleys past glacial tarns and on up to rugged granitic mountains.  The hikes tend to be strenuous because of the altitude, but distances are not great.  For example I hiked to Blue Lake and it was just 5 miles round-trip with 900 feet elevation gain.

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Colorado Columbine on one of the trails of Brainard Lake Recreation Area.

Colorado Columbine on one of the trails of Brainard Lake Recreation Area.

Another amazing hike I can personally recommend is Isabelle Glacier.  In 8 3/4 miles you gain 1750 feet.  This takes you past two lakes, including lovely Lake Isabelle.  Hike beyond this lake and you’ll drop most other hikers, passing flower meadows and a high tarn before climbing into a huge amphitheater surrounded by soaring peaks, snowfields and waterfalls.

Lake Isabelle and Indian Peaks, Colorado.

A family of ducks paddles across Red Rock Lake.

A family of ducks paddles across Red Rock Lake.

But several of the images here are from the lowest of the area’s lakes, and my favorite.  Red Rock Lake lies on the road to Brainard Lake, and most people blow right by it, in a hurry to get to their destinations.  It’s a peaceful spot that attracts waterfowl, and has a nice view of Indian Peaks from the east shore.  It’s quite a photogenic place, despite not being as spectacular as the high, hike-in lakes, which are closer to the peaks.  But because of the red rocks and a partial cover of water lilies I think Red Rock is more visually interesting than many of the area’s lakes.

Thanks for reading, have a great week, and happy shooting!

Beautiful Red Rock Lake, Colorado.

Beautiful Red Rock Lake, Colorado.

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Friday Foto Talk: Point of View, Part II   4 comments

In a forest I often find stumps or fallen logs to stand on, raising POV.  Like atop this fallen giant in California's redwoods.

In a forest I often find stumps or fallen logs to stand on, raising POV. Like atop this fallen giant in California’s redwoods.

This is the second of two parts on Point of View (POV) in photography.  Last week Part I looked at general position and angle related to subject and background.  This time I’ll focus on what most people think of when they think of POV: height.

Point of View:  Height

Let’s go back to when we first picked up a camera.  What did we do?  We shot from a standing position.  Then when we got hold of a tripod we extended the legs and again shot from eye level.  This isn’t surprising; it’s almost always the way we experience the world.

Unfortunately, it quickly becomes boring to see picture after picture from this same position.  You start to wonder what it’s like to see things the way the world’s shortest man or the tallest woman sees them.  Going further, what is it like to see the world from an eagle’s point of view, or an insect’s?  There’s only one way to find out.  Get up or get down and shoot!  It’s the other major way to change point of view: change the camera height.

Long's Peak, shot last night from the highest point I could find on Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mtn. National Park, Colorado.

Long’s Peak, shot last night from the highest point I could find on Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mtn. National Park, Colorado.

LOW POV

The easiest way to change height POV is to lower it.  You go down on one knee, assuming the classic shooter’s pose.  Or you squat, getting a bit lower.  Or you lay right down on your belly with elbows propped in a sort of tripod.  When you’re using an actual tripod and want to go lower, you either change the length of the legs or spread them more widely.

You can also remove the center column or otherwise rig up the tripod to go even lower.  For ultra low POVs you can just plop the camera right down on the ground.  Or you use a beanbag, your camera bag, or a piece of clothing for cushioning, giving you a POV very near ground level.

This small cholla cactus I wanted to highlight against the stormy sky of Death Valley, California.  So I used a very low POV, a foot or two above the ground.

This small cholla cactus I wanted to highlight against the stormy sky of Death Valley, California. So I used a very low POV, a foot or two above the ground.

When you lower your point of view a few interesting things happen:

  • Foregrounds draw nearer and get bigger.  For compositions with close foreground elements, lowering POV brings them even closer (see image above).  If you want everything in focus front to back you may have to stop down to a smaller aperture (higher f/number).  Or you can take more than one shot and focus stack the images.
  • Foregrounds change position.  Lowering your POV also changes how foreground subjects are set off against the background.  As you go down, close foreground elements rise in proportion.  This can set them against the sky instead of the landscape and even put them in silhouette.  You also need to be aware of foreground elements blocking important parts of the background.  Make small shifts in position to compensate and get the composition just right.
  • Backgrounds recede.  This depends on how wide your lens is, but when you lower the camera the background can lose prominence in favor of foreground elements.  Even tall mountains tend to shrink.  Not as much as when you change from a 50 mm. to a 17 mm. focal length, for example, but the effect is similar.  It’s another way that lowering POV helps to emphasize foreground elements in an image, by de-emphasizing the background.
For these two elk this morning, I got low to set them against the rising sun.

For these two elk this morning, I got low to set them against the rising sun.  Compare with image below.

Another recent elk from Rocky Mtn. National Park. But this time from a higher POV gained by walking uphill.

HIGH POV

Another way to vary height POV is to raise the camera, so you’re looking down on your subject.  It’s more challenging than lowering the camera, but it’s often more interesting to try.  And it’s more satisfying when it turns out well.  That’s because, as hard as it can seem to get very low (especially as we get older), going up usually requires the most effort and imagination.  You need to either climb with your gear up to some perch or do some outside-the-box thinking, or both.

Here are some ideas:

  • Climb a rock or mountain.  We tell ourselves it won’t matter so much, but that’s our lazy side talking back to us.  In actuality, scrambling up onto a rock or heading up a steep trail is often all you need to make that landscape photo pop.  It can also add interest to a group photo.  Depending on your subject, even a modest increase in POV height can help to add a sense of depth.  The image above only required a short (but breathless) walk uphill.  I also gave him plenty of space and shot with a longer focal length (600 mm.) so as not to disturb him from his morning “zen spot”.
  • Or a tree!  Last weekend while photographing these moose in Colorado I was becoming frustrated by the tall willows.  While the moose were more than okay with it, happily munching on one of their favorite foods, the willows were also limiting my view to head and antler shots.  So I did something I rarely do anymore: I climbed a tree.  I only had to go about 6 or 7 feet up to make a big difference in POV.  I ended up liking the shots with lower POV, those few without obscuring willows that is.  But how would I have known for sure without trying?
I had to get part-way up a tree to even get this much of a moose in the willows, Colorado.

I had to get part-way up a tree to even get this much of a moose in the willows, Colorado.

A fairly low POV, helped by finding an avenue through the willows, emphasized the size of this rather rude fellow.

A fairly low POV, helped by finding an avenue through the willows, emphasized the size of this rather rude fellow.

  • Tote a ladder around.  This is something I’ve only done a couple times, but it’s certainly a good solution in some circumstances.  For photos of people, just those few extra feet can really add variety and shift perspective dramatically.  For landscapes when you’re in a flat area, especially when shooting from the road where vegetation blocks the view, it can make the difference between getting the shot and getting skunked.
  • Go flying.  I’m always on a budget, but on occasion it has worked out to charter a flight in a small plane.  In the Okavango Delta, for example, I went in with a couple other people and took a spectacular flight over the enormous wetlands in northern Botswana, looking down on elephant and antelope herds.  If money is no problem, a helicopter flight is the best option of all.  You can hover for one thing, allowing extra time to shoot.  In addition, being able to land anywhere (if regulations permit) makes choppers my all-time favorite mode of air travel.

 

  • Get a drone.  I don’t really like drones.  For some reason they annoy me, and besides I like to be physically behind the camera.  But I have to admit that drones allow you to dramatically raise point of view in a hurry.  They also allow you to put the camera into places that are impossible to get to.

A low POV and wide angle helps to lend a sense of depth to this shot of a glacial tarn high in the Rockies.

I sometimes catch myself getting lazy when I’m out shooting.  Not often, but it happens.  I’ve learned that attitude has so much to do with photography, and occasionally the enthusiasm and motivation is just not there.  In those cases I think it’s best to just enjoy the place you’re in without photographing anything.  Of course us photogs. have a hard time doing this.

But if you are standing in one place and not varying your point of view, ask yourself if you really want to be out shooting that day.  A good way to check if you are truly motivated  is to simply observe yourself.  Are you moving your feet?  Are you changing position and height?

The bottom line is that if you want better photographs you simply must vary your point of view as much as possible.  All this shifting around to get the shot can lead to problems both legal and safety-wise.  So nextFriday I will add a post-script to the topic of POV.  Thanks so much for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

For this sunset shot at Red Rock Lake, Colorado, I wanted to get low enough to emphasize the grasses yet not so low that Indian Peaks would appear too small.

For this sunset shot at Red Rock Lake, Colorado, I wanted to get low enough to emphasize the grasses yet not so low that Indian Peaks would appear too small.

 

Travel Theme: Unexpected   15 comments

A really great idea for a travel theme, thanks Ailsa!  Check out all the other entries over on her blog: Where’s My Backpack?.

Maroon Lake in the Colorado Rockies at dawn.

Maroon Lake in the Colorado Rockies at dawn.

Last fall I was shooting sunrise at the ever-popular Maroon Lake in the Colorado Rockies.  As usual I let the other photographers go on their way and lazed around drinking coffee and soaking up some gorgeous sunshine.  I decided to walk down to a little pond near the main lake and look for some abstract or macro shots.  The sun was well up by this time and the light full of contrast.  So I was in no hurry.  I stalled for a few more minutes, cleaning lenses and fiddling with gear.

Maroon Bells in Late Fall I

While I had my back turned a visitor showed up.  When I turned around and saw her, I was surprised to say the least!  I had no idea moose frequented this area.  Change of plan: instead of a lazy stroll, now it was a crouching stalk!  Which was probably not necessary; she didn’t seem too bothered by my presence.  As the last picture shows, she was after a sweet (if soggy) mid-morning snack.  She wasn’t about to let some clumsy human with a camera ruin it either!

The Maroon Bells near Aspen Colorado receive an autumn visitor.

The Maroon Bells near Aspen Colorado receive an autumn visitor.

Water plants, yum!

Water plants, yum!

Mountain Monday: Maroon Bells & Moose   7 comments

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No internet for the past few days, so I missed Single-image Sunday.  I know about Macro Monday, but having been in the mountains, this seems more appropriate. This post is all about the letter M!

I’m in the Rocky Mountains trying to soak up the last of autumn’s atmosphere.  It seems that this year winter is coming early to these parts.  I did some morning photos at Maroon Lake the other day. Finishing up at a small beaver pond, I had already gotten ready to leave when this cow moose showed up.  She quickly waded right into the pond and began to munch away on the water plants, plunging her big head all the way under and coming up with a mouth-full of moss and such.

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I’ve had the opportunity to see moose wading belly deep on numerous occasions.  But I’ve never had this spectacular a backdrop at the same time as having camera equipment at the ready.  The mountains are called the Maroon Bells, fairly famous because of their proximity to Aspen.

If you are interested in any of these images please contact me.  I’m on the road now and will not have them up on my website until I can get to a faster connection. Clicking on any of the pictures will take you to the gallery on my site that is animal-focused.  Thanks for reading and have a fantastic week!

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Grand Tetons: Wildllife   Leave a comment

Late Autumn along the Snake River in Grand Tetons National Park, Wyoming means the moose are busy fattening up for the coming winter.

I was initially pretty disappointed in the lack of animals over the first couple days I was here in western Wyoming.  I heard in the mornings the bugling of elk as they continued to arrive from the colder high country of Yellowstone to the north.  I also got close to running into one large bull on the road while driving at night.  I try to keep it to 35 mph in National Parks (or any wildlife-rich country) at night.  The speed limit on the roads is 45 mph, which I think is too fast to stop in time unless you are really hyper-alert.  I was routinely being passed by cars doing 55-60 mph, which is just asking for a nasty encounter with a large mammal.  Or you will kill a fox, coyote, or even a wolf.  Plain stupidity.

One morning on Signal Mountain, a great place to watch the sunrise from at the south end of Jackson Lake, I glimpsed a fox crossing the empty road.  I pulled up and just watched him, since the light was way too low to try a shot.  He was just beautiful, with a long bushy tail tipped with a bright blaze of white.  Signal Mountain has a seldom-walked trail which winds up its flanks.  You can drive to the top as well, but an early-morning hike will likely reward you with sightings in this wildlife-rich area.  The picture below is not strictly of wildlife, but it points to the fine horse ranches to be found on the drive along the east side of the park, north of Jackson Hole.

The Grand Tetons form a spectacular background to a fine herd of horses in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

The main animal I wanted to see, and hopefully in good light with a background of the Tetons, was moose.  After the glorious sunset I posted on last time, I was going to just head into Jackson for the night.  I was nearing two weeks without a shower and needed to do laundry too.  But the sunset got me into the mood to try for a good sunrise, so I drove up to a place called Schwambacher’s Landing, on the east side of the Snake River.  I camped there for the night (illegal but there aren’t many rangers this time of year), and woke early to a nice sunrise (see image below).  Not as colorful as the sunset of the previous evening, but it was worth bearing the temperatures in the teens (Farenheit).

Now I really had to leave for town.  Or did I?  After letting my lazy little dog (who had taken over my sleeping bag and was snoring) out, I decided to take a stroll along the river.  I took only my camera and long lens, a Canon 100-400L.  I saw some birds, including a busy little water ousel (a.k.a. dipper) who didn’t realize I was there laying prone on the stream cobbles.  He approached pretty close, and I got nice stills plus videos of one of my favorite birds, a denizen of cold rocky streams all over the mountain west.

The dipper, or water ousel, frequents all the best mountain streams in the mountains of the American West.

 

An American dipper goes under on the Snake River in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

The morning was warming rapidly as I walked back, this time eschewing the trail along the river and cutting through the cottonwoods that grew back quite a ways from the riverside.  I was glad I did.  All of a sudden I looked into some willows ans a massive head appeared, not more than 20 yards away: a bull moose!  He was softly grunting and munching away on the willows, occasionally scraping his massive rack on the branches.  I was happy (not the first time) that my lens wasn’t a fixed 400.  Even so, at 100 mm, I had to back up a few steps to get most of him in (see top image).

Now I know from my Alaska days how dangerous a moose can be.  So I was cautious.  But then I noticed the young female and her calf nearby (see image below).  They were very much aware of me, unlike Mr. munch mouth.  When she decided to trot away, her cute little youngster following, the bull followed, grunting and obviously all hot and bothered.  I wouldn’t need to worry about him; his mind was fully occupied.  So all I needed to do was keep my distance from the cow and her calf, something she made very easy to do.

A peekaboo hole through the trees is enough for me to get a glimpse of a cow moose with her calf (and for the little guy to see me), near the Snake River in Grand Teton national Park, Wyoming.

 

One of the Tetons forms the backdrop for a silhouetted moose in Grand Tetons National Park, Wyoming

I pursued for awhile, getting some nice shots, even though the light was getting pretty harsh by that time.  I didn’t want to interrupt the family’s morning too much, but I did notice that after a bit the cow relaxed a bit.  She apparently had realized I wasn’t much of a threat, though I never got as close to her or her calf as I did the bull.  It was interesting how she let the slower bull catch up to her, even though she could have made sure of her calf’s safety by leaving me in the dust.

It was near noon when I returned to the van, and the day was so warm that I switched to shorts, cracked a celebratory beer, made a sandwich, and reflected on the sheer randomness of wildlife sightings.  There was another one I was thinking of – the wolf in Yellowstone a week ago.  But that’s a subject for another post.

A beaver-dammed channel of the Snake River in Grand Tetons National Park is the perfect mirror for sunrise.

 

 

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