Photo Gallery and Blog
Grizzly Bear and Heron - Yellowstone - 1992
For about two weeks in September 1992, a pair of sub-adult grizzly bears were
hanging around the north side of Mount Washburn, near the Chittenden Road junction.
Naturally this photo opportunity attracted huge numbers of photographers.
This area is closed to human entry, so everybody had to stay within a few
feet of the road.
A park ranger was there, mostly to protect the bears from the people.
These two bears were constantly searching for food, wandering randomly
around the hills with their noses planted firmly on the ground.
We all got to see their brute strength as they tossed melon-sized
rocks with just a casual swat of a paw.
Some days they were far from the road.
Occasionally they would wander up fairly close to the row of tripods.
Whenever a bear would raise its head, the clatter of shutters and
motor winders was deafening. For some reason, non-photographers find
this extremely entertaining.
Over at Norris Meadow, this immature great blue heron was hunting.
Most great blue herons stand in water and hunt for fish, but this heron was
standing in a dry meadow and hunting for voles. Unlike most herons,
it was oblivious to the cluster of photographers.
It would stand motionless, waiting and watching, occasionally walking
ever so slowly, until it found something.
Then its head would slowly extend forward, and suddenly dart down into the
grass and snatch another vole. It would hold it briefly in its beak, then
swallow it whole with some big gulps. Throughout the course of a day it would
catch about a dozen voles. You never know what you're going to find in
You might see an eruption of Steamboat Geyser
, the world's largest geyser.
Mountain Goats - Mount Evans, Colorado
Mount Evans is a great place to get mountain goat photos. It is a 14,264 foot
mountain located about 30 miles west of Denver, with a paved road all the way
to the top. The road is not for the faint of heart, with several sheer
drop-offs and no guardrails.
Mountain goats were introduced in this area in 1961,
and have become very accustomed to people.
Sometimes they are standing on the road, or exploring the bathrooms.
They go to parked cars and lick the wheel wells for salt.
They are very curious, and often explore an unattended camera bag or tripod.
If you wait long enough, a goat will go pose on a rocky crag and look majestic.
The young kids are great fun to watch as they play, scrambling around
on the rocks or climbing on each other.
You will discover that even full grown goats are smaller than you expect.
The top of a 14,000 ft mountain is not a very hospitable place for people,
even in the summertime. It is a major effort to be there at 5:30AM for sunrise,
and when you do, the temperature will be near freezing with a stiff wind.
At 13-14000 feet, the thin air causes dehydration and leaves you panting
with just the slightest exertion.
But if it was easy, everybody would do it.
Mountain Bluebirds - Rocky Mountain National Park
I really enjoy photographing mountain bluebirds in the summertime.
Bluebirds use existing cavities in trees for their nests.
Typically these are in aspen trees, but occasionally one might be in a
ponderosa pine with its lovely orange bark.
After the eggs hatch, there is lots of activity around a nest.
The parents make hundreds of trips to their nest as they bring bugs
to feed their hungry brood. Usually they are ridiculously tolerant of a
person, e.g. me. I can photograph them from about 20 feet with
my 600mm lens, and they come and go without the slightest hesitation.
Occasionally one parent will spot a bug on the ground near me, and fly
over and grab it. Sometimes they perch on convenient photo equipment.
One bluebird discovered the front of a car is a smorgasbord of bugs,
albeit flat ones.
There are some subtle things that can make or break a bluebird photo.
You will need an extension tube to get a telephoto lens to focus close enough
for these small birds. An extension tube needs a surprising amount of exposure
compensation, especially considering it is just an empty tube.
If the bird is not parallel to you, its tail will be way out of focus.
A slight change in the position of the bird's head makes a huge difference.
The eyeball highlight is very important.
A bright green worm is much more photogenic than a nondescript black bug.
Keep these things in mind, but above all, enjoy the "bluebirds of happiness."
Longs Peak and Bear Lake and tourists
One hazard of photographing in national parks is the ubiquitous tourists.
A long lens or a tripod is a powerful magnet for curious folks and seems to be
interpreted as an open invitation to come and chat.
People regularly come up and ask "Whatcha takin' pictures of?"
Even when the lens is clearly aimed upwards, they seem so disappointed
when it turns out to be a bird. "Just a bird?" they say, and leave.
I wish I had a dollar for every time I have patiently explained what I was taking pictures of.
I mean, nobody walks up to a table of picknickers and asked "Whatcha eatin'?" but somehow a photographer is different.
It goes with the territory.
We are all visitors to the park and most people are considerate during
their visit, but in any crowd there are a few thoughtless and obnoxious morons.
For example, some folks drive so very slowly,
oblivious to the backup of other visitors following along behind them,
then stop and block the road just to take a picture.
Sometimes they violate park rules by taking dogs on trails or
picking wildflowers, or do very dangerous things like leaving unattended
food sitting all over a campsite and then complain about the bear that appears.
Inconsiderate visitors can ruin photo opportunities by scaring off the wildlife.
Sometimes it is accidental, but other times I can only shake my head as
this visitor sees some wildlife and spontaneously stops in the middle
of the road, nearly causing an accident, a bunch of people pile out and
slam all the doors, their dog barks, and the poor animal heads for the woods.
(Of course, you would never do such a thing, right?)
You might think that mountain scenery photos would be safe
from disruption, but no, inconsiderate tourists can mess them up too.
This is an evening photo of Longs Peak reflecting in Bear Lake.
This is a particularly difficult photo because of
all the atmospheric conditions that have to come together. You need some
clouds behind the peak but not in front of the sun in the west.
You need very calm winds so the lake surface will become mirror smooth
and give a nice reflection.
It takes a long time for waves to decay on a lake this size.
I had attempted this photo several times and always failed due to wind, lack
of clouds, or jet contrails.
This particular evening in June showed promise, storm clouds that were breaking up.
I went to Bear Lake and walked around to my favorite spot, the sun began
shining under the breaking clouds, and there was no wind.
The water surface was getting smoother as the waves slowly died out.
I took some pictures periodically. Bear Lake is a major attraction of Rocky
Mountain National Park, its 200 parking places are filled by 9:30AM, but it is
mostly empty by this time of day. Occasionally a few people would pass by,
ask "whatcha takin' pictures of?", then look back and see this wonderful view
of Longs Peak. All the while the sun is slowly setting, the light getting
warmer, and the lake becoming mirror smooth.
About then, a family walked by, asked the standard question,
said "Oh what a nice reflection", and continued along the trail.
A few seconds later I hear this huge KerSPLASH as they tossed
a big rock into the lake. This made huge waves and totally ruined my photos
for the rest of the night. What were they thinking? They must have left
their brains at home. And so you see, tourists can even ruin a mountain photo.
In late June I had the good fortune to discover a burrowing owl nest.
They are pretty hard to find since they are a "species of special concern"
in Colorado, which is the first step to becoming an endangered species.
I have not been able to get any photos of them since 1992 as described in
my previous war story. In previous cases, when I found a nest, the owls
were so intolerant that the parents wouldn't come and the chicks stayed down,
and I felt like I was messing up their young lives so I gave up on them.
But these owls seemed a lot more tolerant.
The nest was way out on the prairie at the end of some bumpy one-lane
dirt roads in remote Weld County, Colorado, currently inhabited by
lots of prickly pear cactus and an occasional rattlesnake.
After securing permission from the kind landowner, I set up my photo blind
early one morning out near their nest hole. Not only did I have to carry
the blind and my photo equipment, I was strongly encouraged to wear heavy
boots and always carry a shovel as insurance against rattlesnakes.
Then the wait began.
Getting up really early and then sitting around half awake in an
uncomfortably hot blind in the middle of a snake-infested cactus field gives you
plenty of time to consider there must be a better way of making a living.
But you quickly forget that when a fuzzy round head with two yellow eyes
pops up from the ground. Only one chick appeared the first day.
It was still quite young, having bits of fuzzy down between the feathers on its head.
I left the blind there for quite a few days, weighing it down with an old tire.
The next morning was most excellent. Shortly after I arrived in the blind, one
parent flew over to the edge of the hole and the chicks started popping up.
At first they all stared intently at the blind, no doubt intrigued by the
motor winder sounds, but within a few seconds they were ignoring me.
At first there were only two chicks visible, but eventually there were
five of them squirming around. Gettting a decent photo of five chicks
is very difficult because there is always one screwball with its back to you.
Plus there is very little depth of field with an 800mm lens at 35 ft at f11,
so if one owl is a few inches in front of another, one will be out of focus.
Anyway, the adult owl stood there for about an hour while the five chicks
ran around, pecked on each other, watched airplanes fly over, and ignored me.
This was all fascinating to watch, although I must say the best photos came
in the first minute.
I had varying success on other mornings. Some days the chicks would pop up
and be cute and other days nothing would happen. The parents just stood on
other nearby prairie dog mounds and snoozed. After the chicks got a little
bigger, they would run around on the ground between holes so you could never
predict where they would appear. At that point I decided I had enough.
I discovered another wonderful thing about the adult owls--they liked to
sit on roadside fenceposts and they would actually stay there and
let me take pictures of them from the window of my car. This is my
favorite technique of removing the passenger seat and setting a tripod there,
then the big lens points out the passenger-side window.
As things were arranged, I had to approach the fenceposts in reverse.
Those owls must really have wondered what was going on when this little
VW came over the hill in reverse with this big lens poking out the window.
I made several trips out there in the evening when the sky was clear
to get photos of the cute little owls on the posts in warm sunlight.