The Northern Search Begins

The Stairs captured by Z 6II / Z14-24f2.8

It’s after 10:00AM and the sun is just thinking about breaking the horizon. Yep, I’m up near the Arctic Circle looking for light. Northern Lights that is! It was a lovely -14 this morning as we scouted looking for where we would stage tonight for the show. It was forecasted to be solid clouds but we had a gorgeous day with the skies all clear to the north. We went in for dinner coming out to the forecasted, solid cloudy skies. We’re here for a week with the next four nights forecasted for clear skies so not to worry.
These stars we came across during our scouting and with the way they seem to take you up to the clouds. You know me and clouds, I had to stop to make a click. Something about climbing to the heavens to be with the clouds just grabs my imagination. Time to rest up … hoping to be going out at 01:00 and -29 to play in the lights. mtc

The Gangs All Here – Now What?

Rocky Mtn Bighorn Sheep rams captured by Z 6II / 180-400VR

“You go ask her, no, you walk over there and ask. Heck no, you go first!” You know that awkward time at the beginning of a high school dance, that’s what was going through my head as I watched these eleven Rocky Mountain Bighorns gather and munch. We had a total of fifteen curls but the ranch manager told us he’d seen eighteen the earlier in the week. The Ram Band had come down to meet up with the ewe band for that “birds & the bees” thing they do this time of year. We had spent a few hours with the sheep at this point (47 in all) and the light had gotten pretty hard but I sooo love being with sheep, I wasn’t going anywhere. Then the rams spread out in a line as you see. I wanted that picture, but how to tell the story?

Shooting with the 180-400VR, I could get this grouping or that grouping of rams, but that wouldn’t show them all! That’s when the idea of a pano came to mind. ACR (Adobe Camera Raw) makes it so darn simple as long as you give it plenty of info. I did what I recommend you don’t do, made awkward crops. The pano is a three image pano so you can see how I cropped right through somebodies but ACR had no issue putting them back together again. I worked really fast as they were moving so I had some doubts but it turned out pretty cool. Sharon really likes it so it might even end up on The Ranch wall. It sums up beautifully though a great week with these amazing critters!

Red Sky in the Morning …

Yellowstone River captured by Z 6II / Z14-24f2.8

There wasn’t even a hint of light on the horizon when we pulled away from the lodge. This time of year in the north, sunrise is nice and late, if you’re an early riser. As we ventured up the road, the first hints of light wiggled through the clouds and then, the clouds began to disappear. The glorious sunrise burst on the scene with a great screech of rubber on the road. Within seconds I was standing on the edge of the Yellowstone River soaking in what the great west is all about!
Photographers, everyone for that matter, is sucked in by the color red. When it wraps a scene in its entirety as it does here, it can make it hard to know where to look and more importantly, say in your photograph what’s the subject. Bringing out that red required setting the WB to 9000k and underexposing by one full stop. More importantly, though was the inclusion of the tall trees to the right of the frame. I bring in the old west, it keeps the eye in the frame, gives the water an anchor point for flowing, ties the red sky in with the foreground. As you arrange all the elements, bounce off what you see in the viewfinder with what words you are using to express the moment. You might be saying out loud what you need to say in your photograph. It is a special moment, red sky in the morning.

Hello Mrs. P!

female Pileated Woodpecker captured by Z 6II / 180-400VR

It all started when we moved to The Ranch and I started investigating what were the local birds that we could attract might be. I found that across the valley (we’re in the Sapphires and the Bitterroots are on the westside) are Pileated Woodpeckers. Well, I wanted to have them in our yard so I put up some invites. It started with the woodpecker feeder and then the Pileated feeder. And if darn if they didn’t show up. We saw and photographed plenty of males, but we never saw a female. We even had two fledging males come on by. We thought once we saw her lurking in the back trees once, but never really sure. You can tell the male from the female at a distance by the male’s distinctive red mustache (I’m jealous, mine us to be red). Then on one of my trips, Sharon was entertained by one that was at The Ranch every day.
I got back and saw it and other than enjoying its presence and watching it, never really paid close attention to details. Last week I had the time so I grabbed the Z 6II / 180-400VR and spend some time with it. That’s when I realized he, was a she! Her pattern doesn’t vary much, eats at both feeders, heads down to Vs.4 water features, and then calls. It would seem the calling has to do with her letting other Pileateds know it’s her territory. She’s great company every day, Maggie or our chores don’t phase her so she’s a great addition. Now I’m on the hunt for the perfect nesting tree I can plant to encourage a more permanent occupation. So, say Hello Mrs. P!

The Storm Rolls In

Chugach Mountains captured by Z 6II / 180-400VR

Is the storm coming, hammering the mountain top, already pounding the mountains or about to blow out? You can tell your story in camera simply with the push of a button and turn of a dial. Exposure must equal emotion, emotion that comes from you! When you see them clouds, how do YOU respond to them? Are they good or bad, about to ruin your photographic opportunity, or do they create one? Since only you know when you depress the shutter release, you can make them whatever you want and tell your story, yours!

In this case, they were bringing snow to the Chugach Mountains and causing me to hike out earlier than I planned. The storm while not a big one was causing me a big change in my plans. With that, I underexposed -1 stops to say the storm was incoming and bigger than it really was. Shooting B&W was a natural for the moment, underexposing for telling the story I was feeling. That’s what writing with light is all about, reaching down to your emotions and using the tools of photography to tell them. That brings out the power in the photograph as the storm rolls in.

No Bull

Alaskan Bull Moose captured by Z 6II / 180-400VR

The air started to bite with the drop in temps as the snow started to fall later yesterday afternoon. It’s a gorgeous, quiet time of year in Alaska with the changing of the guard from fall to winter. We’d spent the week in the Chugach Mountains, some days putting in seven miles going up and down the valley in search of our quarry that in previous years was chuck full. Something I’ve been doing for decades, this slam dunk subject has never been a challenge for me to find and photograph. With literally 50k plus images in my files from this one locale, its productivity keeps me coming back over and over again. This year, it’s all different and in the back of my mind, I’m very concerned.

There are some critters I know pretty well, Grizzly Bears, Sandhill Cranes, San Joaquin Kit Fox, and Moose. I’ve put decades of field time with these critters and those who have made it their life mission to understand them. This knowledge has numerous photographic benefits, one of them being in the right place at the right time. This year, it didn’t help out that much. After days of looking in locales where there should be herds of Moose only to find one, literally just one, and hearing from folks how they never gathered this year like in the past, I went to what Sharon calls Plan B. After a little time wandering, I finally found what we call in my family affectionately, my Northern Cousins.

The small band of a dozen Moose was held up in a small corner of Kincaid Park with this bull being the first and rightfully, the last one we spent time with. This is a dozen miles and at sea level from their mountain haunts. I’m saying bull but you’re seeing no giant rack so might be thinking it’s a cow. That’s because this big bull, and I mean big, has already shed its antlers which this time of year, is really abnormal! A sample of one, alone this doesn’t mean much. But we found other bulls missing one or both of their antlers. This along with their total absence in the valley high in the mountains where they should normally be doing that birds and the bees thing just feels really wrong as in, there is something wrong in their world. And when this is combined with the rest of the anecdotal evidence from the past two years going to old haunts to find critters missing or totally gone that for decades have been a treasure trove of photographs truly has me concerned for the natural world I so love. What have we done to our wild heritage? It keeps me awake at night, no bull!

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