We always try to find places to photograph where there aren’t other people, whether it’s hiking to remote locations, or stumbling around in the dark to be ready for sunrise (or coming in after sunset). In places like Arches National Park, avoiding others can be difficult. While many folks are courteous, there’s nothing more frustrating than the few who are oblivious to others and have to spoil the view of others for extended periods.
The same morning Sara took her Moab Sunrise shot, we were up before dawn and in place near Turret Arch and the North and South Windows. Although it’s a bit too accessible to all, it still offers some wonderful formations and photographic opportunities. Our plan was to be first in to get a unique view.
We were up and on-location well before sunrise, and each of us selected a position, waiting for the rising sun to warm up one of the arches we’d selected.
I waited, and waited, kept shooting and trying. I moved around a little bit, but never did get what I wanted.
I decided to walk around a little more, and turned around to face the sun, and then I finally got the shot that I wanted.
(Comment from Craig: I’ll add a post soon about one of the reasons all of us had to wait that morning. Although we ended up with a couple nice shots, it wasn’t easy!)
You’ve probably heard the joke about the two hikers who are charged by a grizzly in the forest. One immediately starts removing his boots so he can run faster. The other says, “Are you crazy—you can’t outrun that bear!” The first replies, “I don’t have to outrun the bear… I only have to outrun you!”
I’ve been known to make the similar remarks about close-up wildlife photography (I don’t have to outrun the moose—just another photographer). But in truth, no photo is worth risking your life, and it’s not just the animals you should fear!
Wildlife, particularly in national parks, is often quite tolerant of humans—misleading some to act like they’re at a petting zoo! The apparent calm of bears, moose, bison, et al, can be quite misleading, as they all can suddenly charge. And outrunning them… forget it. Bull moose weigh from 1000-1800 pounds depending on region, and can reach speeds of 35 MPH. Bison can be 2000 pounts, and also hit 35 MPH and jump 6 feet vertically from a standing start! And pity the person who gets between mother and baby—it’s a recipe for disaster that will require great luck to escape. I know—I’ve literally “been there, done that!”
We’ve found as we’ve visited the national parks, there are a lot of people like us, who are big fans of the national parks. It’s often easy to strike up a conversation with someone at a national park, and to find out which parks they’ve been to, and compare notes. You find yourself chatting with people from across the country, and around the world, and it is wonderful.
When I look at this photograph, one of Craig’s, I think of the evening we spent at Glacier Point, enjoying conversation with others in ‘the club‘ as we all spent time together overlooking one of my favorite spots in the world, Half Dome, as we waited for the sun to set.
With each successive trip, I find that I do more and more research in preparation for our trip. Most if not all of the national parks have natural history associations that are a great source of information on the parks. You can get books, calendars, maps, hiking guides and DVD’s to help you learn about learn about the park’s scenery, wildlife and any other area of interest you may have. I have a pretty good sense of the place before we arrive, and it helps me look forward to the trip.
I naturally look for spectacular scenery, and discovered the Fisher Towers area in one book. It is outside of Arches National Park, in the Moab, UT area, and apparently not widely known, as we had the place to ourselves for most of the evening. As the sun was setting, a local photo guide brought some other tourists in to do some shooting. I have to say that I was rather proud to have found the place on my own without paying someone hundreds of dollars to get me there! As you can see, Craig was able to take a beautiful panorama of the spot!
One evening at Oxbow Bend in The Grand Tetons, we were watching a cow moose browsing in the water. She was at least 200 yards away, and it was already too dim for a photo. But not according to someone who came up to us.
She claimed that she had successfully taken a photo showing the bottom of a 3000 foot canyon using the built-in flash of her point-and-shoot. She insisted that with our camera equipment, we should be able to capture the moose by using the flash! Uh, right.
She wouldn’t believe us when we said that she picked up the canyon based on ambient light rather than a flash—no flash is good for that distance (if it were, it would melt the camera—and probably the photographer—from the heat).
In most cases, the point-and-shoot users would get better results in dim, outdoor situations by turning off their flashes, at least when shooting distant objects. The flash is fine for closer shots, fill-in, or it the animal isn’t too distant, creating a “glint” in their eye (I’ve done this in bright light to get that specular highlight in the eye).
But not from 3000 feet!
There’s a story that someone once asked Ansel Adams when he used a tripod. Reportedly, Adams’ answer was “only when I want to take a photograph!”
That generally sums up my philosophy. Yes, it’s a pain hauling tripods on hikes through the bush. True, there are some situations where you cannot use a tripod, such as shooting game from one of Denali National Park’s buses (the only way to get deep into the park without a special, hard-to-obtain pass). So what do you use then?
While you can simply throw clothing over a windowsill, we prefer using a sandbag. Rather than have to travel with a heavy bag full of sand, Sara made some soft-fabric bags for us. When we arrive at our destination, we hit the local grocery and pick up some plastic bags of lentils or similar. Three of these bags go into the fabric bag, creating a very effective sandbag for use from vehicles, on fences, or over branches.
Of course, when you finish your trip, you can always cook up the contents of your sandbag for a getaway meal!
While we continue to see people walking along on mountain trails in flip-flops (although they aren’t carrying 30lb backpacks of photo gear), here is our “must have” items list for mountain areas:
We’ll post our preferred photo equipment list in the future.
If you think we missed something, please post your “must have” items!
Over the years, we’ve found both trail signs and hiking books to be less than accurate in reflecting true trail conditions. We’ve been on “easy” trails that had so many ankle-breakers we’d call them strenuous (especially lugging photo equipment), and moderate/strenuous trails that were surprisingly easy.
But the best example was a hike to Vernal Falls in Yosemite. About 0.3 of a mile from the base of the falls, you have a choice. You can continue on the trail directly to the falls, but count on getting wet and facing slippery footing. As those didn’t seem a wise choice with all our photo equipment, we opted for the alternate route, described in a hiking guide as “the slightly longer but more gradual John Muir trail…”
I couldn’t tell you how many switchbacks we traversed, but the Muir Trail was anything but SLIGHTLY longer and gradual. By the time we finished that section, we found ourselves 0.6 of a mile ABOVE Vernal Falls, further away than when we’d started the alternate route!
Next time, we’ll take the wet route!
1. Learn about the area (remember that you’re on their turf).
2. Understand the animals’ habits (and keep in mind they don’t read the books on how they are supposed to behave).
3. Camera set and ready to go at all times (when moving from area to area, we keep the telephoto on and tripod ready).
4. Keep ever vigilant (it’s amazing how even big animals like moose and bear can be concealed in brush).
If you put the first letters of those tips together, you’ll notice they spell LUCK!