A goal of our visit to the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, Custer, and Badlands is to photograph critters. Whenever we visit places such as these we start our animal hunt, trying to add as many species as possible to our trophy case (aka, photo collection) . It’s not good enough to just see a species, we have to shoot one. In Africa we collected quite a few. We were hoping for much of the same on our trip.
It started slow.
We drove up, around, through the park and could find nothing new to add to our trophy case. Then one of us would spot one, maybe a Bison, perhaps an Elk. Too far away, even for our cameras.
Back to the search. We’d drive some more. After awhile, Kathryn would spot one. I’d pick up speed trying to get there before it trotted off. We arrived only to find a rock. It was a nice rock. And, there was no danger of it trotting off. But it’s not a worthy trophy.
We’d continue on our drive. As we came around a bend, Kathryn squeaked. I knew we had one now. I sped up, getting there quickly. Nothing again except another nicely shaped rock. If you looked very carefully, you could see an animal face in that rock. Nice but no cigar.
We repeated this process over and over. Eventually, we decided to include these rocks as a new animal species, the Rockimal. From our perspective, Rockimals of the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone are now a coveted trophy. And we got quite a few!
Finally Some Bison
Somewhat bewildered and a bit dismayed we headed out of Yellowstone through the Lamar Valley, known for its animals. Especially the Bison. We got up very early so we could arrive at the Lamar Valley just as the sun was appearing. A good animal photo will include beautiful light on the critter’s face, hopefully getting catchlights in the eyes. We were into the valley about a mile or so when we came across a heard of Bison. They were a bit far off so we only took a token shot or two.
We started off again and traveled no more than a half-mile when we arrived in the middle of another Bison heard. They were everywhere. Bison surrounded our car. They milled about, fought a bit, took care of their young. It was amazing, thrilling, and downright scary. Do you know how big an adulty Bison is? We carefully got out of the car, cameras in hand, and began to shoot.
A Few Tips
Before shooting I try to make sure I get all the bases covered to ensure a good animal photo.
- Light – is the light was warm and soft, lighting up the face?
- Color – is there nice color? In the case of the bison, is the color of the fur a pleasing brown? Perhaps if the fur is a bit grimy, I would defer shooting it.
- Gesture – is the animal doing something interesting? Taking care of its young? Giving me “the look”?
- Background distraction free – is the animal separated from distractions in the scene? Is there anything obscuring the animal? Did I chop off its feet?
I do all of this in a flash. Then I fire away. Another one for the trophy case!
Moose are difficult animals to photograph. They are elusive, often hiding is the woods. We spent four days talking about finding, then photographing a moose. It took until we were less than a mile from leaving Yellowstone behind. Then Kas bagged one!
We left Yellowstone in a good mood. We discovered a new species, the rockimal. And we had an unbelievable experience with and among the bison. The moose was a cool add-on.
On a recommendation from a close friend we visited Custer State Park in Custer, SD. He promised there were better (and more) animals in Custer than Yellowstone. There weren’t very many animals. But, we did come across a family of Mountain Goats. We hung out with them as they posed for us, licked some rocks, and played. It was just like our experience with the bison but a lot less scary.
Remember, its all about the light.