Their Winter Home
Though the conditions are harsh by any standard, a great many species make Yellowstone their winter home. Safety from humans is one of the reasons, but the warm thermal-fed rivers are a major factor. During our four days in the park we saw an abundance of Elk, Buffalo, Coyotes, Bald Eagles and Wolves.
Since my interest is in environmental wildlife photography, don't look for head-and-shoulder portraits. I'm more interested in showing wildlife in the context of the landscape.
The first photograph below is a prime example.
This is my favourite wildlife shot of the trip. You need to view the enlarged version of this image by clinking on the version above to see why. In a large print the humour of it, combined with the soft early morning light, creates a charming combination.
It was our fourth morning in the park and we had been driving for a while looking for the full moon to set shortly after sunrise, but it went behind some clouds and never reappeared. Somewhat disappointed at this we rounded a bend in the road and spotted this bull Elk in a field, with the distant hillside bathed in a hazy morning glow. Only after putting my 400mm lens on the camera did I see that there was a Magpie sitting on his rump. He seemed more curious as to what the bird was up to than annoyed by it. We were grinning from ear to ear.
In Yellowstone you can get close enough to the Buffalo so that you could almost touch them (though you wouldn't and shouldn't — these are huge unpredictable creatures), so getting frame-filling close-ups isn't all that difficult. But that's not the type of wildlife photography that I enjoy. Rather, as mentioned, I like to create what are called environmental wildlife images. These are essentially wild animals as seen in their natural environment — landscapes with animals, if you will. With its exotic and varied landscape it's hard to image a place better suited than Yellowstone for doing this.
It was near the end of our first day of snowmobiling in the western section of the park. Though the air temperature was about -15C the water in this stream was well above 0 C, making for a temperate environment for several Bison. The light was fading quickly and a snow squall was brewing, but I managed a few quick frames before we remounted our snowmobiles and headed to the warmth of the Old Faithful Snow Lodge.
Though there is ample opportunity for intimate close-ups of the wildlife, there are frequently vistas where the animals recede and become a tiny, though significant part of the landscape. The following four images are examples of this. Each is best seen in their enlarged versions by clicking on the photographs here.
Pentax 645NII with Pentax (67) 400mm f/4 ED(IF) with 1.4X Extender lens on Provia 100F
When I travel with my Hasselblad XPan outfit I find myself seeing things in a wide aspect ratio. In this case though I was using a long telephoto, and was intrigued by these elk standing in counterbalance to the line of trees. I cropped the image to a strong horizontal because that's what the subject matter dictated. Everything else in the frame was extraneous to what I saw.
Watching this parade of buffalo from a distance I was struck by how they appear to be so much a part of the landscape that they are almost indistinguishable from the boulders behind them.
This type of wildlife photography, where the animals become an inherent part of the landscape — giving scale and relevance — particularly appeals to me.
On our last afternoon in the park we started to run out of steam (literally as well as figuratively) and began the long drive back to Bozeman, not expecting much in the way of shooting opportunities. No sooner had we said that than we spied this bald eagle. A quick stop, and after putting the 400mm along with the 1.4X on the 645 body and I managed a few frames before he flew off.
In the interest of full disclosure — I have "trimmed" a few branches using the cloning tool in Photoshop, something I almost never usually do. I decided though that in this case I had a better sense of esthetic than did Mother Nature.
This subject will be featured in a forthcoming issue of The Luminous Landscape Video Journal.