JHP Newsletter - 2012, No. 2, 30 June
Greetings from near Franktown, Colorado, our new unofficial home base.
My knee's doing better, but I suffered a setback while in Yellowstone. I wasn't exercising it much and I caught my left foot on some sagebrush which tweaked my knee. It took several weeks to get back to where I was before the re-injury. I've been exercising it more lately and it's doing good enough that I decided not to see an orthopedist about surgery while back in town.
Equipment: Wimberley Head Version II
I had resisted getting a Wimberley head for years because I was quite happy using my ball head. That is, until the panning of my Arca-Swiss B-1 ballhead with a 500 on it became jerky last spring in Yellowstone and I replaced it with a RSS (Really Right Stuff) BH-55 Pro Ballhead. That worked fine until the first time I tried to track an animal this time in Yellowstone and it too had jerky panning. So, I broke down and ordered the head that everyone recommends for long lenses. My first impression of the head was that it's heavy! It weighs 3.15 lb (1.4 kg) compared to 1.8 lb (0.82 kg) for the BH-55. Setting up the head for my Canon EF 500mm f4 L IS USM took just a few minutes, and I was eager to get out into the field and start using it. All I can say is, if you've been considering a Wimberley Head, don't wait any longer. It is an incredible head for a long lens because it lets you concentrate on framing the subject instead of thinking about operating a tripod head. When the head is adjusted properly, the lens practically floats in space and then stays where you point it even hands off. The weight isn't much of an issue either once the head is mounted to a tripod and a 500 is attached to it.
Equipment: Gitzo GT5562GTS Tripod
I'm thoroughly enjoying the Gitzo GT5562GTS Tripod I bought to use with my Wimberley Head Version II. It's a 6x carbon-fiber model with six-segment legs that extend long enough (109 in or 277 cm) for shots on really uneven ground. It folds down to 29.5 in (75 cm) and weighs 7.9 lb (3.6 kg). I wish they made a similar model with just five segments because that would reduce the weight and cost a bit.
The legs are really long. I leave the bottom segments extended about 6 in (15 cm) to keep the bottom joints out of the dirt and sand, and then for most shots I don't even extend the top two segments. It's so convenient to be able to extend those "extra" top segments when the ground is uneven because the joints are right at hand level. I had been using a Gitzo GT3540XLS Tripod which "only" extends to 78 in (198 cm). I also leave the bottom segments of that tripod extended about 6 in (15 cm), and on level ground, the top segments are almost fully extended. On such occasions when I move from relatively level ground to really uneven ground while shooting, it's a real hassle to either reach way down to extend that bottom segment or partially retract a leg so I can reach the bottom joint.
The GT5562GTS is also rock solid! At normal heights, the GT3540XLS flexes a bit when putting it in place with the 500 on it — the GT5562GTS doesn't move at all.
Travel: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Beginning in the middle of May, I went to Yellowstone National Park for two weeks by myself, primarily to photograph bears and specifically cubs. I had lots of nice photo ops for adult black bears. Most Black Bears are in fact black (below left), but some are cinnamon colored and I photographed two different cinnamon Black Bears while there. The cinnamon Black Bear in the image below right had been rubbing in some dirt and gravel, and in the image he's shaking off just like a dog.
1/90 sec, f5.6, ISO 640
1/90 sec, f5.6, ISO 400
I had lots of opportunities to watch a Black Bear sow with two cubs-of-the-year (COYs). Unfortunately, I only had a few opportunities to photograph them well. One of those times was when the two COYs were near the top of a large and mostly bare pine tree (below left) and I was able to get almost to their level by climbing up a hill on the other side of the narrow valley.
I saw several Grizzly Bears, including some two-year-old and three-year old cubs that I could photograph, but the two different COYs I saw were either too far away to photograph or their mother's pattern was too unpredictable to photograph them well. So, I decided to spend a lot of time with the Black Bear sow and two COYs because they were very predictable and because the COYs were so cute. As a result, I didn't spend much time photographing Grizzly Bears, but still managed to get some nice images of adults (below right).
1/180 sec, f6.7, ISO 400
1/250 sec, f5.6, ISO 400
Lots of Bison calves were born shortly before I arrived and some were born while I was there. While there are herds of Bison, it's not easy to get a nice portrait of a cow and her calf. In the image below left, I was finally able to get an image that I'm quite pleased with. A different calf is running for the joy of it in the image below right and you can see its umbilical cord hanging down..
1/125 sec, f8, ISO 400
1/350 sec, f8, ISO 320
Bison bulls have a bulkier head than the cows, and late one evening I came upon a cooperative bull in some nice light right by the road. I set up to photograph him, and as soon as he picked up his head and looked right at me I knew I had a winner (below left)/
I also photographed a Williamson's Sapsucker pair at their nest and also at a feeding tree. In the image below center, the female is eating at the feeding tree.
One morning after a heavy rain the evening before, there was wonderful fog and low clouds mingling with the trees. Under such conditions, I usually focus on the clouds among the trees, but this time I was drawn to the backlit cottonwoods with bright green fresh leaves, and used some as the basis for a composition (below right).
1/180 sec, f5.6, ISO 400
1/250 sec, f5.6, ISO 400
70-200 2.8 IS II (at 200mm),
1/500 & 1/250 sec, f8, ISO 100
Travel: Pawnee National Grassland, Colorado
Jan joined me in the Pawnee National Grassland in northeastern Colorado beginning at the end of May for two weeks to photograph Swift Foxes. The den where we had photographed on previous visits was no longer active, and it took a couple of days to locate an active den. Before we started photographing Swift Foxes, we photographed other cooperative subjects including a very cooperative Thirteen-Lined Ground Squirrel (below left). After we found the active Swift Fox den, it took a while for the very cautious vixen to get comfortable with us, and eventually one kit came out to play (below right).
1/1000 sec, f8, ISO 200
1/1000 sec, f8, ISO 250
The next day, a rancher drove his cattle right by the den, and the herd of cows, half a dozen people on horses, and two working dogs must have really spooked the foxes because we didn't see them again for two days. When they finally reappeared, it was worth the wait. After the vixen checked out the area, she called out the kits. Yes, kits — one kit came up, then a second, and then a third — it was the first time we had seen more than one kit at the den. Not only that, but the vixen and three kits lined up perfectly for a family portrait (below left). By the time the fourth kit came out, the first three kits had tired of posing and were playing with each other. The next day, we got some nice images of the vixen nursing all four kits (below right).
1/500 sec, f5.6, ISO 400
1/750 sec, f11, ISO 320
It's really fun to watch the kits play with each other. Unfortunately, we did a lot of watching and not much photography because they mostly played in areas where they were partially hidden behind brush. There were only a few opportunities to photograph them in the open with decent light (below left). It's also fun to see the vixen and kits show signs of affection towards each other like in the image below right.
1/250 sec, f5.6, ISO 400
1/500 sec, f6.7, ISO 400
Travel: Mt. Evans, Colorado
In the middle of June, we went to Mt. Evans for about a week and a half. The road to the top of Mt. Evans (14,264 ft or 4348m) is the highest paved road in North America and makes it very easy to access the Alpine environment that Mountain Goats and Bighorn Sheep call home. That time of year is great for watching and photographing Mountain Goat kids (below left) and is usually good for Bighorn lambs as well. On this visit, I only saw two lambs once, and they weren't in a good location to photograph them.
Yellow-Bellied Marmots are quite common, and one morning I spent about an hour and a half with a group of four marmots. Two of the younger ones sparred several times in various locations and orientations allowing me to capture some very uncommon behavior (below right).
1/1000 sec, f6.7, ISO 500
1/750 sec, f8, ISO 250
It's a lot of fun to watch the Mountain Goat kids playing atop the rocks. They're so sure-footed at such a young age. In the image below left, the kid on right still has its umbilical cord attached and the one on the left is at least twice as old. The little guy held his own while playing king of the mountain and even dislodged the older kid once. I was surprised on this visit to see some yearlings playing because usually only the kids play. In the image below right, a yearling is jumping really high from one rock to another to show off.
1/1000 sec, f9.5, ISO 320
1/1000 sec, f9.5, ISO 320
One afternoon we had a delightful time with four kids, some yearlings, and nannies. The afternoon light was nice, and in the image below left, the mountain in the background was in the shade making the kid really stand out. Backlighting creates wonderful rim lighting on Mountain Goats, and one evening a nanny with five kids stood on a nice perch for us (below right).
1/750 sec, f9.5, ISO 250
1/500 sec, f5.6, ISO 500
Take care and happy shooting.
James Hager Photography :: www.jameshagerphoto.com