Archive for February, 2012

Pennsylvania Elk on the Funny Side

Posted in Cow, Funny, Humor, Pennsylvania Elk, Talking Elk, Wildlife Photography with tags , , , , , on February 29, 2012 by bobshank

Some people are funny. We’ve all seen them and been around them, but do you know that animals are funny, too?

Yes, there is a humorous side of animals that the casual observer is not privy to because enough time is just not spent in the company of the animal. But give the animal, any animal, a chance, and there’s a good chance it will reveal a funny side to you!

Take this cow elk, for example. Maybe it wasn’t trying to be funny, but some of these facial expressions certainly put a smile on my face! It was honestly like that TV commercial where the baby is talking as his little mouth moves in rhythm! And you know, sometimes, I do think these elk have a feeling they’re being watched and observed, so they choose to put on a little show! You know, to impress the viewers or photographers who are watching. Who needs television when you can witness scenes like this?

Maybe she was just licking her chops in anticipation of an upcoming meal. Or maybe she was showing off for this silly photographer who was spending so much time standing behind this three little sticks. Ha, he calls them sticks? I’ll show him what we call sticks in these here woods!

I’m getting tired of being funny. So I think I’ll (yawn) go take a nap. What? You’ve never seen a big yawn before? Give me a break!



Photo Tip Tuesday – Getting Closer

Posted in Blind, Bull, Close-ups, Elk County, Getting Closer, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania Elk, Photo Tips, Wildlife Photography with tags , , , , , , , , on February 28, 2012 by bobshank

Getting closer to the subject is the name of the game in wildlife photography. Yes, sometimes we do want to include the surrounding environment and habitat that wildlife call their home, but getting closer will help a lot in separating an animal from a busy background. Also, there’s nothing worse than taking a photo and then sharing it with someone who asks, “what’s that spot over there?” Your reply, “Oh, that’s the bull elk I wanted you to see.” That little spot just doesn’t do any justice to your photography.

So, how do you get closer to your subject?

First, buying telephoto lenses is an important priority for any budding wildlife photographer. Long glass helps us get closer while maintaining a safe distance from the animals we are photographing. In fact, some National Parks even have a minimum viewing distance that requires longer lenses if we are going to fill the frame with our subject at this safe distance. 300mm is probably the shortest option for a good wildlife photography lens, but I have used the 70-200mm with a 1.4x teleconverter with larger mammals like the elk here in Pennsylvania. Yes, long glass is important and very helpful, but it is not the end all solution every time, especially with smaller subjects.

This brings us to the main topic of this photo tip-how to physically get closer to our subjects. You might assume that stalking or sneaking up on a subject will work. Sometimes yes and sometimes no; but typically no. Animals live longer lives because they are wary of danger, especially human danger. Big racks don’t get big by animals being careless.

Rather than sneaking up on them, I try to be as calm and unassuming as possible. I take my first photos from a distance if I haven’t photographed this species before just to get an image of this new subject. Then I see if the animal “accepts” me. What I mean by this is noting whether the animal goes back to its routine behavior of grazing or whatever. If not, I don’t move. I look in the opposite direction, remaining as calm as possible and pretending that I don’t care that the animal is even there. Usually, the animal realizes there is no imminent danger and does accept me as a non-threatening photographer rather than a hunter. Of course, this is much easier where hunting is not allowed, which makes Wildlife Refuges and National Parks prime locations for wildlife photography.

I did grow up in the farmlands of Lancaster County and was groomed to be a hunter at the age of twelve. I still hunt white-tailed deer and black bear, but I spend much more time out in the woods with my Nikon camera gear. The skills I learned from hunting are sometimes helpful, such as locating sign of animals and observing their behavior and patterns. With camera in hand, I don’t want my subject to think I am hunting it. I want the animal to realize I won’t hurt it and just want to photograph it. Sometimes talking calmly to an animal can help, too.

Another highly successful method I employ is to situate myself in a place to where the animal is headed and will eventually walk through as it meanders on its way. This is exactly the method we used with this Bull you see in these four photographs. I happened to see him not far off the road and I could see he was heading in a specific direction. I reasoned that he was going to eventually come by a specific location, so we moved to that location and waited for him to arrive. This was relatively easy because we could see him in the open some of the time, but this method works well even when you cannot see the subject if  you know the well-traveled trails and habits of the animal you are photographing.

Still another method I have used this past year is to use a portable blind. My son and I got closer to wild white-tailed deer in Elk County using this method. We both got into the blind well before sunset and just waited. Again, we knew this particular field was often frequented by deer in the evening. We picked our favorite location on this field, set up the blind, and waited. Sure enough, eight deer came out into the field and we had the chance to observe them up close and personal.

This is the goal-getting closer to our subjects. It is not always easy but it is well worth the effort! Oh yeah, one more tip on this subject-patience is key. By nature, I am not the most patient person in the world, but I can sit or stand at a spot for a very, very long period of time waiting to capture wildlife photographs. Most people take a few photos and move on. Don’t. Take your time and “work” the subject. Observe and photograph what the animal is doing. Try to capture facial expressions and body movements. Think about what close-up photographs might work with this subject. Focus your attention on separate parts of the animal’s body and create some art. Is there a tail wagging to chase away a flea? Are there long eyelashes on the eye of this animal? What are the position of the legs and feet? Will they be in a more photographic position if you wait for the animal to move five more feet? What about the background; could you wait for the animal to move in front of a better and more attractive background? Wait, watch, observe, and photograph!

With these tips you should be able to get closer.

Birds in Flight

Posted in Birds in Flight, Chincoteague, Merkle Wildlife Sanctuary, Ospreys, Wildlife Photography with tags , , , , on February 27, 2012 by bobshank

I just went through all my birds in flight photographs from my trip to Chincoteague in January. Sadly, not many of those photos are worth much. Capturing birds in flight is not easy. So many things can go wrong: focus, light or lack of light, sun glare, obstructions, and much more!

I was using my 70-200mm f/2.8 lens so I was not able to reach out far enough and the low number of good, quality images captured proved to me just has challenging this specific type of photography is to do.

It was fun to try though and I learned a lot. Admittedly, I probably learned more of what not to do rather than what to do, but even this is good education for the future! I believe the challenge is part of the lure in just about anything. After all, if it was easy then everyone would do it. Where’s the challenge in that?

Anticipation and preparation are obviously key. Being ready, as in just about anything related to wildlife photography is paramount. Some of these birds caught me off guard when they lifted up into the air, so capturing sharp photos was no where in the realm of possibility. Eventually, I learned to be a little better prepared and ready for a bird taking flight.

I usually like the deep blue sky backgrounds in my birds in flight photos, but paying attention to other objects can create visual diversity for the viewer of your photos. We certainly do not want all our photos to look exactly the same! Visual balance and diversity are important in any portfolio.

I couldn’t help but go back to see how I did with birds in flight last year at Merkle Wildlife Sanctuary. That trip left a lasting impression on me because it was the first time I captured decent photos of an osprey–actually an osprey and two juveniles. They were a whole lot of fun to photograph and eventually the momma bird lifted off in search of food. Again, having a longer lens would have been very helpful, especially when she was skimming the water to catch fish. But I did capture several of her in-flight and this is one of them.

Have you been successful at capturing birds in flight? Give it a try. It’s definitely worth the challenge and it’s a whole lot of fun!

Bird Identification 001

Posted in Bird Photography, Chincoteague, Identification with tags , , on February 26, 2012 by bobshank

I am on the ground floor when it comes to bird identification. For me it’s not even 101; it’s bird id 001!

This photograph is not a great one, but it captured a bird I had never photographed before. I think it might be a type of kingfisher, but I am not sure. So I need your help. Can you identify this bird?

The photo was taken in Chincoteague, Virginia on the second week of January. I saw a lot of mallards, great blue herons, great egrets, a whole more. One day I just happened across this bird sitting on a perch. So I quickly stopped my truck, grabbed my camera and snapped a few photos. This was the best one of the batch. It is not a great photo but I hope it is good enough for one of you to help me identify it.

Thanks in advance for your help!


Promoting the Passion

Posted in Advertisement, Lydia, Marketing, Passion, Photography, Promotion with tags , , , on February 25, 2012 by bobshank

This week I needed to put together an advertisement to promote my passion for photography. This is what I came up with.

Our daughter, Lydia, is rehearsing for the high school musical, “Oklahoma,” which will open in the middle of March. I purchased a full-page ad in their musical program, which will be given to the audience members who come to watch the musical. I figure it is just one additional way to promote my photo passion and perhaps help to pay a few of the bills. After all, I did just buy a new piece of equipment! (More on that later in an upcoming blog post)

So, how to promote my passion. I always figure that the photos do speak for themselves, so I decided to start with some photos. My training in communications at Temple University taught me that less is more, so a simple, clean design was also imperative. Of course, with any promotion or marketing tool I also needed to include the pertinent information of how my photo passion can maybe help someone else out.

So, after an hour of thinking, creating, and designing, this is what I came up with for the ad. How do you promote your passion?


Feeding Elk

Posted in Cow, Feeding, James Shank, Patience, Pennsylvania Elk, Wildlife Photography with tags , , , , , on February 24, 2012 by bobshank

What do the Pennsylvania elk feed on in the winter? This year the snowfall was minimal, so grasses are plentiful and easy to get for the elk. Here a cow has a long stem of grass in her mouth. It reminds me of those really long fries we sometimes get at McDonald’s or a long piece of spaghetti!

The cow was looking intently at the camera but she never stopped eating this long stem of grass.

Here in this photograph you can see she is definitely working that stem of grass into her mouth. I didn’t hear any slurping sounds but it was funny to watch!

Most feeding elk photos show an elk with its head down eating grass. This is certainly not the best pose for a photograph. By spending time with our subject we can capture truly amazing photographs of the behavior of these incredible and beautiful creatures. On this particular cold morning, my son, James, and I spent well over an hour photographing this small herd of elk. We were frozen by the end of this shoot–so much so that our hands were tingling and numb when we got back into the truck. Do you know that painful sensation when your extremities finally start warming up again? Ouch! That hurts! But you know,  it is all worthwhile when you capture photographs like these! I cannot wait to do it again!

Umm, umm, good!

Photo Tip Thursday (since I forgot on Tuesday) – Working Out of Your Vehicle

Posted in Binoculars, Binos, Inverter, Moose Peterson, Pennsylvania Elk, Truck, Vehicle, Wildlife Photography with tags , , , , , , , on February 23, 2012 by bobshank

Last week I mentioned that your vehicle makes a great blind. This is definitely true, but what is the best way to work out of your vehicle?

I’m not sure of the exact best way, but I know what works for me. First, when driving around from location to location, I keep my camera within arm’s reach. You just never know when wildlife is going to appear, so being ready is paramount! I keep my camera on the console between my seat and the passenger seat. I figure my photo partner or my son can keep his camera on his lap, so I claim the console. Anyway, I’m driving so I get dibbs! I use a hand-towel to lay the camera on thanks to a suggestion from Moose Peterson. The lens cap is off and the camera is on. Again, readiness is next to godliness!

Next, my tripod is lying on the back floor. I have an extended cab, which is really nice to store my photo gear in until I need it. So the tripod is on the floor and extended as much as possible and yet so it still fits in my truck.

My camera bag is on the back seat and ready to be opened at a moment’s notice. In addition, I keep my flash cards in a LowePro case, which is always in my pants pocket when I am out shooting. There is nothing worse than having  a flash card full and not having an empty to replace it with. I also carry my spare battery in my pants pocket, too. Oh, I also have a pair of binoculars (we call them binos) on the front floor just below my console.

Here is my procedure when doing an “elk run.” (That’s what we call our early am and later pm photo trips when photographing the Pennsylvania elk.) We drive around looking for wildlife. This is not a haphazard affair or route because our experience in finding elk is now more than two decades strong. We know where the elk are most likely to be found and if they are not there, we have other places to check. We are very successful in finding elk. Basically the only question that comes up is where to start. So we drive around on our experience-driven route looking for wildlife. When we spot an elk or another wildlife species, we make sure to get off the road. This is imperative because we do not want to block traffic, cause an accident, or ruin the experience of others by getting in their way. All four wheels are off the payment and we stop the vehicle and turn off the engine. If we can shoot from the vehicle we will. Otherwise, we carefully and quietly get out of the vehicle, grabbing our camera and tripod, and being sure not to slam the doors or making any other unnecessary sounds. Then we set up to photograph our subject. We repeat this process every time we come across wildlife to photograph. It works for me!

A couple additional notes… I keep an inverter in my truck to charge camera and flash batteries and to run my AC adapter for my MacBook Pro. The inverter is plugged into a power port in my truck and has two outlets to plug chargers and my AC adapter into when needed. This is extremely helpful, especially on long trips when I am away from home. I can charge batteries when needed and I can also power my laptop so I can upload the photos from my flash cards onto my computer. I also have an OWC portable external drive to backup my Lightroom catalog and all the photographs. With these helpful tools I can empty my flash cards either overnight or even during the day while out on a photo shoot.

Well, this is my procedure for working out of the vehicle. I’ve adapted and changed some of the details over the years and this is what I currently do when out photographing with my vehicle. What do you do? What tips for shooting out of a vehicle do you have to suggest and share?