Dall sheep lambs, Brooks range, Alaska. Canon 5D Mark III, 500mm f/4L IS, w/1.4x (700mm), 1/160 sec @ f/5.6, ISO 400.
The first few weeks of June in Alaska is the time when the newborn animals of the year begin showing up. They are pure cuteness in most respects, and they are also very susceptible to hungry predators as the circle of life takes its course in the wilderness landscape. For the latter, it means that adults with young ones tend to be more wary and alert, sometimes making photography more difficult. These three young dall sheep lambs chose to rest along the steep slopes of the Brooks range mountains, while the adults descended to a grassy patch along the tundra to graze. This image is cropped a bit, and I would have used a 2x converter instead of the 1.4x, however the 5D III will not auto focus with a 2x converter on the 500mm. What a shame Canon, you revamped the auto focus and upped the price of the 5D III by one grand but left it dumb in this one critical area. Yes, I know there is always manual focus, but my eyes and execution of this have not produced good results so far, static objects are a bit easier for sure but critical focus in manual mode is harder than one might imagine.
Young grizzly bear on the springtime tundra, Denali National Park, Alaska. Canon 5D Mark III, 500mm f/4L IS, 1/125 sec @ f/6.3, ISO 400
I’ve had a few exceptional grizzly bear photo encounters in Denali Park over the years, and the session I recently had with this bear ranks up there with them. There are many factors that play into what distinguishes an interesting and enjoyable wildlife sighting between a good photographic one. While I’ve photographed countless bears, they are often traveling across the tundra in search of food or roaming to another location. Rarely, do they relax close to the road, in good light, at the time that you are there, and most importantly, express casual interest by making frequent eye contact-as this bear did. This is partly because there was another larger bear nearby sleeping on a hillside, and this younger bear stayed very attentive by frequently looking at the other bear, making sure all was safe.
I used my 500mm and the 100-400 primarily, preferring the 500 for its sharpness and clarity, but it was slightly tight based on my orientation. Although 1/125 sec is a pretty slow shutter speed, I wanted a enough depth of field for the face and nose to be in focus. Once again, I love the sunroof in my van, as it put me at a near level position with the bear, and served as a great shooting platform, with me contained within the vehicle. To quote a photographer friend of mine who was envious of a similar bear encounter I had in 1995, he said, “you owe that bear donuts!”
Gray wolf portrait, Denali National Park, Alaska
Gray wolf portrait, Denali National Park, Alaska. Canon 5D Mark III, 500mm f/4L IS, 1/500 sec @ 4/f, ISO 1000
Generally, getting too close to a wild wolf is not a problem I encounter often when photographing. However, in this case, a wolf from the Grant Creek pack in Denali National Park walked directly towards the vehicle I was traveling in late one evening. They often travel down the park road, I presume for ease of travel. I had on a 500mm lens, and this is about the only frame out of a handful that was in focus. Maneuvering a long lens on a moving subject at such close distances is challenging. Especially with a subject moving erratically among willows and grasses. I particularly like the eye contact in this scene, and the in focus/out of focus areas work well to direct the viewer’s eyes right to the wolf’s eyes.
Grizzly bear rolls on the spring green tundra in Denali National Park, Alaska. Canon 5D Mark II, 500mm f/4L IS, 1/400 sec @ f/5.6, ISO 400.
My experience photographing grizzly bears in Denali National park has been mixed over the years. I’ve observed lots of interesting behaviour, and had many fortunate opportunities to make some great photos. On my recent trip into the park, following a rainy night and misty morning, the wet tundra grasses glowed under the bright overcast skies. These are great conditions for portrait photography. After watching a bear sleep on a mountain ridge for a few hours, it finally woke up and wandered near the road (not always the case by the way) and began feeding on the grass. For a little reprieve, it rolled on its back and started twisting around, raising its feet in humorous gestures. While my angle was not quite perfect, I did get a few good shots. It’s not that common to photograph all four pads of a grizzly bear’s feet. After a short while, the bear went over the mountain.
I took the photo from the sun roof in my vehicle, while resting the 500mm lens on a bean bag, which serves as a very stable platform to shoot from. There is a trade off decision that often arises (and sometimes is forgotten) when shooting long lenses with shallow depth of field in low light. That decision includes whether or not to use a higher ISO in order to boost your f/stop in order to gather more depth of field. Retrospectively, I would have shot this at 800 ISO and f/8, which would have given just a slight more depth of field. Hindsight is always a good teacher. I mention that as a reminder that there is much more going on than just pointing and shooting in these situations. Critical focal points on a moving object, composition, exposure, etc., all classic parts of the game of photography, but surprisingly easy to forget in a moment of excitement.
Spring blooming lapland rosebay colors the tundra in Denali National Park, Alaska range mountains in the distance.
As soon as the snow melts, the tundra comes alive with spring blooming wildflowers. This spring in Denali National Park, the lapland rosebay, a brilliant pink, early blooming tundra plant, seemed more abundant than usual. The colorful patches are often mixed with mountain aven, and a few other early blooming flowers. I saw this particular scene a number of times but the lighting was never quite right until, after being chased east by a heavy storm front, I stopped to make a landscape. The dark grey clouds over the mountains, combined with the very bright diffused light from the clouds above offered the perfect tonal balance to emphasize the flowers. A few minutes after I took the shot, the heavy rains showed up.
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