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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.

  • Patrick Endres - Jim,
    Yes, I did a little research on the new 2x and taping does not work. It does permit the auto focus engine and attempts to focus but hunts excessively and erratically. Unfortunately :( ReplyCancel

  • Jim McCann - Patrick, The best explanation of this taping business I’ve found is on Michael Furtman’s website www. michaelfurtman.com But after reading it again I see it is indeed only for the 1.4 extender and not the 2x. I’m not smart enough to be able to link it here. I still struggle with some computer stuff. And I’m still waiting for my 500 to ship! The money is burning a big hole in my pocket.ReplyCancel

  • Marvin Falk - I have had some luck taping the 1.4 extender on the Mk.II with a slow lens (like the 100-400), but never the 2x. The lens hunts a lot for focus. Using live view to achieve critical focus requires a very static subject (for example when I attempt use my Telyt 560mm with the 7D.ReplyCancel

  • Patrick Endres - Jim,
    I’m not familiar with altering the pins to achieve focus, can you send me a little information on that?ReplyCancel

  • Jim McCann - I agree on the 5D III autofocus issue. Some are taking to taping some of the pins in order to achieve f8 autofocus, but I’m not a fan of doing that. Otherwise a grand camera indeed! Still waiting for my 500 to ship. Nice image of the lambs.ReplyCancel

  • Patrick Endres - Yes Phyllis, a different view in the summer for sure.ReplyCancel

  • Phyllis Burchett - Wonderful capture Patrick, reminds me of our hike up the mountain in the snow to get the rams a couple of years ago.ReplyCancel

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!”

  • Bernd - Super klasse Bilder, das nenne ich Künstlerische Fotografie.ReplyCancel

  • Patrick Endres - @m,
    I agree, besides ephemeral luck, there is no substitute for time in the field in acquiring consistent and good imagery.

    For me, there are many factors that play into my choice of lens. Circumstances in the field and the type of image sought generally dictate that. Both of Canon’s teleconverters produce excellent quality when used properly and in the correct circumstances. I have many files that support that statement. Converters are often judged wrongly by people who attempt to use them when shooting subjects a long way off, which introduces atmospheric factors like heat, air, haze for example, that degrade image quality more than the added glass does. All compromises require the appropriate evaluation in executing the choice.ReplyCancel

  • m - A really good nature photographer spends years and years gathering images. Right!? By working the same subjects (moose, bears, sheep) over and over one will eventually have sharp, clear, close images without having used a TC. Some of my best moose shots have been taken with a 16-35mm. (Gotta get close to the subject by earning their trust). The loss of image quality with a TC is not worth their use- in most circumstances. Add the loss of AF and that is the icing on the cake.

    I do recommend the 800mm lens by Canon. It is lighter than the old 600, and it is especially good for wildlife; birds in particular.

    As far the the 5D Mk III, the camera works well. The high ISO capabilities are remarkable. The NL shots from late this winter with the 5D MK III are the best I’ve ever captured.ReplyCancel

  • Steve Coleman - Patrick, Im glad you were using a 500mm lens. Its a wonderful photograph.ReplyCancel

  • Vivian - What a great picture! The pattern and contrast in the wet fur is wonderful. And, the depth of field is just right!ReplyCancel

  • chuck ashley - I love the pattern in his fur, must have recently been in a stream or river as the fur on his legs was still wet-great pic Patrick!ReplyCancel

  • Jim McCann - Very nice indeed, Patrick! Like you, I have a large number of bear photos depicting bears with their faces buried in blueberry bushes and otherwise not providing a good view of their faces. Nice job on this one!ReplyCancel

  • Phyllis Burchett - Awesome Patrick, love the eye contact…beautiful young bear.ReplyCancel

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.

 

  • Mike - This is simple stunning Patrick. I love your photos and look forward future posts.ReplyCancel

  • Jan - I don’t see many wolf photos that I like, but I do like the feel of this one. One good one is all you can ask for!ReplyCancel

  • chuck ashley - Hi Patrick,
    Very nice shot of the wolf! It can be very frustrating having a long lens like your 500mm on & have ANY animal heading towards you leaving no time to change lenses or even dare refocus more precisely just shoot away & hope you can come up with 1-3 Good images from the encounter. This one would have made my day if it had been me there instead of you-great work as always, keep it coming!
    ChuckReplyCancel

  • Patrick Endres - Jon, while those encounters are pretty cool to watch, they are often not good for photography.ReplyCancel

  • Jon Cornforth - Nice! I can relate to the wolves walking down the road in the middle of the night, though, I don’t have a picture to show for it.ReplyCancel

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.

  • Patrick Endres - Karen, Carol, and Bruce, Thanks for visiting and commenting.ReplyCancel

  • Karen Casebeer - What a great shot! It reminds me of my golden retriever who loves to roll around on her back when the grass is longish, soft and damp. This is such a sweet picture; it makes me want to hug this critter enjoying the elements. Glad you got the pads; it makes the shot.ReplyCancel

  • Carol Mattingly - He is beautiful. I love photos with not the norm in composition.ReplyCancel

  • Bruce Faanes - Glad you had the patience to wait out this shot. Another awesome image from a very magical part of the planet. Great job!ReplyCancel

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.

  • Inge - I know what you mean; I work in the park 4 days a week and try to spend the other 3 backpacking – and those landscapes never fail to amaze me! I believe this is near Toklat, isn’t it? I was told it’s called the ‘I Scream Gulch’. I just thought I recognized Mt Divide, I’m finally going to climb it tomorrow for solstice :) ReplyCancel

  • Patrick Endres - Inge,
    I really enjoy making landscapes like this in such a dynamic environment. Are you familiar with this location?ReplyCancel

  • Inge - Nice shot of beautiful Denali Patrick! It’s so awesome to recognize this wonderful landscape with all that pinkness. Keep ‘m coming :) ReplyCancel