Category Archives: bears

National Parks Traveler: My 5 Fave Shots for 2014

The National Parks Traveler website has just published my latest photography article:  My 5 Fave Shots for 2014.  Click on this link if you want to go check it out!

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Filed under bears, Big Bend, Big Bend National Park, Canon, Denali National Park, Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, National Parks, Photography

My 15 Favorite Images of 2013

I noticed a number of photographers posting their favorite images taken over 2013 and thought I would do the same. I decided to choose 15 images and provide some commentary about the photo.  It was a difficult choice, believe me.

These are in no particular order.

To see a higher-res rendition, just click on the photo and you will be taken to the spot where that particular photo resides on my photography website. You can order most of them for yourself, as a print in all sorts of mediums, or a coffee mug or within a 2014 calendar or photo journal creation of mine. And I even have a 30% discount on orders $30 or over on my website right now through the end of January 2014.

Chisos Mountain Evening

1. Evening in the Chisos Mountains, Big Bend National Park, Texas

I was getting a little anxious to arrive at the Chisos Mountain Lodge before it got dark (easier to find my way to my room in the daylight), but I passed this particular spot and knew I needed to turn around, park the car alongside the empty road and capture this mountain-backlit image with the wispy clouds and the century plant anchoring the foreground.

They Know The Words

2. They Know All the Words to Her Song, Evening Pirate Pub Sing at the Sea Devil Tavern, Texas Renaissance Festival

Low-light images are difficult to capture well, even at the best of times. This was an image captured  with no flash, using my trusty Canon 1-DX.  Note the people around the singer, raising their mugs to her and singing along with her. Total groupies at a Renaissance rock concert as they sing along with their favorite pirates. She and her husband (for real) “Captain Basil Drake” are huge favorites out at the festival.

Helping With The Jewelry

3. Helping the Bride with the Finishing Touches

One of my favorites of all the wedding photos I took of Maegan that day (and I have a lot of favorites from that day, believe me). The natural side lighting highlighted the bride’s excited, expectant look as she stood there while the ladies in her bridal party arranged her necklace. The looks given to her by the other ladies, in addition to each of their actions (look at the hands) make this a memorable moment for me (and I hope for the bride).

Snow Day At Park Avenue

4. Park Avenue Snow Day, Arches National Park, Utah

It was a magical morning. I awoke at about 2AM to peer out of my hotel room window and see huge, feathery snowflakes falling to the ground. Talk about excited! There’s something about red rock and white snow. There’s also something about being one of the first people (actually, I think I was the second person) to enter the park and to get to a spot at which nobody else has yet arrived. That was Park Avenue. Those footprints you see in the photo are mine. A total of about 5 inches or so piled up that morning. By late afternoon, it had almost completely melted, and by the next day, only the shadowed areas of the park still sported snow on the ground.

Ruffling Feathers

5. Plucking at the Head Feathers

This was the first time ever, in all 8 years of photographing the little ruby-throated hummingbirds, that I had ever witnessed such aggressive (and oftentimes amusing) behavior as exhibited by these territorial little birdies as they vied for perching space on one of the three feeders my 88-year old mother and I set out for the hummers as they stopped for a month-long break during their annual fall migration further south into Central America and Mexico. This just goes to show what going out every morning and/or evening to photograph the hummingbirds during their September sojourn can bestow wonderful images upon the patient photographer using a telephoto lens, fast camera, and flash.

Quite A Mouthful

6. Quite A Mouthful: Ibis with Crayfish (aka Crawfish), Brazos Bend State Park, Texas

A few months prior to my Katmai NP trip in July 2013, for which I had reserved a Canon 500mm prime lens, I rented this same lens for a weekend in order to get a feel for the lens so I wouldn’t be totally clueless and clumsy during the Alaska vacation. I lugged that lens out to Brazos Bend State Park, where I knew there would be a good chance of birdlife and I also knew the birds are a little more habituated (and less skittish) to humans there than at the national wildlife refuge. There is a particular spot where the birds (and alligators) like to congregate at 40-Acre Lake and I parked myself, tripod, and lens right at that spot. My entire goal that year had been to capture a sizeable tasty morsel in a bird’s mouth, and with this shot, I nailed my goal.

A Golden Burst

7. Sunrise at the Refuge, Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge, Texas

Ah yes, I love getting sunrise shots. It helps that I am a morning person. And some of the best sunrises I’ve seen in the refuge are across and to the south of the gravel auto tour road alongside Olney Pond and Cross Trails Pond. The trick here is to getting a decent sunrise shot without having your entire composition filled with sun flare spots – and that’s difficult to do if you eschew a lens hood in order to make use of your polarizer filter and grad neutral density filter. These two filters allow you to use a slow shutter speed or wider-open aperture (unless you are aiming for a starburst effect) to keep the foreground lighter and not blow out the horizon. They also help with making the clouds (if there are any) more dramatic and with adding some color saturation as well.

Portrait

8. Portrait of a Brown Bear, Katmai National Park and Preserve, Alaska

This place is totally amazing. I had never in my entire life ever thought I would be viewing such incredible creatures as these 700+ lb brown bears….in Alaska…with a 500mm prime lens (rented). My favorite thing to do was create portraits of the bears.  Sometimes the 500mm lens did a perfect job on its own, and at other times, I did a little cropping to focus the eyes more on the bear’s face. When you first look at all the bears, they sort of look alike. But even after just a couple of hours in their presence, you can begin to suss out differences in appearance, facial expressions, and little quirky movements they have when fishing the Brooks River or looking for berries. I could see that each bear has its own personality and I tried to capture that with my portrait shots. This is one of my favorites. And it’s quite cropped, actually. This bear had been standing out in the river rapids, just below Brooks Falls. It turned away to warily look behind it before resuming its steady watchfulness of the rapids with the intention of catching dinner.

Above Alaska

9. Alaska From Above

I had the best time during my one-day bear-viewing trip to Lake Clark National Park; probably because I thoroughly enjoyed the 5-seater plane flight to the park. The windows were clean enough that I captured a number of aerial images of the Alaskan landscape. This is one of my favorites because of the landscape itself, the colors, and the lighting. This image also brings back the feelings of excitement and wonder I experienced as I viewed this remote Alaskan land. Plus, I was pretty darned pleased with my attempt at in-plane photography, since I don’t attempt this sort of thing very often. The key is to use a wide-angle lens and to put the lens as close to the window as possible without touching the vibrating plane glass. It also helps (tremendously) to have a camera with a fast frame-per-second capture – especially if your lens does not have IS (or VR or any of the other acronyms for image stabilization). I did not use a polarizing filter for this photo (or any of the other aerial images) because sometimes a polarizing filter can do wonky things to photography through an airplane window).

Chugach Mountain Reflection

10. A Morning View of the Chugach Mountains, Alaska

I had just enough time that Sunday to make a morning sightseeing trip north of Anchorage before having to return the rental SUV and get ready to meet up with the rest of my fellow Katmai photo tour members.  My intention was to drive up to Hatcher Pass.  I noticed this scene to the right of the highway and passed right by it.  All the while, I thought to myself that I really ought to turn around and capture the view before heading on.  Surely I had enough time for that.  So, I turned around and captured the view.

Icy Morning Glow

11. Icy Morning Glow, Arches National Park, Utah

By now, you can see that I have a number of favorites from this February visit to Arches. This image was sort of an afterthought. I’d driven to my favorite viewing area within the park: La Sal Mountains Viewpoint. When I realized the sunrise was going to be a bust, I turned to head back to the rental vehicle. I happened to look down to the slickrock ground and noticed several shallow potholes filled with clear water that had frozen during the night. The creative part of my brain kicked in and I captured this scene.

On Top Of The World

12. On Top of the World at Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Utah

Favorite photos don’t have to be people-less. I love this image not only because it proves I made it up the steep, sometimes ice-coated hike to such an iconic feature as Delicate Arch, but it also shows that I had that entire place all to myself! Now that was an awesome feeling! So I set up camera and tripod, then tripped the shutter with my wireless remote to capture exactly how I felt and where I was. Plus, the photo gives a pretty good scale and sense of reference.

Sunset Over The Chisos Mountains

13. Sunset Over the Chisos Mountains and Chihuahuan Desert, Big Bend National Park, Texas

I shot this image prior to capturing the image at the very top of this post. I was trying to get to the Chisos Mountain Lodge before it got dark. I’d gassed up at the small Panther Junction station and was heading toward Basin Drive when I looked to my left to see this amazing scene. Naturally I had to get a photo, so I pulled into a small turnout, grabbed camera, tripod and grad ND filter, then hoofed it across the road to get this photo. It was a little tricky to capture with as little flare spots as I got because I was not using a lens hood. You see, my grad ND filter is a 4×6 and I don’t use a filter holder; instead I just hand-hold it against the camera lens. Makes it easier and quicker to move the filter up and down.

Maine Autumn Landscape

14. An Autumn Scene on Mount Desert Island, Maine

I’d had the good fortune and the misfortune to visit this part of Maine during the government shutdown. This meant I would not have access to all the places I wanted to see in Acadia National Park, which bummed me out and really cemented my utter disdain over congress. Nonetheless, I managed to capture some beautiful images of Maine during autumn. I had just turned off the road from Bass Harbor and was heading toward Bar Harbor when I looked to my right and saw this autumnal marsh scene with this wonderful tree in the foreground.

DHP Visitor Center View

15. The Visitor Center View at Dead Horse State Park, Utah

Ok, we know people who travel to this place, – a hop and a skip from both Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park – generally photograph that iconic scene of the canyon looming over the river oxbow. But, there are other incredible scenes to be photographed in this state park, and this view right next to the visitor center is one such area.   The short rock wall provided an excellent frame to the expansive landscape beyond.

So, there you have it:  my 15 favorites (actually, I have about 20+ favorites, but this is a long-enough post.

Becky And Three Gossips

Here’s to 15 more favorites taken from the photographic possibilities I hope to experience in 2014!

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Filed under aerial photography, Alaska, Arches National Park, bears, Big Bend, Brazoria NWR, Katmai National Park, National Parks, Photography, Texas, Travel, Travel and Photography, Utah, wedding, wildlife, Wildlife Refuge

Katmai Landscapes

Howdy Everybody!  If you are interested in seeing the kind of landscape images you can capture at Katmai National Park and Preserve, Alaska, then click on this link to be taken to the National Parks Traveler website, where is published my latest article for their Photography In The National Parks column.  And while you are at it, go over to the National Parks Traveler’s facebook page and Like them.

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Behind The Scenes At Katmai–The Brooks Falls Platform

Stakeouts

Talk about iconic.

Gotcha

When I told people that I’d been to Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska, each and every one of them would give me a blank stare.  Whereupon, I would ask them if they’d seen photos of the bears standing at the waterfall with their mouths open, catching the salmon jumping up the falls.  Then, the light bulb would turn on for them.  Everybody is familiar with these iconic images, even if they don’t know the exact location.

Unless there is a sow with cubs at one of the other viewing platforms, the Brooks Falls Platform is by far the busiest, most crowded, most popular platform.  So busy, as a matter of fact, that there is a ranger there during peak hours, clipboard in hand, taking names and allowing 1 hour of viewing time before those names are called and people are asked to move to make room for others waiting their turn.

Brooks Falls And The Platform

The photo above makes it look like there’s not many people at the platform, but I can tell you for a fact that when this image was taken, both lower and upper tiers were crowded cheek-by-jowl with photographers, their tripods and their supertelephoto lenses.  It was only thanks to a couple of forbearing photographers that I was able to squeeze in to a spot between them with my own tripod and (rented) supertelephoto.

Alone In The Falls

My first morning at the falls presented me with just one bear and no salmon jumping.  So, I screwed my 4-stop ND filter onto the lens and got in a little “silky water” practice….handheld!  You see, the tripod bore the 500mm lens, so rather than take time to change out camera/lens combos, I just steadied my camera and 100-400mm lens on the railing of the platform and successfully achieved some silky-water shots.

Silky water shots aside, I definitely acquired my most dramatic bear images here at this platform.

Caught One

Portrait Of A Bear

Caught One

Caught One

My current plans – barring any unforeseen circumstances – are to return to the park in 2014.   I urge those of you who can, to travel to the wild, remotely beautiful state of Alaska and visit this park to see the bears for yourself.  It’s an amazing opportunity to view these creatures closeup and in their own environment (well, as close up as the National Park Service allows – if you are a photographer, a telephoto lens sure helps).

Oh, and if you are interested in knowing the details of where I stayed while in the park, go to this link.  If you want to know about my gear and also the best times for photography at Katmai, click on this link to go to the article I wrote for the National Parks Traveler website.  And, while you are at it, go to the Traveler’s Facebook page and Like them.

Becky At Brooks Falls

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Behind The Scenes At Katmai–The Riffles Platform

Out In The Riffles

A bear and a bird in the riffles downriver

My last “Behind The Scenes At Katmai” post highlighted photographs taken of and from the Lower Platform, just across the floating bridge from Brooks Lodge, in Katmai National Park and Preserve, Alaska.

This post shows you photographs taken from the Riffles Platform.  This place is sort of like the middle child of viewing platforms in the park.  Everybody either sees lots of action at the Lower Platform or the more iconic Brooks Falls Platform, so they may tend not to spend as much time at this platform, located just a few hundred yards downriver from Brooks Falls.

Looking Toward Brooks Falls

A Bear And A Bird At Brooks Falls

Looking upriver toward Brooks Falls

The Riffles Platform received its moniker from the numerous small, shallow rapids (riffles) in front of and to the sides of this viewing area.  Our photo tour leader informed us that this is the area where we would see sows with their cubs because, unless desperate for food, the sows would stay clear of the falls where most of the males staked out spots.  While I was there, I did not see any momma/cub combos – I saw those at the Lower Platform.  What I did see were younger, more inexperienced bears and older bears looking for easier fishing.

Bear On A Rock

Bear Water Seagull

What Are You Lookin At Buddy

Standing In The Riffles

To me, the Riffles Platform was analogous to an overflow parking lot at an event venue – when the Brooks Falls Platform got too crowded, people would come on down to this platform.

I didn’t see as much action at this platform as I did the others, but what action I did see yielded some very nice images.

Next post:  The Brooks Falls Platform

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Behind The Scenes at Katmai – The Lower Platform

Action At The Lower Platform

In a previous post, you got an idea of the layout for Brooks Lodge.  Now, it’s time to take your camera and start viewing the bears.

This post deals with the Lower Platform and photos you can capture from that vantage point.

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The path through the lodge complex parallels the shoreline of Naknek Lake. Rangers advise visitors to keep to the paths, though, since the beach is the purview of the bears…..actually, everywhere in the park is the bears’ purview and sometimes one sees an 800 lb bear ambling up the path to plop itself down in front of one of the buildings for a quick rest before the rangers try to chase it away with loud voices and clapping. While it’s one thing for the bears to move along the path through the lodge area to get from Point A to Point B, it’s another thing for a bear to start making itself comfortable in a lodging area inhabited by larger numbers of humans; rangers and volunteers definitely work at discouraging that behavior.

The path continues away from the lodge buildings down to the bank of Brooks River and a floating bridge connecting the lodge with the first of three viewing platforms (the Lower Platform).

The Bridge and The Platform

The view of the bridge from the bank of the Brooks River.  That bus you see in the distance is your ride to the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes – if you’ve purchased a ticket for about $90+ which includes a box lunch for the day-long tour.

Bridge To The Lower Platform

The platform not only affords ample bear-sighting but also offers expansive views of the mouth of the Brooks River and a portion of Naknek Lake. From this vantage point, you can see bears, fishermen (and women) and floatplanes landing and taking off. If you have your polarizer filter attached to your lens, you can also see the salmon swimming en mass in the shallower portions of the water.

Salmon Underwater

Who's That Knocking On My Door

This is one of the thing that will cause a “bear jam”, closing the bridge at both ends and moving back anybody waiting at the river bank.

The Floating Bridge

Hard to tell with this upload, but there is a bear parked right in front of the gate right at the very end of the bridge.

Set Up On The Lower Platform

Set up for action at the Lower Platform

A Little Bear Porn

Catching the action.  My organized photo tour group’s first day in the park at the Lower Platform was quite the experience – especially when an amorous boar chanced upon this willing sow right next to the viewing platform.

Court Play

Playing in the distance.  Caught this shot with my rented 500mm lens and then did some cropping to focus more on the bears.

Sharing The Space

Sharing the beach with the bear

Mommy and Spring Triplets

A sow and her spring triplets

Just Standing There

Alone on the road

Looking Toward The Oxbow

Looking across the Brooks River oxbow area to the mountains beyond

Hi There

Yearling triplets at the Lower Platform

At The Mouth Of The River

The view toward the mouth of the Brooks River and Naknek Lake beyond, on my first day there – a very overcast, rainy day.   Compare this image to the image below, taken a couple of days later, late in the evening (yes, it’s that light at 10PM), while I stood on the bridge with my tripod and camera.

Alaskan Splendor

Alaskan Splendor

For more information on the cameras and nitty-gritty photography info regarding the park and the platforms, click on this link to get to the article I wrote for the National Parks Traveler website.

Most of the images you see here in this blog post (and my other Alaska blog posts) are for sale on my website, and you can order my various 2014 Alaska calendars by clicking on any of the calendar images on the left side of this blog site.

Becky On The Bridge

Next Post:  The Riffles Platform

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War Wounds and Battle Scars

Head Wound

While photographing the brown bears in Katmai National Park, almost every bear I saw (not all, but almost) sported some sort of wound in varying stages of the healing process on the face, across the snout, on the neck, back, or butt.  Some of the wounds were quite new, while others were healed or almost so.

Rear Wound

Neck Wound

The thing about bear wounds is that these bruins have incredible healing powers.  And, oftentimes, the fur may or may not grow back;  if it does grow to cover the wound, it’s not as thick.  Therefore, scars can be a key characteristic for park biologists in identifying a particular bear.

Teeth Marks

Teeth Marks Closeup

Yes, those are puncture wounds made from the teeth of another bear.

Some bears get their injuries through a fall (as in falling from the top of Brooks Falls or falling down a mountainside), while other (probably the majority) get their wounds via altercations with other bears battling for mates, prime fishing ground, or some other territorial or food dispute.

I learned that – as a rule – bears prefer not to get into  a serious fight.  Instead, their disputes generally consist of much posturing, loud roaring (which can be heard a mile away – I can attest to that), and a display of teeth.  Sometimes, though, as the pictures above indicate, things can get pretty serious.

Fight

Altercation

The arguments above looked serious, with the bears trying to bite each other.  However, their fights were over as quickly as they began, and of the disputes I witnessed, none ever drew blood.

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