Extra Special Good

Photograph of a Mule Deer Doe - Image Colorado
Mule Deer Doe in Snow

I’ve been doing a bit more wildlife photography lately. Recent snow here in Colorado presents new opportunities for photographs.

I’ve been working in Rocky Mountain Arsenal more this month. The main intent is to find bison photos, which are good sellers. Rocky Mountain Arsenal has bison, however, lately they’ve been uncooperative (at least when I’ve been there) by staying at a distance. It’s a hit and miss proposition with that endeavor.

RMA offers other wildlife photo opportunities though. The place is crawling with deer. Mule deer and White-tailed deer are fairly abundant there and there is enough variety of landscape that if one is patient and perseveres, one can generally get a few good shots.

I was out again yesterday (Thursday) and unfortunately, due to the snow, the 10 mile back loop was closed to entry. I don’t recall ever going there before and finding a locked gate. This restricted the hunt to a smaller area than normal, and that also means that you aren’t going to get much Bison action as the Bison are normally more accessible on that back loop. The real killer was I could see the bison through the gate and they were hanging out in an area nearby, with nothing but fence to shoot through. Fences between you and the animal don’t really make for good shots, so all I could do was bitch and moan to myself.

Fortunately, they opened the back loop gate shortly after noon. The bad news was the Bison had moved off and once again were not anywhere near being close enough to photograph.

The problem with deer is that by this time of year, the bucks have mostly separated from the does and youngsters. The does typically hang out near thick cover near water so they can raise their youngsters. The buck reform as small bachelor groups and tend to roam around doing whatever it is they do, but they don’t do it near the females. The bucks are normally found in transit from one location to another, whereas the females and youngsters tend to be stationary, moving only when they perceive a threat or want to browse a different area.

With most of the refuge blocked off from public access, that pretty much left the does as the only accessible photographic subject for most of the day. No point in driving around looking for them in these conditions, the better strategy is to find where a few are hanging out, set yourself up in a good location for getting photos and just sit there and wait. They’ll eventually wander into the frame and more will probably join them at some point.

I spent about 4-5 hours yesterday sitting in two different locations and was able to get a few really nice shots of the does and youngsters.

One is always looking for the behavioral photos. I try to avoid shots of deer eating grass. Too common and uninteresting. I also skip the butt shots. A lot of times, wild animals will point their butts at you. It’s their body language that says “I know you are there and if you mess around, we’re out of here.”

I frequently preach that you don’t photograph the south end of a north bound animal. Butt photos don’t sell.

In the hierarchy of deer photographs, buyers normally go for photos of bucks. Big bucks with nice racks doing buck stuff. Doe photos do sell though. The only caveat is that the doe photos need to be extra special good.

Mastering Photography – Those Pesky Power Lines

Bison in Field Near Denver, Colorado Bison At Rocky Mountain Arsenal

I’ve noticed over the years, the tendency of landscape photographers, including myself, to lament the presence of power lines in their composition.

Power lines are just about everywhere one goes. They are a byproduct of human civilization.

As a photographer, sooner or later, you’ll have to make a decision on what to do with them in your scene.

The first choice I see many photographers make is to simply edit them out in post processing.  Don’t want no stink’n power lines in my photo. It ruins the essence of nature I’m trying to capture. I’ll change reality and make it look more natural with a little help from Photoshop.

The second choice I often see is changing position to obtain a different field of view, one that doesn’t include the power lines in the scene. This works too, most particularly when a different position provides a better photographic viewpoint.

A more amateurish approach would be to be completely oblivious to the power lines and just take the photo. This is a rather hit and miss approach and often results in a strange combination of composition elements that don’t really capture the true essence of the scene in a pleasing manner. I call these “snapshots”

One of my early photography teachers enlightened me on how to handle them, photographically speaking.

I’ll share the knowledge.

Don’t look at power lines as being a negative.  Always start with the assumption that the power lines are part of the scene and try to find the composition that uses them rather than take the approach that they should be removed or avoided. Removing the power lines in post processing or compromising the composition by moving to a less desirable position should always be plan B or C.

The first decision you must make is rather or not the presence of power lines maintains the continuity of the scene.  By continuity, I’m talking about the reality of the situation. Why the power lines are there, where they appear, where they go. Are they really creating a distraction or is it some mental hangup you are experiencing that causes you to think they are really a problem.

Make the power lines work for you. Find the continuity of the power lines and the environment that complement the reality of what you are trying to capture.  The first choice should be to use them, not lose them.

The Bison photo explains this concept perfectly.

This shot was taken at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal near Denver and the backdrop of the Denver skylines defines how to approach this scene. Anybody who has been to RMA National Wildlife Refuge knows about these massive structures and it can sometimes be quite distracting to find a nice buffalo or deer standing under a great steal structure. It just doesn’t feel natural, so it’s a common practice to ignore the shots that include the power lines.

In the case of this photo though, the power lines aren’t out of place. The photograph conveys the juxtaposition of the natural world with the hand of man. The presence of a majestic bison in a field of tall grass with the Denver skyline in the background. Of course this isn’t what this scene would have looked like 200 years ago. Denver didn’t exist. But this photograph wasn’t taken 200 years ago. The power lines explain the environment and the composition uses them to frame the scene.  The power lines also amplify that juxtaposition of man vs nature. The bison is oblivious to the power lines, it’s only the human eye that knows what they are and why they are there.

Use good composition skills and learn to use the environmental elements to your advantage.

Tell the story.

Photography doesn’t have to be a deception. We don’t have to pretend that the human presence in nature is obscene or distracting. The truth is often more interesting than fiction. Reality trumps thought. Embrace the realities of the scene and use it to your advantage.

It’s possible that someday, these power lines will be gone or that civilization creeps into the environment to a greater degree. This photo documents reality as it existed when the photo was taken. Somebody viewing this image fifty years from now may have a different take on what it looked like “then” and what it looks like “now.”  It’s a historical representation of the truth. Those real life historical contexts can make this photo far more interesting for a much longer period of time.

We often try to separate humans from nature in photography, but the simple undeniable fact of life on earth is that humans are part of nature and so are the things we build. Give some thought to explaining nature as it exists now.

Learn to love your power lines and you’ll find their presence less bothersome.