Archive for the ‘Top 10 2011’ Category

When I first moved up to Montana from Texas in 2008, I picked up Don Joneses’ book on the National Bison Range while in a bookstore.  In it was a picture of a short-eared owl that captivated me.  I wanted to photograph one.  The only problem was I couldn’t find one to photograph.  I saw one briefly at a far distance at the Bison Range, but nowhere else.  And it wasn’t from lack of trying as I spent many hours driving dirt roads looking for them.  It wasn’t until the Spring of 2010, over a year and a half after I moved to Montana, that I began seeing them and then began photographing them.

Learning their spots, I gradually began to see short-eared owls more and more often and correspondingly began to get better and better shots as I repeated successful tactics and frequented the spots where I saw them most often.  It was one such spot that I took this image.

The previous day while driving along a backroad where I had consistent sightings of a mating pair I came across not one, not two, not even four, but around eight short-eared owls in a tight area.  I assumed they were fledglings of the mating pair that hadn’t yet dispersed.   While they were not fearful of me they also weren’t terribly interested in flying near, but nonetheless I photographed them flying as the sun went down on the valley.

Eager for more, I drove back to the same spot the next day to find a few of them on a fencepost but as I slowly moved my car up and parked a huge rainstorm hit the valley.  I rolled up my vehicle windows and waited out the storm.  When the rain began to slacken I rolled down my window again to find out that my car was surrounded by owls.  Two were on fenceposts directly across a small dirt road from me while another was right next to my car on the passenger side.   I eased my lens on to the beanbag I use to shoot from my car, expecting it would flush them, but instead they peered at me curiously.  I took shot after shot and after 30 minutes of fencepost shots they flew up and began to hunt in the surrounding fields.  I got out of my car and photographed them from the roadside for several hours as they swooped past me.  Sometimes oblivious to me while other times clearly curious about me.  It was one of those magical times where time stood still but also flew by.

This image was the best of my shots that day and for me the best of the year.   It combines the panoramic look that I’ve focused on all year long with my desire to catch the animal “doing something.”   It also validated my thought that subjects must be worked and images improve the longer your spend working the subject.   In this particular case, it was the culmination of years of work.  Have a happy New Year.

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I tend to like poses in animals.  It combines well with the clean, graphic images that appeal to me.  However, in the past I’ve felt like I’ve ended up with too many “statue” animals rather living, breathing animals.  So, I made an effort all year to capture animals “doing something,” with a preference to an interesting behavior.   I feel like this image was the culmination that effort.

I’m also proud of overcoming a technical challenge to get this image.  The sun was behind the mountains, near sunset, and my shutter speed had dropped down to 1/40th of a second, which is very slow considering I was shooting with a 600mm lens.   I spent a lot of time over the year, my first with a 600mm, to learn how to keep the lens and camera steady and it paid off on the day I made this photo.

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For eight glorious mornings in March I photographed a great gray owl right in Missoula.  The heavy snow falls brought it down from the mountains and it found a bounty of field mice in a large vacant lot across the street from an elementary school.  Shooting inside town had its advantages – I could wake up at the civilized hour of 7:30 and still catch the owl during it’s morning hunts – but also its challenges – my best flight shot has a house in the background.   So far the Winter has been anything that could be described as severe, but who knows maybe in its owl brain it will remember the good hunting spot and return again this Winter.   

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A beaver.  On a lodge.  With a reflection.   Golden autumnal light in the water.  Sometimes nature makes it so easy for us.

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Serendipity is the theme of this image.  I was exploring the Hanging Gardens in Glacier National Park photographing the wildflower bloom when out popped a pair of long-tailed weasel pups from a nearby hole.  They were as curious of me as I was of them.  After twenty minutes of glorious shooting they went back into their den and I went on my merry way.

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This image reminds me of two “heavyweights” eyeing each other face to face in a pre-match press conference attempting to intimidate their opponent.  Except it would be a Junior Welterweight for these guys.   Bison may be my favorite animal to photograph because they are not only photogenic but in the places where they can be found they are reliably available.

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Where Alum Creek flows into the Yellowstone River is my favorite spot to spend a cold summer morning in Yellowstone during the Summer.  If temperatures are near or below freezing then a dense fog bank envelops the area.  The sun rises close to due east for much of the summer and creates banks of orange as the beams of light cut through the fog.  It’s an incredible view that’s only enhanced more by something interesting in the scene.  I was lucky that this elk cow had such good timing, choosing to swim across the river right when the sun peaked over the mountains.

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