So it has been one long and crazy summer for us! I have been back and forth, back and forth across the country on workshops and private trips for the last several months and even moved my family nearly 3,000 miles from the Outer Banks to Jackson Hole – from drop dead gorgeous beaches and subtropical waters to towering mountains over ran by charismatic wildlife! What a change this has been for everyone.
As I sit here wrighting this in my new office, I am looking out the window into the Bridger-Teton National Forest. That’s right, we managed to find a place literally inside of the national forest here. Most mornings I have to stop and wait for moose or elk on the road before I can get to town. Coyotes howl at night. Owls seem to outnumber people back here, and the stars are absolutely amazing!
Moving a family across the country was a big responsibility. Add that to my schedule and whew! No sooner had I unpacked everyone in the new house, than I was right back on a plane and back at the coast for a 9 day private wild horse photography workshop. Which, I might add, was an amazing trip. Now I am back in Wyoming, preparing for my Autumn Wildlife of Jackson Hole and the Tetons workshop that begins tomorrow. I have spent the last weeks scouting locations, following up on reports and sightings.
At the moment there are not one but two fires burning out here in the area. Actually there are more than that if you count Idaho, but here in the Jackson Hole area we have the Little Horse Thief fire and the Buffalo Fork fire – each on opposite ends of the valley. The combined result is massive amounts of smoke rolling through the valley. Now for many photographers who might get the report of smoke filled skies in Jackson Hole, this could be a deal breaker for their travel plans. Not me! I’m hear to tell you that the smoke is nothing to be upset about. This is nature photography. Nature is always changing. And with this change, we as photographers have a choice. We can either find the silver lining in a seemingly bad situation, adapt to our surroundings, and capitalize on the moment, or, we can give up and go home.
So what on Earth could be so good about these fires – other than ecologically speaking that is? The smoke acts like a giant diffuser! Sure the smoke eliminates many possibilities for grand landscapes, but from a wildlife photography perspective, or even a more intimate landscape perspective, its awesome. 9 o-clock in the morning has the same sexy light as 7 am normally would. The smoke is extending our shooting ours much later into the day. It cuts down on the intensity of the light, reduces contrast, and even gives a certain warm tone of light to the area. Beat that! From big bull moose to delicate compositions of aspens and cottonwoods in full fall color regalia, as long as you keep the sky out of the mix and keep your shooting distances under half a mile than its great.
I had a professor in college that like to say that “Change is the only constant.” Man was he right! When it comes to being successful at nature photography, be it wildlife or landscape, you have to anticipate change. Be it behavior, weather, or what ever… Being able to adapt and roll with the punches is what will set you and your photography apart. When you are working on an assignment for a magazine, you simply have to be able to get the shots no matter what. Rain, storms, fire, low pressure systems, it doesn’t matter. This is how certain names have become synonymous with magazines that still actually pay staff photographers to go out into the world to shoot such as National Geographic. If Nick Nichols did not have the ability to trudge across the Congo and bring back the goods regardless of disease, floods, rampaging elephants, and revolutions, than he would not have made it to where he is with the Geographic. Keep that in mind. Like I said, this game is about finding the silver lining in every cloud and learning how to exploit it or capitalize on it to your benefit. If you can learn to do that, than you will go very very far.
I thank that the image above is a good example of how that the smoke, when used properly, can work to your benefit. Here we have a very large bull moose. Moose are a tough species sometimes to photograph. They are very temperature dependent usually and so confine their activity to cooler times of the day, which tends to be lower light times as well. So that means you have a dark brown to almost black bodied animal, moving around in low light. That can be tough. Second, in this image, we have a dark bull moose wreathed in the yellow leaves of the narrow leafed cottonwoods along this river bottom. With a little bit of light coming into the forest, this creates bright, almost glowing leaves, with a dark animal walking through… these two things combined can at times create an absolute exposure nightmare that leaves you constantly adjusting your exposure and fighting to keep up. Third, I actually made this photograph at almost high noon! There’s a big no no for you in most situations – especially in a forest.
Now, given the amount of the smoke in the air however, the intensity of the the light was so well diffused that I was able to capture this photograph with just a basic reading in Matrix Metering of all modes ( that would be Evaluative for you Canon folk).
So once again: smoke, rain, snow, clouds, etc. . . no problem. Put that brain of yours to work to find that silver lining and go for it!