28 June 2015

You too can Photograph Wildlife

Why is shooting wildlife different to say landscape?

Because they move and there is often not much light as the best times to shoot are just after sunrise and just before sunset.

When we came to Yellowstone for the first time we had no idea how to photograph wildlife. I was still photographing in P mode most of the time which works fine if there is plenty of light and your subject isn't moving. I would change to shutter priority to slow the water down for waterfalls and again to freeze anything taken out of a helicopter. I couldn't get enough light and I couldn't get a sharp picture. I tried shutter priority on animals but the pictures were just too dark. There are a number of ways to get a good photograph, you just need to find what works for you.

When shooting something that is moving you need to freeze the action, so you would naturally think to use shutter-priority and let the camera work out the aperture, not so. Light is a very important consideration which is amplified when you are shooting in the early morning or at dusk. Plus you need your speed to be at least 1000/s so that when the animal moves you don't get a soft or blurry picture. Sometimes you can get away with 1/640 or 1/800.

Ask any photographer who shoots wildlife what mode they shoot in and they will all say "aperture priority". So how does this work? This will be a bit daunting at first, but persevere, it will be worth it. It will help you get a sharp photograph with the correct lighting.

Setting up your camera

The following are Canon settings but I'm sure other brands have similar names. You might have to get your manual out!
  • Set your metering mode to "centre-weighted average metering" to help with lighting
  • Set your AF mode to "Al Servo" which helps track moving subjects
  • Select your drive mode: to "high speed continuous shooting", this will allow you to rattle off as many shots as your camera will allow. The 1DX takes 12 frames per second!
  • Set your aperture setting. Start with f/4 or f/5.6 - if you want more of the background in focus, use a larger number (less light will come in as it's a smaller hole). 
  • Select single point AF (auto focus)
  • Set your ISO. The more light there is, the lower the ISO is needed. The less light there is, you will need a higher ISO. Depending on the capabilities of your camera, your pictures may become grainy if you have the ISO too high. Depress your shutter button to look at your other settings. What is the shutter speed reading? Alter your ISO so that the shutter is reading around 1000/s. Remember as the day gets brighter or darker, alter your ISO
  • If it is really dark, you may need to increase your exposure settings by 1/3 of a stop. This is a last resort as it will introduce noise into your picture. Try not to alter your exposure.
  • Take a picture and check your histogram, does the graph have a nice curve to it? Look at your picture, how does it look?
  • The most important thing is to use a tripod, especially with any lens over 200mm.
  • The hardest thing to remember is to revisit your settings and change your ISO throughout the day. I still forget!
f/5 1/2500 ISO250

Calibrate your lenses

All lenses and camera bodies need to be calibrated to ensure maximum sharpness. We bought a 1.4x extender and I was never happy with the results. All the photographs looked out of focus which made it unusable. A professional photographer asked us if we had calibrated our lenses. Huh? how do you do that? We didn't even realise that this could be done. The product we use to calibrate our lenses is Lens Align & Focus Tune.

We calibrated all our fixed lenses with and without the extender. Thankfully your camera knows what lenses you have attached to your camera and will automatically use the new settings. And now I use the extender!

f/6.3, 1/1250, ISO 2500
This was after 4pm, there was no sun and she was doing yoga!

22 June 2015

Cute fluffy things

After two weeks in Waterton we head into Alberta, Canada

We head to Calgary to catch up with a few friends Shirley and Frank and Michelle.

Testing my new macro in Shirley's garden

A barn just up the road from Shirley's
While staying at Shirley's we had a massive storm come through. It had been a fairly warm night and I had the window open to get a breeze, but wind came up and the venetians started rattling, so we shut it and pulled in the awning. Not long after at 3am a thunder clap boomed above our heads and then the stand-by light on the TV went out. The lightening hit the junction box at the end of the street. Phew, that was a close one.

Since it's been ages since we went out for dinner Lindsay embarks on a mission to find a good Indian restaurant. Frank and Michelle have never eaten Indian before and don't sound very enthusiastic. Trust me, says Lindsay. We get a tip from one of Frank's customers that Namskar was one the best Indian restaurant in Calgary. It was brilliant.

About an hour south of Calgary is Frank Lake which has a bird hide for the wetlands there.

Ruddy Duck

One way to make sure your chick doesn't get lost - Eared Grebe
We went to Kananaskis to see if we could find some grizzlies, but only saw a collared one, so Lindsay photographed Pika's instead. The campground at Eau Claire provided wonderful shade and gave us some lovely time to relax.

Winter feed

13 June 2015

Mischievous Bears

Unless you are in the top of Australia (think estuarine crocodiles as the freshies are harmless!), we normally never have to worry about walking into something that might potentially eat us. Here in North America they have cougar (probably my biggest fear) and bears. We also watch out here for snakes (rattlers in the desert), bison, elk and moose as they can kill you too. This week we really had to watch all around us in case a bear just appeared behind us.

Be careful when you come out of the restroom!

As you can see we finally got to see the sow and cubs. We had been looking for them ever since we arrived, but no show until this day. These cubs are a lot bigger than the ones we saw last year, it just goes to show that if it is a mild winter they can start eating sooner, and get bigger quicker.

Mum sent the cubs up the tree for safety

Cathy spotted some movement in the forest up near the Cameron Lake carpark. There was a mating pair in there, a cinnamon sow and a black boar. Now we know what bears do in the woods! When they had finished - it's very brief, the boar walked along the footpath and the sow went into the Visitor information centre. We could hear her banging around, I'm not sure if she was checking out the exhibits or trying to get out the floor to ceiling glass windows!

As I mentioned in my last post, all black bears climb trees - young and old. They love the seeds that are just beginning to sprout at the top of the Western Poplars. I often forget to look up when we are searching for bears. They are well camouflaged behind the leaves and can be difficult to see. This was the mum from last year, she was tearing off branches, absolutely massacring the poor tree. She tried to bring one of the branches down but it got stuck in the fork of another branch.

look how high they climb
we recognise this bear by her white face
While we were looking at the bear up the tree, troublesome bear came around and got into the tray of our truck and then into Kyle's. Then another large bear came down the trail, you really had to watch what was behind you.

For some reason Cameron Falls isn't anywhere near Cameron Lake, it's about a five minute walk from our campground. The water noise we can hear at our campsite is actually the water flowing over rocks in Cameron Creek that extends from the falls and runs behind our campsite out into the bay.

Cameron Falls
We normally don't take photographs of big horn sheep here as they are shedding their winter coat and look a bit scraggly. But there was a huge black bear boar walking down the road towards two of them, so we stopped to see what they would do - they ran up the cliff! On our last day when we were driving up the parkway for a hike up Rowe Creek, and we saw tiny three lambs but you'll just have to take my word for it because we hadn't brought our cameras as we didn't want to leave them in the truck.

Big horn sheep

The other wildlife here apart from squirrels and snowshoe hares are deer. They are so funny to watch, they don't run, they hop with all four legs at the same time.

Prancing dancer

There are lots of hiking trails here, eleven are less than 6kms return (my kind of walk), and sixteen between three hours and three days, anything less than three kilometres is easy, then you have moderate (uphill!) and difficult - more than five hours and steep. On our last day we went up the Rowe Creek trail for 3/4 of an hour and turned around. It was uphill all the way and we thought we were doing okay, when a fit young thing passed us and within a few minutes she was out of sight!

Lower Bertha Falls - 5.2kms more if you walk from the campground!
Not all the wildflowers along the trails are out yet, but many were and they are really pretty. They call Waterton the wildflower capital of Canada and there is a wildflower festival on at the moment. We've ordered a macro lens for my birthday next week, taking flowers with a normal lens just doesn't do them justice.  I took a few photos with Cathy's macro lens while they were here. There wasn't much variety to shoot where we were but it was enough to convince me that I needed one of those lenses! Flower shots here will have to wait for another time.

We made a few runs up Red Rock Parkway. The first time we saw six bears, but nothing on the subsequent trips. Akamina is still our favourite run.

Related Posts:
2015 Waterton Lakes Part-1 - The Year of the Cinnamons
2015 Townsite Campground Review
2014 Waterton Lakes Part-1
2014 Waterton Lakes Part-2

6 June 2015

The year of the Cinnamon's

Waterton Lakes National Park - Week 1

We have returned for our second year to Waterton Lakes NP in Canada, two weeks earlier than last year. It is normally quite cool at this time of year but the weather like everywhere it seems, is different this year. The first few days were in the high 20ºC's, days are sunny, sometimes with a cold wind. The wildflowers are out spread across the green meadows and the smell is divine.

Cinnamon black bear - boar

This bear had just walked through the carpark. He started to walk towards the trail that leads to Akamina Lake. Wildlife will take the easy route whenever possible, so if there is a trail there they will take it. Sure enough he started walking down the trail, so we followed him. Keeping a healthy distance behind and with a can of bear spray of course! Then he stopped and rubbed himself up against a tree. He never did continue down to the lake, but went into the forest.

This black bear is very blonde. Most of the tourists here think that anything that isn't black is a grizzly. Grizzlies like open fields and can be found up near Red Rock apparently, although we have only seen black bears up there. Black bears like forests so that they can climb trees when danger approaches.

Fox kit siblings in friendly banter

There was another fox family this year outside the hotel. The mother got run over about six weeks ago and the father stepped in and took over her role of bringing them up. Two kits didn't survive but two did. The night we saw Dad bring home dinner, he only had one squirrel. Well you can't share one squirrel can you? first in best dressed as they say. One missed out as he had gone back into the den, but as he had caught something himself earlier, it seemed fair.

Come and get it! The smaller kit gets dinner

Always hungry, the other kit comes up to dad, but there is nothing for him

Where is mine?

Dad took off again, presumably to get more food. The kits ran after him but then crossed an invisible line which made them go back to the den. The next day when we went back we didn't see any of them. A number of times after that, there was only ever one there. Dad must have taken off with the smaller one, maybe it was his favourite! The other one will go soon, after he finally figures out that no-one is coming back. He calls for the others which is heartbreaking to watch. At least we had seen him getting some food for himself, so we know he will be okay.

Please mum, let me stay... You can see Mum's response to that!

We came across this sow and cub on the Akamina Parkway. It was obviously time for the cub to start living on it's own, but he didn't want to. He would look lovingly at his mother but she would shoo him away. He would go away sulking, only to come back and just stare at her - "please take me back".

He has become the naughty bear, maybe it's to get his mother's attention! Apparently someone left some food in the bed of their truck and he found it. Now he associates cars, trucks and people with food. You can see the yellow paint on his side (above) and nose (below) where he has been marked by the rangers. If he becomes too much of a problem, he will be punished in a way to try and teach him a lesson, such as hazing. Maybe worse.

We thought this was quite cute, until he got up on the back step and got into the bed of the truck. So we started the engine and moved forward to make him get out, which worked.

Going my way? Hitch hiker's in the back please

Our friends Cathy and Jim who introduced us to Waterton last year are up here too and they were parked in front of us, so they were able to take the picture above.

watch out below, I'm coming down!
Cathy's doctor and some friends had come up from California for a few days and of course the bears had gone into hiding. We spotted one at the end of the carpark that went into the bushes, so Lindsay went after him. Yes, stupid, but at least there have never been any bear incidents in Waterton. Let's hope he doesn't become the first. Anyway, he takes Eileen in to get some photos of this bear. Then he hears some rustling up the tree. There is a sow hiding from the other bear up in the tree, you could barely see her amongst the branches. So remember - black bears no matter how big they are, do climb trees.

We saw four different bears scratching their backs like this

Related Posts:

Waterton Townsite Campground - we camped inside the National Park this time which saved a lot of driving. There is no diesel in the town so we have to remember this time not to leave it too late as the nearest diesel pump is about 40kms away. We forgot to refill our propane bottles before we left Great Falls in MT and couldn't get any in Cardston, even though it's a good sized town, so we filled up at the gas station here in Waterton and it cost double the normal rate!

2015 Waterton Lakes Part-2 Mischievous Bears
2014 Waterton Lakes Part-1
2014 Waterton Lakes Part-2

Campground Review - Waterton Lakes AB

Waterton Lakes Townsite Campground

Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta Canada

Why we chose here? It is inside the park close to both the Akamina Parkway and Red Rock Parkway

Location: Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta Canada

Sites: 237

Facilities: 94 x FHU pull throughs, 46 back in electric & water, 97 unserviced, Hot showers, restrooms. Water is available throughout the campground, dump station

Groceries: Waterton grocer

Reservations: Yes, $14 fee – you need to book on the weekends

Cell Coverage / WiFi: The campground has free WiFi

Price Paid: $27.40 unserviced - there were no others available, $32.30 E&W, $38.50 FHU

Date of visit: June 2015

Other: Maximum 2 weeks stay, Parks fee of $20 a day or annual Waterton or National Parks pass. Fill up propane before you come, it is available from Pat’s but is double the normal price.

Would we come here again? Yes. I would book different sites for weekdays and weekends if I couldn't get a powered site for the whole time.

Looking towards the front of the campground

Looking across the creek to the rear campground

Upper Waterton Lake right in front of the campground
Cameron Bay, within walking distance from the campground
Related Posts:

2015 Waterton Lakes Week 1
2015 Waterton Lakes Week 2
2014 Waterton Lakes Week 1
2014 Waterton Lakes Week 2