Wide Angle Wildlife

June 29, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

Kind of a long post, but I'm on vacation and have the time.

I started and mostly completed a new project today; that's unfortunate, since I like having a project I can throw myself into for a long period of time.  Some of my previous projects included fox kits, coyotes, and pikas.  This new project initially involved pikas, But I haven't found any cooperative pikas so far this summer.

But I'm getting ahead of myself . . .

Andrew Kelley and I were out looking for owlets one recent spring morning.  We found the owlets quickly, got some decent images, and decided to look for other subjects.  This was the same park where I'd photographed foxes, who are all now sadly dead or, hopefully, relocated.  As we carried our heavy photography gear from one end of the rather long park to the other end, we mentioned how nice it would be to have one of those gear carts to haul all our stuff instead of  breaking our collective backs for an image, but I'm not about to spend $200 buck on a gear cart when I can pick up a used jogging stroller on Craig's List for $40.

We commented that with the crappy economy, it would be cheaper to just hire some recent college graduates as Sherpas and let them haul our gear around.  Their official title would be "intern" on the resume, but Sherpa sounds classier.  I'm not sure which of us made the next leap of logic (I'm officially  going to say it was Andrew, because I'm trying to stay off my wife's "You Did What Now?" Radar), but we decided that instead of recent college graduates to haul our gear, we'd get a fleet of golf carts driven by Bikini Babes (it's an official title - look it up) acting as caddies for photographers.  They could serve beverages, make recommendations ("I'd go with the 70-200 for this shot - open it up wide"), and drive photographers from point to point (OK, a little bit of a pun intended).  I know I'd pay for that service.

You're probably thinking my new project involves interviewing Bikini Babes and renting a fleet of golf carts . . . you know, that's really not a bad idea.  It''s summer - I could put up some flyers around the local pools, and work out some sort of vendor arrangement at the state and national parks . . . but I digress.  I mentioned afterwards to Andrew my idea of shooting pikas with a macro lens.  I had a cooperate pika 2 years ago that would have been perfect for that, but his replacement last year proved to be completely uncooperative.  That's when we thought of going a slightly different direction - doing some wide angle wildlife photography.  We both read the article in Outdoor Photographer.

Let me add that we are not irresponsible photographers, and do not make a habit of  making animals uncomfortable in our presence.  Fortunately, Colorado has lots of wildlife, and some of that wildlife is fairly acclimated to human presence.  I photograph pikas that run between my legs and perch on my shoe, foxes that root through my camera bag when my back is turned, and mountain goats that casually stroll by me at arms length.  I don't approach them, but they do at times come close to me.  As long as I don't move or make too much noise, they don't seem to mind.
Mountain Goat-6216-
Our original plan involved setting up a tripod along our pika's usual route through the talus, triggered remotely (the camera, not the pika).  If we were lucky, we could get wide angle images of a pika with his mouth full of alpine flowers, with Bierstadt, Grays, Torreys, and maybe even Mount of the Holy Cross in the background.  Unfortunately, my pika models have been notoriously absent from that location.

That's OK, I can adapt.  I'm now carrying a second DSLR with the 16-50mm lens with me at all times when I'm out with the tripod and telephoto lens, and I'm using it more and more.  I'm able to get mountain goats and bighorns pretty easily - the only limiting factor is my gimpy knee that limits my ability to get as low as I want to get to keep the animal at eye level (the last time I got up from a squatting position, the noise I made from the knee pain had mountain goat kids running for cover).  Decent images, but not the greatest backgrounds.
Bighorns-6249-
Today my plan was to spend more time with a calm marmot who I've been photographing recently.  He spends a lot of time sunning on a big rock (approximately 13,500ft), which is nice, but even better, Mt Bierstadt, including the Sawtooth ridge, are just behind him.  He was nowhere to be seen when I arrived, so I set up the tripod to include his rock in the foreground and Bierstadt in the background.  Fortunately, the camera has a tilting LCD, so composing the shot without having to kneel was a huge plus.  
WAW-Marmot-6628-
Right on cue, the marmot appeared.  Just not on the rock.  He was curious about my gear, and decided to check out the other tripod I had set up with the telephoto lens.  Part of me feared he would push over the tripod, part of me hoped he would stand up and try to look through the viewfinder.  He did neither.  His curiosity satisfied, he got up on the rock and hit his mark.  I managed to take over 150 images over the course of about 30 minutes.  He'd variously pose on the rock, check out my gear, and check me out.
WAW-Marmot-6594-
I may have a new favorite wildlife model.
WAW-Marmot-6574- All images included shot with a 16-50mm lens, most well below 50mm in focal length.


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