OUT WEST #17


Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, @ 200 mm

Yeah, we were back in Yellowstone National Park! It hasn’t lost anything of its magnificence since our last visits in 2005 and 2007. Our plan was to revisit places that we liked in particular, take it easy, and stay away from the big crowds whenever possible.

However, there was no way we would skip the Grand Prismatic Spring at Midway Geyser Basin, the world’s largest hot spring. The question was again the same as during previous visits, how to photograph this beautiful feature in the park? Before our trip to Yellowstone I looked at my old images from 2007 and tried to find out what I would like to do different. Going with a wide angle lens and including the elements of the touristic infrastructure, like boardwalk, road, etc., or a more intimate view without any manmade elements in the frame? At 16 mm focal length you can get the great memory shot you always wanted, especially if you have nice clouds in the sky. When the sun hit the right spot all the colors created by the bacteria in the hot water came to life, and at 200 mm focal length I got some shots I never made before and they became my new favorites.

Grand Prismatic Spring, @ 16 mm

FEW LEAVES, BUT GOOD TIME


Little Paint Creek, Yellow River State Forest, Allamakee County, Iowa

It was maybe the last chance for a camping weekend during this season for us. We pitched our tent in northeast Iowa at Yellow River State Forest, only 90 minutes away from home. 8,900 acres of forestland and over 41 miles of hiking trails make it a great area for an autumn hiking trip. We had some good conversation with other hikers on the trail and friendly camp neighbors shared their dinner with us (Thank you again Pam and Phil!). At this time of the year, when the wind blows and the temperatures drop below freezing at night, the camp sites are usually not so full and often you find like minded people that enjoy the quiet side of tent camping as we do.

To be honest, I had high hopes to find still an abundance of leaves with fall colors, but if you look at the image below, most leaves were already on the ground. The rain and wind during the last few weeks is probably to blame for. No leaves means more light on the ground and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The challenge was to find the places where the light was not just a dappled mess. Little Paint Creek flows through the campsite and right before the sun disappeared behind the bluffs, the moss and lichen covered rock wall and the shadows from the trees behind me “painted” the surface of the water with warm colors and a pattern that worked for me…

Paint Creek, Yellow River State Forest, Allamakee County, Iowa

OUT WEST #16


Beartooth Highway, Shoshone National Forest, Montana

It has been a while since we visited Yellowstone National Park. This time we wanted to make a different approach and entered the park trough the northeast entrance. In order to get there we drove north into Montana and followed the Beartooth Highway all the way to Cooke City. All three images were shot during stops along this spectacular highway that winds from Red Lodge, MT through Shoshone National Forest and over the Beartooth Pass.

Overlook at Beartooth Pass (3,347 m / 10,947 ft)

Beartooth Lake with Beartooth Butte, a fossil repository that was pushed upwards during the last 75 million years.

NATURE CLICKS #415 - MIGRATION TIME


Red-breasted Nuthatch

I like to interrupt again my “OUT WEST” series here in the blog for some actual photos and wildlife encounters we had here in our woods on the bluffs of the Little Maquoketa Valley. Since a few days we have a few birds here that either migrate through or may stay for part of the winter.

The White-breasted Nuthatch calls our woods home but every fall we have at least one Red-breasted Nuthatch joining them for some time. They never stayed here all winter long. The red-breasted is much smaller than the white-breasted and their white eyebrow and orange belly makes it easy to identify.

Carolina Wren

Carolina Wrens are supposed to range all year long in this area but we see them only occasionally in fall or during the winter. Maybe they avoid our neck of the woods because our House Wrens, who are now already much further south, are too aggressive and territorial. I hardly ever show pictures that are made at a bird feeder, unless it is a species we don’t see very often or it is a first sighting. I couldn’t resist to make this click through the glass of my office window. The deer antler sits on top of the roof of a wooden seed feeder and allows the birds to perch.

OUT WEST #15


North Tongue River, Bighorn Mountains, Wyoming

Although the Bighorn Mountains may not be always as pristine as parts of some national parks, because the land is quite often national forest and the same degree of protection does not apply to it, but we fell in love with this landscape immediately. Part is that you wouldn’t find mass tourism, as it becomes more of a problem lately for some of the big national parks. In addition there is no lack of beauty or stories that can be told, despite the fact there is no “iconic” view (a term that drives me crazy, which just seems to mean, everybody needs to take a picture where someone else has taken a picture before).

Not only early morning or evening, as when this photo was made, you share the light and wildlife observations on location with only few people or even nobody at all…

Nikon D750, Nikkor 16-35mm / f4, @ 35 mm, 2.5s, f/20, ISO50, Induro GIT 404XL tripod, KIRK BH-3 ball head, VELLO wired remote switch


OUT WEST #14


Pronghorn, Black Hills, South Dakota

One of our favorite animals in the grasslands and mountains of the west is the Pronghorn. Driving through the western parts of South Dakota and the state of Wyoming in fall, well, you can’t miss them. We saw many herds or single individuals along the road during our trip. The Pronghorn is not an antelope, as many people call them pronghorn antelope, it is a unique American creature, neither in the antelope nor goat family, and has been in North America for over a million years. The pronghorn is the fastest animal in the Western Hemisphere. It can run at speeds of up to 60 miles per hour and it can run long distances at speeds of 30-40 miles per hour. (source: http://www.nhptv.org/natureworks/pronghorn.htm)

Facts aside, the Pronghorn is also a very beautiful animal and I don’t know any photographers who would turn their back if this critter is within the reach of the lens. As you can imagine, the colors of their fur, including black, white, and brown, can bare a challenge during the day hours, because of too much contrast. Getting up early in the morning or staying late in the evening will lead to the results you may have in mind. This seems to be a rule that can be applied to almost any critter out in the open of the prairies and grasslands, but for the Pronghorn I would put a bet on…

OUT WEST #13


Red Squirrel, Bighorn Mountains, Wyoming

It is easy to look only for the big animals in the great outdoors of the American West but aiming the lens at the small critters is fun, sometimes challenging, but can be very rewarding. At any place where you have conifers, like pines, firs, or spruces, you have a good chance to find a Red Squirrel. Usually you can hear their rattling before you even see them. That means the squirrel has seen you and may not want to pose for a picture. If you stay quite and move only slowly, and if the seed they chew on is very tasty, and in addition the light is just right, well, you may get your chance for a good shot. This picture was taken during a hiking trip to Bucking Mule Falls in the Bighorn Mountains. On the way back Joan and Cooper were way ahead of me and I dallied, making a click here and another one there… And then suddenly was there a Red Squirrel beside the trail… 😊

OUT WEST #12


Morning in the Bighorn Mountains, Wyoming

So, how about the moose? The next morning after the evening we watched the Red-tailed Hawk we went back into the valley where the North Tongue River flows along highway 14A. The rock cliffs above the valley and the aspen groves below were in beautiful morning light and the colors suggested that fall wasn’t too far away. The hawk wasn’t there anymore but we watched Mule Deer and some elk far in the distance. Later, after we had packed our tent and camping gear, we drove through the valley again, and finally we found this young moose bull munching on willow leaves. Hard to beat a morning like this…

Young Moose bull

OUT WEST #11


Red-tailed Hawk, North Tongue River, Bighorn Mountains, Wyoming

Two photos today that mark one of our best moments with wildlife in the Bighorn Mountains. After a long day, with early morning photography, a nice hiking tour, and scouting for moose and other critters, we stopped at the small parking lot where scenic and not very busy highway 14A crosses the North Tongue River. This is prime moose territory, with lots of small willows along the river and still full of leaves that moose like to eat. While we looked out for moose and mule deer some other hikers pointed out this Red-tailed Hawk, perching on a fence post. First the bird was too far away, but suddenly the hawk flew closer to us and perched on another post. It was clear it was on a hunt for ground squirrels or mice and didn’t pay too much attention to our presence. After a few minutes it changed location again and was even closer as before. 

The camera went on the tripod quickly and I was shooting away in the killer light before the sun sets. Although the sun was very low already the light was still very intense. I knew I had a great opportunity in front of the lens and didn’t want to screw this up. Exposure compensation was between -0.7 and -1 EV in order to keep the details on its bright chest. The hawk was concentrated on its hunting efforts and posed nicely for about thirty minutes. Ones in a while he took off but always returned to another fence post. On its last take off the Red-tailed Hawk flew right at me, as he almost wanted to tell me, you had your chance dude, I hope you used it…!

Nikon D750, Sigma 150-600mm / f5-6.3 DG OS HSM S, Induro GIT 404XL tripod, Induro GHB2 gimbal head

OUT WEST #10


North Tongue River, Bighorn Mountains, Wyoming

I was asked if I had anything new in my photo bag during our recent trip. Nothing big, except for one piece of accessories that helped me to solve a problem with my landscape photography that had bugged me since awhile. I finally added a 77 mm, 1.8 Solid Neutral Density Filter (6-stop) from Breakthrough to the “tool box”. I have experimented in the past with cheaper ND filters for long exposures and one reason I never used them very often was because I didn’t like how they rendered the colors. There seemed to be always an unwanted color cast. I can tell you, the Breakthrough is the cleanest filter I have ever used. I was wondering if a screw on filter with 6-stops can still be used with the camera’s auto focus. And yes, you can!

At North Tongue River, near our campsite in the Bighorn Mountains I had plenty of opportunities to test, play, and have fun with this piece of glass. With moving water every picture turns out a little different, but selecting the one I like to show here in the blog was not influenced by lack of quality due to an unwanted color cast.

One of the things I realized during these long exposure shots is that I payed a lot more attention to composition. Having the camera on a stabile tripod is mandatory and really taking the time to envision how the blur of the water may impact the final image led to results I’m quite happy with. Most of the time during our vacation we had a blue or sometimes hazy sky. I was hoping to have a chance experimenting with fast moving clouds but this has obviously to wait for another time…

Nikon D750, Nikkor 70-200mm / f4, Breakthrough X4 ND filter 1.8 (6-stop), Induro GIT 404XL tripod, KIRK BH-3 ball head, VELLO wired remote switch,  @200 mm, 6 s, f/25, ISO100

OUT WEST #9


Sunrise in the Bighorn Mountains, Wyoming

This week I like to introduce you to one of our favorite mountain areas during this trip in regards of wildlife and landscape. We have crossed the Bighorn Mountains, located in north central Wyoming, twice before on our way to Yellowstone National Park in 2005 and 2007. Every time we said, oh, we need to come back to this area. Well, it took a long time, but we finally returned and spent a few days in these beautiful mountains that are not on the average traveler’s agenda.

These cliffs were near our campsite at the North Tongue River. We were at this overlook the day before around late morning and it was clear to me that the photo deserved a better time. Next morning we were on site around sunrise and the picture envisioned the day before became a reality…

Nikon D750, Nikon Nikkor AF-S 70-200mm, f/4G ED VR, @145 mm, 1/50 s, f/10, ISO100

OUT WEST #8


Western Meadowlark, Badlands, South Dakota

During our day trips by car we always scan the surrounding areas for birds while driving. This wasn’t really necessary for the Western Meadowlark in Badlands National Park. We found meadowlarks at many places and one of them was Sage Creek Campground, where we had pitched our tent for several nights. Their song woke us up in the morning and it was fun seeing them foraging for food between the short vegetation.

Sage Creek Campground, Badlands NP, South Dakota


OUT WEST #7


Aspens in color, Bighorn Mountains, near North Tongue River, Wyoming

Going out west early into mid September is not a guarantee for having leaves with great fall colors. We knew that, but going up higher in altitude can always be a game changer. The highest peak in the Bighorn Mountains is over 4,000 meters and this photo location near our campsite at North Tongue Campground in Bighorn National Forest was still at an altitude of 2,400 m. Higher elevation triggers earlier frost and so it was no surprise to see some aspens in their beautiful fall colors.

OUT WEST #6


Needles Highway, Black Hills, South Dakota

For my taste we had way too many days with just a plain blue sky and without any dramatic weather. The only exception was during a drive through the heart of the Black Hills, along the Needles Highway. I made quite a few clicks at this vantage point but when this dude with his “Hill Billy shirt” stopped his Harley right in front of me, I knew I had my photo…

OUT WEST #5


Wallowing bison, Badlands, South Dakota

Back in “basecamp” at home and after a few days of business related travel, I like to continue my little photo series about our trip to South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana in September.

There are pictures in my mind I would like to shoot and I know some ideas may never materialize, for some others we may come close to our ideas, and ones in a while things unfold in front of us, just the way we have imagined a long time ago. This is one of those shots for me, an American Bison wallowing in the dust of the Badlands, South Dakota. When bisons roamed by the million in the prairies of the west and midwest a scene like this was surely nothing worth noting, it happened all the time. The dust clouds were probably a good indicator where single male bison were located and helped the native people of the region to hunt them.

The dust, the flying grass, and most important the sharp eye and horn as an anchor in this photo, make for great story telling. The photo was made about mid morning, the light was still decent, and the colors are warm. I still decided to make this photo monochrome, better said black & white. Why? Well, I had this picture in my mind a very long time ago….

Nikon D750, Sigma 150-600mm / f5-6.3 DG OS HSM S, @390 mm, 1/2000 s, f/6.3, ISO 320