Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Photo Class in Yellowstone (and a love letter to the park)

Last week was the wildlife photography class in Yellowstone National Park, offered by the Yellowstone Association Institute and taught by Meg Sommers. I haven't been creating lately and was hoping that some time in the beautiful area that is Yellowstone doing nothing but taking photos would spark something.
For those of you who haven't been there, Yellowstone is an amazing place, with a wide variety of geography,
lovely wide open valleys

the famous and often colorful thermal features

lakes- this Lake Yellowstone-
and, always, mountains-

the landscape provides reminders of how creation is often born of an ending- these trees were burned in the fires of 1988, you can see new growth in the lower left

Lovely as the landscape is, the wildlife is what makes the park truly special for me. We are lucky to live close enough to have spent some time there. Spring trips provide great wildlife viewing- orange buffalo calves being silly

grumpy grizzlies waking up

and many other creatures, large & small.
I have come home from these trips with a lot of photos that weren't quite there- and a lot that were flat awful- because I wasn't comfortable with (and therefore didn't use) my tripod, because I got buck fever & shot away without checking my settings (which worked OK for the shot below- but that's the only time ever).

 As I have gotten more into shooting the birds in the marsh near our Fairfield home, and the pronghorn that hang out in the fields, i have wanted to become more proficient with my camera, so this class sounded like a great opportunity. half day lecture on Tuesday, shoot that afternoon, all day Wednesday & Thursday and Friday morning with an afternoon session on workflow & processing.

first part of class was an overview of basic camera technology and the importance of shutter speed, aperture & ISO in determining the final outcome. i have been shooting mainly auto (this camera can be intimidating- another reason to just get out & use it for 4 days) so this was a much needed refresher. and as i remembered things from shooting film years ago on my all manual camera it got less scary.
Meg also talked about understanding why we love wildlife photography, which I thought was great. it isn't just about taking an "I was here and saw a bear" photo, it's about sharing something about the animal in its space- much the way I feel about my other art. The image should tell a story about the way I see the world and invite the viewer into looking at things in a new way, or make them smile or agree- but always provoke an emotion beyond "that's a pretty picture". (it's what I strive for anyway).
Wildlife photography in Yellowstone is not a wilderness experience. Many of the animals are clearly visible from the road. This makes them easy to spot as there is often a click of photographers pointing the way. (yes, the term for a group of photographers is a click :)) 

This is what we were shooting at that spot.

a few more of my images from the class-
a tired looking pronghorn buck (he had several other does nearby)

geese in the thermal haze on a river

a sunbather on the Madison River

Bighorn ewe by the side of the road
and two of my favorite Yellowstone animals- bison

and raven

As I go through my hundreds of photos I can already see that I am better at using my settings to get the desired end result. I am more conscious of standing back and looking to include a sense of place or emotion rather than getting that perfect head shot. I am more comfortable with my tripod and will force myself to use it. I am more interested in learning the many things that the D300 can do (note on this- the Sony NEX really started me on this- the touch screen makes it so easy that I thought "I should really learn this stuff on the big camera too. Shots 1,2, 5 & 6 were taken with the Sony).
The post processing lesson was also helpful. I have 100s of images stuck in folders by date. no idea what's there. Using bridge and keywords will be very helpful to organize this mess- and it will give me something to do on nasty gray winter days. I am also looking forward to going back to some old RAW files & trying different techniques to finish them- like HDR, now that I know it doesn't have to have the garish look I've long associated with its use.
Steve and i are already talking about an early June trip to the park next year to put the lessons to use on bear & wolves, and about practice in the meantime.
tonight is studio night, I'm curious to see how (if) this all translates onto the started backgrounds i have sitting out there. and this weekend is the open studios tour, so stay tuned for a recap of that.
have a great week!


Pam McKnight said...

Welcome back, I look forward to seeing how you incorporate these and others in your mixed media pieces.
My two favorites photos of this group are the geese in the mist and the bison.

marianne said...

Thanks Pam! Part of point of the class was to be able to take photos that didn't have to be incorporated into mixed media!:) Which doesn't mean they won't be, but it'd be nice to to HAVE to bc the shots aren't so good.

Barb said...

Hi Marianne - You've been busy having a fall field trip. I definitely can see the geese and wolf/raven shots as part of your mixed media! Oh, if only I loved my tripod, too (but I don't). In fact, I'm liking going even lighter with the iPhone! I like your philosophy of story as you take photos (and make art). I've been thinking of my own philosophy lately and how story is so important to me. I have a friend who is a fabulous photographer and takes such crisp photos but there is something too sterile about them for my taste. They're almost too perfect, if you know what I mean. Well, I've written a book here - have fun creating tonight.

KB said...

I love your thoughts on making art with your camera... and the "click" of photographers.

I love the bighorn ewe - she exudes such personality!