The outside world

Capturing the Mountain

On Safari

I returned home last night from 3 days in the nature photographer’s paradise that is Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where I participated in a “photo safari” sponsored by the New Media Consortium, an organization I belong to through work. It was a truly incredible experience. There were about 18 people, including some experts (Bill Frakes, who shoots for Sports Illustrated and who has a Pulitzer prize to his name, and Scott Diussa, who works for Nikon Professional Services and is a really, really nice guy), and some seriously talented and experienced photographers such as Diana Robinson, trip leader Larry Johnson and local guide Robin Elledge. My mind is still trying to process it all, and I’m sure that I’ll be referring to things that I learned in the blog posts to come; for now, I’ll just list some things that made the biggest immediate impression:

      1. Given the same subject material, 12 photographers will produce 12 very different photographs, even with similar camera settings.
      2. Getting away from the pack allows you to see different things and see things differently. One of the group, Shelley, was missing on Thursday morning when we were getting ready to move on – this was slightly worrisome given that there were fresh bear tracks in the area. It turns out she was way down the road sitting next to the creek, with a group of otters swimming around her.
      3. Experts are able to look at a scene and do all of the following in a matter of seconds:
        • determine whether it’s worth getting a shot
        • identify and set the right camera settings
        • identify the right framing for the shot
        • focus
        • hit the shutter button a few dozen times in rapid succession
      4. Critiques by people whose opinions you value are incredibly helpful. We had 2 sessions where everyone anonymously submitted 5 shots that were projected for all to see. The pros then voiced their opinions about each one, giving first their overall impression, then specific comments about what they liked and what could or should be done differently. An amazing bonus was having the well-known wildlife photographer Tom Mangelsen sit in on the first session. There was a huge difference in the quality of the photos submitted between the first session and the second.
      5. It is actually possible to average 4 hours of sleep a night and still function mostly normally (for 3 days, at least. I’m not likely to ever try going longer than that.) We had a schedule that was set up to accommodate both sunrise shots and light painting at night.
      6. If the subject isn’t sharp, don’t bother sharing the photo. (There are possibly artistic differences of opinion on this, but it’s a general rule.)
      7. If you’re not sure if it’s good, it probably isn’t.
      8. It’s all about the lens. My camera body, the Canon EOS Rebel XS, is literally the lowest-end DSLR camera in the Canon lineup – I paid under $500 for it. By comparison, the pros were primarily shooting with Nikon cameras in the $5000-$8000 range.  But it wasn’t the camera body that made the difference in photo quality; it was the lenses. My best output this week came from the 60mm macro lens, easily the most expensive lens I own… but it just wasn’t possible for me to get good strong images of the far-away moose with the 250mm zoom lens I have. I’ll just leave the moose to the guys with the 600mm zoom.

I’ve put a bunch of my better shots up on flickr; if you’re interested, you can see additional photos from the group by going to flickr and searching for nmcphotosafari (or just click here.) (Some of the group is still traveling, so it may be a little while before they get their shots posted.)

Can’t wait to find out where the next safari is going to be!

Ground Squirrel

Up close and personal with a ground squirrel


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