Bull in the River

This past weekend was a great one in the mountains! I was with my son, James, and we took our daily elk runs in the truck to locate and photograph the Pennsylvania Elk. Friday evening we saw a group of cows and then noticed a 4×5 bull standing in the river!

I grabbed my camera and tripod and made my way to a good vantage point and the fun began. Unbeknownst to me, James was capturing some video footage with his cell phone. The bull put on a quite a display for us.

There is nothing quite like a Friday night when you see and photograph a bull in the river!

New Pennsylvania Elk Photography Experience Just Listed

PEPE#7 2541

We just announced a new Pennsylvania Elk Photography Experience, which will be held on October 2-5, 2017. This guided photo trip will take you to the amazing Pennsylvania Elk for a photographic experience you will not soon forget!

PEPE#7 1774

Along the way, you will be around some neat and interesting people who, like you, share a passion for wildlife and outdoor photography. We present three different photography seminars, including how to set up your camera and photograph the PA Elk, and an in-depth look at how to use Adobe Lightroom for your photography. The final seminar is about wildlife photography ethics, the PA Elk Herd, and we also have you share your best five shots from the trip so we can learn from each other!

PEPE#7 1020

You will have the opportunity to be out on six photo shoots to photograph the majestic elk during the fall rut when their activity is at an all-time high. The photographic possibilities are only limited by your imagination!

PEPE#7 2528

We only have 1 more opening available for 2017 but we will be doing this again next year. Click here for more information.

PEPE#7-3592

Before & After

PEPE#7-3496a

PEPE#7-3496b

 

Lightroom is my go-to choice for both keeping track of and editing my photographs. I do use Photo Mechanic, as well, but that is a topic for another blog post. I also have and use Photoshop, but easily 95%+ of my photo edits are accomplished in Lightroom. So I thought for today’s blog post, I would share this before and after photograph to just share a few edits I do routinely in Lightroom.

First, I have to thank Dick McCreight, my colleague and professional photographer who is an absolute guru with Lightroom’s Develop module. He makes it look so easy and is somehow uniquely able to teach what he knows. He is awesome! Thanks, Dick! Also, John Kliest, another colleague and photographer, recently helped me to better understand Lightroom’s Develop module. One tip in particular comes to mind that I learned from John, which involves the Highlights slider. I know my way around Lightroom’s Library module well. I can edit a new shoot in no time, flagging the best photos and using color labels to identify photos I want to use for my blog or some other purpose. The Develop module, however, was a place I somewhat feared to tread. It just seemed kinda overwhelming to me to be honest. Well, Dick and John relieved my fears and taught me some really valuable and helpful stuff so I can now edit my photos efficiently. Thanks guys!

Let’s start by looking at the first photo above. You can see the exposure is a little dark and there is a floating arm from a person located in the lower-right corner of the photo. The cropping tool was used first and I just slightly cropped out that floating arm. LIghtroom makes this quick and easy.

Then I adjusted the exposure, bringing up the light a little shy of half a stop. This was a good start to editing the photo but I knew I couldn’t stop here.

So, I then adjusted the highlights, white clipping, and black clipping sliders. The goal in wildlife photography is to always keep the focus on the subject. Working with the white and black portions of the photograph can sometimes provide drastic changes. Sure enough, once I made these adjustments, I had to scale back the exposure about 2-tenths of a stop. I guess I should have started with these adjustments before correcting the exposure.

Then I worked on adjusting the shadows and contrast. Typically, I find the shadows slider to be a very helpful tool in bringing details out of the dark, literally!

Finally, I added a little smidgen of clarity and vibrance, which I do to most of my photographs.

Within just a few short minutes I edited the photo to a very usable and better quality photograph by using the Develop module in Lightroom. I know I still have a lot to learn about properly editing photographs, but equipped with even the little knowledge I do posses, I can see big changes in my photographs after editing them.

Lightroom is a great tool on a number of levels. I will post more blog entries in the future to share in detail how I use this amazing software. Lightroom rocks!

Be Patient… Let Them Come to You

PEPE#7 2528
Much of the time spent in wildlife photography is pursuing the animals we want to photograph. I often tease that, “Yeah, I was out on the mountain chasing the elk around with my camera.” I do not mean this literally, of course. Chasing an animal is just not a very good idea if you intend to photograph it!

PEPE#7 2134

So how can you actually get closer to the wild animals? Be patient and let them come to you. That’s right, be patient. In our fast-paced society today, this is not an easy thing for many people to do. Being patient means taking the time to stay in one place for an extended period of time.

PEPE#7 2139

Last week, while shooting the Pennsylvania Elk, we were on a hill with a small harem of cows and a couple of bulls within about 100 yards of us. We had our cameras on our tripods and were capturing some photographs at that distance. We patiently remained in that one location for well over an hour. Amazingly, the elk ever so slowly began to feed in our direction. They didn’t close the distance by leaps and bounds; rather, they slowly mossyed in our direction. This took time and we remained patient.

PEPE#7 2154

Eventually, the bull moved to within a few yards of our location. You can see in these photos that I now had too much lens with my 200-400mm. It was an amazing experience!

PEPE#7 2170
The key was staying still and patient, while letting the animals slowly feed in our direction instead of chasing them by trying to get closer. I firmly believe that most photographers will get better photographs if they practiced more patience with their subjects. The next time you are shooting wildlife, practice more patience. Remain in one location and let them work toward you. It is an amazing experience when this happens and you will get some incredible photos, too!

PEPE#7 2528

 

 

Lenses for Wildlife

PEPE#7 0854

 

Pennsylvania Elk Photography Experience #7 was a pure blast! We saw elk all over the place and bulls were everywhere! I cannot remember a year where we saw so many different bulls and most of them were in camera range. Many of us are spoiled, owning 200mm, 300mm, and even 400mm lenses. The big boy wildlife photographers even haul a 600mm lens out on the mountain!

I confess that lens envy is rampant in my photo circles. We always want more reach. Bigger lenses allow us to stay at a safe distance from the animals and still fill the frame with the subject we are photographing. The other related problem is lack of light in many lenses. Take, for example, the typical 70-300mm zoom lens that is often the second lens purchased by many photographers, it has reach but at 300mm the f-stop is a whopping f/5.6. That is simply not usable at dawn and dusk when animals are most visible and active. An f-stop of 2.8 is ideal, but many settle for f/4, which is a decent comprise to get the reach but also keep the lens affordable. The Nikon 400mm f/2.8 is $9,000!

PEPE#7 0984

My favorite lens for wildlife and sports photography is the 200-400mm f/4. I really like the zoom capability of this lens, especially for sports and wildlife. It allows me to zoom in and out from my position on the sidelines or on the mountain with the twist of the wrist. Typically I rest my left hand on top of the lens to be able to rotate the zoom mechanism when needed. Just remember, righty tighty, which zooms in closer, at least for the Nikon shooters.

I purchased the book, “How to Photograph Animals in the Wild,” by Lennie Rue III, and Len Rue, Jr. about 11 years ago. I got to meet them both twice–once at my favorite spot on the elk range behind my camp and once in a workshop they co-led here in the Poconos. Anyway, this book contains some of their incredible photographs. As I read the book and studied the photos, I saw a repeating trend: most of the photos were captured with a 200-400mm lens. Well, it then instantly became my dream lens. I saved for 3 1/2 years to purchase the lens and I use it every week. It really is a great lens for sports and wildlife photography, and it has quickly become my go-to lens!

PEPE#7 1756

 

Each of these photographs in today’s blog entry were captured with my 200-400mm f/4 lens. The lens is sharp and clear and it can be coupled with a teleconverter to provide even more reach if there is enough light. I also am now in the habit of carrying a second camera body around my body. This is necessary when photographing football games, so it comes quite naturally to me now. This week I carried the D300 with the 200-400mm f/4 on my tripod and another D300 with the 24-70mm f/2.8 around my body on an R-Strap. I also toted the Think Tank Belt System to carry my 70-200mm f/2.8 lens, my 50mm f/1.4 lens, my 1.4x teleconverter, and other accessories. It is all easy to carry and I am covered from 24mm all the way through 560mm. That’s pretty sweet for wildlife photography!

When we teach our photo classes for the Pennsylvania Elk Photography Experience, we recommend at least 200mm with a teleconverter. This covers out to 280mm and provides good minimal coverage for the large elk. For most other mammals, which are smaller, we recommend 300mm or more. A wildlife photographer can never seem to have enough lens reach!

Another helpful tip is getting close to the wildlife, or preferably, letting the wildlife get close to you. More on this topic next week. For now, just remember that lenses for wildlife might be expensive, but they sure produce consistently clear results. I really, really like my 200-400mm f/4 lens!

Now my next dream lens is the 400mm f/2.8 for football, and the 600mm f/4 for bird photography. It just never ends…

PEPE#7 2515

 

Pennsylvania Elk Photography Experience #7 – What an Experience!!!

PEPE#7-3176
It’s in the books. The 7th Pennsylvania Elk Photography Experience just wrapped up yesterday. Wow! We saw more bulls on this trip than any I can remember in the recent past. We watched bull after bull, heard their blustering bugles, and were astounded by how many were within camera range. This was one outstanding experience!

One of the many highlights was on Wednesday night when we were literally in the middle of six bulls and a harem of cows. This alone could be thrilling, but add to it the location was on a river full of water and you can begin to see why this experience was so thrilling! We watched patiently for the first bull to cross over the water with splashes of water at its feet, but eventually we saw six crossings. This all provided an astounding opportunity to capture some amazing wildlife photographs.

If you want to photograph the Pennsylvania Elk, you really should consider signing up for next year’s PA Elk Photo Experience. You can find more info here. We are also seriously considering another winter trip. This is a quieter experience without the hoards of elk viewers we are accustomed to seeing in the fall rut. The elk can be a little more difficult to find in the winter, but once we do they make for stunning subjects in front of the wonderland of snow!

Here is a gallery of my best captures this week.

PEPE#7-3592

 

What Really Matters to You?

Elk County 20120523-2097 Matte

Does anything get you fired up? I mean, does anything provoke you to sit up, pay attention, and decide to do something about it?

I hear a lot of rhetoric from well-meaning and good intentioned people, but few are motivated to stand up and be counted. We also have the slippery slope of political correctness that has run amuck in our country. I just said the other day that political correctness might be the gateway to our demise.

So here goes. I am going to say some things I believe strongly enough to stand up for and be counted. To some, it might sound like  am coming out of the closet because I don’t always wear these feelings on my sleeve nor do I share them publicly very often. I am sure I will offend some and perhaps many, but I want to be honest with you and with myself.

I grew up in the farming and hunting traditions of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. My parents taught me right from wrong and I listened to them sometimes. When I didn’t I got whacked real good! I attended church every week. I learned to respect my elders, do my chores, and enjoy God’s beautiful creation. My grandpa took me for walks in the woods to hunt for mushrooms. I never ate one of them, but I thoroughly enjoyed the conversations we had on those long walks in the woods. At the age of 12 I became a hunter. My uncle was my hero and I couldn’t wait to hunt game and get to eat it. I got my first squirrel on Thanksgiving Day in 1977 with the help of my uncle. I did not eat this squirrel because my dad had it mounted for me to remember that successful hunt  the rest of my life. I hunted all through high school and developed a deep friendship with my best buddy, Randy. We roomed together in our first year of college, had one big fight and a few smaller arguments, but we always looked forward to hunting season. We ran a successful muskrat trap line and trapped a few raccoon, opossums, and skunks along the way! Then I transferred to Temple University and saw how life was lived in the city. It was awesome! It was all new, of course, to me, but it was mentally engaging and challenging in ways I never experienced before. My very first day in the city, I met an African-American for the first time in my life. Danny took me around the city, which was far different from taking a long walk in the woods! I learned that people might look different from me but they have similar wants, likes, and problems just as I do. I learned that some people are treated differently, too. African-Americans could not walk into certain neighborhoods, which was a hard lesson for me to understand. The city of brotherly love is just not always that lovely it seemed–at least not for everybody. I moved to Pittsburgh to continue my education and my life experiences expanded as well. I met a friendly city that was much different from the big city of Philly. These differences were both good and bad in my opinion. I got to experience a wonderful new culture on many levels. I often went to the Balcony, which featured great jazz musicians from the city and the entire region. I also went with a friend to a Reggae concert. Jeff and I were the only white people in the whole place! But we were treated like brothers and enjoyed the concert and the crowd immensely! I now got to work in a church and learned the hard way that church is not always a loving and friendly place. There are even some hypocrites and hateful people in the church. I got married to my high school sweetheart and lived in a little two-bedroom apartment. Denise worked at the hospital and I continued my education. My horizons were expanding and life was excellent! We bought some land in the mountains, near where I had hunted since the age of 15. It was so nice to have a little slice of God’s creation to steal away to every once in a while and to have a place of our very own. It didn’t hurt that the wildlife was abundant and we saw our very first Pennsylvania Elk. Wow, what a beautiful and majestic animal! I continued hunting with my dad and my buddy from high school, Randy. I often saw nice bucks in bear season and beautiful bear in deer season! We bagged a few bucks and I started trying to photograph the wildlife in the off seasons, especially the elk. My wife gave birth to beautiful twin children–Lydia and James. They helped me continue learning more and more. I learned my uncle had lied to me: he said your own children don’t stink! I learned that girls are different from boys, in more than just the obvious ways. I also learned that children will do the exact opposite of what you tell them sometimes! I served several churches as pastor and got to meet all kinds of wonderful people from all walks of life. I had great mentors along the way. I met some gay people who were more committed in their relationships than some of my friends and relatives were in their marriages. I had some of my thinking challenged and confirmed and completely torn apart. I thought I had life pretty much figured out when one of our church teenagers shot and killed his mom and dad. Why? I will probably never know. I enjoyed success and failures, and all kinds of ups and downs. I still enjoy hunting, trapping, and now other shooting and target sports. The best part is having an interested son who shares some of my interests and who is going to be a much better hunter than I will ever be in this life. He shoots straight and has specific goals and a good direction for his life, much like I recall in my own life when I was his age. My daughter keeps me cultured and tries to keep expanding my horizons. I don’t always like her music or her boyfriends. I love my children but, yes, we disagree sometimes and I am not always right. However, living in my house requires living by my rules. Funny how I find myself parenting like my parents raised me! Mom got her wish, too. She often said, “I hope when you have a son, he’s just like you!” Thanks, mom, thanks a lot! I still enjoy hunting and believe strongly in our Second Amendment. I am a proud member of the National Rifle Association. I was a member years ago but let my membership lapse because I thought they went too far much of the time. I’ve changed my thinking completely on this topic. I never thought I would live to see the day that hunting might be outlawed, but I fear that day is much closer than most of might imagine. A new bill introduced on Capitol Hill this week does include hunting rifles that may not be legal in Pennsylvania, but they are legal in other states. Why do I only get upset when my way of life is threatened? What about when other people’s ways of life are threatened? Shouldn’t I speak up then, too? The Second Amendment is not primarily about hunting, it’s about the unalienable right given to us by our founding fathers in the Constitution to bear arms. Yes, it was about a militia at the time of its conception but it was also about individual rights, too. It was also about protecting the citizens from a tyrannical government. Rights are sometimes lost over time. Just look at parenting. Remember the old adage: spare the rod and spoil the child? This is out the window today. I know that guns are often the choice for bad people to inflict hurt on others, but I also know that many more people die from car accidents and abortions. Could it be that our society is full of spoiled brats who need to learn a lesson or two before they become an active part of our society? It is an odd mix today, really… many feel entitled and yet many rights continue to be threatened. Morale in the church and our country is down. The economy shows signs of bouncing back like in the Stock Market but still hurts so many people trying to make a decent living and our seniors on fixed incomes. I do not believe in global warming, but I do see a lot of changes going on around me. My dad died a little over a year ago and I miss talking with him on hunting trips and I miss his camp cooking! My uncle is still my hero but many other hopeful heroes have come and gone, despised by society for the bad things they got caught doing and lied about. I question why so many people die so young and unexpectedly. I question but I remain faithful. And I still enjoy hunting deer but will only shoot the Pennsylvania elk with my camera. I thoroughly enjoy photographing God’s beautiful and amazing creation.

This is what really matters to me: God’s creation, my family, the traditions I grew up with, having an open mind, the Bill of Rights and our Constitution (especially the Second Amendment), photographing wildlife, continuing to learn as I experience more and more all the time, and knowing that there is no place like the mountains!

This is me, Bob Shank, for better or worse. I am a product to a large degree from where I came from and where I’ve been through the years. I don’t think my way is always better, but I think my way is right. I enjoy having debates and long conversations even with those who look at life differently, and I enjoy educating people on some topics. I hope I am still learning and I hope my life is making a difference in some way.

What really matters to you?

20080925-00090-2 framed

Don’t Fence Me In

“Oh give me land, lots of land, under starry skies above,
Don’t fence me in;
Let me ride through the wide open country that I love,
Don’t fence me in.”

These photos were taken at the Gilbert Viewing Area, also known as the Porcupine Run Viewing Area. I prefer to call it the Gilbert Viewing Area, after the family who last owned the farm before it was purchased by the Conservancy and then became an addition to State Game Lands 311. Today there is little evidence that this was a farm because the Game Commission burned down the old farm-house and the barn, which is their standard policy when they acquire land.

The fence in the foreground was put in to keep the elk viewers from venturing too far into the elk country. There is a bit of a controversy with this idea because typically State Game Lands are open to the public. The idea here in the viewing areas, however, is to keep human contact to a minimum to allow more people to view the elk. This same policy is in affect to the surrounding area of the Elk Country Visitor Center. Visitors can see the obvious red signs depicting the area off limits along Winslow Hill Road just above the Elk Country Visitor Center entrance.

This cow put on quite a show for me last month on a day that was quite on the hill. The rut was just about over and elk viewers were few and far between during the week days. I enjoyed photographing this cow with only one other elk viewer in the area. I thought it was comical to see the elk behind this fence, as I wondered if the elk was thinking, “Don’t fence me in.” My mother-in-law, Edna Rosenberry, used to sing this song to our children, Lydia and James, when they were just babies! Few of us like to be fenced in, including the wild elk of Pennsylvania!

Obviously, these elk are not fenced in. The fence in the foreground of these photos only covers a small area at the top of the viewing area. Still, I thought it made an interesting perspective. What do you think?

 

Bulls in Late Fall

The colors are not nearly as brilliant as they were a month ago, but capturing a bull in the late fall in its natural setting is still worth capturing. Some photographers limit their outings to the fall rut when the elk activity is at its peak. This is understandable, but there is not a bad time throughout the entire year that is not worth the effort to be out photographing the Pennsylvania elk.

This is true for any photo subject. The best way to get better is to be out photographing your favorite subjects as much as possible. Cal Ripken, Jr. says this: “Perfect practice makes practice.” His theory reflects that it is not just practice, but perfect practice that helps us get better. This is true in baseball as well as in wildlife photography. One problem is that we can tend to crawl up beside a warm, comfy wood stove as the days get shorter. This is a mistake for any serious photographer, especially wildlife photographers. The sun sets differently in the late fall and winter sky than it does in the summer, which creates a different sunset to capture with our cameras. As a matter of fact, I was standing out in a misty rain with my long johns on during this particular photo shoot.

The late fall sees the elk habits change, too. Sure, a few bulls are still anxious to breed a cow, but now things are slowing down and the elk are thinking more about putting on weight to endure the upcoming winter. They gain weight by eating, so the photographer has to be patient, waiting for an elk to look up from eating. Patience is a virtue and this is no more true anywhere than with wildlife photography!

So, put on some warm clothes, grab your camera gear, and venture out into the wild this late fall season. When you come back into the warmth of your home or cabin, you will be glad you braved the elements to photograph wildlife. After all, to be a good wildlife photographer we have to spend more time in their habitat throughout the whole year!

Wet Elk – Don’t be Afraid of the Rain!

I traveled to the beautiful mountains of Elk County after making sure that Hurricane Sandy didn’t do any damage around our home. My departure was only delayed a day and a half due to the hurricane. The forecast didn’t look promising, but I ventured out anyway. I was blessed with one of the best elk photography trips and I didn’t mind getting a little wet. Elk were everywhere, I’m assuming since the worst of the storm already passed. The conditions were excellent for wet elk photography!

You can see some of the rain drops in most of these photographs when you click on and enlarge the photographs. I think it makes a cool effect. I also like the detail of the wet fur that comes out in these photographs. Many photographers prefer fair or sunny weather. Snow and rain can potentially damage our electronic camera gear, too, so many wildlife photographers simply don’t venture out into the wild on rainy or snowy days. I think this is a big mistake. The Nikon gear that I own is weather sealed. The manufacturer says so, but I’ve also tested this out in some severe conditions on my own. Recently, I had to walk about a mile in a heavy rain with my tripod, camera, and lens riding over my shoulder. Everything was soaked when I got back to camp! I dabbed the excess water off my gear with a towel and then allowed it to all dry out slowly. The result was some interesting and different photographs and gear that was ready and workable without any damage.

This photo (above) is a case in point of what I’m talking about with the wet weather wildlife. Just look at the detail in the forehead of this cow? You can also see the raindrops come down alongside her. And the fact that she has a mouthful of nature-food adds some action to this photograph. Rainy weather does require wide open apertures and oftentimes higher ISOs. Some photos will be unusable, but the effort is definitely worth it to me!

Don’t let a little rain hinder your spirit. Grab your camera gear and get out there anyway! Wear good, warm rain gear and you’ll be able to stay out longer. After all, the wildlife do not seem to mind the wet weather and they present perfect subjects if you take the time and energy to be out there with them!