Whitetail Bucks and High ISOs

Today I have more whitetail photographs, this time two bucks. Again, I was looking for the Pennsylvania elk and while searching for them came across these two nice, healthy bucks. One was a spike and the other a 6-point. The conditions for photography were far less than ideal: hazy, overcast, and downright lousy light in the mid-morning. This required a very ISO, 1600 to be exact.

I currently shoot with a Nikon D300. Previously, I used a Nikon D70. The differences in the two are amazing. One of the features that was greatly improved is the quality of photographs with higher ISO settings. I hear the D3 is even exponentially much better yet! In the meantime, I have to settle for the D300 and how it works in the higher ISO settings. I still prefer to stay at ISO 200, but sometimes this just isn’t possible. I get decent results even up to ISO 800 but get worried after that. My daughter acts in some school and local community musicals where the stage light sometimes requires an ISO as high as 2500! I do not like going that high, but with the D300 I still can get some useable photographs.

The results in wildlife photography are far different, however. Tack-sharp focus and no noise are required for quality wildlife photographs. We can never be too picky in trying to get the absolute best quality photographs. I will do much of anything with these photographs I am posting today but am showing them for the purposes of supporting my thoughts on this discussion of higher ISO settings.

These photographs were taken with an ISO setting of 1600. I did some minor post-processing in Adobe Lightroom 3.0. However, I did not use any noise reduction in Lightroom. I tried using it, but I personally think it sacrifices some sharpness, which is critical to me. Perhaps I am doing something wrong, but I just didn’t like the results using the noise reduction on these images. So what you see, as far as handling the higher ISO is right from the camera.

Here they are. Let me know what you think. Do you use higher ISOs with any success? Do you use noise reduction in post-processing? Are you satisfied with the results? What are the standards you use in your photography?

Whitetail Fawns – What a Sight!

Last week while photographing the elk of Pennsylvania, my son and I also saw lots of whitetail deer. In fact, I do not remember ever in my life seeing so many fawns in two days time! We saw 18 fawns in two days. Incredible!

It never ceases to amaze me what we see in the wild. We usually do see the elk. I can’t remember a time when we were last skunked–meaning we didn’t any elk whatsoever. Sometimes when you go out to shoot some specific animal, you don’t see that specific animal but are blessed with sightings and photographic opportunities with other animals. Staying patient certainly has its benefits!

We were out to photograph the elk of PA and we did see elk again, but we also came across these whitetail deer. So I thought I would post these photos today. Whitetail deer in Pennsylvania are very difficult to photograph. I have goals to get better photos in the future, but at least I have a decent start with these incredible animals. I love spending time in the wild because you just never know what you might see and get to photograph!




Photography is literally defined as “writing (“graphy”) with light (“photo”).

So as photographers we need to do everything we can to understand light. Without understanding this basic component of our craft we will be severely limited. This is so important and yet overlooked by so many. It is easy to get all cranked up over a new camera body or lens, but without the right kind of light our photographs will be substandard.

Light has several qualities that we need to pay attention to and learn about. Light has color, direction, and quality.

The color of light is something we know a little about when we start thinking about the proper white balance in our camera settings. As a test, turn your camera’s white balance to flourescent and take a photo. Now turn the white balance to incandescent and take another photo. Depending on the existing light, you  will see different colors of light in these two photographs. Light can be, for example, blue, green, orange, yellow, and many other colors. The color of light tends to evoke certain emotions and feelings-blue is cool, orange is warm, etc. Paying attention to the color of light is the first step in understanding light better.

Light also has direction. From where is the light coming? Is it side-lit, back-lit, or front-lit? This component of light is also critical to understand and learn about. Front lighting is perhaps the least attractive directional light. Side-lighting creates deep shadows, revealing depth and character in a subject. Back-lighting can create silhouettes as well as interesting halos.

Quality of light is the most difficult component to describe, but when you see great qualities of light you will certainly know it. Quality can range from horrible to average to sensational and even breath-taking. “The golden hour” is one description but it can happen almost anytime and a photographer should always be vigilant and ready for this superior quality of light to appear.

The following photograph is not sensational or even an above average photo. However, the color, direction, and quality of light make it interesting; at least in my humble opinion. When the light is right the photograph will be right!

Wildlife Shows Up Unexpectedly

You just never know. Last evening I was sitting in the living room when I saw a deer trying to eat the bird seed in our feeder. I went over to the window and started talking to this doe when I realized there were three young fawns eating the birdseed in the grass under the feeder. I was shocked that my talking did not completely scare the deer away–especially a protective mother. But food is an important priority at this time of year.

So I quickly escaped to grab my camera and was able to take a few photos before the deer wandered off. You just never know with wildlife subjects. Sometimes you can search for them all day and never see a thing. Then, all of a sudden, wildlife can show up unexpectedly.

Velvet Be Gone!

This is an interesting time of the year for bull elk. Antler growth has occurred for some time now. The antlers, coated in velvet to provide nutrition for growth, are nearly done growing. The velvet that was so vital to their growth is now just in the way. It is starting to peel and fall off the antler. From what I witnessed last week, it seemed to me that the bull’s experience some form of itchiness and some low-level but annoying experiences now with this velvet. They rub their antlers on trees and bushes, shake their head from side to side, and even try to use their back hoofs to scratch the velvet off their antlers!

The breeding season is only about a month away, so eating and gaining strength and energy are critical if a bull expects to be in the running for a harem. Yes, this certainly is an interesting time of the year for the bulls.

Last week I captured two shots of bulls in this velvet shed. The first is a better photo in my opinion, but the bull is wearing a collar. This is not uncommon and the Pennsylvania Game Commission often uses collar transmitters to track elk and learn more about their behavior. It is a great tool for the biologists, but not so attractive in a photograph. My son has a great perspective on this that I definitely agree with. He says, get over it dad, it’s part of the story of the elk, so let the collar be seen. Okay, but it could have been such a great, breath-taking photograph…. okay, calm down, listen to my son’s logic. This is part of the elk story. Get over it.

I am so glad that we have elk in Pennsylvania. I am witness to the habitat improvement that not only supports the elk in our state, but many other wildlife species as well! On our property up on Winslow Hill we routinely and regularly see deer, rabbits, turkey, and grouse. We also see an occasional black bear or coyote, and much more! This careful and calculated protection of the land is vital for the survival of the elk herd and also supports all kinds of wildlife.

The elk are amazing animals. I can literally sit and watch an elk, even a cow, for hours. Some people only get excited about the big bulls, but I don’t care if it’s a bull, a calf, or a cow; they’re all fascinating and beautiful to me!

Here are two photos of the elk as they are beginning to shed their velvet. Look at the antler growth of these tremendous bulls and notice the velvet hanging down from their antlers. The first one is wearing a collar, but remember, this is part of the elk story. The second one looks a little more wild, and he was the one who I watched as he tried to scratch his antler with his hind hoof. I imagined it was an itchy experience and the big ole’ bull was thinking, “Velvet be gone!”

Why I Love Photographing Wildlife

The subjects don’t talk back! While this is true about wildlife I am being facetious of course. Although there are some days after dealing with difficult people when I do prefer being alone with wildlife! Seriously, I can think of nothing better than spending several days out on a mountain photographing wildlife. It does not matter to me if the subjects are elk, deer, turkey, rabbits, grouse, squirrels, birds, or chipmunks. The thrill of capturing their interesting and fascinating movement with a camera is a thrill to me!

This past week I was with my son, James, which come to think of it, is another excellent reason to photograph wildlife! We spent parts of three days on the elk range in Pennsylvania near our vacation property. The bulls are beginning to shed their velvet and we located a number of bulls on our trip. I can stand there all day photographing and watching the elk and think nothing of it. In fact, it is in these moments when all else is shut out that I most love. Life is far too fast-paced these days and I am definitely guilty of trying my version of running the rat race. But up there in the mountains life seems to take on a different and fuller meaning. If I could photograph wildlife for a living I would definitely do it!

One of the things that amazes me about wildlife photography is that I always seem to learn something new about the animal or bird I am shooting. I have been a hunter since I was twelve years old. That is many years of spending time in the mountains and fields! Yet, no matter how much time I spend afield, I always learn something new. Watch an animal, even a bird, for any length of time and I certain you will begin to see things you did not notice before. Observation is an incredible learning tool. My grandmother used to enjoy sitting in a crowded area and watching people. As a kid I could never imagine how watching people could be so exciting and pleasurable for her. Now that I am older and wiser, I think I am beginning to see her point.

I also thoroughly enjoy the challenge of trying to share the beauty of nature with others who cannot experience it firsthand. To capture the beauty of the wild takes a great deal of effort. We have to weather the elements, locate the wildlife, be at the right the exact right place at the right time, use our photo skills, and hope that we got lucky! Plenty of things can go wrong and often do. Perseverance and patience are critical and I am slowly, albeit slowly, learning these important skills necessary for wildlife photographers.

Being out in the wilderness is another side benefit. What can rival spending time in the beauty of God’s creation? Walking through the woods in itself is enjoyable to me. And then when wildlife suddenly appears it can almost take our breath away. I often wonder, how many deer, elk, or other wild animals did I walk by without seeing? These creatures have learned the art of camouflage and stealth out of necessity. Their very life depends on it! When we get a little wet or uncomfortable, we can hightail it back to camp and warm up. These wild animals do not have that luxury.

This week I enjoyed myself as my son and I spent time on the elk range behind our cameras. I love photographing wildlife!

Do You Have an Itch?

Life in the blind is starting to be a welcome experience for me. I had read and heard about the use of blinds for wildlife photography, but until I constructed one myself and actually used it I had no idea how helpful a blind could be for me. It is awesome!

Today I am posting a photo of a deer who apparently has an itch. I like this photo because it shows something unique and oddly similar to our human itchiness. Do you have an itch? Do you dare scratch your itch in public? Well, this deer don’t care. Look at her scratching her itch. I can just imagine her thoughts: “Ooooo, that feels so good!”

Tomorrow, if the weather cooperates, I am hoping to have a few photos of my newly constructed blind. It was easy and inexpensive to build and the results didn’t turn out half bad. I am excited about the photos I should be able to get while hiding out in this blind! I will even be able to scratch my itch without worrying that I might scare off an animal!

Deer Itching

My New Blind

Motivated by hearing Buchwheat talking about and showing his photographs that he took from his blind, I decided to make my own. So last night, I went to Lowes to purchase some PVC pipe. Today I assembled a basic structure out of this PVC pipe. I cut the pipes to length and then glued some but not all of the connections. After all, my goal was to make this blind somewhat portable.

Previously I had found some very nice camouflage material, which my son and I were able to secure around the PVC structure.I put my tripod and archer’s chair in the blind and waited. It didn’t take long for the action to pick up. I positioned the blind so I have a good view of birds coming and going from our bird feeder. I snapped a few photos of the birds, and then I saw two deer!

We still have a little work to do on the blind, including attaching the corrugated roof. But overall I am very pleased with the results and it sure seems to work well. What do you think of this photo, which was taken from my new blind?

Alert Doe from Blind

In upcoming posts I will share more photos taken today–the first day in my new blind. I will also share some photos of the blind and describe in more detail how I constructed it.