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

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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.

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Coming Soon: A New Photography Magazine called Wild Photo Tips Magazine!

Coming Soon:

Cover 2013 Spring

I am in the finishing stages of designing and creating a new photography magazine. The title is Wild Photo Tips Magazine and it will feature tried and true techniques for photographers of all levels from beginner to expert! The new magazine will feature mostly wildlife photography but occasionally delve into other branches of photography like sports, portraits, and even drama!

This idea for a photo magazine was birthed from the success of my book: How I Photograph the Pennsylvania Elk. This photo book project was more successful than I first imagined and it led me to this new project. By the way, my photo book is still available for sale here: http://www.blurb.com/b/1611137-how-i-photograph-the-pennsylvania-elk The idea for a photo magazine came quite naturally for me, after all, I have a journalism degree from Temple University with a focus on Magazines!

The new photo magazine will be published two times a year to start and will include articles in the following categories: basic photo tips, advanced techniques, my favorite photo destinations, on location, wildlife tip of the month, camera and software tips, wild photo tips, a photo critique, and much more! The magazine will be sold for $7.95 at the Elk Country Visitor Center on Winslow Hill, PA. There will also be an online version available for $3.95 per issue. The first online premier issue will be available for free to give you an idea of the great ideas and tips featured in this magazine.

Keep checking my photo website at www.bobshankphotography.com to see when the premier issue will be available. Check it out and share it with your photography friends. There will be something for every level of photographer out there!

What Really Matters to You?

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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?

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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!

Bull Getting into a Frenzy!

The fall rut in Pennsylvania is filled with amazing action and mysterious sounds. Bull elk work extremely hard to make their presence known and remind other competing bulls that it will not be easy to dislodge the king of the hill! Just spend one evening out on the mountain during the fall rut and you will receive far more entertainment than Hollywood could ever offer. There is no place like the mountains, especially during the fall months.

This particular bull was the current king of a section many refer to The Saddle on Winslow Hill. This recently reclaimed tract of State Game Lands 311 is a favorite of elk viewers who are accustomed to seeing bulls like this one. I came across him while he was lying down and resting. Bulls expend a tremendous amount of energy during the rut, so even brief rests are essential. I need to practice a great deal of patience as this bull was taking a rather long rest. Patience is always key in wildlife photography.

Eventually, after what seemed like forever, he stood up. Now this might seem like a rather uneventful maneuver to the uninformed, but to a knowledgeable elk viewer, the act of a bull standing up is anything but uneventful. Warning: this might get a little PG-rated since we are talking about the rut, aka the breeding season, aka elk sex! Geez, I didn’t just say that; did I?

This first standing up image shows clearly what all careful elk viewers see when a bull elk begins getting into a frenzy to show dominance and attract cows. The bull will begin to scratch the ground with his antlers and he will also urinate on himself to display his dominance and attractiveness to any cow who is interested. I find this an interesting dating procedure to say the least!

Because this bull was getting into a frenzy in a recently reclaimed field, the grass was green and tall, as you can clearly see in this image.

A frenzied bull almost always bugles, too. This is a mysterious and interesting sound that elk viewers long to hear. The bugle sounds a warning to any bulls who might be considering a challenge. It also alerts cows to the bull’s presence and location, which is important as a bull constant tries to keep his herd of cows in check. Again, this is a very tiring and demanding process that goes on day and night for many days!

The bull will also stretch his hind legs to get the kinks out from lying down so long. It’s sort of like when we get up out of our recliner and need to stretch to get moving again. I always find it entertaining to watch and observe the many different facets of elk behavior. It never gets old for me and I keep learning more and more about these incredible mammals!

As the frenzy is dying down and coming to a close, at least temporarily, the bull will deliver another mighty bugle before moving on to the next task in the rutting behavior.

It will happen again, so be ready! Watching the bulls at this time of year is something I enjoy tremendously. I cannot imagine not spending some time in the mountains to observe and photograph this fascinating behavior. It truly is worth more than a thousand words! If you never observed the rutting behavior in the fall, you owe it to yourself to travel to Elk County, Pennsylvania from mid-September to mid-October. It can yield the sights and sounds of a lifetime!

Decent Bull, Bigger Sky

I photographed this decent bull in the last week of September on our Pennsylvania Elk Photography Experience. He is a decent bull, about average for the current elk herd in Pennsylvania. There is a lot of talk in the area that we just don’t see the bigger bulls like we used to see. I tend to agree with this sentiment, but now that we have a hunting season for the elk this makes perfect sense. Both hunters and photographers like to target the bigger bulls!

On this particular evening the sky was dropping down some precipitation, which was the norm for the last week of September this year. The produced the grey sky. I typically like these sky shots, with the bull on the horizon in front of the big sky. A nice blue sky or even an orange setting sun sky is preferred, but you can see how this shot separates the bull from the background and really helps to emphasize the detail of his rack.

The goal of separating an animal from its native background is always the goal of the wildlife photographer. Animals often blend into their backgrounds, which is part of what keeps them safe from predators. Large apertures are helpful in creating a shallow depth of field for the photographer, but there is nothing quite as effective as an animal placed right on the horizon to separate it from its environment. The next time you are out in the wild, try to position yourself below the subject and aim for the sky in the background. I think it works well and makes for some stunning wildlife photographs! What do you think?

Big Bulls Close-Up

When I was a teenager the television commercial for Close-Up Toothpaste had me convinced that if I bought their specific brand I would have girls close-up. I will not reveal any more of my teenage thoughts, but there is one thing I know: You don’t have to use fresh-smelling toothpaste to get close-up to the Pennsylvania elk!

What is the perfect perspective in wildlife photography? Do you work hard to include every antler point in your image? There is nothing wrong with this full-view perspective, but challenge yourself some time to zoom in and get up close–real close! Most people know what the whole animal looks like, so our mind will usually fill in the missing parts. The close-up shots can be intriguing and provide an interesting perspective!

I have a saying I developed for elk photography. You will find a short chapter with this title in my book, “How I Photograph the Pennsylvania Elk.” The saying goes like this: “Don’t just shoot the bull!” I mean it. Many, if not most, photographers get so geared up at the prospect of capturing a big bull with their camera that they sometimes forget the beauty of the cows right in front of them. Take this next image for example, if I had only focused on shooting the bulls, I would have missed this great shot. Don’t just shoot the bull! Be creative and photograph the cows and calves, too.

The next time you are out shooting an animal. Think about zooming in and taking some close-up shots. It might even change your perspective on wildlife photography!

Pennsylvania Elk Photography Experience #7 – Fall Rut

The last week of September greeted us with spectacular fall-like weather. The temperature was cool and the elk were clearly in the heat of the annual rut. The breeding season for the Pennsylvania can run from mid-September through mid-October. The last week of September is generally near the peak of the action and we were there, ready with our cameras and lenses to capture the action!

The first day was the only clear day. The clouds and rain took over but this did not hinder the elk action at all. It was a very active week and we saw plenty of elk to photograph. Several fights broke out as the bulls were vying for dominance among the cows. I absolutely love this time of year and the fall rut is always filled with action and many photographic opportunities! There is no better time to be in elk country in my humble opinion, and I prefer to be no where else at this time of year!

This was our seventh Pennsylvania Elk Photography Experience. John arrived on Monday evening and we started with a basic wildlife photo workshop. This is always a good start so we can dial in our camera settings to more adequately and more easily capture the beauty of these elk. The next morning started with a real early breakfast and out to find the elk just as light was beginning to make its headway into the day. Elk, like most mammals, are most active at dawn and dusk, so we always are out in the mountains at these times. The light tends to be best at these times of day as well. Many times the activity slows down sometime between 9am and 11am. So we break for lunch and a short rest before heading back out of the early evening opportunities. I just cannot get enough time with these amazing animals! They are fascinating!

The Pennsylvania Elk Photography Experience has several goals we have in mind for all participants:

  • Provide an exciting experience with the Pennsylvania elk
  • Teach basic and advanced photography techniques to capture the action of the wildlife
  • Create breath-taking wildlife photographs that capture the essence of this experience
  • Learn from each other
  • Have fun

This fall trip was exceptional in terms of the rutting and elk action. I think it is fair to say that we accomplished all five goals on this trip.

I can’t wait to be back in elk country again!