Finding and Photographing the Wild Horses on the Lower Salt River

By Sara Goodnick

Wild horses are beautiful and challenging to photograph, and there are several locations in Arizona where they may be found. By far, the easiest access to them is on the Lower Salt River NE of Phoenix.

To get there, from Hwy 87 going north towards Saguaro Lake, take the Bush Hwy exit and follow the signs. From Apache Junction, take Usery Pass to Bush Highway, and from Mesa it can be reached via Power Road.

The horses tend to be found near water unless it has rained a lot and there is plenty of green grass. The best places to find them are at the Coon Bluff Recreation area, the Phon D. Sutton Recreation Area, the Blue Point Recreation area, which is around the bridge over the river, and the Butcher Jones Recreation area. However, they can sometimes bee seen from the road in other places.

They are not fearful of humans, but do not approach them closely or offer them food! If they get too used to begging it will end badly for them as eventually someone will be kicked or bitten, resulting in their removal or destruction.

Being prey animals, not predators, they will usually run away if frightened. If cornered, those teeth and hooves can be deadly, so please keep a safe distance, and keep your dogs and small children under control. Horses will kill dogs because they are similar to coyotes and wolves, which threaten their young.

They spend a lot of time eating, so take your time to observe them while waiting for some action, or interaction among them. Don’t frighten them or try to get reactions from them-its not ethical. They need their energy and attention for survival.

Best lens to use is a 70-200mm, fast shutter speed of at least 1/800th sec. or faster, and the best ISO and aperture to go with that. Tripods are not needed, but a monopod can be useful.

What to wear: hiking boots, long sleeved shirts, long pants. This is rough country if you leave the roadside. The saying, “Everything out there stings, sticks, or bites”, has truth to it!

Plan ahead. The developed parking areas require a permit that you must purchase outside of the Tonto National Forest Recreation Area. Some of the local stores carry them, so check online. If you are over 62 years of age, you are eligible for a permanent Senior Pass ($80 – new fee as of August 2017) that will get you into all of our National Parks and Monuments, as well as other places.  You just display it on your dashboard when visiting. Theses passes may be purchased online or at certain fish and wildlife offices.

Sara Goodnick is a trip leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

Should You Purchase a Lens Right Away

By John Frelich

Think of the times you look at a lens and think of a trip you’re ready to take. If only you had a 100-400mm lens to get some good zoom images.  Then you go to the various Photographic stores and see the price somewhere around $2200 for a camera manufacturer’s product. The prices can range higher or you consider a secondary manufacturer but still look at prices around $1500. Then you explore the grey market but fear something going wrong with the lens and no one will repair it. Finally, you look at refurbished or used lenses but are still apprehensive.

Well why not consider renting a lens for a weekend or longer trip? I just did a weekend workshop and rented a lens from Tempe Camera. Picking it up on a Thursday afternoon and bringing it back on a Monday afternoon cost me $93. The  price for a similar used lens is around $1700 so was it worth it? I tested it out on around 2,000 images and found that the quality of the images was “Good to Very Good.”

Notice I didn’t say “Great.”

When I evaluated the number of times I could rent the lens before I would equal the current value it was greater than 15 times. How many times will I be shooting images requiring this lens? If I hit 15 it will take several years. By that time will Nikon make a 100-400mm lens that will give me what I want? This zoom lens has been made for several years now so the technology that was used is waning.

Also secondary manufacturers like Tamron and Sigma are advancing their products at a fast pace. So if you’re not using a good lens on a regular basis, rental is a great way to get limited uses at a comfortable price. BUT, not all rentals are the same. A good camera store keeps their products in excellent condition. When online you must also consider the shipping and insurance costs both ways. That can be greater than the rental cost of the lens.

The key to success is if you live in a metro area like Phoenix and can find a local store that in essence let’s you try a product (rental) it gives you the best way to limit expenditures.

P.S. I have the first model of this lens and it serves as a paperweight because of its slow focusing and “soft” results. If you’re rich please ignore this advice. You won’t need it.

John Frelich is a Volunteer with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops

Lens Rental

By Esther Shavon Thomas

Thinking of buying a new lens?  Need a Particular Lens for a special occasion, outing, or event?  Try Renting a Lens

I rent lots of camera equipment and am often asked 2 questions:

What’s the benefits of renting a lens?

How do you go about renting lenses or any camera equipment?

Potential Benefits:

One of the obvious benefits is cost. Renting allows you to obtain often expensive equipment for a fraction of the cost. Especially if you only need a particular lens for a specific event or time period.

The second benefit of renting is it’s a great way to “try before you buy.” If you are considering purchasing a lens, renting prior to purchase gives you a chance to explore your potential purchase and really get some hands on feel to how it handles.  There is nothing like taking a lens out and shooting with it in the field to determine if it is right for you as a photographer.

The photos included in this article were taken on an Arizona Highways Photo Workshop “Shoot the Zoo.” I shoot mostly macro so I needed a decent telephoto for the workshop.  Also, given how quickly animals may move or change a particular action or behavior, I wanted a lens that could cover most of my shots. I I rented a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM Lens and found it a versatile option to cover the variety of animal habitats and environments within the zoo.

Best way to go about renting lens/equipment?

The two most common ways to rent a lens are either online or through your local camera shop. Your neighborhood camera store is convenient and allows for immediate possession. It also allows you to view your item before you rent it. Often your local camera shop may have offers to apply your rental fee to equipment purchase.

Online is the other option for renting equipment. There are several reputable companies that rent camera equipment. You can do a simple internet search for “online camera rentals.” Online is a great option for those who do not have a local camera store near, or for increased availability of particular items. I would suggest reviewing each website and their product offerings and fees.

If you are interested in renting a lens, sign up for their respective email newsletters. Newsletters often alert members to attractive deals and coupon codes!  Below are a few online lens rental companies I have used in no particular order.

Happy Shooting!

Esther Shavon Thomas is a trip leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops

Stabilizing Your Camera

By John Frelich

How many times have you heard that you need to avoid camera shake? About every time you discuss cameras with any of your friends and/or colleagues. But are tripods and monopods the only way, especially when out and around? Generally nothing can beat a good tripod with a remote shooter.

But if you attend any of Nikon’s or other camera manufacturer’s lectures you realize other means are available. One Nikon presentation I attended they included all types of tricks and techniques e.g. leaning a camera against a wall, laying it on a rock or other flat surface.

So here are a few others. Below is an image of a miniature tripod made by Kenko. It not only lets you get flat near the ground but also will allow you to tighten it around a pole or small tree. It is not easy to find in the States but I did find it in Japan for $35.

Too much money? How many of you have travel pillows filled with rice or man-made filler e.g. Styrofoam balls? These were popular years ago and will allow you to place them on uneven surfaces or an engine running vehicle. If not in your storage area, you may also find them at Garage Sales.

Finally, why not try a piece of foam pipe insulation? If you have some left after wrapping the legs of your tripod against hot and cold temperatures this is a great way to use some scrap.  Because it opens to wrap around a pipe, that opening can be used to put on the sill of your car door window so you don’t have to “brave” the elements or challenge the fortitude of some wild animal you want to photograph. It is also said that it will help stabilize an image while performing a “panning” function without leaving the vehicle.

John Frelich is a trip leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

Shooting with a 100-400mm

Author: Vicki Uthe

I picked up a Canon 100-400mm 4.5/5.6 lens this past year and have had a lot of fun using it.  I mostly picked it up to shoot sports, which I have done, but have found that I use it a lot more for other things than I ever thought I would.


I tend to be a minimalist so when I go out shooting I grab a camera body, one lens and go.  This way I don’t spend a lot of time switching lenses and instead make the one I have work, which forces me to learn its limitless possibilities.  The following images were shot using this lens.Kino_Bay_Dec_2015-9222

This is a heavy lens.  Some of the images were shot handheld and some on a monopod.   If you are in one spot shooting one subject a monopod REALLY helps. For example shooting sports, the lens is always at eye level, ready to capture the action and your arms are saved.  Also, monopods are lightweight so if you have to suddenly pick up the lens and turn it toward the sky to capture a passing Osprey you can do it.


The trick to getting sharp images with a long lens is shutter speed.  As a rule of thumb, your shutter speed needs to be set to the focal length of your lens to prevent camera shake. For example, if you are shooting a 400mm, set the shutter speed to 400.  If the f/stop won’t let you do this because you want IT in the middle range (f/8-f/11) to increase your depth of field, then bump up the ISO.  You may have to go as high as 1600Kino_Bay_Dec_2015-8670 depending on lighting.  This is definitely not a low light lens but even in full sun these numbers have to be pretty high.

My three favorite things to shoot with this lens: people, wildlife and sports.  All of them are great because you can keep your distance, be an observer and get great candid shots.  Enjoy!

Vicki Uthe is a trip leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

Summer’s Little Secret

By Amy Novotny

Arizona’s late summer months are often known for their hot humid weather and monsoon storms, but they also represent the season of hummingbird migration to the high country. Areas including Sedona, Madera Canyon in the south, and the White Mountains out east become popular corridors for these little birds migrating south for the winter, much to the delight of both photographers and the general viewing public. Both Madera Canyon and the White Mountains have visitor centers–Friends of Madera Canyon Visitor Information Center and Sipe White Mountain Wildlife Area–set up with hummingbird feeders to encourage flocks of these little birds to visit and feed. This also allows the birds to become used to human observers.

Image: Sipe White Mountain Wildlife Area Visitor Center.

For photographers, these are great locations for hummingbird photography, as chances of catching a bird in flight increases significantly. Each region caters to slightly different populations of hummers. During this season, 6-7 species can be spotted in Sedona.  The White Mountains are known for rufous, black-chinned, broad-bill and calliope while Madera Canyon hosts up to 15 different species including those found at Sipe White Mountain Wildlife Area.  For catching the hummers with the blur in the wings to portray the speed of their wings, a handheld camera setup can work in good light.

Image: Sipe White Mountain Wildlife Area Visitor Center hummingbird feeder

However, to stop the action and freeze the wings in mid flight, such as the image below, a more elaborate setup is needed with flash units at various angles to provide enough light to allow for a correct exposure at a high shutter speed.

Image: Rufous hummingbird at Sipe White Mountain Wildlife Area

Multiple flashes are also important for minimizing shadows that appear with a one-directional light source. Additional props used to capture aesthetically-pleasing images include native local flowers such as thistle or salvia and a soothing background. The background can be a blown-up image of a flower, the sky, greenery or even a poster board spray-painted with colors found in nature. This type of background keeps the focus on the bird by minimizing background details or distracting branches. It also helps to keep the light even across the image.

Image: Hummingbird photography set up at Sipe White Mountain Wildlife Area

After setting up the props and a flower with some dribbles of sugar water, photographers can focus on the flower and then sit back and watch the show before them. Soon observers will learn to recognize the behaviors of the hummers as they defend, attack other hummers and feed off the flowers blooming in these regions.

Image: Rufous hummingbirds feeding and demonstrating defensive behaviors at a thistle flower at Sipe White Mountain Wildlife Area

Image: Rufous hummingbird attacking another hummer feeding at a thistle flower at Sipe White Mountain Wildlife Area

The next several weeks are a great time to visit these little creatures while enjoying cooler weather.

Amy Novotny is a Volunteer with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops

Twitter: @amynovotnyaz

Instagram: @anovotn

Images taken while assisting as a Volunteer Trip Leader for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops’ High-Country Hummingbirds workshop taught by instructor photographer Bruce Taubert in August 2016.  Although the workshop is not being held this year, the opportunity to photograph these little birds still exists.



White Mountains:

Madera Canyon:

Photographing Wildlife in the Dark

As you will see Bruce has been taking nighttime images of wildlife for a long time and has worked out many of the problems and associated issues. Many of Bruce’s workshop participants have shown an interest in this type of photography but, as you can imagine, it is very difficult to give a workshop and guarantee great nighttime images of deer, coyote, kangaroo rats, and the like. What Bruce can do is teach participants all of the material and methods they can use in their own nighttime efforts. He can cut your learning curve to almost nothing and advise and assist in the purchase or making of all of the necessary equipment. If you are interested in learning the skills that will allow you to take the type of images that Bruce presents in this article, please contact the Arizona Highways Photo Workshops office at, 1-888-790-7042 or email to and let us know if you would be interested in a workshop such as this!


By Bruce Taubert

I love photographing wildlife at night.  The light is mine to make, there is practically no competition with other photographers for time or space, and the degree of difficulty is relatively high!

My first nighttime photography endeavors began about 25 years ago with attempts to catch bats in flight.  Of course, this was before I had a digital camera so I was using Fuji slide film.  I remember leaving home at 3PM for a small water hole in the desert, arriving at the bat photography site at 5PM, setting up for a couple of hours, and then “attempting” to take photos of flying bats until dawn.  Then the long drive home, sending my slide film off, waiting for three days to see the rewards of my work, only to be disappointed at the results.  If I took one or two decent bat images each trip I was lucky.  There were not, and still are not, any training manuals for photographing flying bats.

Pallid bat drinking from a pond. Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, AZ

A few years later I bought my first digital camera.  I still left home early and got home late but I was able to immediately see my images and make corrections IN THE FIELD.  That first night I took home several excellent flying bat images.  Maybe my images, that night, did not rival the great Merlin Tuttle but I was on my way.

Lesser Long-nosed Bat feeding of Agave Blossom (Leptonycteris curasoae). SE, AZ

I can repeat almost the same story for flying elf owls, except my sites were closer to home and I did not have to leave home so early and I got home earlier.  I spent many years in the field locating owls, learning their habits so I could photograph their behaviors, and finding the appropriate gear to get the best results.  I cannot even begin to tell you how many bad butt shots I took of elf owls flying into their nest hole!  Once I had a digital camera in hand the learning curve for my nighttime endeavors became less steep.  I was able to make corrections in the field and my success rate soared.

Elf Owl bringing banded gecko into nest. North Phoenix, AZ

Pair of adult screech owls. Canon EOS 5D-Mark III, 70-200 mm with 2x teleconverter, ISO 500, f/ 10 @ 1/200 sec., flash

For the next several years I fought with equipment development, locating my specimens, and dealing with the many challenges of nighttime wildlife photography.  Luckily a few small companies were beginning to make equipment that was either geared towards nighttime photography or that could be adapted for its use.

I concentrated on fast moving subjects, such as flying owls, running kangaroo rats, striking Rattlesnakes, and the like.  The biggest challenge was to train myself to do a majority of my scouting during the day so that when I went out for the nighttime shooting I was familiar with the location and had a good idea about how I could/would set up my equipment.

Spinx Moth feeding from Datura Flower. Phoenix, AZ

Although I am still very interested in photographing fast moving subjects at night I am shifting a little to more sedentary beings.  I became very excited when looking at National Geographic Magazine images of African beasts going about their nocturnal lives and had hopes that, someday, I could take similar photographs.  Coyotes, deer, javalina, elk, fox, and many other species are either primarily nocturnal or become nocturnal for certain times of the years.  Given that I live in the Arizona desert almost all the mammals become nocturnal during the oppressive summer heat.

The challenges are a little different for slow moving subjects but the story is basically the same-scout during the day, find out from locals were the critters are, and have the right equipment.  Like most “interesting” photography, the most difficult part of photographing wildlife at night is getting over the idea that it is too difficult.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Given the right equipment, much of my nighttime imaging of these slower moving subjects is accomplished with remote cameras when I am happily sleeping (either in the back of my truck or at home).

Fortunately, there are a few blogs and You Tube videos that present some much-needed basics for the budding nighttime photographer but no one has yet to put together a training manual.  Unfortunately, there is insufficient information for those of you that want to “”hit the road running”.  The vagaries of lighting, equipment brands, battery life, finding the right location, field set-up, and the many other small tidbits of information that separate success from failure have not been adequately recorded.

During my attempts at nighttime wildlife photography I have purchased and tried almost every type of equipment there is.  I have frustrated myself experimenting with nonproductive implements and had the pleasure of finding the right tool that allows me to take an image that I can be proud of.  Today most of my old equipment lies fallow and dusty in the recesses of my camera room and by the process of elimination I now have lightweight and easy to use tools.

Over the next few months I plan on concentrating on my nighttime wildlife photography efforts and expand my species list.  I hope to improve my abilities to dramatically light my quarry and increase my success rates. Like most photography I enjoy the process of learning and improving and continue to strive for the “best” images I can take.

Bruce Taubert is an Instructor with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops