Front Yard Photography

By Megan P Galope

If you’re searching for a subject to photograph, sometimes you don’t have to look further than your back (or front) yard. There are the usual plants and flowers, but if you pay attention, you may find something more interesting. A few weeks ago, I went out to get the mail. When walking under the tree in our front yard, I noticed something on the ground. Upon further examination, it appeared to be owl pellets (along with bird poop):

I looked up with the hopes that I would see some evidence of an owl, and this beauty was looking down at me:

Dr. Hoo (a great horned owl) has been coming to visit a few days each week ever since. It pays to pay attention, because you never know what you might find in your front (or back) yard!

Megan P Galope is a Photo Guide with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes.

Wildlife photography–Increasing your chances of capturing an image!

By Amy Novotny

Recently, a friend commented that he had moved away from wildlife photography to landscape photography because it was hard to find wildlife and then even harder to capture an image of a moving animal. He mentioned that he would go out searching and might get a shot or two but then get frustrated so he switched to landscape scenes.  Although I love landscape photography, I have begun photographing more wildlife during the hot summer and I mentioned a couple suggestions to him that have helped me in the past couple months.

First of all, speaking to biologists or searching the website of the Arizona Game and Fish Department are great ways to gain some knowledge of where animals will be and when they will be most visible to humans. This past May, Bruce Taubert, wildlife biologist and photographer took a small group of us to the desert to photograph western Screech owls and elf owls. His knowledge of the owls’ territory and their activity level at this time of year led to a great night of shooting.  He knew that the birds would respond to calls and the approximate height of where they would perch in the trees, making it easier for us to photograph in the night sky.

Images: Elf owl, Western Screech owl, Elf owl. Taken in the desert in Cave Creek, Arizona.

Learning animal behavior can also be a huge asset in saving time finding animals and even capturing an image of a moving animal.  Recently, I was out photographing bighorn sheep in the canyon surrounding Canyon Lake, Arizona.  The Arizona Game and Fish Department had set up a boat tour at the beginning of July to search for the sheep. Even though it is typically the hottest time of the year for Arizona, this is the time when the mating season is underway and sheep can be seen going down the walls of the canyon to drink from the lake. Sure enough, within minutes of being on the boat, we came across a herd of sheep halfway up the canyon. The boat driver recommended waiting to watch the sheep, as he suspected that they would climb down to the water. To our delight, his knowledge of animal behavior was accurate and helped us get the opportunity for some close up shots of the sheep at the water’s edge.

                       
Image: Bighorn sheep climbing back up the canyon walls surrounding Canyon Lake, Arizona

Knowledge of animal behavior is also critical for capturing moving animals. This is especially useful in bird photography when trying to capture a bird in flight. When trying to photograph a roadrunner in flight, I studied his behavior for a bit and learned how he turned his head and changed his body position just prior to takeoff. Although it was still difficult trying to capture the little guy in motion, having some knowledge of his tendencies increased my opportunity of getting a shot.

      

Images: A Greater Roadrunner begins to dive and then dives off the branch to the ground at the Pond at Elephant Head Ranch in Amado, Arizona.

Workshops, such as those offered through Arizona Highways Photo Workshops, are great ways to highly increase your chance of capturing images of wildlife because the professional photographers have done all the research for you and gained special access to areas.  However, when workshops are not an option, other sources exist, such as Bruce Taubert’s book, “Wild in Arizona: Photographing Arizona’s Wildlife” that describes when and where to find certain wildlife throughout Arizona. The Arizona Game and Fish Department website also has email newsletters of wildlife viewings throughout the year.

Amy Novotny is a Volunteer with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops

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 info@ahpw.org 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