American Bison | a 7 Image Story

American Bison | Old BisonAmerican Bison | a 7 Image Story  The American Bison, also call Bison Bison, is our National Mammal and symbolic of the Great Plains.  The largest land animal in North America; at one time millions roamed  the grasslands of North America from Alaska to Mexico in massive herds.  Today, small herds are maintained in several parts of Canada, as well as several states in the USA.  Many national parks also keep Bison.  With approximately 5,000 animals, Yellowstone NP has North America’s largest population of wild Bison and is the only place in the United States where bison have lived continuously since the prehistoric times of the last ice age.

Capturing wild Bison images usually means a trip to a national or state park.  These images come from Yellowstone, Wind Cave, and Badlands national parks.  Good clicks come relatively easy.  The Bison are usually standing around; like they’re waiting for you to make a click.  A good telephoto lens is really required though.  Getting too close is not only bad form, but can be detrimental to your health.  These beautiful animals are wild and unpredictable.  Keep your distance.

A few Bison facts:  Bison are year round grazers requiring water every day.  They eat primarily grasses, but will also eat flowering plants, lichens, and woody plant leaves.  In the winter, they sweep their heads from side to side to clear the snow.  Bison grow a thin layer of soft fine hair and a thick outer layer of course hair.  In the spring, they shed their heavy winter coats.  A mature Bison stands 5-6 feet tall weighing 1,800 to 2,400 pounds.  They have cloven hoofs, and can reach speeds of 30 miles per hour.  They prefer to graze in the morning, rest, ruminate (chew cud) in the middle of the day and then graze again in the evening.  Bison communicate through grunts with each other and sometimes snort to warn intruders.  They have excellent hearing and smell, but relatively poor eyesight.  Baby bison, called “red dogs,” are orange-red in color for a few months until their hair begins to turn dark brown.  Their life expectancy ranges from 15 to 20 years.

Each of the 7 images represent a crop I’ve use from time to time.  Each image will be posted individually this week with a bit more narrative under category American Bison.

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Crop or Not | a 7 Image Story

Crop or Not | Landscape 9x16Crop or Not | a 7 Image Story  To crop or not to crop: that is the question:  Whether  ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune…  Most pros don’t crop.  Their motto: move your feet to get the image right in the camera.  That’s easy to say, if you have all the equipment and time required to capture the image you want.  Most amateurs know that sometimes you cannot move to get the shot you want.  Things get in your way like mountains, rivers, vacation with other people, enough time, the right lens, etc.  Occasionally as an amateur, you might not have the vision or foresight to get a different lens or move to a better place.  And, you can’t go back to try again; vacation’s over.

Besides the obvious, why else might you want to crop?  Sometimes you don’t notice distracting elements at the edges of the frame or you did notice but could not capture the images without them.  Sometimes, you might like a certain scale like 4×5 for portraits of people and animals or like 9×16 HD scale for landscapes and airplanes. So, do you pitch the image or crop it?  

If you make the click, you have the privilege of finishing the image any way you like, right?  Well, right, sort of.  For me, it depends mostly upon the destination of the image.  First, I always try to get the image I want in the camera.  Then, if the image will be used in the editorial market, it gets finished without cropping.  (Photo editors do not like cropped images.)  Sometimes, I’ll make a copy and crop the copy to one of my favorite scales to make a print. (I never crop the master.)  I really like 4×5 scale for portraits, both people and animals; sometimes even trees.  For many grand landscapes, I like the 9×16, sometimes called HD, scale.  And, for aircraft, particularly head on ground shots, the 9×16 scale looks great.  An occasional image looks good; square.

There are several downside impacts of cropping including:

  • Photo editors do not like cropped images and will discard your entire submission most of the time.
  • Aggressive cropping can reduce image quality.
  • Over time, cropping can make the photographer a bit lazy.
  • Sometimes, it reduces the maximum size of acceptable print quality.

If you are going to crop, consider a few guidelines for better composition while cropping:

  • Crop before making any other adjustment in post processing.  The remaining adjustments will be easier and to scale.
  • Don’t forget the “rule of thirds” for composition when cropping.
  • Check the edges of the image to see if any distracting objects lurk.
  • Check to see if the subject is still off-center.

Or perhaps you are a purest and will not accept a cropped image. You made the click, finish your image as you will.

Each of the 7 images represent a crop I’ve use from time to time.  Each image will be posted individually this week with a bit more narrative under category Crop or Not.

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Sandhills on the Platte | a 7 Image Story

Sandhills on the Platte | Sunrise FlightSandhills on the Platte | a 7 Image Story  Every year from mid February to the first week of April, most of the planet’s Sandhill Cranes converge along 75-mile stretch of the Platte River near Kearney, Nebraska.  The gathering represents the closest thing to the Serengeti we have in the lower 48.   It’s one of the world’s top three great wildlife migrations.  More than 500,00 Sandhills stop on the Platte to rest and gain weight on their flight from southern USA and Mexico to Canada, Alaska, and Siberia, where the have their young.

If you have never been to this Great Sandhill Crane Migration, it’s worth the trip at least once in your life.  Each day, it starts at o’dark thirty along the bends in the Platte River.  At first light, the Sandhills begin to lift off the river to eat in nearby corn fields.  They take flight in groups of hundreds; even thousands, even 10,000s, at one time.  A little sun, a little fog, and a few hundred thousand Sandhill Cranes make for a beautiful sunrise on the Platte River.  During the day, the cranes eat grain left over from last fall’s crop, mostly corn, in nearby fields.  Then, in late afternoon and early evening, they come back to the river in great flocks to roost overnight on the river.  The Platte River in this area is shallow and filled with sand bars.  The cranes safely roost on the river since they can hear their predators, like coyotes, coming through the water.  Being very smart birds, they actually post sentries to take turns staying awake during the night to warn the flock, if a predator comes their way.

Sandhill Cranes are among the world’s oldest species.  They mate for life and return to the same place each year to have their young.  They live in freshwater and eat a large variety of foods including plants, grains, mice, snakes, insects, or worms.  Sandhills usually nest in wetlands.  Females lay two eggs while both parents incubate.  Males also defend the nest.  Sandhills love to sing and dance; leap high in the air.  The birds are naturally gray with their heads topped with a crimson crown.  Sometimes, they preen themselves by adding a brown mud to their feathers.  For more information on Sandhill Cranes and their great migration, see the Audubon Center at Rowe Sanctuary.

Each image will be posted individually this week with a bit more narrative under category Sandhills on the Platte.

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On a Clear Day | a 7 Image Story

On a Clear Day | Grand Tetons FlatsOn a Clear Day | a 7 Image Story   Most people like a clear day.  Some days are obviously clearer than others.  These 7 images represent some of my clearest days, although not the absolute clearest.  (My clearest day was in Alaska while flying northwest out of Fairbanks.)   We also expect more from images on a clear day.  They are supposed to be good.  After all, it was a sunny, clear day.  These images also come from some of my favorite places: the Grand Tetons, the Badlands, Wind Cave, Yellowstone, Montana, and flying.

The Grand Tetons get many clear mornings.  Low lying fog along the Snake River still lingers for this mid morning image.  Fall color in Teton country provides many contrasts between the flats and the mountains.  The lone tree has been one of my most frequent subjects in one of my favorite national parks, Wind Cave.  The Montana countryside is clear and filled with contrasts.  With hay stacked sky-high, the Bridger Mountains stand many miles in the background.  Northbound along the southeastern shore of Lake Michigan, it’s a clear day, CAVU.  Reflect on the grandeur.  Rocks at the Badlands are truly inspiring with their stark contrasts and large rock formations.  The great plains are known for their thunderstorms.  Sure, this Storm over the Badlands was a very lucky click to capture the lightning.  Although Yellowstone is not necessarily known for its mountains, the mountains help put the rainbow in perspective.

Each image will be posted individually this week with a bit more narrative under category On a Clear Day. 

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Ski Plane Weekend | a 7 Image Story

Ski Plane Weekend | Piper Cub on SkisSki Plane Weekend | a 7 Image Story  Usually, the lakes are frozen and there’s plenty of snow for the annual Ski Plane Weekend.  Some of the finest pilots from around the country take leave from their heavy iron and bush flying to gather together on this weekend to fly ski planes just for the fun of it.  This year, it’s a bit different.  Northern Michigan had a big flaw, which melted most of the snow.  The best we could fly was a Super Cub on tundra tires.  Let’s look back to earlier years.

Although some pilots bring their planes with skis, mostly we fly the Piper J-3 Cub on skis and the Piper PA-18 Super Cub on skis.  Most pilots love to fly both planes.  The skis add a bit of spice to life in the winter.  Add a snow shower and we pilots have dreams of being a bush pilot.  And, they have sticks, not a yokes.  They bring us back to the basics; no moving maps or no retractable gear; in fact, the J-3 does not even a battery.  Yep, you have to hand prop it.  The Cub’s standard chrome yellow paint known as “Cub Yellow” identifies it as one of the best known aircraft of all time.

Each image will be posted individually this week with a bit more narrative under category Ski Plane Weekend.

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Wolf Park Wolves | a 7 Image Story

Wolf Park Wolves | Gray Wolf PortraitWolf Park Wolves | a 7 Image Story  Although I rarely capture images of captive wild animals, Wolf Park is an exception.  It maintains a near wild environment for their wolf pack while providing a wild canid research and education center.  Wolf Park is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to behavioral research, education, and conservation.  They aid researchers as well as offer tours and seminars to their visitors.  For the photog, they offer wolf photography classes and photo shoots several times a year.  These images were captured in a spring photo class and shoot.  Someday, I’d like to go back in the winter when snow covers the ground.

The wolves at Wolf Park are socialized.  They are not afraid of the public and will interact in front of visitors. They are better research animals, maintenance and medical care is easier, and their lives are enriched by allowing them to walk and run in multiple environments including their seven acre natural enclosure.  The socialization process starts when the pups are only 12-14 days old.  It’s a 24/7-365 process involving both men and woman as well as visits from adult wolves.  Pups are bottle raised from a very early age and their environment is kept very stable.  People come to them; not visa versa.  Socialization is integrated into their lives and continues essentially for their entire life at Wolf Park.  Although they are socialized from birth, they still have wolf instincts.  The socialization process is very detailed and time consuming.  For more information, visit Wolf Park’s website.

Wolf Park Wolves | Wet WolfIncluded in the photo classes and photo shoots, is required instruction on safely interacting with the wolves and general behavior while in the wolf enclosure.  The large enclosure includes a lake, woodlands, and prairie.  Yes, accompanied by Wolf Park staff, you can get in the wolf enclosure to capture images.  The wolves are right next to you.  Obviously, certain restrictions apply.  Flash is permitted. Tripods are discouraged.  Camera bags and tripods covered in foam padding are not allowed in the enclosure.  Photo sessions are held in most weather, including rain or snow.  For more detailed information, see the Photography Page on Wolf Park’s website.

Wolves make beautiful subjects for photographs.  The gray wolf ranges in color from all white to solid black.  Many wolves are more like a taupe color with the guard hairs sometimes banded with black, white, gold and brown.  Wolves have two layers of fur.  The outer or guard layer is made up of long colored hairs that shed water and snow.  The inner layer is thick gray fur that traps air, insulating the wolf; keeping it warm in sub-zero temperatures.  In warmer weather, they shed the inner layer.  Their eye color ranges from amber/brown or gold to hues of brown, gray, yellow, and green.

The experience of capturing these images was amazing.  It’s an creditable experience, which is virtually impossible in the wild.  The enclosure is so big, the class had to follow the wolves as they moved from one area to the next.  One time, I was capturing an image of a wolf twenty yards away when another came up from behind me and touched my right arm, just before the click.  Wow.  After I settled down, I had to make another few clicks.  Even though they are accustomed to people and sometimes seem like they are posing for the shot, other times they just wrestle and play, as though we were not there at all.  The wolves clearly feel at home.



Wolves communicate in a variety of ways including body postures, gestures, and sounds.  Sounds may include whimpers, whines, growls, barks, and, of course, the howl.  The meaning of these postures and sounds vary with the context in which they were made.  Their howl, which may be heard several miles away, may be a solo, a duet, or a chorus.  Each type of howl gets used for different reasons.  For more detailed information on wolves, go to the wolves information page on Wolf Park’s website. 

Each image will be posted individually this week with a bit more narrative under category Wolf Park Wolves.

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Husky Dogsled Party | a 7 Image Story

Husky Dogsled Party | Dogsled HuskiesHusky Dogsled Party | a 7 Image Story  Each year in January or February, the Free Spirit Siberian Rescue organization hosts a Husky Dogsled event in northern Illinois, with Huskies galore.  Jake and Elwood have gone for the past several years.  They love to run and play in the snow.  They would rather be outside running, playing, working, or just taking a nap in the snow than anything else, except possibly eating.  Elwood has different colored eyes, a fairly common Husky trait.  Although grey and white colors are common in Huskies like Jake, they really come in many color combinations including pure white.

Although it was a beautiful day with intermittent sun and snow showers, the trail had not been groomed like they typically are for races, so the dogs had to break a new trail in the snow.  Rescued Huskies coming to the event can run as part of a dogsled team.   As natural sled pullers, Huskies instinctively know they should pull the sled with other Huskies in their new pack.  When the harnessed dogs are being attached to the sled, they are very excited; barking, jumping, and talking “Husky”.  As soon the musher calls “mush”, the dogs all become quiet and start pulling the sled.  As soon as the sled stops, they go back to barking and howling.

Several dogs in the team were newcomers to dog sledding.  That’s Jake and Elwood in the center of the pack.  This outing was their first time pulling a dogsled and they ran beautifully.  Of course, they were in the middle of the pack.  The lead dogs are the most experienced and the specially trained to be lead dogs.  What many folks don’t know is that the last two dogs are specially trained to be the “wheel dogs.”   Of course, wheel dogs are also the primary view for sled riders.

Each image will be posted individually this week with a bit more narrative under category Husky Dogsled Party.

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Winter Birds by Feeder | a 7 Image Story

Winter Birds by Feeder | Red-bellied WoodpeckerWinter Birds by Feeder | a 7 Image Story  Colorful winter birds cheer us up during the long, cold winter months.  My bird feeder gets used heavily in the winter; particularly when show covers the ground.  In fact, sometimes there’s so many birds, it seems like they need a control tower to direct air traffic.  They do have their own version of “see and avoid.”  The smaller birds give way to the larger ones on the feeder.  Many just fly down to the ground beneath the feeder to get leftovers.  When a Blue Jay arrives, all birds clear out or given it wide birth.  Of course, many more than seven bird species visit the feeder during winter months.  For this post, I’ve chosen some of the more colorful birds as well as the more frequent visitors.  Perhaps, another post will be needed later.

First things first, why not call the red-bellied woodpecker, a red-headed woodpecker instead?  You might not have noticed the rose coloring on a red-bellied woodpecker’s breast.  Whoever first named this bird must have had a strange sense of humor.  I’m not a birder so I don’t get it.  Still, it’s call a red-bellied woodpecker.  And, why are Blue Jays mean?  Because they are.  For that matter, why do some birds stick around for the winter while others leave to warmer climates?  Experts tell us that birds can and do survive extremely harsh winters. The primary reason for migration is food.  Some birds can forage for insects in the bark of trees and find enough other food to make it through the cold winter months.  In fact, in some areas even a few American robins stay through the winter months.

Winter can be a difficult time to capture wildlife images particularly small birds.  Sure fewer leaves on the trees make it a bit easier to capture an image of the species remaining.  Getting close enough to the bird with a long lens still remains the biggest obstacle.  Placing a bird feeder close to windows and doors make a big difference.  Even then, shooting images through windows takes skill and post processing software.  These seven images were captured with a 70-300mm lens, equivalent to 189-810mm using a 2.7 crop factor on the V1 & V3, at a distance between 5 and 15 feet.  Little birds tend to have big lenses pointed at them.

Each image will be posted individually this week with a bit more narrative under category Winter Birds by Feeder.

Click any image below for a slide show!