Eureka!

No long photo trip for this morning… just a nice visit to my favorite local mountain. The “Three Amigos” were there, along with a couple of new buddies that have joined them. If these fellows stick around I’m going to have to think of a new name for the group! The guys were not in the best place for lighting purposes but there was no way I was  going to make it past them and around to the other side so I just had to do the best I could. Luckily it was a bit cloudy so I didn’t have to contend with a super bright background. I think these came out OK!

Portrait of a Mule Deer Buck

A good day, and to top it off I solved a problem that has been vexing us all summer, the issue of setting exposure compensation (EC) when in manual mode. Normally manual means manual and EC is irrelevant but it comes back into play if you select auto ISO, which now means you aren’t really shooting in full manual mode. You can select the shutter speed and the aperture to control the creativity in your shot but if there isn’t enough light for the selected ISO you will underexpose your image. The easy fix of course is to select your creative parameters and let the ISO float, allowing the camera to assure a correct exposure.  But then your front wheel is used for the shutter speed, the rear wheel for aperture and there isn’t another control with which to select your EC.

Mule Deer Portrait

My original solution to the problem was to just use Tv mode, knowing the camera would probably select a decent aperture. But!!!! I finally looked into it and discovered the real solution at least for Canon cameras, the Q button… EUREKA! If you click the Q button all the pertinent parameters come up on the LCD screen where you can change them, shutter, aperture, ISO, and a graph for the EC! If you have a camera new enough for a touch screen you can just change it right there to whatever you desire. With the 1DX that has no touch screen I assume you could wheel over to it and change it with the set button.

I have to say, I have grown quite fond of  Tv mode as a method of controlling my images, especially when it comes to bird photography. It is easy to quickly change from bird in

Herd of Bucks

flight to photographing a deer in  the meadow with a spin of the front dial to change the shutter speed if you run across an unexpected subject change. However I am glad that I can once again just leave the camera on manual most of the time, knowing that I have control over all my important settings.

As always, the best of these images and hundreds more are available for purchase on my website as wall art on glossy metal or acrylic sheets, stretched canvas and traditional matting and framing. Tons of cool household and gift items are also available with any image you like including coffee mugs, t-shirts, blankets and pillows, battery chargers, phone cases, stationary and much much more! Just click on any image you like and all the choices, sizes and prices will appear! For my viewers interested in images for commercial use, please visit my image licensing portal! Also I should add that this article was not sponsored by Canon or any other camera company. All equipment used was purchased by me on my own volition.

 

Evolving Shooting Philosophy

Sunrise Mule Deer Bucks

You may remember that I had finally settled on the settings that I was going to include as part of my custom modes on the mode dial on my Canon camera. Well those settings were blown apart yesterday morning. I had settled on Aperture Priority set to F8, Auto ISO capped at 3200, exposure compensation +1… and a new setting that I found in the auto ISO menu section that allows a photographer to boost shooting priority to a faster shutter speed which I decided upon because of the difficulty dealing with the massive pixel density of the 90D. I boosted that to the maximum value of three stops in hopes of avoiding slow shutter speeds in low light that might not be sufficient to overcome camera and subject movement.

All was well and good shooting in the low pre-dawn light of the mountain mornings and

Mule deer bucks in the early morning sun

in the persistent overcast conditions that we’ve been experiencing as of late. Enter the sun… yesterday was a beautiful brilliant sunny morning and there were deer everywhere! I shot well into the morning as the sun rose higher in the sky. It was definitely brighter, no where near the harshness of the mid day sun but bright enough for me to want to recheck my settings and exposure values. Well it turns out my camera was still shooting at ISO 3200 with shutter speeds of a 2500th and even faster!

Sunrise Mule Deer Bucks

There is no way that I am going to need a shutter speed of 1/2500 of a second to shoot deer in bright light that are mostly standing still looking at me! Even if you consider eliminating camera shake, using the rule of reciprocal with a focal length of 400mm and a crop sensor, your starting point would be a 540th of a second. I double that speed these days to account for the amazing pixel density that modern cameras are capable of so the next increment using that theory would be 1250th on my camera with my settings. Back in the day I used to shoot bike races at 1000th of a second and those riders were flying!

Sunrise Mule Deer Bucks

So I pondered that problem for a while and realized that is was just not going to be feasible to allow the camera to guess at what I would like for shutter and aperture values. The only way to solve the problem would  be to use manual mode for the shutter and aperture. I’ve already decided that with my 100-400 meter lens, the optimum aperture for wildlife photography is F8. Starting with the resulting 1250th benchmark factoring for camera shake, I compensated for the two stop image stabilization available on my lens and dialed back to an 800th of a second, plenty fast enough to capture any action my docile deer friends might be engaged in. I’m happy with the +1 exposure compensation I’ve been using to achieve ETTR exposures and optimize the signal to noise ratio.

The only exposure value I’m going to allow to float is the ISO. I previously had it capped at 3200 but I have removed that allowing the camera to go all the way to 25600. The reasoning behind that is if I have to unexpectedly leap out of my truck and grab a shot in a hurry without having time to mess with settings, at least I’ll get some kind of properly exposed shot… it may be noisy but I will at least capture something to mark the moment to put on Instagram!

Fortunately I was able to test out my new c1 setting today and I’m pretty darned happy with the results! I got some pre-sunrise shots followed by some captures in light similar to what I experienced yesterday. I purposely did not mess with the c1 settings so as to make sure to test my expectations. On a normal day I might decide to use c1 as a starting point and make adjustments to my shutter speed based on changing conditions and subject activity. Hope you enjoy these captures of my friends the “Three Amigos” 🙂

What the Heck Happened to Steve

Elk Herd on Snowy Mountain

It’s been more than a month since my last post and more than a few people have been starting to ask if I’m still alive. I’m happy to report that rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated and that I am indeed alive and kicking 🙂 This month however has not been without it’s challenges!

 

On March 14th I finished my shift at my full time job looking forward to a week of vacation in which I had visions of photographing mule deer, elk, bighorn sheep and maybe even a bear or two! By midnight after the swing shift it was becoming apparent that my plans were changing rapidly. Soon a 911 call, a new lesson in pain and an ambulance ride were in the works and my vacation plans were kaput. A couple of hours later I was in surgery for repair of a life threatening incarcerated hernia followed by a second surgery the next night which was necessary to correct some pesky internal bleeding. Now a full month later I am finally feeling like life could return to normal at some point!

Whiling away the hours discussing cameras and photography with my photo bud Kevin have revealed that I need to direct some much needed attention to unexplored camera functions that I have never managed the time to look into.  Especially in Waterton Canyon I have noticed the requirement to rapidly and extensively change camera settings for different subjects.

One moment I might be photographing a beautiful landscape along the river while the next moment might find me scrambling to capture a bighorn sheep preparing to leap into the clear blue water. This can be difficult and often the action occurs before the settings are changed and the moment is lost.

Enter Custom Modes 1 and 2, something I’ve never bothered to mess with in 18 years of digital photography. So I’ve decided to have one function for wildlife and the other for landscape photography. For wildlife I’ve selected Auto ISO with a cap of 1600 and a minimum shutter speed of 1/500th of a second. An exposure compensation factor of +1/3 of a stop seemed like a pretty reliable selection along with high speed drive mode, back button focus and AI Servo for a focus mode. Then you just go to menu settings and find the custom camera modes, select and then register settings. The menu will ask you if you want C1, C2…. or more if you have a camera with additional modes. Wildlife is now C1 on my Canon.

For C2 and landscape photography I selected aperture priority set to f6.3, ISO 100, slow drive mode and again exposure compensation of +1/3.

Now I can easily and quickly switch between wildlife and landscape modes with one quick turn of the main dial. No more missing the money shot! As for the video settings I don’t really care, I don’t make money on video and the camera seems to just do what I want as if by magic.

Now all I need is for somebody to come up with a cure for this blasted CoVid-19 so the stay at home order can be lifted!

If you would like an escape from the monotony of staying at home you might enjoy a visit to my YouTube channel for some nice footage of deer, elk and bighorn sheep! Please subscribe if you like the videos and want to be notified next time I publish!

My Thoughts on Good Enough Camera Equipment

I’ve been pondering the intricacies of image resolution ever since I heard the Canon 90D was coming out with the new 32mp sensor. Many lenses they say do not have the resolving power to make use the the new high pixel density sensor. So the question is, do you forego the upgrade if you are using a 70D or 80D for fear that your version I L series lenses “aren’t going to work”, that the new sensor is going to “make your pictures blurry”?

Bighorn Sheep in Waterton Canyon by the South Platte River

Well the fact is that it is physically impossible to decrease your overall image quality by increasing the resolution of one or more of your components. Would your images be better if you bought all new series II lenses, of course… unless you have managed to snatch the latest lens technology off the assembly line, there is always going to be a better lens. Given enough money you will always be able to find a better lens than the one you have now.

So the question you have to ask yourself is an important and very basic question, am I still getting the shot? Are your customers still happy with your product? If the answer to that question is yes, I am still getting the shot. My customers are still happy with the product I am delivering, or I am not losing sales to my competitors with newer gear, then you probably should not upgrade yet. If you find that you will benefit significantly from more megapixels and newer camera technology then go ahead and take the plunge. If you can use greater cropping ability, better low light capability, better noise reduction and higher dynamic range, not to mention 4k video, then go ahead and buy the new camera and don’t worry about if there is another lens out there that can give you even more amazing results. You can cross that bridge when you come to it.

Colorado Black Bear Family

For me I am finding that my results with the 90D and series I lenses are good enough for now. My large metal prints look beautiful on the wall, my wildlife pictures are sharper than they were with the 70D with the same lens, and I am having more success with image acceptance at the stock agencies, in fact 100%. Due to new low light picture quality and higher dynamic range I am able to shoot earlier in the morning and later at night, while capturing more keepers. From just higher ISO and faster shutter speeds alone I am capturing more salable images. If I can capture an elk’s whiskers at 70 yards using the 1.4x extender and my 400mm series I lens, which by the way I can now use with auto focus, I’m thinking… it’s good enough! Would I still like to acquire a couple of newer technology lenses? Of course, I am always striving to improve the quality of my gear but for right now, good enough is good enough!

This article is not sponsored by Canon or any other firm. All equipment used was purchased by me on my own volition.

The Perfect Rig

Photography Rig by the Pristine Waters of the South Platte River

I’ve been working for some time now to assemble the perfect rig for gaining access to the back country for landscape and wildlife photography. I don’t know whether it’s really the perfect rig or not, but it suits me perfectly and I was dying to try it all out together! I wanted the Tamrac Anvil 23 for it’s size and rugged construction, big and deep enough for all my gear and including a camera with battery grip and long lens. It also has straps on the center back strong enough to carry a heavy duty tripod comfortably. Then of course a carbon fiber tripod with a good video head, I decided upon the Manfrotto 502A for it’s rugged build plus it’s capability to operate effectively in the harsh Colorado winter. And of course the bike, which luckily I was able to find pre-owned and in like new condition, a Nishika Colorado 21 speed mountain bike with shock absorbers on the front forks 🙂

My idea was that Waterton Canyon was going to be considerably warmer and the best

Pristine Waters of the South Platte River in the Colorado Rocky Mountain Winter

place to try it all out! However the weatherman was forecasting a cold gloomy morning and I was pretty sure that the sheep were not going to come down 😦 I felt kind of guilty driving 100 miles just to go on a bike ride so I was going to back out, but I called my favorite camera store Englewood Camera, and they just happened to have a good deal on a 4 stop ND filter that I’ve been wanting so I thought what the heck… I’ll stop in at the camera store and maybe I’ll even be able to try it out on my favorite part of the river. Years ago back in the film days I had captured a great image of the river and I’ve tried repeatedly through the years without success to duplicate it with the awesome new technology at our disposal these days so that I could have it for sale on my stock portfolio!

It was still cold and gloomy in the canyon by the time I got there at about 10:00 a.m. so I bundled up and hoped for the best. Indeed I did not see a single bighorn sheep in my entire ride to the top of the dirt road. Modifications I

Pristine Waters of the South Platte River in the Colorado Rocky Mountain Winter

had recently made to my bike, including seat, hand grips and pedals proved worth the investment as I rode hard all the way to the turnaround without having to dismount a single time 🙂 On the way up I identified the very spot that I captured my favorite image so many years ago and on the way back down I stopped there for pictures and video. The other time was autumn so I knew I would not have the beautiful colors, but I have always wanted to try the image in winter as well. I spent a good amount of time there using wide angle and long lenses, the polarizer and a plain skylight filter. The water wasn’t flowing sufficiently to need the new ND, but I’ll try that out over at Eleven Mile pretty soon.

All in all I think I am satisfied with my winter images and I got a great workout on my mountain bike in the fresh mountain air of the Pike National Forest. As always these images and more are available for purchase on my website as wall art on glossy metal or acrylic sheets, stretched canvas, and traditional matting and framing! Also I have no sponsorship or compensation of any kind from any of these products. I have purchased them with my own funds because I found them most suitable to my needs.

Before the Snow Flies

Storm Clouds on Pikes Peak

Snow is in the forecast for the next three days so I arose early today and headed for the trails! Wanted to get a good hike in before the snow begins to fly 🙂 At the trailhead the mist had already begun to settle in creating a wonderful quiet paradise to walk through. As I walked along the trail on the north side of beautiful Ute Pass in the Pike National Forest I noticed how the barren aspen trees stood out against the dark forest so I stopped to snap a few.

Barren aspen trees in the cold light of a winter morningThis was also a good opportunity to test out my new old lens, the Canon 28-135 Dust Sucker :) Got this lens with my first digital camera back in 2002, and I have shot thousands of images with it, but when I got my 70D a few years ago for some reason this lens wouldn’t work with it and since I had gotten the 18-55 STM as part of the 70D kit, my old favorite wound up forgotten in the bottom of a bag of camera junk.

For years now I have  been almost exclusively a nature photographer, wildlife, landscapes, mountains, etc., which is fine of course but I’ve been thinking of trying to get back in to portrait photography which got me to thinking about a portrait lens. Of course I would like to have the Canon 28-70 F2.8L, but the funds for a Canon L are just not available yet! So I was reading about cheaper alternatives when I saw a review of my trusty 28-135. The literature still says that the lens should work with any EOS camera so I was wondering… would it work with my 90D?

Well here’s the answer! I took it out for some testing today and indeed it does work! The

Herd of Mule Deer in the Rocky Mountain Winter

best perspective on the above aspen tree in the background was too close in for my wildlife lens so I put on the 135. This particular image was composed with the lens zoomed into 90mm and it looks pretty decent! It’s not a Canon L by any stretch, but it will do in a pinch, especially in a portrait session where you don’t really need to see every pore in a model’s skin! In fact back in the days of film photography I used to use a #3 soft most of the time anyway! Of course now with digital and Photoshop soft focus can be applied sparingly and only to the areas where it enhances the image. So until I get my pro Canon lens, it looks like I have a portrait lens to work with!

Herd of Mule Deer in the Rocky Mountain Winter

Well I continued my journey, hoping to see some deer or maybe even a bear when I came to a climb to a vantage point with a view of the north face of Pikes Peak. Here it became obvious that the winter storm the weathermen have been forecasting was at hand! In just a few minutes the Peak was completely obscured, so I thought I’d better get back over the pass before the roads got bad. Fortunately along the way I did encounter this beautiful mule deer herd, one buck and a few does were grazing on mountain grass in the cold mist of the approaching weather.

All in all I would have to say this was a pretty good day 🙂 I felt like I had gotten a free lens, got some nice pictures of the tree, some deer and some cool weather on Pikes Peak 🙂

There are tons of new images, including bighorn sheep, deer and elk in Rocky Mountain National Park on my website from which to create Christmas gifts, so give it a click if you enjoy my work! Choose from beautiful wall art, apparel, household items, stationary, tech gadgets and more! And all with a beautiful image by S.W. Krull Imaging!

The Deep Freeze

Sub zero temperatures and about six inches of fresh snow greeted the sunrise this morning and I was just flat too tired to trudge out into the snow with my shovel at 7:00 a.m. to photograph the beautiful amazing sunrise. By the time I finally did dig the old Dodge out the sun was so bright I couldn’t even see, much less capture good pictures!

_MG_6898

So I spent the day cleaning the house and working on some things I’ve been thinking about lately. Saw my flashlight the other day when I was doing something else, thinking “hey, there it is”… Of course now I have forgotten where “there” is and spent part of my day looking for the flashlight. Didn’t find the flashlight, but at least I got some things done that I’ve been meaning to do.

One of the things I was wanting to do was research the new “Compressed Raw” feature that Canon has come out with, so after watching a couple of YouTube videos on the subject I went out and snapped a couple of shots of the hill out back to do some comparisons. The final verdict on that subject is that although Compressed Raw would probably work just as well while saving a lot of disk space, it turns out for those of us who use Adobe DNG there is no space savings at all. Raw and Compressed Raw result in a DNG file of equal size. I did turn off high ISO noise reduction as it has no effect on raw files at all. Long exposure noise reduction I decided to leave on, even though it results in doubling your exposure time length in the production of the black frame it uses to cancel

Elk Herd on a Beautiful Rocky Mountain Evening

out the hot spots with. Even though it renders your camera unusable for a few seconds it seems that the feature is the most efficient method of ridding your image of the annoying hot spots.

Also, while I had the computer turned on I decided to process one more image of the elk from my awesome adventure in Rocky Mountain National Park 🙂 Unfortunately the aches and pains of three days of shoveling snow are going to mean an evening of hot water bottles and ibuprofen. Hope you enjoy the pictures!

Gear Test: B+W XS-PRO Circular Polarizer

In my quest for the perfect circular polarizer for my Canon 100-400 lens I finally settled on the B+W 77mm XS-Pro Kaesemann High Transmission Circular Polarizer MRC-Nano Filter. Dang, that’s a mouthful but what does it all mean? For starters, Kaesemann is a precision glass company purchased by Schneider Optics of Germany in 1989. The high transmission designation refers to the ability of the glass to transmit light. This filter is advertised at 99.5% with a filter factor of 1 to 1.5 stops of light loss due to the darkened blue glass. The MRC feature is Multi-Resistant-Coating, which is a series of layers designed to prevent reflections and ghosting while the NANO designation refers to a hardened eighth layer that assists in keeping the filter clean. The B+W filter is constructed using a brass outer ring that provides an exceptionally smooth threading capability when affixing the filter to the lens. The rotating mechanism for turning the filter is stiff but very smooth. The construction of this filter is superb.

That’s all well and good of course, but does it work, that is the real question! Today looked like a perfect day to find that out as the sky is perfectly clear and the sun was beating down on the snow capped Sangre de Cristo at almost a perfect 90 degree angle this morning. Just looking at the mountains they appeared washed out and faded to the naked eye, perfect conditions for a polarizer.

So, I pulled into the overlook parking lot and shot one picture with no filter followed by another picture with the circular polarizer with the glass turned to maximum effect. I shot in raw as always, but applied no processing to these two images, as I didn’t want to pollute the results of the test with a bunch of Photoshop adjustments. Here they are, first the mountains with no filter and then with the filter:

Springtime Sangre de Cristo Mountains

Sangre de Cristo Range

As you can plainly see, the second image has significantly increased saturation and detail in the white highlights of the snow capped peaks with a much deeper blue in sky. The snow and trees just below the peaks are also much more visible in the polarized image.

I will also be trying the filter out over water when I find some! Not much water around here in this mountain desert, but sooner or later there will be a river or a lake in the sun where I will find the filter useful! All in all I would say I’m extremely happy with this purchase from B&H Photo Online and would highly recommend the filter to anyone using a DSLR camera.

Maiden Voyage

Well this is it… my first outing with the Canon 100-400 L Mark I. I have been wanting that 400mm lens for over ten years! I had a Sigma 100-500 back before the Great Recession that I had to sell and I always regretted that. At the time I didn’t have the money to do

Deer on the Mountainside Title

any traveling and didn’t need it to photograph the deer in my little game reserve near home, my f4L 70-200 was perfect for the trails in those woods. But like always, as soon as I sold it everything changed and I needed it again! Well anyway, my photo buddy found an entire camera and lens collection for sale on Craigslist, including a Sigma 150-500 that I was going to buy from him if he bought the set. But alas, the guy didn’t get back to him and sold the set to someone else.  I was pretty bummed because I thought I was going to at least have my Sigma back!

Well, bummed enough to make some calls anyway, and as it turned out my favorite camera store, Englewood Camera just happened to have the Canon 100-400 Mark I. This was late in the day on Wednesday so I wasn’t able to get up there but they were nice enough to hold it for me until yesterday. The lens is in perfect shape, looks like it has never been used so of course I had to have it!  It was a long drive, but I always enjoy a nice visit to the store and I am tickled to have the lens!

Canon 100-400Normally I wouldn’t take such a big lens on a long hike, but I had to test it out! So I loaded it up, along with the snowshoes and Big Dog and off we went to the trail 🙂 I can tell you, lugging a heavy camera through the snow with Big Dog making his own decisions about which direction we should be going was a struggle! And we didn’t see a thing to photograph 😦 Until the end of course when I was exhausted, my heart pounding and my arms quivering from fatigue. But in the distance on the barren face of the hillside I thought I spotted something… Could be a few rocks or dirt spots, or maybe some deer or elk. So I brought up the big 400mm to my eye for a look and indeed it was a small herd of mule deer foraging for food.

I have to say I am amazed that I got this shot. As I said, my arms were shaking and I was tired. Lugging along the Manfrotto was out of the question so the shot is handheld, zoomed in all the way at 400mm, ISO 400, f8 at a 500th of a second. I could barely even see these deer at this distance and this lens has given me a salable picture! All I had to do is crop a little bit of pine beetle ugliness out of the pines on the right and this picture was ready to go. And this is without using my 1.4x lens extender, which would have pushed me out to 560mm, but I doubt I would have been able to hand hold that anyway.

So all in all I am so far delighted in the quality of this lens. I can’t wait to get out with a tripod where there is an abundance of wildlife such as in Rocky Mountain National Park, or maybe Waterton Canyon or the mountain goat viewing area in Cottonwood Pass and really give this thing a workout! But for strenuous hikes in deep snow where the weight I am carrying makes a difference, I’ll be going back to my old faithful, the f4L 70-200 with the 1.4x extender. I’ll have to concede the long distance shots in lieu of a more enjoyable hike.

As always, this image and more are available for purchase on my website as wall art on metal, acrylic, canvas and traditional framing and matting. Cool gift, household and  tech items are also available with a beautiful #swkrullimaging picture on them, including battery chargers, blankets and pillows, gift cards and much more. Just click on an image you like and you will see the full preview plus all the product options and pricing!

 

Trail Ridge Adventure

Been waiting for this outing for a long time! Vehicle repairs, too many hours at work, too many life commitments… This trip to Rocky Mountain National Park has been on delay for an entire decade! Finally, yesterday was the day… truck running in tip top shape, camera equipment all working and autumn in full swing 🙂

Set my alarm for 2:30 a.m., in fact I set two alarms… didn’t want to miss this event because I didn’t wake up in time! 1:30 a.m. came around and suddenly I was wide awake. Thought about rolling over for another hour but my heart was already pounding and more sleep was just not going to happen!

It’s been hot lately, in fact I heard Colorado Springs set a record for most days over 90 degrees in September. But as I sat in the dark sipping my Morning Joe it felt unusually cool and there was a strange sound of water dripping. Thinking that the kitchen faucet might be dripping I wandered in for my second cup to notice that the dripping sound was coming from outside, a cool rain was steadily drenching the southern mountains. My first inclination was to call my buddy and suggest we pick another day… Second thoughts reminded me however that weather is my friend, some cool mist can turn an ordinary mountain meadow in to a spectacular moody mystical masterpiece!

Soon I was off and on my way to pick up my buddy at the planned time of 4:30 a.m. in hopes of entering the park at about sunrise. It was not until we were on our way did we finally decide to enter the park from the west side in hopes of catching some wildlife in the western meadows during the rain while exploring Bear Lake on the east side after the rain had hopefully ceased.

We hit Winter Park just as the sun was rising in the east with a fog bank in view to the north, probably hovering over Grand Lake but it had mostly dissipated by the time we arrived at that point. The sun was gaining in strength as we entered the park, unfortunately maybe a little too much strength as there was no wildlife to be found 😦 We eventually encountered a small herd of elk hiding in the shade of the dense forest along the road, but nothing like the large herds we were hoping for.

Autumn Tundra on Trail Ridge

Soon we were past the bottoms and on our way up to the lofty elevations of Trail Ridge Road, The drive wasn’t as long as I remembered and soon we were above tree line looking at some of the finest scenery Colorado has to offer!

The visitor center was the first place that looked worthy of a stop along the “highest continuous motorway in the United States“. It was cold there at 12,300 feet of elevation and the wind was blowing hard. We grabbed a couple of cameras and made a beeline for the gift shop where I was hoping for a nice heavy hooded sweatshirt as my prize for reaching the summit. Unfortunately I didn’t find just what I was looking for so I left the gift shop empty handed. As we made our way outdoors the unmistakable sound of a bugling bull elk filled the crisp thin air, so we ventured onto the observation deck to see if the source could be located. Far beneath the visitor center in the colorful valley below the huge bull elk was visible. Clamped on my long lens and steadied the camera on the wall for a few shots of the distant beast hoping that this would not be the closest I was going to get to the majestic animals.

Storm Clouds on Trail Ridge

Soon we found ourselves traversing the pinnacle of the drive, hugging the yellow line all the way! It looked like the clouds were going to clear and a magnificent warm afternoon was in the offing… Lol, soon Colorado struck back and it was snowing in earnest as we explored  one of the many trailheads on the way down the east side of the drive. A quick look back at the high peaks revealed an angry looking snowstorm enveloping the rugged range, well worth taking the time for a few shots of the action high in the majestic western mountains.

By the time we got to the lower elevations of the east side of the park the snow was but a fond memory. The sun was beating down and the Gortex had to come off. We did begin to encounter a few small herds of elk and deer but in fact it was so hot by that time that the animals were hiding in the shade. Hard shade surrounded by bright sun makes for impossible wildlife photography.

So I was thinking that Bear Lake is surrounded by tall mountains, a location that might be enhanced by some direct light from above so I turned the blue Dodge to the south towards the lake. Along the way we tried our hand at some motion blur whitewater along the creek, but getting to a location where the water was even visible proved to be a daunting task. In fact it soon became apparent that getting the water shots was more than daunting… it was downright impossible! Back to the task at hand, photographing the lake and mountain scenery. Soon we neared the the lake and encountered an unwelcome packed parking lot but by some miracle we managed to snag a spot, albeit the most distant one possible.

Bear Lake Peaks

Knowing the price that would be paid in footsteps for leaving some necessary piece of equipment behind, we loaded ourselves up with four camera bodies and probably twice that many lenses. That plus lens filters, extenders, maps and sustenance for a long hike made for a pretty heavy load! The arsenal of camera equipment proved to be well worth it though, as the location demanded nearly all of it’s use. Wide angles to take in the lake and the magnificent scenery beyond, long lenses to capture the rugged mountains surrounding the water and polarizers to enhance the water and filter out bright sunlight! Of course all that gear also serves to encourage the tourists to run up and hand you their phone cameras in hopes of a professional looking free portrait 😦 Oh well… what do you do. Should have had some business cards handy! Live and learn.

Finally we were satisfied that we had sufficiently captured the lake scene and headed for the truck. The sun was still beating down making good wildlife photography unlikely, so we decided to try our luck with some lunch in Estes Park. After some quick reconnaissance we decided upon some nice barbecue at Smokin’ Dave’s. We still had a lot of work to do in the park, but I was confident that one pint of Smokin’ Brunette was not a bad idea 🙂 At least I think that’s what that particular brew was called! I tried to make a post at the time but my phone wasn’t cooperating 😦 Anyway, great place, great beer, I’ll definitely be returning for more!!!

Finally by 5:00 p.m. the sun was losing some of it’s power and we ventured back into the park. I had once encountered a huge herd of elk in Morraine Park in a snowstorm so it seemed worth a check to see if the elk might also like that park on a sunny autumn afternoon as well 🙂 As we neared the meadow it quickly became apparent that my instincts were correct… at least by the sheer number of vehicles that had gathered along the road! It seemed like we had to drive forever to reach the end of the line where we could finally find our own place to park… once again, the long walk back meant that we were going to be packing everything from the previous hike, plus tripods for shooting in the inevitable darkness that was soon to be upon us.

Pair of Rocky Mountain Elk

As we neared the scene, the reason for the large crowd became apparent. A huge bull elk in perfect late afternoon light and his harem were enjoying the mountain grass on the west end of the meadow. Unafraid of the people and unconcerned by their antics, the elk were just going about their business of being elk. The majestic bull appeared to be posing for pictures, stopping occasionally to rear back his head and voice his loud opinion. Here we tried every conceivable combination of camera, lens and filter in hopes of the perfect capture. This one was my favorite of the day. There were many that I really like, but this one with the young cow in the scene seems to best depict the moment.

Finally darkness fell and the the elk began to meander off to the east further from the throngs of people with their big lenses, phones and ipads. We were tired but happy in the knowledge that we had made the best of the day and would be coming home with even more good images than we could have possibly hoped for 🙂 Already we are plotting a return to the park, and possibly one of the nearby campgrounds in hopes of capturing the activity that is sure to occur in the park at first light. One day in the park was good… but two would be even better!

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