Announcement !

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As you could tell by reading yesterday’s post I’m on my way to Yellowstone National Park. http://www.bigshotsnow.com/the-words-out/  to take pictures and boldly go where everybody else has gone before. Since my last visit I have increased the number of research vehicles here at the Institute by one, adding the Mothership, a 30′ fully articulated vessel similar to the Black ships that plied the Sea of Japan in the early 1700’s, but with color TV and a microwave, and a place to store cookies, she has now become the stately old grand dame of our fleet. Able to tow our shuttle craft, we are completely self-contained and able to stay out on our journey’s for weeks at a time.

I hope to be able to post more frequently on this trip due to the increased technology included in the Mothership with the addition of improvements such as a table to place my webernet connection device, electricity to power all of the incredible technology installed in the IT room, and a electric hot plate to make my tea in the morning. Without my tea nothing happens, nothing, so this is a very necessary improvement over the coal fires used in the Bokeh Maru.  As we will be touring the wilds of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho comfort and convenience are paramount. Our previous ship the Bokeh Maru has assumed other duties, although still remaining one of our principal vehicles in the exploration of the known universe, her role is to be more of a scout ship, used primarily for shorter forays. She will enter dry-dock for a D&C, or Dusting and Cleaning as it’s known in the trade, her reward for years of faithful service, then it will be back to work, hauling interns to projects, running down to the mailbox for the mail, and ferrying dignitaries up the hill to The Institute.

Now, having said I would post more frequently you must understand that this is still the 21st century and there are limitations at hand. There are unseen forces out there at work with nothing to do but bollix up our best laid plans and all that, so if I don’t post for a few days in a row do not freak. I’ll be bock. And if like in most or our explorations, where everything goes completely to hell in a hand basket, and I don’t post at all I’ll be back in a couple of weeks with stories to tell, adventures to relate, and clothes to wash. So wish us Bon voyage, steady winds at our backs, and remember, I’ll be thinking about you.

 

The Word’s Out

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When we, and the we would be me, The Director of the World Famous Institute and any of the many staffers and interns we choose to bring along, attempt to slip into Yellowstone National Park for our annual inspection tour, we try to do it on the sly. We don’t want the usual Pomp And Circumstance, the parades, the cheering crowds, we want to be able to travel anonymously through out the park without everyone coming up for autographs and offers of sexual favors and incredible investment possibilities. We’re here to work.

But somehow and to this date I have never figured out how, the word gets out. No matter how carefully we tell people that we’re going back to the park and it’s like a secret, don’t tell anybody kind of thing, the animals, the park personnel, the wait staff at all the park restaurants, they all seem to know about it before we do. As a wildlife photographer I can only assume we have a mole in our organization.

Our advance scouts that we send in to get things scoped out for us have been sending back pictures and as you can see all the major players are aware of our impending arrival. It ‘s like when a restaurant gets advance notice that the health inspector is coming, you won’t find a cleaner kitchen. You could do surgery in that kitchen. Well it’s the same in the park. The wolves clean up their act, only killing the healthy good looking elk and not showing you the carcasses of all the little rabbits, voles, dead stuff off the highway and other disgusting things they eat. This hampers our ability to get the nitty-gritty on what’s really going on.

The wolves are the smartest ones of the bunch and they post watchers around the most likely spots we’ll hit, like this one at the Cascade Creek area near Canyon. We’ve seen this guy before and he is a world-class blabbermouth. If he’s seen our scouts and you can be sure he has, he’s looking right at one, we might as well abandon any hope of getting an accurate picture of park activities. This will not keep us from making our annual inspection however. We’ll be there but this time we have a surprise in store for them. This time we’re going in disguised.

That’s right. We have created costumes for some of our intern volunteers to wear, such as a badger, a cottontail, an elk calf with a damaged leg, things that the wolves wouldn’t touch if they knew we were coming in to inspect. This will hopefully allow us to get close enough to the wolves and other predators so we can photograph them and the conditions they’re living in. Now, we’re sharing this information with you, our loyal readers, so you’re aware of how we get some of the incredible exposes, not to mention world class photos that we’re famous for, but you’ve got to keep this quiet, otherwise it is not going to work and if you’ve blabbed there’s a good chance we could lose some or even all of our interns.

OK then. That’s it. We’ll be off real soon for the Spring inspection at Yellowstone National Park and we’ll do our best to bring you first hand accounts of everything that transpires. So stay tuned and watch this space for further developments.

P.S. we are always looking for bright young volunteers to fill our intern ranks. Send name and working phone number to the Director, % The institute and please be able to write your name as we need it for the Release of Liability form our lawyers require of all new workers.

Favorite Son

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There is no disputing that a mother loves all her children equally. She will feed them, watch over them, defend them to her death. But occasionally there appears a young one that is first among equals. One that creates a special bond that is just outside the perimeter of her all encompassing love for each of the young she has.

This one fits that bill. There are eight siblings in this family of coyotes. The others are back at the den which is about 30′ away, where mom told them to stay while she takes a much needed nap. Coyote pups tend to mind their mothers and although they may test the limits some, they usually do what they’re told. But then there is this one. He has been the one from the very beginning that she frets over the most. He doesn’t do what he’s told. He goes off without the slightest regard for safety or his well being, he takes on the world as if it is his by some right no one else was aware of.

She disciplines him but it doesn’t seem to take. Where the other pups are reluctant to approach mom when she says it’s quiet time. “Leave me alone.” This pup will approach her fearlessly and say “Getup! Play with me. Give me something to eat. I found a dead ground squirrel, come see. Hey, come on!” She may snap and growl and even nip him but he is unfazed, and she loves him for it.

It’s hard to define what this special bond is. But it’s there. It will be there for as long as they’re together. And maybe longer if coyotes have memories. She will never admit it but this is her favorite son.

 

Breakin’ The Rules

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Breaking the rules. Breaking all of them. Photographically that is. That’s what I do anyway. Break ’em, worry about them later. This image breaks almost every rule of photography there is, yet it is one of my most favorite images that I have ever taken. I say almost every rule only because I know there’s a rule somewhere I’ve forgotten but I know I broke it anyway. This was not a premeditated decision on my part. I didn’t decide to fly in the face of convention just to be a rebel it was more along the lines of, I want this picture and I’m going to get it even if it means breaking the rules.

If you Google ‘Photography Rules’ you will come up with about 105,000,000 hits for rules. That’s a lot of damn rules. Granted not all 105,000,000 hits are different but even so, Geezum Plutz that’s a lot of rules. That’s one thing we do pretty good as a species, making rules. Here are just a few examples of collections of rules.

10 Top Photography Composition Rules

5 Easy Composition Guidelines

18 Composition Rules For Photos

The 10 Rules of Photo Composition (and why they work)

9 Top Photography Composition Rules You Need To Know

And there are folks out there that will tell you “Don’t you go breaking any of those rules.” if you want to be a photographer. You can’t be in our photo show if you don’t follow these rules. “Hey Bozo, I saw your work. You need to follow the rules, man.” Seems like everyone is an expert when it comes to rules, especially the guys that make them.

There are real photographers out there looking at this image right now that are gnashing their teeth and raining curses down on my head for deliberately showing this bollixed up, rule breaking image as if I had a right to. Which I do by the way. I’m one of those artist types that believe once an image is completed it exists. It doesn’t matter how it was made, or what was done to it afterwards, or whether it was Photoshopped or not, an image is an image and it stands on its own for better or worse. You can shoot it holding the camera behind your back and jumping up and down, or put little red hearts all over it, or draw, paint or step on it with muddy boots then sign your name. It doesn’t matter, an image once it’s finalized and put on display is there and it’s up to the viewer to figure out whether they like it or not. Or even consider whether it is art or not.

Look in the back of any photography magazine on the newsstand and you will find dozens of highly trained, apparently successful photographers willing to take you on workshops and teach you how to make beautiful pictures by sticking to all the many rules in force that will make you a successful photographer too. Unfortunately I’ve always had a certain degree of difficulty in following rules. Some of them anyway, but especially those that say you need to create in a certain way. I guess it’s because that I, like Mick Jagger, don’t keep regular hours, so my outlook is different from most.

So getting back to the picture, “What’s wrong with it?” you ask. It’s an image of a wolf swimming across the Yellowstone river late in the evening in mid-may back in 2006. The sky was overcast, it had been raining just moments ago and this wolf was one of the dominant members of a pack in the Hayden valley. They had killed an elk on a small tributary called Alum creek which feeds into the Yellowstone and were gorging themselves until they could barely move. She, this was a female, was the first to leave because being the alpha she had fed first and was ready to return to the den which was located on the other side of the river. The problem and the first of many rules that were broken to get this image, was that she was way too far away for this to be any kind of decent shot. The rule says you have to be close and fill the frame with as much wolf as will fit in it to make this any kind of acceptable picture. The wolf of course didn’t know she was breaking the rule and I couldn’t get any closer before she jumped in the river and began her swim across it. I said the hell with it and took the picture anyway.

My equipment then was somewhat limited. The camera was a 6mp Nikon D70, a woefully under-powered camera by todays standards, and my lens was an inexpensive telephoto which was all I could afford at that time. There’s another rule shot to hell so to speak. Good photographers always use the best most expensive equipment available.  NO exceptions. The limits of the equipment I had, because of its measly megapixel count, meant that when it was time to print this image it wouldn’t be adequate to be enlarged so that you could see the wolf in all it’s perfectly focused clarity. They are absolutely right, those rule makers. It is kind of blurry and out of focus looking because I did stretch the limits of the image and now it has a kind of painterly pastel looking feel to it, not at all what a good photo should be, but I like it. Maybe you do too, or not.

 I remember exactly how things were the day I took this image. How cold it was, how the air smelled like damp grass, the sounds of the river flowing by and the huffing of the wolf as she swam across the widest part of the river she could have chosen to take. However there is a characteristic that rule makers leave out and that is that intangible feeling one gets when you see an image that you like regardless of whether or not it fits into the Follow the rules category. There have been an awful lot of pretty good painters that didn’t follow the rules, and people tend  to think very highly of them, myself being one of them.That’s what makes breaking the rules work for me. Had I followed them I wouldn’t have taken this picture and I wouldn’t have this image to remember the experience or to share with you, my friends. If you ask me I’m going to tell you to break the rules, break ’em all. It’s worth it.

So as far as rules go I’ll probably continue to break them, as the image is more important to me than various opinions. In case you’re wondering I do take technically good images where many of the rules are followed but I am never one to shy away from gathering what I see and putting it into a viewfinder regardless of what the rules say, after all art and the image are what I most care about.

Just for grins I’m posting the original image below, as it was taken straight out of the camera, to show you how and where the image above came from.

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Pancho and Lefty

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It is slowly turning to Spring up in Yellowstone, things are greening up, Pancho and Lefty are on  the prowl and that means Saturday night dances at the Long Tooth Saloon in Blacktail Flats. These two have just had a tough day of eating dead buffalo, laying around in the grass, drinking out of the pond, hanging out, talking crap, eating dead buffalo and deciding on how early they want to get to the dance tonight. They need to look sharp because everybody and I mean everybody is going to be there and if there is ever a chance of hooking up with some fox, I mean wolf, tonight’s the night.

Pancho is asking Lefty if he’s sure he wants to wear that collar as he might look like a total dweeb. He doesn’t want to get stiffed because his wingman looks like a dork. Lefty says It’s cool, back off and they’re on their way. It’s Saturday night in Yellowstone and things are going to get wild.

 

 

Hiding In Plain Sight

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Mountain goats aren’t really known for being stealthy. They don’t have a lot of need to be. There aren’t that many predators up here at the top of the world at over 14,000′ to get them so they usually just hang out not caring very much about who sees them.

Yet Nature, who is in charge of animal protection here in this world, has chosen to give them life saving camouflage anyway. When you enlarge this image by clicking on it, and you know you should, you’ll see that even with them standing out in plain sight your eyes will drift right over them and you’ll often miss seeing them. This effect is even more pronounced when the herd is scattered out and the individuals take on the coloring and look of the boulder field they like to forage in.

Occasionally a coyote and on the rarest of occasions a mountain lion will find its way up here in the hopes of catching a lamb or a sick billy-goat but they’re usually so whacked out by the lack of oxygen up here that their efforts are half-hearted at best. Still the camouflage is there in case they need it.

This is Mt. Evans by the way, and it is 14,264′ up in the air. It is also one of the tallest of our national parks with all kinds of neat facts that you can read elsewhere about how cool it is. The road up here is not for the squeamish and will often involve some or all of the passengers in your vehicle crouching on the floor to avoid the sheer terror of the incredible drop offs just inches away from your tires. Drivers Pay Attention! Gravity is not your friend up here.

For those of you who are going to ask “Is that blue real?” the answer is no. It’s actually bluer than that. I had to tone it down in Photoshop from the real color because it is SO blue, and that is the famous Colorado blue you hear about, that my staffers walking by catching a glimpse of it on the monitor would be frozen in their tracks, stunned into immobility, so totally hypnotized by it blueness, that they would be paralyzed and fall over in what we call the Blue Coma. Since some of you may be viewing this on portable devices and doing things like walking or chewing gum I thought it best, in the interest of your safety, to bring it down into a more tolerable color.

Soon and that is in a couple of weeks, the ewes will start having their lambs and the tourists will start arriving to see them. The park opens later in the year than most other parks because this geography and weather up here are similar to arctic conditions. There’s tundra scattered around everywhere with arctic plants growing and biting winds and fast-moving storms that race in just to catch everyone unaware, so they, the people in charge of these places, want to give the inquisitive tourists every chance of making it up and back down alive. Plus the roads are mostly snowed shut until sometime in mid June. But life is an adventure and you’re alive or should be so jump in the old Celica and get on up to the top of the world. There’s views, and vistas, and far-reaching sights that will make you say “oh Wow” or even “Holy Moley” and you can see the Mountain goats hiding in plain sight. It’s worth it.