Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Cow Moose Nurturing Calf - My Vision

(Click on image for a larger view.)

I just returned from four days of photography at the Grand Tetons National Park. My main focus was on the Teton mountains, but whenever the sun and the clouds didn't cooperate, I tried to make good use of my time by searching for wildlife to photograph.

The last morning I was there, I came across this cow and calf moose. The cow was feeding out of a tiny pond, so small you can't see it in this image. The brush around the couple was so dense I was having a difficult time seeing them clearly. This certainly wasn't the idyllic, open, lily pond setting that we dream of when hoping to photograph a moose!

I had to do several minutes of stalking to maneuver myself into a position that gave a clearer picture of both animals, and placed the mother and the calf into a fairly close proximity, just in case a relationship was able to develop between them.

During all of this, a crowd had begun to gather from the road behind me. Most tourists are content to take their photos from the road (about 300 feet away) with their point and shoot cameras. A few, with TTL cameras and telephoto lenses, will capture larger and more recognizable images; however, most don't realize (or want to take the time or effort) that some stalking and a lot of patience and persistence is required to position yourself for the best shots -- no matter how long your lens is.

After about a half hour of stalking, re-positioning and waiting, the cow lifted her head, and stretched her neck in the direction of the calf. I was ready and finally rewarded with the shot I wanted.

Equipment and exposure details: This image was taken from about 150 feet away with the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM lens, zoomed to 280mm; exposure was set at F5.6 (aperture priority), and the camera set the shutter speed for 1/200th second; I set the exposure compensation at +1/3 and set my white balance at 6500 degrees Kelvin to compensate for a strong overcast on an early morning (7:30 am). I typically use a carbon fiber Bogen monopod with a ball head to steady my lens. With the monopod, I keep the IS (image stabilization) on, and shut it off when using a true tripod. I use my Canon EOS 5D Mark II more for landscape work, and my smaller, Canon EOS 40D for wildlife work. This is because the smaller image sensor on the 40D gives me a 1.6X magnification with my Canon telephoto lenses -- which means that my 10 megapixel 40D images are almost as large as a cropped image would be from my 21 megapixel 5D camera.

Stalking wildlife: The park service warns that extreme caution should be taken when approaching large animals like moose, elk and bison. GTNP's rule is to maintain a distance of at least 75 feet from these animals. You should never come between the mother and her young, and your approach should never cause them to change from their normal behavior. A few seconds after I took this shot, the calf laid down, and the cow continued her feeding. The "relationship" that I was trying to capture was now gone, so it was a good time to go meet my wife for breakfast!

You can also view my Flickr Photostream to see more of "My Vision."

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