Friday, January 28, 2011

Photo of the Day

We all have photographs that we wish we could have done a better job capturing them. Even though they are not technically great, we cherish them because they have a special meaning or significance to us. This is one of a series of photographs that fit this catagory for me.

Yellowstone wolves attacking a bull elk
In mid June of  2009, I was visiting Yellowstone National Park. As per my usual luck, the weather had been pretty gray and cloudy most of the precious few days I had to visit. Late one afternoon I was making my way toward the West gate when I saw something running across the vast meadow off to my right. Wildlife sightings in Yellowstone usually bring traffic to a standstill on the narrow two lane roads, and the scene that was unfolding cause a major traffic stoppage. Although they were extremely far away from the road, it was apparant that three wolves were in hot pursuit of a male elk.

I have watched countless televison specials, movies, and videos of scenes like this, but I had never witnessed one in person. There is no comparison. While watching and trying to photograph this I actually got goose bumps. The elk jumped into a small stream to help slow the wolves down and not allow them to attack him from the rear. The Black wolf who is running from a charge by the elk in this frame can clearly be observed wearing a tracking collar in other shots. He also appeared to be the dominant wolf and lead the numerous attacks on the bull elk.

Trying to photograph this with the equipment I had was a real challenge. I was shooting a Canon 50D, and the longest lens I had was a Canon 400mm f5.6 fixed focal length lens. A super sharp lens but at f5.6 not great in low light. With that lens on they were still to small in the viewfinder so I had to add a 1.4 extender to now give me 560mm of focal length. Sill not enough, but it was the best I could do. The issue was this canceled out the auto focus on the lens and pushed it to an f8 minimum apeture with no image stabilization. Afraid I would miss the action if I tried to dig out my tripod or monopod, I just braced against my vehicle and fired away. Trying to manually focus and track moving creatures at over 500mm is not easy.   At ISO 400 I was able to get 1/1000 second on some frames at f8. I ended  up with about 20 usable frames from this amazing event. I really wished I had a better body and much bigger lens, but you just have to do the best you can with the equipment you have. None of them are great, but I cherish them and this was the highlight of this trip to see something like this.

So now you want to know the rest of the story, right? Well the elk made several attempts to get out of the stream but was forced back in by the wolves. After standing long enough to catch his breath and gather up his resolve, The bull elk charged out of the stream and went on the attack and charged at the wolves. He really went after them hard and made them turn and run. They decided he was to much for them to handle and they allowed him to trot off. But no sooner did the elk leave and I saw the wolves zero in on a lone mother bison with a young calf off in the distance. I tried to track them to see what would happen but lost sight of them behind some trees. I knew without protection of a herd, they might be able to seperate the calf from it's mother. The cycle of life is often not very pretty to watch, but it is necessary.


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