How I Got This Shot – Herd on the Run

I often look at photos and wonder how the photographer got the shot. I was surprised and flattered to learn that some people think the same when they look at my work. It’s always lovely to have that level of interest in something you’ve created. And so, a new photography blog series has been born. I hope you enjoy it!

Motion in shots with wildlife always catch my eye. Portraits are striking and wonderful but the animals I watch are rarely still. I want to capture them in action and bring them to life for my audience.

We were in Yellowstone National Park in 2011. It was our final morning of ten days spent exploring this incredible place and as a photographer with a passion for large predator conservation, I had convinced my other half to spend yet another morning in Lamar Valley, one of the best places to see wolves in the park. As we were driving towards the point where wolves had last been spotted, we noticed a large herd of bison in the grassland below the road. Hundreds of them.

Suddenly they started to run. These humongous animals can weigh over two tonnes and run up to 40 MPH (granted females tend to be smaller and closer to the one tonne mark but still… they’re huge!).  Watching a herd of them run was pretty amazing and the animal behaviourist in me was instantly curious about the cause. What suddenly made these animals take off after seemingly quite happily grazing? Bison can be unpredictable and charge with little or no warning but something had appeared to startle the whole herd.

I scanned the brown beasts looking for a clue and then I spotted it. A smaller brown beast at the edge of the herd. One of these was not like the others. A young grizzly bear had lumbered his way into the herd and made a halfhearted attempt at a chase. He was no match for them and quickly lost interest before I could get a close enough shot of him.

The herd continued to run for a few more moments which gave me the chance to experiment with one of my favourite techniques: panning. With my other half driving to keep pace with the bison, I set the shutter speed to 1/25 and focused on one of the animals. The slow shutter speed combined with our movement resulted in the shot below:

Herd on the Run

Herd on the Run: Taken with a Canon EOS 7D & EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM lens. f/4.5, 1/25, ISO 100, focal length 105mm.

I also tried some more traditional panning shots where I tracked the bison as they ran from a stationary base (in this case, we’d stopped the car) and quickly found this was more effective for individual animals. You’ll need to keep an eye on the blog to see how those shots turned out!

Little Owls

The other day I wrote about my trip to see European Bee-Eaters in Spain. That visit took up my morning. I returned the same evening to capture shots of an animal that has been on my wildlife wishlist for years.

Little Owls.

Like most owls, these beautiful little birds tend to hunt at dusk and dawn. While this is a brilliant time to see them in action, it’s not the easiest time to photograph them. Luckily they are one of the few owl species who are also regularly active during the day. My time in the tiny little hide near their nest site was in the evening golden hour, an hour or so before sunset.  The light was amazing in late May. It was the perfect set up.

I did have one issue though. I was still sneezing. Owls have incredible hearing. My sneezes would not only scare the birds away but possibly make them wary of the the hide itself which would mean years of work spent gaining their trust would be ruined. Now was not the time for hayfever.

Thankfully, after clambering into the hide, it became clear it was so well covered there was very little issue with pollen. All I had to do was wait.  And sit very, very still.

It paid off.

A small owl sits on a wooden tree stump looking over it's shoulder. The background is light green.

Little Owl (Athene noctua)

I was lucky to have about an hour with the male little owl who was nesting nearby. He flew in a number of times and I managed to get a few different shots. There was little planning that I could do for this one. Once I was in the hide I couldn’t move or I’d scare him away for the day. All shots had to be taken from where I was. Other than my initial set up with the branches and tree rootballs, all my shots depended on where he landed.

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Little Owl in Golden Light

2016-05-22-001-JoFoo-Wildlife-Photography-Birds-European-Little-Owl-Spain WR

Little Owl

It took me a while to get my eye in. I had to watch for a while to learn the direction he would fly in from and figure out what his preferred landing spots were. There are a lot blurred shots in my recycle bin!  Once I understood his behaviour and patterns, I managed to get a few images in focus.

A small owl standing on a tree root ball.

Watching Little Owl

I’ve seen captive Little Owls before and even held one. But nothing compares to sitting with them in the wild and being part of their world, even just for a couple of hours. Wildlife photography is always a privilege and will never stop making me happy.

Little Owl Looking for Dinner

Little Owl Looking for Dinner