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!

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