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Yellowstone Journal – Final Entry

Posted on by Steve

(Part 3 of 3)

Click the photos for more info

Day 5 –

Needless to say, after yesterday’s adventure, the decision about where to go was simple.

I hopped into my truck and made my way towards the area where I’d seen the grizzly bears, checking out a couple of bald eagles at Swan Lake along the route.

I carefully checked all the areas where the bears were yesterday, but it was no use, they had moved on.

So, I decided to make my way towards the location of the coyote from the previous day when I came upon several stopped cars in the road. I studied the area, but at first whatever they were seeing alluded me. I drove up bit, quickly pulled over, and finally saw it – a sow grizzly and her cub!


I quickly pulled out my gear and began popping off the shutter in her direction. At this point she was right next to the road and it was tricky to keep a safe distance from her, especially with the gathering crowd. Fortunately, most people understood the need to give her a comfortable amount of space and it wasn’t long before a ranger showed up to, very politely, enforce the idea.


It was a solid half hour of shooting before she made her way into the woods. I decided to return to the truck and move on, but as I sat there with the motor running, it occurred to me where she might be going. So, I turned around and went to where I thought she might emerge.

Turns out it was a good decision :)

The sow and her cub eventually did pop back out (the crowd was still there of course). She quickly crossed the road and meandered into a fairly scenic area, creek and all.

There was a grumpy lone bison in the vicinity that seemed to be causing a great deal of concern for the sow. I’m not sure if the bison sensed this or not, but it wasn’t long before he started making his way towards the bear.

This action only served to exacerbate the anxiety in the bear and she started moving in a more urgent fashion. The bison inexplicably followed along; it seemed like he actually enjoyed harassing them (not a clue why he cared about the bear). Soon the sow burst into a run with the cub at her heels.

She made about 50 yards, slowed down and swung around to make sure the bison wasn’t in pursuit. The bison seemed content for the time being with the amount of torment he had inflicted – but he did continue a semi-purposeful walk in their general direction.

The sow wasn’t taking any chances, and she brought her cub back across the creek (affording an incredible shot or two of the crossing).


Once she made her way up the bank and back across the pavement, she actually stood up to check on the bison one more time. Most of the shot was blocked so I didn’t get a photo, but it was fantastic to see her popping up higher than the parked cars.

A few moments later she made her way into the trees and was gone for good.

By this time the weather had really started to get nasty and I believe it drove most of the rest of the animals into hiding. I put another 200 miles on that day, with absolutely zero photo ops.

Day 6 –

Short entry today. I attempted to get into the park, but it was closing due to the government shut down.

I went back to my hotel, checked out early and made my way to Custer State Park in South Dakota. I had planned to go there anyway in two days, so it wasn’t the end of the world. I just felt bad for all the travelers just arriving who were going to be shut out.

I was in time for some evening photography at Custer State Park, but couldn’t secure any photos.
Day 7 –

The photography today started out with my stumbling upon a fantastic group of pronghorn. The patriarch of the group was an exceptionally nice buck who, begrudgingly, accepted my presence after a time.


I spent nearly an hour watching that pronghorn buck chasing after the girls. He’d feed for a bit, one of his ladies would wander off, he’d approach, she’d run off, he’d pursue, and I would try my best to photograph the ensuing chase.

Much to my delight, each time he’d bring one of the stray girls back into the fold, another would start meandering off in the wrong direction, allowing more opportunities for photos. On the other hand, I felt bad for him in a way. I think it may have been easier to herd cats.

At any rate, they eventually wandered into an area thick with trees, so I made my way back to the truck.

It was already well past sunrise, but this morning featured high, semi transparent clouds, providing a soft, overcast light that was perfect for photography so I eagerly continued on.

Next it was a quick episode with a nice looking whitetail buck. Although I saw him several times on this trip, he would be the only buck I came across at Custer. Very odd.

From there I decided to check out the dirt road to Wind Cave NP. I was hoping for coyotes, but I ended up playing with some prairie dogs instead.

I’ve tried prairie dogs in the past, but I’ve never been completely happy with my results. I’ve never quite got “the” shot, if you know what I mean. This time I think I may have. I discovered a relatively friendly prairie dog who decided to do some posing by a rock located just outside his burrow.

peeking prairie dog600

Once he became accustom to my truck (if I stepped out, he would have been GONE), he began showing off with a series of curious poses. My shutter went off in a flurry with each new pose. As I left, the sun was beginning to show at full strength, so I decided to grab lunch and come back to the park later.

At lunch, I saw a photo of Sylvan Lake from the northern reaches of the park and I have to say I was intrigued. The man-made lake looked amazing and I decided to check it out.

I have to admit, when I first arrived at the lake I was taken aback – it was amazing! Immense boulders projected out of the water, creating striking little islands.

On the backside of the lake was a sheer wall of rock that, along with a small dam, served to hold back the water and formed the lake.

Although this had just been a scouting mission, I decided to take a chance on sunset and see what happened. I knew the clouds might block the sun and I knew the wind could wreak havoc on any reflections, but the prospect of pulling off an incredible shot was worth it.

As I was waiting, a mink bounced down from the vast field of rocks and boulders behind me. I didn’t have my long lens with me, but it was still a thrill to see him.

As night approached, I was coming to the inescapable conclusion that the sun was going to be hemmed in by a large bank of clouds that refused to go away. As the sun went down (according to my watch, I saw no hint of it), the wind picked up and I knew the day’s photography was over.

As I made my way back down the mountains, a great horned owl burst into the high beams of my headlights and floated along in the dark with me for about 100 yards! It was far too dim for a photo, but it was a great way to end the day.
Day 8 –

It was cloudy this morning and the animals seem few and far between. I checked out several areas, but the only thing I saw for the first couple hours was that same whitetail buck from yesterday – I still don’t feel like I captured a good photo of him.

A little later in the morning I was lucky enough to come across a really active group of pronghorn. There were several bucks and they were taking turns chasing the females – many times at full throttle!

It was all I could do to keep the camera on them as they got close. I can’t prove it, but I’m sure there were times they whizzed by at 60MPH. It was tricky to photograph them, so I hope I managed some good images.


This didn’t last too long though, and soon their racing led them off to other areas. I would have followed, but keeping up with a group of racing pronghorn on foot is an exercise in frustration. Thankfully, I was able to grab some images this morning, can’t wait to see them!

At this point, it seemed like a good time to head out, take a break, and grab some lunch. The small restaurant was empty save for myself and a few employees. I overheard them talking about the impending snow storm. This had been the talk of the town since my arrival, but I was starting to get worried. Initially, I was pretty excited, they were talking about 3-5 inches of snow. How cool would that be?

However, as the days went on, those numbers kept climbing. In fact, when I overheard them talking, I politely interrupted, “I’m sorry, how much snow did you say we’re going to get?”

“They’re talking somewhere between 18-24 inches! Lots of wind too, one forecast was calling for blizzard conditions.”

I finished my lunch and went back to the park. My wife was planning on flying out and joining me tomorrow, I hope the flight isn’t delayed.

I went back in search of more wildlife, but even the animals seemed to know something was up. I did manage a shot of a bison who was staring me down, but that was about it.


I made my way to Rapid City where my wife would join me tomorrow.

Day 9 – 12

This is my final entry for the trip. The forecasters were right, this has developed into a full-on blizzard. I’m trapped here in my hotel and the power is out. All the flights are cancelled, so it looks like my wife isn’t going to be joining me after all. Heck, I couldn’t get to the airport to pick her up if I wanted to. The power went out a couple hours ago and as I sit here in the silence, I can hear sirens going off in the distance.


I was looking out of the window a few minutes ago – it’s a total white out and the snow is horizontal. You can hear the wind trying to get in through the windows. If the power stays out, it’s going to get cold in here. Thankfully, I have all my heavy duty cold weather gear with me, I’d just need to get it out of the truck (which will be no small task).

It sounds cliche, but my power really is running low on my laptop, so I have to sign off now. I’ll post a wrap-up entry when this is all over.


OK, I’m back home and I want to finish this journal. Here’s what happened…

Thankfully, the power came back on several hours after that last entry – and luckily the hotel had plenty of food in their little restaurant. The roads were completely blocked for a couple days. In fact, my truck was parked in a nearby garage and I had to hike over several 6~7 foot drifts to just get to it. My time was spent working on this journal, watching TV, and strolling around the hotel.


My wife’s flight was cancelled and she never did make it out. Just as well, I’m sure it would be a few more days before we could even think about getting back into the park and by that time it would have been time to leave.

Although the government shutdown and the blizzard conspired to try to ruin the trip, overall I still think it was one of my most successful wildlife trips. I’m excited about all the images I captured and I plan to try it again in the future.

Thanks for following along with my journal.


PS – And remember, if you’d like to improve your own wildlife photography, be sure to check out my e-book, Secrets To Stunning Wildlife Photography. Hundreds of pages chock full of everything you need to know to take images like you’ve seen from this trip and throughout this site. Click here for more info.

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Yellowstone Trip Journal Day 3 & 4

Posted on by Steve

(part 2 of 3)

(Note – click any photo below for more info)

Day 3 –

After yesterday’s success, I couldn’t resist tracing the same route today. So, just before the sun made its way to the horizon, I found myself in my truck and heading towards the park entrance with visions of Lamar Valley (and a filled memory card) dancing in my head.

Mammoth Hot Springs was just a minute away when I spotted my first group of elk. I’m guessing it was the same group as yesterday, but this time they were situated on a large hill. I decided it might get interesting so I pulled the truck over, slung the camera and tripod over my shoulder, and started out.

Sure enough, before long the bull was striking all kinds of epic poses at the top of that ridge – I was wondering if I missed a tip jar somewhere – the performance was so good! I like to think I have a few good images of that scene recorded on my memory card. It was certainly something to witness, just too bad yesterday’s snow had melted.


It wasn’t long before a couple of stray cows wandered off in the wrong direction and our hero was out of sight in an attempt to bring them back into the fold. His encouraging bugles echoed off the cliffs and mountains, but when he returned he was empty handed. In his absence another, although significantly smaller, bull had entered the picture.

This smaller fellow needed a few years to become any kind of match for the dominant bull. In a matter of moments he was driven away by the sheer presence of the larger male, much to the chagrin of all the hopeful photographers poised to capture a skirmish.

The party soon disappeared over the far ridge and I was off again in search of other opportunities.

In just a few short miles I came across a really nice mule deer buck I had noticed on my way back the night before. He was with a small group of does and hanging out in a group of trees near the Lava Creek Picnic Area.

I know a lot of photographers would pass this by, but if there’s one thing Yellowstone has taught me over the years is that when there’s a good opportunity – even for a common animal – take it and run.

So, I made my way to the buck, but it was an exercise in frustration. At every turn he managed to keep some sort of debris – in the form of branches, twigs, and brush – between his head and the front element of my lens. It happens, and I usually just wait it out. Eventually he’ll be in a position where I can get a shot.

In the meantime my efforts had attracted the interest of another photographer who joined in the hunt. Not a big deal at first, but then the buck decided it was time to lay down and take a break. Shortly, the other photographer and I were nearly opposite each other and neither one of us had a shot. This buck seemed to have a penchant for finding locations that kept branches between him and any nosey cameras.

I decided to toss in the towel at this point and follow the creek back to where I parked. I soon discovered it was far too marshy to get back that way and was forced to turn around.

And that’s when I heard the busy chattering of a pair of red squirrels. They were in a fairly heated dispute over a large tree that had fallen across the creek. Since I never let a good opportunity pass, and I happen to really like red squirrels, I decided to try my luck.

In a matter of minutes the dispute was over and the trespasser was driven off, although he did seem to have a lot of strong opinions about the situation – but only from a safe distance.

The owner of the fallen tree however was relatively fearless and allowed me a fairly close approach. I maneuvered around and ended up spending quite a bit of time with the little guy as he slowly gorged himself at different locations along the trunk.

King Of The Log-600

After I had my fill of squirrel photos, I decided to head back to the buck. Sure enough, he was still settled in. Since I was the only one there now, I decided to hang around and before too long he and his group were up and moving about again.

After quite a bit of feeding he went out towards the road, again attracting some other photographers in the process. He and his little group finally crossed over the pavement and, although they were well on the other side, there’s always the idiot who feels the need to blow their horn.

They went running.

I thought I’d lost them but fortunately they only went over the next rise. I soon caught up to them and spent a little more time photographing their activities. It’s always nice when an animal – or group of animals – gets used to your presence and allows you to “hang out” for awhile.

After the buck and I had exhausted all the photographic possibilities (sadly, I never did get a shot I really liked), I grabbed some lunch. The bright overcast seemed made for photography so I ventured back out. Unfortunately, the afternoon was fairly unproductive. I did come across the black bear again, but he was next to the Lamar River in a valley under a bridge. I passed this one by since I wasn’t interested in a shot of the top of a bear. Besides, there were at least 200 other people getting that shot already.

As I drove on, I couldn’t help but think I’d really love a good opportunity with a bear. Something showcasing him (or her) in a good environment, with a good background, and close enough for a good image. For three days now I’ve seen bear, but have completely struck out with photos.

It wasn’t until the last hour before sunset that I had a little action. I spotted a nice golden eagle across the Lamar River with a fresh catch. I managed some video but not anything spectacular in the photo department – he was just too far away.

On my way back I did stop for a couple of minutes to watch some pronghorn, but the day was coming to an end and with it the light.

Day 4 –

It’s time for a change.

Although I’m happy with the images I’ve captured thus far, I decided it was time to investigate another area of the park. I made my way south from Mammoth towards the Old Faithful area.

Seemed like a good plan, only I never made it.

About 10 miles into the journey, I spotted a large grayish-brown animal out in a field behind a thicket of trees. I was uncertain what I just saw – could be anything – so it seemed prudent to bring the truck around and make a better identification. As I pull around to investigate, I quickly realized I just spotted a nice male grizzly!

In a matter of moments I’m gathering my equipment, and just then another wildlife photographer excitedly slides his van into the pull off. He asks, “Whatcha got”?

“A griz!”

That’s all it took. We decided to join forces and work the bear together.

He was meandering in our direction, so it was a fairly simple task to intercept and remain parallel to him. We both had 600mm lenses and teleconverters strapped to our cameras, so we were able to maintain a good safety margin.

Well, as safe a margin as you can manage when dealing with a 700 pound grizzly!

For the next hour and a half we enjoyed unrestricted photography of this magnificent animal. Amazingly, we were also the only photographers on the scene. The tree line dividing the road from the field afforded enough cover to keep the bear – and our activities – concealed from passers by. Without it, a circus of tourists, cars, buses, and camera phones would have certainly ensued.


Of course, the bear wasn’t doing anything particularly exciting, just wandering through the meadow foraging. In fact, his face was down 98% of the time. Still, it was an unforgettable experience!

Finally, the bear took a turn and headed away and we made our way back to the cars. As we were chatting, a truck pulled up going the opposite direction. He must have noticed our gear and was kind enough to stop and inform us that there was another bear just down the road.

We decided if one bear was good, two must be even better.

We made our way to the next bear. This fellow was considerably smaller than the first, but a griz is still a griz. I suspected it was probably his first year on his own.

This time, it was a circus. Cameras fired feverishly each time he lifted his head and looked around. Every time he moved, you had to jockey for position with all the other photographers. Still, it was Yellowstone and this is par for the course sometimes.

This bear didn’t linger for too long, in less than a half an hour he had crossed the road and disappeared into the pine trees.

As photographers are apt to do, we ended up chatting with another photographer. Fortunately, we chatted just long enough for the bear to reemerge from the trees. Or at least that’s what appeared to be happening from our position down the hill on the road.

We quickly made our way back up to see if he had returned and sure enough, there he was. Time for some more photography!

eye to eye with a griz-600

Again, we kept our distance and ended up shooting for another hour or more. Time certainly does fly when you have a griz in your viewfinder!

This time he drew an even larger crowd than before. Shutters were ablaze each time he looked around. It was an amazing experience.

Finally, he found his way into a thermal area and away from the road, so we decided to grab some lunch (hiking through thermal areas is dangerous and prohibited, so no way to follow). At lunch my new friend (Tom) mentioned an interesting landscape location on the Gibbon River and offered to take me to it. I eagerly accepted and we were off again.

We hadn’t made it more than a few miles when I spotted a coyote hunting in a field. We stopped and I have to tell you, this performance put on by this beautiful ‘yote would put any broadway act to shame.

You see, he was a pouncer.

Each time he located a ground squirrel or mouse, he would stay back and wait for the perfect moment. When that time finally arrived he would leap into the air and pounce like a cat. With a high degree of success I might add.




He gave us several opportunities for photos and I’m happy to say I was able to capitalize on them. A coyote leaping has been one of the “trophy” images I always have wanted to capture, so I was pretty excited about this one. In fact, I think I was happier with the coyote than either of the bear I had photographed earlier!

Before long we sensed he’d had enough of us so we made our way back to the cars and he made his way deeper into the fields.

Tom took me to the spot on the river he mentioned earlier, but I never did have a chance to photograph it the way I wanted. It’s always good to have a reason to come back I suppose.

Tom and I parted ways about 4:00 and I worked on finding another image, but came up dry. Didn’t bother me one bit, this was, by far, my best day so far and arguably the best of the entire trip.

Are YOU ready to start getting some of your own wildlife photos? Check out my new e-book, Secrets To Stunning Wildlife Photography! It’s 290 pages of my best photography advice for wildlife photographers – click here and check it out!

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Yellowstone Trip Journal – Day 1 & 2

Posted on by Steve


OK, so I was searching for something on my computer the other day and came across my trip journal from my fall 2013 Yellowstone trip! I had completely forgotten that I had written this, so I’ve decided to place it here on the blog. So, with the idea that it’s better late than never, here’s my trip journal :)

(Part 1 of 3)


Welcome to my Yellowstone and Custer State Park trip blog! This is the first week of October 2013 and I’m sitting in my hotel with the power out during a blizzard listening to emergency sirens. So, instead of sitting here watching the the town get buried in snow, I thought I’d put together this trip journal  (more on the blizzard in a few posts). Hopefully my laptop power will hold out…

For the sake of everyone’s sanity, I’m going to spare you the initial days of traveling 1700 miles and call the first day in Yellowstone “Day 1″ below. If you feel as though I’m cheating you out of those days of dreary driving, head out to your car and just sit there for 8 hours, imagining corn fields and grasslands rolling by. Do that 3x and you’ll get the idea :)

Day 1

I arrived at the North Entrance of Yellowstone National Park around 10:00AM this morning. In just two hours time I had managed to spot elk, bison, a grizzly, and a few pronghorn. Yeah, I think this is going to be a productive trip!

I had my standard fare for lunch while out patrolling the park – a PBJ, chips, and some apple sauce. Note to self: One of these days I need to find something else to have for lunch when I’m away from civilization…

After lunch I decided to hang out by the grizzly I mentioned a few moments ago. He was a tattered, beat up old bruin situated on top of a mule deer carcass. He seemed to have a regular pattern of sleeping, eating, and aimlessly wandering the immediate area around the carcass before starting the entire 45 minute routine over again. By far the sleeping took priority, occupying 95% of his time. I tell ya though, if a griz could smile, this guy would have been – from ear to ear.

I actually had my camera out, but the conditions were about as far from ideal as they could get. He was too far away, he was down in a valley, I had sharpness killing heat waves rising from the ground, and it was – by far – the worst possible time of day for photography. The light was terrible.

Despite all those factors, there were literally a hundred lenses pointed his way at any one time. Many of these people were really camped out too – lawn chairs, coolers, the whole bit.

For my own part, I quickly snapped off a couple shots to prove I saw him and left searching for greener pastures. Between the horrible conditions and the crazy crowd it just wasn’t for me.

With the mid-day light casting dark shadows and hot highlights, I decided to give up on photography for the time being and do a little scouting. I checked out some areas around Mammoth Hot Springs as well as a nice aspen grove that hadn’t quite reached peak color yet. I made a mental note to check back in a few days.

With my photographic possibilities dwindling, I decided maybe it was time to drop down to Gardiner and check into my hotel.

Shortly after getting settled in, it was back to the park for an early dinner at the little “fast food” place they have there. Surprisingly good chicken sandwich, just FYI.

From Mammoth, it was off towards Lamar Valley. Within minutes my windshield was splattered with wet, sloppy snowflakes! Love it! A few minutes later I ran across a group of bison along the road. A good shot of a snow-covered bison has been on my hit list a long time, so this was shaping up to be a great opportunity.

Well, almost…

Despite my best efforts, I just couldn’t seem to pull this off. I wanted a nice clean shot of a single bull, but each time I thought I had a chance, another bison would wander into the frame. They seemed to have a penchant for getting their rear ends in exactly the wrong location.

Some of this could have been mitigated if I would have been able to get out of my car and maneuver around with the camera. However, any thought of jumping out was quickly dismissed when an aggressive 1500 ~ 2000 lb bull decided to get all rowdy directly behind my tailgate with one of his friends. That’s what you call a “No way” with a big heaping side of “Not on your life” situation!

The bison soon moved on and, having a bit of time and light left, I decided to try my luck with the griz again, hoping he had changed locations.

I arrived to the circus of cars and spectators, but the ‘ol griz was still napping on his prized deer carcass; still too far away and still too far downhill. By this time the light was fading so I watched him a bit longer and called it a day.

Although the morning started out with the promise of a memory card packed full of amazing images, I went away hungry this time.

Day 2 –

I woke up well before my alarm went off, filled with a new determination – I was just itchin’ to capture some killer images today! For me, there’s nothing like a bad day of photography to entice me to do a better job the next day.

It was all I could do to wait around in that hotel room for it to get bright enough to start shooting. Since wildlife can be spotted just about anywhere – even before you get into the park – I didn’t want to leave until I had enough light to at least see my quarry. I’d hate to drive by something incredible in the dark. To make the anticipation even worse, it had snowed the night before, leaving a frosting of white on everything. This was a photographer’s DREAM!

Finally, sunrise approached and my wait was over.

As I drove along, I was obsessed with the thought of how amazing it would be to find something, really anything, in this snow right now.

Turns out I didn’t have to wait too long.

I was only about a mile into the park when I encountered a large herd of elk in an area known as the “Chinese Gardens”. It’s a river peninsula of sorts that, this time of year, is overflowing with lush yellow vegetation – normally plenty of reason to stop and photograph any animal that wanders into it, but with the added snowfall, it was nothing short of amazing. I couldn’t have come up with a better backdrop if I’d worked the idea over in my mind for a month!

It didn’t take long and I was venturing out with the camera waiting for the sun to brighten things up a bit. There was an incredible bull at the head of this harem, referred to by the locals as “Touchdown” due to his upright-looking antlers. At least I think this was Touchdown. Either way, I wouldn’t want to be the linebacker charged with keeping this guy from the end-zone!


In any event, I spent the next two hours with this group, easily filling up my 16GB memory card and I was starting to dig into the next before it was all over. I was really happy with the images and I’m hopeful that these might be my best elk photos to date.


It looked like it was going to stay overcast so I decided to head to Lamar Valley. First though, I wanted to check on that old grizzly and see if he was still on his carcass.

When I arrived at the area where he was the previous day, I have to admit I was more than a little surprised he was gone. I think everyone believed he would stay and feast on that carcass over the course of several days. Turns out yesterday was the only time I’d see him. Judging by the amount of traffic in the area, I’d say I wasn’t the only one confounded by his absence. Very odd to be sure.

Still, there was a fresh coat of snow on the ground, the sky was a bright overcast bathing everything in a soft, luxurious light. I made my way to and through Lamar Valley for the first time on this trip, but to no avail. There just weren’t any critters to be had.

My grumbling stomach reminded me it was lunch time, so I made a quick stop at Cooke City and enjoyed a burger at their little bistro. Time to drive back and see if anything had changed in the valley.

A few minutes past the mountains and back into the valley I spotted a pair of pronghorn near the road (sadly, the snow had melted). They were just lounging around and it seemed like a good opportunity to stop and take a few portraits. I didn’t have anything else going on at that point, and besides, the middle of the day is kind of slow for animal action anyway.

As is typical, when I’m close to the road with my big lens strapped to my camera and tripod, it causes traffic to stop and investigate. People who would otherwise pass by these two resting pronghorns seemed to think that maybe they deserve a second look. After all, the guy with the big lens seems interested…

As a small crowd closed in, the female became agitated and stood up, with the male quickly following. Then she decided to run – more from his attention than the crowd I think. In an instant the male was after her and what started out as a portrait session quickly became a huge photo op. They chased each other around in circles and each time they’d get close enough to the camera I’d snap away furiously. They are second only to the cheetah for the title of fastest land animal and I’m confident these two were reaching 40 MPH + on occasion (they can get up to 55~60 for a short distance).



Once all the running was over, they sat back down in the exact same place they were when everything started! Another half hour passed and this repeated itself. And then again.

It only came to an end when another buck caught sight of these little chases and wandered over. I was hopeful for a skirmish between the two, but sadly it didn’t happen. The next time the female took off she went in a straight line and that was the last I saw of those three.

I had just started my trip back to Mammoth when I encountered a black bear. Never one to pass up a good bear opportunity, I stopped and decided to try my luck. Unfortunately, I just wasn’t able to capitalize this time. I managed a few photos, but nothing I’m very proud of. I really want a good bear photo on this trip and I’ve already seen a few – just can’t seem to get everything to come together. (Little did I know what would happen in the days to come.)

There was a really funny moment during this encounter though :)

The bear had wandered down a bit from where I was shooting and was making his way along the bottom of a ditch next to the road. I didn’t like where the bear was (he was near a utility box of some sort) so I wasn’t in a spot where I could get a good photo. As he made his way down the length of the ditch, he was invisible from the road or anywhere above it. However, you could hear him milling around – and this noise did not go unnoticed by a group of mule deer at the base of a hill across the road from where he was foraging.

One of the deer became curious about the commotion and slowly moved across the blacktop to investigate what was going on in the ditch.

She carefully, slowly eased her way across the road, stretching her head as far as she could to see what was causing all the racket. As she inched closer and strained her neck to see, the bear must have heard her as well. He decided to stand up to see what the noise was.

With a great snort of surprise the deer almost toppled over trying to run away. Her hooves slipped on the road and she very nearly wiped out getting back up the hill.

Simultaneously, this entire event surprised the bear and he took off running in the opposite direction at full throttle. Funniest thing I’d seen in a long, long time.

Before long the bear was gone and the crowd dispersed. I made my way back towards Mammoth and decided to grab an early dinner.

Since the route to Lamar and back had treated me so well, I decided to give it another go in the evening. However, as it turns out I had met my quota of great wildlife and photography for the day and came up empty this evening. Still, it was far better than the day before and I had quite a few nice images on the memory cards.

For more info on the images above, click ’em!

Note – Are you ready to get out there and start taking some wildlife photos of your own? Check out my e-book, Secrets To Stunning Wildlife Photography for everything you need to know! Click here for info.

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Do You Like Nature, Really?

Posted on by Steve

I received an interesting e-mail the other day and it really got me thinking – so much so I decided it would make a good blog post.

Here’s the e-mail:

Hi Steve, I just read your bio page. I enjoy nature too, probably because I’m NOT a photographer.


I find people who are fond of clicking shots usually do not seem to take time to enjoy the scenery. Whenever they find anything captivating that includes nature, their immediate response is to take a shot, and then immediately look for another. 

So, do you enjoy nature, really, or are you too busy photographing it?

I’ll admit, when I first read that I was a bit taken aback, “Of course I love nature! How dare you!”

After that brief indignation, I started turning it over in my head. Soon, I realized where that line of thinking originates.

Although many of my images are created in desolated, lonely areas without a soul in sight, that’s not always the case. I also have a fair number of photographs where mine is far from the only tripod on the scene.

At those times, it’s perfectly clear that, at least for some people, enjoying nature is taking a solid backseat to recklessly bagging shot after shot until their memory cards are overflowing. I watch as people rush around knocking off shots of everything they see, like a photographic bull in a china shop. It’s like a desperate attempt to capture everything in sight with no real thought or vision involved. It certainly seems like they are more interested in photographically assaulting the scene rather than really enjoying the beauty in front of them.


I remember one time I was out in Yellowstone enjoying a pack of wolves through a pair of binoculars. They were at a distance and the possibility of a photo was about as likely as a teenager giving up his cell phone for a week. Just then a van pulled up with a couple photographers I had met a few days earlier.

They hurriedly rolled down their window and shouted, “Hey, whatcha got there?”

“Some wolves off in the distance. Too far to photograph, but still cool to see,” I invited.

I’ll never forget their response:

“Meh, what’s the point then?”

The window rolled up and they sped off down the road.

I’m pretty sure they were the people my e-mail friend was referring to.

After some thought, I replied to the e-mail and my response went something like this. I wonder how many photographers feel the same way…

Hi K.

Actually, I really do enjoy nature.

Most people are surprised to learn I actually spend much more time in the outdoors without a camera than with one. There are countless mornings I’m out hiking, exploring, cycling, or jogging – all completely without a camera. I’ve also been known to just sit at the edge of a meadow with binoculars and watch a distant coyote or herd of elk.


See, a long time ago I actually thought that when it came to nature photography, it was actually the photography part that I enjoyed most. So, I started shooting portraits, weddings, teams, you name it. Anything to get out with the camera and trip that shutter release.

However, over time I discovered those sessions were hollow and meaningless for me. So much so that I “retired” from that type of photography, but not before becoming completely burnt out from it.

In fact, I didn’t pick up a camera for several years.

I did, however, spend plenty of time enjoying the outdoors.

Then, one time in Las Vegas, my wife and I were exploring one of the local parks when I grabbed her point and shoot and started popping off photos again.


That’s when it really “clicked,” if you’ll pardon the pun. It wasn’t the photography I enjoyed, it was getting outdoors and sharing those experiences with others. Photography happens to be the perfect means to that particular end. So, although I enjoy the gear, that’s not the reason I do it. If it were, I would have been thrilled to photograph anything and everything – and would no doubt still be doing just that.

All that said, I don’t know that enjoying photography and nature are mutually exclusive, even if you are doing both at the same time. When you are engaged with outdoor photography in a measured, thoughtful way, you are tuning into the finest details and often observe things that other folks miss. I always pick up on elements that I overlooked before I pulled out the camera and started experimenting with compositions. In many ways, I think photography enhances the experience.

And it doesn’t just apply to landscape photography either. It’s no secret I enjoy wildlife photography as much as landscapes, particularly when I “connect” with an animal as I shoot. It’s always a thrill when an animal gets curious and approaches YOU instead of the other way around. I know for a fact photography keeps me engaged with the animal much longer than I normally would be without the camera.


Of course, I’m not in a race to get as many images as I can snap either. For me, it’s not about bagging a card full of shots, it’s more about getting a special shot every day or two. (Heck, for landscapes, if I get a keeper a few times a week I’m happy.)

It’s funny, I know when I’m shooting landscapes I tend to get my best images when I arrive at a location and just take it all in. In fact, I frequently annoy the heck out of other photographers who shoot with me – I often won’t pull my camera out for the first 30 minutes as I walk around and take in the scene. I think only by buddy Jim can tolerate my shenanigans, but he tends to come from the same perspective as I do. It’s more about enjoying the subject than the resulting photo.

I know this sounds a bit hokey, but in the end, I think it’s only when you really connect with your subject – landscape or wildlife –  that you can create a good photo of it.

So yes, I really do enjoy nature, how about you? Comments are welcome below :)

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Posted in Taking Photos | 44 Comments

2013 NWF Photo Contest Winner – Landscapes!

Posted on by Steve

Hey everyone!

I know I’ve been a bit quiet lately, bit I wanted to share some pretty sweet news with you! My photo, Stormy Sunrise At Eagle Harbor Lighthouse won 1st place in The National Wildlife Federation’s 2013 Photo Contest!

There were a total of 32,000 entries across 8 categories – so to have my image selected is one of the biggest honors I’ve ever received as a nature photographer

Here’s a shot of the image on their home page (it’s still there as of 11-20-2013)



And on the winners page:



And a shot taken from the magazine (my picture of the picture isn’t too hot, but you get the idea)


Actually getting this photo was pretty intense, see the back story here:


Also, I just wanted to say thank you everyone for your support with this website and my photos. Thanks so much for stopping by!


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Posted in Announcements, Awards | 13 Comments

Share The Experience Winner!

Posted on by Steve

Hey everyone!

I’m really excited! My photo, Storm Warning, from Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore was chosen as one of the 10 winners from the 2012 Share The Experience Photo Contest!

Now, I don’t generally go blogging every time one of my photos wins an award, however, this one was pretty cool. Out of 16,000 photos, only 10 were chosen as winners! So, I’m pretty excited that mine was included – what an honor!

Check it out:



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Just Published In Digital Photo!

Posted on by Steve

Hey there!

Just had to let everyone know – my photo, Eye To Eye With A Frog, was just published in Digital Photo Magazine. It’s the bestselling photo magazine in the UK, so I’m pretty excited about it!

Here’s an iPhone snap:

If you  get a chance, check out the January issue! Here’s the photo on the site if you’d like to hear the story behind it:


Oh, and check it out, this little gal made the cut too:



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2012 Polar Bear Trip Day 6 & 7

Posted on by Steve

Well, here we are, day 6 – we leave after lunch for Winnipeg.

But, you know, a half-day in Churchill can still be pretty cool!

We start our day with breakfast and head out to the shuttle. Sure, it’s no Polar Rover, but we’re going to drive around and try to catch a glimpse (or photo) of a fox – and who knows, maybe we’ll see a bear too!

Couple of cool signs you just don’t see anywhere else…

Love this sign:

And this one:

We drive to Cape Merry, rolling slowly along searching for any leftover Polar Bears or maybe a fox. No luck, but our shuttle driver is full of engaging historical information and makes the drive interesting.

We pull up to the little park at Cape Merry and are treated to a brief history lesson by one of the guides. From there, it’s back to searching for fox and bear – no luck so far.

We drop by the Churchill visitor center for a quick break and to stretch our legs. Lots of great history up there!

Next, we jump back into the shuttle and soon get word of a couple bears nearby via the radio. We zip over to the location and sure enough, we find one meandering along the coast.

There’s another van nearby and we’re all trying to snap photos as he wanders along. He stops to investigate some old buildings, then heads our way to investigate a backhoe that was left from the summer. He even stands on his hind legs at one point as he sniffs around – these bears are amazingly inquisitive.

Oh, and yes, there ARE people in the van during the part of the video when he’s only inches from the door!

I tried some shots but the temperature differential between the frigid outside air and the warm shuttle causes too many heat waves and I just can’t get a sharp image – oh well. Was still cool to have one last bear for final day.

We stopped by the Polar Bear jail too – it’s where they put the problem bears before they transport them out of the area. They tranquilize them, put ’em in jail for a few days or weeks (depends on the circumstances), then fly ’em 20+ miles up the coast. An experience they DON’T want to repeat!

Polar Bear Jail:

A trap for problem bears and annoying kids:

From there, it was off to lunch then to the airport. Sadly, our adventure was quickly coming to an end – seems like we just got started.

We had one final get-together with the group for some dinner. We said our farewells and it was off to bed, still dreaming of Polar Bears.

Day 7 was simply flying back home.


This was a fantastic trip. It certainly wasn’t my “normal” photo trip experience – not used to doing all the “tourist” stuff, but it was a nice change from my typical shoot – scout – shoot routine.

Grant had a fantastic time as well – he says it’s his favorite trip ever and I think I have to agree. I have a feeling this isn’t our last trip to the arctic. So much more to see, so much more to photograph.

I hope you enjoyed our little journey :)

Also, we’d love your feedback, so feel free to comment below.

~Steve & Grant


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2012 Polar Bear Trip Day 5

Posted on by Steve

Wind & Snow.

That’s all we saw when we glanced out of our hotel room this morning. It’s blowing like crazy today, dropping the windchill to -40! Youch! It’s cold for sure, but hey those Polar Bears aren’t going to photograph themselves, so off we go!

I gotta say, the normally uneventful shuttle bus ride to the Polar Rover was much more interesting this morning. At times visibility was better measured in inches than feet. How the driver kept the shuttle bus on the road is a testament to the winter driving ability of the Churchill folks.

Upon our safe arrival, we make the quick transition from the shuttle to the Polar Rover – it was only 20 yards, but the wind and snow were so intense you had to go on feel as much as sight. My pants were coated in snow a matter of seconds – wow! – (Check out the video to really get a feel for how crazy the weather was)

The bad thing with wind at this level of ferocity is that the bears don’t like it anymore than we do and tend to bed down and allow themselves to become “drifted over” for protection.

Yeah, makes it hard to get a shot!

As the wind howled outside the rover, we drove across the tundra in total awe – it was really something to see. Waves of snow would pass over the ice and blow off the tops of drifts. The forecast promised it would die down by late morning / early afternoon –  and they nailed it.

However, we hadn’t seen a bear yet. Had they all gone to the ice? It was a distinct possibility. Once the ice is supports their weight, they can literally be gone overnight – and in fact the VAST majority had already left. The few we’d seen over the last few days were merely stragglers.

As we patrolled the coast, hopeful for just one more bear, we spotted some of the other Polar Rovers and Tundra Buggys off in the distance. As we pulled up, we couldn’t tell what they were looking at – until a big ‘ole bear popped his head up!

Our driver positioned us as best he could – pretty much every rover and buggy on the tundra had congregated for this one lone bear. However, his positioning couldn’t have been better.

It wasn’t long before the bear stood up and walked off – and what had been a poor spot five minutes ago became the best place on the tundra! As he passed behind the vehicles, backlit by the sun, I snapped off some of (what I think are) the best photos of the trip.


As he wandered off then out towards the ice, we made our way back to Polar Rover HQ – ahh, but the fun wasn’t over just yet.

On a straight stretch of trail Ward (our driver) stopped the Polar Rover and word was passed back that he needed Grant up front. You can imagine my 11 year old son’s surprise when Ward let him sit in the drivers seat!

“You wanna drive?” Ward asked Grant.


So after a quick lesson Grant was driving the Polar Rover down the trail with everyone in the vehicle cheering him on! See the video for the full adventure.

Soon, Ward was back in control and we were back at our shuttle bus.

That evening was a fantastic dinner and prevention from our guide Colby. Our last day on the tundra was over, but we still had some time tomorrow morning. Stay tuned – still some cool stuff left!

You GOTTA see this video – it’s the best of the trip!




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2012 Polar Bear Trip Day 4

Posted on by Steve

Breakfast this morning was all abuzz with the previous day’s adventure of Polar Bears and Auroras. Needless to say, we were all pretty pumped to see what today was going to bring.

We made our way to the Polar Rovers and it was off across the tundra again. Today would bring us to the coast – about a two hour ride.

During the long rides, our guide Colby would use the time to give us engaging lessons about everything from bears, to frogs, to spruce trees. One common theme – life in the arctic is crazy harsh and it’s really amazing how anything – plant or animal – can survive.

Upon arriving at the coast we spotted a bear waaaaayyyyy out on the ice – a total no-go for photos, but hey, still cool to see ’em. It wasn’t long before we spotted another – again far enough away to make it a struggle to spot him even with binoculars.

However, the next bear was a little more cooperative and hadn’t ventured out on the ice just yet. We moved position to intercept him as he traveled along the coast – and he decided to walk to the rover and take a nap! We ate lunch with a Polar Bear bout 20 yards from the window! Very cool! (see the vid)

Then things started to get interesting!

It started with a mother and cubs strolling along the coastline – they never got overly close (the mothers are understandably cautious), but I did manage a “wildlife in the landscape” style photo:

About the time these guys were getting out of sight, a large female came walking up the coast – right towards our rover! Our driver, Ward (great guy), backed us in for a better position and  – and the bear promptly plopped down! For the next 30 – 45 minutes we were treated to this girl’s antics. I love the way she was laying down with her paws crossed!

Make sure you check out the video below for more action!

All too soon our time was up and the light was starting to fade. We made our way back to the “dock” for the Polar Rovers and then off to dinner.

Our evening presentation was from an Inuit couple, Mary and Peter. We sat in a large tepee like hut, and although the outside temp was single digit frigid, it was comfortable inside – and warm enough we didn’t need gloves. And no, there wasn’t a fire! It was amazing to hear how the native people used to live, especially considering all they had were caribou hides for warmth. I knew how cold it was even with all my high tech gear, it must have been rough. They were an ingenious, tough group of people to be sure.

From there, off to bed. Make sure you check out Grant’s video for the day (comments always appreciated and welcome)

~ Steve

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