BEHIND THE IMAGE: MOOSE AT SUNRISE
Moose at Sunrise - Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada, FILE# 0607437
Link To Original Image
Sometimes all the planning in the world will not prepare you for what mother nature throws in front of you.
I was leading at a Charles Glatzer photography workshop at Jasper National Park in Alberta Canada. A normal staple to this park is Maligne Lake located about a hour drive from Jasper town-site. By the time of this photograph, we’d been to this spot a couple times in the morning and even shot this particular bull and the focus of his interest, a cow. We all had been very successful previously and really wasn’t anticipating any “magic” this particular morning.
Normally, when we drive around Jasper NP, we caravan in a couple of vehicles to give everyone plenty of room for themselves and their photo gear. Usually, the instructors are in the lead vehicle and everyone is connected with high-tech walkie-talkies. The normal practice is the lead vehicle sees something and then tells everyone else in the two or three vehicle caravan what’s up and what to do next.
On this particular morning it was overcast. We were a little late getting to Malign Lake and we could just make out the overcast skies during the drive. As we arrived at the spot where we’d seen this bull and his cow the previous day, there he was, as expected but unfortunately munching very un-photogenically on the grass on the shore. The geography situation here was the bull was munching on the grass next to the mouth of the Maligne river with a little automobile bridge crossing it. The photo situation was severe look-down. Shooting the top of his head definitely wasn’t what we were planning. With the cow up river, away from the lake, and the bull seemingly content to just eat grass on the shore, we got out of our vehicles with absolutely no rush to shoot anything. Why? We already had tons of images of this couple. He was in the shadows and we were well above him. What could possibly be photogenic about this?
Oh, the surprises that mother nature gives us.
When we arrived in our vehicles, we parked them a discrete distance away as was our normal practice. As is usually my habit, I walk around with a camera in my hand and it just happened to be this morning I had my Nikon D2h with 70-200mm f/2.8 AF-S VR. Usually when I’m not sure what’s going on I’ll use this lens or my 28-70mm f/2.8 AF-S. Only rarely do I automatically setup a long lens--i.e. 300mm’s or longer--to explore a situation.
While everyone else was talking among themselves near the vehicles, I walked up to the edge of the bridge to see what might be unfolding. I was looking down on top of this bull which didn’t seem to bother him in the least. He seemed quite relaxed and in no mood to move towards the cow now behind me below the bridge. Soon the skies just barely began to open up, then like a switch the colors turned on. Wow... Not only that, the bull walked towards the edge of the water and walked in! Geez, I was the only person there, completely surprised at the unfolding picture. I knew exactly what I wanted. I knew exactly the image that needed to be made. But, I completely had the wrong tools. I needed my 28-70 for the wide view. Instead, I had my 70-200mm. I had everything there to shoot a great picture except for the wrong lens. Not only that, I seemed to be the only person ready though six very competent photographers were standing talking among themselves not 100 feet away oblivious to what was unfolding.
I spoke out in a calm but determined voice “you guys really need to be over here!” and got to shooting pictures.
The challenge here was I couldn’t get the wide view I wanted. Also, the bull was moving meaning the shutter speed with a slightly long lens needed to be higher than I wanted in order to freeze the bull. Not only that, I was hand-holding my gear which meant I had to worry about camera shake--even though I was using the lens’ VR capability. I knew I hoped the mountains were sharp which meant increased depth-of-field which meant a small aperture. I knew I wanted to stop the moose’s movement which meant increased shutter speed. I knew I wanted to make the highest quality file possible which meant a lower ISO. I clearly needed to compromise on something or everything to get what I wanted. Small aperture, faster shutter speed, and lower ISO aren’t compatible when the light is very dark.
So, how did I figure this out? I knew between the mountain and the moose, the moose--i.e. the foreground subject--needed to be sharp. I decided he was what I set my focus sensor on. I zoomed out my lens to 70mm’s and shot vertically to get the moose and the mountain light in one frame. I set the camera’s aperture to f/8 to keep the moose sharp and most of the mountains in focus. Since he was moving relatively slowly so I picked the fastest shutter speed I could. Unfortunately, the shutter speed was constrained by the ISO. Normally, I would never shoot this camera above ISO 800. In this case, I accepted ISO 1000 instead of ISO 800 simply because I knew 1/25 sec would not freeze the moose and would lead to problems from me hand-holding the camera. I accepted 1/40th sec at ISO 1000 with the hope that somehow in post processing I could minimize the noise problems.
How long did all this decision process take? About two seconds. I made all the decisions by the time he just walked into the water. After that, I completely focus’d on the image and composition. The bull slowly walked into the water. He paused shortly in the middle of the water to look around. Chas with his wide angle to medium tele got that fantastic shot--the image I really wanted. Then the bull walked off.
Of the 36 images I shot of him crossing, this was the first and by far the best. The only nit is I could’ve waited a fraction of a second to let some space build between the reflection of his hind leg and the shore. The compromises I made were just right. I was able to do a little post processing noise reduction magic to keep the image acceptable. The moose is definitely sharp. The colors are amazing. Everything about the image is fantastic. And, it makes a lovely medium sized print--as large as any of my other D2h prints. The whole time from beginning to end was only about 3.5 minutes.
Among the six participants, only Chas, and I got worthwhile images from this event. When I called out to the others that they needed to be here, Chas grabbed his camera that just happened to have the perfect setup and shot right next to me. I don’t think the others were able to figure out the compromises as quickly and therefore lost the opportunity. In the end, I got the narrow view. Chas got the wide view. Funny enough, I think he prefers my narrow image view while I wish I had his wide-angled view. Interesting how things work out that way.
The moral of this story is being prepared for anything that mother nature might throw at you. Secondly, being very knowledgeable with your gear can make all the difference when things are happening fast and furiously.
WaterMalesMooseCatalog 06Reid Larson