Balanced Rock, Old Rag Mountain
One of the rewards of a 2,500' climb to the top of Old Rag Mountain in Shenandoah National Park is this huge balanced granite rock. Because this mountain is so high above/far away from the surroundings, and because the low-contrast distant details become lost in haze, the best mountaintop subjects were those close to me. And the sky. But the sky was clear (pretty but not so picturesque) on this day, so I primarily focused on the close objects – primarily rocks.
15mm f/11.0 1/80s ISO 100
Blue Ridge Mountains Buck
Using a zoom lens allowed me to quickly capture this deer's full body along with some of the also-attractive surroundings after also capturing several more-tightly framed pictures at longer focal lengths. All this before the deer moved its head away from between closest oak trees in the background.
200mm f/4.5 1/400s ISO 125
Blue Ridge Mountains
A classic Shenandoah National Park photo is of the tops of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Contrast-reducing haze provides a three-dimensional effect with the ever-more-distant mountains becoming lighter in color to due light scatter from the haze. Of course, a red sky helps the look.
294mm f/5.6 1/25s ISO 100
Canon EOS R3 and Eye Control AF Capture Alert 10pt Whitetail Buck
Subjects that move are prime candidates for the use of servo AF, continuous focusing vs. the focus distance locked for one shot. Using servo AF requires a focus point or area continuously positioned on the desired point of focus.
Aside from vehicles, moving subjects usually have eyes, and usually that means the focus point or area must be on the subject's eye, with the subject looking into the frame. Maintaining the focus point or area over the eye of a moving subject while maintaining the ideal composition is often a huge challenge, especially for wildlife photography. An animal turning its head the other direction historically required a significant amount of joystick pressing when using a camera with an adequate number of AF points to competently accomplish the goal, and by the time the focus point was in position at the other side of the frame, the animal would turn its head in the other direction (one of Bryan's Laws of Photography). Add thick gloves, and this challenge increases significantly.
In addition to the joystick, the R3 has a pair of Smart Controllers for positioning the AF point or area. The AF-ON buttons have been enlarged, and a touchpad is built into them. Simply slide a thumb across the button to rapidly position the AF point or area.
With a conventional joystick and AF-ON button design, two thumbs are required to make focus point or area position adjustments while pressing an AF-ON button. In servo mode, the R3's Smart Controllers are functional while the AF-ON button is pressed, and this feature works even with thick gloves on.
In addition to having the ability to focus nearly anywhere in the composition, the latest mirrorless cameras have the ability to identify and track a subject, and more specifically, subject eye detection and tracking have been game-changing. When the eye is identified, the camera tenaciously tracks the eye throughout the entire frame, freeing the photographer to concentrate on composition and image capture timing. Thick gloves are not an issue.
The Canon EOS R3 adds vehicle subjects to its detection capabilities, filling in much of the remaining active subject identification needs.
Additionally, the R3 has body detection that takes over when the eye disappears. That feature was at times a hinderance with the whitetail buck as I wanted a looking away deer's antlers or head to be in focus vs. the deer's backside. However, the body is sometimes the next-best focus option, such as when an ice skaters spins.
The R3 brings us a very intriguing new method of AF point positioning. What if you could simply look at the subject you wanted to focus on? The R3's Eye Control AF allows the photographer to position the AF point or area at the speed of look. Look at the subject and the AF point is there, with no buttons to press or slide across.
Eye Control AF requires calibration for each user, and the calibrated performance can be individually different. Calibration is fast and easy. Select a menu option, and follow the prompts in the viewfinder that guide the eye to look at a dot in the center of a small circle sequentially positioned in the center and 4 sides of the viewfinder, with the M-Fn button press recording the look for each.
Canon recommends using the calibration process numerous times, including in different lighting and multiple camera orientations, to refine the data the camera has available. The lens in not involved in this process as the Infrared LEDs in the EVF (notice the enlarged viewfinder size surrounding the viewing area) track the eye position without eyeglasses, and a second set of infrared LEDs track eye position with eyeglasses. Separate calibration profiles are accepted, and useful for with and without eyeglasses and contact lenses and for multiple camera users. Profile data can be saved to a memory card for use on other R3 bodies.
Once calibrated, a small target consisting of two concentric circles (by default, configurable) moves around the viewfinder with your gaze. Look at the subject, and that is where the camera will position the indicator, and that is where the camera will focus or initiate subject tracking.
While the Eye Control graphic is needed, it is obvious and a bit annoying to always have over what you are directly looking at. This graphic, in addition to the focus area and subject tracking indicators, starts to create a busy viewfinder.
Using Eye Control involves a short learning curve as focus should be initiated before or after looking around the frame to study the composition.
My first experience with Eye Control was not stellar. After creating many refinements, I found the R3's calibration inaccurate for my eyes. Most of the time, the indicator did not position directly on the subject I was looking at. The experience was disheartening, but Canon shared that this feature would not work optimally for everyone.
On a whim, I deleted the calibration data and started over. The new calibration, even with only a few refinements delivered significantly improved accuracy.
Packing up the R3 along with many lenses in the review queue, I headed to Shenandoah National Park for five days of wildlife (and some landscape) photography. More specifically, the whitetail buck in rut were the primary targeted subject.
This shoot started with the R3 set to servo AF, animal eye detection selected, subject tracking on, and Eye Control AF enabled (by default, pressing the Set button quickly enables or disables this feature). Accurate focusing on the deer meant looking at the deer's eye and half-press the shutter release to initiate focusing. The R3 usually detected the eye and immediately locked tracking on it, tracking it throughout the frame while providing visual feedback in the viewfinder. While Eye Control AF is not always perfect, I was still using this strategy when I packed the camera for the trip home. The R3's AF performance with Eye Control outperformed any focus method I've used prior.
If Eye Control is found not performing well, immediately creating a calibration refinement can improve accuracy. Not too long into the shoot, I realized that the vertical calibration refinement was not yet created. In seconds, calibration refinement was created, and I was back in the game vertically.
When photographing with large telephoto lenses in strong winds, up to 40 MPH / 64 KPH on this trip, keeping even a motionless subject in the frame can be challenging, and keeping a manually selected focus point on the subject's eye becomes extremely challenging. With the R3, I could simply look at the deer's eye, half-press the shutter release, and then concentrate on fully pressing the shutter release when the framing looked right. This strategy works just as well with heavy gloves on (temperatures were as low as the mid-20s / -3 C).
AS mentioned, the R3's subject detection recognizes bodies, and it recognized deer bodies quite well. However, when the buck were facing away (I sometimes like images of animals facing away, looking into their environments), the head or antlers needed to be in focus vs. the closest body area. With the R3, simply looking at the antlers while initiating subject tracking worked very well.
The 10pt whitetail buck shared in this post came in fast and close, offering only seconds to grab the shot. A glance at the eye followed immediately by pressing the shutter release down made the quick capture easy.
Want an R3? Use one of the links on the site (supports us) to order it. As I write this, prepare to wait in line. This outstanding camera will be difficult to find in stock for a long time.
600mm f/4.0 1/1600s ISO 1000
White-tailed Deer Fawn, Shenandoah National Park
Although the two days I spent in Shenandoah National Park last June were mostly rainy with heavy fog, I managed to get close enough to this adorable just-born fawn for some clear images. The white-tailed deer fawn may be my favorite baby animal and this photo alone would have made the trip worthwhile.
400mm f/5.6 1/320s ISO 1600
Small White-tailed Buck Feeding
Looks like a simple photo to capture right? Guess again. I'll explain.
600mm f/4.0 1/500s ISO 100
Rose River Trail Falls and Swirling Leaves
While the leaves are falling is a great time for waterfall photography. Watch for brightly colored leaves (consider adding your own) that are moving in circles, then formulate a composition that includes them.
15mm f/16.0 1.6s ISO 100
White-tailed Deer Fawns in Big Meadows, Shenandoah National Park
I love close, frame-filling wildlife photos, but I also love wildlife photos that show animals in their environment. Getting close enough to fill the frame with an animal is often quite challenging, but I often find environmental images even more challenging to obtain. Another thing I love is a challenge and the environmental wildlife portrait challenge one was one I took on during a recent photo trip to the Big Meadows area of Shenandoah National Park.
362mm f/5.6 1/800s ISO 1000
Big Buck in Big Meadows
Big Meadows in Shenandoah National Park is a great place to find and photograph white-tailed deer. This 11-pt buck appears to be on a scent trail, but ... it just has its tail up while feeding.
400mm f/4.0 1/400s ISO 1600
Skyline Drive is the famous road leading over the mountaintops of Shenandoah National Park. This image came from a series of close-to-the-road shots I took. I was using the 2-second self-timer and carefully timed my car-blurring .6 second exposure with an approaching vehicle.
15mm f/16.0 .6s ISO 100
Shenandoah Black Bear
Catchlights in a subject's eyes are usually desirable in a photograph. A bright reflection in the eye creates a sparkle that brings the subject to life. While this applies to human subjects, it also applies to wildlife subjects.
560mm f/5.6 1/250s ISO 2500
Old Shenandoah Buck
This old buck was feeding at the edge of a woods. To get a ground-level perspective, I was sitting in a small drainage ditch.
400mm f/4.0 1/500s ISO 320
First-Light Buck, Shenandoah National Park
Many of you know that I usually consider the ideal wildlife light to be from behind me, directing my shadow toward the animal (though keeping it outside of the frame of course), but that is just another of the many photography rules looking for an opportunity to be broken.
600mm f/4.0 1/500s ISO 100
Dark Hollow Falls, Shenandoah National Park
I didn't hike to many waterfalls in Shenandoah National Park, but Dark Hollow Falls is one of the nicer falls I visited. When hiking, look for pretty leaves and other props to use in your later captures. High winds coming off of the falls made it hard to keep that leaf in place – and made it hard to keep the CPOL filter dry.
15mm f/16.0 .8s ISO 100
Whitetail Buck in the Forest, Shenandoah National Park
It is generally much easier to photograph deer in a field or meadow than in the forest where tree trunks and branches create obstructions and chaotic backgrounds. However, the forest is where many deer spend large amounts of their lives. Heading into the forest may reduce the odds of getting good images but the increased challenge makes a successful in-the-forest image more rewarding.
While a 600 f/4 lens is an awesome choice for obscuring a distracting foreground and background via blur, the narrow angle of view can be challenging to use in the forest due to the obstructions. A farther away view results in a higher chance of trees and branches being in the way. Despite having a Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS Lens with me in Shenandoah National Park, I mostly used the Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens. The images this lens makes are hard to beat and once one acclimates to 600mm f/4 images, it becomes difficult to be satisfied with anything less.
All 600mm f/4 and similar lenses are very expensive but the high price has one advantage: it is a barrier of entry, making it harder for those without such a lens to compete with those having one. In a world with an unimaginable number of images being captured daily, this lens' image quality is a differentiator and those able to make the investment should frequently make use of their advantage.
I was working ahead of this buck (with a somewhat unusual drop tine), looking for openings it might pass through. He came into this opening and cooperated nicely, looking toward the camera. After quickly capturing a few images with the currently-selected focus point, I changed the focus point to a more optimal position in the frame and captured another burst of images before the buck turned its head. I selected the image with the best deer pose (both ears forward and looking toward me) and stitched another of the images captured using the other focus point for a slightly wider overall image.
This image was captured on a bright cloudy day. Clouds act as a giant softbox, eliminating the harsh shadows often encountered in the woods. Images captured in cloudy weather often appear slightly cool and low contrast is also normal for images captured under cloudy skies. Adding a small amount of contrast and saturation and warming the color balance slightly brings the image to life.
The increased challenge, increased reward concept applies to many genres of photography. Welcome ways to increase your challenge!
600mm f/4.0 1/400s ISO 2000
Attentive White-tailed Doe
They don't like dogs. This doe was intently listening to a dog barking, providing me the opportunity to capture a tight profile headshot of the motionless doe. A 1/200 second shutter speed would not have been fast enough to stop motion at this distance if the deer was not still.
400mm f/4.0 1/200s ISO 200
Late Fall in Shenandoah National Park
The timing for my trip to Shenandoah National Park was focused on white-tailed deer photography. I chose the last week that the Big Meadows Lodge was opened, the last week in October, for several reasons. One was that the leaves would mostly be down, making the deer easier to find. Another was that the undergrowth and grass would have good color (since these would be in the background of my deer photos). A positive aspect of the late October timing I did not count on was that the attractive lichen-covered oak tree trunks would have nice sunlight reaching them.
15mm f/11.0 1/25s ISO 100
Alert Whitetail Buck, Shenandoah National Park
This 10 pt whitetail buck has a doe locked down during the rut and he is very intent on warding off any competition.
During the rut, whitetail buck have their heads in alert positions a much higher percentage of time relative to normal, providing increased photo opportunities.
600mm f/4.0 1/200s ISO 2000
Old Rag Mountain Rocks
Rocks are what you find in abundance at the top of Old Rag Mountain in Shenandoah National Park. Fortunately, rocks can make great subjects.
15mm f/16.0 1/40s ISO 100
Shenandoah White-tailed Deer
I had been following this buck for two hours. I already had many in-the-woods pictures of it including some bedded images. But when it moved into the edge of a clearing with great lighting and a great background, I was especially thankful for the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4 L IS USM Lens I had mounted. This lens allowed me to quickly shooting a variety of subject framing with extremely good resulting image quality.
338mm f/4.5 1/400s ISO 100
Alert Whitetail Fawn, Shenandoah National Park
Whitetail fawns are cute and curious – and they are bundles of energy (when not sleeping).
This one abruptly stopped after leaping around, intently watching something of interest.
560mm f/5.6 1/1600s ISO 2000
The view from all of the 75 scenic overlooks on Skyline Drive is great, but a short hike can deliver the better foregrounds necessary for taking your imagery to the next level. A circular polarizer filter made a big improvement in the saturation of the fall foliage color.
15mm f/11.0 1/30s ISO 100
Ear Cleaning at Big Meadows, Shenandoah National Park
Sometimes, it's all about the ears. The white-tailed deer mother cleaning its fawn's ear in the bright green grass of Big Meadows, Shenandoah National Park was just too cute to not share.
400mm f/5.6 1/640s ISO 800
Bare Trees, Shenandoah National Park
Lichen-covered trees reflect the late day sun in Shenandoah National Park. Late fall provided a bed of red-toned undergrowth useful as a base to the composition.
146mm f/8.0 1/50s ISO 100
Canon RF 16mm F2.8 STM Lens and a Shenandoah National Park Sunset
The whitetail buck were not cooperating this afternoon, the Canon RF 16mm F2.8 STM Lens and Really Right Stuff Ascend Tripod needed a workout, some clouds were in the sky as sunset approached, and one of my favorite sunset locations was not far away. I did not pause to implement the plan revealed to me, and the show as and after the sun set was superb.
The Canon RF 16mm F2.8 STM Lens produced very nice image quality — remarkable for the size, weight, and price of the lens.
This image is a slight pano (to add some foreground rock) and HDR processed.
As suggested, a Really Right Stuff Ascend Long Tripod with Integrated Head provided the support for this capture.
16mm f/11.0 1/10s ISO 100
11-pt Big Meadows Buck
This 11-pt Big Meadows buck appears to be sticking its tongue out at me (I didn't take it personally).
320mm f/4.0 1/400s ISO 2000
Old Rag Mountain, Shenandoah National Park
Just another stellar Shenandoah National Park sunrise and being there was the hardest part of capturing this image (being there was not hard either).
This is single exposure image (not an HDR) captured with the red channel being nearly blown on the histogram. At that brightness, this just-before-sunrise scene provided adequate detail in the shadows for Capture One to brighten them while darkening the highlights slightly for improved balance. The f/8 aperture maximized sharpness, minimized peripheral shading, and provided very adequate depth of field. ISO 100 was selected for its low noise attributes. Nothing in this scene was in motion except for the very-slow-moving clouds and the 0.4 sec. shutter speed used for the final scene brightness was easily adequate to stop all motion.
Saturation and contrast were added to this image but this sunrise was so dramatic that the amount of both adjustments was only slight. Auto white balance delivered a cool-toned image and warming it slightly proved helpful.
From a composition perspective, the options were limited in this scene. Moving a short distance would not change the scene much and moving a large distance meant the view would be completely obscured. Thus, selecting the right focal length became the primary method for inclusion and exclusion of elements.
Old Rag mountain, the highest peak shown, was my primary subject. I wanted the foreground layer (trees) included as a base for the image and liked the curvature this element showed, partially encircling Old Rag and its trailing mountain range. Keeping this horizon straight seemed obligatory in this case but how high the horizon was in the frame was left for personal preference. The height selected here seemed to create a nice overall balance.
The remaining area of the frame was filled with color in the sky. While most of the color in the sky is in the frame, a significant amount of the frame is filled with color.
Though this image is uncomplicated, it was one of my favorite Shenandoah National Park landscape images from last fall.
52mm f/8.0 .4s ISO 100
Big Meadows Grass and Oaks
The sky in this image shows strong gradation due to a circular polarizer filter being used on an ultra-wide angle lens. The benefit is that the lichen-covered oaks and yellow grasses become emphasized in the composition.
15mm f/11.0 1/30s ISO 100
Buck Looking Back, Big Meadows, Shenandoah National Park
Did I ever tell you that the Canon EF 200-400 f/4L IS Lens is really sharp? My daughter and I had one evening and one morning to photograph deer in Shenandoah National Park. The evening presented us with primarily darkness including dense fog and light rain (and wind), but the morning proved much nicer.
400mm f/4.0 1/800s ISO 100
Old Rag Mountain Rockscape
Old Rag Mountain in Shenandoah National Park has its share of rocks and rock piles. You will want your camera cased while navigating the trail at the top of this mountain.
55mm f/8.0 1/30s ISO 100
White-tailed Deer Mother and Fawn Interacting
Spring is when most baby animals make their entry into the world and who doesn't love a baby animal photo? Baby animals are the definition of cute.
258mm f/5.0 1/320s ISO 1600
7-pt White-tailed Buck
This Shenandoah NP buck was feeding in a small clearing in the oak forest. One of my favorite wildlife photo subject orientations is directly side-on with the head facing forward, or even better, slightly toward the camera.
311mm f/4.5 1/400s ISO 125
The 1 Post Processing Adjustment Needed for Killer Sunrise/Sunset Images
On this day in Shenandoah National Park, white-tailed deer and more specifically, fawns, were my primary target. However, I knew that sunsets from the Big Meadows area were often beautiful and therefore, I coordinated my efforts to be in position to photograph the sky should it blow up in color. And on this evening, it did.
377mm f/5.6 1/1250s ISO 100
Layers of Blue Ridge Mountains
It is not hard to find layers of Blue Ridge Mountains in Shenandoah National Park. But, it can be challenging to find layers that form a nice composition. This view was captured from the top of Bearfence Mountain.
170mm f/8.0 30s ISO 100
Dear Little Deer
This cute little Shenandoah whitetail fed into a small clearing I was photographing in. The colorful leaves in the background were the reward of planning my trip for just after the leaves fell.
400mm f/4.5 1/400s ISO 125
Little Big Meadows Buck
While the rack does not have much calcium in it, this was the biggest buck in Big Meadows this afternoon. One of my goals for the trip was to capture the late fall colors of the meadow with deer as the primary subjects, so ... I made this little guy work for my goal.
500mm f/4.0 1/400s ISO 2000
Forkhorned Buck Eating a Branch
This small buck was standing in tall brush and eating the topmost branches while watching for danger. Getting a non-obscured shot of his behaviour was not easy.
560mm f/5.6 1/500s ISO 500
White-tailed Deer Fawn holding Branch, Shenandoah National Park
The Canon EOS-1D X Mark II is an amazing camera, but I continue to use the Canon EOS 5Ds R a considerable percentage of the time. The primary benefit of the 5Ds R is its incredibly high resolution. Lighter weight, especially without the battery grip installed, is another advantage.
400mm f/4.0 1/500s ISO 2500
I was warned, but the warning didn't stop me from packing 50 lbs of gear to the top of Bearfence Mountain to capture the sunset. The location was excellent, but unfortunately the sun became totally cloud-locked just after this image was captured. The trail blazes hint at the difficulty ascending and descending at this location.
24mm f/16.0 1/10s ISO 100
Red Berries Among Trunks and Branches in Shenandoah National Park
Do you enjoy photographing details? Telephoto zoom lenses are quite adept at this task.
The trees on the top of the mountain range that makes up Shenandoah National Park are loaded with light-colored lichen. I find this look highly attractive, but finding order within the chaos is the big challenge for photographing this subject.
In this case, a tree with red berries stood out among the oak trunks lining the edge of a clearing.
Not everything in a scene needs to be included in the frame. The small berries added a pop of color. Zooming in to nearly fill the frame with the berry tree excluded much of the forest surrounding it and created an interesting pattern of trunks entering the frame.
The Canon RF 100-400mm F5.6-8 IS USM Lens was made for times like this.
This small, light, and affordable lens was ready for use, mounted to a Canon EOS R5 in a toploader case on the seat behind me. This lens's relatively narrow max aperture was wider than needed for this landscape image, and the lens's image stabilization system meant a tripod was not required, despite the strong wind pushing me around.
325mm f/11.0 1/125s ISO 100
Feeding White-tailed Buck
A buck feeds at the edge of a small clearing in SNP. As moments like this do not come often or last long, I was shooting fast. Slightly too fast in this case as I did not allow enough room to the right of the deer for proper compositional balance. No worries – just another fix for Photoshop to take care of.
400mm f/4.5 1/400s ISO 125
Canon EOS R3 and RF 600 Lens Big Buck Portrait Session, Shenandoah National Park
I spent most of a day trying to stay far enough away from this buck to keep it in the frame. What a great problem to deal with.
Finding the ideal clearings in the woods was an even more significant challenge. Foreground obstructions, background distractions, and mottled light problems were high on the day's list of photography challenges.
Challenge reducing was the impressive performance of the Canon EOS R3 and RF 600mm F4 L IS USM Lens, immediately snapping focus on the eye I was looking at, capturing the ideal moments in time. Being able to position a focus point anywhere in the entire frame instantly is incredible.
This buck was in the woods, and the woods are full of distracting lines. As is often the case, the Canon RF 600mm F4 L IS USM Lens blurred the background distractions away. Few lenses, primarily only the 400 f/2.8 and 800mm f/5.6 options, can compete with 600mm f/4 background blur.
As mentioned, foreground obstructions were on the challenge list this day, and a downside to using the 600mm focal length in the woods is finding a clear path to the subject. The key is to predict where the animal will go (or where you most want it to go) and be in position when it arrives.
We typically want wildlife subjects to appear large. Especially when photographing whitetail deer, I frequently shoot from close to the ground as long as the surroundings provide a good line of sight. This camera position increases the likelihood of a catchlight in the animal's eye, adding life to the animal.
600mm f/4.0 1/1000s ISO 500
Composing the Buck in the Brush, Shenandoah National Park
I shared this white-tailed buck image in the LensCoat RainCoat Review and decided I would share it individually as well.
This deer encounter was mid-afternoon on a mid-fall day in Shenandoah National Park.
The time of the day combined with the time of the year meant a relatively low sun angle and the time of the year also meant that the buck was in rut.
This nice-sized buck was with a doe and he was making sure that rivals did not intrude and was constantly watching for such.
600mm f/4.0 1/1250s ISO 250
Big Whitetail Buck Feeding on Red Berries in Shenandoah National Park
Patches of red berry bushes in Shenandoah National Park had my attention, and I was spending time near them, hoping that whitetail deer photo opportunities incorporating the berries would show up. A couple of days prior, I photographed a smaller buck eating the berries, but the images were not remarkable.
On this morning, I discovered an impressive 12pt point buck bedded near a berry-favorable area.
Bedded deer can get up at any moment, but they can also stay down for many hours. When it comes to antler size, bigger is almost always better, and I knew that few bigger bucks were in the area. Thus, I committed to hanging with this buck for the long haul.
Not too long after I sat down, there was a solid thump sound behind me. The doe and fawns hanging with the buck immediately got up and walked toward the sound. An apple had fallen from an apple tree, and the deer were going to eat it. Soon after this, the buck got up and began to move away — straight into the berries.
While incorporating the red berries was the goal, the thick berry bush branches were a visibility obstacle.
Traditionally, a camera attempting to autofocus on an eye in the brush led to the camera focusing on the closest branch in the view. In this situation, obtaining a keeper image typically required manual focusing, a challenge when the animal is erratically moving and the depth of field is shallow.
Game-changing is that the Canon EOS R-series camera's animal eye detection can often focus through the brush, creating a high percentage of properly focused images despite obstructions, such as those seen beside this buck's eye. This outstanding feature is one of many reasons to move to one of the latest mirrorless interchangeable lens camera models.
While this animal was not moving especially fast, its head was, and the Canon EOS R3's high frame captured the relatively few moments when the eye was visible in the obstructions.
I'll likely share more images of this buck. We spent the next 5 hours having an adventure together.
600mm f/4.0 1/500s ISO 320
Twin White-tailed Deer Fawns, Shenandoah National Park
Most of the time, images of wildlife approaching are better than those of wildlife going away. The problem is, where the wildlife is going to go is not always predictable. It is much easier to follow wildlife than to stay ahead of it.
400mm f/5.6 1/500s ISO 2500
Photographing Large Ferns in the Fog, Shenandoah National Park
When the fog is present, contrast is significantly decreased and heavy fog can reduce visibility to very short distances. While in Shenandoah National Park for two days in the spring, heavy fog was the only visibility I had. The dozens of turnouts and trails designed to show off spectacular views of the mountains and valleys far below all had the same view. White fog.
When this happens, one option is to find close subjects. With close subjects resulting in less light-scattering fog between the camera and subject, good color and contrast is retained. The large patches of bright green ferns were one such subject that always catches my attention in the spring in Shenandoah National Park. Fog scatters light in all directions, creating very even lighting even deep in the woods.
The one problem remaining was a light breeze. Some of the ferns I was photographing were waist high. With a big sail and a small stem, these ferns moved in even the lightest breeze. I would rather the slight motion blur in the lower left fern blade not be there.
Options for dealing with the subject motion were limited. Embracing the movement and allowing the subject to become blurred is an easy one. Results vary when using this technique.
Waiting for short breaks in the breeze was option I worked on. Taking many shots was another, trying to catch a fern at the end of its motion.
Making shorter shutter speeds available by increasing the ISO setting is another good option. This option results in increased noise in the image, but sometimes a scene can be captured at a low ISO for the stationary subject and then at a higher ISO setting to keep the moving parts stabilized. The two (or more) image can then be stacked during post processing with only the in-motion portion of the frame being shown for the high ISO capture.
Using a narrower aperture offers the same shutter speed advantage with reduction of DOF being the penalty.
A last method I was working with involved placing small temporary Y-shaped twigs at the base of the closest ferns (the ones moving across the most pixels) to help stabilize them. A Wimberley Plamp is a good tool for this purpose.
Moving farther away from the moving branch and/or using a wider focal length make the moving subject smaller in the frame which means they cross over imaging sensor pixels less rapidly which means they are sharper in the final image.
Remove the light-cutting circular polarizer filter can help establish faster shutter speeds, though this is not often a good choice for landscape photography. While on the fog topic, note that CPL filters very significantly cut through fog. The difference can be very noticeable. Rotate the filter to turn on or off the fog effect, obtaining the look you want.
16mm f/11.0 1/4s ISO 400
Big Buck in Early Morning Sunlight, Shenandoah National Park
My Morning wildlife photography in Shenandoah National Park usually involves being where I expect to see wildlife when there is just enough light to start being able to see wildlife.
The goal is to find a subject and be in position, ready to photograph, when there is just enough light to do so.
The situation was golden on this particular morning.
Very early, I found this nice-sized 9-pt buck tending a doe and worked into ideal position as the sun peaked over the horizon, giving me perfect low and warm light from my back.
600mm f/4.0 1/800s ISO 250
Whitetail Fawns – Cutest Animals on the Face of This Planet?
What is the cutest animal on the face of this planet?
Whitetail deer fawns are at the top of my list.
These adorable fawns decided they were going where I was and I was thankful that I could zoom out wide enough to keep them in the frame while they were going.
222mm f/8.0 1/800s ISO 2500
10-Point Whitetail Buck, Shenandoah National Park
Our eyes are typically drawn to the areas of an image containing the strongest contrast. The head and antlers of a whitetail buck are typically this animal's most interesting features and placing those against a nearly blown-out sky utilizes the contrast principle, making them especially eye-catching.
Being in the right place at the right time is always a key for wildlife photography, but in this situation, a key to getting the desired framing was to adjust the camera height. Lowering the camera position until the foreground grasses were just below the buck's head and neck provided an angle that positioned the buck's head against the sky and void of distracting lines intersecting the animal. A lower camera position also makes it easier to get the catchlight sparkle in the eyes. Working from a monopod makes that elevation adjustment able to happen very fast.
The strong background blur created by the 600mm f/4 lens of course further emphasizes this subject. The blur this lens creates is addicting.
Are you joining me to photograph whitetail buck in rut in November? There are still spots open for this tour/workshop. Bring a friend, make new photography-enthusiast friends there!
600mm f/4.0 1/250s ISO 1000
Canon RF 100-400 Takes in a Typical Sunrise in Shenandoah National Park
On this trip, I was primarily testing the new EOS R3 with the Canon RF 600mm F4 L IS USM Lens. However, I had the lightweight, compact, inexpensive Canon RF 100-400mm F5.6-8 IS USM Lens on an EOS R5 readily available in a toploader case, handy to pull out when a wider need arose.
Each morning while heading to the favored deer photography locations, I passed an eastern overlook just before sunrise. A high mountain with no substantial mountains to the east that allows visibility of the sun at a very low angle is a great location to see colorful sunrise. Shenandoah National Park is one such location, and the percentage of photogenic sunrises here is quite high.
On this morning, I simply pulled over, set up the Really Right Stuff Ascend Tripod with the integrated head, mounted the RF 100-400 and R5, and took a few pictures before resuming the deer chase.
As illustrated here, the convenience and utility of the RF 100-400mm lens are very high. The long focal lengths can fill the frame with the color of even a compact sunrise show, and a wide aperture is not important in this case.
With the lens and in-body image stabilization, I could have handheld this shot, but strong winds made the tripod an easier choice for composition and steadiness reasons.
108mm f/8.0 1/50s ISO 100
Whitetail Buck Wrapping a Pine Branch Around Its Face, Shenandoah National Park
Did you ever see a whitetail buck wrap a pine branch around its face? The rut brings out the best in unusual whitetail activity. This buck is creating (or freshening) a scrape used for communication purposes at this time of the year and the location selected for a scrape typically has a scent branch just above it.
Only a couple of spots remain open: join me for the "Whitetail Buck in Rut and More workshop in Shenandoah National Park!
600mm f/4.0 1/1600s ISO 250
Spring in Shenandoah National Park Brings Fawns, Ferns and ... Black Bears
This mother black bear had sent her cubs high up into a large pine tree and was searching for food. She kindly paused and looked in my direction at a break in the bright green foliage.
There are many ways to compose a wildlife image and each scenario can be different, but a technique that often works is to center the animal in the frame and then open up the frame in the direction the animal is looking. In this case, the momma black bear was looking straight toward me and its near-centered position works well. I left a slightly more room around the bear on the right side as there is a very slight head turn and the tall green plants on the right helped balance and frame the image.
The color, or lack thereof, of black bears is a challenge for cameras' auto exposure systems with overexposure being the frequent outcome. A manual exposure is often best.
400mm f/4.0 1/640s ISO 4000
High-Stepping Whitetail Buck, Shenandoah National Park
This old buck has its eyes on the doe it is pursuing.
I like some animal leg positions better than others. In this case, the lifted-high front leg and corresponding raised back leg show that the deer is in motion. When I have the mental wherewithal to time image captures with the ideal leg positions, I do. When I don't, that is what a fast frame rate is for.
While the beautiful early morning sunlight gives the image a warm look, the frost-covered whiskers indicate the true scenario. This was a very cold day. While I was functionally challenged by the heavy gloves (and my breath freezing on the camera), the Sony a7R IV worked flawlessly in these low temperatures.
It only takes a short amount of time with a great subject in a great scenario to generate a large selection of good images. Selecting a single image to share from such a situation becomes the next challenge. I opted to share two images (for now) of this buck, the other illustrating the lip curl behavior.
600mm f/4.0 1/640s ISO 320
Mr. Unique, Whitetail Buck, Shenandoah National Park
An easy way to get a unique photo is to find a unique subject. I have seen a lot of different antler abnormalities, but this buck sported a new one.
Antlers are very strong, but deer frequently break their tines and even main beams, especially when fighting. However, the broken tine or beam nearly always breaks cleanly, detaching immediately, never to be seen again. Or, often due to injury, antlers grow in abnormal directions. This buck's right antler was broken off under the skin, dangling from the skin keeping it attached.
When photographing animals, I like to see separation between the legs and especially like to see one of the front legs stepping forward, showing action. I'll rarely complain about wildlife photography lighting when there is a setting sun behind me with the catchlight in the eye adding life to the animal.
What will this buck's next rack look like? I hope to find out this fall. Want to join me to photograph these great animals in Shenandoah National Park?
600mm f/4.0 1/1600s ISO 320
Fawn in Spring Green Flora, Shenandoah National Park
For wildlife photography, timing, in a variety of ways, is critical.
The time of the year is one timing factor. In Shenandoah National Park, spring brings bright green foliage and these adorable whitetail fawns.
Another timing factor is where the animal is at the moment it is photographed. That timing involves determining (guessing) where the animal is going next, determining an ideal photo position in that path, being the right distance away for framing and composition purposes, and being ready when (OK, if) they get there.
This time, the timing worked and this image of a fawn against a bed of green was the reward.
Often, wildlife looks best when photographed with a camera that is level for both tilt and roll. The tilt part means getting the camera at the animal's level and when the animal is small (and not at a higher elevation than you), that means getting down low. Photographing from a low position is not always the most comfortable, but the effort is usually worth it and the images taken with a downward angle are often deemed not good enough after some level captures are on the card.
In this example, the low green foliage permitted a level position, but a compromise is sometimes needed if visual obstructions become an issue.
Fawns are constantly moving and a monopod lets me adjust the height very quickly while trying to photograph them.
There is still room for you on the "Whitetail Fawns and Much More", Shenandoah National Park Instructional Photography Tour. All skill levels are welcome!
Sun, June 9 to Wed, June 12, 2019 and/or Wed, June 12 - Sat, June 15, 2019
Email me at Bryan@Carnathan.com to sign up or ask questions!
381mm f/5.0 1/500s ISO 2000
Bedded Whitetail Buck Looking Cute, Shenandoah National Park
With a forward head tilt and relaxed ears, this bedded whitetail buck looks cute and cuddly, presenting an image perhaps ready for a child's storybook. But, make no mistake, this is a huge ball of muscle ready to violently fight anything it thinks poses a threat to its interests (that right-side G4 tine required significant force to break off). This buck knows exactly what the doe bedded nearby behind it is doing and if another buck moves in or the doe moves away, this big bad boy will be up in a flash.
Very positive was that this bedded buck provided a wide range of poses for us, including head rested solidly on the ground, a large yawn, and ears perked in attention.
I'm not often a fan of a downward camera angle when photographing wildlife and in this case, getting down to the buck's eye level using a fully-retracted monopod made complete sense. This low/level angle provides a more distant background that can be strongly blurred with a 600mm f/4 lens, allowing the subject to clearly stand out against an even very distracting background. With the subject being stationary, the distance and alignment could be selected and varied. In this case, the leaves on the ground provide a solid base for the image. The large tree trunk on the left and the small tree trunk on the right provide a frame for the subject.
Wildlife photography is a great source of stories and this situation brought back a memory from the year before. I was in Shenandoah National Park photographing a different bedded buck from a reasonable distance when it suddenly bolted straight toward me. I jumped behind a tree just as it went past a short distance away. Fortunately, it was not racing after me but instead after a doe. I just happened to be in its path.
The shot of adrenaline took a little time to wear off, but the memory is a fun one.
Want to photograph these awesome animals and create some stories this fall? Sign up for the "Whitetail Buck in Rut and Much More", Shenandoah National Park instructional photo tour.
Sun, November 10 to Wed, November 13, 2019 and/or Wed, November 13 - Sat, November 16, 2019
Contact me to sign up!
600mm f/4.0 1/400s ISO 900
Lip Curl, Whitetail Buck, Shenandoah National Park
The lip curl (Flehmen response) is a deer behavior especially common during the rut, exposing the vomeronasal organ (Jacobson’s organ) to scents, especially those of a doe in heat. While this behavior is not unusual, it is different from the many images captured of the same old buck simply standing and looking.
The bokeh buck is a want-to-be contender. He doesn't stand a chance against this clearly superior buck.
As I mentioned in the other photo of this buck, a few minutes with the right subject in the right light and location scenario can result in a lot of nice images on the memory card.
600mm f/4.0 1/640s ISO 320