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.
I was chasing white-tailed deer with the Canon 200-400 L IS lens throughout the afternoon and planned a sunset location that would allow me to shoot the deer with the sun at my back until the sky put up its show. I simply turned and shot in the other direction to capture this photo.
294mm f/5.6 1/25s ISO 100
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.
My camera choice for this trip was the EOS 5D Mark III. I made this choice for the combination of image quality (the EOS 5Ds and 5Ds R had not yet arrived) and AF performance.
While I had several telephoto lens choices along, the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Lens was my primary wildlife lens. The deer I photograph in Shenandoah National Park are often at least somewhat approachable (though mothers with fawns seem to be an exception), making 400mm often adequate and the 560mm option is available at the throw of a switch. The other issue is that getting close to the animals is often a requirement to eliminate trees and other obstructions. The need to get closer makes even 400mm on a full frame body very frequently too long (unless head shots are desired). The zoom range feature of this lens offers plenty of flexibility in framing at a range of subject distances.
My second choice lens on this trip was the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens. This is another incredible lens that offers an even longer focal length range than the 200-400. Yes, the 200-400 has the built-in extender, but the 100-400 is also compatible with extenders. The 100-400 is considerably smaller and lighter, but the 200-400 has a wider aperture – a full 1 stop wider at the long end. As I mentioned, the weather was rainy with heavy fog, which translates to dark and being able to stop motion in 1/2 as much light was important.
The next thing you are going to say is that ... this photo was captured at f/5.6. That is correct. The fawn happened to be at the edge of a clearing with an above-average amount of light on it. It had been nursing from its mother moments before and I was using f/5.6 to gain some depth of field. So, in this case, the 100-400 L II would also have worked well.
Moments later, the fawn was bouncing around in the woods and ... that meant that the 200-400 L was the right choice.
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.
Often, the best height to shoot wildlife from is level with the subject. Typically, the head is the most important part of that subject. And when that head is on the ground feeding, level means shooting from right down on the ground. shooting from the low position has the benefit of a more distant background that becomes nicely blurred.
Usually, the best wildlife lighting is a low sun at your back with your shadow pointing directly toward the subject. Since wildlife does not care about your lighting needs, patience is often required to get good lighting on a particular subject. And sometimes a LOT of patience is required.
The young white-tailed buck shown here was constantly moving. Its path was unpredictable and the head was constantly moving back and forth. I spent a lot of time trying to predict where it would feed to, aligning my position with a clean background for the predicted subject location and focusing immediately when taking the shot just as the head moved into a frame of the deer's front legs.
The narrow angle of view a 600mm lens provides makes this challenge even harder. I happened to cut off the tip of the buck's antlers in the fast-framed shot, but was able to piece the rest of the image together using another image.
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.
I did not need to add leaves to this swirl, but I occasionally forced a break up of the pile to get a different look to the swirling. I experimented with shutter speeds and even tried digital neutral density filter processing that combined multiple shots, but this shot out of the camera was as good as any of the other results.
This un-named falls is found along the Rose River Trail in Shenandoah National Park.
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.
Be in the Right Location
Location selection is a big part of environmental wildlife portraits. Basically, you need to photograph wildlife in an environment that invites the type of photos you desire. I would not describe the scenery of all locations that hold wildlife as especially photo-worthy and the tighter-framed option works better in these less-desirable landscapes.
Just as important as a photogenic landscape is that wildlife, or more specifically, wildlife that interests you, is in the location. Location selection resources have never been more readily available. Simply search your favorite image sharing site for the subject that has your interest. Then determine where that image was captured.
Timing for Photography
With the location selection made, timing the photography in that location can be done. If you want fall-colored leaves, there will be a week or two out of the year that needs to be targeted. If baby animals are on your list, there will be an ideal time, likely in late spring.
For the example I share here, I knew that early June was a good time to photograph fawns and I knew that Big Meadows in the heart of Shenandoah National Park was a great place to find them. SNP scenery is very nice, though as with most locations, it can be challenging.
See the Image Coming
Within the chosen location, wildlife cannot be controlled (unless baiting, calling, etc.), so a photographer must work with the animals wherever they decide to be. Learning wildlife behavior goes a long way to set up the ideal shot, but wildlife is generally unpredictable. While locating wildlife, visualizing ideal shots will keep your mind focused on upcoming opportunities, including those that may present themselves at a later time.
The key for this white-tailed deer fawn image, in addition to being in a good location at the right time of the year, was thinking ahead. The deer were moving in a general direction and I knew that the white tree trunks in front of ferns and fronted with tall grasses were coming up on their route. The shorter green grass foreground would be ideal and I surmised that these fawns and their mother may pass through this location.
Be Ready with the Right Gear
I was partly right. The mother went slightly off-angle, but the fawns cooperated briefly by walking, broadside, in line and both within the plane of sharp focus, right into the scene I visualized. I was ready.
Under 10 seconds. That is how much time the fawns spent in my scene. That is both extremely short and very long. I had very few other decent opportunities that lasted longer, but 9 seconds is not much time to capture an image of wildlife in motion even when standing (head and ear angles were constantly changing). This was one of the last frames captured before they turned different directions and leaped off to explore somewhere new.
The 1D X Mark II was in manual exposure mode with Auto ISO selected. The light levels were changing rapidly due to clouds and both deer and grass are kind to autoexposure, making Auto ISO a great choice. The adorable fawns were running/leaping/frolicking constantly, so I was using a 1/1600 shutter speed most of time. It is usually better to have more noise due to a high ISO setting than to have a motion-blurred subject. With the fawns slowing down and with their distance being greater than usual (their movement was crossing individual sensor pixels at a slower rate), I quickly rolled the shutter speed down to 1/800. Auto ISO took care of the exposure adjustment, immediately selecting a lower noise level ISO 1000. High speed burst mode with Case 1 AI Servo AF and a single AF point placed on the lead fawn worked ideally.
The Canon EOS-1D X Mark II and Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Lens combo performed impressively on the entire trip. While this lens has many benefits (including incredible sharpness), being able to zoom to ideally compose a scene, especially one with multiple animals, is a big one. Though this image does not take in a wide, grand landscape, it includes enough surroundings to qualify for at least my own definition of environmental. At 362mm, this lens could be set to an even much wider angle. However, I didn't feel that additional surroundings were going to be positive additions to the image. I had enough angle of view at the chosen focal length.
I'll talk more about the 1D X II's amazing frame rate and why it was so important for this location in another post, but ... I made full use of the 14 fps. Just to clarify, there really are two different fawns in this picture. This particular frame taken from a burst captured both in nearly identical positions. Upon a quick glance, my daughter suggested that I may have clone stamped the second deer into the image. I assure you that was not the case – there really were two fawns there. The slightly different leg positions are the biggest clue.
The 1D X II's AF system performed especially well in the tall grasses the fawns were commonly found in and was ready when the fawns started leaping and playing.
Note that I used a monopod exclusively for support on this trip. While a tripod provides better support, a monopod is faster to use. With only one leg to retract or extend and with no leg angles to set, I could quickly move into positions and set up, a key to getting many of the images I captured on this trip. A monopod also means less weight to carry around. The wildlife I was shooting required shutter speeds fast enough to avoid motion blur, especially with the support of the monopod.
Seize the Opportunity
Be ready to take advantage of all wildlife photo ops made available to you. Even if focused on the environmental images, take the tighter-framed images when availed to you. Wildlife photography is extremely challenging and no opportunity should be passed on. Having a mix of subject framing will make a portfolio or gallery appear more complete.
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.
This mother black bear (I know that she is a mother because she stashed her 2 cubs high up in a huge hemlock tree 100 yards/m or so behind her) was hunting for food in the woods in Shenandoah National Park. The woods were quite dark due to a heavy tree canopy, but there was a small clearing in the direction the bear was headed. I moved ahead of her and positioned for what I envisioned being the ideal situation that could develop ... and the bear was unusually cooperative.
The clearing of course had an opening with sky visible. Sky, especially the sun if the sky is clear, is bright and can create the desired catchlights. However, the angle on the eyes still must be correct to get that reflection.
A key point here is that bears generally walk with their head hanging down low and a downward viewing angle on animals' eyes seldom results in a catchlight. This is another good reason to get level with (or even below) your animal subjects, increasing the likelihood of catchlight reflections being created.
The other issue created by the head-down walking is the that bear's head falls below most of the beautifully-rich-green plant life in this area. While a bear back showing above the green plants may be interesting, visible eyes are usually required to pass for a keeper image for most serious bear photographers.
So, in order to see the eyes in this location, I needed the bear to look up. In a case where I couldn't have planned things any better, this bear hit the clearing, stopped and looked around.
This was a randomly moving animal. Though it was not moving fast, it was moving most of the time and its was a bit unpredictable, including making 180° direction changes at times. I had the camera in M (Manual) mode, but was using the camera's autoexposure system via the Auto ISO setting. With these settings, I could simply roll the top dial to get the shutter speed I thought I needed at any moment.
If the bear stopped walking (though even then it was always moving its head from side to side), I immediately took insurance shots at confidently-fast shutter speeds and then quickly began shooting bursts at longer exposures in attempt to get some even higher-grade images without motion blur (the longer shutter speeds resulted in lower ISO settings for lower noise). The 1/250 setting used for this image is not close to stressing the capabilities of this image stabilized lens at 560mm on a monopod (used over a tripod for setup speed), but the bear was still moving some. Fortunately, the 1D X II image quality is extremely good at the auto-selected ISO setting of 2500 used here. When the bear began moving, I quickly rolled the top dial to get an action-stopping shutter speed again.
The vibrant green foliage in Shenandoah National Park works very well for wildlife images. The wet bear hints at the recent weather conditions. There had been dense fog and a considerable amount of rain and as the 1/250, f/5.6, ISO 2500 camera settings hint, this image was captured under heavy cloud cover.
Though this bear appears to be lit by flash, no flash was used. The lighting is all natural ambient light. The bear's position in the opening meant that just enough cloudy sky was visible to brighten the scene and create a nice sparkle in the bear's eyes.
So, those are some lessons from a momma black bear. Hopefully you found something said here to be applicable to your own photography!
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.
It was a great start to the day. I had found this beautiful large-bodied 10-pt buck right away in the morning while there was barely light enough to see it. The buck was staying close to a calmly-feeding doe and defending against the occasional intruder. I was ready to photograph as soon as there was enough light to make it worth attempting.
When the buck moved, I would also change position to what I felt would be photographically optimal (often moving farther away as it approached) and was able to stay with the buck until the sun rose high enough to directly light it. It was at that point when the buck made a short charge to contain the doe, deterring it from going toward a distant intruder. The buck ideally stopped on the crest of a hill. The sunlight was hitting the deer nearly horizontally and I was up-light in position, but ... I saw the background that I had been looking for and that became the higher priority for me.
Shenandoah National Park is known for its many mountain ridges and incorporating them into a white-tailed deer image background is a great goal, but one that is not so easy to achieve, especially with the narrow field of view that a 600mm focal length presents. The lighting was making hard shadows, but the intruding buck was positioned toward the sun and that meant this buck was watching toward the sun, easing the shadow issue.
Selecting the to-share image from the couple-of-minutes take was challenging and I eventually narrowed the choice down to two. In the other example, the buck had its head turned even farther to the right with its left ear angled back, resulting in no shadows on the head. While that pose made the deer appear larger, I opted for the wider rack perspective shown by the more-toward-the-camera head angle.
Especially cool is that, with the Canon EOS 5Ds R's extreme resolution, I can crop this image down to a tight full-body portrait and still have about 24 mp of very sharp resolution remaining.
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
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.
The unevenly shaded blue sky is due to the use of a circular polarizer filter on an ultra-wide angle lens. Whether this is a positive aspect of the photo or not is up for debate, but I can tell you that the rest of the image benefits significantly from this filter being used.
15mm f/11.0 1/25s ISO 100
Bedded White-tailed Buck
I had been following this 7 (or 8?) point white-tailed buck for over an hour when it bedded down. The deer became more and more tolerant of my presence and I was able to work in close enough to get a clear shot.
While my preference is for the look that longer focal length lenses give me for wildlife photos, I would not have been able to get a clear shot with these longer lenses. There was simply too much brush for use of the longer lenses here. That the 200-400 L offered me best-available image quality in a range of focal lengths was very important on this trip.
362mm f/5.6 1/125s ISO 250
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.
Notice the rather-slow-for-wildlife 1/200 shutter speed used here. This image was captured late in the day and the lighting was dark. With some images of the buck already on the card (my insurance shots), I was going for higher quality images. The longer exposure enabled a lower ISO setting, but especially with a moving subject, the sharpness rate percentage is decreased with the longer shutter speeds. Taking that chance paid off nicely for this image with a touch of noise reduction making this ISO 2000 result look very smooth.
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.
For this composition, I moved in very close to a crack in the rocks with green grass growing in it.
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.
Also note the use of a monopod. Handholding this lens for most of that two hour period of time would not have been practical for me. And a tripod would have taken too long to adjust to get this shot. Using a monopod gives me much enough stability for the somewhat fast shutter speed necessary to capture the constantly moving deer. And the 1/400 shutter speed was not always fast enough for the latter.
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.
Alert poses are one of my favorites for wildlife with the ear position usually being ideal. From a compositional standpoint, the direction of the gaze adds weight to the side of the frame being gazed toward. That means this fawn works well being positioned toward the left side of the frame to provide overall balance. Of course, the beautiful SNP spring green landscape nicely compliments the colors of the fawn.
Fawn photography at this location can make use of all available telephoto focal lengths, from short telephoto to the longest super telephoto focal lengths available. The flexibility offered by a zoom lens has its advantages and, in this case, the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Lens' built-in 1.4x extender was especially helpful.
I have a unique, limited opportunity for you: I'd love for you to join me for "Whitetail Fawns and More", a Shenandoah National Park Instructional Photo Tour. Our goal is to photograph these beautiful little creatures along with many of the other great subjects found in Shenandoah National Park while actively learning photography skills. Read the just-linked-to detailed description to learn more.
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.
As I have mentioned before, photographing white-tailed deer in Big Meadows is very challenging. Though I took a lot of photos in my few days there, some quickly stand out over the rest to me. In addition to the cuteness factor, I liked this frame for a couple of reasons. The first is because of the relatively evenly colored bright green grass framing and strongly-contrasting the animals – but not obstructing them. I also like the balanced overall position of the animals. And, all the eyes are sharp.
One of the big challenges to photographing moving animals is often keeping the proper AF point(s) selected and when an animal changes direction, the proper AF point may be on the opposite side of the viewfinder. If the primary subject's eyes are not in focus, the image will likely end up in my recycle folder. This means that keeping the selected focus point(s) on the primary subject's eyes is more important than maintaining ideal subject framing. Getting both right is the goal of course, but I am more likely to delete an image because the eyes are out of focus than because the framing isn't perfect. Cropping can often solve the latter issue.
While I concentrated on keeping the ideal AF point selected and placed on the subjects (the doe's nose in this case – to keep both sets of eyes in focus), the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II's high speed burst mode took care of catching the frame of what seems like the ideal ear position in both animals.
Seeing and capturing too-cute moments like this one feed the addiction!
400mm f/5.6 1/640s ISO 800
Patient Button Buck
This little button buck gave me plenty of opportunity to try various shooting angles. But, because of his position, this is the only angle that worked (there is a tree *just* outside of the frame on the right). With the near motionless subject and ISO 800 selected, I was able to use a narrower aperture than I usually use, giving me more depth of field at this close focus distance. The added depth of field specifically allowed a more in-focus nose and ears.
600mm f/8.0 1/125s 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
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).
Unfortunately, at this time (Oct 2013), most of the big buck in Shenandoah National Park are wearing large GPS radio collars that include a black case under their chin, a leather strap around their neck, a black antenna behind their ear and a large green plastic identification number on each side of their neck. I understand that it is necessary to study the deer movements in light of chronic wasting disease, but the collars are very obnoxious in appearance.
The position of this deer hides most of the collar, with Photoshop taking care of the rest.
320mm f/4.0 1/400s ISO 2000
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
Bedded Button Buck
I have a lot of pictures of this little Shenandoah National Park white-tailed button buck, but most have the deer appearing less alert. To momentarily get the deer to direct his ears toward me, I threw a small handfull of leaves into the air and shot quickly. Try this trick with other animals - including horses.
600mm f/5.6 1/200s ISO 400
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.
This decent-sized 7pt buck tending a doe amidst the short red saplings in Big Meadows was a grand find on this morning. We worked around the deer to get the morning sun at our backs and, as best as we could, stayed within ideal photo range of it for over an hour. The buck was very attentive to the doe and gave us some nice behavior images. In this image, the buck had been cleaning its back (see the ruffled fur?) and stopped to look at the doe.
I used the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS Lens for this image. While my preference for wildlife photography is the look that the EF 600mm f/4L IS II Lens provides, the 200-400mm focal length range has proven more useful to me in this park, primarily because of the need to work in front of obstructions. Fortunately, image sharpness is something this zoom lens does not sacrifice. Take a look at this 100% crop from the ultra-high resolution EOS 5Ds R:
This image was captured at 400mm with a wide open f/4 aperture (to create as much background blur as possible). The RAW image was processed in DPP 4 using the Standard Picture Style with sharpness reduced to only "1". While the camera is extremely sharp, its resolution is unforgiving to lens quality. The 200-400 L is definitely 5Ds R-ready. It is simply a very impressive lens.
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.
Create your spring baby animal photography plan now (regardless of the season you happen to be reading this tip in). Determine what your baby animal subject(s) is(are) going to be, determine where they are located and plan on being at the right location to photograph them when they are introduced to the world.
This year, my animal of choice was the white-tailed deer. Newborn whitetail fawns are about the cutest animal on the face of this planet. They are also full of energy and very playful, making them very fun to watch.
My selected location for white-tailed deer fawn photography was Big Meadows in Shenandoah National Park. Whitetail fawns are born in late May and Early June, and I made it a priority to be there in that time-frame.
Watching the weather forecast about a week out, I booked a lodge room for one night. I know, that date was too far away for anyone to accurately predict the weather, but I needed a bit of planning time. The weather forecast was for "cloudy" and that meant I would have decent light all day long and wouldn't need to concern myself with harsh shadows even in the woods.
A couple of days later, the forecast changed to sunny and another day later the National Weather Service began calling for about 80% chance of rain for both of the days I would be there. I prepared for rain (rain gear for both me and the camera equipment along with a large umbrella). What I didn't plan for was heavy fog the entire two days and I really didn't expect it to rain most of the time I was there, but that was reality.
While I sighted many deer, those with fawns were not interested in being in view of photographers (even when approached in a vehicle). The fog drastically reduced contrast and cut realistic photo distances down to 30' (10m) at times, so approaching was necessary. After a long day, what I really felt like doing was hitting bed early the first night, but I continued the effort. That perseverance was rewarded when watching a doe in front of some bright ferns at the edge of the woods.
The ferns made an interesting background and as I was photographing her, she was bleating. Deer bleat to communicate, so I knew that there was another deer or a fawn nearby. With no warning, the cutest little fawn came bouncing out of the woods and began nursing.
The adorable fawn drank with fervor and I shot similarly, capturing nearly 200 images in the about-8 minute long encounter. While the fawn drank, the mother cleaned it and when the fawn finished drinking, it peered out from under the mother, providing additional poses including this one (I also like this image cropped tighter, emphasizing the fawn and removing the bright ferns). Then both went back into the woods and darkness came over the scene soon after.
While my trip overall was not one of my more productive efforts, but 8 minutes with one of the world's cutest animals produced a series of images that made the effort worthwhile.
On this trip with ultimate image quality being my goal, the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II and Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS (used for this image) were my wildlife lenses of choice with a Canon EOS 5D Mark III mounted behind them. When hiking longer distances, I carried the 100-400 L II and also used it from the car at times when the light was strong enough. The 200-400 L was my choice when the light waned and often used it on a monopod when not moving too far from the car. Both lenses and the camera performed amazingly.
Determine which baby animal you want to photography this or next spring and create your plan to photograph it!
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.
This particular deer has a slight u-shaped stance that I like. I also like that the legs are somewhat evenly spaced, adding a natural pattern to the shot. That three of the frame borders are clear of heavy contrasting lines is yet another bonus.
I often prefer to shoot level with the animal, but in this case, I had a better background when shooting at a slight downward angle.
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.
I only had the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Lens with a EOS 5Ds R behind it and a Gitzo monopod under it. Fortunately, that ended up being an ideal setup. With the brilliantly colored sky being relatively small in scale, the telephoto focal lengths allowed me to get a frame full of color.
I photographed this scene through and after sunset, but liked this image, with the last bit of sun still shining over the distant mountain, the best. With a great sky, interesting and colorful images can be made with little or no content other than just the sky in the frame. In this situation, I liked how the mountain in shadow gave the image a base in addition to adding some needed framing below setting sun.
The colorful sky found just before, during and just after sunrises and sunsets help to create some of the best landscape images possible. But, there is one post processing adjustment that can give these images some extra "pop" and that adjustment is saturation. Find the saturation slider in your image processing tool, slide it to the right and watch your image come alive.
But, don't move it too far to the right. Use caution in the amount of saturation you add as this adjustment can easily be (and often is) overdone. Add the desired life to the image without creating a garish overdone look that screams "I ADDED TOO MUCH SATURATION!" I like to come back to a processed image the next day to see if I still agree with my original decision. Sometimes, I change my mind months later.
The sky was so amazingly colored on this evening that I only adjusted the saturation setting for this image to "1" (in Canon's Digital Photo Pro software).
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
Layers of Feeding White-tailed Deer
A few heads and bodies along with a lot of legs form this layered feeding deer picture. I was flat on the ground for this shot with the lens tripod ring resting only on my hand.
500mm f/4.0 1/800s ISO 125
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.
When planning my fawn photography trip to Big Meadows in Shenandoah National Park, I expected the higher resolution to be my preference and packed a pair of 5Ds R bodies along with many spare batteries. I also packed the 1D X Mark II, with expectations for this camera being more for additional in-the-field experience in support of the currently published review.
The Big Meadows meadow is thick with vegetation. Thick patches of thigh-high briars are found throughout and grass covers much of the balance of the meadow area. The grass is not exceptionally thick, but it sends stems and seed heads up rather high and there are few openings void of the tall grass.
While somewhat attractive, these seed heads create problem. The fawns are short – shorter than the grasses. While the fawn may be easily visible, a very high percentage of my fawn photos include a grass across an eye or blocking enough of the fawn's face to detract significantly from the image. With the sun at my back, the ideal lighting for wildlife photography, the grasses created shadows directly on the fawns and the shadows were just as detracting as the grasses themselves, creating double trouble. With careful timing, images could be captured when the fawn passes between the grasses. That is if the fawn was moving slowly and if the wind wasn't blowing.
The problem was that the fawns were seldom still or moving slowly and the grasses move in even the lightest wind, making accurate timing nearly impossible and even challenging with the fawn standing still. Compounding the problem was that grasses close to the camera were not so visible in the viewfinder, but they still contributed to a noticeable contrast reduction in the image. There are a lot of things to concentrate on when photographing a randomly moving animal (focus point selection to mention one) without having to keep track of blowing grasses and their shadows. Shooting from a higher position than ideal (ideal being level with the subject) was often helpful in getting above some of the grasses, but ... the 1D X Mark II's fast frame rate delivered a much greater number of keeper images than the 5Ds R was capturing.
Capturing images at 14 fps, there was often the right combination of body and grass positions in at least one of the frames from a burst. Or, subsequent frames captured so quickly could potentially allow portions of one image to be composited with the other, such as for removing an offending blade of grass.
I'm not sure if this fawn was playing or experimenting with a new food, but it was adorable for sure. I held the shutter release down for the short period of time it was holding the branch in its mouth. While I captured well over a dozen images, only one image gave me a clear view of the fawn's head.
Grass was my #1 nemesis in Big Meadows and was responsible for the delete button being pressed on thousands of images, but the 1D X II ensured that there were plenty of great shots remaining in the keeper folder.
Overall, the success of my three days in Shenandoah National Park was largely due to the 1D X II's capabilities. Even when the grass interfered visually, I was impressed at how adept the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II was at focusing on the fawn. Foreground obstructions are notorious for grabbing AF's attention, but very frequently the 1D X II figured out that the fawn was the real subject and remained locked onto it.
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
Shenandoah National Park Buck
When photographing a GPS radio-collared buck such as this old Shenandoah NP example, careful attention must be paid to head angle (assuming that you want to remove the collar in post). Because the radio-covered white patch under the chin and the whiskers leading into that area are nearly impossible to rebuild, head-down positions work best.
Tripods will give you the most stable shooting platform, but the speed and flexibility of monopods often rule for wildlife photography. Here I was shooting from a drainage ditch. I quickly hopped in and setup the monopod for near-ground-level shooting. The buck might not have remained in place while I figured out how to set it up down in this somewhat-unusual shooting location. The 1/500 shutter speed along with image stabilization was easily enough for sharp photos – except when the deer moved faster than its normal feeding movements.
400mm f/4.0 1/500s ISO 250
White-tailed Doe in SNP
A white-tailed deer emerges from the Shenandoah National Park-characteristic lichen-covered oaks.
400mm f/4.0 1/500s ISO 250
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
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.
The constantly watching aspect is a key point. During non-rut times, it can be hard to get a buck to lift its head in this national park, but during rut, that problem vanishes. The buck are constantly giving their best alert poses. And, when a challenger shows up, the action gets especially entertaining.
Many basic image composition strategies involve establishing balance in the frame. When an included subject has eyes, the direction they are looking adds weight to the side of the frame being peered toward. This means the subject, adding weight itself, should be moved toward the opposite side of the frame for equalization. There is some flexibility as to how far to move the subject and the rule of thirds often has value in this situation.
Had this buck simply turned his head the other direction, I would have had to rapidly change AF points to the other side of the frame and recompose to move the majority of empty space to the right side of the animal to again achieve the desired balance. As an aside, if that head turn happens, quickly grab a photo placing the already-selected AF point on the closest eye. Then switch AF points as desired prior to continuing to photograph. I often do this because moments with wildlife can be fleeting and as long as you have the entire animal/bird in the frame and in focus, you still have the option to photograph additional empty space after the animal is vanishes. The photo of empty space probably will not be very special (don't accidentally delete it later), but it can be perfect for stitching into the fast-captured wildlife image.
In this case, the buck was motionless for a long enough period of time for me to capture a dozen or so images. All seemed ideally-composed in the viewfinder, most were composed slightly differently and many variants still looked potentially the best during review on the computer. That of course meant that picking only one of them to share was a challenge.
Some of you remember that I often use the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Lens at SNP. The zoom is ideal for working around obstructions, but this time I opted to use the Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM Lens. I made this choice primarily to get the stronger background blur (and foreground blur in this case). I know, you are thinking that this is a big and expensive lens. But, it is among my most-frequently-used and a large percentage of my favorite images were captured with it.
One editing question regarding this image remains in my mind: should I remove the small branch over the deer's head? Or does that detail add to the image, emphasizing of the thickness of the brush he is in?
600mm f/4.0 1/1250s ISO 250
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.
These incredibly-cute twin white-tailed deer fawns were with their mother and she was meandering through the woods, feeding in a seemingly random manner. I was constantly adjusting my position, trying to be in the right place as they passed through a potentially good scene.
When I saw the adorable little fawns headed for a fern-bordered clearing, I immediately saw the potential image and moved into position. I couldn't have requested a better direction, though they came through very fast. With the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II in high speed burst mode, I was able to capture a string of images as they came through. The fast frame rate afforded me the opportunity to be quite selective, choosing my favorite body positions. This one stood out to me for the symmetry in the fawns' stride along with their head positions.
Photographing in the woods with direct sunlight reaching through the canopy makes lighting very challenging. The giant overhead softbox that a cloudy day creates resolves that problem and this day had been perfect. There was direct sunlight in the early morning, providing great warm lighting in the fields of Big Meadows. As the sun rose and the lighting cooled, cloud cover rolled in and provided great light for photographing in and near the woods all day long. This image was captured at 2:39 PM on a late spring day.
But, just because the lighting is good does not mean that the animals will be there. Deer typically feed early and late in the day and finding them mid-day can be challenging. Many photographers don't feel that mid-day is worth their time. Perhaps I'm not that smart, but ... this mother had two hungry little ones to feed and was in need of additional meals. I was out hunting for subjects and our paths crossed.
As I've mentioned before, a monopod is faster to setup and adjust than a tripod and the monopod was a key part of my kit on this encounter. Being able to set up fast enabled me to position myself closer to where the fawns currently were, making the ideal position prediction more accurate.
Another fawn photography tip I'll share is the timing for fawn photography. You will probably agree that fawns are their cutest just after birth, before they grow very rapidly. But, newborn fawns are not as active as those a week or two old. The newborns stay hidden in their beds a significant percentage of the time, making them harder to photograph. If your time is short and you want your encounter rate increased, consider timing your photography trip for a week or two later than you would for just-born fawns.
400mm f/5.6 1/500s ISO 2500
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.
The buck was looking great and the frost on his back and antlers was a bonus. I went to work, but promptly ran into a full buffer on the Canon EOS 5Ds R I was using. The 5Ds R buffer typically clears fast, but unfortunately, this full buffer took a very long time to clear. I didn't put a timer on it, but ... what seemed like an eternity was probably (rough guess) 10 minutes.
In those 10 minutes, I lost a significant number of images. What happened?
The problem started the night before. I put the 256GB SDXC card in my laptop and decided to quickly delete images I knew were inferior. The goal was to re-gain some capacity on the cards and to reduce the load on the redundant backups next on the to-do list. It is always risky to delete images directly from the card, but ... I was being careful – and apparently feeling bold.
After making a quick pass through the images I had time to review prior to bedtime and completing the backups, I put the card back in the camera. Having run into the buffer issue before, I took a short burst of images to ensure that the camera was working properly. However, in the morning, that burst proved too short.
At a high level, when files are deleted directly from the card using another device, the camera performs organizational maintenance before writing new files and, in this case, that maintenance took a very long time to complete. I've encountered this problem before, but with the test capture, I thought I would be OK in this regard. If doing as I did, capturing a burst long enough to trigger the organizational maintenance routine while still at home/in the hotel is very highly advisable. The best plan is to not touch the images written to a memory card and simply format new cards being used in the camera.
While I went away with many nice images of this buck, the frost melted quickly and I definitely left some good images in the field.
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.
In the field, scenarios can change fast and keeping photography strategies simple can mean the difference between getting a good photo and getting nothing. That said, selecting an exposure must always be part of the strategy.
Most North American deer are brown and brown is a friendly color for a camera's auto exposure algorithm (unlike the color of most black bears). Green is another friendly AE color and that is the most-common background color at Shenandoah National Park in late spring. Thus, I commonly use AE when pursuing this subject with little need to monitor changing light levels.
Though using AE, I am still using the camera's Manual mode with Auto ISO providing the brightness adjustment. The fawns are often in fast motion, so I want control of the shutter speed being selected with a fast speed being normal. When the subject pauses, I roll the top dial to select a longer exposure, resulting in a lower (less-noisy) ISO setting being automatically selected.
The aperture setting works similarly. If I have a single subject, I can roll the aperture value to a wider setting, again with the ISO setting being reduced and a stronger background blur created. If multiple subjects become part of the composition or I decide that the background should be more recognizable, I simply dial in a narrower aperture.
There are obviously many more factors that go into a wildlife image capture but having a solid exposure strategy that works in many scenarios helps keep the strategy simple. Currently, turning my mode dial to Custom Mode 3 instantly provides this setup.
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
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