Dawn Wilson Photography: Blog https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog en-us (C) 2021 Dawn Wilson Photography (Dawn Wilson Photography) Tue, 23 Mar 2021 20:03:00 GMT Tue, 23 Mar 2021 20:03:00 GMT https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/img/s/v-12/u45817337-o104775357-50.jpg Dawn Wilson Photography: Blog https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog 120 63 A Waxwing Winter https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2021/3/a-waxwing-winter Cedar_waxwing_Slidell_2021_5Cedar_waxwing_Slidell_2021_5A cedar waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) sits on the end of a branch of a cherry tree in Slidell, Louisiana. What a winter with the waxwings! I see cedar waxwings in Colorado, but not for long and certainly not in large flocks. 

This was my sixth winter visiting Louisiana, and it was the first time I spent the whole winter here due to some family health issues. That gave me an opportunity to really see how the season changed — from the final lingering leaves of fall to the popping of the brightly colored flowers on the azalea bushes and wisteria vines. But something I experienced this year didn't happen in previous years — or I wasn't as tuned in with it in previous years as this year. 

Cedar_waxwing_Slidell_2021_1Cedar_waxwing_Slidell_2021_1A pair of cedar waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) sit on a branch on a sunny morning in Slidell, Louisiana. This winter seemed to bring an abundance of cedar waxwings to southern Louisiana. I have not heard one way or the other if it was an especially abundant year for the unique looking birds, but some people did tell me they always see them each winter.

Cedar waxwings love berries and they always travel in flocks. What I had never noticed before was all of the ornamental trees in the landscaping of the shopping centers — holly bushes, cherry trees, and dogwood trees — in New Orleans and surrounding suburbs. I would sit in the parking lots, checking my phone for messages or email before heading into a store, and all of sudden hear that distinct "chee chee" made by the waxwings. A quick look up and I could easily identify the flock of two or three dozen birds.  Cedar_waxwing_Slidell_2021_3Cedar_waxwing_Slidell_2021_3A cedar waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) sits in a holly tree in Slidell, Louisiana.

But then one day in early March I came across a flock of waxwings sitting in a cherry tree near Walmart. There were probably four or five dozen in the tree. I pulled out my camera and spent about an hour with the birds. I didn't see them feeding very much, which seemed odd, and I didn't even see anything for them to eat. The cherry trees must be sterile because they didn't have berries on them. But then in a rush of fluttering and "chee chee" the whole flock flew down to the bushes below the trees.

Cedar_waxwing_Slidell_2021_2Cedar_waxwing_Slidell_2021_2A cedar waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) flips a berry into his mouth on a cloudy day in a shopping center parking lot in Slidell, Louisiana. I  still don't know what kind of bush they went into but they were pulling out these large berries, so large the birds were struggling to swallow them. As soon as they would swallow one, off they went back up to the cherry tree. 

So why weren't they eating them in any quantity? I stayed for a while and learned the answer. 

About an hour later I started hearing things hitting my truck. Plink...dink...dink...plink. The seeds of those berries were bouncing off of the truck, as well as some poo from the birds. It appeared the berries took about an hour to digest because as soon as the flock was finished digesting the berries, down they came again for another round. Cedar_waxwing_Slidell_2021_6Cedar_waxwing_Slidell_2021_6A cedar waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) sits on the end of a branch in Slidell, Louisiana.

The light was tough in morning — backlit by the rising sun — so I anticipated nice front light in the afternoon. I came back about 90 minutes before sunset but did not calculate time for the setting sun getting lost behind the Bed, Bath and Beyond and Dollar Tree stores in the shopping center. I had about 30 minutes before I lost the nice light but it was enough time to catch a round of feeding, and realize the flock had more than doubled in size.

I returned again the next morning. The day was overcast so the backlighting wouldn't be as much of an issue. I also tried to park in a different location so I could shoot down the row of bushes and trees rather than directly at them.  Cedar_waxwing_Slidell_2021_7Cedar_waxwing_Slidell_2021_7A flock of cedar waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) sit at the top of a cherry tree in Slidell, Louisiana.

When I arrived I was astonished to see not just one tree full of waxwings, but four of those cherry trees covered with the birds. I counted at least 400 birds. The word had spread throughout the waxwing world and it seemed every waxwing in a 50 mile radius had descended on the shopping center. 

Cedar_waxwing_Slidell_2021_4Cedar_waxwing_Slidell_2021_4A cedar waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) sits among the blossoms of a cherry tree in Slidell, Louisiana. With that many hungry birds it didn't take long before those bushes were cleaned out of berries. About two days later I started noticing the flock was dispersing and within a week all I saw was about one or two dozen birds fluttering from one area of the shopping center to another finding other tasty meals — a holly tree behind the Olive Garden, another holly tree by the Raising Cane's, a few wild vines across the street from the parking lot exit.

It was a fantastic couple of weeks with the birds. By the third week of March most of the waxwings were gone from the region in general. Either I didn't get the memo on the new berry trees or the birds were beginning their journey north like me. 

Photo Tips:

- Use your car as a blind. The birds won't fear the car, especially in a parking lot, but as soon as you get out, their flight instinct kicks into gear. Use a bean bag for your door, like the Nature Scapes Skimmer Sack, to keep your camera steady.

- When shooting from the vehicle, turn the engine off. Even the slight vibration of a running engine can cause camera shake. 

- Try to find a location where you are eye level with the birds. These particular waxwings liked sitting in the higher branches of the trees. I didn't want photos looking up at the birds so I waited until they were on lower branches or in a shorter bush. 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) bird photography bird photos birds cedar waxwing Louisiana nature nature photography photography tips for nature photographers travel waxwing wildlife winter https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2021/3/a-waxwing-winter Tue, 23 Mar 2021 19:33:11 GMT
Winter in Louisiana https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2021/2/winter-in-louisiana 2021 marked my sixth winter spending time in Louisiana. Each time, I have ventured a little further from home base and found new places to explore. I also try to find new routes when traveling between Colorado and Louisiana to add new destinations, or revisit favorite ones. 
Christmas_Star_GuadalupeNP_2020_1Christmas_Star_GuadalupeNP_2020_1The conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter, also referred to as the Christmas Star, above El Capitan and Guadalupe Peak in Guadalupe National Park, Texas.
This year was no different. For this year's seasonal visit, I stopped at Guadalupe Mountains National Park and Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary, both in Texas. The visits were short as I was up against arriving in time for Christmas but well worth the stops.

Visiting Guadalupe Mountains gave me my 42nd national park—21 to go—and an opportunity to photograph the Christmas Star (conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter) above Texas' tallest mountain, Guadalupe Peak. 

Reddish_egret_Bolivar_Flats_2020_1Reddish_egret_Bolivar_Flats_2020_1A white morph reddish egret (Egretta rufescens) takes off from a shallow pool of water along the Gulf Coast of Texas. The visit to the Texas Gulf Coast was even shorter—just a few hours—but sliding around on the beach in my waders and using my Skimmer Pod gave me some interesting photos of shore birds, something I don't get much of a chance to do in Colorado. Dawn_beach_Gulfport_2021_2Dawn_beach_Gulfport_2021_2Photographer and writer, Dawn Wilson, photographs shore birds along the Gulf Coast in Gulfport, Mississippi.

Then it was off to Louisiana. Over the course of a couple months, I visited three national wildlife refuges—Big Branch Marsh, Bogue Chitto, Atchafalaya—plus four state parks (Fontainbleau, Fairview Riverside, Tickfaw, Grand Isle) and a few nature preserves (Lake Martin, Northlake, Audubon Park, Lafreniere Park).

Nutria_LaFreniere_2021_1Nutria_LaFreniere_2021_1A nutria (Myocastor coypus), also known as a coypu, holds a piece of bread it found at an urban park near New Orleans, Louisiana. I finally captured an image of a nutria in one of the city parks. This not-so-little rodent, also referred to as swamp rats, has eluded me on previous trips, at least for a photo. They are a crepuscular animal that hide in thick vegetation. I had seen them in the distance or when I saw them close, they darted into the nearby cover before I could grab a photo. But this year I finally photographed one as it fed on some food left by kids feeding nearby ducks. 

These large rodents (and cousins of the American beaver) were introduced in the U.S. from South America around 1900 for a fur industry that eventually failed. They are considered an invasive species and do a number on marshes. They have even been the main ingredient in recipes by local Louisiana chefs in an attempt to reduce their numbers. Osprey_Eden_2021_1Osprey_Eden_2021_1An osprey (Pandion haliaetus) looks directly forward on a wet, rainy day near Lake Ponchartrain, Louisiana.

I also ventured over to the Gulf Coast of Mississippi to find more shore birds, and a few brown pelicans (of course!). 

Northern_cardinal_Louisiana_2021_4Northern_cardinal_Louisiana_2021_4A female northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) stands on top of a moss-covered post on a cloudy day in southern Louisiana.
And
in between, I set up a backyard blind to photograph song birds (and it turns out some thieving squirrels), and ventured around some roads along Lake Ponchartrain to find my favorite Louisiana subject, brown pelicans, as well as a cooperative osprey.

I have said this many times and mention it to my photography students in every workshop and class: there is always something right in your backyard that is interesting to photograph. The year of Covid-19 (2020) has definitely made that evident to a lot of people. And focusing on your own backyard really provides the best opportunity to visit places on a regular basis to learn patterns, habits, seasons and, in the case of being on Louisiana's Gulf Coast, tides.

Brown_pelican_Eden_2020_3Brown_pelican_Eden_2020_3A brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) flaps off the water after a rain storm along Lake Ponchartrain, Louisiana. Don't get me wrong; I love to travel, and I will continue to travel. I love visiting Alaska and can't wait to get back there in a few months (it has been way too long because of Covid). I'll add a few more national parks to my list this year and will continue to revisit my favorite parks. 

But for someone who has been forced to stay close to home (even if a home on the road) because of work, family commitments, and a pandemic, it has been a nice change of pace to explore new but local areas, and learn how much is right in our own backyard. Gray_squirrel_AudubonPark_2021_1Gray_squirrel_AudubonPark_2021_1A gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) munches on a piece of food while sitting at the base of a pine tree in Audubon Park in New Orleans, Louisiana.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) animal animals bird bird photography Gulf Coast Louisiana nature nature photography photo photography Texas tips tips for nature photographers travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2021/2/winter-in-louisiana Fri, 26 Feb 2021 22:54:29 GMT
Rocky: Before and After the 2020 Wildfire Season https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2021/1/rocky-fires Before and After the 2020 Wildfire Season
in Rocky Mountain National Park


NEW VIDEO! Read through for link.

There is no question that 2020 will go down as one of the most difficult in U.S. history.  

But with everything that happened in that unprecedented year, my home state of Colorado experienced its worst year on record when it came to wildfires.

By the end of 2020, Colorado had seen its three largest fires in history:

  • Cameron Peak Fire: 208,663 acres
  • East Troublesome Fire: 192,560 acres
  • Pine Gulch Fire: 139,007 acres

At one point, my home town of Estes Park was ranked as the town or city with the worst air quality in the world during the height of the top two fires, which burned just a few miles to the north and west, respectively, of town. The entire town of Estes Park was also put on mandatory evacuation orders for the first time in history on October 22, 2020 because of the proximity of the growing East Troublesome Fire. East_troublesome_fire_2020_2East_troublesome_fire_2020_2A small group of elk feed on grasses at the Estes Valley Dog Park under an eerie sky and as traffic evacuates out of Estes Park due to the growth of the East Troublesome Fire.

In September 2020, I drove all of the roads in the park to capture time-lapse video on my GoPro Hero8 and window mount of my Toyota Tacoma. My goal was to document some of the best spots in the park for photography. I had no idea that some of these videos would capture landscapes that I will probably never again see in the same condition in my lifetime. 

In addition, this footage now gives me an opportunity to document the regrowth process from before the fires to a year, five years or maybe longer post 2020 wildfire season. 

Moose_RMNP_2019_9Moose_RMNP_2019_9A moose calf (Alces alces) stands up in thick, tall green grasses on the edge of a forest on a sunny day in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. In particular, I am interested in seeing how quickly the habitat returns, how it looks when it returns, and how the animals will adjust to the new habitat. 

Join me on the journey of Colorado's rebirth to healthy forests after the 2020 wildfire season.

Here is the first video of this series featuring a small section of the Kawuneeche Valley in Rocky Mountain National Park. 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) colorado colorado wildfires conservation conservation photography global warming moose national park nature photography photo travel rocky mountain national park wildfire wildfire season https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2021/1/rocky-fires Fri, 29 Jan 2021 02:02:38 GMT
Topaz Denoise AI and Sharpen AI Review https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2020/3/topaz-denoise-ai-and-sharpen-ai-review There are many great plug-ins available for editing photos in Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom. Some make small changes to polish up a photo and some make very drastic modifications for an unrealistic look in the photo. And then there is a whole slew of products in between.

I don't use a lot of filters or plug-ins; my training started in journalism so I feel images should be as close to what I felt at the time I took the photo as possible. That being said, I have also suffered from what I call the "Disney syndrome" with my photos. 

You see, rumors abounded in the 70s and 80s that Walt Disney was in a state of cryostasis—frozen in time until medicine could catch up and reanimate him. This is of course not true but the principle still applies with my photos. If I capture a photo of something pretty spectacular, rare, funny or impressive, I save it even if it isn't technically perfect.

Topaz Sharpening AI

This brown pelican shot is an example of that thought process. This bird looked right at me in beautiful afternoon light and gulped down on a carp. (See my Photo of the Month page for the story behind the shot and the full photo.)

The problem was that the bird moved just ever so slightly faster than I had my settings ready to capture (1/1000 sec, f6.3, ISO 320, 700mm [500mm lens with 1.4 teleconverter], Nikon D4s). The result was a little bit of motion blur in the image.

Solution: try out the new Topaz Sharpen AI plug-in I recently purchased. 

I think the results speak for themselves and the image is now a useable, albeit maybe not printable, photograph that displays a unique moment with this large bird. 

Topaz DeNoise AI

Another plug-in that came with the Topaz package I purchased was Denoise AI. 

On the high-end, pro-level digital cameras of the current marketplace, noise is not as much of an issue as it was even five or six years ago. You can shoot at ISO 3200 and sometimes higher with stunning results. 

But in 2011, I was shooting with a Nikon D80. It was my first digital camera that was considered a prosumer level body. It did great and I captured many fantastic and publishable photos with that body but I had to watch the ISO levels on it. 

This is another example of where the "Disney syndrome" came into play. 

Wolf_3Wolf_3Alpha male of the Canyon Pack in Yellowstone National Park. On the morning of December 31, 2011, I was venturing into Yellowstone National Park for my last visit of my trip. It was shortly before dawn and all you could see were shadows along the roadway. As I ventured up the road out of the north entrance and along the Gardner River, I caught the sudden movement of a coyote on the far side of the water. I pulled into a pull out and watched the shadows for a moment. Turns out it wasn't a coyote that I saw but a wolf—three of them actually. They had just taken down an elk, which was now laying in the river. The wolves were feeding on it within full-frame distance of the roadway.

I stayed in my vehicle while I watched and waited for the light to improve enough to capture photos. 

To this day that is still my best wolf encounter.  Wolf_YNP_2011_6Wolf_YNP_2011_6A male wolf (Canis lupus) walks down through a snow-covered river bank in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Those photos, however, were just a little too noisy to do much more than share on social media. 

The new Topaz DeNoise AI was the perfect solution to bring these photos into the next decade and make them publishable images. 

The top image is the original photo with standard post processing that was completed in 2012. (1/640 sec, f5.0, ISO 1250, 500mm; Nikon D80)

As you can see there is quite a bit of noise and a lack of detail in the image. I was also hesitant to open up the shadows and lighten the image more than I did in fear of introducing noise to the image. 

The bottom image has been reprocessed with the Topaz DeNoise AI plug-in. I am very happy with the results, so happy that I included this image as my December photo in my 2021 Rocky Mountain Wildlife calendar

If you are interested in learning more about the Topaz plug-ins or purchasing this package (I purchased the Utility Bundle, which is currently [4/24/20] on sale for $249.99 from $359.96), visit topazlabs.com. Use discount code DWPhoto15 to save 15% on your purchase!

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) editing Labs Lightroom nature photo photograph photographer photography Photoshop plug-ins post-processing processing tips tips for nature photographers Topaz wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2020/3/topaz-denoise-ai-and-sharpen-ai-review Thu, 26 Mar 2020 22:31:27 GMT
Great Podcasts I Enjoy https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2020/1/great-podcasts-i-enjoy RV_at_Salton_Sea_2015_1RV_at_Salton_Sea_2015_1My RV parked in the campground at sunset at the Salton Sea, California Ever find yourself getting bored with listening to the radio? Try a podcast. There are so many out there for so many interests that there is sure to be one you can enjoy. These are some of the ones I enjoy listening to the most when I am on a long trip or working in my office. A couple even have a few interviews of me talking about my time on the road and my photography (*). 

 

  • Wild and Exposed*: great conversational podcast about photography, travel adventures and gear
  • Marketing Your Business: high energy, quick tips for marketing any type of business
  • Vision Slightly Blurred: short 30-minute discussions from the founder of Photoshelter about lots of photography topics
  • Business Boutique: a fantastic show about all things business for women
  • The Landscape Photography Show: a new one for me that features interviews with today's top landscape photographers
  • She Explores: if you are a woman who loves to travel, then this is a must listen
  • Dirtbag Diaries: a fun listen about hiking, traveling, vanlife and more
  • The RV Entrepreneur: how to make money on the road; many topics are applicable to any small business
  • Girl Camper*: practical tips and inspirational interviews about women on the road
  • Women on the Road: the title says it all. Who says the girls shouldn't do the traveling??
  • OutThere Colorado: a fun podcast of various tidbits about the Centennial State
  • Projects for Wildlife: interested in starting a conservation project? not sure where to start? need some inspiration? check out this helpful resource
  • Fresh Air: this has been a favorite of mine for many years. Host Terry Gross knows how to interview and topics include politics, entertainment, books, current topics, and more. And of course it helps that it has ties to my alma mater, Rowan University! 
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(Dawn Wilson Photography) air and conservation explores exposed fresh learn nature nature photography photo photographer photography podcast she tips tips for nature photographers travel wild wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2020/1/great-podcasts-i-enjoy Thu, 23 Jan 2020 17:23:30 GMT
Capture Beautiful Photos of Holiday Lights https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2019/12/capture-beautiful-photos-of-holiday-lights It is that time of year. Now that Christmas is almost here, it is time to start enjoying the season by slowing down and going out to see all those holiday light displays. Interested in photographing them too? Well, here are some tips for capturing memorable shots of the holiday season.

Estes_Park_Christmas_LightsEstes_Park_Christmas_LightsChristmas lights illuminate the empty streets of Estes Park, Colorado just before sunrise on New Year's Day.
New York Christmas BallsNew York Christmas Balls 1. Try a shallow depth of field

Create a shallow depth of field by using a wide open aperture, such as f4 or f5.6. This will get your subject in focus while softening the lights in the background into large, colorful glowing balls of light. This technique creates an effect called bokeh and produces a fun and creative perspective on Christmas lights. 

2. Expose for the lights

Since most photos of Christmas lights will be taken in the evening, it is important to expose for the lights, which are the brightest part of the image, rather than the dark surroundings. This will help prevent blowing out the details in these glowing orbs. You can tell if you have blown out the highlights by using the "blinkies" on your camera's LCD screen (highlight alerts). Parade_of_lights_2017_2Parade_of_lights_2017_2Nutcrackers on a float in the Estes Park Parade of Lights. When the highlights are blinking, it means all detail has been lost in that section of the image. This can happen in any photo any time of the day. For example, if you photograph a landscape with big white fluffy clouds in the sky, overexposed clouds with highlights will be pure white and lack detail. These will appear as white blobs on a print. You can overcome this issue by exposing for the brightest portion of the scene. 

3. Photograph outside in the blue hour

This can be the best time of night to photograph holiday lights because the deep blue in the sky means there is still enough ambient light to illuminate the scene to provide a little detail in the shadows. As the evening gets darker, the surrounding features might fall into total shadow and lack detail. Getting close to the lights will also help illuminate nearby features. Another benefit of photographing lights during the blue hour? Complementary colors — especially when photographing white lights. White lights give off a yellow glow. Yellow and blue are complementary colors on the color wheel and this makes our brains smile (it feels balanced).

Christmas_lights_2017_1Christmas_lights_2017_1A Christmas ball hanging on a Christmas tree surrounded by sparkling lights. 4. Get creative with your lights

Try focusing in really close on the Christmas tree. Photograph Christmas decorations that have ambient light from nearby lights. Or have a child or pet sit under or just in front of the tree to get soft glowing light on them. Another option is to go outside and use the lights as creative light trails. Without any people or objects near you, spin strings of lights in various shapes to create unique patterns. 

5. Use a slow shutter speed and higher ISOs

Even though the lights give off some illumination, the scene, for the most part, is pretty dark. This will require slower shutter speeds (in the range of 1/4 to two seconds) and higher ISOs. The slower shutter speeds will also require using a tripod, especially if you don't want ISO levels that introduce noise. To handhold the camera, raise the ISO level or try setting the camera on a steady surface, such as a flat brick wall, and set the timer to take the photo. 

Denver City and County Building at ChristmasDenver City and County Building at ChristmasDenver City and County Building decorated in glorious holiday lights. 6. Suggestions for photo ideas  Christmas LightsChristmas Lights

  • Try a street full of shops decorated for Christmas
  • Pets under the tree
  • Fresh snowfall over lights on a pine tree outside
  • City street with holiday revelers and lots of lights
  • Illuminated decorations on a Christmas tree
  • A handful of lights
  • Christmas parade (a parade of lights)
  • A child's face illuminated by lights from the Christmas tree
  • Christmas tree photographed out of focus
  • A downtown area decorated with lights (maybe from above or a distance)
  • Nativity scenes
  • Iconic holiday scenes, like those at Rockefeller Plaza in New York City

Have fun with the photography and lights, and have a very merry Christmas.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Christmas December decoration holiday lights photographer photography tips tree https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2019/12/capture-beautiful-photos-of-holiday-lights Fri, 20 Dec 2019 01:38:03 GMT
My Journey Through Storage https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2019/10/my-journey-through-storage Nanook and Sage on their first day on the road. In September 2015, I hit the road full time—just me with my two huskies and two cats. To do that, I needed to downsize my possessions, my things, my stuff. That included selling my home and a lot of stuff I had as a result of Aeric's (my partner of 15 years) and my Dad's unexpected deaths in 2012 and 2013, respectively. But it was tough for a variety of reasons to downsize those items. So I focused on what I could — sofas, plants, the overabundance of sheets and towels I had, the lawnmower I wouldn't need while in an RV. The memories and emotions were still pretty raw, even three years later, to delve into the other items in the basement that were boxed up in the months following their deaths. 

So I neatly packed away all of those memories and the items I thought I would need once I came off the road, whenever that would be. I put them into storage with the intention of buying a house in Fort Collins, Colo., after my travels where I would need sofas, tv stands, and the sheets I kept. I thought I had downsized a lot but looking back I realized I didn't. A lot also happened in those 15 months on the road: My RV and Jeep at the first destination of the RV journey, the Mt. Evans Scenic Highway.
- the cost of the median home along Colorado's Front Range increased by about 73% since I bought my last house in 2013, and my income dropped by about 40% when I came off the road in 2016 (compared to my salary before Aeric and my Dad died)
- I unexpectedly met someone on the road
- I still wasn't ready to go through those boxes of memories
- I fell in love with seeing the U.S.


My first storage unit on the day I moved everything into storage in 2015. I came off the road in December 2016, and moved into a one-bedroom apartment in Loveland, Colo. since I could no longer afford a home in Fort Collins. Thankfully the apartment included a garage so I could start pulling some of those items out of storage. But it didn't even make a dent.

By 2017, Richard, whom I met on the road, and I were living together in that one-bedroom apartment. We now had his things in Colorado too. We wanted to figure out where we wanted to settle down (Fort Collins wasn't an option for him) so we kept the storage unit. 

Richard and I with our RV. By the summer of 2018, I was ready to start looking for a place to buy. That increase in housing costs, however, kept me to looking at much smaller homes than I previously owned. When I moved to Colorado in 2002, I easily bought a three-bedroom house with a two-car garage and a yard. By 2019, I could afford a one, maybe two-bedroom condo or townhome. It was pretty sad but in reality I didn't want to own a large home requiring a lot of maintenance and upkeep. I was happy to keep things simple because Richard and I still wanted to travel. The loss of Aeric and my Dad also reinforced the fact that you don't take your things with you; they just wind up being left behind.

But I still had all of that stuff to deal with, and when we moved out of the apartment to live in the RV so we could save up some money for the down payment, we needed more space. Yup, we got a second storage unit. 

In November 2018, I bought a one-bedroom condo—no garage, only one closet and less square footage than any home I had previously owned—in Estes Park, Colo. It is a wonderful town to live in with Rocky Mountain National Park and herds of elk right at our doorstep.
Looks like I sorted through a few more things and made a few more piles of what went where: some to Goodwill, some set aside for the yard sale and some to the other storage unit.
This past summer I set
a goal for myself to be out of one of those storage units by October 1, 2019.  Although I didn't quite make that date, I did accomplish the goal with one minute to spare on the last day of the date I gave the storage complex before their gate was locked for the evening. Richard was a huge help in pushing me along but in reality I had to tackle on my own a lot of demons, relive a lot of memories—good and bad— and determine what to do with a lot of the items. 

Those items included plastic cups from spring breaks and frat parties collected during my college years. I found a lot of toys from my childhood: the only Barbie doll I kept, plastic horse figures, a Rubix cube, a Slinky, an Einstein electronic memory game. And then there were the family heirlooms: an antique secretary, a steamer trunk, a spinning wheel that was missing a leg, my Uncle's leather jacket (the same one he died in a few years before I was born), and my Dad's collection of military items. And Aeric's things: his yearbooks, artwork from when he was a child, his collection of Simpsons figures and games, and the scooter helmet I bought him for his last Christmas. And an unbelievable abundance of boxes and bins full of ideas for articles, places to photograph, and media outlets for submitting my photography. Aeric on his last hike.


I am not a hoarder. I actually hate clutter. That was one of the reasons the storage units worked. You put your possessions in boxes, stuff them in a drafty storage unit and forget about them, except for the monthly rent reminder. The storage units also allowed me to avoid dealing with the memories. 

So for the last three months I have been spending several days every week going through every single box, looking at every single paper, and reminiscing about lots of great memories. And I came to the conclusion that I will always have those memories, at least as long as my brain is willing to store them. There really is no need to pay rent to keep items that were boxed up in 2012 and have not seen the light of day since then. Aeric and I didn't have children so there is no one for passing down our memories. But the memories continue to be there. Lots of great memories with my Dad and Aeric. Lots of places we explored. New places I experienced. Wonderful memories from holidays.  The storage unit in 2019 as I started sorting through things.

So if you are in a similar situation with storage units, remember that the money really can be put to much better use. If you are contemplating putting items in storage because of downsizing, traveling full time in an RV or because you lost a loved one and want to keep their possessions, think twice. More than likely you will find you don't need the items and will have the difficult task of finding a way to dispose of, sell or distribute the items later down the road. I gave away my china; no one wants china dishes anymore because we no longer entertain like we used to. I sold a couple of antique items for probably way less than they were worth. And I held a yard sale in a family member's yard because I am now in a condo with no yard. It wasn't easy and a lot of it could have been prevented by not hanging onto the past. The past makes us who we are but we don't need the things to have the memories. My Dad reading a book to my sister and I around Christmas time (probably 1979).

This is not meant to be a whiny post about how tough life is. I feel very relieved to be free of some of these things. And although I was exhausted at the end of each day after going through all of the memories, it felt comforting to know I had people in my life with whom I created wonderful memories. I hope my journey through storage, can help others in the future as they contemplate what they should keep, what they should buy, and how they should handle keeping the memories alive of lost loved ones while moving forward on the path of making new memories with the living.

Now for the next big project: to finish the book about the RV adventure. 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) clutter dad death family full life love memories memory on photography road rv rver rving sad storage the time travel unit van wanderlust https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2019/10/my-journey-through-storage Tue, 22 Oct 2019 05:59:54 GMT
June in Rocky Mountain National Park https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2019/7/june-in-rocky-mountain-national-park The calendar has rolled into July and the heat has been turned up as well. June saw some odd weather, even for Rocky Mountain National Park in northern Colorado where we can have snow any month of the year at higher elevations. The month started out with cool temps and wet weather. It continued with cool temps and more wet weather. The
n the weather turned to snowy weather. The month finished with temps in the upper 70s and low 80s. A little bit of everything in 30 short days.  Canada_goose_gosling_EP_2019_4Canada_goose_gosling_EP_2019_4Two Canada goose goslings (Branta canadensis) walk up the river bank through the grasses in Estes Park, Colorado.

But the spring animals didn't let a little crazy weather stop them. The first babies I photographed in June were the Canada goose goslings. I had a fun but somewhat scary evening photograph one family in Estes Park along the Big Thompson River. All turned out well. Read the full story on my blog post from June 2.

Elk_EP_2019_10Elk_EP_2019_10An elk calf (Cervus elaphus) folows his mother on his first day of life in Etes Park, Colorado.

Following the goslings, I photographed some elk calves. The first calves of the season were born the last week of May but the calves keep coming through early June. This year seems to be an especially bountiful year of elk calves. It could be the snow in the high country keeping them in the valleys giving the impression of more calves but there were many little ones running around the meadows in the park.

To get a break from photographing wildlife, I took a hike up to Gem Lake. This steep but short hike on the north side of the park in the Lumpy Ridge area has breathtaking views of Estes Valley. Mornings are best here for two reasons: morning light illuminates the valley and Longs Peak in the distance and there are way fewer people on the trail in the early morning. 

Another switch from wildlife photography was to photograph the Milky Way in early June at Sprague Lake. The clear evening offered wonderful views of the star-filled sky away from the lights of the Front Range.  Milky_Way_Sprague_Lake_2019_1Milky_Way_Sprague_Lake_2019_1The Milky Way fills the sky above Sprague Lake on a clear night in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

Due to the heavy snowfall in May, especially in the high country, Trail Ridge Road didn't open until June 5, a week and a half later than the typical opening of Memorial Day weekend. And when I took the drive over the top, the drifts exceeding the height of my truck showed why it took so long to clear the road. It is impressive that the road crews remove as much snow as they do. The sunset that night was very impressive as the sky above the Never Summer Range lit up in the full spectrum of the rainbow. The road closed again for another week on June 21, the first day of summer.


The summer snowstorms—there were two storms in two days to start the summer season—covered the park again in a blanket of snow. Now I had the rare opportunity to photograph newborn elk calves in fresh snow.  Elk_RMNP_2019_4Elk_RMNP_2019_4A cow elk (Cervus elaphus) licks her calf's ear after a brief snowstorm on the second day of summer in Endovalley of Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

The month wrapped up with more landscape photos as I chased sunrises, thanks to the wet weather pattern, and the blooming wild iris, which finally filled the meadow with their purple petals about two weeks later than usual. 

That crazy weather I photographed in June will definitely make for a wonderful wildflower season this month, and hopefully a beautiful season for fall colors in September and October. Iris_Blooms_RMNP_2019_2Iris_Blooms_RMNP_2019_2Moraine Park filled with wild iris after a very wet spring seen on this summer morning as a the first light of the morning hits the peaks of the Continental Divide in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) astrophotography milky way nature nature photography photo photography RMNP Rocky Mountain National Park spring summer tips for nature photographers travel wildflowers wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2019/7/june-in-rocky-mountain-national-park Mon, 08 Jul 2019 02:18:57 GMT
Ten Tips for Photographing Fireworks https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2019/7/ten-tips-for-photographing-fireworks Happy Fourth of July! This holiday, I plan on taking a break from wildlife photography to focus on photographing the night sky filled with bursts of color from the fireworks display here in Estes Park.

Our show starts at 9:30 p.m., a great time just as the blue hour is finishing up and nautical dusk is starting so the night skies will be pretty dark but not completely black.

Fireworks_Estes_Park_2017_1Fireworks_Estes_Park_2017_1Fireworks over Estes Park for the 4th of July celebration. Here are a few tips for you to capture your own shots of the celebration of our nation's birthday.

1. Tripod, tripod, tripod. You must have a tripod to capture tack sharp images of the fireworks display.

2. Remote shutter release. Although not a must, a remote shutter release is a great device to use to help reduce any camera movement caused by your hand pressing the shutter button.

3. Pick your spot prior to the beginning of the show. If the fireworks display near you is anything like the one here in Estes Park, there will be crowds of people — lots of large crowds. Getting your spot early is important so you have the vantage point you envision. In Estes Park, the Lake Estes 9-Hole Golf Course is considered the best location to see the show since it is the closest spot to the launch point at Fisherman's Nook. Although I have photographed the fireworks from this location with great results, I am always looking for a different perspective and one with an interesting composition that gives a sense of place. Last year we spent time with friends out on a boat near the marina. This wasn't a good option for photography as the rocking boat — even the slightest rock — won't help with getting sharp photos. This year I'll be heading to a higher vantage point for a couple of reasons: fewer people, view of the valley and a different perspective to combine with the photos from two years ago close to the launch point. Having water in your foreground is also a great option to capture the reflections of the fireworks in the water. And those crowds of people? Those heads can make an interesting foreground silhouetted against the colorful bursts. Check your local newspaper (wait, what's that?) or town/county website for the locations and times of the fireworks displays in your area.

Fireworks_EP_2019_1Fireworks_EP_2019_1A red, white and blue display of fireworks shoots off above Estes Park on the Fourth of July.

 

4. Shoot to the east. As mentioned earlier, most fireworks displays start just as the sky is starting to get dark. Directing your camera to the west will mean the sky is lighter and will potentially obscure the vibrant bursts of color. Shoot to the east and the sky will be darker, preferably a dark blue to really set off the color of the fireworks.

5. Stay safe and comfortable. In addition to your camera gear, you should also make sure you have other items to keep you safe and comfortable while outdoors in the dark. In Estes Park, the temperatures during the show may get as low as 50 degrees. In places like Florida, you may only reach 70 or 75 degrees during the show. Dress appropriately. Bring an extra bag with a sweatshirt, snacks, flashlight or headlamp and something to sit on while waiting for the show to start, like a blanket or chair.

Fireworks_Estes_Park_2017_5Fireworks_Estes_Park_2017_5Fireworks over Estes Park for the 4th of July celebration.

6. Camera settings. The camera settings are pretty simple and straightforward. The goal is to blur the movement of the sparks as they fly through the air while maintaining the quality of your photo. I prefer to shoot at a low ISO to keep the noise at a minimum (ISO 50-100), turn noise reduction off, an aperture of f6.3 to f11 depending on the composition, and a slow shutter speed (1/4 to 1/15 sec). No flash is needed. Remember to shoot in RAW with an auto white balance (you can adjust this in post processing) and to turn off your vibration reduction (this can actually cause a shot to not be sharp when on a tripod).

7. Camera gear. The best option is a DSLR camera and a couple of lens options. The DSLR will allow you to adjust your settings as needed, reduce the noise levels in your shots and should have a manual shooting mode. For lenses, I like the 80-400mm lens for the tight shots of the bursts and a wider angle, such as a 24-105mm, for the sense of place if I am sitting close to the show. If I am further away from the action but still capturing a scenic, then I'll stick with my 80-400mm lens. And of course don't forget extra batteries and memory cards.

Fireworks_Estes_Park_2017_2Fireworks_Estes_Park_2017_2Fireworks over Estes Park for the 4th of July celebration.

8. Time to shoot. Although you can certainly photograph the fireworks throughout the show, the best time will be at the beginning before the smoke from the fireworks starts to fill the air. This will reduce sharpness in the photos. Of course, the finale is always a fun and exciting feature but might be better captured as a video. An evening with a slight breeze will help with reducing the smoke too.

9. Focus challenges. To overcome your camera from "searching" for a focal point with the moving bursts and dark skies, pre-focus your lens before it gets too dark to a point you think will be best for the scene (remember the 1/3-in rule when shooting a landscape) and then turn off AF. You can also allow your camera to focus on the first firework explosion and then turn AF off for subsequent shots.

10. Enjoy the show. Remember that you are there to spend time with family and/or friends and enjoy the celebration. Don't spend the whole show looking through the viewfinder and missing out on the experience.

Fireworks_Estes_Park_2017_3Fireworks_Estes_Park_2017_3Fireworks over Estes Park for the 4th of July celebration.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) fireworks fourth of july independence day landscape night night photography nighttime photo photography tips travel https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2019/7/ten-tips-for-photographing-fireworks Wed, 03 Jul 2019 20:59:11 GMT
Florida's Birding and Photo Fest https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2019/6/floridas-birding-and-photo-fest Roseate_spoonbill_AlligatorFarm_2019_2Roseate_spoonbill_AlligatorFarm_2019_2A roseate spoonbill (Platalea ajaja) poses in the afternoon sunlight at the Alligator Farm in Saint Augustine, Florida. It has been almost two months since returning from Florida's Birding and Photo Fest in Saint Augustine, Florida. I will be going through photos for several months but the first batch of edited images give me smiles remembering the beautiful birds of the southeast, including one of my favorites, the roseate spoonbill.

I live in Colorado where our warm season only lasts about four, maybe five months. It was nice to get to Florida even if just for a few days to enjoy the warm sun, beach, sandals and the opportunity to photograph the birds of the area.

Many of the birds common in Florida wouldn't even think of visiting Colorado so the abundance of new photo subjects was a nice change of pace. And attending Florida's Birding and Photo Fest was a wonderful boost of inspiration for my creativity and technical skills.  Great_egreat_StAugustine_2019_2Great_egreat_StAugustine_2019_2A great egret (Ardea alba) stands over her chicks in the nest as they beg for food at the Saint Augustine Alligator Farm in St. Augustine, Florida.

The quick three-day trip started a little rough as my flight was canceled. I sat in the Charlotte, North Carolina airport for more than six hours trying to get on the next flight...and the next flight...and the next flight. Finally, on the third try, I was given the last available seat. Although I missed most of the programs I was registered for during the day, I did manage to make it to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm with just minutes to spare for an evening program thanks to a friend grabbing my ticket. There was a gorgeous sunset and lots of bird activity to photograph at the rookery.

The next morning started bright and early at sunrise with a captive bird shoot with Jack Rogers. The light was perfect and he had set up ideal perches with great backgrounds to photograph the American kestrel, barred owl, caracara and great-horned owl. American_Kestrel_StAugustine_2019_1American_Kestrel_StAugustine_2019_1A captive American kestrel (Falco sparverius) sits perched on a branch on a sunny morning at the Florida Birding and Photo Fest in St. Augustine, Florida.

Next it was off to a few sessions indoors, lunch, more sessions and then another evening shoot at the Alligator Farm. This time, the program was led by Charles Glatzer. His energy, insight and simple but effective techniques really got me to think about how I teach my own students. Again, we had fantastic light and lots of bird activity at the rookery.  White_ibis_AlligatorFarm_2019_3White_ibis_AlligatorFarm_2019_3A white ibis (Eudocimus albus) stands at the top of a snag in a beam of afternoon light at the Alligator Farm in Saint Augustine, Florida.

Sunday morning was dedicated to photographing birds on the beach. As a native of New Jersey, I love digging my toes into the sand and watching the sunrise come up over the horizon. This time, however, I was ready with my camera and clothes that would dry quickly as I was prepared to practice my low-angle shots of the small shore birds fluttering around on the beach. I also spent quite a bit of time photographing the terns, who had recently arrived for the summer nesting season. By now, those same birds that were courting each other while I was there should be feeding their growing babies. Least_Tern_ Matanzas_2019_4Least_Tern_ Matanzas_2019_4A male least tern (Sternula antillarum) carries a small fish to a potential mate on the beach on a sunny day at Matanzas Inlet near St. Augustine, Florida.

Stay tuned to my Photo Workshops and Classes and Presentations pages for the latest places I am teaching so you too can join me in the field or classroom to learn more about how to photograph our natural world. And to stay up-to-date on my latest programs, adventures, specials and photos, .

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) bird bird photography florida nature nature photography photo photography tips travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2019/6/floridas-birding-and-photo-fest Thu, 27 Jun 2019 04:45:39 GMT
Gosling and His Family https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2019/6/gosling-and-his-family Canada_goose_gosling_EP_2019_1Canada_goose_gosling_EP_2019_1A famly of Canada goose goslings (Branta canadensis) relax in the grass and dandelions in Estes Park, Colorado. Canada geese give birth in the towns along Colorado's Front Range the last week of April and first week of May. But here in Estes Park, these little yellow fluff balls are born about a month later. 

I went looking for the first ones of the season on May 31, 2019, at my favorite gosling spot in town — the Lake Estes 9-Hole Golf Course. Late in the day the golfers are wrapping up their games so it is safer to walk the course and the light gets really nice before setting behind the mountains. The geese love the course with its fresh green grass and the river running through it so they have a place to escape danger.  Canada_goose_gosling_EP_2019_3Canada_goose_gosling_EP_2019_3A famly of Canada geese (Branta canadensis) swim in the Big Thompson River in Estes Park, Colorado.

The geese had a bumper crop of goslings this year. About two dozen were running around the course and most appeared to be only a few days old. 

I selected a family of six — two adults and four goslings — that seemed comfortable with my presence. 

Canada_goose_gosling_EP_2019_2Canada_goose_gosling_EP_2019_2A Canada goose gosling (Branta Canadensis) takes a drink while swimming in the Big Thompson River in Estes Park, Colorado. It was fun photographing them for about 30 minutes before the entire family decided to drop into the Big Thompson River to get a drink of water. I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to photograph the goslings coming back up into the grass so I quietly laid down in the nearby with my camera ready. Canada_goose_gosling_EP_2019_4Canada_goose_gosling_EP_2019_4Two Canada goose goslings (Branta canadensis) walk up the river bank through the grasses in Estes Park, Colorado.

Up came the parents. And then up came one - two - three goslings. One more to photograph. I waited for several minutes and didn't see the fourth gosling. The rest of the family had wandered back onto the course to graze some more. I waited for several minutes but no gosling.

Canada_goose_gosling_EP_2019_5Canada_goose_gosling_EP_2019_5A Canada goose gosling (Branta Canadensis) runs along the bank of the Big Thompson River crying out for his family in Estes Park, Colorado.
And then I heard the stressed chirps of the little guy. He was stuck below the bank and struggling to figure out how to climb up the mud and grass. I peeked over the edge so as not to stress him any further and noticed several other adult geese encouraging him to climb up the bank. It was interesting to see the interaction because the only thing I have seen adult geese do for goslings that are not their offspring was shoo them away. 

I continued to keep an eye on the location of the gosling's family so I could reunite them if need be. But then I turned to see the little guy coming over the bank. His little wings were spread so wide and he was calling his family as loud as he could.  Canada_goose_gosling_EP_2019_6Canada_goose_gosling_EP_2019_6A lost Canada goose gosling (Branta canadensis) runs to meet up with his family in Estes Park, Colorado.

His mom heard him and immediately ran back over to him, with her brood following close behind. 

The gosling was reunited with his family. Mom seemed relieved; his siblings seemed to give him an earful. 

Glad there was a happy ending. Canada_goose_gosling_EP_2019_7Canada_goose_gosling_EP_2019_7A lost Canada goose gosling (Branta canadensis) runs to meet up with his family in Estes Park, Colorado.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) animal Canada goose estes park family love gosling nature photo photography rocky mountain national park spring tips travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2019/6/gosling-and-his-family Sun, 02 Jun 2019 17:00:44 GMT
Favorite Shots of 2018 https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2019/5/favorite-shots-of-2018 Hmmm, seems the beginning of 2019 has ticked along very quickly and I had not yet finished writing my year in review. It isn't quite summer so I thought I would squeeze in this blog post before summer unofficially starts this weekend with Memorial Day.

In years with normal weather patterns, Memorial Day weekend would signify the opening of Trail Ridge Road and the road up to the top of Mount Evans, two of my favorite places in Colorado to take in the vast views of the Rocky Mountains and spend time with the animals that love the cold as much as I do. But this year, winter just doesn't seem to want to let go. Even today, just a few days before Memorial Day, Estes Park is having snow showers. It will be pretty amazing if both roads can open this weekend—a true feat to the crews that plow the deep snow from the roads. To see images of the snow drifts and plowing operations, visit RMNP Facebook page.

American_pika_RMNP_2018_7American_pika_RMNP_2018_7An American pika (Ochotona princeps) stops on top of a rock with a mouth full of plants for his hay pile in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. There were many great photo ops in Rocky Mountain National Park last year. One of my most memorable was with a pika family high in the alpine tundra. I found a quiet spot where I could spend time with them each week. Building that familiarity helped keep them safe and comfortable while building a trust for great photo ops. I have already photographed one of them this year so it is shaping up to be a fun summer in the alpine terrain with these little tundra inhabitants again.

Elk_RMNP_2018_7Elk_RMNP_2018_7A newborn elk calf (Cervus elaphus) looks up at his mother as a light drizzle falls in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. Another memorable moment in Rocky was about this time in 2018. Memorial Day weekend is typically the beginning of the elk calving season. This shot was the first calf I saw of the year. Although the cow only allowed the calf to be out in the open for a few moments before moving her to the safety of cover, I was able to catch this endearing look up at its new mom.

I visited Grand Teton National Park twice in 2018. The first was in May for NANPA’s Celebration event. Not only did I learn a lot from many talented and inspirational photographers, but I also spent some time in the park photographing grizzly bears, made a quick drive up to Yellowstone National Park, photographed wildlife at the National Elk Refuge and watched some fun little goslings in Jackson. This little guy was enjoying the bumper crop of dandelions. Canada_goose_gosling_NER_2018_2Canada_goose_gosling_NER_2018_2A Canada goose gosling (Branta canadensis) picks dandelions in his beak on a sunny morning in the National Elk Refuge, Wyoming.

The second visit to Grand Teton National Park was over Thanksgiving week. The snow was already accumulating in the Jackson Hole valley but we took the RV up anyway. We are no strangers to traveling by RV in winter weather. And it was a great weekend to be in the park. We had many wonderful photo opportunities, including this morning with several bull moose foraging in the sage brush flats set against the distant Teton Range. Moose_GTNP_2018_1Moose_GTNP_2018_1A bull moose (Alces alces) feeds in a sage brush flat beneath the towering, snow-covered Teton Range in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

This shot of a group of bison was in Yellowstone during that May visit. I had been waiting several hours for a badger to pop out of a den. I heard from some other photographers that she usually makes an appearance late in the afternoon so I thought I would take a drive a little farther down the road. As I turned the corner, I spotted a herd of bison walking towards the road. They seemed to just keep coming out of this gulch in the distant foothills—it almost looked like a stream of clowns coming out of a car, one after another just kept coming out of the gulch and into the green valley. I spotted a ridge where they would have to climb and thought it would make a great spot for a photo. Bison_YNP_2018_1Bison_YNP_2018_1A group of bison cows and calves (Bison bison) walk up over a ridge set against some mountains shrouded in clouds in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. There was some clearing weather that left fog and clouds in the valley below the rugged mountains, which would make a great background. I patiently waited near the road for the herd to appear. By standing there, I couldn't tell how close they were but then all of a sudden I saw one, then two, then a stream of bison coming directly my way. It worked beautifully to have the cows and calves breaching the ridge with the weather and mountains behind them.

Fall is a wonderful time in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. The fall colors are stunning, especially after a wet summer. Last year was no exception. Fall is also the peak time for the moose and elk ruts, or mating seasons. Even though I live in Estes Park, I still reserve a campsite in Rocky Mountain National Park each fall to be in the center of the action. There were many great photo ops with the elk during the rut but this was my favorite of the year. Capturing the juxtaposition of fall and winter represented by the bugling bull elk (fall) on a bitterly cold morning that created frost all over the elk (winter) was a scene I envision every year. Last year all of the elements came together. Elk_EP_2018_10Elk_EP_2018_10A bull elk (Cervus elaphus) bugles on a cold, frosty morning causing steam to rise out of his mouth in Estes Park, Colorado.

As I mentioned earlier, Mt. Evans is one of my top two favorite places to photograph in Colorado. The weather is typically 20 degrees cooler—sometimes more—at the top than around Denver, which feels great in the heat of the summer. The wildlife is almost always photogenic, and even with as frequently as I visit the top of this 14,265-foot peak, I very often find new and interesting shots. That was the case with this photo of a mountain goat enjoying the morning by bouncing up and down on the boulders at the top. Mountain_goat_Mt_Evans_2018_15Mountain_goat_Mt_Evans_2018_15A mountain goat (Oreamnos americanus) that is shedding her thick winter coat jumps on top of a rock against the distant Rocky Mountains on a sunny morning at the top of Mount Evans, Colorado.

The highlight of the year was my workshop in Alaska. In addition to my usual trip to Lake Clark National Park, I also visited a new location—Nome! Being my first time to this port town along the west cost of central Alaska, I was interested in exploring the area in consideration for future workshops and photo opportunities. I was there the second week of September and completely stunned by the beautiful fall colors of the tundra landscape. I also timed the trip just right to catch some of the muskox rut. These two muskox had just mated when they nuzzled heads before going their separate ways. Muskox_Nome_2018_1Muskox_Nome_2018_1A male and female muskox (Ovibos moschatus) nuzzle heads after mating on the tundra in fall color near Nome, Alaska.

Follow my Facebook and Instagram pages to get the latest info about future workshops in Alaska, including a return to Nome and Lake Clark National Park.

 

 

 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Alaska animals bison Colorado elk Grand Lake Clark moose mountain goats muskox national park nature nature photography outdoors photo photography rocky Teton tips travel wildlife Yellowstone https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2019/5/favorite-shots-of-2018 Wed, 22 May 2019 19:00:51 GMT
17 in '17: My Favorite Photos of 2017 https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2018/1/17-in-17-my-favorite-photos-of-2017 Last year seemed to go faster than any other yet I did less travel in 2017 than in any of the prior five years. My goal for last year was to focus on writing, my business and editing a lot of the photos that I already have on my hard drives.

Did I accomplish my goals? Yes and no. I had an unexpected opportunity to spend the entire summer season in our RV in Estes Park. And that was a phenomenal experience. To wake up every morning, look west to see the Continental Divide and watch wildlife babies grow all summer was an experience I will never forget. 

But I do still love to travel so I mixed in a few trips over the course of the year—Alaska as always, South Dakota, New Jersey and a few destinations around my favorite home state of Colorado. 

So here are my top picks from 2017 out of the 37,714 images I captured. Enjoy the images and the brief stories associated with each, and to see more images from 2017, check out my annual video of images.

Moose_East_Portal_2017_1Moose_East_Portal_2017_1A bull moose (Alces alces) eats some leaves and branches from a bush in the campground in Estes Park, Colorado #17: Moose in Estes Park

During our last week at the campground in Estes Park, we worked on remodeling some campsites. I was out photographing the finished results when I heard something rustling near me. I looked up to see this big bull moose. A few minutes later a second one popped out from behind the trees. They roamed around the campground for about an hour before heading into the trees on the property next door. Seeing the wildlife all summer and fall just outside of the RV was one of the best things about being there. 

#16: Bighorn Sheep Ram Bighorn_sheep_Waterton_2017_7Bighorn_sheep_Waterton_2017_7A bighorn sheep ram (Ovis canadensis) poses for a close up of his eye, ear and horn on a sunny afternoon in Waterton Canyon National Recreation Area near Littleton, Colorado

I am always looking for new perspectives on animals I have photographed a lot. The bighorn sheep are one of my favorite animals to photograph—it is in my logo after all—so I tried a few different angles this year during the rut. This is a close up of a ram's eye on a sunny afternoon where you can even see the mountains and setting sun in his eye. 

#15: Snowy Dream Lake

Dream_Lake_Wish_2017_1Dream_Lake_Wish_2017_1A wish come true when an early fall snowstorm blanketed Dream Lake and Hallett Peak with snow three days into the fall season in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. We have had very little snow this winter in Colorado but this past fall was a different story. One of the earliest snowfalls in recent memory was the morning of September 25. And it just happened to be my birthday. I couldn't miss the opportunity to capture a photo I have envisioned for several years of the snow covering the rocks thanks to the low water level typical in fall at Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. 

#14: Northern Lights Over Denali Northern_Lights_Denali_2017_1Northern_Lights_Denali_2017_1The Northern Lights illuminate the sky above the Savage River Campground in Denali National Park, Alaska

Although I go to Alaska every year to photograph brown bears, I also add on additional destinations to mix it up each year. This past year was no exception with a camping trip into Denali National Park and Preserve. There was quite a bit of road construction happening on the first 15 miles. One night I needed to head to town to catch up on emails, purchase some supplies and make a few phone calls. By the time I headed back to the campground, the road was already closed with the exception of an hourly pilot car. The delay meant I didn't get back to the campsite until after midnight. But that delay meant I saw one of the best displays of Northern Lights I have ever experienced in Alaska. This view was directly over my campsite. It started as just one slight shiver of light in the sky, and then the colors kept getting brighter and the dancing kept getting stronger. Within about 30 minutes the entire sky was full of swaying curtains of purple and green.

Moose_Estes_Park_2017_3Moose_Estes_Park_2017_3Two bull moose (Alces alces) walk through the shallow water of the Fish Creek Arm of Lake Estes in Estes Park, Colorado #13: Moose in Estes Park

I was playing a casual game of badminton in Stanley Park, just one and a half miles from downtown Estes Park, when someone yelled there were two moose in the lake. I said, "they are more likely elk." Elk wander all over Estes Park but moose are rarely seen in town. But sure enough, when I turned around there were two very young moose walking towards the Fish Creek Arm of Lake Estes. It was a hot July afternoon and the moose walked down to the water where they cooled off for a bit. Then they started walking towards the crowd that was gathering but sense overruled curiosity; the moose turned around and walked into the woods on one of the nearby mountains. 

  Pika_RMNP_2017_6Pika_RMNP_2017_6A pika (Ochotona princeps) holds a mouth fullful of flowers and plants as he stops on a rock on his way to add to his cache of food for the winter in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado #12: Pika on Trail Ridge Road

Another benefit of being in Estes Park for the summer was the ability to get up to Trail Ridge Road before sunrise without having to wake up in the middle of the night. Even from our RV it was a 45-minute drive to my favorite spot to photograph pika but it allowed me the opportunity to spend a lot of time with one of my favorite alpine critters last summer. It was hard to pick one of my shots of the pika but I settled on this iconic behavior of this small mammal, a member of the rabbit family. Pika spend most of the summer building caches of food called hay piles. These critters don't hibernate but rather live off of the hay piles during the winter months. 

Moose_Denali_2017_1Moose_Denali_2017_1A bull moose (Alces alces) walks towards a ridge and a foggy valley below the snow-capped Alaska Range in Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska #11: Moose and the Alaska Range

A very different experience with a moose happened when I was in Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska. I traveled to the park during the peak of fall colors. My goal while there was to photograph caribou and moose in the fall colors. The weather didn't seem to be cooperating but, as I tell my photo students, you have to take what Mother Nature gives you because you can't change it. Embrace the weather because you never know what kind of feeling it can evoke in a photo. I missed this large bull moose crossing the road but as he walked off towards the Alaska Range the fog started to lift in the valley below. Composing the moose below the tall, snow-covered mountains gave a sense of scale to the scene. 

Broad-tailed_hummingbird_2017_2Broad-tailed_hummingbird_2017_2A broad-tailed hummingbird (Selasphorus platycercus) sits on a nest hidden in the branches of a conifer tree in Estes Park, Colorado

 

#10: Hummingbird on Nest

I have photographed hummingbirds quite a bit around Colorado but I had never photographed one on the nest or feeding babies. I thought I had missed another season of opportunities as June rolled into July. Then an acquaintance in Estes Park mentioned he found a nest in his yard and gave me the opportunity one morning to photograph it. It was mid-July, late for a nesting bird, but I jumped at the chance. I am glad I did. My friend said the eggs were taken from the nest just a couple of days later by a predator bird. 

Elk_Lake_Estes_2017_1Elk_Lake_Estes_2017_1An elk (Cervus elaphus) splashes around in Lake Estes on a sunny day in Estes Park, Colorado. #9: Splish Splash

Lake Estes in Estes Park is a favorite location of the urban elk in town. They cross it pretty frequently and spend time in the water during the hotter summer days. I was at the right place at the right time when this cow elk not only walked through the lake but started splashing around in the water like a little kid. 

Golden-mantled_ground_squirrel_babies_RMNP_2017_1Golden-mantled_ground_squirrel_babies_RMNP_2017_1Three golden-mantled ground squirrel babies (Spermophilius lateralis) sit on a log on a sunny afternoon in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

 

#8: A Trio of Baby Golden Mantled Ground Squirrels

We went for a hike to look for American martens. Although we saw one—it crossed the road in front of us in the dark as we drove home after walking several miles to see one—we stopped and spent time at this great little spot that was home to yellow-bellied marmots and golden mantled ground squirrels. These three squirrel babies sat out on this log for a while watching us and the other hikers walking along the trail. I loved the soft green background that framed these adorable little babies. 

Mule_deer_fawn_EP_2017_1Mule_deer_fawn_EP_2017_1A mule deer fawn (Odocoileus hemionus) walks through a thick field of grasses in the early evening in Estes Park, Colorado #7: Baby Deer in the Campground

We moved our RV into the campground in mid-May. Almost immediately we noticed there were several mule deer does hanging around the area. Two of the five were pregnant. We were excited about the potential opportunity to see the babies so we watched the does for any signs of giving birth. The day finally came in early June when we noticed one of the does was no longer pregnant. We saw her baby the next day in the field of flowers below our RV. A few days later the other pregnant doe revealed her twin fawns. And that was the beginning of watching these deer grow up all summer. At first they hid in the grasses and flowers. It was interesting to watch their mothers trust the fawns near us. Later in the summer the three fawns could be seen running and jumping together. One afternoon I came back to the RV to find one of the fawns peeking over our picnic table. We really enjoyed the opportunities the animals of the campground gave us to take a peek into their lives. 

Elk_calf_EP_2017_2Elk_calf_EP_2017_2An elk calf (Cervus elaphus) looks terrified as he rests after a scary attempt to cross the Big Thompson River in Estes Park, Colorado #6: Scary Day for the Elk Calf

Like the deer fawns, I was excited to be in Estes Park for the elk calving season. Although I had seen elk calves before in Rocky Mountain National Park, I had not witnessed the calves immediately after birth. Someone told me the cows start dropping calves around Memorial Day weekend. Not that animals have a calendar to follow but animals are very predictable when it comes to timing. Sure enough I saw my first elk calf the week of Memorial Day. First it was a calf with a very protective mother. Then there was a set of twins with a much more laid back mother. And then there were several calves running around Estes Park. I got a call one morning that a calf had been seen in the Big Thompson River in Estes Park. I ran down to the river to see a scary site of a calf in the center of the river trying to get back to the bank. Its mother was already on the other side eating grass. She didn't seem worried. It seemed like a very hard lesson about how to cross a river. The calf made it back to the bank on its own but its mother was still on the other side. The calf curled up in the rocks and rested. It must have been exhausted. It was only a few days old and had to deal with a river crossing in a river swollen with spring runoff. I snapped a few photos of the calf and then let it be. I returned later in the afternoon to find the cow nursing her calf. The next day the calf and cow were both gone. I saw them in the following weeks and the calf was doing great. It's not easy being an elk calf. 

Bighorn_sheep_ram_Badlands_2017_1Bighorn_sheep_ram_Badlands_2017_1A bighorn sheep ram (Ovis canadensis) walks along a grassy ridge set against the snow falling on the distant ridges of the badlands in Badlands National Park, South Dakota. #5: Bighorn Sheep in the Badlands

My present to myself for Christmas was visiting a new national park as I work on my goal of visiting all of the national parks by my 50th birthday. One I had never visited was Badlands National Park in South Dakota. I have been to parks all over the country yet I had never been to this one park just six hours from my home. As I did some research about the park, I discovered they have a decent size herd of bighorn sheep. During my short visit I was lucky to have a little bit of fresh snow and some very cooperative sheep. I kept capturing shots of sheep framed against the distant badlands landscape, and this one shot caught my eye with the ram walking along the ridge in front of the distant ridge. 

Mountain_bluebird_RMNP_2017_4Mountain_bluebird_RMNP_2017_4A female mountain bluebird (Sialia currucoides) sits on a branch as snowflakes fall on a cold, cloudy day in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado #4: Mountain Bluebird in Snow

As with many shots, I look at weather and review animal patterns to get an idea of what is the best thing to photograph on a particular day during a particular season. In late winter and early spring, after the mountain bluebirds return, I look for bluebirds in snow. Bluebirds don't like snow, at least not when it is falling, but as soon as the snow stops they are out and about eating bugs and worms on the wet ground. Getting a photo of a bluebird in falling snow was a goal of mine. Although I am still envisioning a photo with a heavier snowfall, I was happy with the few photos I did capture last year of bluebirds in light snowfall. This particular image was captured in Rocky Mountain National Park. 

Black_bear_RMNP_2017_4Black_bear_RMNP_2017_4A black bear sow (Ursus americanus) stands up to get a better look in a forested area of Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado #3: Black Bear in Rocky Mountain National Park

Last year marked my 20th anniversary of my first trip to Colorado, which included a visit to Rocky Mountain National Park. (Read the blog post about those 20 years here.) It was the second national park I ever visited (after Grand Canyon) and was one of the reasons I fell in love with Colorado and moved here. In the summer of the 20th anniversary I found myself living literally within walking distance of the park. I loved it! But in those 20 years I also never saw a black bear in the park. I had seen bears in Colorado and even in New Jersey before I moved to Colorado but never in Rocky Mountain National Park, until last summer. This sow had two cubs in the tree above her, which I never was able to photograph, and had an elk nearby that I suspect had a calf she was protecting. Eventually the elk chased off the bear but I was happy for the moment I had with the bear. 

Snowy_owl_NJ_2017_2Snowy_owl_NJ_2017_2A snowy owl (Bubo scandiacus) sits on a sand dune on a windy day in early winter on Island Beach State Park in central New Jersey. #2: Snowy Owl on the Beach

I visited New Jersey in December for a quick trip to celebrate an early Christmas with my mom. I also spent a day photographing with Ashleigh Scully, a very talented photographer based in New Jersey. We both were excited to hear that snowy owls had been reported along the shore. An even better bonus was that snow was falling when I arrived in New Jersey that Friday night. I had to think but I couldn't remember a single time where I saw snow at the shore. Although my mom lives at the shore and I had spent a lot of time at various shore towns I couldn't remember actually seeing snow on the beach in New Jersey. And now I had an opportunity to photograph a snowy owl in the snow on the beach during an irruption year. It took two hours but our group finally found the owl. It was beautiful and a wonderful experience on many counts. 

Elk_RMNP_2017_26Elk_RMNP_2017_26A bull elk (Cervus elaphus) stops and bugles on a snowy morning in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado #1: Elk in Snow in the Fall

This photo more than any other from the elk rut had a lot of comments on Facebook from other photographers who said they always wanted to photograph elk bugling in falling snow in the fall. Why did it generate so many comments? Because this scene doesn't happen very often in Colorado. Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the best places to photograph elk during their rut or mating season. In late August the bulls will start bugling after shedding the velvet from their antlers. The activity begins to pick up in September as larger bulls join the activity and the cows start to show signs of being interested in the bulls. Although snow in the high country can happen anytime of year, the elk perform their rut season in the lower meadows. Seeing a heavy, wet snow when the leaves are in fall colors and still on the trees is a rare occasion. To have a bull elk standing in a stand of aspens and give out his bellowing call was a moment that put a smile on my face. 

So those are the shots out of the more than 37,000 images I captured in 2017 that bring me the most joy for the memories I have, the stories behind them and the images that resulted. I have yet to take a single photo this year. I am not exactly sure why. One reason is because we haven't had any snow to peek my interest in finding wildlife in a typical winter scene. Another reason is because I have been searching for more difficult to find animals, such as a snowy owl that I never had luck finding. And partly because I have been very busy with other types of projects that I am hoping will be a good investment in my future as a writer and photographer. But as I type this the weather forecast on the news is saying it is snowing in the high country so maybe with a little luck tomorrow morning I'll find an animal to photograph that is willing to brave the cold and snow with me. 

Happy New Year! 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) 2017 2018 animal bear colorado elk happy new year nature nature photography photographer photography snowy owl travel wildlife year https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2018/1/17-in-17-my-favorite-photos-of-2017 Sun, 07 Jan 2018 05:39:11 GMT
Social Media and Your Photos https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2017/11/social-media-and-your-photos Social media is a God send for photographers to market their business. But social media sites have dramatically changed the industry by providing an overabundance of photos to the market. Social media sites have also become a way to learn about some previously well-kept secret photo spots. 

 

 

 

 

I recently gave a presentation to the Mile High Wildlife Photography Club about how to get started utilizing social media sites, particularly Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, as part of your marketing plan. Here is a summary of that presentation. 

If you are interested in having me speak to your group about social media, wildlife photography, Colorado photography or travel photography, email me at dawn@dawnwilsonphotography.com.

Social Media and Your Photos

The top five players in social media are:

- Facebook (now 2 billion+)
- YouTube
- Instagram
- Twitter
- Reddit

 

(graphic of the top 15 social media sites: https://www.dreamgrow.com/top-15-most-popular-social-networking-sites/)

Screen shot of a Facebook business page The best social media sites for photographers:
- Facebook
- Instagram
- 500 px
- Flickr
Why photos work on social media:
- Tweets with photos get 35% more retweets on average
- 74% of social media marketers use visual assets in their social media marketing, ahead of blogs (68%) and videos (60%)
- When people hear information, they're likely to remember only 10% of that information three days later. However, if a relevant image is paired with that same information, people retained 65% of the info three days later.
(Source: Hubspot.com, 1/3/17, https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/visual-content-marketing-strategy)

A screen shot of a post on Facebook. Selecting Your Photos

- Use only your best photos

- Be professional

- Refine your older photos — the Internet is forever but content can be reposted

- Your best will change over time

- Keep your content fresh

- Your posts are a reflection of your work

- Keep your brand in mind

- Keep photo subjects timely

 

Selecting Your Photos

- Use only your best photos

- Use only your best photos

- Use only your best photos

- That means:

   • Tack sharp

   • Great backgrounds

   • Good composition

   • Interesting interaction

   • Tells a good story

 

Optimizing Your Photos

- Each social media site has their own set of specs

- Facebook (see image to right)

- For additional social media sites, visit
https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/ultimate-guide-social-media-image-dimensions-infographic

 

 

There is a wide variety of information about each social media site.

 

Click here for the complete presentation. 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) facebook instagram learn marketing nature photograph photos social media travel tutorial twitter https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2017/11/social-media-and-your-photos Sun, 05 Nov 2017 23:45:53 GMT
20 Years in Rocky Mountain National Park https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2017/7/20-years-in-rocky-mountain-national-park Bierstadt_Lake_Sunset_1Bierstadt_Lake_Sunset_1The clouds fill with warm color at sunset over Bierstadt Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado Today marks twenty years since my first visit to Rocky Mountain National Park. 

How do I know exactly what day it was? It was the day before the torrential rains started falling in Fort Collins that led to one of the worst flooding disasters in that Northern Colorado town. (Here is a little background about that flood.)

I was in town visiting Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine as I looked at my options for graduate school. I wound up going to Temple University for my MBA in marketing instead but moved to Fort Collins five years later after falling in love with the town that weekend.  Dream_Lake_sunrise_3Dream_Lake_sunrise_3Early morning light illuminates Hallett Peak above Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Par, Colorado

As I thought about the content I wanted to write for this blog post, I came to the realization that my visit to Rocky Mountain National Park in July 1997 was my first to a national park on my own. It was the first park I chose to explore. 

During that weekend in 1997, I explored the park on horseback. My horse, a palomino paint, was named Clown. He was a sweet horse, even when he tripped on the trail, bumping me off the saddle and onto the rocky ground. 

I met Aeric two months after my trip to Colorado. He loved hiking and being outdoors, and when I met him the farthest he had traveled west was Pennsylvania. 

I couldn't stop telling him how much he would love Colorado and Rocky Mountain National Park.

Elk_RMNP_2016_19Elk_RMNP_2016_19Two bull elks (Cervus elaphus) practice their sparring techniques on a sunny morning in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado In 2000, we took a cross-country trip from our home in New Jersey and headed west. We would visit numerous national parks on that trip—Canyonlands, Mammoth Cave, Zion, Death Valley, Black Canyon of the Gunnison—but, like my visit a few years earlier, Aeric fell in love with Colorado when we visited Rocky Mountain National Park. He loved it so much that he returned to Rocky a month after we returned to New Jersey from our cross-country travels. 

We decided in the summer of 2000 that Colorado was where we wanted to be so when I finished graduate school in 2002, we sold the house, packed all of our belongings and headed west. 

Bluebird_LakeBluebird_LakeOuzel Peak overlooks Bluebird Lake on a cloudy afternoon in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado We rarely camped in Rocky but we visited often, exploring many of the trails throughout the park. 

The last hike Aeric and I took together was in Rocky—to Bluebird Lake.

Aeric died in October 2012.

After Aeric died, I found I went to the park at least once a month to photograph sunrise and wildlife.

The park, unknowingly, became my respite from a crazy, depressing world that enveloped me in 2012. It wasn't the only place I explored in Colorado and throughout the west at that time in my life but it was the most consistent. 

The park did and has continued to play a big part in my life.

Moose_Trail_Ridge_Road_2017_1Moose_Trail_Ridge_Road_2017_1A moose (Alces alces) walks across the tundra at first light set against the Gore Range near Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado Rocky was where I fell in love with Colorado and initiated my ultimate move to the Centennial State. The park was where Aeric and I took our engagement photo.

And Rocky is where Richard and I met in 2015 when we were both living on the road visiting national parks, among other destinations, in our RVs.

Marmot_16Marmot_16A yellow-bellied marmot stops and stands with a mouth full of grasses on the alpine tundra at sunset in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. Now I find myself living with Richard at the base of Rocky in the RV we bought together. It is wonderful to look out the window every morning and check the clouds and the Continental Divide to see what sunrise potential is brewing. It is wonderful to have elk, deer and turkeys walk right through the campground. 

Twenty years later I am still in love with Rocky as much as I was on that Saturday in 1997. 

The park has changed a lot in those 20 years—more from the perspective of number of visitors—but I still find a lot of solitude in this beautiful park.

Pika_3Pika_3A pika carries a mouthful of grass across the rocks near Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. Unfortunately, my photos from that first visit to Rocky are packed away in a box deep in my storage unit as there isn't room in my RV for all of my prints and negatives from my film days. There are, however, plenty of digital photos I am sharing here from the more recent years in Rocky. Maybe it is an important sign that life has started over again for me. And there is Rocky still my constant companion through it all. 

Enjoy the memories you make in this beautiful national park straddling the Continental Divide in northern Colorado. If you haven't been, what is holding you back?

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) animal colorado death high country love memories national park foundation national park service nature nature photography partner photo photography rocky mountain national park rv travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2017/7/20-years-in-rocky-mountain-national-park Fri, 28 Jul 2017 00:07:04 GMT
RV Livin' #20: The Final Countdown https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/12/rv-livin-20-the-final-countdown Mabry_Mill_BRP_2016_3Mabry_Mill_BRP_2016_3Morning light illuminates the trees in fall color around Mabry Mill along the Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia Today is my final night on the road as a full-time RVer. 

The plan, when I left the keys to my home in the hands of a new buyer and moved into an RV last September, was called a Year in an RV. The goal was to photograph as many mammals of North America as possible.

I actually made it 15 months and five days. I also did the year in not just one RV , but three RVs. I started in my Class C. Then I upgraded to a Class A motorhome. And now I have downsized to a travel trailer in preparation of becoming a weekend warrior, in a sense. 

This last week has actually been surprisingly crazy. I wanted to mark the final countdown with a tremendous trip to some new place. But fifteen months on the road has cost a few pennies and my body seems to have finally given in to me pushing it for so many sunrise and sunset photo shoots with some amazing animals. I came down with what I now think was the flu last Sunday, a day after I arrived In Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.  Snow_goose_BDANWR_2016_1Snow_goose_BDANWR_2016_1A flock of snow and Ross's geese (Chen rossii, Chen caerulescens) take off from the roosting pond at sunrise in Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

I kept my last trip close to my home state of Colorado. I didn't get to visit Bosque last fall, and that was a bit of a disappointment - not for what I did instead but because Bosque really is a wildlife photographer's dream location for bird photography. 

Each November, thousands of greater and lesser sandhill cranes, snow geese, and Ross's geese converge on this 57,331-acre refuge along the Rio Grande River in New Mexico. It turned out that the bird counts last year were pretty low so everything may have worked out in the long run. And this year I actually added a couple of new photos to my mammal inventory - a striped skunk and a javelina. Both great photo opportunities for my last week of this amazing adventure, even with suffering through an achy body and stuffy head.  Collared_peccary_BDANWR_2016_1Collared_peccary_BDANWR_2016_1A collared peccary, also known as a javelina (Tayassu tajacu), stops to check out the clicking sound while crossing a trail in Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

I arrived back in Colorado on Thursday so that I could work on answering the big question I now have in front of me: Now what???

I pick up the keys to an apartment tomorrow morning. I have started outlining a revised business plan for my photography business, and I have started to consider what other career options might be out there in addition to photography. Maybe photography will continue to be full-time, maybe it won't. Too early to say at this point.  Striped_skunk_BDANWR_2016_6Striped_skunk_BDANWR_2016_6A striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis) walks along a pond embankment on a cloudy day at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

All I know is that I think my critters will be very happy to stop being mobile. 

I winterized the trailer today. It was kind of a sad moment but it felt right. Timing is right too - the temperatures are supposed to dip into the negative digits in a couple of days here along the Front Range. Feels good too to wrap up this unbelievable year right here at home in a Colorado State Park. There really is no place like home. 

When I left Jackson, Wyoming in September after a visit to Grand Teton National Park, there was a sign in front of one of the businesses that really summed up my feelings about this project, this adventure, this wanderlust year: "Don't cry because it is over; smile because it happened."

Elk_GSMNP_2016_16Elk_GSMNP_2016_16A bull elk (Cervus elaphus) walks through a farm field in Oconaluftee Valley on a foggy morning in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina I actually did smile when I read that sign because I thought that was the last drive back into Colorado on my yearlong adventure. I smiled because I was happy it happened. I made a dream a reality. 

It turned out I would get another two and a half months on the road and continue to add new places and new critters to my life list, such as Congaree National Park in South Carolina, an eastern spotted skunk along the Blue Ridge Parkway, and beautiful fall scenery in the Smoky Mountains.  Leaves_in_Congaree_2016_1Leaves_in_Congaree_2016_1A myriad of fall leaves float on the murky water surrounded by reflections of sky and overhead leaves in Congaree National Park, South Carolina

So off I head to bed to dream about all of the beautiful places I have seen this year.

I hope to do it again someday because there were many big sections of the U.S. that I missed. I didn't get to New England. I didn't make it to Florida. I didn't make it to the northwest. I didn't make it to the upper midwest. Goes to prove just how big our country is and how much there really is out there to see. Take it one location at a time and enjoy the exploring.

Sandhill_crane_BDANWR_2016_1Sandhill_crane_BDANWR_2016_1A sandhill crane (Grus canadensis) takes off in soft morning light at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

 

 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Big Year Blue Ridge Parkway Bosque del Apache Colorado Congaree New Mexico RV RV Livin' Smoky Mountains dream big dreams final countdown goal goals home living the dream motorhome nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photography road trailer travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/12/rv-livin-20-the-final-countdown Mon, 05 Dec 2016 08:34:25 GMT
RV Livin' #19: Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Blue Ridge Parkways https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/11/rv-livin-19-great-smoky-mountains-national-park Lower_Falls_Fall_BRP_2016_2Lower_Falls_Fall_BRP_2016_2Lower Falls or Second Falls flows down through the vibrantly colored trees in Graveyard Fields along the Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina I took an unexpected trip back east to follow fall colors. Unfortunately this year turned out to be late on colors and the dry late summer caused the leaves to be very brown but it was still an amazing time and something that was on my Year in an RV List.

And when I found out that there are elk in Great Smoky Mountains National Park I was extra excited. This was going to be a nice change of scenery for a Rocky Mountain favorite. Elk_GSMNP_2016_45Elk_GSMNP_2016_45Two bull ek (Cervus elaphus) spar in Oconaluftee Valley in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina

I had never been to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It would be park #41 on my list of parks I have visited and what better time of year than peak fall color. 

Because of the size of the campgrounds - or what we thought would be limiting - we brought the smaller trailer rather than the class A RV. The campgrounds certainly could have handled the larger RV but the tunnels on the Blue Ridge Parkway may have been a different story. 

Turkey_GSMNP_2016_1Turkey_GSMNP_2016_1A wild turkey tom (Meleagris gallopavo) stands in the afternoon sun in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee The trip started off in Cades Cove. My research showed this to be an excellent place to see black bears, turkeys and white-tailed deer. What I had not anticipated were the crowds. I knew Great Smoky Mountains N.P. is the most visited park in the country - they topped 11 million visitors in 2015 and expect to have more this year - but I was not prepared for the lines of people through Cades Cove. The road into the cove opens at sunrise but the people line up as much as an hour earlier. Thankfully the exit from the campground dumps right into the line and I could get there about 30 minutes before sunrise and still be about tenth in line - a helpful tip if you plan a visit. 

The traffic moved slowly once the gate opened and because the gate doesn't open until sunrise, getting to one of the good landscape spots before the harsh light hits was next to impossible.  Mabry_Mill_BRP_2016_3Mabry_Mill_BRP_2016_3Morning light illuminates the trees in fall color around Mabry Mill along the Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia

But I was here for white-tailed deer and bears. 

Although I don't feel like I walked away with any super fantastic shots of either from Cades Cove, I still enjoyed the visit. It was difficult to photograph deer with 20 photographers chasing and surrounding them. It made me appreciate the patience photographers have in Colorado to work together for shots. And although I saw a few bears, most were busy enjoying the acorns in the mountains. 

Looking_Glass_Falls_BRP_2016_1Looking_Glass_Falls_BRP_2016_1Looking Glass Falls cascades down a rock just off of the Blue Ridge Parkway in Transylvania County, North Carolina Next we headed off to various destinations on the Blue Ridge Parkway. This too was a new place for me and it held up to all of the stories about its beauty in the fall. I photographed Mabry Mill, Linn Cove Viaduct, Looking Glass Falls, and many other iconic locations. This area actually has some of the highest concentrations of waterfalls in the country, most easily accessible from the road and all surrounded by beautiful fall colors. 

I even found a few chipmunks to photograph. They were busy gathering those plentiful acorns and storing them away for winter. And on our last night on the parkway we had an unexpected and rare animal cross our path - an eastern spotted skunk.  Chipmunk_BRP_2016_2Chipmunk_BRP_2016_2A chipmunk cleans her paws on a sunny morning along the Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina

If you have followed this blog for a while you know the skunk continues to be one of the animals I have never photographed. I have seen them numerous times in various places but have yet to capture them with my camera - mostly because they are almost exclusively nocturnal, and if they are out during the day, you don't see them long. Those short little legs are surprisingly quick. I managed a few photos under the illumination of the truck lights at a high ISO so I still don't have a great photo - but baby steps right? Elk_GSMNP_2016_16Elk_GSMNP_2016_16A bull elk (Cervus elaphus) walks through a farm field in Oconaluftee Valley on a foggy morning in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina

That little encounter made me miss photographing wildlife even more so after two weeks of working the landscape on the parkway, we headed back to Great Smoky Mountains National Park to find the elk. 

The fog, elk and beautiful landscape in fall colors made me happy but somber at the same time. Reality was setting in that this was going to be the last big trip and my last new destination for my year in an RV. 

But I put that aside for a few days as I focused on photographing the elk in Cattaloochee and Oconaluftee Valleys.  Red_squirrel_GSMNP_2016_1Red_squirrel_GSMNP_2016_1A red squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) sits on a rock and looks forward along the Oconaluftee River in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina

It has taken me several weeks to correctly spell the names of those valleys. I have yet to be able to master the pronunciation of the second valley. 

These elk were introduced to the valley about 15 years ago. The elk native to the Smoky Mountains have been extinct since the 1700s and the new elk were brought in from Canada, is what I was told by a volunteer. They have also done pretty well and now number about 200 in the eastern Smokeys.  Simms_Pond_BRP_2016_1Simms_Pond_BRP_2016_1An incoming storm puts clouds in the sky over Simms Pond surrounded by fall color along the Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina

I also found several small mammals to photograph. Unexpectedly I seem to have developed a fascination for photographing the wide variety of squirrels I have seen on my travels. I grew up in New Jersey where eastern gray squirrels were abundant but I found I missed them once I moved to Colorado where we have a couple of different varieties. As one photographer told me, a great photo of a common animal is better than a bad photo of an uncommon animal. So I added shots of red squirrels and gray squirrels to my inventory while out east. I also found a cooperative woodchuck, another animal we don't have in Colorado, although we have their silly cousin the yellow-bellied marmot. 

But the calendar kept ticking away and it was time to leave this beautiful area. I have just a few weeks left to visit friends and family in New Jersey before heading back across the country for the last time on this adventure. There will be more adventures - I just don't yet know what they will look like.  Woodchuck_GSMNP_2016_1Woodchuck_GSMNP_2016_1A woodchuck (Marmota monax) sits in a grassy field in Oconaluftee Valley in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Blue Ridge Parkway Carolina Great Smoky Mountains National Park North RV RV living Tennessee animal elk fall fall colors full-time RVer nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photography recreational trailer travel vehicle wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/11/rv-livin-19-great-smoky-mountains-national-park Sat, 05 Nov 2016 18:54:02 GMT
Photographing Wildlife in the Fall https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/9/photographing-wildlife-in-the-fall Moose_35Moose_35A bull moose (Alces aces) with shedding antlers stands in willows on a rainy day at Brainard Lake National Recreation Area, Colorado. Fall is a popular season for most nature photographers. The colors of the trees and plants from the east coast to the west coast, from the tundra of Alaska to the canyons of Zion National Park in Utah turn the landscapes into an artist's palette of vibrant shades of red, orange, yellow and gold. Pronghorn_buck_FGNRA_2015_1Pronghorn_buck_FGNRA_2015_1A pronghorn antelope buck (Antilocapra americana) looks directly at the camera as he sports some sage stuck in his horns in Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area near Green River, Wyoming.

But fall is also a busy season for wildlife. Many of the large mammals go into their mating season. Starting in late July through December, the moose, bison, elk, pronghorn, deer, mountain goats and bighorn sheep focus on finding mates and not much else. Birds migrate through on their way to their winter destinations. Bears begin their hyperphagia stage where they eat tens of thousands of calories a day to bulk up for their long winter nap. And the small mammals get very busy building cache piles of food or build up enough fat reserves to make it through the winter.

And all of this could be framed in photographs with beautiful fall color. 

But where do you start to photograph these activities and colors?

Elk_RMNP_2016_16Elk_RMNP_2016_16A bull elk (Cervus elaphus) starts a bugle call during the fall rut in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado First, be patient, very patient. Wildlife photography is about watching, observing, learning and being ready for the behaviors. Anticipating the behavior, such as a bugle from an elk as it is walking towards the camera or the horn clash of two large bighorn rams takes some understanding of why they do it. For example, bighorn rams will back up just prior to rearing up on their hind legs and then coming in for the clash. Focus on one of the rams and track with it through the clash so that your camera will not focus on the background in the space between the rams. 

Black_bear_Waterton_2015_4Black_bear_Waterton_2015_4A black bear (Ursus americanus) sits in a scrub oak tree to eat the ripening acorns in Waterton Canyon near Littleton, Colorado

Next, show the beauty of the season. The vibrant color of leaves on trees will reflect in water. Try framing a colorful duck swimming through it. Meadows of grasses will turn into warm tones of golden color during the early fall season before it goes completely brown for the winter. Yellow leaves on trees will create a warm glow on an animal walking through a wooded area.

Mallard_duck_7Mallard_duck_7A pair of mallard ducks swim across Belmar Lake in the early morning steam after a spring snowstorm in Lakewood, Colorado.

‚ÄčAnother option for a photo setting is to predict weather patterns. I call this the clash of seasons. Especially in places like Alaska, Wyoming and Colorado, snow may fall on the colorful landscape. Fresh snow mixed across the colorful reds of the alpine tundra offers a nice feeling of the season. Fresh snow on yellow aspen trees as an elk walks by will also provide that feeling of clashing seasons. In many areas, the days remain warm yet the overnight temperatures drop significantly or weather patterns may bring in a cold front after a few warm days. These changes in temperature will create rising mist and fog from warm bodies of water in the cool morning temperatures.

Wood_duck_25Wood_duck_25A wood duck drake (Aix sponsa) swims through gold, red and yellow fall colors reflected on the water surface at Sterne Lake in Littleton, Colorado

The progression of fall starts early in parts of Alaska and the high country of the Rocky Mountains. Moose will begin to bulk up in late July and into August as they prepare to make it through the rut where they will burn off up to 20 percent of their body weight. Bison begin their rut with their grunts and battles for the cows in early August. The plants of the tundra begin to change into deep reds and vibrant oranges in August. The late salmon runs in Alaska in late August and early September bring out large quantities of brown bears looking to build up fat for hibernation. 

Pika_3Pika_3A pika carries a mouthful of grass across the rocks near Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

The willows of Alaska turn into fields of red in late August and early September, providing great landscape scenery for rutting moose. Moose and elk will shed the velvet from their antlers in early September and be in full swing of their rut by late September. Pronghorn antelope bucks will thrash about in sage bushes to leave their scent markings as a warning to other bucks to stay away from their does during September. Black bears will be found in apple orchards, oak forests and berry patches bulking up on high-calorie foods for hibernation. As the elk rut winds down in mid October, the mule deer and white-tailed deer will start to bulk up for their rut in November and December. The bighorn sheep and mountain goats wind out the fall rut season in late November and early December with battle of their own over the females.

Golden-mantled_Ground_Squirrel_1Golden-mantled_Ground_Squirrel_1An overweight golden-mantled ground squirrel stands on a rock begging for food along Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado Don't forget about the small mammals. They will also be busy building stock piles of food in preparation for long winter months without access to plants and bugs.

As the rut season winds down for each animal, consider whether it will be worth photographing them. Tines will break on bull moose and elk as well as deer bucks as a result of fighting. All of the males will get tired, thinner and potentially injured during the rut. 

Bighorn_Rams_EyeBighorn_Rams_EyeA bighorn ram (Ovis canadensis) looks at the camera through the horn of another ram in the Shoshone National Forest near Cody, Wyoming

A final thought for photographing wildlife in the fall. Fall is hunting season. Primarily I mention this for your own safety. If you are out in an area where hunters may be located, be sure to wear hunter's orange, such as in a vest or hat. Check local regulations for safety attire. Another consideration is that animals may be more skittish and more difficult to photograph.

Enjoy the fall season. It is my favorite because of its beauty and the wide variety of photo opportunities.  Moose_GTNP_2015_1Moose_GTNP_2015_1A bull moose (Alces alces) walks across the Gros Ventre River in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Alaska Colorado Rocky Mountains animal animals fall fall color nature nature photography photo photograph photographers photography tips tips for nature photographers travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/9/photographing-wildlife-in-the-fall Fri, 30 Sep 2016 15:30:00 GMT
A Year on the Road https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/9/a-year-on-the-road
Bighorn_ram_Glacier_2016_1Bighorn_ram_Glacier_2016_1A bighorn ram (Ovis canadensis) stands in the morning sun near Logan Pass in Glacier National Par, Montana. Yesterday, September 1, 2016, marked one year since I sold my house and started my journey in an RV and living on the road. It took a couple of days to get everything settled into the RV and a few more to actually get on the road but September 1 was when I officially became a gypsy of the road. 
 
This week also marks the end of this phase of the adventure and the beginning of the next phase of my life. 
 
It has been an amazing year. It was full of ups and downs, highs and lows. I saw the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, the Gulf of Alaska, parts of Canada, and 27 states. I traveled 58,007 miles, and fell in love. I also depleted my bank account, had two flat tires, obtained many cuts and bruises, and even twisted a knee that kept me from hiking for two months. I had surgery to treat a cancer scare. One of my dogs passed away on my journey. Dawn_and_huskies_YosemiteDawn_and_huskies_YosemiteDawn and her huskies sit in front of the sign for Yosemite National Park, California
 
I met many other travelers, some of whom I have continued to stay in touch, and even crossed paths with the couple visiting every national park in 52 weeks (#59in52). I got stuck on the wrong side of a mud slide in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and couldn't see Wonder Lake in Denali National Park because another mud slide blocked a road there.
 
I learned about gray and black water tanks, learned that you always wear gloves when emptying the tanks (and why), learned that RVs will always need repairs (even more so than a house), found that living in a small space is pretty comfortable, and that I still don't miss cutting a lawn. Spoonbill__Smith_Oaks_2016_1_finalSpoonbill__Smith_Oaks_2016_1_finalA roseate spoonbill flaps his wings as he comes in for a landing against the backlight morning sun at Rip's Rookery near New Iberia, Louisiana
 
I did my first canyon repel and hiked on top of a glacier. I saw the tallest mountain in North America, visited the newest national park, spent time in the oldest national park and experienced a small portion of the largest national park. I also saw 62 species of mammals, which is the goal of this adventure - to document the mammals of North America - but there are a lot more still to photograph. I lost count of the number of bird species I saw and I saw at least six different reptiles and amphibians.
 
Collared_pika_Hatcher_Pass_2016_2Collared_pika_Hatcher_Pass_2016_2A collared pika (Ochotona collaris) eats an alpine flower at Hatcher Pass, Alaska I tried dozens of regional beers, tasted a few regional wines too, tried fireweed vodka (very yummy), drank way too much sweet tea to keep me up while driving and not enough water. I taste-tested a lot of gummie bears (my go-to snack while driving); in my opinion Sprouts sells the best ones.
 
I also saw a lot of Walmart parking lots - a lot - and staying in these lots humbled me in seeing how some people have to live - not choose to live like me and other RV travelers.
 
I missed many things about having a home - good Internet connection, baking, friends nearby, and familiarity. I also found out that I did not miss many things - surprisingly television was one of them. Bobcat_Yosemite_2016_6Bobcat_Yosemite_2016_6A bobcat (Lynx rufus) walks through a wooded area in Yosemite National Park, California
 
I loved every minute of my travels. I saw a lot of beautiful places. Some of which I know I will never have an opportunity to revisit; many will become regular destinations for me. But my list is very long and I feel I haven't skimmed the surface. I checked off 45 places on my Year in an RV List but the list still includes 407 destinations; more than 1,000 if you include the general notations to see all of the national parks, state parks and state wildlife management areas in Colorado, and all of the national wildlife refuges. I have accepted the fact that I will never see everything on my list because the list grows every time I go someplace. (And how sad would it be to not have any new place to look forward to seeing?)
 
Arctic_ground_squirrel_Denali_2016_1Arctic_ground_squirrel_Denali_2016_1An arctic ground squirrel (Spermophilus parryii) sits and poses on a sunny afternoon in Denali National Park, Alaska. I still have not seen a mountain lion in the wild and didn't get a photo of that lynx I saw in Denali National Park. Ocelots, fishers, wolverines, musk ox, nutrias, ringtails and short-tailed weasels still elude me. The Louisiana black bear is high on my goal list. And those silly little armadillos, which I saw all over the place in Louisiana, skunks, and pine martins have yet to be photographed by my camera. 
 
I hope to keep the travels going but I will need to rebuild the coffers for a while and work on some editing. I feel like this past year was a failure and a success all at the same time. I learned a lot about myself, about how I got to this point in my life, and why I needed to do this. It was a failure because I did only see 45 places on that list - that is less than one a week (but often the best photos come from really getting to know an area). I didn't do as much planning as I would have liked, I didn't have as much money as I should have when I started, and I didn't stay focused as much as I should have. Pronghorn_buck_FGNRA_2015_1Pronghorn_buck_FGNRA_2015_1A pronghorn antelope buck (Antilocapra americana) looks directly at the camera as he sports some sage stuck in his horns in Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area near Green River, Wyoming.
 
But I am being hard on myself because it was a tremendous success. It was a success because I did it. I left the security of a traditional life and took a big chance. And that chance is what is giving me the confidence that I can continue to pursue my dreams.
 
I have taken more than 61,000 photos while on the road, which is actually a much better ratio of clicks to time than I have done in the past. Only a few short years back I could take 10,000 frames in a week. I am down to just a few hundred per location now. [Thank you, Russ Burden, for the "Shoot before you edit" note that I keep in the truck.]
 
But for what I thought would be a six-month journey, has turned into a lifestyle I can't seem to walk away from - at least not today. So as we drive the RV back to Colorado I am looking forward to seeing what the next year holds in store for me - and feeling some anxiety all at the same time about where the road will take me. For once in my life I do not know what my next step will be. I only have two things on my calendar past the end of September - a brown bear workshop this time next year and an article due in March. It is time to market my work, schedule more workshops, plan more presentations, pitch more articles, work on getting assignments, find some sponsors, and discover what the next adventure looks like.
 
Here's to another fantastic 365 days!
Bald_Eagle_Anchor_Point_2016_2Bald_Eagle_Anchor_Point_2016_2Two bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) fight over a fish at Anchor Point, Alaska.
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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Loving life RV RV living Walmart challenges dreams failure living living the dream nature nature photography photo photographer photography success travel wildlife work https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/9/a-year-on-the-road Fri, 02 Sep 2016 16:49:24 GMT
24 Hours as a Traveling Wildlife Photographer https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/7/24-hours-as-a-traveling-wildlife-photographer Midnight at Tern LakeMidnight on the summer solstice at Tern Lake, Alaska This is what midnight in Alaska looks like.

Not much sleep goes on up here unless you prepare your bedroom with heavy blackout shades and curtains. RVs are hard to seal all of the light out of so I am thankful I am a sound sleeper, but those curtains certainly help. 

I am more than halfway through spending the summer in Alaska. The nights have been getting darker since the solstice on June 21 when there was less than four hours between sunset and sunrise, but the skies never truly turned dark.

I prefer sunrise for my photography. I think the skies are clearer, the temperatures are cooler, there are fewer people out and about, and the animals seem more active. Yet, since being in Alaska, I find I am out until sunset every night, which occurs around 11:15 p.m. in mid-July. My body just doesn't want to shut down. As a result it can be really hard to get up when the alarm goes off at 3 a.m. to get to a sunrise location.  Bald_eagle_Valdez_2016_1Bald_eagle_Valdez_2016_1An immature bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) sits on an old log at low tide in Port Valdez, Alaska.

So we thought about investing in FitBit watches to see what our sleep patterns truly were like (Thank you, Richard, for the gift.) 

And that is what has inspired this blog post. I am now seeing in digital lights on my wrist and through the app on my phone that I exceed my step goals every day yet have only met my sleeping goals twice since tracking the information over a week ago. 

As a wildlife photographer, I walk a lot, which is great. I follow animals, look for animals and just explore new locations to see what animals might live in an area. I do all of this on my two feet. It is a wonderful thing to have a job where I walk rather than sitting behind a desk all the time. But it is a business and there are many hours behind the desk. 

Salmon_Gull_Sea_Lion_Valdez_2016_1Salmon_Gull_Sea_Lion_Valdez_2016_1A gull flys in to try for a salmon that a sea lion (Eumetopias jubatus) just pulled under with only his whiskers showing above water in Port Valdez, Alaska. So here is a glimpse into my day as a wildlife photographer on Monday, July 18, 2016.

12:00 a.m.: I just finished packing up my gear and settling it back into the truck. We were told a brown bear had been down at the fish weir at the Solomon Gulch Fish Hatchery in Valdez, Alaska the last three evenings. The first two nights he showed up around 7 p.m. The third night he didn't arrive until 11:30 p.m. The sun set long ago behind the distant mountains in the Talkeetna Range to the west but we thought we would stick it out and just watch him, even if it was too dark to shoot any photos. No luck. He was a no-show so we packed up the gear and headed back to the RV. 

1:30 a.m.: After downloading the photos (we did have an amazing few hours photographing sea lions fishing for salmon before the sun set), I walked my dog, Sage, and got ready for bed.  Steller_sea_lion_Valdez_2016_3Steller_sea_lion_Valdez_2016_3A pod of steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus) relaxes in the calm morning water at low tide in Port Valdez, Alaska.

2:11 a.m.: My FitBit app tells me that I finally fell asleep at this crazy hour after I watched an episode of "Big Bang Theory". I find the laughter is always a great way to wrap up the day, and this hysterical show makes me laugh more than any other sitcom. It also keeps my mind off of the fact that I know I will have less than four hours before my alarm goes off for my morning shooting.

6:46 a.m.: After playing games with my snooze button for 46 minutes, I finally rolled out of bed and quickly dressed into my photo-shooting gear: hiking pants, Muck boots, long-sleeve t-shirt and my new Buff complete with permethrin in the fabric - an ensemble completely designed for a fashion plate in the magazine article about how to not get bit by the flies, gnats and mosquitos in Alaska.

Salmon_Valdez_2016_1Salmon_Valdez_2016_1The pink salmon arrive in the milions in July to to return to the hatchery where they were born in Valdez, Alaska. 7:03 a.m.: I was on the beach with my camera backpack on and tripod with camera slung over my shoulder. It was low-tide in 18 minutes and I was hoping to photograph bald eagles on the beach and brown bears in the shallow water working on the fish left behind by the receding waters. Although I missed sunrise at 4:46 a.m., the light in Alaska stays really warm for several hours since it never truly rises directly overhead - it kind of moves on a pattern through the northern sky - so I still had some time with nice light. Unfortunately the bear was no where to be seen and the eagles didn't seem comfortable sharing the beach with visitors so I looked for other subjects. I found a pod of sea lions - 32 total when I finished counting each individual - wading in the shallow water. They were biding their time until high tide when their large bodies could swim through the deeper waters near the fish weir where thousands of pink salmon were bunched up at the mouth of the gulch. I had some great photo opportunities with these massive sea mammals, which are quite curious about photographers willing to sit in the water with them. 

9:20 a.m.: The tide was coming back in so I headed back to the truck. The long walk back was across a minefield of mussels, slimy sea plants and smelly, rotting fish carcasses. It also was a very low tide at -0.8 feet so the walk back to the parking lot was going to give me lots of steps towards my daily FitBit goal.  Brown_Bear_Valdez_2016_7Brown_Bear_Valdez_2016_7A brown bear (Ursus arctos) peeks out from the thick alders in Valdez, Alaska. You never know what might be watching you!

10:15 a.m.: After a quick drive to Crooked Creek to check on a tip about black bears, I was back at the RV and at my computer. It was time to get to work and I had an important project I was working on finishing. A friend and fellow photographer asked me to produce a video of my photographs about the national parks. But this wasn't a video to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of the National Park Service. This video was to help his 15-year-old niece experience each of the national parks. She has terminal cancer with an outlook of less than a year. Her dying wish is to see all of the national parks and her family is worried she may not have the opportunity. I was so flattered he asked me to be part of such a special gift.  Brown_Bear_Valdez_2016_2Brown_Bear_Valdez_2016_2A brown bear (Ursus arctos) walks alon the rocky embankment near the Solomon Gulch Fish Hatchery on a sunny afternoon in Valdez, Alaska

5:30 p.m.: I worked all day on the video and unfortunately still have yet to finish it. The project is giving me proof that I need a serious overhaul on my filing system. Now granted I am traveling in an RV so I don't have the option of leaving my hard drives out all the time so I have to search for files on individual hard drives. I thought of going the route of keeping files stored on an online service but Internet connection can be so sporadic while traveling that I can't rely on that either if I want to have quick access while working. The project is also giving me the opportunity to look through many photos I haven't reviewed in a long time. But it was getting to be low-tide, and that meant bear time again. This is what I am here to do in Alaska - photograph the wildlife that calls this beautiful state home. So off we went to see what we could find. 

Fisherman_Valdez_2016_1Fisherman_Valdez_2016_1A fisherman carefully brings in a salmon he caught at sunset in Port Valdez, Alaska

 

7:22 p.m.: There he was, the single brown bear finally made an appearance on the far side of the hatchery. No one spotted him coming down but he was there, in the cove fishing for salmon. He didn't stay long - my last photo was at 7:52 p.m. as he crossed the road and headed up the steep mountainside. There were just too many people and it was still quite warm for him to stay very long.

 

9:50 p.m.: After a bite to eat at a local burger joint that was way too slow and not very good food, we had a beer with another couple from Michigan who were also photographers before we returned to our RV boondocked on the side of a nearby road. It was an enjoyable conversation about this and that regarding photography, traveling, RV living and experiences in Alaska. But I had more work to do.

 

11:59 p.m.: At the end of the day I was still at my computer working on the video. But overall it was an amazing day traveling in an RV in Alaska. I saw sea lions, sea otters, harbor seals, a brown bear, spent every moment with a great boyfriend, met new travelers (including a couple that lives in Valdez every summer, two couples driving VW buses from Argentina to Alaska, and a great couple from Michigan), and met my steps goal on my FitBit. Now if only I can figure out how to squeeze in the time sleeping time! Steller_sea_lion_Valdez_2016_1Steller_sea_lion_Valdez_2016_1A steller sea lion (Eumetopias jubataus) catches a salmon in his mouth on a sunny afternoon in Port Valdez, Alaska.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) 24 hours Alaska RV RV living Valdez animal animals brown bear day life nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography sea lion travel wildlife work work on the road https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/7/24-hours-as-a-traveling-wildlife-photographer Thu, 21 Jul 2016 19:14:13 GMT
RV Livin' #17: Discovering Louisiana Part Two https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/7/rv-livin-17-discovering-louisiana-part-2 Reddish_egret_Grand_Isle_2016_1Reddish_egret_Grand_Isle_2016_1A reddish egret (Egretta rufescens) takes off from a marsh on a cloudy day in Grand Isle, Louisiana.

My trip to Louisiana happened to coincide with the bird festival in Grand Isle.

This festival is held each year in mid-April during the peak of the spring bird migration. Grand Isle, which sits about two hours southeast of New Orleans, is one of the first stops on land after migratory birds fly across the Gulf of Mexico - if they don't try to keep flying north. 

I was not familiar with the location or the photography opportunities of the area but I heard it was well worth the visit so off we went with the RV. 

There happens to be a state park with a pretty nice campground at the south end of the island that had plenty of space for our large rig. Although the wind didn't cooperate at all during the course of the weekend, we managed to spot at least 70 different species of birds including scarlet tanagers and reddish egrets, new ones for my life list.

Sanderling_Grand_Isle_2016_2Sanderling_Grand_Isle_2016_2A sanderling runs across the sand at the edge of the water along the beach at Grand Isle, Louisiana
The great thing about Grand Isle is that the area has several different types of habitats so a plethora of birds feed, nest and travel through the area. 

I started with shore birds at sunrise. What more could a photographer ask for than walking from her campsite, meeting an Audubon representative on the beach, and photographing a large flock of skimmers all at sunrise??? 

After photographing Wilson's plovers, common terns, and lots of sandpipers, I headed back to the campground to look for birds in a marshy environment.

Even in the campground and on the nearby trails there were dozens of birds to be found: baby mourning doves, clapper rails, great egrets, a sora, and lots of willets. 

Brown_Pelican_SeriesA brown pelican dives headfirst for his food while fishing in a bay on Grand Isle, Louisiana Later in the afternoon I joined my boyfriend and his mother for a nature walk to look for birds in the wooded neighborhoods. The Nature Conservancy sponsored the walk and had three very informative guides lead the way. The ultimate goal for most folks on the walk was to find a cerulean warbler. Although that certainly would have been pretty special to add that bird to my life list, our little trio was in search of a painted bunting.  Black-necked_stilt_Grand_Isle_2016_1Black-necked_stilt_Grand_Isle_2016_1A black-necked stilt (Himantopus mexicanus) poses for a portrait on a sunny morning in Grand Isle, Louisiana.

This colorful little bird - I even heard one birder refer to it as the gaudy bird of the bird world - would be a new bird on all of our life lists and one we would certainly enjoy photographing. The little bird covered in an artist's palette of colors didn't make it easy for us. We went back to the tree - a mulberry tree with fresh, yummy berries - three times before we finally caught a glimpse of him as he dashed in and out of the shadows. The best shot I could capture was him sitting on a branch in the shadows, but the sighting counts towards my life list. 

In addition to the painted bunting we also came across a red-eyed vireo, indigo buntings, palm warblers, worm-eating warblers, rose-chested grosbeak, and an oven bird. 

Semi-palmated_plover_Grand_Isle_2016_1Semi-palmated_plover_Grand_Isle_2016_1A semi-palmated plover (Charadrius semipalmatus) runs through the shallow water along the Gulf Coast at Grand Isle, Louuisiana

The next morning my goal was to photograph roseate spoonbills. Although I had seen these birds before in Florida, I didn't have any photos I liked. By the time I left Grand Isle I still didn't have any photos of roseate spoonbills that I liked but I was happy with the sightings of more than a dozen of them in the marshes and flying overhead. 

While looking for the spoonbills I discovered a wonderful marsh area not far from the campground. There were four or five spoonbills hanging out in a pond on the south end of the marsh but beyond that the grasses and shallow ponds were filled with other wading birds. There were dozens of snowy and cattle egrets, lots of willets, dowitches, tricolored herons, and black-necked stilts. Flock_takeoff_Grand_Isle_2016Flock_takeoff_Grand_Isle_2016A flock of birds - terns, skimmers, gulls - take off en masse on Grand Isle, Louisiana.

One last tip we heard about was the beach near the bridge into Grand Isle. One of the local fisherman told us the fish were circling around the bay at the bridge because the easterly wind was preventing the tide from flowing back out to the Gulf. The brown pelicans had picked up on this little tidbit as well and were fishing non-stop. I would have spent hours upon hours watching the large birds dive for the fish but my pleasure and interest in observing and photographing wildlife can often be boring to others. Nonetheless I was able to capture several decent shots of pelicans just as they were breaking the water. 

So another successful photo outing to a new location thanks to life on the road in our RV. 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Gulf Gulf Coast Louisiana RV animal animals bird bunting egret heron life list motorhome nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography recreational roseate spoonbill spoonbill tips tips for nature photographers travel vehicle wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/7/rv-livin-17-discovering-louisiana-part-2 Sat, 09 Jul 2016 17:59:42 GMT
RV Livin' #16: Discovering Louisiana Part One https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/5/rv-livin-16-discovering-louisiana Roseate_Spoonbill_Rips_Rookery_2016_1Roseate_Spoonbill_Rips_Rookery_2016_1A roseate spoonbill (Platalea ajaja) flys against a sea of green at Rip's Rookery near New Iberia, Louisiana "Can you tell me where I can find the flamingos?" asked the woman driving with her husband around the oil fields on Grand Isle. 

"There are no wild flamingos in North America," we responded.

"Oh, okay," she replied and drove off looking for her pink birds.

And as quickly as I watched the dust settle from her car on the dirt road I realized that she was probably talking about the roseate spoonbills.

Red-cockaded_woodpecker_Big_Branch_Marsh_NWR_2016_1Red-cockaded_woodpecker_Big_Branch_Marsh_NWR_2016_1A red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis) pulls pieces of bark from a pine tree at Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge in Lacombe, Louisiana
As many as 18 had been reported in the area only a few days earlier. We saw 14 that morning. 
Spoonbills are tall, pink and white birds with a long beak with paddles at the end. Typically only found along the Gulf Coast of Louisiana, Texas and Florida, these birds consume a lot of crawfish, which are abundant in Louisiana. As a result, they are nicknamed Cajun flamingos because the red pigment from the crawfish gives the feathers of the spoonbills a darker hue. Mallard_Big_Branch_Marsh_NWR_2016_1Mallard_Big_Branch_Marsh_NWR_2016_1A mallard duck drake (Ana platyrhynchos) swims through a pond of lily pads on a sunny morning at Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge near Lacombe, Louisiana

One of my goals while visiting Louisiana was to photograph roseate spoonbills. I had only seen them once before in my life and that was only a passing moment at an airport. But I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of places I saw spoonbills near the Louisiana coast, and that search led me to several places where I saw dozens of other bird species including a few new ones for my life list. 

My first stop to explore in Louisiana was Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge.  Big_Branch_Marsh_Sunset_PanoBig_Branch_Marsh_Sunset_PanoA beautiful sunset with intense shades of orange and pink light up the sky behind silhouetted cypress trees at Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana

This refuge comprises several bayous, marshes, and waterways surrounded by cypress and hardwood forests. The variety of landscapes meant the opportunity to find several birds and reptiles, including a rare one I wanted to photograph called the red-cockaded woodpecker. 

For several mornings I watched the laughing gulls down on the old pilings along the marshes to Lake Ponchartrain. Although there were dozens of pilings it always seemed like the birds all wanted to sit on the same post. What was nice about this as a photographer was that it meant they were predictable. One gull would fly in, hover until he found a spot and then another would take off feeling a little cramped on the perch.  Laughing_gulls_Big_Branch_Marsh_NWR_2016_2Laughing_gulls_Big_Branch_Marsh_NWR_2016_2A laughing gull (Leucophaeus atricilla) comes in to land on a piling already occupied by another gull (non-breeding) in the morning sun at Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, Lacombe, Louisiana

The last thing that caught my eye at Big Branch Marsh were the wildflowers in peak bloom. The Louisiana wild iris were soft shades of purple set against the sea of green common throughout Louisiana. And the lily pads were also beginning to come into their glory. If you looked close enough or gave it a few minutes you would see ducks cruising through the pads and flowers.

Return for my next blog post about Louisiana featuring my trip down to Grand Isle for the Bird Festival. At least seventy different varieties of birds over a few days gave my shutter finger lots to keep busy photographing.  Wild_iris_Big_Branch_Marsh_NWR_2016_1Wild_iris_Big_Branch_Marsh_NWR_2016_1A wild iris set against a background of vivid green on a sunny morning at Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge near Lacombe, Louisiana

 
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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge Gulf Gulf Coast Louisiana RV animal bird laughing gulls motorhome nature nature photography photo photograph photographers photography recreational red-cockaded woodpecker roseate spoonbill spoonbill travel vehicle wildflowers wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/5/rv-livin-16-discovering-louisiana Sun, 01 May 2016 23:54:06 GMT
RV Livin' #15: Bluebonnets of Texas https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/4/rv-livin-15-bluebonnets Bluebonnets_Texas_2016_2Bluebonnets_Texas_2016_2Colors of sunrise illuminate the distant horizon above a field of bluebonnets near Ennis, Texas I enjoyed my time this week photographing bluebonnets in Texas. It was the first time I had seen the flowers, and due to my unfamiliarity with the little blue flowers, I had not realized they were in the same family as one of my favorite flowers of Colorado, the lupines.

Before going out on any photo shoot I do my research: What options are there for a scenic shot? What perspectives do I want to capture? What works and what doesn't? What are the best locations?

From this research I come up with my shot list. This might be a little more formal and organized than needed but it helps me ensure that I am making the most of my time and money (it gets costly to fill up that gas tank on my RV!).

But as organized as I am before heading out to the field, I also allow myself the opportunity to try new things and be open to what photographic possibilities develop when I am out shooting. Horse_Texas_bluebonnets_2016_1Horse_Texas_bluebonnets_2016_1A horse feeds in a lush green meadow dotted with bluebonnets near Ennis, Texas

On this trip I wasn't getting a lot of what I had envisioned so I thought about ways I could mix up that shot list.

One way is to think about what equipment you have in your camera bag. Since I drive to every shoot now that I live on the road, I always have my full arsenal of gear with me. A little cumbersome for some but I love the convenience and accessibility. I decided to grab my flash and the color correction filters to see what that would do with the scene. I liked the look of the green color correction filter but not the orange. Bluebonnets_Texas_2016_10Bluebonnets_Texas_2016_10A closeup of a bluebonnet from the top side near Ennis, Texas

Another tool in my arsenal that I do not get to use very often (being primarily a wildlife photographer) is my macro lens. This can be especially helpful with photographing flowers because you can get in close to the subject while obtaining a shallow depth of field at wide-open apertures.

Bluebonnets_Texas_2016_1Bluebonnets_Texas_2016_1A single bluebonnet stands out amongst the field of flowers on a sunny morning near Ennis, Texas And then I thought about an article I recently read in Outdoor Photographer. The author, George Lepp, talked about keeping backgrounds clean when photographing wildflowers and avoiding distracting elements in the shot. The article provided some great reminders about improving wildflower photos.

One method for doing this is to use a longer focal length lens. Again, being a wildlife photographer, I had my 500mm lens with me. I grabbed that so I could really focus on a single flower while getting a wash of color behind it with a shallow depth of field.

Overall it was a great couple of days.

As the saying goes, "everything is big in Texas," including the state of Texas. The fields of flowers were huge with many perspective opportunities. I spent two days just within a 20-minute radius of the campground. I even had a big field of flowers behind the RV to photograph my husky, Sage in the flowers. And there are many other locations with good bluebonnet fields that I look forward to exploring in the future. Sage_widlflowers_Texas_1Sage_widlflowers_Texas_1Sage sat quietly in a field of wildflowers at Highview Campground at Lake Bardwell near Ennis, Texas

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Texas bluebonnets depth of field nature nature photography photo photography spring tips tips for nature photographers travel wildflowers https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/4/rv-livin-15-bluebonnets Sat, 09 Apr 2016 04:23:22 GMT
RV Livin': My favorite shots from my first six months https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/3/rv-livin-my-favorite-shots-from-my-first-six-months So today marks the official six month anniversary of when I took off down the road in my RV. 

In those six months I have taken 22,865 photos. Most of the subjects are wildlife but I have also been branching out to photograph more landscapes. Ideally I am seeking wildlife in the landscape, but those shots are some of the hardest to successfully obtain. 

So here is a list of my favorite 12 photos from my adventures in an RV. Roll over each image to read a little about the shot.

Thank you for sharing in my adventure with me. Feel free to forward the link to friends and family so they can also learn more about this beautiful country. 

#12

Opossum_Fontainbleau_2015_2Opossum_Fontainbleau_2015_2An opossum (Didelphis virginiana) sits in the grass at sunset in Fontainbleau State Park near Mandeville, Louisiana. My goal for this trip is to photograph all the mammals of North America (with a complete understanding that I just may not get all of the squirrels, mice and voles that exist). Opossums were one of the animals I had never photographed. And since we do not have opossums in Colorado, this mammal was high on my list. This state park on Lake Ponchartrain is full of opossums but most come out after dark. This one, however, decided he wanted to see what the world looked like in the warm light of the setting sun.

 

#11

Brown_pelican_Salton_Sea_2015_4Brown_pelican_Salton_Sea_2015_4A brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) works on flipping a fish into his bill on a sunny morning at Salton Sea, California

#10

Elk_RMNP_2015_10Elk_RMNP_2015_10A cow elk (Cervus elaphus) pauses while eating some dried flowers in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. This is what I was off photographing the morning I met Richard. Funny how some timing can work out.

#9

Mountain_goat_Mt_Evans_2015_8Mountain_goat_Mt_Evans_2015_8A close up of a mountain goat (Oreamnos americanus) eats alpine plants on Mount Evans in Colorado. The road to the top was open quite a bit later this year because of some road construction earlier in the season. It was wonderful to be able to spend a few days up there in the fall colors thanks to the convenience of the RV.

#8

Desert_bighorn_ram_CO_Natl_Mon_2015_2Desert_bighorn_ram_CO_Natl_Mon_2015_2A desert bighorn ram (Ovis canadensis), which is a subspecies of the Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, stands on a rocky ledge in the early morning light at Colorado National Monument near Fruita, Colorado. This photo appeared as a full-page shot in the Coloradoan to accompany my article about Colorado National Monument. I have really enjoyed the ability to combine my interests in writing and photography to help keep the RV going down the road.

#7

Chimney_Rock_Fall_Colors_2015_2Chimney_Rock_Fall_Colors_2015_2The clouds of an approaching storm behind Chimney Rock light up in shades of pink, purple and orange at sunset in the Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado. I haven't had too many great sunrises or sunsets on this adventure. Some I have missed because I just needed the sleep. Many days have just been too clear or too cloudy. It is, however, making me appreciate the few days I have had the opportunity to photograph a perfect sunrise or sunset, such as this evening near Ridgway.

#6

Red_cross_fox_GTNP_2016_6Red_cross_fox_GTNP_2016_6A cross fox (Vulpes vulpes) walks through the snow on a sunny afternoon in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. This fox has had many, many photos taken of her. On a few days I actually left the area because of the volume of photographers but it was wonderful to spend a few hours with her over the course of a few days.

#5

Bison_YNP_2016_5Bison_YNP_2016_5A bull bison (Bison bison) covered in ice walks towards the camera near Biscuit Basin in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. This bison was photographed on a morning when the temps had dipped to -33 degrees. I was in the park with a few friends to photograph a bobcat. We never saw the bobcat but I was very, very happy to get this shot of the bison walking towards me out of the foggy forest.

#4

Dawn_and_huskies_YosemiteDawn_and_huskies_YosemiteDawn and her huskies sit in front of the sign for Yosemite National Park, California. Although this isn't one of the best photos of me by any means, it does remind me of how much I am happy to be traveling with my doggies. Nanook, the black and white husky in this photo, is not doing well. To be expected considering he is only 2 months shy of turning 15 years old. It has been wonderful to share this adventure with these crazy canines, especially in a place as beautiful as Yosemite National Park.

#3

Red_Fox_GTNP-2016_5Red_Fox_GTNP-2016_5A red fox (Vulpes vulpes) comes up to his partner and gives her a peck on the nose on a snowy afternoon in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. These top three photos were hard to arrange in order. Fox are one of my favorite animals to photograph and this tender moment between this mating pair really captured my heart.

#2

Firefall_Yosemite_2016_6Firefall_Yosemite_2016_6Clouds pass by the wall of El Capitan at sunset as the backlit water of Horsetail Fall lights up in what appears to be liquid gold in Yosemite National Park, California. This photo took four years in the making. I'll have a specific post in the coming weeks about the work behind this shot but just think of how Mother Nature delivers the elements you need for a perfect shot when you persevere, stay patient, and stay dedicated to your vision.

#1

Bobcat_Yosemite_2016_6Bobcat_Yosemite_2016_6A bobcat (Lynx rufus) walks through a wooded area in Yosemite National Park, California. Richard and I spent four hours with this cat. As I mentioned on the image of the frosty bison, I have traveled to specific locations just to photograph bobcats. In the last six months I have seen a total six bobcats, four more than I had ever seen before heading out on the road. But this encounter with this feline was one of the most magical I had ever had with a wild animal. We watched him hunt, almost get pet by a tourist (I still can't believe how close that man thought was appropriate with a wild cat), get chased off by a family of deer, and relax in the shade of some trees. It was a very special day.

 

Feel free to email me at Dawn@DawnWilsonPhotography.com if you are interested in purchasing prints of any of these photographs.

 

 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) RV Living animal best bobcat favorite motorhome nature nature photography photo photography top 12 top images top photos travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/3/rv-livin-my-favorite-shots-from-my-first-six-months Wed, 09 Mar 2016 19:00:54 GMT
Six Months on the Road: This is a love story https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/3/six-months-on-the-road-this-is-a-love-story My Jeep and Thor Chateau on the road during my first destination after selling my home and moving onto the road full-time. So March 1, 2016 marked six months since I sold my house on September 1, 2015, and gave up a traditional home for life on the road. It took a week to get the final logistics arranged but on September 8, 2015, I finally drove the tires of the RV on the pavement away from my hometown of Fort Collins and started the exploring. 

Little did I know how much I would fall in love with many things when I left the hotel that morning. 

 

 

 

In these six months, I have:
- driven more than 20,000 miles
- visited 8 national parks, and visited 9 other locations in the national parks system 
- added photos of 7 new wildlife species to my inventory
- saw the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans plus the Gulf of Mexico 
- driven through 26 states 
- upgraded my RV already
- and have fallen in love - with the road and a new man in my life Dawn_and_huskies_YosemiteDawn_and_huskies_YosemiteDawn and her huskies sit in front of the sign for Yosemite National Park, California. I never felt alone with my critters by my side.

Yes, I hit the road alone. As alone as you want to think of it when I travel with two dogs and two cats, and meet tons of people everywhere I go. I brought only one wine glass - conserving extra weight meant thinking of only what I needed for just me. I only brought hiking pants, tshirts and sweatshirts - nothing fancy or dressy for nights out. It would be next to impossible to date on the road and no point in wasting the weight on clothes I had no need to wear. And in all honesty, I was enjoying the freedom of my own choices. 

And then one day, as I made a feeble attempt to level my RV in a campground in Rocky Mountain National Park, this handsome guy walks up and asks if I need help. 

At first I said no. I was a woman traveling alone so safety was always first on my mind. And I am a bit stubborn and independent; I could do this. But he had a very sincere look and sweet smile so I gave in to let someone help. 

After he very persistently but successfully wanted that RV perfectly level - it was one of the last spaces in the campground and had quite a pitch to it - we chatted for a while. 

Richards_TrailerRichard was traveling in a Forest River travel trailer towed by his Toyota Tundra

He was traveling alone too but in a travel trailer. He too had experienced some life altering events and decided to hit the road to discover where he wanted to be.  

We talked about all kinds of things as we stood in that campground. I was immediately comfortable with him. 

With all the people I have passed out my business card to with the hopes of selling a print or being hired for a photo assignment, this guy was the first I had hoped would see that phone number on the card for other reasons.

I wasn't looking for a relationship or to add a guy in my life. I hadn't been on a date in over a year. And I was quite comfortable with my simple life on the road.

But there was just something there with this man. 

Apparently he felt it too. 

He called a couple of days later. We talked every day for hours. 

We made plans to see each other again a few weeks later in Zion National Park. For a week we spent every day together there. 

He surprised me by showing up at my campsite at a state park in Colorado a couple of weeks after Zion.

Big BlueThis is the 39 foot Fleetwood Discovery we purchased together so we could hit the road on a new shared adventure.

But from there I was heading to NJ and he was going back home to Louisiana. His time on the road was coming to an end.

A week after thanksgiving I had altered my travel plans and was going to see him in Louisiana. 
We spent six weeks living together down there. By the end of that time we had bought a larger RV - a 39 foot 2005 fleet wood discovery. This monster of an RV would become our home as we started a life together on the road. 

There have certainly been ups and downs as with any relationship. Living in the small space of an RV is a definite challenge for even seasoned couples. As any nature photographer can attest, our crazy schedules of early rising, late evenings and sleeping midday so we can photograph in the golden hours of light on the cusps of the day can be tough on relationships. But it has been wonderful to share this adventure together. 

He takes care of the RV. I write and photograph. And on many occasions he has joined me as I venture into the field to shoot. 

In Zion, he didn't even know apertures, ISOs or how to adjust the shutter speed. Now he is taking some amazing photos and doing a great job of tracking wildlife with me. 

So you just never know what the road ahead has in store for you. Although the tragedies in my life taught me life is unexpected and unpredictable, the unexpected can also be amazing and beautiful.  Mr BobRichard's photography has been very impressive and very quickly.

Living life on the road has given me the opportunity to photograph the beautiful country and its interesting wildlife.

A couple of days before I ventured out on the road I got together for a beer and dinner with a friend. She asked me if I was scared. 

I believe I said something along the lines of I wasn't sure what to expect. 

She replied with, "give it six months before you make a decision."

She was right on target. 

I had planned the adventure up through seeing Yosemite in late February for the fire fall. After that I left the plans open. 

Looks like there was a reason. 

Here is to loving life on the road and to the next destination. 

 

Dawn_and_Richard_YosemiteDawn_and_Richard_YosemiteDawn and Richard pose for a photo in the late afternoon sun in Yosemite National Park, California

 


 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Full-time RV RV RV Living couple falling in love life love nature nature photography photo photography relationship road travel unexpected wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/3/six-months-on-the-road-this-is-a-love-story Sat, 05 Mar 2016 18:03:10 GMT
RV Livin' #14: The Big C Word https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/2/rv-livin-14-the-big-c-word "You may have cancer. You need surgery as soon as possible."

This was the news I received from my doctor's office literally the moment I was picking up the last pile of things out of my hotel the day I was heading out on the road full-time in my RV. That was September 9, 2015.

No one ever wants to hear the C-word delivered from their doctor. And not that there is a good time to hear this news, but the moment you are leaving the security of a brick-and-mortar building over your head (even if it was a hotel; I had sold my house a week earlier) to move into a roving home on wheels that you have sunk most of your savings into so you can continue to build your business is certainly not the ideal time. 

I fell to my knees.

Then I picked myself up and said I would deal with it later. I was not going to let that news put an end to my adventure before it ever began. 

But as I left the parking lot of the hotel in Fort Collins, and headed west to the mountains, the gravity of that news really started to hit me. 

"You may have cancer." 

I have been very quiet about this news the last few months. It has been scary and lonely and overwhelming but I wasn't willing to share the news. I wasn't prepared to hear the concern or questions about what I was going to do. I was going to travel, write and photograph. The whole reason I was doing this crazy lifestyle change was for exactly these types of situations - life is short and unpredictable and we need to grab it by the horns. 

To make matters worse, I discovered AFTER the initial tests that my doctor was not covered by my insurance plan. As a result of my moving - and it literally being within days of leaving the area of insurance coverage - I hadn't even yet thought about getting that changed. 

So after a long, unsuccessful battle with my insurance company I had to wait until the New Year when a new insurance plan could take effect. 

Two weeks ago Friday I had surgery to remove the cyst my doctor discovered last summer. I was petrified. I had never been through such a serious surgery. And I don't do well with being down. But I have a new companion by my side and he was phenomenal - even with my freaking out and yelling at him. 

It was strange to recover from surgery in an RV - and I kept that kind of news from my doctor. Not sure how she would handle me saying I was going to try to follow her orders to relax, rest and not lift more than 10 pounds from the cozy comfort of an RV parked at Horsetooth Reservoir. 

But it was very comfortable. And I am sure the fact of knowing I was still living my dream would help in my recovery. 

I had my follow up appointment with my doctor a week ago. This was the really scary appointment when I would hear the results of the pathology report about the cyst. 

"Good news. Cyst was non-cancerous."

I was relieved beyond all measure, and so happy I had not stopped my plans to travel, write and photograph. Life is short - grab it by the horns. 

So I am even more determined now to keep this plan on the road - literally. Plans have changed a bit. As I mentioned I am now traveling with a wonderful guy who takes great care of me and our pets. 

Off to West Yellowstone we went the day after my appointment with the doctor. I had made plans last September with a group of fellow photographers to look for and photograph a bobcat along the Madison River. I was not going to let that unwelcome surgery change that plan, even against the wishes of my doctor. 

We were not successful in photographing the bobcat but we did photograph several red fox, a raccoon, a coyote, several bison and a great blue heron. You have to always look at the bright side because there really is a bright side to everything.

I love my lifestyle and don't plan on giving it up anytime soon. I am very, very thankful I am given the opportunity to continue with this career and lifestyle path. We all know people who may not be so lucky with a cancer diagnosis; keep those folks in your hearts. And remember that when they feel a little down, stressed or beat up, give them a hug, hold their hand and tell them you love them. Let them take part in whatever activities they want and can do because life changes on us way too quickly. 

 

 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) RV RV Livin' cancer dreams goals healthy nature nature photography photo photography short sick surgery travel unexpected wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/2/rv-livin-14-the-big-c-word Mon, 08 Feb 2016 13:38:36 GMT
RV Livin' #13: Technology https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/1/rv-livin-13-technology I am going to stray a bit from wildlife photos from my travels and bring up the topic of technology. 

Over the years I have come and gone on my reliance on the latest gizmo and gadget that is supposed to make our lives easier. I certainly have learned, as I have aged, that I do not need the latest product on the market or the latest update to my favorite product to keep up with technology...until now. 

Traveling on the road means I don't have my full office of binders, business cards, files, etc. around me. Don't get me wrong - I like my paper, binders and print outs, and have brought some of it with me, but there just isn't room in an RV to store it. 

So I am little by little learning to rely on technology a little bit more. 

I am an Apple fan - have been since I first learned desktop publishing in college at Rowan University School of Communications (it was Glassboro State College then). That was the original Apple Macintosh - with its tiny memory and tiny floppy disks.

I have had numerous products from Apple over the years. I now use on a daily basis a MacBook Pro, an iPhone and an iPad - only the laptop is the latest and greatest. 

I randomly use the devices for contacts. I sporadically used the devices for to-do lists. I occasionally found use for the calendar feature. 

That was until I tried having little slips of paper and hand-written to-do lists in the RV, my Jeep and in my purse. It wasn't working. 

So I am giving in. And the beauty of the Apple products is that they sync with each other. 

I now methodically put all of my due dates in the calendar - and set reminders when an article or photo submission is coming due. I am little by little putting in my contacts - business and personal - into my phone so I can get those Christmas cards out without having to dig through binders and binders full of papers looking for the latest address of my clients. And I am using the Reminders feature to keep up with my latest and lengthy list of what needs to be accomplished. 

My fear with technology is that a hard drive dies (it has happened to me - numerous times) but that is why we must back up and back up often. It can also be hard to keep things charged while on the road but I am getting better at finding solutions to those challenges. 

And best of all, I can now take my favorite HBO shows and photo magazines with me everywhere I go. So here is to breaking the addiction of carrying around piles of paper and going electronic.

Next to purchase - a WeBoost signal booster because no matter how much we think we are always connected to a cell signal, there are many places that do not have a strong enough signal to work. 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Apple MacBook Pro RV Livin' WeBoost computers iPad iPhone organization photography road signal boost technology travel https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/1/rv-livin-13-technology Wed, 27 Jan 2016 19:53:48 GMT
RV Livin' Post #12: Point Reyes National Seashore https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/1/rv-livin-post-12-point-reyes-national-seashore Elk_Tule_PRNS_2015_4Elk_Tule_PRNS_2015_4A tule bull elk (Cervus canadensis nannodes) stands on a ridge above the mountainsides at Tomales Point in Point Reyes National Seashore near San Francisco, California After leaving the Malibu area, I headed north. My next destination was Point Reyes National Seashore about an hour north of San Francisco. 

This location had not even been on my Year in an RV list until I met another photographer during my fall colors trip in southern Colorado. Turns out he was from San Francisco and told me about these elk that live along the coast. I started having visions of elk on coastal ridges with waves lapping in the distance. It would be a very different setting for a photo compared to those of the elk I photograph in the Rocky Mountains. 

The drive through Oakland, San Francisco and the surrounding area was not the easiest in a 44 foot rig; not all drivers are very accommodating especially in rush hour traffic. And then I discovered that the roads up to Point Reyes were quite narrow and twisty on the Pacific Coast Highway - another lesson in better preparation and timing.

Elk_Tule_2015_1Elk_Tule_2015_1A tule bull elk (Cervus canadensis nannodes) stands in a hillside of brush changing into fall colors near the historic Pierce Point Ranch at Point Reyes National Seashore near San Francisco, California I arrived late in the evening - I think it was approaching midnight. Roads were dark, I had no reservation (only backpacking and tent camping are permitted in Point Reyes) and I was exhausted. I decided to head to the north end of Point Reyes National Seashore where I wanted to start my hike well before sunrise to find the elk so sleeping in the RV made much more sense. I never saw the sign for no overnight parking and the road was very rough and narrow out to the ranch - no turning around on that road. 

After sleeping for about three hours, I woke a couple of hours before sunrise to a foggy and cool morning with the sound of waves crashing in the distance. I was excited to get out on the three mile hike to Tomales Point, the location where I was told I would find the elk.  Elk_Tule_2015_2Elk_Tule_2015_2A tule cow elk (Cervus canadensis nannodes) stands on a ridge above the Pacific Ocean at Tomales Point in Point Reyes National Seashore near San Francisco, California

Before heading up to Point Reyes I did a little research about these elk. It turns out these elk, called tule elk, are a subspecies of the elk found in the Rocky Mountains and can only be found in California. The difference with these elk is that they are the smallest elk found in North America. Typical Rocky Mountain elk bulls can range from 600-1,000 pounds; tule elk bulls range from 450 to 550 pounds. 

So off I set to find the elk. It took me five minutes before I found my first one. Turns out the elk had been roaming around the parking lot of the Historic Pierce Point Ranch. There were hoof prints all over in the sand and sure enough there was a small group of cows just off the trail munching on the bushes and one large bull elk in the distance. 

I considered ending the hike right then and there; there was a lot of ground to cover. But I was determined to get this coastal shot. To the point I went. 

Black-tailed_deer_doe_Point_Reyes_2015_1Black-tailed_deer_doe_Point_Reyes_2015_1A black-tailed deer doe (Odocoileus hemionus) stands in the drying lilies found along the trail to Tomales Point in Point Reyes National Seashore, California It was a beautiful and pretty easy hike along the edge of the bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The fog began to lift revealing a pretty landscape. Along the trail I saw black-tailed mule deer, hawks, California quail and American crows. But sure enough, after about two and a half miles, I came across the elk herd near a watering hole on the north end of Tomales Point. 

There were several bulls, all with pretty impressive racks. These males, especially from a distance looked just like the Rocky Mountain elk. But as you approached them you could see that the racks were smaller, the neck muscles less defined and their height a little shorter. 

Elk_Tule_PRNS_2015_7Elk_Tule_PRNS_2015_7A tule bull elk (Cervus canadensis nannodes) stands on a ridge above the mountainsides and Pacific Ocean at Tomales Point in Point Reyes National Seashore near San Francisco, California I spent about two hours with the elk but the light was getting very harsh and the temperature was rising into the low 80s, even on this mid-afternoon day. So I started back to the parking lot. 

As I have discovered with many places I have visited, there is much to learn about an area. The best way to get to know the wildlife, the best locations to see them and to have the best opportunity to photograph wildlife in the best light is to have multiple days to explore. I regretted only budgeting one morning to visit Point Reyes National Seashore. I would have enjoyed photographing the elk at the Point in earlier light but I saw enough other wildlife along the trail to focus my attention. All in all the photography was successful; I now had my photo of tule elk set against the Pacific Ocean.

My camera was heavy this day but I was happy I had the long lens with me. After hiking with it for six miles, I was ready to head on to the next place - a visit to Muir Woods National Monument - where a shorter landscape lens and lighter tripod would do my body good. 

If interested in learning more about the tule elk at Point Reyes National Seashore, visit http://www.nps.gov/pore/learn/nature/tule_elk.htmLittle_brown_sparrow_PRNS_2015_1Little_brown_sparrow_PRNS_2015_1A little brown sparrow sits on top of a green bush along the trail out to Tomales Point in Point Reyes National Seashore, California

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) California Point Reyes National Seashore RV RV Living animal animals elk national park service nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography tips tips for nature photographers travel tule elk wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2016/1/rv-livin-post-12-point-reyes-national-seashore Wed, 20 Jan 2016 05:01:02 GMT
RV Livin' Post #11 - California: Part 2 https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/12/rv-livin-post-10---california-part-2 Boats_in_Ventura_HarborBoats_in_Ventura_HarborBoats sit docked in the Ventura Harbor on a sunny morning near Ventura, California


 After leaving the Malibu, Calif. area I headed a little further north to spend a day at Channel Islands National Park. 

This group of five islands sits just a few miles west of Ventura, Calif. in the Pacific Ocean. The only way to access the islands is by boat or plane. Once on the islands, the only accommodations are campgrounds. No pets are allowed on the islands. Since this limited my ability to bring my dogs, I decided to just do a day trip to Santa Cruz Island. 

Island_fox_CINP_2015_17Island_fox_CINP_2015_17An island fox (Urocyon littoralis) hunts for small mammals and bugs for a little bit of protein on Santa Cruz Island in Channel Islands National Park, California

My purpose for visiting this small archipelago is to find and photograph a fox that only lives on these islands called the island fox.

Because of the limited access to food, these fox have evolved into a fox much smaller than the more common red fox. The island fox only has birds and insects for protein so it survives mostly on plant-based foods.

I had heard these were smaller fox - about the size of a house cat - but it wasn't until I saw my first one did I really understand just how much smaller this fox is than its larger red fox cousin. 

The hour-long boat ride from Ventura went past a rookery of brown pelicans and a few buoys covered in sea lions. I arrived at the dock on Santa Cruz Island about 9 a.m. The sun was already bright and rising high in the sky so I knew lighting conditions would not be ideal and that the day would get hot quickly, even in October. 

After speaking with the volunteer host about the best trails to look for the fox, I headed out to hike around. 

Island_fox_Channel_Islands_2015_2Island_fox_Channel_Islands_2015_2An island fox (Urocyon littoralis) starts to come out from her hiding place in a bush in the campground on Santa Cruz Island in Channel Islands National Park, California

Several people told me some of the best places to look for the fox was near the old homestead and at the two campgrounds. So off I went on the trail for these areas. 

It took me three hours and several trips back and forth on the trail to find my first fox. It was a female who scavenged around the campground for handouts and leftovers. 

I was quite surprised by the small size but she was comfortable around people. I spent three hours watching and photographing her before she wandered up a hillside to presumably rest for the afternoon after she snacked on crumbs found in the campground and insects in the foliage. 

I also found two other fox. One had a hurt paw so I decided it was best to leave it to its own needs and not stress it by taking photos. The third fox was in the campground as well but seemed to be submissive to my model and didn't stay in the area for long.

Island_fox_CINP_2015_11Island_fox_CINP_2015_11An island fox (Urocyon littoralis) jumps off the top of a table in a campground where they look for food left behind by campers on Santa Cruz Island in Channel Islands National Park, California

 

In addition to the island fox, Channel Islands National Park is also home to a few other animals found no where else in the world, including an island scrub jay. I spotted these beautiful blue birds at the beginning of the trail when I first arrived. Since I was on the first boat of the day to drop off day trippers and campers for a long weekend, there weren't many other people around. Once other boats started to arrive the birds disappeared deeper into the trees. 

Island_Scrub_Jay_2015_1Island_Scrub_Jay_2015_1An island scrub jay (Aphelocoma insularis) hides in a thick bunch of trees on Santa Cruz Islands in Channel Islands National Park west of Ventura, California

I look forward to going back to Channel Islands National Park for some camping time there. This will provide an opportunity to maybe visit during denning season to see the cute little kits and to be on the island during the better times for light. The day trip is a great option to get to know an island but only offers the possibility to be there during the peak hours of sun - or if you are lucky you could have an overcast or cloudy day. 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) California Channel Islands National Park RV RV Livin animal fox island fox nature nature photography photo photography tips travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/12/rv-livin-post-10---california-part-2 Wed, 30 Dec 2015 18:06:07 GMT
RV Livin' Post #10 - California: Part 1 https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/11/california---part-1 CA_ground_squirrel_2015_2CA_ground_squirrel_2015_2A California ground squirrel (Spermophilus beecheyi) eats some dried leaves on a cloudy morning in Malibu Creek State Park near Malibu, California So, time to do a little backtracking on my travels. When I arrived in California three weeks ago, I had a short list of wildlife I wanted to photograph – sea lions, sea otters, tule elk, island fox and bobcats. Two of those animals are only found in California (tule elk and island fox) and two others I was hoping to capture some better photos (bobcats and sea lions). Photographing sea otters in California would be a first for me; I have only photographed them in Alaska.  Brandts_cormorant_Malibu_2015_1Brandts_cormorant_Malibu_2015_1A portrait of a Brandt's cormorant (Phalacrocorax penicillatus) as the warm light of sunrise lights up his chest and blue eyes near Malibu, California

I have found, with the expense of driving an RV, that staying targeted on a few things rather than trying to take it all in provides a better success rate on the photos. It is all about the quality rather than the quantity. So even though there are many places I want to visit and photograph in California I wanted to stay very focused on my target goals this trip. (The Yosemite visit was a definite departure from the targets but oh so worth it!)

After the Salton Sea (see post #8), the first place I visited was the Malibu area. I know, not really the first place that comes to mind for wildlife photography!

California_Sea_Lion_Malibu_2015_9California_Sea_Lion_Malibu_2015_9A California sea lion (Zalophus californianus) yawns really wide while resting on the rocks near Malibu, California

I camped at Malibu Creek State Park up the canyon from Pepperdine University. Nice park – at least during the week – but way too crowded and noisy on the weekend. The gates are also locked at 10 p.m. at night – no exceptions. I had to walk back to my campsite the first night. Nothing like walking through the dark in a new place and hearing critters moving across leaves and sticks along the road – not knowing what animal was making the noise.

Fence_lizard_Malibu_2015_1Fence_lizard_Malibu_2015_1A fence lizard pauses for a brief moment as he crawled along the dirt in the campground at Malibu Creek State Park near Malibu, California

But it worked out and there was fun wildlife right in the campground. The obligatory campground animal made an appearance – the deer – and a few coyotes were barking one foggy morning. A lot of fence lizards were running around the fence posts. And my dogs enjoyed watching the dozens of ground squirrels that ran around.  

California_Sea_Lion_Malibu_2015_11California_Sea_Lion_Malibu_2015_11A California sea lion (Zalophus californianus) looks out into the ocean while sitting on the rocks near Malibu, California

The ground squirrels were actually California ground squirrels. Since it was a new critter for me I took quite a few photos. If you are ever interested in photographing these little creatures, photograph them from your car. They dart into their burrows quite frequently if you get close, and they won’t make an appearance during the busy weekends.

Even after staying quiet and still for 20 or 30 minutes, all I could get from the squirrels was a small and quick little peek out from the burrow.

During my trip to Malibu, I caught up with a fellow photographer friend, Klaus, who I met several years ago in Yellowstone. I have really found that photography is such a wonderful way to meet really interesting people from all over the world. Klaus is no exception as he is an amazing photographer from Argentina.

He showed me some of his favorite locations in the area and we captured some great photos, including sunset along the beach, cormorants along the cliffs and sea lions on the rocks.

It was a beautiful time in that area in California.  El_Matador_Beach_2015_1El_Matador_Beach_2015_1The waves crash around the rocks at sunset along the beach near Malibu, California

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) California California ground squirrel Malibu Pacific Ocean RV RV Living animal beach bird camping ocean park photography sea lions squirrel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/11/california---part-1 Wed, 11 Nov 2015 05:53:06 GMT
RV Livin' - Post #9: Yosemite National Park https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/11/rv-livin---post-9-Yosemite Morning Light on El CapitanThe morning light illuminates the eastern face of El Capitan and reflects into the Merced River in Yosemite National Park, California I just got back from visiting Yosemite National Park for the first time.

When I was recently interviewed for GoRVing.com, the writer asked me what was top on my bucket list for my travels.

It is an interesting question because this trip – adventure – isn’t supposed to be about my bucket list. This adventure is about building up my photo inventory, finding stories to tell about wildlife, and teaching others about photography, wildlife, and the importance of saving and treasuring our open spaces.

But I had to admit I did have a place I have always wanted to see for a variety of reasons – and surprisingly none of the reasons were to photograph wildlife. That place was Yosemite National Park.

This park is considered the crown jewel of the national park system. It was made famous by Ansel Adams, John Muir and countless other photographers, writers and naturalists who found peace in its granite peaks, babbling rivers, and serene meadows.

The last few days have been wearing on me. I love what I am doing but I do worry that as a business and career decision it may not be the wisest. I don’t fear the challenge, but living the reality is a different story.

That became evident when I stopped at a WalMart near Stockton, California.

I was recently reminded that if I keep paying for camping fees each night – no matter how cheap – it still adds up to be close to a mortgage payment – but like rent where there is no benefit of paying towards an asset. So I decided I would strive to boondock each night until I reached my next destination in six days.

Sequoia_and_DogwoodSequoia_and_DogwoodThe leaves of the western dogwood trees in the Tuolumne Grove bring some color in fall to the grove of giant sequoias in Yosemite National Park, California. I had not planned on being in Yosemite at this time of year so I was very pleasantly surprised to see the fall colors.
The first night I thought I could find a spot near Point Reyes National Seashore where I wanted to photograph tule elk at sunrise.

After frazzling my nerves by driving through narrow, old, curvy streets in Marin County in the RV in the dark and realizing this area was nowhere near acceptable for a wide RV, I pulled into the first remote yet large enough parking area I could find. Unfortunately it turned out to be posted (I still never saw a sign) that there was no overnight parking. I thankfully was honest with the ranger about being there for a while so he let me off with a warning rather than the $125 ticket, but the point had been made – it was cheaper to pay for camping than pay for a ticket.

So I looked to another option for the next night.I thought I would try a WalMart parking lot. They are always open for overnight parking as long as you follow the “implied” rule of purchasing something. I needed groceries anyway – and a new chock block (I have driven over and basically exploded two already).

After hiking, photographing and driving all day, I arrived late again to my destination. It was about 11:30 p.m. when I strolled into the WalMart outside of Stockton on a Friday night. I should have known this wasn’t going to be a good idea when I saw the car show going on in the lot at that time of night.

Golden_Glow_in_Yosemite_ValleyGolden_Glow_in_Yosemite_ValleyThe golden glow of the late afternoon sun on El Capitan in Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park, California. I added an extra day to the trip because there was a forecast of an approaching winter storm that was going to bring 19 inches of snow to the higher elevations. Although I couldn't stay long enough to see the storm clear I did think it would bring some nice clouds for sunset. It didn't quite work out as I had hoped but I was still very happy to get the extra time in this beautiful park.

I picked up my bananas, cereal, milk and chock block and headed for the line. Only two lanes were open and each lane had about four people already standing there. This wasn’t going to be fast.

Coyote_Yosemite_2015_2Coyote_Yosemite_2015_2A coyote (Canis latrans) stops for a portrait while watching a bobcat behind him near the road in Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park, California. Although Yosemite is known more for its grand vistas than its wildlife, I had a few great encounters with some critters, such as this coyote and a bobcat. As I patiently waited, the guy who was two people ahead of me in line was declined on his card when he attempted to pay. He tried several more methods – all declined. Then he decided he would call his bank – all while we were standing there. He had the phone on speaker and the line on the other end just kept ringing and ringing and ringing. I thought that was odd for a business. Even on a Friday night there would still be some sort of message.

His transaction was suspended while he fiddled with whatever he was trying to do or whomever he was trying to call. He kept asking for the receipt saying the bank would need it but the cashier wouldn’t give it to him. There must be some sort of scam where thieves steal the receipt so they can show the receipt on the way out of the door. Mule_deer_fawn_Yosemite_2015_2Mule_deer_fawn_Yosemite_2015_2A curious mule deer fawn (Odocoileus hemionus) comes up over a ridge and pauses while walking through the woods in Yosemite National Park, California

The next person in line was a woman with an odd assortment of items – Christmas decorations, fuzzy sleepwear, a few t-shirts, knit hats, some make-up. She held cash in her hands and asked the cashier to start removing items because she didn’t have the money to cover it. She paid with her cash but was promptly asked to leave because one of the bills turned out to be a fake $100 bill. She didn’t put up an argument and quickly left the store.

Now I was getting nervous about what kind of area I decided to stop. I had planned on climbing into bed after purchasing my items but was now so nervous that I decided it would be best to avoid the area. The time had rolled on to 12:30 a.m.

There was another WalMart a littler further down the highway that seemed to be in a better neighborhood. I slept there for five hours and made an early morning purchase of cat food (which I forgot the night before) so that I honored the “parking lot for shopping center customers only” rule, and headed for the highway.

It is a reminder that moving around in a 44-foot rig is not easy. It is physically difficult to find parking lots large enough where I can turn around. It is difficult to be inconspicuous about wanting to just park and sleep for a few hours in the back of your RV. Pulling into an RV park or campground certainly seems easy enough, even if you are trying to keep your costs down, but even those can be tight, unknown locations because you can’t tell how big or easy it will be to maneuver through the sites in the dark. And there is always the safety factor of being a woman traveling on her own in areas she is unfamiliar.

So after two nights of boondocking, I was a nervous wreck about where I was going to wind up next. So I decided to head to Yosemite National Park as a last minute idea. Sleeping_on_El_CapitanSleeping_on_El_CapitanA climber hangs on the rock wall face of El Capitan in the late afternoon sun in Yosemite National Park, California. Climbing is one outdoor adventure that has never peaked much of an interest for me. After seeing how small this person was even at 700mm as they hung on the wall in the setting sun (meaning that was their bed for the night) it convinced me I wasn't missing much. Hope they succeeded and safely made it back down.

Aeric went to Yosemite a year or two before he died. I was going to go with him but yet again I put work before time with him. That was my first regret about Yosemite. But over the last few years I have started plans to travel to Yosemite in February to photograph the firefall. Every year I have had to change my plans for one thing or another.

So when I started this adventure, I put the park on the list but only if I could spend a large amount of time in the park to really explore its potential.

So here I was, just a couple of hours away from Yosemite, and needed a place I felt would be accepting of an RV. What better place than a national park. So I went online to book a campsite. Sold out. Wait, what?? Sold out? It was the last weekend of October!

Ultimately I just pulled into the first place within a reasonable distance to Yosemite that had an RV sign. It wound up being Pine Mountain Lake Campground. It was early enough in the day that I could check it out in the light and not worry about getting myself stuck. (Remember Sylvan Lake State Park?) It was also early enough that I could get a site and take a much-needed nap. It was a very quiet park – only two other campers. That would probably be a nice thing from the hustle and bustle in a sold-out campground. Dawn_and_huskies_YosemiteDawn_and_huskies_YosemiteI posed with my huskies for the obligatory tourist shot in front of the sign for Yosemite National Park, California

After my nap, I headed into the park, still a little stressed. But within minutes I could see why Ansel Adams conveyed such beauty in his photos from Yosemite and why John Muir wrote beautiful words about this area. It was serene, breathtaking, and inspiring.

My initial, but last minute, plan was to just spend one night in the area to photograph sunset and sunrise. I had not completed any research about where to go for either time of day or what locations were best for photography. I had not even looked at a map of the park.

For most of the national parks where I spend, or plan to spend, a significant amount of time I will pick up a book or two about the park – photo book with great captions detailing locations or a pure cheat book like the one I found for Yosemite.

In the bookstore was exactly what I needed – The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite, by Michael Frye. I highly recommend this book especially if you will only be in the park for a few days. It saved a lot of time. And at $12.95, it was a lot cheaper than hiring a guide.

I left, after photographing the warm colors of sunset on El Capitan, feeling much more focused, optimistic and positive about the road ahead. I don’t regret coming to my top bucket list location on a whim, without any specific plans, and no research. It actually felt good.

So, to the original point of this entry, Yosemite is still top on my bucket list. There are still many locations and scenarios I want to photograph in the park. Ansel Adams made a career of it and I don’t know if he ever felt like he captured it all. But I am glad I allowed nature to invite me in and open her heart to soothe mine.  El_Capitan_in_FallEl_Capitan_in_FallFall colors flank the Merced River as the sun illuminates El Capitan in the late afternoon in Yosemite National Park, California

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Ansel Adams California John Muir Merced River Michael Frye Yosemite National Park fall fall color nature nature photography photo photography tips tips for nature photographers travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/11/rv-livin---post-9-Yosemite Tue, 03 Nov 2015 18:26:25 GMT
RV Livin' - Post #8: Salton Sea https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/10/rv-livin---post-8-Salton-Sea The Salton Sea

RV_at_Salton_Sea_2015_1RV_at_Salton_Sea_2015_1My RV parked in the campground at sunset at the Salton Sea, California About 170 miles east of Los Angeles is a vast body of water where millions of birds spend the winter. October marks the beginning of their arrival, and thus my interest in visiting this oasis in the California desert for the first time. 

I had never heard of the Salton Sea until I read a blog post from a fellow female photographer and full-time RVer (Annie McKinnell, who travels with her husband) showcasing her dancing egret photo. What was this place with dancing birds? Where was it? What was the best time of year? What animals like the area? How do I get there? 

I came to California this month to photograph my cousin's wedding. (Beautiful wedding, couple, and day by the way.) I had initially planned to head to Tennessee immediately after the wedding to photograph black bears in fall colors - that is until reality set in about how much gas an RV consumes and how slow an RV travels. 

So I decided it would be better to stay in California before heading back to Colorado in mid November, and explore what this third-largest state in the U.S. has to offer in regards to wildlife photography. 

Salton Sea, which was almost directly east of where the wedding was located and is the largest lake in California, became my first stop on my tour of California.

I knew I only had one night/two days to visit since I had plans to meet a friend in Malibu. 

Since October is on the front end of the bird season at Salton Sea I decided to make this more of a scouting trip rather than a trip to photograph everything. I have to say that for a scouting trip, where I just picked up information and checked out what was near the campground, I was very pleased with what I found. I will definitely be back this winter to spend more time with the birds.  

So here is a short photo essay of the birds I saw within walking distance of the campground. Without even counting or doing a serious bird search I saw 16 species: American white pelicans, brown pelicans, snowy egrets, great egrets, green heron, black-necked stilts, great blue heron, great horned owl, roadrunner, eared grebe, coots, killdeer, California gull, western grebes, Caspian tern, and the new bird for me, the black-bellied plover.

Bird_Salton_Sea_2015_2Bird_Salton_Sea_2015_2A black-bellied plover walks along a rocky ridge of salt along the shores of the Salton Sea, California.

Black-bellied plover

Tern_Salton_Sea_2015_4Tern_Salton_Sea_2015_4A Caspian tern flys against the distant mountains at sunrise to hunt for fish in the Salton Sea, California Caspian tern

Green_heron_Salton_Sea_2015_1Green_heron_Salton_Sea_2015_1A green heron sits on the dock near a fishing hole at the Salton Sea, California Not the best of photos as I was shooting into the sun to prevent scaring off the bird - green heron

Great_egret_Salton_Sea_2015_1Great_egret_Salton_Sea_2015_1A great egret (Ardea alba) stands in the morning sun as he fishes along the edge of the Salton Sea, California Great egret

Brown_pelican_Salton_Sea_2015_2Brown_pelican_Salton_Sea_2015_2A brown pelican flys against a sky full of whte, fluffy clouds at Salton Sea, California Brown pelican

Brown_pelicans_Salton_Sea_2015_1Brown_pelicans_Salton_Sea_2015_1A group of brown pelicans fly low across the water as the colors of sunset light up the sky above the Santa Rosa Mountains at the Salton Sea, California Brown pelicans at sunset

California_gull_Salton_Sea_2015_1California_gull_Salton_Sea_2015_1A California gull flys through the air in the morning sunlight at the Salton Sea, California California gull

Black-necked_stilt_2015_Salton_Sea_4Black-necked_stilt_2015_Salton_Sea_4A black-necked stilt wades in the shallow water along the shore of the Salton Sea in California. Black-necked stilt

American_white_pelican_Salton_Sea_2015_1American_white_pelican_Salton_Sea_2015_1An American white pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) swims through the blue water on a sunny morning at the Salton Sea, California. American white pelican

Great_egret_Salton_Sea_2015_2Great_egret_Salton_Sea_2015_2A great egret (Ardea alba) chases off another egret at a fishing hold at the Salton Sea, California Great egrets

Snowy_egret_Salton_Sea_2015_1Snowy_egret_Salton_Sea_2015_1A snowy egret lands in the water along the edge of some rocks in a fishing hole at the Salton Sea, California. Snowy egret

Dead_Fish_Salton_Sea_2015_2Dead_Fish_Salton_Sea_2015_2Areas of the beach at the Salton Sea can be covered with piles of dead fish. The salt content of the water increases each year as more and more run-off enters the lake with little fresh water inflow and no outlet for the water to escape. This high salinity level - the Salton Sea is 40 percent saltier than the ocean - causes the water to be unsustainable for many species of fish. As a result, hundreds of dead fish wash up on the shores each summer.

Salton_Sea_Beach_2015_1Salton_Sea_Beach_2015_1The beach on the Salton Sea is made up of salt crystals and broken shells - rough on the feet but a beautiful white beach. The beach is covered in rough salt deposits and broken shells; wear shoes. 

 
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(Dawn Wilson Photography) California Salton Sea animal birding birds nature nature photography ocean photo photography sea tips travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/10/rv-livin---post-8-Salton-Sea Wed, 28 Oct 2015 12:15:00 GMT
RV Livin' - Post #7: Campground Critters https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/10/rv-livin-campground-critters For a little over a week I have been back in Colorado. The goal was to photograph fall colors and the elk rut, staples of any Colorado photographer’s fall agenda.

Chimney_Rock_Fall_Colors_2015_2Chimney_Rock_Fall_Colors_2015_2The clouds of an approaching storm behind Chimney Rock light up in shades of pink, purple and orange at sunset in the Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado The colors were wonderful in the San Juan Mountains. I even caught a beautiful sunset one evening, found a few waterfalls and saw some dusky grouse.

After a few days in the San Juans, I headed north to Rocky Mountain National Park. It was wonderful to stay in Moraine Campground next to Moraine Park, something I have rarely done even though I only lived an hour from the location. Elk_RMNP_2015_6Elk_RMNP_2015_6A bull elk (Cervus elaphus) pauses in a grassy meadow in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

The elk came through the campground each evening and were often heard bugling. Now that is something to cherish about this adventure – the sounds of bugling elk and crisp evening air wafting through the RV as I lay in bed with the dogs and cats. The dogs have seen elk and heard their bugling before, but the cats on the other hand were a little intimidated by the unusual sounds. Sage also found the pine squirrels in the campground very entertaining.

Sage and the SquirrelsSage was enjoying watching the squirrels squawk at him from up in the trees. The sight of the elk each morning on the walks with the dogs made me think about all of the critters I have seen in the different campgrounds. Although deer have been present in just about all of the campgrounds, there have been quite a few other critters: pronghorn at Flaming Gorge, turkeys at Devil’s Tower, sandhill cranes near the rest stop in Jensen, Utah, and great horned owls at Highline and Sylvan Lake State Parks.

I have always wanted to live someplace where I could walk out the back door and have wildlife at my doorstep. Although I had pictured that abode being a little more permanent, the RV has certainly satisfied that description.

South_Clear_Creek_Falls_2015_1South_Clear_Creek_Falls_2015_1South Clear Creek Falls spill into the beginnings of fall colors near Lake City, Colorado

So off to my next campground to see what critters might be residing there. 

Dusky_grouse_2015_1Dusky_grouse_2015_1A dusky grouse walks up a hill covered in pine needles along Last Dollar Road in the San Juan Mountains near Ridgway, Colorado

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) RV RV Living Road animal fall fall color living on the road logistics nature nature photography photo photography travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/10/rv-livin-campground-critters Wed, 14 Oct 2015 20:50:12 GMT
RV Livin' - Post #6: Cruising Through Wyoming https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/9/Crusing-Through-Wyoming When I started this new style of living, I anticipated maybe a week to get used to all the new mechanical gizmos and driving this much vehicle. I was clearly overly optimistic! I head back to Colorado later this week to take care of a few things before venturing back out again. I am thinking this is more like a soft launch for probably a month or two. I am not venturing beyond the states bordering Colorado until later in October. I have significantly scaled back my plans for each month and hope to continue settling into a routine where I can make this a profitable venture. 

This past week I have been visiting Wyoming via Utah. I have previously spent a lot of time on the roads of Wyoming but, like Colorado, there are still so many places I have never seen and many places I want to revisit. 

Sandhill_cranes_Jensen_2015_2Sandhill_cranes_Jensen_2015_2A sandhill crane (Grus canadensis) flies against a clear blue sky near Jensen, Utah So over the last week I left Jensen, Utah, where I photographed some sandhill cranes (the migration has started) and headed to Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area. From there into Green River (where my dogs visited a sweet country-type veterinarian), up to Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge, back into Rock Springs and then up to Jackson and Grand Teton National Park by way of Pinedale. 

The western side of Wyoming contains a lot of sage brush landscape with canyons and buttes before changing to beautiful mountains in the northwest. 

From Grand Teton I will drive across the state with the goal of reaching the eastern side of Wyoming in a couple of days where the landscape is significantly different - more prairie and open landscape. 

It has been a great week. 

Pronghorn_buck_FGNRA_2015_3Pronghorn_buck_FGNRA_2015_3A pronghorn antelope buck (Antilocapra americana) looks towards some nearby does as he sports some sage stuck in his horns in Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area near Green River, Wyoming.

Flaming Gorge is a huge reservoir - 91 miles in length - with a wide variety of wildlife. On the southern end in Utah there are moose, bighorn, elk and Utah's largest concentration of nesting osprey. Unfortunately I didn't have a lot of time to explore that area but have it marked for a revisit, maybe in the spring. 

The northern end of Flaming Gorge, which sits in Wyoming, is more high plains desert with pronghorn antelope, lots of desert cottontail rabbits and golden eagles. I found a few ponds as well with some migratory birds.‚Äč

From Flaming Gorge, I visited Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge a few times. It is one of my favorite refuges but I haven't had much luck photographing wildlife until this trip. The biggest reason is because I had the time to take at the refuge rather than just a drive through. The ability to have time at each location I visit to really spend time with the local wildlife is the biggest reason for making this significant lifestyle change. It takes time - typically 3-4 days - to really get to learn where wildlife can be found in a new location. As I am on the road longer, my visits to locations will get longer to take advantage of the time flexibility I have created for myself. 

Moose_Seedskadee_NWR_2015_2Moose_Seedskadee_NWR_2015_2A cow moose (Alces alces) stands with her offspring along the Green River at Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge near Green River, Wyoming Seedskadee sits along a stretch of the Green River. A large majority of the refuge is dry, sage brush landscape complete with greater sage grouse and pronghorn antelope. The corridor along the river, however, is a lush, riparian habitat that is home to mule deer, moose, bald eagles and river otters. 

Although I don't stop to photograph wildlife when driving the RV like I do in a vehicle (not very safe to park that big thing on the shoulder), I did see a lot of pronghorn along the way. I do hope to photograph their migration back north one spring in the near future. 

Once in Grand Teton, wildlife became significantly more abundant. Late September is peak season for fall colors in the cottonwood and aspen trees, as well as peak season for moose and elk rut. Many animals are also frantically working on preparing for the upcoming winter by creating caches of food or bulking up on pounds to get them through the months of hibernation. The active wildlife makes for great photo opportunities. 

Teton's RainbowA rainbow, with a faint second rainbow, reaches down towards the Snake River on a rainy morning in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Tomorrow we hit the road, where I hope to find locations to photograph mule deer, more pronghorn and maybe some wild turkeys. 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area Grand Teton National Park Green River Jackson RV Livin' RV Living Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge Wyoming nature nature photography photo photography refuge road travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/9/Crusing-Through-Wyoming Mon, 28 Sep 2015 06:11:07 GMT
RV Livin' - Post #5: State Parks, a Winefest and a National Monument https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/9/rv-livin---post-5-state-parks-a-winefest-and-a-national-monument So let's get into some more fun topics on this blog. 

Over the last week or so I have had the opportunity to visit two Colorado state parks, one state wildlife area, a national monument, a wine festival and a national recreation area.

Maroon_Bells_Fall_2015_1Maroon_Bells_Fall_2015_1A clearing storm provides the dramatic clouds at sunrise on the Maroon Bells near Aspen, Colorado.

The travel plans have been slowed down dramatically. I have learned why full-time RVers do not plan like those in a car - it takes longer to get places in a slower RV, you are definitely more tired after driving a 44-foot set of tandem vehicles, things will go wrong and chores still have to be done (like grocery shopping and laundry) when you stop in towns, gas is expensive in a vehicle that only gets 10 mpg so you don't like to drive too far in one day, and you really can't get to see an area by driving in one night and leaving the next morning. Add on top of that the issues that have come up, like taking the Jeep in for the tire sensor repair or waiting for a UPS delivery for the missing hitch pin, and your schedule quickly goes out the window. 

So I am very thankful that I have had the opportunity to see what I have seen. In addition to visiting a few new places, I have also added new subjects to my photo inventory. A few days ago, I photographed desert bighorn sheep for the first time with good camera equipment. I now have a pretty varied collection of photos of wineries and Grand Junction. I photographed my first Gambel's quail in Colorado. Found some new small mammals to photograph. And I have a new set of recreation photos from one of Colorado's many great parks. 

Sunset_Highline_Lake_2015_1Sunset_Highline_Lake_2015_1A colorful sunset in shades of orange, pink, yellow and purple light up the sirus clouds and reflect orange light into Highline Lake at Highline Lake State Park near Loma, Colorado
After leaving Mount Evans, I stopped at Sylvan Lake State Park. This is one of my favorite spots in Colorado for fall colors. Unfortunately I was a little bit early but there were a few leaves starting to pick up the shades of fall. 

One afternoon I thought I would take out my kayak to photograph the lake at sunset. It was a pretty one. I left the kayak at the lake's edge to pick it up later rather than carrying it back to the campsite. Mistake because it meant I had to load it in the dark. I did, however, accomplish my first "download" of the black and gray water tanks with no issues - thankfully. Unfortunately that luck ran out when, after loading the kayak in the dark, I got the RV and the attached Jeep stuck in a tight spot at the edge of the lake. I basically missed a turn and almost turned into the lake. Being in the dark with no skills at backing up the RV with the Jeep attached, I decided it best just to leave it there until morning when I could evaluate the options (like unhitching the Jeep - LOL!) in the daylight. Won't do that again. 

It was cool though to take some photos of the lake and the Milky Way and watch a family of great horned owls hunt along the lake's edge all night. 

From Sylvan Lake State Park I went to Aspen, Colo. to check out the fall colors at Maroon Bells while I waited for the new hitch pin to arrive. Yes, I lost a hitch pin within the first week of being on the road. Thankfully I had stopped at a rest stop for another reason and saw the missing piece.  Desert_bighorn_ram_CO_Natl_Mon_2015_1Desert_bighorn_ram_CO_Natl_Mon_2015_1A desert bighorn ram (Ovis canadensis) is a subspecies of the Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep.

The sunrises were beautiful at Maroon Bells and a moose even made an appearance one day. (See top image of the Maroon Bells in fall color.)

While in Aspen I stayed in a great RV Park - the first for me - where I met a few folks from Indiana, sporting their Notre Dame apparel of course! 

From Aspen I went out to the Grand Junction area to work on an article about Colorado's wine country. I had not planned on being there during the biggest event of the year for the area - the Annual Colorado Mountain Winefest - and I paid the price by not being able to get a campsite nearby. I wound up at an unexpected gem in Loma, Colo. - Highline Lake State Park. 

This park, as I have since learned, is a great spot for bird migration in the fall, but I was a couple of weeks early for that opportunity. 

Even though I had not planned to attend the Winefest, I figured I might as well since I was in the area. It was a lot of fun with lots of tasty wines from all over Colorado. 

While in Loma, I checked out several nearby attractions including Colorado National Monument and Walker State Wildlife Area. 

The Grand Junction area has a great biking path along the Colorado River, which includes the state wildlife area. It was interesting to see turkeys, pheasants and a great blue heron right next to a busy interstate but it was a nice reprieve from the busy days. 

I spent quite a bit of time in Colorado National Monument, and I plan to come back several more times in the coming months. This red rock canyon landscape is Colorado's version of red rock country. It also has a large herd of desert bighorn sheep, which I have wanted to photograph for a long time. Unexpectedly (remember me mentioning those events? Well I am starting to have more positive unexpected events) I stumbled across some Gambel's quail and chukars around the park. 

Chukar_CO_Natl_Mon_2015_1Chukar_CO_Natl_Mon_2015_1A chukar (Alectoris chukar) stands on a piece of red rock in a canyon in Colorado National Monument near Fruita, Colorado

So all in all it was a great long weekend, and one that showed the importance of staying in an area for a while. There is still many more places I would like to check out here. There are two other state wildlife areas, I heard there are elk in the park in the winter, and there is a herd of wild horses nearby. 

Next I am off to my first trip out of state. I am heading north today to stop along the Green River for a few days while working on another article, and then off to Grand Teton National Park. 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado Colorado National Monument RV livin' RV living nature photography photo photography road state park travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/9/rv-livin---post-5-state-parks-a-winefest-and-a-national-monument Tue, 22 Sep 2015 18:58:01 GMT
RV Livin' - post #4 - Logistics https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/9/rv-livin---post-3---logistics In my last few posts I have hinted or flat out complained about the issues it has taken to get to the point I am at now of living on the road. Please don't take it as complaining, other than just complaining things aren't going my way. But as a friend reminded me, "who would have guessed that a brand new, completely different lifestyle with entirely new, complex mechanical gizmos would be so complicated." 

He was very insightful in that comment. And I suppose things will continue to go wrong although I hope I get better prepared to deal with them as I get more experienced at this. 

So here is a little insight into what it took to get this gig on the road.

First, sell the house. In the whole process, that now looks like the easiest. I made a nice profit on the house thanks to a great market in Denver. I am thankful those funds were there because I have blown my budget - bad - with things I didn't anticipate (keep reading). 

The biggest hurdle to overcome with regards to selling the house was that I had a cat who decided she liked hiding in the house and didn't want to come out. The new owner was thankfully very accommodating in letting her work out her issues. He found her late last week hiding under the floor board in the ceiling of the basement. He and a very good friend of mine who has gone above and beyond friendship and sisterhood is now watching her until I get back into town. 

Second, buy an RV. For more than a year I have contemplated this decision of selling the house and traveling on the road full time. I didn't take the decision lightly or quickly, but even with the research I did do, looking back I feel I was very unprepared. 

I contemplated all the options for vehicles. Just an RV? Tow a camper? Tow a car? Get a conversion-type van like a VW EuroVan or Sprinter? If I bought an RV, what kind? How big? How old? If I towed something, does a truck make sense with a fifth wheel? Maybe a small camper? Could I tow something on my Escape?

There was a lot to consider. I needed something I could work out of on the road, that could comfortably fit me and at least three dogs (when I started the plans, I wasn't sure what the situation would be with the cats and Jasmine was still alive). I wanted something that wouldn't be too expensive and didn't require a lot of maintenance. I was selling my house to pay for this adventure so I didn't think I would have time in between to get something ready. 

Ultimately I decided going with an RV and towing another vehicle would be the best option. Although the maintenance of two vehicles might cost more, it would give me the flexibility of having a place to keep the pets on hot days while having a convenient vehicle to use to go out and photograph each location. It also gave me the option of having something to still drive when in those situations where one vehicle needed to be in for maintenance or repair. And I would only have to buy one vehicle as I was under the impression my Ford Escape could be flat towed.

So far I haven't regretted the decision to travel with two vehicles, but that decision has been a big part of why the adventure has cost a bit more to get going. When I made the decision to get the RV, I had been incorrectly told that my Ford Escape could be flat towed. Many full-time RVers go with an option of a truck pulling a fifth wheel camper. I see now why they like that option. But at the time I didn't want to buy a truck and a fifth-wheel. I wound up buying two vehicles anyway. Lesson learned - do your own thorough research and don't rely on the advice of a car salesman. 

So not only did I have to buy a different vehicle to pull behind the RV but I had to do it quickly. I only found out about the lack of towing ability on the Escape about two weeks before I went to settlement on my house. 

That being said, I am loving the Jeep. I can only say, of all the vehicles I have had, I have truly only loved two of them - my two convertible Mustangs. They were just plain fun to drive. The other vehicles were great, functional and got me a lot of places but this Jeep is along the same infatuation as the Mustangs. I took the Jeep out for its first off-road drive today - fun!

But now I needed to figure out how to move two vehicles to each location when I would be the only driver. 

Although a straightforward solution, a hitch becomes a little more complicated than just getting it installed and hitting the road. In Colorado, a braking system is also required in the towed vehicle. This emergency system will actually stop the car if it somehow becomes detached from the RV. This was yet another unexpected expense that cost almost as much as the hitch and its installation. 

Third, working on the road. How will I work from an RV? How will I access the Internet? How will I continue to market myself? How will I have power to run my computer equipment? How do I back up photo files while maintaining a safe storage location?

About two weeks before I went to settlement on my house I had a virus infect my desktop PC. That was kind of the last straw for me in regards to using a PC. I have had quite a few issues with that particular computer ever since I bought it a couple of years ago. I wouldn't be able to use a desktop on the road, and my current laptop computer, a Mac Book Air, although fantastic for the purpose I bought it (purely for a lightweight computer for checking email and backing up photos while traveling), was not going to work as a full-time computer on the road. 

Off to the Apple store I went to purchase a new laptop. Thankfully the model I specked out online wasn't in stock in the store so I had to go with something a little slower (I haven't noticed any difference after coming off of the Air) thus saving me a little bit of money. But switching completely to a Mac system meant new software and a few other miscellaneous items to outfit the equipment I would need. 

Again, I have been very happy with the setup but it was an unexpected cost. 

Next was to figure out how to back up my files while traveling. I maintain a large quantity of external hard drives at my office to store all of the tens of thousands of photo files I keep saying I will someday go through. I couldn't bring those along in the RV. It wouldn't be wise to travel with my complete library of photo files, even if they are backed up in another location. And each one of the drives requires its own power supply. There are only two outlets in the RV. 

After quite a bit of research and some great information from a few friends, I wound up going with a NAS cloud storage system. This will give me a  much larger back-up system while being able to access the content on the drive through the Internet, thus eliminating the need for multiple hard drives in the RV. (I do still carry one with me just in case.)

Unfortunately I have yet to set up the system as I ran out of time before settling on my house. Plans are to get it going on my next trip back to Fort Collins. 

And finally, how would I access the Internet during my travels?

There are more than 12,000 full-time RVers registered on the Facebook group of that name. I would imagine that just about all of them have some sort of Internet connection while traveling - ranging in options from using free WiFi in various locations, a satellite receiver, or a personal hotspot through a mobile device.

I researched all of the options I heard about. Since I needed something reliable because of running a business, free WiFi hotspots were out of the question. The satellite option was certainly feasible but expensive. So I researched different options for a personal hotspot. I wound up going with one through my iPad data service. So far I have been very happy with it, although on occasion it gets a little choked up on sending data. The only limitation has been that I need a data signal, which isn't always available in more remote locations.

My backup option of finding a nearby Starbucks has so far been a great fallback plan. (It is amazing how many Starbucks there are out there all willing to sell you a $6 drink for some free WiFi.)

There are still a few miscellaneous items that seem to keep coming up. My original option for carting the kayak around on top of the Jeep failed me on its first trip when I noticed one of the straps was flapping around in the wind, meaning only one strap was holding the kayak to the roof. My car charger for my cell phone died the first day on the road. Thankfully it was only the charger and not the phone that needed replacing. A sensor on one of my Jeep tires said it was low on air. Thankfully it was the sensor that went bad and it was covered under the warranty rather than a need for a new tire. Two of my lenses need repair - both are fluttering when focusing - so I need to make a decision about replacement or repair. I constantly discover things I should have saved but sold or gave away in the moving sale or need a smaller version of for the RV, like a cordless vacuum to keep up with the dog fur and a small printer to continue to market my business. A pin fell out of the hitch on one of the longest drives so far of my adventure. I thankfully had stopped for another reason and noticed it before the dog bone fell out of the hitch arms. It took an overnight delivery and a ridiculous handling fee with UPS to get a new one after I learned that many RV Parks sell them since others have had similar situations. I now have three backup pins, including the one a neighbor at the RV park gave to me. And yesterday I lost my prescription sunglasses while photographing some vineyards. 

So to my friend's point that I mentioned earlier, things will go wrong now that I am dealing with a new lifestyle and a new set of mechanical gizmos. I definitely feel in over my head but each day I climb back out a little further as I learn more about life on the road. I have an amazing support system of friends who provide information, call once in a while to make sure I am okay and to ask where I am today, and take care of things back at home for me.

Ultimately life is about learning and growing so here's to new opportunities to learn and grow.

And of course see some amazing places, wildlife and scenery along the way.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) RV RV Living living on the road logistics nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photography road travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/9/rv-livin---post-3---logistics Tue, 22 Sep 2015 04:58:10 GMT
RV Livin' - Post #3 - Things I have learned https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/9/rv-livin---post-3---things-i-have-learned I am not quite a week into my crazy adventure, but there are already a few things I have learned:

  1. Things will go wrong with the RV – even with the new things
  2. Things will not always go your way on your travels – rain will fall, kayaks will loosen on top of vehicles, and dogs will bring mud into the RV and then jump onto the bed
  3. Whatever you think launching this lifestyle will cost, anticipate it will cost more
  4. Always return things to their proper location – making things accessible in their regular location saves time from hunting in all those nooks and crannies of creative storage spaces in RVs
  5. RVs use a lot of gas – A LOT!!!
  6. Always detach the Jeep from the RV on flat, level ground – thankfully I thought of this before detaching the Jeep
  7. RVs rattle a lot – nothing is spared from the constant jiggling (I found sticky dots work great to hold things in place)
  8. Vinyl flooring and seats make a ton of sense in RVs – road dust and dirt gets everywhere
  9. You will meet a lot of people who share stories, want to hear your stories and are willing to provide information
  10. Just because you no longer own a brick and mortar home doesn’t mean you don’t have chores to do – kitty’s claws still have to be cut, beds still need to be made (or else those muddy dogs dirty your clean sheets), and dishes still need to be washed (or else they will make beautiful noises as they rattle around in your sink along with everything else in the RV)

So far I have also learned that I am getting into a groove and am really enjoying the time spent outdoors.

My first day in the RV was last Thursday. After another delay with some installations, I was finally able to pick up the Jeep and hitch it to the RV.

The RV and the Jeep all decked out and ready to go

I am still amazed that the dealer hands you the keys to the RV, gives you a 30-minute session on how to attach the hitch and braking system, a two-hour walkthrough on the ins and outs of your RV (take good notes – you will refer back to them), and sends you on your way with 44 feet of motorhome and vehicle without much other training.

Needless to say I spent the first few days with white knuckles and cramped hands as I grabbed the steering wheel way too hard.

The first two nights I stayed at Horsetooth Reservoir just west of Fort Collins. It was close to the RV dealer, it was an area I was familiar, it was close to my office (where I still had a lot to do before heading out on the road), and was a beautiful location.

I didn’t detach the Jeep the whole time I was there – all those wires and cables were a little daunting – but I got in a little photography right by the campsite.

The local mule deer made an appearance on Friday night. I took some time to sit near them but quietly and not approaching. There were six does and two fawns, with the fawns being the most curious. They are so cute with their big ears that they haven’t quite grown into.

As I was photographing one of the fawns I had a distinct feeling of being watched from my right side. I looked up to find one of the does about a foot from me. She was quite curious about the equipment I had and came right up to it and sniffed my hand resting on the camera. It was a tender moment before she scampered away.

My next stop was Mount Evans. It is my favorite spot in Colorado to photograph wildlife and, since I knew it so well, I thought it would make a safe second stop on my soft launch of living on the road – a little further but not so far that I couldn’t get back into town if need be.

It was a good thing because I had to head back into the Denver area twice – twice to head to Rack Attack to purchase a better rack for the kayak (better than my original, makeshift option to save a little money – saving a penny will usually cost you a dollar), to Foothills Animal Shelter to look one last time for my missing cat, Bella, who decided she wanted to go AWOL the night before I sold my house, and to the Sprint store because in all this what timing wouldn’t be better to have your cell phone stop charging (thankfully it was the charger and not the phone). 

I spent two nights at Mount Evans parked in the lot by Echo Lake Lodge. The photography was great, the critters abundant, and the light gorgeous. There was a good chance it would be my last opportunity to head to the top of Mount Evans before they closed the road for the season so I took advantage of the time and really explored.

Bighorn_sheep_Mt_Evans_2015_2Bighorn_sheep_Mt_Evans_2015_2A herd of bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) runs over an alpine ridge covered in fall color near Summit Lake on Mount Evans, Colorado

So all things finally seemed to fall into place: the kayak rack and kayak were now securely attached to the roof of the Jeep; the bike was securely attached to the back of the Jeep; the backup camera on the RV seemed to be functioning properly; the hitch was attached and the braking system signal being received in the RV.

Off we went to the next destination – Grand Junction, Colo. – to work on my next article.

 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado Mt Evans RV RV Living living on the road nature nature photography photo photography road tips tips for nature photographers travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/9/rv-livin---post-3---things-i-have-learned Thu, 17 Sep 2015 01:22:30 GMT
RV Livin' - post #2 - purging a house https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/9/rv-livin---post-2---nerves I sold my house a week ago today. I didn't do much but pack, move, rent U-hauls and deal with a thousand other logistics for the week leading up to the sale and for the week since then.

There was some concern settlement wasn't going to happen on time because the appraisal report had not yet come through on Monday morning. I was relieved for the extra time. I thought I had prepared everything really well to get it all done on time. But moves never go as we anticipate or hope.

After renting three separate U-hauls as a result of my ridiculous need to keep clutter, I finally was out of the house with the kayak and last load in the U-haul. It was 11 p.m. Tuesday evening, and I was grateful to the new owner for his willingness to let me have a little extra time to get it all out of the house. A week earlier I took photos of the items I decided I wouldn't need in an RV, weren't worth paying to put into storage, or I wouldn't need on the other side of this journey. Things like a lawnmower, washer, dryer, and 24 foot extension ladder seemed silly to put into storage. I could always replace them should the time come again when I need them, although I have to say I hope I don't ever need a lawnmower again (I surprisingly detested that chore even though I do enjoy having a yard). 

I made a nice chunk of change at that sale, with a portion of that being a result of my friend and sorority sister, Mary's, talents for selling items. She even sold a bag of pens out of my old laptop bag for 50 cents! The money I made was just enough to pay for the moving truck/movers, the U-hauls moving everything up to storage in Fort Collins and gas I was putting into my vehicle for all of the running around.

The movers were coming the next day. They were shocked when they walked into the house and saw it was empty. They asked where was everything they were moving. I had purged a lot.

The two efficient and pleasant guys from Two Men and a Truck carefully move furniture from my house to storage. They both mentioned they were jealous of my forthcoming plans to live on the road.

The living room furniture was gone. The dogs and cats had done a number on the leather, including removing a cushion in the sofa, putting holes in the love seat and scratching up the chair. Surprisingly I sold the love seat and chair to a neighbor who needed a quick option for a new apartment, and, thanks again to Mary's sales tactics, it was advertised as pet and kid friendly! Too funny.

I had moved my office furniture a few nights earlier. Probably should not have done that on my own because I threw my back out moving the boxes of file folders. Dang need for saving receipts for the business. 

I was down to two beds, one set of dressers, some lamps, my den furniture and TV, a few bookshelves, and the family antiques. I thought for sure I had purged enough to stay within my budget and goal of no more than one 10 x 15 storage unit. The movers were optimistic until the stuff - and  that is what I am lovingly referring to the items now packed into a steel box - started to fill up the truck pretty quickly. 

I tried very hard to relieve myself of the items holding sentimental value. There was a lot of that in the house. The last time I moved I had just cleaned out Aeric's place two months earlier, and I was in the process of sorting through my Dad's items with my sister and Verna. I had not done a very good job of identifying the items I really wanted to keep from the two important men in my life who passed away within three months of each other. Everything had some memory attached to it, and with the feelings still so fresh when I moved in to this house in February 2013, I just couldn't go through it all without getting upset, emotional, and sentimental.

It was now 2 and 1/2 years later. The feelings are no where near as fresh but the feelings still hover below the surface. But I was able to get through some of it, until I started to run out of time.

So that extra day or two for pushing back settlement was a nice reprieve, until my realtor texted late Monday afternoon saying that although she was shocked it happened, the paperwork did happen. We were going to settlement in less than 15 hours. 

"Ruh roh, Scooby!"

I looked around and said, "I can do this."

Well, at three a.m. I was still going at it. My office was not finished - all those dang papers I seem to keep in my office - all those ideas I have - and my garage had now become the dumping ground for all the things I didn't know what to do with. Settlement was now in less than seven hours.

Thankfully I gave in and reserved a second storage unit - a 5 x 10 - two days earlier when it looked like the movers wouldn't be able to stuff it all on the 10 x 15 box. It came in handy to quickly move things out of the house. I'll have to go through that someday, however, and hopefully sooner than later.

There was one last item to take care of before heading to settlement. I had one mattress set that I kept in the house rather than have the movers put in storage. My wonderful huskies had some fun with pulling the stuffing out of the pillow top over the years so there wasn't much point in saving it. But the mattress came in handy for those last couple of nights in the house without furniture. 

My trash company wasn't known for picking up anything bulky without an extra fee and weeks of advance notice. A neighbor said her trash company took anything they put out so I could add it to their trash pile, which happened to be that morning. 

Have you ever tried to move a queen-sized mattress on your own? It isn't an easy feat. But I discovered a technique to get it down the block to my neighbor's trash pile - roll it down the street! Another neighbor was walking his dog. I heard him chuckling. I asked him if it was really the first time he had ever seen someone flip a mattress down the street. He said it was a first and proceeded to help me carry it. 

So, at a little after 10 a.m. on Tuesday, September 1, 2015, I officially became one of those folks that no longer owned a traditional home. Although my plans were to be in the RV and on the road by September 4, logistics and unexpected changes delayed that start.

My life has been stuffed into a 10 x 15 foot steel box in east-central Fort Collins, Colo. Other than the bike that will travel with me, the filing of papers in the file drawers, and the photo print supplies on the shelf for the occasional art show, I don't anticipate having a need for anything in this storage unit until I am ready to move off wheels and back into a traditional home in some un-set time from now.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) RV RV Livin' RV Living document home house move moving moving sale recreational vehicle road road living selling story travel https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/9/rv-livin---post-2---nerves Wed, 09 Sep 2015 06:49:49 GMT
Learning from the RV Living Bloggers https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/8/blogs-blogs-and-more-blogs-about-full-time-rving Two people in as many days have recommended this blog site to me. I have only skimmed the surface of reading the info they post (I have many more things on a more urgent timeline before joining folks like these on the road) but this post caught my eye. It is very similar to my own feelings and motivations for doing this crazy change.

http://www.technomadia.com/2015/08/you-deserve-more-than-a-1-week-vacation/

Remember that this is work - and a lot of it. I am looking forward to becoming a workaholic on the road while experiencing a beautiful office in the outdoors. I don't expect it to be easy - not really sure what kind of expectations I have since this is all completely new to me (what, I have to clean a black water tank??? Wait, what is a black water tank???) But I am looking forward to the adventure.

In all of the conversations I have had with people who have done this - from sorority sisters to full-time RVers to RV salesmen to other photographers doing similar work/living arrangements - I have not once heard someone say they didn't enjoy it. In fact, most have told me I will probably fall so far in love with it that I'll just keep doing it.

I don't want to get ahead of myself on that point - just taking this one day at a time - but I am looking forward to adding the check marks to the lengthy list of goals I have for road living.

So until the next post...

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Full-time RVer RV RV Living Technomadia adventure experience experiences full-time RVer new experiences photo photographer photography road travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/8/blogs-blogs-and-more-blogs-about-full-time-rving Fri, 14 Aug 2015 02:30:01 GMT
RV Livin' - Entry #1 https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/8/rv-livin---entry-1 So it is finally time to announce the next phase of my life, photography, travels and writing. I have hinted around over the last few months about some new adventures for me on the horizon. Well, the horizon is quickly approaching.

It is no secret that I love to travel and photograph wildlife. It is also no secret that I have not been terribly fond of living in Arvada. So I took the plunge (and advantage of the timing in this great housing market for sellers), sold my house and bought an RV. Well, the house sold earlier this week (after only three days on the market) and I put a deposit down on an RV. The house will belong to someone else on September 1 (barring any issues between now and then - fingers crossed all goes smoothly) and I'll be RV livin' shortly after the closing.

The Home on Wheels - The Wilson Chateau I spent 20 years chained to a desk wondering why I was never happy doing what I was doing. It took some major losses and changes in my life to open my eyes to the fact that we live in a beautiful world and that life is very, very short. I don't regret a minute of leaving behind office jobs to pursue this crazy life.

When I first started my travels in 2013, a friend asked if I was a vagabond. At the time I told her no. I guess that is changing. But this is a great change, a scary one for sure, but one that will give me the opportunity to really tackle that list of places I never got to see with Aeric before he passed, the places I have always wanted to see or have learned about over the last few years, and the new places I am sure I will discover along the way.

(By the way, I have been working on that list for close to two years and there are more than 350 places or subjects already on there. I also hope to include all 58 national parks, at least a large chunk of the 560 national wildlife refuges, a large chunk of the 300+ Colorado state wildlife areas and all 43 state parks in Colorado. Several of these places are not accessible by RV so we'll see how creative I get on visiting places like Hawaii and remote parts of Alaska. That should keep me busy for a while :) )

The map as it looks today. I have seen quite a few places already. Some I will revisit, but many more will be added to this map. For all I know I may hate it 30 days into it. If so, then I know I'll have options. If I love it, then full steam ahead!

So my next steps involve revising my business plan to make this a viable adventure, packing, and figuring out how to downsize from a three-bedroom house to a 24-foot RV. I'll be in Colorado at least through September 10. I also anticipate being back in the Fort Collins area at least once a month so I have rented an office space up there to have a place to work.

So here's to taking the plunge, doing something that scares the hell out of me (I am not the most mechanically inclined - I had to replace a lawnmower after only two years thanks to my lack of mechanical skills - hopefully the RV is a little easier - LOL!), and to sharing the beauty of this world with as many people as possible through my photography and writing.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) RV RV Livin' RV Living States US United adventure challenges destinations exciting locations map photography places road scary travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/8/rv-livin---entry-1 Sat, 08 Aug 2015 18:21:26 GMT
Tip #69: You have two eyes - use them https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/6/tip-69-you-have-two-eyes---use-them Black_bear_2015_YNP_1Black_bear_2015_YNP_1A black bear cub (Ursus americanus) sits in the middle of a field of clover and looks directly at the camera in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Our heads are equipped with two sets of eyes, and, surprisingly, they can work pretty well independently of each other. What I mean is that when shooting, use both of those eyes to survey your scene. 

Most of us look through the viewfinder with one eye - for me it is the right eye. But put the other eye to use by glancing up once in a while and seeing what is going on in the scene beyond the borders of the viewfinder. 

For example, I recently visited Yellowstone National Park. May and June are wonderful months to be in this amazing location. I was photographing a family of black bears - a sow and her three one-year old cubs. While watching one of the cubs through the view finder I would occasionally look up to see what the siblings were up to in the nearby meadow. With three little ones running around there was always something going on with them. 

Of course you have to be wary of missing the shot you are waiting for while looking through your viewfinder. And this technique is also a great way to stay safe. 

Elk_36Elk_36A bull elk (Cervus elaphus) looks directly at the camera while managing his harem of cows in Estes Park, Colorado

While photographing a bull elk during the rut I had been so focused on watching him through the viewfinder that I didn't keep surveying my surroundings with my other eye. If I had, I would have realized the reason for why I could no longer fit his antlers in my shot - he was approaching, and close. At the last minute I looked up with my other eye to see this beautiful bull almost breathing down my lens. Not something you want to do any time of year, but especially not during the rut when their hormones are running hot. 

 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado Yellowstone National Park animal animals black bear cub cubs elk eyes looking nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography seeing shooting survey tips tips for nature photographers travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/6/tip-69-you-have-two-eyes---use-them Fri, 26 Jun 2015 18:27:49 GMT
Tip #68: Vertical vs. Horizontal https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/6/tip-68-vertical-vs-horizontal Bison_18Bison_18Stock photo of a bison cow licking the head of her calf on a spring morning in Yellowstone National Park. During one of my first portfolio reviews, the reviewer made an observation. "So many of your photos are in a horizontal format. Try including more verticals," he said to me. 

I hadn't thought about it too much up to that point but he was right; I did shoot a lot of horizontal format photos. It is an easy mistake I suppose since our cameras are lined up that way. And at the time my camera only had the one shutter button. (I now have newer camera bodies that include a shutter button for the vertical orientation.)

Since then I make a point of spinning my camera around getting vertical shots as frequently as possible for each scene I am shooting. In particular situations, verticals actually work better than horizontals. For example, if an animal has approached fairly close, a horizontal format may no longer provide enough vertical space to include a full head or the appropriate amount of the animal's body. 

Another piece to consider for shooting vertical and horizontal photos is the use of the photo. Will the photo be submitted as a potential magazine cover requiring a vertical composition, or an interior double-page spread requiring a horizontal format? Is the frame you plan to place prepped for horizontal or vertical?  Bison_51Bison_51Stock photo of a bison cow licking the head of her calf on a spring morning in Yellowstone National Park.

And sometimes the mood of a photo can change with the orientation, such as with these two images of a bison cow with her calf. In the vertical image, the focus is purely on the cow's activity of cleaning her calf. In the horizontal image, the photo has more of a feel of where the animals are located and what is around them. 

In the case of landscapes, if you are using a polarizer or neutral density filter, remember to spin that too to get the correct orientation. 

Have fun trying out new formats. Remember, it is only a few more pixels to try it. If you don't like the outcome, the file can be easily deleted.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/6/tip-68-vertical-vs-horizontal Sat, 06 Jun 2015 00:48:51 GMT
Tip #67: Have an Emergency Fund https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/6/tip-67-have-an-emergency-fund Greater_Sage_Grouse_2015_1Greater_Sage_Grouse_2015_1A male greater sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) struts his stuff for the ladies during a spring snow storm near Walden, Colorado There has been more than one occasion when I have found myself in need of assistance while traveling. Sometimes that assistance may mean calling AAA or finding a hotel room for the evening. In each situation I have been happy to have funds available to cover the unexpected cost. 

My most recent situation was at the very beginning of a long weekend trip to photograph sage grouse and prairie chickens. I was picking up a colleague at the airport when my low tire pressure light illuminated. Usually that means just a slow leak so I thought I could get to the airport and then assess the situation before we drove into the mountains on a spare tire. Then came that tell-tale sound - "thump, thump, thump". Yup, flat tire all right. And not only flat, but something had punctured the side-wall. It was an irreparable tire. 

I called my friend, who had just landed, and told him the situation. He was extremely understanding while I waited for AAA roadside assistance (another great insurance policy to have considering the volume of driving nature and wildlife photographers do). To make a long story short, the quick trip to the airport turned into a 6 hour delay and four new tires. 

Without an emergency fund I would not have been prepared to head to the mountains on dirt country roads with a spare tire. We thankfully made it to our hotel just before dark and were on our way bright and early the next morning.

We had a great weekend with lots of fantastic photos of the dancing birds, but ultimately that was because of an emergency fund. 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) AAA Colorado animals delays emergency fund money nature nature photography patience photo photograph photographer photographers photography planning prepared tips tips for nature photographers travel understanding unexpected wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/6/tip-67-have-an-emergency-fund Mon, 01 Jun 2015 23:38:08 GMT
Creating a Landscape Pano https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/5/creating-a-landscape-pano Clearing_Storm_in_Rocky_Mountain_National_ParkClearing_Storm_in_Rocky_Mountain_National_ParkHorseshoe Valley below Many Parks Curve is full of fog and clouds as a spring snowstorm begins to clear, leaving the landscape in a blanket of white in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado I recently visited Rocky Mountain National Park. My purpose was to photograph wildlife in the snow with a particular hope of finding animals that represent spring, such as fox kits or mountain bluebirds. I love seeing the mix of seasons, and spring snowstorms, with a blanket of heavy, wet snow coating a spring landscape, are a particularly easy way to capture that in a photo.
 

As I drove through the park, I noticed that the clearing storm was leaving the snow-covered mountains rising above fog in the valley. I decided to drive up to Many Parks Curve to get a wider view, and the scene was gorgeous. It was perfect for a panoramic.
 

This is a pretty easy technique with the latest software from Adobe.
 

First, you must capture the images. This pano was created from 13 vertical images. I started on the left side of the scene, made sure I had a straight shot using the level on the tripod and the virtual horizon in my camera, and selected a point about 1/3 into the scene to help ensure as much of the shot as possible would be sharp. The photo was taken at ISO 100, f20 and 1/160 second using a Nikon D800 and a Nikon 16-85mm lens at 45mm. To reduce any further camera shake, I used a tripod, a remote shutter release and live view.
 

Each photo is overlapped by about 1/3 so that Photoshop has some common landmarks to stitch together.
 

Don't forget about composition. It is a little harder to envision the rule of thirds, foreground, middle ground and background content, and lines through the photo since you can't see the full final image. For a horizontal pano like this, the rule of thirds on the horizontal lines will continue to work. This image doesn't quite follow that rule mostly because some of the bottom was cropped off in the stitching process, but there are still distinct layers with the foreground trees, the middle ground mountains and the distant sky.
 

Second, I edited the photos in Adobe Lightroom. Because there is a lot of variety in the tones of this image - from the high key clouds to the dark shadows in the trees - proper exposure was tough. The clouds on the left were much brighter than those on the right but I made sure the histogram showed detail in those whites. I brought those whites down a little in Lightroom, added two Ligthroom preset filters (Scenic and Punch). Then I adjusted the saturation, contrast and applied the default lens corrections. Once the first photo was to my liking I copied and pasted the develop settings to the other 12 photos. The final step in Lightroom was to export the images as hi-res TIFFs.
 

Third, the photos were stitched together in Photoshop. The stitching feature in Photoshop is super easy to use but you cannot use RAW files, and thus the reason for doing the initial editing and exporting in Lightroom.
 

Open Photoshop, select File on the top menu, then Automate and then Photomerge. In the pop-up window, click on Browse and select all of the files you want to be included in your panoramic. There are several layout options on the left. I stick with Auto to let Photoshop do the best work. Sometimes the other options come out a little, well, odd. Check the Blend Images Together and Vignette Removal boxes and click OK. Then wait for the magic to happen.
 

Photoshop puts each image of the pano on its own layer and aligns them into one scene based on how the elements of the photo align. This will create blank areas on the outer edges of the photo. Using the crop tool, crop the pano into the your preferred look. You do not have to crop out the empty corners; the next step shows you an easy solution for that correction.
 

In the Layers panel flyout menu, select Merge Visible to merge the layers while leaving the transparent background on those corners. Select the magic wand tool and click in the white/transparent corners and any other areas around the photo edges that may be white/transparent. Holding the Shift key while you select each corner will select all four corners together. Expand your selection by 4 pixels by going to Select menu and under Modify choose Expand and enter 4. This will help with the overlap of content for a natural appearance.
 

Now, here is some more Photoshop magic. Select Shift - F5. The Fill dialog box opens. Select Content-Aware in the first drop-down menu. Leave Mode at Normal and Opacity at 100%. Then select OK.
 

Voila! Photoshop fills in those areas based on the nearby content. I do occasionally have to go back to these selections and refine the edges a bit to make it look more natural but each photo is a little different.
 

At this point you can do any final refinements in Photoshop, such as gradients, curves, etc.
 

Thanks to the technology in Photoshop, the longest part of this process is waiting for Photoshop to merge the images together.
 

Have fun creating your panos ready to grace the wall above your sofa!
 

Find more helpful photos editing and nature photography tips on my blog - www.DawnWilsonPhotography.com/blog
 

Contact me at Dawn@DawnWilsonPhotography.com for information about private instruction in the field or on the computer.
 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Adobe Adobe Photoshop Colorado Photoshop composition edit instruction landscape landscapes nature nature photography pano panoramic photo photograph photographer photography scenic teach tips tips for nature photographers https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/5/creating-a-landscape-pano Fri, 22 May 2015 19:41:48 GMT
Tip #66: Keep It Simple https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/5/tip-66-keep-it-simple Oh, if we could keep it all simple - lives, clutter, schedules. Since this is a blog about photography, I'll let the professional organizers deal with the clutter and schedules; I'll stick to a few tips on keeping the photography simple.
 

For nature photographers, there are two ways to follow the K.I.S. (Keep It Simple) concept.
 

1. Reduce the complications by staying focused. I used to try to get all kinds of things done in the morning before heading out to shoot. That meant walking the dogs, feeding the animals, cleaning up the dishes, making the bed, pulling weeds, folding laundry, packing up lunch, etc. all before driving to a location for shooting at sunrise. In the winter, when the sun comes up around 7 in Colorado, this isn't too big of a deal. But in the summer, when sunrise can be as early as 5:30 a.m., trying to get chores done before leaving the house is just unrealistic. I was often one of two things: the photographer strolling up late for sunrise or the photographer imitating a zombie due to my lack of sleep.
 

I have come to learn, since I don't have a live-in maid, seven dwarves or helpful dogs, that it will all be there waiting for me when I return (other than feeding the critters who have on more than one occasion reminded me that they come first!). So stay focused on your task, leave all your stuff behind, and just bring the equipment you need. (Check out earlier posts, such as tips 8, 9, and 10, for ideas about what to keep in your car so you don't have to keep moving items around while trying to get out the door.)
 

I also realized, that when I worked a full-time office job and photographed on the side, I worried about a lot of unnecessary stuff in the mornings before heading out the door. I just don't worry about these things when I head out to shoot.
 

For one thing, I love being able to pull my hair back into a ponytail and stuff it under a hat. The critters and landscapes don't care if I am having a good hair day. It also means I don't worry about what my hair will do when I am standing in the rain and snow.
 

I also love the fact that I live in hiking pants and fleece. Attire for office jobs typically isn't very comfortable, functional or practical for photographing outdoors. On more than one occasion I tried to shoot before work in the morning only to regret it. That activity typically wound up with me coming to work with goose poo on my shoes, grass stains on my knees or dust from willow bushes on my pants. So I tried to carry a change of clothes and shoes for work and that just meant another bag to carry and get out the door.
 

Moose_2Moose_2This bull moose was following a cow who appeared to be in heat at the beginning of rut season at Brainard Lake, Colorado This photo of a bull moose was taken one morning in early autumn before work. I am lucky enough to live in a state where I can photograph moose in the morning and be at work an hour later. But it was a perfect example of coming into work looking a little disheveled after standing in water and willows for a couple of hours at sunrise. And of course my co-workers didn't quite understand my excitement about photographing moose at 5:30 in the morning when they asked me if I was okay (I guess because of my appearance!).
 

So keep it simple, focus on one thing at a time and be mindful of where you chose to put your focus.
 

2. Keep your shots simple. There is also the idea of keeping your shots simple. By staying focused on your task at hand, and reducing your stress while getting to a shoot, you can focus on simplifying the images. This topic is actually covered in a few other blog posts. See tips 18, 21, 25, and 39.
 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado animals easy focus focused keep it simple landscapes nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography simple simplify tips tips for nature photographers travel uncomplicated wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/5/tip-66-keep-it-simple Fri, 15 May 2015 18:12:15 GMT
Tip #65: Be Your Own Photographer - Part II https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/5/tip-65-be-your-own-photographer---part-ii In my last post I talked about finding your own perspective on a frequently photographed location.
 

But what do you do with that shot that is the same as the other two dozen people standing next to you?

In today's world of digital post-processing and manipulation, the options are pretty endless. Some edits can be subtle variations in perspective. You may decide to crop a photo differently or give it a different type of lighting. You could create a composite where your subject is placed on a moon landscape. Or use a filter to create an abstract.

Every one of those 24 photos of Maroon Bells on that morning may turn out very different.

Here is an example of an osprey photo.

© Dan Walters Photography. Used with permission. Osprey_2015_10Osprey_2015_10An osprey (Pandion haliaetus) brings in a long branch to the nest on a sunny spring morning in Longmont, Colorado Dan Walters and I were out photographing osprey early in the spring season. During that time of year, shortly after these birds of prey arrive back in Colorado for the summer, they work on the nest to repair it from the damage caused by winter weather and months no maintenance. Both adults will bring in sticks, divots of grass, and other materials to build up the structure of the nest prior to laying their eggs.

Unknowingly, Dan and I not only captured the same exact photo but decided to edit it and post it to our facebook pages. What is different is our treatment of the photos. The variations are subtle but they are there and you may prefer one over the other for any variety of reasons.

Dan's shot has a warmer tone than mine with a little more contrast. He also left the crop slightly askew to show movement in the flight of the osprey dragging the branch through the air.

I on the other hand kept the photo with a little less contrast and more of a cooler tone. I also straightened the photo to make it look like the osprey was dropping the branch straight down.

Is one more correct than the other? Not at all. We just took different perspectives of the same scene. That is what makes each of us unique in our skills as photographers.

Try it with your photographer friends. Go out at the same time with maybe 2 or 3 other photographers. After editing the photos, compare with each other and see just how different the results can be and then find out why each person took the perspective they did. They may open your eyes to something you had not thought of before, and could try the next time you are out shooting.
 

Osprey photo used with permission by Dan Walters Photography.
 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado animal animals be your own photographer bird bird of prey distinct nature nature photography original osprey photo photograph photographer photographers photography tips tips for nature photographers unique wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/5/tip-65-be-your-own-photographer---part-ii Tue, 12 May 2015 14:16:21 GMT
Tip #64: Be Your Own Photographer - Part I https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/5/tip-64-be-your-own-photographer Maroon_Bells_Fall_2014_1Maroon_Bells_Fall_2014_1First light hits the peaks of the Maroon Bells in the Maroon Bells - Snowmass Wilderness Area in fall near Aspen, Colorado There are many locations where photographers flock to by the dozens: Maroon Bells in Colorado in the fall, Yellowstone National Park in May and June, Delicate Arch in Arches National Park at sunrise. Their goal?: get the same photo as what they have seen in the magazines, posted on facebook or published in coffee table books. Why? Because these seasons and locations are iconic and have fabulous photo opportunities.
 

What that means for you is that you should rush out to these same places in the same seasons and get the same shots. We all look at scenery and subjects with very different creative eyes so your photos may turn out very different than the person next to you.
 

But once you are finished with those shots find something different.
 

Crowd_at_Maroon_BellsCrowd_at_Maroon_BellsA line of severl dozen people line up on the shore of Maroon Lake in fall. For example, Maroon Bells is one of the most photographed locations in Colorado, if not the most photographed. In the fall, as seen in this photo, photographers by the dozens line up along the shore of Maroon Lake to capture the iconic shot of the yellow aspen leaves in the valley below the 14,000 foot Maroon Peaks, which, if you are lucky, are reflected perfectly in the calm waters of the lake.
 

My guess is that every nature photographer in Colorado has this shot in some variation.
 

My suggestion is to try this same location in a different season or from a different location. I have been to this area in all four seasons. Each one is very unique and special, but only the fall season, at least in the early morning hours before the hikers and tourists arrive, has the volume of people taking the same photo. In winter I was the only one along the shoreline. In spring, when the aspens are just turning bright green I was also the only one along the shoreline. In summer, when the wildflowers are blooming along the shore and in the valley below the peaks, there was a handful of photographers with the same idea but we all selected different locations.
 

Maroon_Bells_Sunrise_1Maroon_Bells_Sunrise_1The clouds were pretty shades of pink and purple just moments before first light hit the peaks of the Maroon Bells in the Maroon Bells - Snowmass Wilderness Area near Aspen, Colorado This shot of Maroon Lake and Maroon Bells was taken in mid July. I have dozens of great shots of the area from this time of year with wildflowers in the foreground, fish swimming in the lake and macros of wildflowers.
 

So be your own photographer and get creative with the iconic locations.
 


 


 

 

 


 

 

 


 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado creative crowds iconic individual landscape landscapes nature nature photography opportunity perspective photo photograph photographer photographers photography tips tips for nature photographers travel unique wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/5/tip-64-be-your-own-photographer Thu, 07 May 2015 23:24:31 GMT
Tip #63: Tell a Story https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/5/tip-63-tell-a-story My undergraduate degree is in communications. I spent many semesters studying news reporting, public relations writing, public speaking and mass media journalism. The thread through all of these classes was to tell a story that interests your reader. I find I continue to do that with my photography.

Frequently people who enjoy my photos tell me they like hearing about the back story of the photo as much as looking at the photo. Some photos have more unique stories than others, but every photo has a story. So find something to tell about your photo. When you post the photo on facebook, Twitter, or any other social media outlet, give the viewer a little back story about how, why and when. Make them come back for more.

Bighorn_sheep_106Bighorn_sheep_106A group of bighorn sheep rams (Ovis canadensis) chase two instigating young rams on a snowy slope in the high country of Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming This shot of bighorn sheep, including 10 rams, running down a snowy mountain gave people a lot of smiles, at least based on the feedback I received. And it wasn't so much because of the photo; it was because of communicating about the moments that led up to this photo and what was happening during the moment I took the shot. (To see the original post on facebook, visit https://www.facebook.com/DawnWilsonPhotography/posts/694839133897410)

So reflect on the moment for your own enjoyment, and then share those smiles, heartaches, and learning opportunities with other folks.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado Wyoming Yellowstone National Park back story backstory blog funny humor light nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography serious story tips tips for nature photographers tone travel wildlife write writing https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/5/tip-63-tell-a-story Tue, 05 May 2015 13:52:59 GMT
Tip #62: It Really Might Be Your Camera https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/5/tip-62-it-really-might-be-your-camera Brown_Bear_LC_10Brown_Bear_LC_10A brown bear cub (Ursus arctos) paws at his mother's nose on a very rainy day in Lake Clark National Park, Alaska. Photograph by Dawn Y. Wilson, www.DawnWilsonPhotography.com, Dawn@DawnWilsonPhotography.com I spent the better part of 2014 trying to figure out why I couldn't get sharp photos. The center area was coming up sharp but the areas to the left and right were soft, and almost blurry on the left side. I was using a tripod, vibration reduction, high shutter speeds, even tried different focal points and cable shutter release.

All of it was to no avail. (Although I finally broke out the camera and lens manuals and learned about some features I had not been using.)

Unfortunately the lens and camera body would have to go back to Nikon for repair, and I just didn't have the funds at the moment to pay for the shipping or the potential repairs. So off to the closet the set went for several months until funds became available.

Four months went by before I could finally send the pair back to Nikon. Sure enough one of the focus rings had been shifted from who knows what. While the equipment was at Nikon, I borrowed a consignment lens and was getting surprisingly tack sharp photos with the lens on another one of my camera bodies.

Moral of the story: trust that your skill set is good. If I knew how to get a sharp photo two years ago, then I certainly should have been getting a sharp photo a year later.

Thankfully the lens could be repaired. And several photos from last year have actually been published, including this one of a brown bear cub with his mom. Depending on my composition the blurry edges could actually give a unique look to the camera. The unfortunate part was that I lost many great shots on many great trips, including two to Alaska, one to Yellowstone and one to Bosque among dozens of photo outings in Colorado.

If I had trusted my instincts when the problem first appeared, I would not be clamoring to get back to Alaska to get those shots again. But whose complaining about returning to Alaska? Certainly not I!

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado animal animals blurry broke camera composition fix landscape landscapes nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography repair sharp soft tack sharp tips tips for nature photographers travel trust wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/5/tip-62-it-really-might-be-your-camera Sat, 02 May 2015 03:53:07 GMT
Tip #61: Always Have Your Camera https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/4/tip-61-always-carry-your-camera Always. Never forget it. Absolute must. Sloans Lake at Sunrise 3Sloans Lake at Sunrise 3Sunrise over the Denver skyline reflecting into Sloan's Lake.

You just never know what you might see on the way to the grocery store or the mall or to work. Or even what you might see while out shooting but traveling from one location to the next.

 Colorado has some stunning sunrises, especially on days after storms or a day where a storm might roll in later. I am often amazed at the variety of colors in clouds in the early morning or as I head home in the late afternoon.

This shot of sunrise over Denver was taken on my way to photograph birds at this lake. Wolf_4Wolf_4Leader of the pack, alpha female 832F or better known to her admierers as 06 for the year she was born.

I shoot a lot - every day if I can. Sometimes that may mean an all day photo outing or just a couple of quick photos on my way to an appointment. But I always keep a camera handy rather than in my bag because you just never know what might cross your path.

Squirrel_and_hummingbird_3Squirrel_and_hummingbird_3A hummingbird attacks a squirrel, who seemed to be minding her own business as the hummingbird dives and flys off in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

I have had encounters with wildlife crossing the road, such as when the famous 06 alpha female wolf of the Lamar Canyon Pack crossed my path in Yellowstone National Park. She is no longer with us, which makes the photo that much more special. Even though I was traveling along the road to another destination, I had my camera ready and was able to capture a series of photos.

Or the time I had a hummingbird attacking a squirrel next to the road as I drove up to Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Having a camera ready is a lot easier today. Each time I go out I actually have five cameras with me - my three professional bodies plus an iPhone and an iPad. Phones on mobile devices have also improved dramatically and you capture some stunning shots with those devices as well so that you don't miss the moment.

One afternoon while waiting for a friend for coffee in Fort Collins, Colo. I snapped a shot of the colorful sky above the iconic Northern Hotel with my iPhone. I edited on the spot with SnapSeed. 

So never leave home without it - your camera that is!  Northern_Hotel_SunsetNorthern_Hotel_SunsetThe sky lights up in shades of pink, blue and purple at sunset above the Northern Hotel in Fort Collins, Colo.

 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado Fort Collins Rocky Mountain National Park SnapSeed Yellowstone National Park animal animals camera carry edit on the fly goal have landscape landscapes missed moments nature nature photography never leave home without it opportunities photo photograph photographer photographers photography squirrel tips tips for nature photographers travel weather wildlife with you https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/4/tip-61-always-carry-your-camera Fri, 24 Apr 2015 12:58:16 GMT
Tip #60: Silence is Golden https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/4/tip-60-silence-is-golden Grizzly_bear_3Grizzly_bear_3Stock photo of a grizzly bear standing on his hind legs in a snowy meadow in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. I am certified as a Leave No Trace instructor. The 7th principle is Be Considerate of Other Visitors. Among other concepts this includes being quiet or keeping noise levels to a minimum when in nature. Remember, we are visitors in the world of wildlife and Mother Nature when we venture into the outdoors.

When photographing wildlife, it is important to reduce your disturbance to the animal. These types of photos will actually make better shots for you as you capture the animal doing their normal activities, such as looking for food, feeding babies or looking for a mate.

Most if not all wildlife photographers - myself included - have at one time or another used a call or clucked or whistled to get the attention of an animal. In many cases, a better photo will be when the animal looks directly at the camera. But in reality, the best way to do this is to just be patient.

I have actually found that many animals will just ignore you or all you will get is a flattening of the ears, a trait you do not want in a photo as it shows the animal annoyed or in distress. Photos of animals should show the subject calm, natural and at ease. Their body language communicates this.

This photo of a grizzly bear is an example of what happens when an animal is disturbed by human activity.

I was in Yellowstone National Park talking with another photographer when this grizzly bear walked into a sage meadow. We started photographing the bear as he dug in the snow and mud looking for grubs.

He was minding his own business when two vans full of tourists pulled up. More than a dozen tourists started pouring out of the vans, cameras in hand and squeals coming out of each person as a reaction to their excitement of seeing a grizzly.

The bear immediately stood up on his hind end to see what this annoying noise was. Not only did the squealing disrupt the quietness of the outdoors but it caused the bear to change his behavior. As soon as he stood up the tourists yelled, ran back to the van and drove off.

Although the other photographer and I continued to photograph the scene, the bear clearly was looking in a different direction. The photo tells a story, which is ultimately what any photo should do but not at the expense of the animal's energy or safety.

So remember when you are outdoors, there are many living things, including other people, that will be disturbed by noisy visitors. You may be breaking the serenity of the person snowshoeing as they seek peace and quiet from their hectic life. You may cause a photographer, who is working at making a living in the outdoors, to lose an opportunity to photograph animals doing normal activities. Or you may be disturbing a very large grizzly bear wondering what you are doing.

Stay safe out there and enjoy the solitude and serenity of what Mother Nature has created.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado Leave No Trace Yellowstone National Park animal animals bear disruption disturb enjoy grizzly grizzly bear nature nature photography outdoors peace photo photograph photographer photographers photography quiet silence solitude standing tips tips for nature photographers travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/4/tip-60-silence-is-golden Mon, 20 Apr 2015 12:37:38 GMT
Tip #59: Trust Your Instincts https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/4/tip-59-trust-your-instincts White-tailed_deer_buck_18White-tailed_deer_buck_18A white-tailed deer buck (Odocoileus virginianus) runs through a snowy field of grasses during a fall snow storm at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge in Commerce City, Colorado I frequently tell attendees in my workshops and presentations that the best thing you can do to get the action you want when photographing wildlife is to be patient, wait and trust your instincts.
 

When we see an animal, we want to chase them, follow them to wherever they might be going.
 

But my recommendation is to observe and watch what the animal wants to do. Is it during the rut so that the white-tail bucks will follow the does? Is it shortly after burrowing owls have arrived back to the area and are getting ready to mate? Is it the peak of the summer months when the bison are hoping to escape the heat of the hot sun?
 

A buck will always follow the does during the rut. The burrowing owls will always pick a favorite burrow where they will fly in to copulate and spend time with their mate. Bison will typically want to escape the hot summer sun by retreating to the shade or to water.
 

Understanding what goals an animal has will help you know where they will be going.
 

Just before taking this photo of a white-tailed buck, three does had crossed the road in front of me. My initial thought, lead by my trigger finger, was to follow the does and see where they might be going. But my instinct reminded me that it was the middle of the rut season in Colorado; a buck had to be nearby. So I patiently waited in my car near the spot where the does crossed the road. And sure enough, here came the buck, galloping through the grasses and sage in hot pursuit of his girls.
 

So trust your instincts that something more might be happening. Read the situation and don't listen to that happy trigger finger.
 

 

 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado animal anticipate instincts nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography react think tips tips for nature photographers trigger finger trust wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/4/tip-59-trust-your-instincts Thu, 16 Apr 2015 00:42:41 GMT
Tip #58: Creativity with Key Words https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/4/tip-58-creativity-with-key-words Burrowing_owls_2015_6Burrowing_owls_2015_6A burrowing owl (Speotyto cunicularia) holds onto the neck of the female owl during copulation on a spring afternoon near Greeley, Colorado Key words are an important part of getting your photos selected in magazines and sold to folks looking for something in particular. Although not everyone wants to sell their photos, most still enjoy a few extra bucks in their pocket from their passion.

A key word is a word or phrase that helps identify and describe the content of your photo. These words, which are used by search engines such as Google and image sites such as flickr and Photoshelter, help narrow down a search for a photo on a particular subject. The content for key words is entered into the metadata of your file prior to exporting or saving the file in software applications such as Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. Key words can also be added into description areas on a photo storage site, such as on Zenfolio.
 

All of my photos get key words added to the file when I import the photos from the memory card to Lightroom. These include very general words and phrases that I include on every photo, such as United States, U.S., nature and environment. Being a photographer that specializes in wildlife of the Rocky Mountains and Alaska I find that 95% of my photos will be correctly identified with these terms. I save myself a few minutes of extra time by doing this on import.
 

Once I edit a photo, I apply a standard set of key words. Every edited photo gets the following keywords: locations where photo was taken (state, nearest town, facility such as a refuge name, etc.), horizontal or vertical, which direction the animal is looking, if it is a landscape or wildlife shot, if it is in color or black and white, the common and Latin names of the animals (if applicable), ecosystem of photo (ie., mountains, prairie) and prominent colors in the photo.
 

From there, however, the sky is the limit. What is the animal doing? Does the activity remind you of anything people do? Is the animal dancing, kissing or smiling? Is there an emotion being evoked?
 

Many photos portray animals in anthropomorphic situations. These human traits should be noted and even looked for in a photo. This photo is an example of a very obvious correlation to a human activity. The male burrowing owl (in the back) just flew in to copulate with the female owl in the front. But the feeling is a more intimate, sentimental representation of owls kissing. He looks like he is hugging her and kissing her on the cheek. She looks like she is smiling and enjoying the kiss. In reality, owls don't kiss in the sense people do. But the feelings are there and every term associated with that should be linked to this photo. Such terms would include love, kiss, intimate, affection, like, infatuation, Valentine's Day, sentimental, fondness, amore, adore, etc.
 

And of course these are just the ideas I have. Each person will see their own associations with a photo and may get more creative or more literal (think dirt, grass, rocks, etc) for a photo.
 

Have fun with it, and definitely put that thesaurus to use!
 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Lightroom Photoshelter Photoshop Zenfolio affection animals burrowing owls flickr fondness google key words landscapes love nature nature photography photo photography tips tips for nature photographers travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/4/tip-58-creativity-with-key-words Tue, 14 Apr 2015 21:41:06 GMT
Tip #57: Reset Your Settings https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/4/tip-57-reset-your-settings I don't know how many times I have done this but it is more than I should and enough that I shouldn't still do it on occasion. I am talking about shooting at night or shooting a landscape and then forgetting to update to the proper settings for my next shoot.
 

Dream_Lake_sunrise_1Dream_Lake_sunrise_1Clouds light up in orange and pink hues at sunset above Dream Lake and Hallett Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado Here's an example. One summer I went to Rocky Mountain National Park to photograph the Milky Way and nightscapes. I was out until maybe 1 a.m. when I finally went to the campground for a few hours of sleep. I had plans to get up early to hike up to Dream Lake before sunrise to capture the first rays of light on Hallett Peak.
 

This is a frequently photographed location but clearing clouds and a calm lake for reflections can be a rare event. I was thrilled when I arrived at the lake in plenty of time to set up before sunrise to see perfect clouds above Hallett Peak and a perfect reflection in the calm waters of Dream Lake.
 

 I picked a spot, set up my tripod and waited for one of the most beautiful sunrises I have ever seen in Colorado. The pink tones of the first rays of light filled the peak with color and the clouds turned into stunning shades of purple.
 

Fifteen minutes AFTER sunrise, just as the clouds started to lose their best light, I realized I was still shooting at the high ISO I use for night skies - ISO 1600.
Dream_Lake_sunrise_3Dream_Lake_sunrise_3Early morning light illuminates Hallett Peak above Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Par, Colorado

I quickly changed to a more appropriate ISO setting - ISO 100 - but the moment was lost.
 

This image of Dream Lake is still a favorite of mine but more because it brings out the memory of that beautiful morning. The image unfortunately  loses some of its sharpness as I reduce the noise from shooting it at an ISO of 1600.
 

I will be sure to hike up many more times to Dream Lake for sunrise but next time I will definitely make sure I am set up properly for landscape photos. (And maybe a little more sleep to help me think clearly!)
 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado camera composition landscape nature nature photography photo photographer photography settings tips tips for nature photographers travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/4/tip-57-reset-your-settings Tue, 14 Apr 2015 02:56:35 GMT
Hanging with Goats - Part II https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/3/hiking-with-goats---part-ii Hanging with Goats - Part II

Mountain_goat_5Mountain_goat_5Stock photo of a mountain goat standing at attention on a mound of grass with a snowy background on Mount Evans in Colorado. After my previous post last month about hiking up Quandary Peak to photograph mountain goats in the winter, I had quite a few questions and requests about the goats, including requests to see more photographs. So here are a few more thoughts about how to capture stunning photos of mountain goats.

When I photograph an animal that lives in a unique destination, like high above treeline in the alpine tundra of the Rocky Mountains, I focus on taking three types of photos: portraits, interactions and environmental.

For mountain goats, I do this with just one camera body and one lens. The hike is long and rises into high elevations. Carrying a lot of heavy gear just weighs you down and slows you down (or I may need to work on getting in better shape or hiring a sherpa).

If the day is sunny, and expected to stay nice, I bring my Nikon D800 with the Nikon 70-300mm lens. This body allows me to get large files to produce large prints because of its 36 mp resolution. The camera is also quite a bit lighter (2 lb 3 oz) than my other camera bodies. I do not feel, however, that this camera is good in low light. Its amazing resolution provides wonderful detail in the photos but processing is slow to save all those pixels. This makes it a great camera for slower moving animals, like mountain goats that mostly just stand and eat and sleep. Mountain_goat_32Mountain_goat_32A mountain goat nanny (Oreamnos americanus) gives her lamb a little nudge on the nose on top of Quandary Peak near Breckenridge, Colorado

If the weather will get cloudy or start snowing, I will revert to my more typical wildlife camera bodies - the Nikon D4s and D3s, which have faster frames per second rates and better high ISO capabilities for lower light but are a bit heavier.

For hiking the 70-300mm lens is ideal. It is compact, durable and light weight at only 26.3 oz. Although I do not encourage moving in too close to the mountain goats - those horns look way too sharp for me to test the theory that they would hurt - mountain goats don't move very fast nor do they go very far. If anything, the goats may move towards you if you are quiet and still. This lens gives you an ideal range for an animal that tends to not venture too far from you.

Mountain_goat_24Mountain_goat_24An adult mountain goat (Oreamnos americanus) looks at the camera while standing in a meadow on Mount Evans, Colorado. 1. Portraits: These are the intimate, close-up shots of the animals. The photo should capture a mood, an emotion or the beauty of the animal, just like a portrait would of a person. The best settings are wide open apertures (f4-f7.1 range) to really soften the distant background and provide enough depth in the face to get detail in the eye, nose and mouth. Using your light meter, adjust the shutter speed to allow enough light into the camera for the current conditions. Aperture priority or manual mode works in this situation. And don't forget to check the histogram to make sure you don't blow out the detail in that white coat.

2. Interactions: Mountain goats are beautiful animals with big, furry, white coats, but when it comes to interactions they don't do a whole lot. The winter and spring are probably their two most mellow seasons when they are purely surviving the seasons of cold and snow. This means they will move around to find food, paw at the ground to release lichens and minerals from below the snow, and create shallow depressions in the snow and dirt to use as beds for naps. On occassion you may see a bossy and possessive goat tell another through a little false charge that the feeding area is taken. In the summer, the best interactions come from mother and lamb and between lambs. The lambs, born between mid-May and mid-June, are adorable little balls of white fluffy fur. They make the cutest little cries when Mountain_Goat_13Mountain_Goat_13Stock photo of a mother mountain goat with her yearlying kid high on the top of Mount Evans with a few clouds in the sky behind them on a sunny day in Colorado. seeking out mom and play pretty hard for short periods of time with other lambs. Fall can also be a good season for interaction during the rut season, which lasts November through December. Although not as obvious as the elk bugle or the bighorn ram head butting, the male goats will still make efforts to fend off other male goats that could lead to some interesting interaction shots. A fast shutter speed is priority in this situation to stop the action, so shooting in manual mode or shutter priority would be important. My preference is manual mode to keep the aperture open (f4 to f8) to get nice depth of field while obtaining a fast shutter speed to stop the action. Adjusting the ISO levels can help attain these two settings.

3. Environmental: Lately these have been my favorite photos to capture. This style of photo is a combination of landscape and wildlife, and I think one of the hardest photos to effectively capture. Although it may seem like an easy opportunity to compose the shot with the animal as your focual point and then a scenic background, it really is much more involved. The best environmental shots can almost be a landscape photo on its own; the wildlife in the photo brings life to the scene. And the rules guidelines for photographing wildlife still apply - avoid butt shots, tack sharp eyes, looking at the camera, etc. Since I love the feeling when I stand on top of a peak and seeing the vast sea of peaks surrounding me, adding a mountain goat to that scene completely evokes the majestic scenery of the Rocky Mountains. Add in some beautiful skies at sunset and you have a pretty sweet shot. Since this is primarily a landscape shot, you will want a large depth of field so stop down the aperture to f11 to f16 to get the detail in the background. I completely shoot in manual mode in this situation because I typically am working on evoking a particular sense of the light and scene. I also play around with the settings and see which I like later in post-processing. Shooting with the 70-300mm lens at 300mm will compress the scene a bit and bring those distant mountains in a little closer. Shooting that shot at f7.1 or f8 may soften those distant backgrounds to give a sense of place while keeping it vague to bring focus to your animal. Mountain_Goat_37Mountain_Goat_37A mountain goat (Oreamnous americanus) stands on a snowy ridge and looks down the valley on Quandary Peak in White River National Forest near Breckenridge, Colorado

As we head into spring and summer, the roads to the high country in Colorado will be opening up access to the alpine tundra of Rocky Mountain National Park, Mt Evans and Pikes Peak. As I always do this time of year, I am counting down the days to when I can spend ALL my days in the high country with the wildlife in the high alpine tundra surrounded by mountain peaks and colorful wildflowers.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado Quandary Peak Rocky Mountains animal composition landscapes mountain goats nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photography tips tips for nature photographers wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/3/hiking-with-goats---part-ii Tue, 24 Mar 2015 20:44:22 GMT
Traveling with Bears https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/3/traveling-with-bears Traveling with bears

Black_Bear_2Black_Bear_2Black bear sow checking out the surroudings to protect her cubs, who are in the bushes at her feet. Taken in Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado. North America has three types of bears: polar, brown and black. I have had many wonderful opportunities to spend time with all three - the black bear sow with her two adorable little cubs that were taking a morning stroll in Mesa Verde National Park (surprisingly, the only black bears I have photographed in my home state of Colorado); the curious, large white bears of the Arctic that seem to worry more about playing than the changes happening in their climate; and the beautiful brown bears of Alaska.

Photographing the brown bears (Ursus arctos) has really peaked my interest. Over the last few years I have spent many days and hours photographing them as they eat, play, sleep and raise their young.

There are a few subspecies of brown bears (coastal, Kodiak, grizzly) depending on a few factors, including the region they live, but they are all related.

Polar_bear_8Polar_bear_8A young polar bear (Ursus maritimus) sits in the snow on a barren landscape on Barter Island near the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska The grizzly bear is a brown bear that is smaller and lives in a few northern states in the continental U.S., interior Alaska, and southern Canada. These are the brown bears visitors to Yellowstone National Park will see. They are smaller due to their diet of moths, seeds, roots, and the occasional carcass of elk, deer, or bison.

Kodiak and coastal brown bears are very similar, but Kodiak brown bears are considered the largest Ursus arctos. Both can be extremely large - weighing up to 1,400 lbs - and live along the coastal habitats of Alaska and western Canada, with Kodiak bears being unique to the Kodiak Archipelago in Alaska. Their size is often attributed to their abundant diet of fish.

The coastal brown bears are the bears I have spent the most time with in the last couple of years, including being as close as 15 steps from one very curious three-year old bear.

Brown_bear_walking_9Brown_bear_walking_9A sub-adult brown bear walks through a sedge meadow near Hallo Bay in Katmai National Park, Alaska. Photographing them is an extremely fun activity that yields wonderful results to remember for a lifetime.

The most important thing to think about when planning a bear photo trip is to select the season. Brown bears come out of hibernation in early spring and are hungry after sleeping through the winter. These first few weeks out of hibernation will keep bears busy foraging for food.

As the weeks roll into May, brown bears will enter their mating season, which typically lasts through June. Males will find a female in heat and follow her around for several days to a couple of weeks. The females are not always responsive, and the interaction can be interesting to photograph.

June brings warmer days and wildflowers start to bloom in Alaska. Sedge meadows start producing food for bears and clamming becomes a popular yet necessary means for food. It is amazing to watch a large brown bear use their large claws to pry open a clam shell only inches long and scoop out the tasty morsel in the mud flats at low tide. Newborn cubs also start making appearances but wary mothers keep their eyes on the little cubs of the year to protect them from their biggest enemy, male brown bears.

In July and August, salmon by the thousands swim upstream to spawn throughout coastal Alaska. This smorgasbord of food attracts bears by the dozens to fishing holes full of the tasty fish. These congregations of bears can be full of activity at low tide when spotting salmon are easier for bears. Fights break out over fish, hungry bears tear open large salmon, and cubs eagerly learn the art of fishing.

As the summer winds down September brings an urgency to bulk up for the winter. Bears will move in search of berries as the leaves move through the phases of fall colors. Brown_Bear_HB_11Brown_Bear_HB_11A large male brown bear fishes in a creek near Hallo Bay in Katmai National Park, Alaska

By October, brown bears are preparing their dens for a long winters nap.

Check back in the coming weeks for tips and techniques about how to successfully photograph brown bears in various seasons.

If interested in photographing brown bears in coastal Alaska, join professional and award-winning wildlife photographers Dan Walters and Dawn Wilson for the brown bear photo workshop in June 2015.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Alaska bear brown bear nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photography tips tips for nature photographers travel wildlife workshop https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/3/traveling-with-bears Mon, 16 Mar 2015 03:05:28 GMT
Hanging with the Goats - Part I https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/2/hanging-with-the-goats Hanging with the Goats

Mountain_Goat_35Mountain_Goat_35A mountain goat (Oreamous americanus) stands on a snowy ridge with the wind whipping through his hair on Quandary Peak in White River National Forest near Breckenridge, Colorado As a wildlife photographer who specializes in wildlife of high latitudes and high altitudes, I enjoy photographing mountain goats. They have an unbelievable ability to survive in a cold, harsh, unforgiving environment at or above treeline.

Although I have photographed mountain goats a lot, I had never photographed them in the winter. Most of the locations I know where to find them in Colorado are inaccessible in winter because of the closure of roads or trail heads or both. Where do the goats go when the temperatures drop and snow levels increase? Do they stay at 14,000 feet? Do they come down into the trees to be protected from the strong winds of high altitude? What do they eat? How do the babies survive? How thick do their coats get? What is their rut season like? Do the males fight each other? Do the mountain goats gather in large numbers in winter and during the rut?

These were just a few of the questions I had about my white, furry friends of the high country.

In 2013, I started a new project of climbing 14ers - the peaks in Colorado that rise to or above 14,000 feet. Now I don't know if I will ever climb all of the 50-plus 14ers in Colorado (I have "bagged" 6 so far), but I hope to see over the peak of a good chunk of them. As someone who loves the high country, the endless views I am awarded standing on top of these peaks, and the wildlife I encounter along the way, brings me peace and happiness. And mountain goats live on some of these peaks. Mountain_Goat_39Mountain_Goat_39A herd of mountain goats (Oreamnous americanus) walks up through the saddle just below Quandary Peak in the White River National Forest near Breckenridge, Colorado

In late summer 2014 I was reading a few posts on a facebook group about the 14ers in Colorado. One particular comment caught my eye - a hiker mentioned seeing mountain goats on Quandary Peak near Breckenridge, Colorado. So I quickly added it to my list of 14ers to climb and reached its summit just a few weeks  later. And I too saw the mountain goats along the way - at about 12,000 feet. Mountain_Goat_44Mountain_Goat_44A yearling mountain goat (Oreamnous americanus) walks over a rocky ridge towards the camera on Quandary Peak in White River National Forest near Breckenridge, Colorado

This 14er is unique because it is one of the few where the parking lot for the trail head sits next to a state highway that is plowed all winter. I had found my mountain to photograph mountain goats in the winter.

To see the mountain goat rut activity, which is typically mid-November to mid-December, I hiked up one November afternoon and found the goats at about the same elevation I saw them in the summer. There wasn't much rut activity, and I later found out that I was a little early for the rutting season. There also wasn't much snow, but that changed over the next few weeks.

Since I was a newbie to climbing 14ers in winter, I was a little hesitant to climb a snow-covered mountain. I am not well versed in reading snow for avalanche dangers or knowing how to self-arrest should I slip and fall. But the more I read about Quandary Peak, the more I realized this was a pretty frequently climbed mountain in winter.

So I picked a warm, winter day in February to climb it again to find the goats in their thick winter coats on Quandary Peak in the White River National Forest.

The day I went - February 13, 2015 - had a predicted high of almost 60 degrees in Breckenridge, the closest town to Quandary Peak, and a forecast of full sun. It was a gorgeous day. I headed up about 1 p.m. with my winter coat tied around my waist.  I was sure I would need it eventually as I reached the top but for now a shirt and fleece was more than enough warmth.

The previous two times I saw the goats was at about 12,000 feet. From the trail head this took me about two hours to climb. This would put me at the goats right about 3 p.m., just in time for the gorgeous, warm afternoon light.

Well, animals will do what animals want to do. And I didn't know what to expect in regards to what or where goats went in winter.

I ran into eight people on the trail that afternoon. The first two guys and their dog told me they had not seen any goats but they only went up to treeline. The second couple with their two dogs told me they saw 20 goats at the last ridge before the push up to the summit of Quandary. A single female hiker didn't say much of anything. The next couple said they saw 19 goats at the same ridge as the previous couple. And a single female backcountry skier with her herding dog said there were about 50 goats in the saddle just below the summit.

Mountain_Goat_45Mountain_Goat_45a mountain goat (Oreamnous americanus) walks over a rocky ridge against the backdrop of the distant mountains on Quandary Peak in White River National Forest near Breckenridge, Colorado This news gave me mixed feelings. I was elated to hear there were possibly 50 goats. I had never seen more than maybe two dozen at one time. But this saddle was at about 13,200 feet. That was at least another hour up the trail and I would be fighting getting there to have enough time to photograph the goats before the shadows started moving down the mountain.

So I pushed on. But my body fights me at this elevation - no matter how much climbing I do - and I had to take it slow. I made it to the saddle at about 4:15 p.m. where I was greeted by my first goat. I snapped as many photos as I could as quickly as possible - verticals, horizontals, close ups, wide angles. The light was gorgeous but the wind was strong. I don't carry a tripod with me to these elevations so I make sure I bump up my ISO as high as I am comfortable doing without creating noise in the files but to get as fast a shutter speed as possible. Photographing white animals on a snowy landscape against mountains starting to fall into shadows can also be tricky to not blow out the white in the fur and snow while still getting detail in those mountains.

A second goat came over the ridge, and a third. I kept capturing photos. I peeked over the ridge. The shadows had already descended into the high valley below, but I could clearly make out 30 mountain goats. I kept snapping.

I had about 30 minutes of nice light and took 273 photos. It is a good thing mountain goats don't do too much that is different - lick some rocks, walk along a ridge, butt heads every once in a while if another goat gets too close, dig a little in the snow. But I had many of my answers. And I also now know that the next time I need to leave earlier just in case those goats are higher. Apparently mountain goats don't come down to lower elevations in winter like many other ungulates such as bighorn and elk - or at least not on this day. If anything they went higher where the winds were exposing the lichens, rocks and grassy remnants on the high ridges. Mountain_Goat_41Mountain_Goat_41A mountain goat (Oreamnous americanus) stands on a snowy ridge and looks at the camera on Quandary Peak in White River National Forest near Breckenridge, Colorado

Any photographer will tell you morning and afternoon light is best. It is warm, soft, colorful and lacks the contrast of highlights and shadows found in the middle of the day. I have only - so far - climbed one mountain before sunrise to get that morning light so if I want the nice light I climb in the afternoon and then hike down in the fading light. Often I can be back at my car before it is really dark because the hike down takes half the time as the hike up (and I always carry a headlamp and enough food and water in case I get stuck out in the dark). But it limits me on how much time I can have to photograph wildlife once I do find them. That was the case with these mountain goats.

So I will be back up there to photograph these white, furry beauties in the snow on the windy ridges of Quandary Peak this winter and winters to come. I still have the question: where do the pikas go in the winter? But I will save that for another hike and another post.

Feel free to email me at Dawn@DawnWilsonPhotography.com with any questions about photographing wildlife at high elevations.

 

 

 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Quandary Peak goats high country mountain goats mountains nature nature photography photo photograph photography tips tips for nature photographers wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2015/2/hanging-with-the-goats Sun, 15 Feb 2015 06:42:32 GMT
Creating the snow goose composite https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2014/12/creating-the-snow-goose-composite Creating the flight pattern of a snow goose

Snow_Goose_Flight_Sequence_1Snow Goose Flight Sequence 1A composite of four images showing the flight pattern of a snow goose (Chen caerulescens) at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge near Socorro, New Mexico. Photographing birds in flight is one of the most fun subjects in wildlife photography. It really challenges your ability to focus, know your camera and understand the behavior of birds.

One technique I had wanted to try was to show the flight pattern of a single bird in a single panoramic photo. Several years ago, I had first seen this technique, called a motion panoramic, done in a panoramic photo of a hot air balloon in flight as it dipped into a lake. The same photographer also showed the technique applied to birds in flight.

Now a snow goose is a lot smaller than a hot air balloon, and a lot more erratic in its flight pattern. But there are a lot of snow geese to photograph at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in the winter so I took many, many flight shots and went through them in Lightroom to find a series that would work. Here is the process I followed in Lightroom and Photoshop to create this image.

First I needed to find a sequence of images where the goose did not overlap in each frame. The two middle frames of the flight pattern were pretty close but I include below how I corrected for that issue. In most cases, you would use every other shot of the bird if photographing at eight frames a second to avoid the overlap. The sequence also needs to have some identifying background so Photoshop can find common pieces to each image. It is best to overlap images by at least 20% to merge them in Photoshop.

This shot of the snow geese was photographed with a Nikon D3s, which shoots at 9 fps in FX mode. Snow geese must move pretty quickly because I used four sequential images (not the every other one mentioned above).

First, I edited the first image in the sequence in Lightroom using my presets, cropped the image, and adjusted white balance, contrast, highlights, shadows, whites, clarity, vibrance, saturation, and selective adjustments to saturation and luminance of the mountains, bills and feet. When one image was complete, I hit Copy to copy all of the adjustments (except crop) and then applied that to the other three images in the sequence by selecting the Paste button. These three images were then cropped in a similar fashion to focus on the bird without cropping out the overlapping areas for merging the files in Photoshop. I exported them to one folder titled Sequence Flight Source Files in my Bosque folder.

Next, in Photoshop, I selected File - Automate - Photomerge. In the pop-up window, I left Auto checked on the left side, selected the Browse button and opened the folder of the source files. Below the file box, I checked the box Blend Images Together but left the other two blank. Then selected OK to let Photoshop do its magic.

The processed image takes a few minutes to create. Photoshop will open on image and then create layers of the other images in the sequence.

When Photoshop was finished with the processing, only two of the geese were included in the pano file and there were some areas on the outer edges that were blank where the photos did not overlap because the goose was flying in a downward motion.

First, I added in the other two geese by opening the files with the missing geese, putting an elliptical marquee around the goose, copying the selection and then pasting it in the pano file. I dragged the selection around until the edges of the selection exactly matched up to the background. I repeated for the second goose.

The second and third flight movements were pretty close to each other, and the selection I pasted in of the third movement cut off the beak and wings of the second movement. By selecting the layer with the third movement, I could use the eraser tool to remove the background of the top layer to reveal the beak and wings on the layer below.

I then flattened the layers.

Second, I had to take care of the blank areas. Easiest was to crop off the outer edges without removing any of the important parts of the photo. There was one corner that remained that was blank. Using the Magic Wand Tool, I selected that area, hit Shift - F5 (PC) to open the Fill dialog box. In the drop-down, I selected Content Aware with Dissolve and 100% Opacity in the other boxes. Hit OK. There were a few pixels I had to manually clone out to fix the edge of the selection.

At that point, I just finished up the image with some spot removal, noise reduction and sharpening.

I hope you have some fun trying this technique on your own images. I can see a lot of fun possibilities with this - running horses, eagles in flight, or dog chasing a ball.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge Lightroom New Mexico Photoshop Socorro bird birds in flight flight fly goose motion motion panoramic nature panoramic photo photography tips tips for nature photographers https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2014/12/creating-the-snow-goose-composite Tue, 16 Dec 2014 17:13:19 GMT
Finding Swans https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2014/12/finding-swans Trumpeter_Swan_IP_1Trumpeter_Swan_IP_1A family of trumpeter swans (Cygnus buccinator) take off from the Henry's Fork River near Island Park, Idaho On my recent trip to Wyoming, one of my goals was to get some new flight photos of trumpeter swans. Although some swans will nest in the Yellowstone Ecosystem during the summer, a large number of these beautiful swans travel from much farther north to winter in the open waters around Yellowstone. Many of the rivers and ponds in the Yellowstone Ecosystem stay free of ice because of the abundance of hot springs in the area.

A few years back I decided to take the western route to get into Yellowstone in the winter. Because all of the entrances to Yellowstone are closed in winter, except the north entrance near Gardiner, Montana, any trip into the park can be a long one, and dangerous depending on what the weather decides to do.

The western route starts in Jackson, Wyoming, then over Teton Pass (not for the faint of heart), down into Driggs, Idaho, up past the West Yellowstone entrance and then on to Bozeman, Montana to finally loop back down into Livingston and then Gardiner. It is a beautiful drive weaving through open farm fields and thick forests of the Targhee and Gallatin National Forests.

On that trip I just happened to time it right when I drove through the small town of Island Park, Idaho and found dozens of trumpeter swans along the Henry's Fork River. But I was on a mission to get to Gardiner before dark, and had lost a lot of time due to a storm causing white-out conditions near Ashcroft, Idaho so I couldn't stay to photograph the birds. I vowed to come back.

Last year I planned a trip to Island Park only to find out I missed the birds by about a week so I canceled the trip.

So this year I tried again. I found lots of swans but I may have been a little early - there was still a lot of ice-free water so the birds were pretty scattered. But I did manage to find a few cooperative birds - adults and cygnets - willing to pose for some take-off shots.

So, as with all nature photography, weather plays a big part, timing is important but can't be controlled, and you have to make the most of the situation presented to you - and have good snow tires :)

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Idaho Island Park Wyoming Yellowstone Yellowstone Ecosystem bird birds composition cygnet family flight fly nature nature photography photo photographers photography swan swans tips travel trumpeter swan weather wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2014/12/finding-swans Fri, 12 Dec 2014 16:52:24 GMT
Hiking with the Bighorns https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2014/6/hiking-with-the-bighorns Bighorn_ram_86Bighorn_ram_86A bighorn ram (Ovis canadensis) stands on a rocky ridge in the high country of Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming Just returned from a lengthy trip through Colorado, Wyoming and Montana to photograph spring aspens, wildlife babies and meadows of wildflowers. I found it very interesting that I ran into more people that I know on my travels in Colorado and in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks - including my roommate from my trip to Churchill last fall!! - than I do in the town where I live in Colorado. That to me was very eyeopening that I am finally following a professional career that I love and in the places that I love the most. It felt great to be working outdoors, seeing friends, and meeting new people who share the same passions as me.

A friend asked me this week what was the most memorable moment from the trip. I thought that would be hard to answer as it was a trip filled with many wonderful sights and experiences, but one experience popped into my head right away.

I was working on a shot list for a magazine while traveling. On that list from the editor was a request for photos of bighorn sheep. No problem. I know of lots of places to photograph bighorns - but in the fall when they hang out in lower elevations. So I was on a mission to find them at higher elevations.

Bighorn sheep like several places in Yellowstone National Park. I was having some pretty good luck with these locations but only ewes and lambs from last year were using the areas. I was in search of rams.

While watching some wolves one morning, someone pointed out that a large herd of rams were resting on the nearby ridge - about 2000 feet up.

Now I do most of my traveling by myself. That usually means I don't venture too far from the road on hikes. In Yellowstone especially, the terrain can be rough and the bears can have some fun with you. But over the years I have yearned to venture into the backcountry of Yellowstone - to see what is over that next ridge and what wildlife might be just out of view of the road. So I decided that seeing those rams high up on the ridge was goal enough to get me past my fears of hiking alone.

So I bought my bear spray, loaded up on Cliff bars, memory cards and camera batteries, and off I went. Of course the day I decide to Bighorn_ram_94Bighorn_ram_94Two bighorn sheep rams (Ovis canadensis) fight with each other as two other rams join in the fun on a snowy slope in the high country of Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. hike up to see the rams they were no where to be seen on the ridge. Oh well, I wanted to see what was on the ridge anyway.

It was a burner of a hike - in the calves on the way up and the knees on the way down. Although it wasn't a long hike, it was steep. And there were several spots where there were false ridges - points where you think you have reached the top only to discover that another ridge lies ahead of you.

But it was worth it because when I neared the peak, I discovered what was occupying the rams' attention - a field of snow!

There were about 20 bighorn sheep. Five of the group were ewes and lambs from last year, and where hanging out to the side. There was a group of about five three to four-year-old rams who were still showing signs of their young age by bouncing through the snow like kids on the first snow day of the school year. But the rest of the group were older rams with huge curls and massive muscles.

At first I thought only the younger rams were enjoying the snow, but as I watched I realized that the young rams would charge towards the older group, who would then charge back and chase the younger rams. The snow went flying, heads went butting and horns were cracking. They were having a grand old time!

This went on for about an hour. And I was the only one to witness it. The time spent with those sheep was so peaceful, rewarding and entertaining. For those who have been to Yellowstone, you know how the crowds can get very, well crowded, along the roads. I avoid the park in July and August, and am seriously considering adding June to that list, but discovering the rams has taught me that Yellowstone is a very big place beyond those miles of roadway along the Grand Loop Road. I will get out there more frequently into the backcountry to experience those unique moments with the wildlife and the landscape.

Bighorn_sheep_106Bighorn_sheep_106A group of bighorn sheep rams (Ovis canadensis) chase two instigating young rams on a snowy slope in the high country of Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) National Park Wyoming Yellowstone bighorn hiking national parks photography rams sheep travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2014/6/hiking-with-the-bighorns Fri, 13 Jun 2014 21:16:33 GMT
Tip #56: Isolate Your Subject https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2014/1/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-56 Tip #56: Isolate Your Subject

Keep it clean. Avoid distractions. Isolate your subject. Tighten up the shot. Keep it simple.

There are a number of ways to say it but they all mean the same thing: keep that photo free of distractions by isolating your subject in the image. This may mean zooming in tighter or changing up the background so that there are no distractions to move a viewer's eye away from the main subject. This will make the subject really stand out and clearly communicate a story.

Growing up I had a friend that always told me a great acronym for a variety of situations: K.I.S.S. It stands for Keep It Simple Stupid. It applies well for this tip.

Another more famous variation on the same theme is the quote from novelist Henry James, who said, "In art, economy is always best."

So when composing your picture - ideally when taking the photo to avoid loss of pixels rather than cropping in post-processing - avoid too much in your shot.

There are lots of ways to do this - from zooming in to physically moving closer to your subject to changing the camera settings for shallow depth of field - but which way you choose will depend on the story you want to tell with your photo and how you want to best present the subject.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado K.I.S.S. Rocky Mountain landscape Rocky Mountain wildlife Rocky Mountain wildlife photographer Rocky Mountains avoid distractions composition depth of field isolate your subject keep it clean keep it simple landscapes nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photography tighten up the shot tips tips for nature photographers travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2014/1/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-56 Mon, 27 Jan 2014 08:43:20 GMT
Tip #55: Keep Yourself Organized https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2014/1/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-55 New Year's Day calls for resolutions right? Well, resolutions are usually something we should be doing anyway; the day just reminds us that we aren't.

One thing photographers usually aren't doing enough of is staying organized, and I am certainly guilty of this. So make it a point, as part of your daily photo routine, to clean out the old files, keep the new ones organized and back up as often as possible. Reduce space on your computer and hard drives by deleting photos you don't need - like those blurry landscapes and out of focus birds in flight. Move images off of your computer and onto external hard drives; your computer will thank you. And disconnect the backup hard drive when not in use.

Happy New Year!

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado back backup clean delete drive hard landscapes nature nature photography organization organize photo photograph photographer photography resolutions storage tips tips for nature photographers travel up wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2014/1/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-55 Thu, 02 Jan 2014 06:22:40 GMT
Tip #54: Anticipate, Anticipation, Anticipatory https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/12/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-54 All morning I had the Carly Simon song Anticipation running through my head. I couldn't figure out why until I looked at my photos from this mornings outing. I must of, at some point in the morning, triggered the word "anticipation" as a result of what I was photographing. And just like that, the song was in my head.

However you want to phrase it, anticipating your subject's actions will help to improve your photo. As I photograph wildlife, I have to anticipate what that animal might do. That means reading up about their behavior, studying them in the field, taking in the surroundings and being patient.

For example, this morning, I woke up a couple of hours before sunrise with hopes of going out to photograph some wildlife. It had snowed the night before and the temperature had dropped, but there were still clouds to the east and a little fog from the steam rising from warm water in the nearby rivers, ponds and streams. Would the clouds dissipate in time to let the sun shine through at sunrise?

I headed out to Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge east of Denver just as the sun was breaching the horizon - the clouds lifted. Anticipating the weather is an important - but uncontrollable - piece of nature photography. In Colorado, the day after a winter snow storm is very often a beautiful but cold, sunny day. Today lived up to that trend.

Bison_calf_49Bison_calf_49A bison calf (Bison bison) walks through the snow in the middle of the herd on a cold, snowy morning at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge in Commerce City, Colorado I first went to the north side of the driving tour at the Refuge in hopes of finding the bison. They were there - but on the wrong side of the fence. The light was getting gorgeous - warm and soft thanks to the fog in the cold air. But I noticed the pasture gate was open and that the bison were facing that gate. So I decided to wait. Sure enough, about 30 minutes later, that herd of about three dozen bison strolled down the fence line and through the gate right into beautiful morning sun and fresh snow on the ground.

Then I spotted a herd of mule deer in the distance near a lake at the Refuge. There were two bucks following about a dozen does and fawns. I considered at first that they were too far away but changed my mind when I reviewed the situation - they were using a game trail I had frequently seen them on in the past. This trail crosses the road near where I was so I decided to turn around and wait. Sure enough the does and fawns meandered down the trail and across the road. The buck followed and I captured some stellar shots of a buck coming over a ridge.

So in each situation, I reviewed the surroundings, referred back to a few memories of what I had seen and experienced in the past and created my own luck for some pretty good shots today.

As Louis Pasteur said, "Chance favors only the prepared mind." That includes our knowledge and insight that we bring with us to each location.

Happy shooting!

 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Arsenal Colorado Mountain National Refuge Rocky Wildlife anticipate anticipation anticipatory behavior bison composition historical history landscape landscapes nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography snow storm storms subject tips tips for nature photographers travel trend weather wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/12/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-54 Sun, 29 Dec 2013 20:16:21 GMT
Tip #53: When to Find a Foggy or Misty Morning https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/12/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-53 One of the prettiest effects, I think, when photographing nature is to capture an animal standing in their environment when it is misty or foggy. The moisture in the air softens the whole photo. By back-lighting the subject, their silhouette becomes even more abstract yet you still know exactly what you are looking at in the photo.

Yellowstone National Park is a fantastic place to experience this phenomenon as the warm waters from the thermals and rivers often gives off steam in the cold air of winter or cold mornings in spring and fall.

Most places where the temperature drops to freezing or below will experience this type of event. The best time to see it, however, is after a warm day or two.

For example, here in Colorado, we may have a warm streak in November or December that keeps the daytime temperatures in the 50s and 60s. This will warm up the water, especially shallow water that doesn't take as long to warm. Then, after a night when the temperature drops to freezing or lower right after those warm days, be prepared to go out the next morning to find a pond with the mist rising off the surface.

You will be very happy with the results. Just watch the exposure to make sure you don't blow out any highlights or underexpose the photo. The lighting can be tricky because of the darkness. Your camera may also want to focus on the mist or fog rather than your subject. Manual focusing can help solve this issue.

Happy shooting!

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado back light back lighting backlight composition fog foggy landscapes misty morning nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography silhouette tips tips for nature photographers travel weather wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/12/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-53 Sat, 28 Dec 2013 15:00:00 GMT
Busy month with lots of flattering recognition https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/12/busy-month-with-lots-of-flattering-recognition Busy month with lots of flattering recognition

As a business owner, I have to market myself. It is one of the hardest things to do for an artist. We would much rather be producing our craft than touting ourselves - most of us are pretty modest. But to make a living I need to spread the good word. And funny thing is that I have an MBA in Marketing, yet I still find it so hard to market myself.

So here is a little self-promotion and good news - I certainly needed some after this crazy year.

Teton FallTeton FallSunset at Oxbow Bend in Grand Teton National Park

  • One of my photographs was recently purchased for display in the new Comprehensive Cancer Center at Exempla Health in Lafayette, Colo. The art selection committee was looking for pieces that communicated a sense of calm and peace. I am so very flattered that my photo will help in the healing process of those fighting such a difficult disease.
  • Red Rocks Lake SunriseRed Rocks Lake SunriseBeams of light from the morning sun break through the trees on the east side of Red Rocks Lake in the Indian Peaks Wilderness in Colorado. Five of my photos were selected as part of the top 250 finalists in the International Share the View Photo Contest sponsored by the Audubon Society of Denver. One of the images, the Pan of the Ram, will be part of the print display at The Wildlife Experience Museum in Parker, Colo. from mid-January to mid-February. There was an amazing collection of photos selected for both groups and I am very honored to be included with such wonderful talent from around the world.

Arctic_Fox_2Arctic_Fox_2An arctic fox (Alopex lagopus) lies on a snowy rock while licking his lips near Churchill, Manitob, Canada. Bighorn_ram_pan_30Bighorn_ram_pan_30A bighorn lamb (Ovis canadensis) runs across a mountainside producing a panning effect near Empire, Colorado River_otter_2River_otter_2A female river otter wakes up from a nap on her bed of grasses on a log at Trout Lake in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. White-tailed_ptarmigan_19White-tailed_ptarmigan_19A white-tailed ptarmigan (Lagopus leucurus) hides in the snow as the sun sets at Guanella Pass, Colorado.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Audubon Society of Denver International Share the View Photo Contest National Wildlife Federation blog busy marketing nature nature photography photo photography recognition self-promotion https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/12/busy-month-with-lots-of-flattering-recognition Fri, 27 Dec 2013 14:40:09 GMT
Tip #52: Leave a Little Breathing Room https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/12/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-52 When photographing wildlife, or any subject for that matter, it is important to give your subject a little breathing room in the composition but not so much that the subject gets lost in the photo.

Some questions to ask yourself:

  • Is there enough room around the subject to frame the photo without cutting off any of the subject?
  • Is there enough room to crop the photo for photo printing and composition without cutting off any of the subject?

Although I love this photo of the alpha male of the Canyon Pack in Yellowstone National Park staring straight at me, I was disappointed that when this photo is framed, the left front foot is cut off a little. I photographed this beautiful animal with a 500mm lens - I couldn't zoom out and this is full frame - he was that close! And because he was that close it was best to stay in my vehicle so I couldn't move back. But ideally a 200-400 mm zoom lens would have done this subject much better. There are also ways to edit this photo in Photoshop to help resolve the issue (more about that in another blog post).

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado Wyoming Yellowstone National Park animal breathing room canine composition nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photography subject tips tips for nature photographers travel wildlife wolf https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/12/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-52 Tue, 10 Dec 2013 07:15:00 GMT
Tip #51: Read the Fine Print on Insurance Policies https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/12/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-51 Without going into the long, drawn out details, I need to firmly emphasize to read all find print in the insurance policy you purchase for your camera equipment. Many photographers who work full-time yet enjoy photography as a side business, small business, sell a print once in a while or hope to someday sell a print so they advertise their work will be considered commercial photographers by an insurance company. The rider you add to your homeowner's policy, or even just your homeowner's policy, will NOT cover the loss of your camera gear, whether through theft, burglary or damage, if you are a commercial photographer. I found this out after the fact.

I am not an insurance salesperson, an insurance adjuster or a lawyer, so I am only providing this tip as advice from my own experience. When you purchase an insurance policy for your equipment - and I highly recommend you do if you have any significant value invested in the equipment - make sure you ask the right questions.

I recently explained it to a fellow colleague like this. In the movie I, Robot, Dr. Alfred Lanning, played by James Cromwell, says to Will Smith's character, Del Spooner, "That is not the right question," when Spooner tries to figure out why Sonny the Robot is different. Eventually Spooner gets an enthusiastic, "That, Spooner, is the right question."

Working with insurance companies is kind of like that - you must ask the right questions to get the answers you need.

 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado animal burglary composition damage homeowners insurance homeowners insurance riders insurance insurance policies insurance riders insure insuring camera gear landscapes nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography protect theft tips tips for nature photographers travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/12/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-51 Mon, 09 Dec 2013 18:53:08 GMT
Tip #50: Use All of Your Senses https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/12/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-50 As humans I think we rely on our sense of sight most frequently, but sometimes allowing our other senses to take over can open up new possibilities. For a photographer, this may mean hearing a stream off trail or the call of a bird.

In particular, using other senses for wildlife photography can be particularly helpful. Listen for the bugle of a distant bull elk during the rut to find the direction to seek him out. Look for scrapings on trees to see where mule deer bucks may have passed through an area. Listen for the faint rustle of leaves to find a small mouse or rabbit hiding in the brush. Pick up the scent of a bobcat through the smell of its urine. If you are really ambitious (and I can't say I go this far but I have seen others do it), use your sense of touch to see how fresh scat may be on a trail.

Putting all of your senses together rather than looking at the obvious may help you find an animal faster and in an interesting activity for a great action shot.

 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado animal animals composition landscape landscapes morning nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography senses sight smell sound taste tips tips for nature photographers touch tracking travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/12/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-50 Sun, 08 Dec 2013 09:45:00 GMT
Tip #49: Photograph Wildlife the Day After a Storm https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/12/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-49 Although a windy day might be tough to find wildlife to photograph, the day after a storm, or shortly after a storm ends, can be one of the best times to find and photograph critters. )Clearing storms are also wonderful for landscape photos.) The animals have been hunkered down to avoid the wind, rain or snow, and are now hungry and need to get up to stretch or dry off. Think of how stir crazy you can feel after a couple of days of being inside during a storm, and how good it can feel to get back outside when the weather clears up. Wildlife gets the same way.

Birds of prey will start preening their feathers shortly after rain or snow stops. Once the sun comes out they will stretch their wings to warm back up in the natural heat. Tracks in fresh snow can be much easier to see so use them to find the coyote searching for a tasty meal or the snowshoe hare moving from bush to bush.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado animals best days to photograph wildlife hungry landscape landscapes nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography rain snow storm stretch tips tips for nature photographers travel weather wildlife wind https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/12/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-49 Sat, 07 Dec 2013 09:30:00 GMT
Tip #48: Avoid Photographing Wildlife on Windy Days https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/12/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-48 My photographic passion is to take pictures of wildlife. In particular, I enjoy trekking to the high latitudes and altitudes the most where the cold-loving critters live. These extreme locations are frequently windy so I adjust my wildlife search to avoid the wind. For example, on windy days at the edge of the alpine tundra I will look for white-tailed ptarmigan on the leeward side of the willow bushes where the branches block the wind for the birds.

I have found over the years that animals just don't like to be out in the wind. Wind zaps them of their energy, especially cold wind in the winter (think of how dried out and beaten you feel after being out in the wind). It can prevent them from hearing or smelling approaching predators or from finding prey. A really windy day may kick up a lot of sand or snow that can get in eyes and ears (and camera equipment).

So of all weather conditions I have found windy days produce the least amount of stunning wildlife photos.

If you do decide to photograph wildlife on a windy day (or that is the only day available to you due to a work or travel schedule), by all means, go out and take the pictures but adjust your search. Look for animals behind objects that will block the wind for them, such as buildings, bushes, or hills. And be sure to protect your equipment by putting something around your camera, such as a LensCoat.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado LensCoat leeward nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography tips tips for nature photographers travel weather wildlife wind windy https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/12/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-48 Fri, 06 Dec 2013 09:15:00 GMT
Tip #47: Enjoy Your Work https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/12/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-47 Photography can be a very difficult way to make a living. The price for stock photography has dropped considerably since the availability of photos on the Internet. Digital camera equipment has made the photographic pursuit much more available to a larger group of photographers.

As soon as you change your photography to photographing what sells versus what you like to photograph you may start to see a change in the quality of your photographs. Your passion may disappear from the subject matter and that can surprisingly show up sometimes in your work.

So even if you want to pursue photography as a career, or want to keep it as a hobby, find your passion and stick with it. Get out and take pictures to enjoy taking pictures and the outdoors.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado animal animals enjoy enjoyment landscape landscapes nature nature photography passion photo photograph photographer photographers photography tips tips for nature photographers travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/12/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-47 Thu, 05 Dec 2013 09:15:00 GMT
Tip #46: Set Your Camera to Auto White Balance https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/12/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-46 Light in different conditions or from different sources emits different colors or tones. This is referred to as color temperature. Clear blue skies and cloudy days give off a cooler blue tone. Sunset light tends to be warmer or red. Tungsten light emits a yellow tone while candlelight emits a red tone.

All of these variations in color temperature will affect the overall appearance of your photograph.

Over the course of a day or even in a few minutes of photographing outdoors, the color temperature of the light can change drastically. Think of a partly cloudy day when the clouds pass in front of the sun blocking the warm light and then the light changes just as fast as the sun reappears from behind the clouds. Adjusting for these drastic changes in light can be difficult to react to quickly.

The simple solution I have found is to leave your camera set to auto white balance, a feature found in the main menu of your camera. By using this setting, your camera will automatically adjust for the color of light through changes in the white balance.

Of course, selecting your own white balance setting can create some very interesting artistic effects, but may make adjusting for the color balance in post-processing more cumbersome.

Another option is to set your camera to auto white balance and then create different variations in post-processing by using the different white balance presets found in most post-processing software.

As with previous tips, if time and the situation allow, try different settings. You just never know what kind of creative photo you may come up with depending on the conditions at the time.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado animal animals auto white balance color color temperature composition cool kelvin landscape landscapes light nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography sunrise sunset tips tips for nature photographers tone travel tungsten warm white balance wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/12/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-46 Wed, 04 Dec 2013 08:57:24 GMT
Tip #45: Be Open to Critique https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/11/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-45 Photography, like many forms of art, is very subjective. Our best friends may love our work yet the professionals may bash it, or vice versa. So be open to critiques and take all that people have to say - whether it is positive or negative - and think about those suggestions, reviews and ideas each time you snap the shutter.

You would be amazed at how often that little comment about a distracting blob in the lower portion of your photo starts to pop into your head when you are photographing an animal in a busy landscape. Or that comment about how the eyes looked off of the image rather than into it.

There are a thousand comments that could be said about a photo. Sometimes the comments can be harsh and sometimes the comments can be very inspiring. Take each one and store it away in a brain cell. It will pop into your conscious mind on occasion and make your photo just a little bit better.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado animal animals comments composition critique improvements landscape landscapes nature nature photography open mind opinions photo photograph photographer photographers photography subjective suggestions tips tips for nature photographers travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/11/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-45 Tue, 26 Nov 2013 07:30:00 GMT
Tip #44: Clean Up Spots in Post Processing https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/11/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-44 Even after cleaning the image sensor and the glass of the lens you are bound to have spots on your images once in a while. Not removing these in post-processing is a sure sign of an amateur so take the time to clean up these spots.

This is one of the first steps I do in post-processing when in Photoshop. Lightroom 5- the latest version - has an improved spot removal tool, but I still prefer to do my clean up in Photoshop.

In Photoshop, zoom into your image to at least 100%. Scroll through each area of the image looking for imperfections that appear as round discolorations or light gray areas. Use the Elliptical Marque Tool to select the round dust spots. Then, to quickly replace the spot, select Shift-F5. Select Content Aware in the Use drop-down menu, Normal in the Mode drop-down menu, and 100% for the opacity. Select Ctrl-D in Windows or Command-D on the Mac to deselect the area. This feature will automatically adjust the selected area to match the surroundings.

 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Adobe Adobe Photoshop Colorado Lightroom" amateur animal animals clean clean up cleaning composition content aware landscape landscapes nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography post processing professional spot removal spots tips tips for nature photographers travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/11/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-44 Sun, 24 Nov 2013 20:30:00 GMT
Tip #43: Use the Sensor Cleaner on Your Camera https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/11/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-tip-43 Many of the newer camera bodies have a feature to clean the sensor area. Although it is still best to have your camera body, and lenses, cleaned by a professional once in a while, it is a great idea to clean the sensor on your own as well. This feature is available through the main menu and only takes less than a minute to complete.

For example, on my Nikon D800 and D3s this feature is available under the setup menu.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado animal animals clean cleaning composition landscapes menu nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography sensor sensor cleaner tips tips for nature photographers travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/11/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-tip-43 Sat, 23 Nov 2013 20:45:00 GMT
Tip #42: Give Your Equipment Some TLC https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/11/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-42 Camera equipment is expensive and we usually tend to buy the most expensive equipment our budget will allow. So take good care of it. Buy some lens cleaner and a lint-free cloth to clean the glass. Most camera shops stock inexpensive kits. Keep a blower in your bag to blow off the dust from the lens and sensor. DO NOT use the strong dust blowers in pressurized cans; they can wedge dust further into your camera due to their strength. Rather use a hand-held rubber bladder type dust blower. I have been very happy with the VisibleDust Zeeion Blower Sensor Cleaner. It is light and takes up little space in the camera bag, and has come in very handy when in the field to quickly blow off dust spots.

And certainly take your camera and lenses to a local repair shop to have it cleaned and lubricated once in a while. One of the best times to do this is after a trip that has taken a beating on your camera, such as in a dusty or wet area.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado TLC VisibleDust Zeeion Blower Sensor Cleaner animal animals camera care clean cleaning composition equipment landscape last lasting lenses nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography protect tender loving care tips tips for nature photographers travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/11/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-42 Sat, 23 Nov 2013 06:40:46 GMT
Tip #41: Shoot in RAW https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/11/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-41 Most digital cameras today have the option to select the file format and size. If you plan on doing any editing of your photo - either today or possibly someday in the future - shoot those photos in the RAW file format.

RAW is exactly that - the raw data of the photo file without any compression or changes made by the camera. These are the largest files with the best detail you can get out of your camera.

I also recommend shooting some form of JPG image. JPGS are lossy files, meaning they are compressed and data (or bytes) may be lost in the compression process by your camera. Your camera adjusts for these changes based on what it thinks is most logical.

Having a jpg file allows you to have a quick preview image to use once you download your photos. If just using the JPG file as a preview, a small file size (basic is the smallest, lowest quality; fine is the largest, highest quality) will work just fine.

NOTE: Since originally posting this tip I have stopped capturing JPG files. I have also gone back into my storage and started deleting the JPG files. Although they are handy to have to quickly look for a photo in a folder, many software applications, such as Adobe Lightroom, have file management tools within the program. Save the pixels on your hard drives for more great photos!

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado JPG RAW animal animals composition file format file size image quality image size landscape landscapes lossy nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography quality shooting format tips tips for nature photographers travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/11/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-41 Fri, 15 Nov 2013 07:15:00 GMT
Tip #38: Use the Histogram on Your Camera https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/11/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-tip-38 One of the great beauties of digital photography versus film is that you can review your photo immediately. This allows you to recompose, change settings and check for detail in the shot.

Digital cameras also give you the opportunity to verify immediately if you have blown out your highlights or saturated your shadows to complete black. This is important in digital photography because once the whites in your photo have been blown out - in other words, lost all detail - you cannot recapture those in post-processing (in most cases).

You can check for the blow outs using the histogram feature on the camera. It appears as a graph in either white on a black background or multiple graphs in red, blue, green and white on black backgrounds.

If the graph hits or spikes on the right end, you have blown out your highlights and lost all detail in the whites. If the graph hits or spikes on the left end, you have saturated the blacks to the point of losing details.

Another method of checking if the highlights are blown out is to use the "blinkies" or the flashing whites on your preview photo on the back of the camera. You can find how to use this feature in the owner manual for the camera.

The easiest fix is to adjust your exposure or use exposure compensation and retake the photo.

Practicing proper exposure will certainly help to prevent this from happening in the future since not all photos can be retaken - think of your once in a lifetime view of a wolverine crossing the road in front of you.

 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado animal animals blacks blow outs composition graph histogram landscape landscapes nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography review tips tips for nature photographers travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/11/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-tip-38 Thu, 14 Nov 2013 07:15:00 GMT
Tip #40: Be Patient https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/11/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-40 Okay, so this is a repeat tip, but it is something I really can't stress enough.

I spent the past week in the Churchill, Manitoba area photographing polar bears, Arctic fox, willow ptarmigan and some beautiful landscapes. One of the fellow Tundra Buggy riders came up to me to comment how impressed he was with my patience to photograph the polar bears. He also noted I was the only one capturing some action thanks to that patience.

Being patient won't always guarantee a cover-photo worthy shot, but it will provide you with the opportunity to witness wildlife in their element, take in the full breadth of the colors of a beautiful sunset, or capture that single moment when an animal decides to change up his activity.

Being patient also means having the right clothing so you can handle the elements. The temperature hovered well below freezing on the back deck of the Tundra Buggy as the 50 mph winds whipped around the snow on the Arctic tundra, but a good pair of gloves, warm hat and my Eddie Bauer 850 fill down jacket kept me comfortable to photograph the magic of Arctic wildlife.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Arctic Colorado Tundra Buggy animal animals cold composition down jacket landscape landscapes nature nature photography patience photo photograph photographer photographers photography polar bear tips tips for nature photographers travel tundra wildlife wind https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/11/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-40 Wed, 13 Nov 2013 19:01:46 GMT
Tip #39: Maintain a Clean Background Behind Your Subject https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/11/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-38 This tip applies nicely for wildlife, people, flowers or any other subject that would be in a portrait situation.

You want your viewer to look at the subject in your photo, not the distractions behind your subject. This can be accomplished by:

  1. moving your subject to a better background - say a solid wood side of a building rather than the clutter piling up behind the building
  2. shooting with a wide open aperture (f2.8, f4, etc) to give a smooth bokeh
  3. give some breathing room between the background and your subject - the more space the further the background is from your lens and the more blurred it will become
  4. crop in tighter

But you can't always move your subject, especially when it comes to photographing wildlife. Of course you can move your position and sometimes this will work. Unfortunately your wild subject might move as you move.

So remain patient and keep an eye out for the distractions.

Example of cluttered background that can work because it adds to the scene

The leaves behind the buck provide information that this photo was taken in fall, an important time of year for bucks as they go into the mating season. The wide open aperture for this photo (f6.3) helps blur the background and therefore reduce some of the clutter.

white-tailed_buck_13white-tailed_buck_13A white-tailed deer buck (Odocoileus virginianus) stands in front of a tree in fall colors on a foggy day at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge in Commerce City, Colorado. Example of an uncluttered background to draw viewer's attention to the subject

Ice CrystalsIce Crystals

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado animals background clean background clutter composition distractions flowers focus landscape landscapes nature nature photography people photo photograph photographer photographers photography portrait portraits subject tips tips for nature photographers travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/11/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-38 Sun, 03 Nov 2013 17:30:00 GMT
Tip #37: Isolate Your Subject on Its Background https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/11/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-37 When I photograph wildlife I don't always have the luxury of placing my subject on the best backgrounds like I would with a model in a studio. But that doesn't mean I shouldn't be doing my best to get the photos of animals on a good background.

The term "isolate" means to keep your subject free of distractions in the background. This could mean branches, bushes, buildings, or any other object that draws the eye away from your subject.

A great way to do this is to use a wide open aperture (f2.8, f4, etc) so you increase the blurriness of the background (bokeh). Another option is to look for wildlife in areas without the clutter of trees and bushes, such as on an open prairie. Try getting down low and really composing your subject without all the distracting features around your subject. As possible, compose your subject on a contrasting background (white bird on dark sand; dark moose against blue sky).

Bald_Eagle_DH_1Bald_Eagle_DH_1An adult bald eagle looks directly at the camera on a wet, cloudy day in Dutch Harbor, Unalaska, Alaska.

 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado animal animals background composition distracting distractions isolate subject landscape landscapes nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography rain subject tips tips for nature photographers travel weather wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/11/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-37 Fri, 01 Nov 2013 16:15:00 GMT
Tip #36: Eye Contact Versus No Eye Contact https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/10/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-36 The usual rule of thumb for photographing wildlife is to get eye contact, and the eye should be tack sharp and have a catch light. Snap those photos when that animal is looking directly at you. It makes for a very powerful image and a wonderful experience in nature.

But I believe rules in photography are meant to be broken. So I also take photos of animals looking in different directions in addition to the direct eye contact.

Some of my favorite photos of wildlife are those that make it seem like the animal is pondering his/her existence in a vast landscape. I also like the portrait shot when the animal seems to be looking just beyond the camera - like a buck looking for a doe or a mountain goat kid looking for his mom.

Bighorn_Ram_16Bighorn_Ram_16Bighorn ram eating grasses near Georgetown, Colorado

Mountain_goat_15Mountain_goat_15A newborn mountain goat stands on the edge of a rocky cliff at Mt. Evans, Colorado.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado animal animals break the rules composition connection eye contact impact landscapes nature nature photography no eye contact photo photograph photographer photographers photography rules tack sharp tips tips for nature photographers travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/10/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-36 Thu, 31 Oct 2013 16:15:00 GMT
Tip #35: Avoid Online Travel Agencies https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/10/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-35 I travel a lot. In the last year I have flown more than 65,000 miles across North America. I was supposed to go to Africa as well but that is a long story what happened to that trip. But on these travels, including the Africa trip, I learned a hard lesson - don't use online travel agencies.

These are the online travel booking companies that make trips sound perfect and cheaper. But they don't always have the best price, and definitely don't have any ounce of decent customer service.

In particular, I have stopped using Travelocity and Cheap Tickets. I am close to no longer using Expedia as I discovered their fees are some of the highest in the industry.

Yes, these online booking sites make booking convenient but in the long run they don't pay off.

Your better option is to go directly to the airline and hotel websites. Hotels pay markup fees to these online booking companies. By going directly to the hotel you will save a few dollars. Finding hotels in small towns can be difficult. Try the Chamber of Commerce in your destination town for a list of members. By booking directly with the airline you may get more frequent flyer points and find a sale not offered through the online sites.

Of course you could take a look at an online travel agent site to see a list of hotels or to compare airfares with different airlines. But book direct. The airline, hotel and rental car companies have much more vested in you as a customer and will show you that in great customer service.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Cheap Tickets Expedia Travelocity airfare car rentals hotels nature nature photography online travel agencies photographer photography tips tips for nature photographers travel https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/10/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-35 Wed, 30 Oct 2013 23:51:28 GMT
Tip #34: Try Different Lenses https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/10/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-34 As primarily a wildlife photographer, I rely on my long lenses to get the closest photos of the animals without intruding in the animal's space. The majority of the time I use a 500mm or 200-400mm lens.

But frequently I will switch out to my 70-300mm lens to get a photo of an animal in its environment. The wider angle at 70mm brings in more of the background but the lens still gives a little compression.

I have also done the reverse for a landscape photo. For example, using a 500mm lens on a full moon setting over a mountain ridge will give a tremendous compression effect that makes the moon look substantially larger in the photo.

As with a few other tips, go with the traditional first, especially in a situation that might change quickly. But if timer permits, switch out that lens or keep a different type of lens on a second camera body.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado animal animals change composition different lenses landscape landscapes lens lenses nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography tips tips for nature photographers travel variety wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/10/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-34 Tue, 29 Oct 2013 18:54:49 GMT
The changing times of camera and pen https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/10/camera-and-pen-coming-to-an-end Dawn Wilson's travels across North America

I budgeted enough money, time, effort and travel for six months to tackle photography, writing and exploring at a blazing pace. In that six months plus the previous six while working an office job I put more than 45,000 miles on my car. I flew more than 65,000 miles across North America - from southern Florida to northern Alaska. I saw 11 national parks and visited 11 national wildlife refuges. I filled up 8 GB of hard drive space with photo files. I captured more than 200,0000 pictures. I met some amazing people over those twelve months. I climbed my first 14,000 foot + mountain (three actually) and a 13,000 foot + mountain. And I spent a lot of time with some of the most beautiful wild animals of North America - bald eagles, fox, polar bears, brown bears, black bears, bison, prairie chickens, sage grouse, humpback whales, orcas, countless birds, numerous different raptors, bighorn sheep, moose, caribou, muskox, sandhill cranes, snow geese, mule deer, white-tailed deer, elk, osprey, wolves, coyotes, sea otters, river otters, badgers, wild horses, pronghorn antelope, beavers, muskrats, turtles, alligators, rock ptarmigan, white-tailed ptarmigan, chipmunks, ground squirrels, wild turkeys, prairie dogs, Dall's sheep, snowshoe hares, weasels, mountain goats, marmots, harbor seals, sea lions, Dall's porpoises, porcupine, great horned owls, burrowing owls, wild burros, raccoons, javelinas, and pikas.

Although pursuing photography, writing and exploring at this pace may be coming to an end, I will continue with my photography and writing as it prospers, grows, expands and fulfills my greatest passions and dreams in life. I will continue to take pictures every day if I can, albeit in between the hours of work and other responsibilities. And I will continue to write and publish about those adventures - from the past and future ones still to come. (I will reschedule my trip to Africa, and I am looking forward to amazing photography of snowy owls, great gray owls and Northern Lights in a few months. I also still have a very lengthy list of destinations around the world to spend more time with the amazing critters - South Georgia Island and Galapagos Islands anyone???)

These six months were designed to reinforce a hard lesson - that life is short and we should live every moment to the fullest. Living to the fullest is different for each of us. For me it was about seeing more of this beautiful world and truly finding myself. I needed to discover what my true likes and dislikes were, what drives me, what brings tears to my eyes and what makes me angry enough to take action.

I lost two people in the last year who meant the world to me. They were my rocks - albeit different perspectives on that rock - and my guidance. The world feels very lonely without them but I now know more about myself because of these wonderful travels that these two men prepared me for over the course of my life.

I now hope to take the experiences, knowledge and wisdom I have developed in these 12 months and put it towards helping this world. Although I haven't quite figured out that specific plan just yet I have a few ideas in the works.

Stay tuned for more to come - more photos, more stories, more presentations, more books, and much more wisdom about how to live in balance with life, the world, our families, our friends and our dreams.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Alaska California Colorado Dall's porpoises Dall's sheep Dawn Wilson Photography Florida North America alligators animals badters bald eagles beavers bighorn sheep birds bison brown bears burrowing owl caribou chipmunks collared pecary coyotes deer elk environment exploring fourteeners fox great horned owl ground squirrels harbor seasl heartache hiking humpback whales javelina life is short life lessons live life to the fullest marmots moose mountain goats mountains mule deer muskox muskrats nature orcas osprey photo photography photos pika polar bears porcupine prairie chickens priaire dogs pronghorn antelope raccoon raptors river otters rock ptarmigan sage grouse sandhill cranes sea lions sea otters snow geese snowshoe hares thirteeners travel turtles weasels white-tailed deer white-tailed ptarmigan wild burro wild horses wild turkeys wildlife wolves https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/10/camera-and-pen-coming-to-an-end Mon, 28 Oct 2013 21:33:24 GMT
Tip #33: ...But Try Different Eye Levels https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/10/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-33 But even though taking a photograph at a subject's eye level might be the ideal, the mood of a photograph can greatly change by changing your view on the subject.

For example, if a magazine asked you to take the photos for a story they were publishing about the fear of bears, you might want to photograph a bear from lower than eye level. This would give the readers of the article the perception that those bears are even bigger than they already are. Or if you wanted to show how much you love wood ducks, you might want to get as low to the ground as possible to show the size of the duck as bigger than in real life to communicate that message of importance to you.

So again, take the ideal shots but then mix it up because you just never know what you might see in post processing that catches your eye.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) composition different eye contact eye level high importance landscapes low nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography significance tips tips for nature photographers travel try wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/10/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-33 Thu, 24 Oct 2013 20:45:00 GMT
Tip #32: Shoot at Eye Level https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/10/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-32 When photographing anything that has eyes - from people to birds to camels - the best connection with the subject will be if the viewer can make eye contact. That is usually best represented at eye level.

For wildlife, I do my best to move around to get to eye level. For ducks swimming on a pond, that usually means sitting down low on the bank or even laying down on the ground. For something taller, like a moose, I sometimes will stand on a small box. For taller animals, standing further away will also help you get to eye level or standing on a nearby mound, hill or ridge.

The reason for this is perception. Our minds perceive something that we look down on as insignificant (think of a boss standing over his desk yelling at an employee sitting in a chair). If we look up at something, our minds perceive that subject as superior to us (think of a child looking up at a parent). Shooting at eye level gives us equal significance.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado animal animals composition eye contact eye level importance landscapes nature nature photography perception photo photograph photographer photographers photography significance tips tips for nature photographers travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/10/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-32 Wed, 23 Oct 2013 20:45:00 GMT
Tip #31: Try Different Camera Settings https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/10/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-31 In the days of film, the cost of developing the film with unknown results and the time it took to make setting changes in the field may have hindered some from experimenting with those settings. But digital cameras make resetting those options quick and easy, and pixels are cheap. So go ahead and try different looks.

Start with the obvious for a landscape photo, such as f22 with a shutter speed that gets you the perfect histogram. But then try that landscape at f22 with a low ISO and a slow shutter and zoom into the scene for an abstract of swirling colors. Or photograph the sandhill crane with a wide open aperture of f4 to really increase the bokeh and soften the background. But then try a low ISO with a slow shutter speed and pan with the sandhill crane as it flys in front of you to blur the background of the bird to show movement.

Settings are endless so keep trying. You never know what new technique you might discover.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado animal animals bokeh change settings changes composition effect effects nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography pixels settings tips tips for nature photographers travel try wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/10/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-31 Tue, 22 Oct 2013 20:32:34 GMT
Tip #30: Try All Different Angles https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/10/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-tip-30 Let's start talking a little about composition.

Digital cameras have provided us the opportunity to take many, many photos and then look at them later to decide what we want to keep and what gets discarded. Use this ability, which would have been very, very expensive with film, to shoot all of the different angles of a scene. Start by taking the scene horizontally, then try vertical, then try low, then try looking down on the scene, and then try zooming into different focal points. Other options include moving so the angle of the light changes or changing your aperture so the depth of field effect might be different.

You might be surprised which versions you like in post processing.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado angles animal animals composition digital cameras high horizontal landscape landscapes low nature nature photography perspective photo photograph photographer photographers photography tips tips for nature photographers travel vertical view wide wildlife zoom https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/10/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-tip-30 Sun, 20 Oct 2013 13:00:00 GMT
Tip #29: Read the Fine Print https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/10/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-tip-29 In my very first tip I suggested getting travel insurance for those big trips that cost a lot of money, time and effort. I am talking about those exotic type trips to Africa, Antarctica, South Georgia Island, Galapagos Islands, etc.

I am adding a caveat: read the fine print. Many of these policies have been written with so many loopholes and specific verbiage. That verbiage will result in your trip not being covered.

So many things can happen to a trip - from a death in the family to a medical incident to embezzlement of the guide company. Call the insurance company and ask what might NOT be covered. Due diligence may help you in the long run.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Africa Antarctic Colorado Galapagos animal animals composition embezzlement exotic fine print insurance landscape landscapes nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography tips tips for nature photographers travel travel insurance trip wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/10/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-tip-29 Sat, 19 Oct 2013 12:47:59 GMT
Tip #28: Take Notes https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/10/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-tip-28 Before the days of cell phones, iPads and other mobile devices, photographers would use small notepads to record locations, frame number, settings, and other such important information about the photos they captured. Today, you can use your phone as a notepad.

For every trip I take and destination I visit I create a note on my Apple iPhone® or iPad®. Although my camera will record all of the details about the settings for each photo, I continue to record data about location, best time of day for the light, weather conditions, what I saw, and any other information that may be helpful later. In particular, I rely on these notes for writing captions, naming and organizing photos in case I forget the location, and for writing the articles where the photo might be used.

So take notes and take lots of notes to help simplify your writing, captioning and organizing later.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado animal animals composition devices iPad iPhone information location locations mobile nature nature photography notes photo photograph photographer photographers photography remember take notes tips tips for nature photographers travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/10/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-tip-28 Wed, 16 Oct 2013 20:26:34 GMT
Tip #27: Study Your Subject https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/10/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-27 I have often been heard saying that photography is only 10% of my time. The other 90% includes a wide variety of activities to make me a better photographer (see my blog post about this subject from December 14, 2012) including researching my subjects.

My favorite subject to photograph is wildlife, and I spend most of my time photographing the wildlife of the Rocky Mountains and Alaska. I always do a lot of research and reading prior to going out to any new location, but I also research and read material after seeing a new behavior or just to keep up my knowledge. I have found that this helps me anticipate a behavior worthy of photographing (think of bighorn rams battling - how do you know when they are getting ready to ram heads?) and to be in the right location for the best photos.

The same would go for landscape photography. What are the seasons like at that location? What kind of weather might you encounter? What are the best vantage points? How can you predict the best weather?

So read up, take notes, and prepare the best you can to improve your success rate and reduce wasting time.

 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado animal animals composition landscapes lanscapes nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography prepare read research review subject tips tips for nature photographers travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/10/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-27 Tue, 15 Oct 2013 19:30:00 GMT
Tip #26: Get Used to Being Up Before the Sun https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/10/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-26 As I mentioned in the previous tip, my preference is to be up and out taking pictures at the first light of the day. That means I don't sleep in very often (but I have discovered the beauty of mid-day naps).

The best pictures are taken in morning light when the cold of the night meets the warming light of the sun. Animals start to stir for the day or might be coming back from an evening of hunting. And clouds linger in the sky before the sun of the day has a chance to burn them off.

Sunset can also produce some interesting light and clouds but I have found that I run into more traffic, more people and less wildlife activity later in the day.

So enjoy this special time of day and get used to being up before the sun. Remember to budget plenty of time to get to your destination. Or better yet, drive up the night before and car camp at your photo spot.

 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado animal animals before sun composition early first light goal landscape landscapes morning nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography sunrise tips tips for nature photographers travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/10/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-26 Mon, 14 Oct 2013 19:30:00 GMT
Tip #25: Dont' Worry About the Dishes https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/10/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-25 I am notorious for trying to get everything done before I leave the house so I work hard to remind myself that those dishes and all the other little pesky chores will be there when I get home; the beautiful colors of a sunrise or the activity of waking animals will not.

So don't worry about the dishes. Get out of the house as early as you can to enjoy what I think is the best time of day - first light and early morning. About 15 minutes before to about 15 minutes after sunrise on a morning with just a few high clouds in the sky produces some amazing light. And wildlife always tends to be most active in the morning hours.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado animal animals chores composition dishes landscape landscapes leave morning nature nature photographer nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography tips tips for nature photographers travel weather wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/10/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-25 Mon, 14 Oct 2013 05:22:03 GMT
Tip #24: Keep an Open Mind https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/10/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-24 In the last few tips I talked about setting goals for your photography and photo outings. But the most important thing to remember is to keep an open mind and enjoy what you are doing. Enjoy being in the outdoors and seeing the beauty of our planet, whether it is in your backyard or in a far away destination. Some of my favorite photos were taken in the most unexpected locations. You never know what critter might cross your path or what changes may take place in the sky for a sunset photo.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado animal animals composition goal keep an open mind landscape landscapes nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography tips tips for nature photographers travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/10/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-24 Sun, 13 Oct 2013 00:00:00 GMT
Tip #23: Set a Goal for Each Photo Outing https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/10/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-23 Each time I head out into the field to photograph my favorite subject - wildlife - I make a plan for what I want to see. Sometimes it works out and I come home with a great set of photos. Other days I bomb out completely without any seeing any critters. And most days I come home with a mix of subjects I wanted to photograph and some unanticipated subjects.

For example, I write on my calendar for each month of the year what are the best wildlife subjects for that month, such as photographing bighorn rams during the rut in November and December. So I plan my days late in the year to go to those locations where I most anticipate seeing these majestic animals that are the state mammal for Colorado. Does that mean I wouldn't want to see a pine marten, mountain lion or elk on those outings? Absolutely not, and I would certainly stop to take their picture if the situation was photo worthy. And vice versa is the same; I would photograph bighorn rams in other months of the year.

But I would become very overwhelmed if I was looking for all the critters I might see in an area in one day. Plus my eyes get programmed to look for the signs of bighorn sheep, which makes my success rate for seeing them increase - they blend in incredibly well on the rocky mountainsides.

So set your goals and watch your success rate increase.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado animal animals composition goal landscapes narrow nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography success targets tips tips for nature photographers travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/10/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-23 Sat, 12 Oct 2013 00:00:00 GMT
Tip #22: Set a Goal for Each Photo Day https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/10/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-22 As busy as I may get I do something for my photography every day. Some days this means an all day outing to find elk bugling during the rut. Other days it may mean staying at home in my pj's and editing all day. Other days I may only be able to devote one hour to watching a video or reading an article. But every day I do something to improve or expand my photography.

One way to ensure you succeed in a daily task for photography is to write it down. Make a list of what you want to accomplish in photography or write a daily goal on your calendar. Writing it down makes it more tangible and therefore more likely you will accomplish it. Plus it feels good when you can mark the task complete because you know you just became a little better at taking pictures.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado animal animals composition daily goal goals landscape landscapes nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography tips tips for nature photographers travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/10/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-22 Fri, 11 Oct 2013 00:00:00 GMT
Tip #21: Don't Try to Do It All https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/10/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-21 Nature happens every minute of every day in every place around us. We would go insane trying to capture all of it all the time. Plus chasing everything all the time would never leave you time to edit, research, or read this blog!

So narrow down your focus to a few subjects you enjoy most, and then keep narrowing it down. For example, narrow down your subject to wildlife photography. But there are animals everywhere so if your schedule is already full narrow down your subject further to backyard birds or small mammals, such as squirrels. This gives you the opportunity to find your subject, master their behavior, and narrow down further to capture those unique photos. As you continue to narrow you will find that you don't want the squirrel-sitting-on a-fence photo any longer - you already have a dozen great shots of that - but you might want the squirrel hanging upside down on a feeder, sitting on a pile of colorful fall leaves, or running in the snow.

Going through this process might take time as you learn what you enjoy most and are best at seeing. This process will probably change over the years as you go from one subject to another or one interest to another. Avoid being a Jack of all trades, a master of none. Strive instead for being a master of your subject.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado animal animals composition focus goal landscape landscapes master narrow nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography subject tips tips for nature photographers travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/10/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-21 Wed, 09 Oct 2013 23:42:26 GMT
Tip #20: Ways to Reduce Bright Spots https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/10/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-20 For landscapes, bracketed photos can really help you capture the best settings for reducing or overexposing the bright spots. Or you can combine the bracketed photos in HDR software, such as Photomatix.

Bracketed photos, however, are a little less effective for animals since the animals are usually moving. You can create a series of different exposures in post-processing and then combine those images to pull out the shadows and tone down the highlights. 

Recomposing the photo can also help remove or hide the bright areas. 

Ideally, a proper exposure for your photograph and avoiding the middle of the day when the sun is brightest will help reduce bright spots in your photos. Good composition will also aid in getting those bright spots out of the picture. 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado animal animals bright spots composition landscape landscapes nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography tips tips for nature photographers travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/10/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-20 Mon, 07 Oct 2013 19:30:00 GMT
Tip #19: Avoid Bright Spots https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/10/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-19 Our eyes naturally gravitate to looking at the brightest spot in a photo. If your photo is of a polar bear on a snowy background then the bright spots are fine. But most of our photos are of landscapes full of trees in vibrant fall colors or animals blending into their backgrounds. If your landscape photo has a white sun without detail then the viewer's eyes will be drawn to that element of the photo rather than the beautiful landscape below. Or if your photo is of a pika on bright and overexposed rocks, then the viewer will notice those rocks first and may not see the cute pika with a mouth full of flowers and leaves.

 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado bright spots composition landscape landscapes nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photography tips tips for nature photographers travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/10/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-19 Sun, 06 Oct 2013 19:30:00 GMT
Tip #18: Keep a Clean Background https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/10/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-18 When I first started focusing on wildlife photography, I had to really work at focusing my images to just one subject. I had a bad habit of wanting to show everything in the scene. But when you show everything in a scene the viewer's eye isn't sure what to look at and will lose interest in the photo. So I really practiced on narrowing down and composing my images to the most important subject. 

One way to do this is to keep a clean background. For wildlife photos, using a wide open aperture will help bring the focal point to your subject. Wide open apertures (f4, f4.5, etc.) will blur and soften the background, thus helping the eye focus on the subject in the foreground.

Another way to keep a clean background is to avoid clutter behind your subject. This might include thick trees, distracting colors or other animals. If possible, move and recompose your photo to clean up the background. 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado animal animals clean background clutter composition declutter landscapes nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography tips tips for nature photographers travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/10/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-18 Sun, 06 Oct 2013 04:55:44 GMT
Tip #17: Add a Warming Polarizer https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/10/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-17 Most of the tips so far have been about protecting gear or you while in the outdoors. Using a warming polarizer is completely a preference choice but this filter is one I have chosen to use for years. A warming polarizer might be a little pricey - most cost a few hundred dollars - but the effect is pretty nice. The circulizing polarizer on the filter significantly cuts out haze and glare and intensifies the scene, especially in things like clouds. The warming portion deepens the colors even further. This is a wonderful tool for landscape photos, especially at sunrise and sunset.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado animal animals composition filter landscape landscapes nature nature photography outdoors photo photograph photographer photographers photography polarizer sunrise sunset tips tips for nature photographers travel warming polarizer wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/10/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-17 Wed, 02 Oct 2013 17:15:00 GMT
Tip #16: Use a UV Filter https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/10/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-16 Many of the effects created by filters can actually be pretty easily achieved in post-processing software but having a UV filter on your lens actually has another purpose - protecting the glass. Hiking and moving your camera around outdoors easily puts the glass on your lens in danger of getting cracked. Sand on a windy day can blast at the lens and cause pitting. A $6 filter can potentially take the impact and reduce the risk of damaging the glass on the lens that more than likely cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. From a photo perspective, the UV filter will cut a little of the UV light and reduce a bluish haze on a sunny day. But the protective element will be much more valuable to your photography and your equipment. 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado animal animals composition cracks landscape landscapes lens nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography pits protect protect your lens tips tips for nature photographers travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/10/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-16 Tue, 01 Oct 2013 17:00:00 GMT
Tip #15: Maintain a Consistent Temperature for Your Equipment https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/9/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-15 Working in the outdoors means you will be moving in and out of a car or coming outside from indoors. This temperature change from warm to cold or even from dry to humid can cause your camera lens to fog up. And excessive fogging can lead to moisture in your camera.

Prevent the fog by allowing your camera to gradually cool down. Keeping your camera in a cooler in the car is one option. I move my gear into the backpack and then travel around outside before bringing it out of the bag. And once the camera is cooled down, do the same techniques if you will go back outside - don't let the camera warm back up too much. 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado Nature animal animals camera cold composition fog heat landscapes moisture nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography protect rain temperatures tips tips for nature photographers travel weather wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/9/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-15 Tue, 01 Oct 2013 03:01:01 GMT
Tip #14: Turn Off the Car https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/9/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-14 When photographing from your car, turn off the engine. Even though it might seem minute, the smallest little vibration can make a difference between a tack sharp photo and a slightly soft photo, especially if you are working with a long lens. Plus, saving a little extra gas each time might just make a difference in the long run.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado animal animals car composition gas landscape landscapes nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography tips tips for nature photographers travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/9/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-14 Sat, 28 Sep 2013 15:45:00 GMT
Tip #13: Use a Bean Bag https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/9/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-13 In the last tip I mentioned to use the car as a blind. For successful photography from the car use a bean bag to rest your camera. This primarily relates to wildlife photography. If you take landscape photos from the car, get out and use a tripod or rest the bean bag on the hood or roof of the car. 

The bean bag can sit on the window of the car and the camera rests on the bag to keep it steady. The bag I use is a Skimmer Sack. I filled it with pinto beans. I used to use to bird seed in it but the mullet pieces were so small that they would constantly slip out from the zipper and make a mess in my car. 

You can also make a homemade bag using a small duffle bag, or take an old pillowcase and sew the end shut. 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado Skimmer Sack animal animals bean bag blind car composition landscape landscapes nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography tips tips for nature photographers travel wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/9/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-13 Fri, 27 Sep 2013 11:45:00 GMT
Tip #12: Use Your Car as a Blind https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/9/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-12 People frequently ask me why I don't get out into the backcountry more often to photograph wildlife.

The first reason is that my camera gear weighs about 40 pounds when all packed into my backpack. That weight is without water, food or a tripod. Don't get me wrong - I have certainly taken it all on hikes with me but my back is more appreciative to not hike with it.

And I have actually had more success finding wildlife from or near the road. Why? Because my car is the ideal blind. Most animals don't see the car as a threat. But if I open the door and step out they now see me, and humans are a threat to most animals.

So use your car as a blind. You will cause less stress on the wildlife and increase your chances of photographing wildlife less disturbed than on foot.

 

 

 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado animal animals blind car landscapes nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography tips tips for nature photographers travel wildlife wildlife photography https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/9/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-12 Thu, 26 Sep 2013 11:22:46 GMT
Tip #11: Be Patient https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/9/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-11 Nature is constantly happening around us (yes, I know, an obvious statement). But just because it is always happening doesn't mean it will be happening where you are or that what is happening is exciting, dramatic or unique enough to photograph. Just because you got up for sunrise doesn't mean the sky at sunrise will have the drama of an Ansel Adams photograph; the sky might be completely void of clouds. And just because you found the pair of nesting bald eagles doesn't mean they will be doing anything other than sitting on a branch for hours.

So be patient. The action will happen or you might have to revisit a destination or subject frequently to get that unique shot you are envisioning. In the meantime, enjoy being in the outdoors and appreciate the down time you have with Mother Nature.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado animal animals be patient composition landscape landscapes nature nature photography patience photo photograph photographer photographers photography tips tips for nature photographers travel weather wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/9/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-11 Sun, 22 Sep 2013 09:00:00 GMT
Tip #10: Keep a Change of Clothes in Your Car https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/9/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-10 Keep a change of clothes in your car for those unexpected changes in weather, an unexpected change in travel or to get out of wet clothes.

On one assignment I was in Rocky Mountain National Park working on a story about Grand Lake and the western entrance to the park. I got a flat tire just before sunset and wasn't comfortable driving home on Trail Ridge Road at 12,000 feet in the dark on a doughnut tire so I found a hotel room in Grand Lake. The problem was I didn't even have a toothbrush or a change of clothes with me.

Since that day I keep a bag in my car with a change of socks (again for those endless hikes where my shoes get wet), an entire outfit of warmer and dry clothes (sweatshirt, t-shirt, pants, hat, gloves, baseball cap), a light down jacket, and essential toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, hair brush, deodorant).

Surprisingly I use the supplies in that bag pretty regularly. Just remember to restock it with anything you might take out to use.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado animal animals change of clothes dry nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography tips tips for nature photographers toiletries travel unexpected weather wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/9/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-10 Sat, 21 Sep 2013 08:45:00 GMT
Tip #9: Keep a Pair of Waterproof Shoes in Your Car https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/9/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-9 As mentioned in my previous tip, my shoes frequently get wet when I am out in the elements of nature looking for that special photo. When I remember - and that is usually my error - I put on a pair of overshoes or switch into Wellies (tall rubber rain boots). I keep both in my car for short hikes that I know will be wet. Wellies are not the most comfortable shoes to hike in and do not provide any support or traction so I only use these for short, flat walks where I know the ground won't suck the shoes off my feet. The overshoes, called Neos, are a fantastic option for just sliding right over your hiking boot. They have Velcro up the front to keep water out, go about half way up the calf and have more traction on the soles than Wellies.

Both options keep my feet dry when I am taking pictures of wildflowers next to streams, and the view from in the stream is a better option, or bears fishing in a creek.

Although my hiking boots are waterproof and lined with GoreTex, these features will not keep my feet or the boots dry when deeper water runs over the top of the boots. Having a taller waterproof boot in your car gives you the option of getting out to a more unique vantage point for that spectacular shot.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado Neo Neos Wellies animals boots keeping feet dry nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography tips tips for nature photographers tips for nature photography travel waterproof weather wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/9/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-9 Fri, 20 Sep 2013 20:30:00 GMT
Tip #8: Always Have a Change of Shoes With You https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/9/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-8 Being out in nature is a beautiful thing but frequently we dress for the weather of our destination. More often than not I am in hiking boots when I am out taking photos of wildlife and landscapes. They provide warmth, durability, traction and support for wet, rocky, snowy or cold conditions. But I don't like driving in them so I usually have a pair of Chaco sandals that I change into. Frequently my boots also get very, very wet, as was the example this morning when I had to walk through water in a marsh to get out for a better view of some moose. A change of shoes helped my feet dry off and let my boots air out for the three hour drive home.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado animal animals boots change of shoes composition dry feet nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography tips tips for nature photographers travel weather wet wet boots wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/9/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-8 Fri, 20 Sep 2013 08:12:10 GMT
Tip #7: Keep Your Gear Waterproof https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/9/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-7 Now that you have a rain coat for you and your camera gear, you will want to make sure it stays waterproof over the years. Depending upon how frequently you use it and how wet it can get, you will want to reapply a waterproofing, such as a spray, on occasion. Some retailers say after every wash; others say every third. I have only done it when I notice the outer layer is no longer repelling water. Washing an item inside out and in cold water will also help retain the durable water repellent finish.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado animal animals nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography rain rain gear tips tips for nature photographers travel waterproof weather wet wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/9/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-7 Thu, 19 Sep 2013 04:38:38 GMT
Tip #6: Alwyas Carry Your Camera Bag With You https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/9/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-tip-6 One sunny afternoon early in summer I was on a search for white-faced ibis. A birding report stated that about a dozen had been seen at a lake north of where I lived. I had never been to the lake so I didn't know the area or just how big it was. I winged it and walked around the lake to find the tall birds.

About 45 minutes into the hike clouds started to build. I thought I would have enough time so I continued to walk. I found the birds on the opposite side of the lake from where I parked. Right then the clouds opened up. I was completely unprepared. I only thought to bring a jacket for me; the backpack and all my rain gear for my camera was back in the car on the opposite side of the lake.

The closest place to get out of the rain was a shopping center - an even further walk but closer than going back to the car. I thought I could wait out the storm faster than walking back to the car since summer storms in Colorado usually just pass through - except this one (refer back to Tip #3!).

An hour later I was still sitting in a sub shop - cold and wet. I took off my jacket to cover my camera, which caused me to become soaked.

Since that day I never leave my car without my camera bag. At a minimum the bag should include spare batteries, spare memory cards and rain gear for you and your camera.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado animal animals camera bag composition landscape landscapes nature nature photographers nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography rain rain jacket tips tips for nature photographers travel weather wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/9/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-tip-6 Mon, 16 Sep 2013 01:25:38 GMT
Tip #5: Get a Rain Jacket for Your Camera Gear https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/9/-101-tips-for-nature-photographers-5 The last tip talked about a rain jacket for you. But it is almost more important to have protection from the rain and other environmental elements for your camera and lens. You can melt and survive but your camera gear will most definitely kick the bucket if water from rain, snow or splashes gets inside the body. Sand can also do a number to your gear. Salt left behind by salt water can corrode camera equipment.

I use a LensCoat RainCoat. Although a little pricey, it is worth every penny. This waterproof yet breathable cover for your camera and lens comes in a variety of sizes depending on the lens size. A variety of patterns are also available depending on your use and preference (black, RealTree, dark gray, digital camo and green camo). The cover fits over the full body and lens, and Velcro closures and cinch straps secure it snugly around your gear. In addition, it has a convenient opening with an arm sleeve for accessing your camera controls.

I have one for each of my camera bodies and long lenses.

But there are some great homemade options as well. A trash bag will work well for keeping your gear dry. Just be sure to keep it tight around the openings (tape would work in this situation on the outside of the bag). A shower cap can also work for smaller camera/lens configurations. Be careful with these options as holes can develop quickly in the plastic.

Another option that can work is to use the leg from an old pair of rain pants. Like the LensCoat RainCoat, the pant leg can be easily slid over your gear and then tape or pieces of Velcro can be used to cinch it down. However, like the trash bag option, be careful about raw elements getting in at the openings on the ends.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado LensCoat RainCoat animal animals composition keeping camera gear dry landscapes nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography rain rain coat rain jacket tips tips for nature photographers travel weather wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/9/-101-tips-for-nature-photographers-5 Sun, 15 Sep 2013 11:18:20 GMT
Tip #4: Always Carry a Rain Jacket https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/9/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-4 To continue with the weather theme, the next tip is to always have a rain jacket (and pants too if you have them) when you are out  taking nature pictures. Weather can change quickly. A layer to keep you dry will go a long way to keeping you positive and comfortable.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado animal animals landscape landscapes nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography rain rain jacket rain pants tips tips for nature photographers travel weather wet wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/9/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-4 Fri, 13 Sep 2013 22:21:12 GMT
Tip #3: Be Prepared for the Weather https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/9/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-3 This tip will lead into several other tips in the next few days, and it was certainly inspired by this overabundance of rain we have had here along the Front Range in Colorado this week. Being prepared for the weather starts with watching a weather report - both for your home area and your destination. You will have to drive between the two to get there and home. You might encounter a beautiful day in the mountains only to find out it is flooding at home and the road you take is closed. Or vice versa. It might be sunny and warm at home but by the time you reach the alpine tundra the temperature has dropped 40 degrees and is now snowing.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado animal animals be prepared for the weather composition landscape landscapes nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography prepared rain subject tips tips for nature photographers travel weather wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/9/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-3 Thu, 12 Sep 2013 22:27:44 GMT
Tip #2: Always Carry a Headlamp https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/9/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-2 The best times of day to photograph nature - whether it is a landscape or wildlife - is at and shortly after sunrise and just before to a little after sunset. Animals are most active at this time of day and the lighting is fantastic for landscapes. But being out with your camera at these hours frequently means you might be hiking in or out to your destination in the dark. A good headlamp can be indispensable for keeping you safe and giving you the flexibility to get that cool shot of the night sky if the opportunity presents itself. Here are a couple of things to look for when buying a headlamp:

  • LED lights for long battery life, brightness and durability
  • red and white LED lights (red is great for moving around near wildlife without disturbing them as much as a bright white light; it also helps reduce your loss of night vision)
  • light weight and packable to easily carry in your backpack or camera bag
  • bright beam but something with adjustable light modes to change the brightness for the situation
  • comfort
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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado animal animals buying a headlamp composition headlamp headlamps landscape landscape photography landscapes nature nature photography photo photograph photographer photographers photography tips tips for nature photographers travel wildlife wildlife photography https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/9/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-2 Wed, 11 Sep 2013 16:26:08 GMT
101 Tips for Nature Photographers: #1 Purchase Travel Insurance https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/9/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-1 There are a gazillion tips and tricks to help make every photographer a better photographer - or in the least keep them and their equipment safe and injury free. Nature photographers in particular face situations not seen in a studio setting - charging moose, unexpected rain, mud. I wouldn't give up any of those situations in a million years to work in a studio but I have learned tips and tricks over the years to make my experiences in nature and the photos I produce the best they can be even when I am slogging through wet willows and deep mud.

I will make a daily post (barring any difficulty in an Internet connection during future travel) sharing those tips and tricks with you.

Tip #1: purchase travel insurance

Nature photography can be in our own backyards or across the planet. Treks to exotic, distant or remote places can be expensive. A few hundred dollars for traveler's insurance can save a lot of heartache if something falls through on a trip that may have cost thousands of dollars and a lot of time to save the funds.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) nature nature photographers nature photography photo photographers tips for nature photographers travel https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/9/101-tips-for-nature-photographers-1 Tue, 10 Sep 2013 15:01:06 GMT
Camera and Pen https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/4/camera-and-pen  

 

 

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2013/4/camera-and-pen Tue, 02 Apr 2013 10:37:12 GMT
The other 90% https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2012/12/the-other-90 Black_Bear_2 I have always said being a nature photographer is only taking pictures 10 percent of the time. The other 90 percent of the time we research, edit, study, market, sell. Here are some of the other ways I spend my time to constantly improve my photography and business, and the resources I use to do that.

1. Weather:As nature photographers we have to understand weather patterns. The best landscape photos are those with dynamic and colorful clouds rather than a cloudless sky. Partly cloudy days actually give us more hours of shooting time because the clouds soften the harsh light of the midday sun but my preference is actually for those Hollywood hours of early morning and late day sun on partly sunny days. The light at these times on partly sunny days tends to reflect off the clouds adding even more warmth and color to a photo. My go-to resource for weather is actually a pretty simple one - The Weather Channel. Online they are accessible at www.weather.com. They also have an app available for the iPhone and iPad, which are indispensable when out in the field to see changing weather patterns.

2. Animal Behavior: Photographing wildlife, which is my preferred subject in nature, means I need to understand their behavior, where they live, what they eat, when they mate and what times of day they are most active. For example, bighorn sheep are diurnal meaning they are most active during the day rather than at night. Red fox on the other hand are primarily nocturnal and prowl their environment at night looking for prey. I read up on animals as much as possible and carry on my iPad and iPhone apps to quickly access information for identification. The resource I go to most frequently is the National Audubon Society manuals (mammals, reptiles and amphibians, birds). The guides are also available as apps for the iPad and iPhone. State wildlife agencies, such as the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife, are also excellent resources for information. I also use iBird on my iPhone and iPad to help with bird identification, calls and migratory patterns.

3. Editing: This is one area where you can really sink a lot or a little time depending on what the end use of your photographs may be. At one time I only did a few minor edits and called it a day. But the more I have learned within Photoshop and Lightroom, the more possibilities I see in each picture and for how many pictures I can improve. At the very least every photographer should add tags, copyright info and permission limits to every photo. In addition, every photo can benefit from even a little bit of sharpening to make it just a little crisper. From there, the options are endless. Numerous websites have tutorials to teach you how to use the various editing programs. Adobe’s own education section of their website is one of the best around (http://helpx.adobe.com/learning.html). Search for videos on YouTube and you will be surprised how many free videos are available as well. And a great site for online articles about all things photography is www.Digital-Photography-School.com. Make a promise to yourself to watch one tutorial or read one article a week and you will be surprised how easy you can improve your final work.

4. Sales and Marketing: This is usually the most uncomfortable area for artists. They would rather be out creating their product (artwork) than selling it or sitting behind a computer drafting marketing plans. A unique feature of my experience is that my degrees and professional experience are in advertising, communications and marketing. And although my preference is still to be outdoors photographing wildlife, I do feel comfortable taking on the sales and marketing aspect of the business. Just like any business, a strong strategy that clearly outlines the product, place, price, packaging and promotion will lead the photographer down the right path to success. I describe myself as a nature photographer and I have and continue to pursue the gammut of nature photos - from landscapes to macros to insects to wildlife. But as I reevaluated my own marketing plan I found my message and brand was unclear so I am refocusing back to wildlife photography. Even within this photographic discipline there are many specialities. Having a clear brand helps potential customers know what to expect from you. Once you have established relationships with buyers (photo editors, gallery owners, publishers, stock agencies, etc.) then you can let them know you have other types of work they might find of value, but until then, stick to your strongest product type. Having a narrow focus on your brand will also help you develop your product and identify who to target your sales. If you sell photos of Colorado landscapes, Colorado Outdoors magazine may not be interested in your work but Colorado Homes and Lifestyles magazine may find your landscape work ideal for interior designs featured in their publication.

5. Social Media: This is one of the fun areas. There are so many social media options these days for distributing your work. And the most frequently used ones - linkedin, facebook, tumblr, Pinterest - do an excellent job of linking to each other - thus the beauty of social media. But beware of spending all your time posting and linking. Just like sales and marketing, you want to stay targeted and focused. Only use the outlets that connect your potential buyers to your work. And use the social media outlets to find out what your competition and peers are doing as well. One particularly helpful social media outlet I have found are groups, such as those on Yahoo! and linkedin.

6. Reading: I wish I made more time for this. I love to learn new tips and tricks, look through photography magazines at the latest styles, study the latest in conservation issues and learn about new destinations. I have found the best way to incoporate this into the 90 percent is to set aside a small block of time each week to read an article, review a website or go to the local library to scan the latest issues of photo magazines. Another option is to print out articles and take them with you on travels to get to your photo destinations. Rather than turning on the television in the hotel at night, and while you are downloading the photos from that day, pull out one of the articles and read it. Beware, however, of analysis paralysis. There is a lot of information out there for photographers and it can easily be time consuming. Stay focused.

7. Writing: This may not be something every photographer partakes in within the 90 percent. I originally studied to be a journalist, wound up in corporate marketing and found my passion in photography. But I enjoy the writing aspect that ties in so nicely with photography. Writing articles, columns, blogs and captions for my photos forces me to research the subject I am featuring in my writing. That in turn leads me to new aspects of photography. I have also been told that a photographer who writes well, or a writer who takes good photographs, is much more marketable.

8. Networking: In any industry, networking is an important component to building, well, a network. The contacts you meet might be other photographers who can mentor you, who you can mentor, who can travel with you on trips, can be a sounding board for your writing, reference for new locations or products, and critique your work. Your network should also include potential customers, non-profits, printers and designers. Some of the best resources I have linked with are photo clubs - either local or topic specific - and non-profits who share the same values as what you want to achieve with your photography.

9. Teaching: One of the most wonderful things I have enjoyed about nature photographers is the willingness to teach others. I work on doing this as much as possible in return - from the programs I lead as a Master Naturalist in Fort Collins to the free community courses through the Fort Collins Digital Camera Club to the outings and workshops I will be scheduling for other photographers. Seeing someone succeed in photogrpahy because of the insight you provided them is a wonderful reward. So give back as much as what has been given to you.

10. Travel: Of all the gazillion things that make up the 90 percent, the opportunity to travel is by far the most fun but can be the most time consuming in regards to downtime. I have been to some amazing places, and because I focus on wildlife photography, I have learned that every area - from the suburbs of Cleveland to the wilds of Alaska - have amazing critters to learn about and photograph. Even a drive to the office can produce amazing opportunities to photograph a local bird or reptile. So stop and enjoy the travel - whether it is local trips to run errands or a trip around the world for a rare opportunity to see a regional animal. When traveling, make sure you research the destination before you go and put a plan together of what you want to photograph. If you wait until you arrive at your destination you may miss an opportunity to witness an event or not know about regulations needed to get to your destination. For example, to photograph from the catwalk at the Mandarin Hotel in San Francisco you have get pre-approval from their security team to take you up there, unless you are a guest at the hotel. In that case, your key will gain you access. Prior to traveling to a destination, search flickr for photo spots, do a Web search for "Best places to photograh [insert the destinat]" and contact the local Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber may even be looking for new photos of local destinations.

So go out and take those pictures and don't let the other 90 percent overwhelm you. Ultimately good photos are what you need to produce. The activities in the other 90 percent just help ensure you are making the best use of your time and taking the best photos possible.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) nature photography photo photo tips photography success successful nature photography https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2012/12/the-other-90 Fri, 14 Dec 2012 19:29:11 GMT
Tips for Taking Interesting Bison Photos https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2012/12/taking-interesting-photos-of-bison Bison_7_mother_and_calf Up until the early 1800s, 30 to 70 million bison roamed free on the open prairie and high plains of North America. By 1900, fewer than 1,000 American bison (Bison bison) remained.

Thanks to the efforts of Native Americans and conservation crusaders, the slaughter of the bison ceased and the population was allowed to grow again. Today more than 65,000 bison graze on the open lands in the U.S. and Canada. Yellowstone National Park, home to more than 3,000 bison, boasts the last remaining American bison herd in the lower 48 states that has been continuously free-ranging since prehistoric times.

Photographing these majestic animals that have a strong and lengthy link to North America's past can be a bit underwhelming. Bison don't really do much during the day other than stand around, eat, chew their cud and wallow in the dirt. But there are a few times of day and year when their activity level changes - even if ever so slightly.

  • Early morning or late afternoon: These are the most active times of day for bison - when the air is cooler and the sun is lower in the sky. These times of day may also be great for photographing the breath of the bison because of the difference in temperature between the cold air and the hot breath. The light will also be much better to bring out the detail in the dark coats of the bison.
  • July to September: This is when bison are in their rut, or mating, season. Beginning in July, males will search out females in heat. When they find one, they stick to her like glue, a habit called tending. Tending can last for a few minutes to a few days. It is the cow's choice to mate with the male. If the cow is not receptive to the bull's advances, he will move on to another cow. The interaction between the bull and cow can make for interesting subjects. The males may also fight over females they are tending. These battles, when horns clash and dirt gets kicked up, provide excellent action shots.
  • Dead of winter: In places like Yellowstone National Park, where the bison have learned that the thermals provide warmth during the cold winter, the ice will freeze on the coats of the bison. These iconic shots of white ice on dark fur demonstrate just how thick the bison coats are because the ice doesn't melt.
  • Late April to June: Bison calves are born in late spring after a nine month gestation period. When born, these little bundles of joy have reddish coats and can walk just a few hours after birth. Witnessing - and photographing - wobbly newborns with their big, black eyes and fuzzy, red coats makes for a special moment.

The biggest challenge to photographing bison can be their dark coats. To avoid the contrasty photograph, take pictures of bison in early morning or late afternoon sun or on a cloudy day. When possible keep the angle of the sun behind you so the face lights up and the catchlight of the sun shows in the animal's eyes. Side lighting on a sunny day may produce harsh shadows, but done properly, can create interesting tones in the photo. Back lighting may blow out the background but with correct exposure, rim light can be created around the bison to add a nice effect.

Bison can be very unpredictable and dangerous. When photographing them, keep your distance, especially with mothers and calves. Signs of an uncomfortable bison include:

  • looking up at you (changing their behavior)
  • pawing at the ground
  • tail in upright position means either charge or discharge

Places to photograph bison

  • Yellowstone National Park, Wyo.
  • Grand Teton National Park, Wyo.
  • National Bison Range Wildlife Refuge, Moiese, Mont.
  • Bison herd overlook near Genesee, Colo.
  • Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, Commerce City, Colo.
  • Sullys Hill National Wildlife Refuge, Fort Totten, N.D.
  • Custer State Park, S.D.
  • Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge, Valentine, Neb.
  • Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge, Prairie City, Iowa
  • Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge, Indiahoma, Okla.
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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Bison bison Photographing bighorn sheep bison locations to photograph bison photography tips for photographing bison https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2012/12/taking-interesting-photos-of-bison Wed, 05 Dec 2012 18:57:21 GMT
Moon Phases for Photographing Deer https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2012/11/moon-phases-for-photographing-deer mule deer doeFemale Mule Deer at Sunset I am a hunter of wildlife - of sorts. I research. I study behaviors. I track. And I shoot. But my shooting preserves the life of the animal and captures them in the electronic form of a photograph.

So when I recently stumbled across an article about how deer hunters follow moon phases to find deer, I was intrigued about this information.

Wildlife photographers often photograph wildlife during their mating season. In ungulates, such as deer, it is called a rut. In all animals this is a short but active time period when the animals go into a frenzy as they focus on nothing but producing the next generation.

That's where the moon phases come in with deer. Studies have shown that the beginning of the deer - white-tail or mule - rut season coincides with the second full moon after the autumnal equinox. For a hunter, seeking out deer becomes an all-day activity under a full moon. But for a photographer, this full moon - called the rutting moon - will help identify the best time of year for capturing deer activity with their camera.

This year the rutting moon happened to fall on October 29, just days before the predicted peak of estrogen and sperm levels in the deer around November 1. Basically that means that the stars - or moon - were aligned for an exceptionally active rutting season.

There are a few phases the deer progress through during the rut. The first is the seeking phase, which begins a few days before the rutting moon, and photographers will begin to see more deer during the day. The next phase is the chasing phase, which is when early does come into estrus, or heat. This puts the bucks into full alert for finding a mate. By the second week of November, the rut peaks with the majority of does in heat. Bucks - young and old - will be vying for the attention of the does, and not worrying about the pesky photographers taking their pictures. The new moon at this point means more daytime activity of the deer. Bucks will continue to seek out does through the end of November. Unbred does will cycle again and fawns go through their first cycle for a second rut in early December, providing a few last photo opportunities before the deer return to the shelter of night and cover.

At any point during the rut, photographers should focus taking pictures in early morning and later afternoon for the best deer activity under the best lighting conditions. The best photographs will show the bucks with a large, healthy rack without missing tines. A few lucky photographers might even see the bucks using their antlers to compete with each other over a doe. And the sentimental romantic in us will enjoy photographs of the happy deer couples nestled along the edge of a field with a wooded backdrop.

And since this year's rut is winding down, it will soon be time to think about timing for next year's rut. The autumnal equinox in 2013 is September 22. This will put the second full moon on November 17, two weeks after the peak of estrogen and sperm levels. The rut will be very different next year but that is why we love learning, watching and photographing wildlife.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado Odocoileus hemionus Odocoileus virginianus autumnal equinox buck deer doe estres fall heat hunting mating mule deer photo photographs photography rut white-tailed deer https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2012/11/moon-phases-for-photographing-deer Tue, 27 Nov 2012 20:36:43 GMT
Photographing bighorn sheep during the rut https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2012/11/photographing-bighorn-sheep-during-the-rut Each November and December, bighorn sheep go through their rutting, or mating, season. For the wildlife photographer, this season is a short but active time filled with a lot of interaction, behaviors and photo opportunities.

When adventuring out on your first bighorn photo outing, take some time to observe the behaviors of the animals before taking the photos, and be prepared to spend time with the bighorn sheep from sunrise to late morning. The early morning light on a sunny or partially sunny morning will provide lovely warm tones on brown and tan bighorn coats. As the sun rises higher in the sky, the light on the animals will become more contrasty causing the highlights and shadows to get more harsh and therefore creating a less desirable photo.

Bighorn sheep, which are the state mammal of Colorado, are diurnal, meaning they are most active during they day. Sheep usually sleep high on rocky terrain where they feel safer from predators, and then come down during the day to feed. But during the rut, the sheep focus on one thing - mating. Therefore, they will be active lower and longer during the days as the males, called rams, battle each other in head butting competitions for up to 20 hours at a time. And the ewes (females) watch to mate with the winners.

The lambs of the previous spring may also be seen trying out their skills at head butting or just having fun running and jumping. All of this activity provides excellent photo opportunities to capture rut behavior.

Watch the action because the best photographs result from anticipating the action rather than capturing just a few frames of the tail end of the activity.

Between butting challenges, the rams follow the ewes to determine which ones are in heat. Photographing this behavior may result in some interesting shots of the flehmen response. This is when the rams will elevate their nose, curl their upper lip and cock their head to one side after picking up the scent of a female in heat.

Another great photo opportunity is to capture rams exhibiting the low-stretch behavior. By lowering and stretching their heads, they can show off the size of their horns. If this doesn't work to establish dominance, then the situation may escalate into a horn clash.

Every wildlife photographer has the goal to capture rams in battle. When two rams, usually of equal size, battle they will pull back a little before ramming at speeds of up to 20 mph. The best photographs will show the impact of the heads and horns cracking together.

But no collection of bighorn sheep photos wouldn't be complete without the standard sheep-on-a-rocky-cliff photo so look at the surroundings and capture the animals in their natural habitat. The tan coats of bighorn sheep blend very well into the rocky cliffs. The best way to spot bighorns is to look for the white rump, which will be a little more prominent against the landscape.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado Photographing bighorn Photographing bighorn sheep bighorn bighorn sheep high country mating ovis canadensis photo photographing photographing wildlife ram rams rut sheep wildlife https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2012/11/photographing-bighorn-sheep-during-the-rut Tue, 20 Nov 2012 07:31:07 GMT
iPad as a Photography Tool https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2012/3/ipad-as-a-photography-tool Use your iPad® in your arsenal of photography tools

The iPad® is now in its third generation. The latest version includes a 5-megapixel camera that shoots photos and videos, four times more pixels than the previous iPad, and capability to run on a 4G network (if you can find one).

But I still use the original generation iPad - no camera, no super visual display - and I have been happy with it all the same.

What I have found is that the iPad - no matter what generation you have - is an ideal tool in the photographer's arsenal of technical gadgets. A plethora of apps are available for the on-the-go photographer to use in the field for bird and wildlife identification, downloading images and editing on the go. Here are the top ten apps I use on my photography trips.

1. Google maps: Although this app requires a WiFi or cellular connection, it can be handy if you prepare the maps before yo leave civilization. I use the app to provide directions to my destination and then zoom in to see more detail once I am at my destination. As long as you connect before leaving a cellular or WiFi area, the map will be stored in the memory. Beware that if you zoom in too far while in an area without cell coverage, you will receive an error message stating you do not have a connection. A couple of options exist you are willing to purchase an app: Gaia GPS is a good option for backcountry travel ($9.99); Galileo Offline Maps ($4.99); TomTom has several options for different areas and requires a GPS signal, which is available in iPad WiFi and 3G models ($49.99 to $89.99)

2. Notes: Indespesible for recording what you saw, where you saw it, and suggestions you get from other people. Comes pre-installed on iPad and you can email notes to yourself for use later on your computer. I keep logs for blog ideas, places to photograph, where to see wildlife, article ideas and a journal for each of my trips.

3. Photos: Also pre-installed on iPad, this app makes a great tool for keeping a portfolio with you at all times. Make sure you organize your photos by topic, keep only the best ones on the device, and only post the highest quality images. High quality images will take up more memory but will reflect your work better. The larger memory usage also forces you to select only your best images.

4. Photogene: Ranked as one of the best photo editing apps since its launch in 2008, Photogene is an easy-to-use, heavy-hitting application that allows many common photo editing functions. Capabilities include crop, rotate, dodge, burn, blur, red eyes, heal, saturation, vibrance, contrast and white balance adjustments to list just a few. A bargain for $2.99.

5. Photoshop Express: A super slimmed down version of the industry standard Photoshop, PSE includes some of the basic functions of the full version of Photoshop. The big bonus here is this app is free for basic functions such as contrast, exposure, saturation and cropping plus a select group of presets, such as vintage and soft black and white (see example on facebook). A few additional options require a $1.99 border pack or a $4.99 camera pack for editing features such as reducing noise. Great for sharing photos online

6. The Photographer's Ephemeris: This app is a must-have for any photographer who prefers shooting at sunrise, sunset or golden hours. TPE provides the tools photographers need to learn what time sunrise and sunset will be on any particular day in any particular location and in what particular direction. $8.99 on iTunes.

7. Square: One of the original apps for accepting credit cards on the go. Many banks now offer this option but Square is still the original. With the free credit card reader, photographers can accept payments for their work at craft fairs, galleries, or any location where someone is interested in purchasing your work. Requires a WiFi or cellular connection. Fees apply for each transaction. App is free.

8. iBird: If you photograph birds of any kind and any place, then this app should be with you at all times. All birds can be searched by name or family using common or taxonomic names. Includes a photo center for you to post your own photos, sounds for most birds, photos and illustrations, range, ecology and identification. Several versions are available depending upon the region you purchase, which range from $0.99 to $14.99.

9. Audubon Mammals: Similar to iBird, this app was developed by Green Mountain Digital with the world-renowned National Audubon Society. Includes photos, description, range maps, sounds and a place for you to record sighting information. Other subjects include birds, mushrooms, amphibians, insects and spiders, North American trees, fish and wildflowers. Prices vary by subject. $9.99 for mammals.

10. Travel Photo Guides: This collection of photography apps are great for helping the novice or experienced photographer find the exact spot to match photos within the program. Includes pinpoints on maps showing where you are standing and where photo was taken, metadata for picture (ISO, aperature, focal length, etc.) and time of day the photo was taken. Currently available for Rocky Mountain National Park, Great Smoky Mountains and Yellowstone National Park. (verifying current availability and price)

Use the iPad for your on-the-go photography but no app for a mobile device will replace the power of your desktop editing software. Use the iPad for its mobility; use the desktop for its functionality.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Audubon Society Photogene Photoshop Express Square The Photographer's Ephemeris apps iBird ipad notes photo photographer photography top ten photography apps for iPad https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2012/3/ipad-as-a-photography-tool Sun, 25 Mar 2012 19:14:58 GMT
White-tailed ptarmigans https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2012/2/white-tailed-ptarmigans For several summer seasons I have searched out the beautiful white-tailed ptarmigan at Guanella Pass. More white-tailed ptarmigans live here than any other area in the U.S., and I am lucky enough to live only a couple of hours from this location in Colorado. But alas, I have not seen these little ground birds. I have tried from the side of the road, scanned with binoculars, walked through willows to try to flush them out. I even sat in the willows and waited for them. Still, no sign of these birds.

Another spot I have looked for them is along the road to Mount Evans. Here I spotted more evidence of their existence - feathers strewn about the rocks, droppings I presume they left behind. But no ptarmigans.

In the winter, the county does not plow the road all the way up to Guanella Pass. So I did a little research to look for other destinations to try to spot the elusive ptarmigans. Loveland Pass, another high-elevation road in Colorado not far from Guanella Pass, was recommended as a good alternative. I traveled up there earlier this week - again with my keen eyes ready to spot them hiding in the snow. They are now in their winter plumage - solid white with just the black eye - so even harder to see if they don't move, which they tend to not do.

Lack of success again. They are there; I know they are. My patience can wait and I'll keep looking.

The joy of photographing wildlife is just this type of experience. The more I research, the more I learn about the animals. And the more I learn about them and the harder they are to spot, the more I appreciate the experience when I do encounter an elusive critter - whether common or not.

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(Dawn Wilson Photography) Colorado Guanella Pass Loveland Pass Mount Evans bird birds high country white-tailed ptarmigans https://www.dawnwilsonphotography.com/blog/2012/2/white-tailed-ptarmigans Fri, 24 Feb 2012 19:25:28 GMT