Feeding The Beast

Head Shot of a Mule Deer Doe
Mule Deer in Winter

 

Working on updating the stock portfolios today.  I call it “feeding the beast.”

I’ve found that uploading stock images on a regular basis, even in small quantities, seems to correlate with increased sales over time. With over 2,000 images online, the simple truth is that not all of my images have sold. Quite a few just sit there and though most will probably generate a few sales over time, I think the trick is to saturate the buyer with a variety of selections. The theory is that when someone looks for a particular type of image, it’s best to hog the screen with your photos. I’d rather they choose from one of my many shots than have to select one of mine from many other photographers offerings.

Feeding the beast, a term I’ve heard used by other stock photographers, helps to keep my images visible. It works. Sales from same month last year have been up over 300% on some agencies and have increased on all agencies, year over.

Until I get out to do more work, I’m in the office and feeding the beast.

A Loner’s Life

Photograph of a bull moose in the forest
Bull Moose – North Park, Colorado

For the most part, wildlife photography is a loner’s journey.

The physical connection between the wildlife photographer and photographic subject is symbiotic in many ways. One must learn to adapt to that relationship too.

Moose are social animals but seem to prefer their own company to that of others. Moose are unique subjects. They will hang out together at times. Good feeding conditions, breeding and some type of kinship with others of their type are gathering factors but they are more likely to be found on the move and alone. For the wildlife photographer, the same holds true. I enjoy the company of others but for the most part, I prefer to work alone.

My wife is quite supportive of my photography efforts but she’s not really into the “nature photography” thing with the same enthusiasm as I. If you’re a photographer, you’ve probably experienced this yourself. The travel companion is more often than not quickly bored with the adventure. Sitting alone in a vehicle without an internet connection or phone signal could be a factor. Perhaps it’s not enjoyable to watch some old guy trudging across the field in the rain. It’s a rare person who is willing to sacrifice their sleep and worldly conveniences to trek out into the wilderness with a photographer who is focused primarily on finding critters in the early morning mist.

Most times it’s just better to share the fruits of our labor. I imagine that a typical construction worker has to deal with the same thing. I’ve never heard of a carpenter taking their wife or girlfriend to work to watch them measuring and cutting lumber. It’s boring.

Moose on the other hand seem to like boring, so the photographer must learn to be bored in the same fashion as the loner animal. Other things factor in to this equation though.

The wildlife photographer’s work doesn’t hinge on the hard to alter habits of other humans when heading out into the field. Most of the adaptation comes from the photographer, not from the travel companion. While we still have to account for the presence of other people from time to time, to a large degree the other humans that are present are typically loners too. Our paths are simply crossing at a certain time and place.

Being of retirement age, I have the time to roam around alone in the back woods and mountain tops. My travel and photography plans are for the most part kept to weekdays and not weekends. For those still working a real job, their commitments in life relegate them to getting out on weekends. Though I will get out on a weekend, it’s not an option I give priority. As a matter of fact, I avoid weekends specifically to avoid the folks getting out on weekends. Too many people disrupt the shooting environment and the experience of being alone with the subject.

More than a few of my friends who are my age and older find their photographic comradery within the confines of camera and nature clubs. I’m not a group outing kind of guy though, I’m like a loner moose. My best photos come from working alone or with one other equally enthusiastic photographer. It’s never a personal thing when hatching a plan doesn’t work. We all have different needs and desires. Finding folks who are on the same wavelength isn’t an easy task.

So, I’m incubating another egg that will hatch into a lone adventure in the near future and there will be more after that. Like that lone moose, you may see me pass by from time to time, on my mission to get to some remote spot that I find delightful. But only if you get up early. I’ll typically be done working by 10:00 am and taking a nap by noon. I’ll share the photos with those who prefer to sleep in at a later time.

Being a loner isn’t lonely at all.

More Moose

Moose in the woods of Northern Colorado
Decisions Decisions

 

One of the odd-ball shots from last Friday morning.

It’s hard to take your finger off the shutter button while there is still room in the camera buffer.

In The Field

Photograph of a Bull Moose in Colorado by Gary Gray Bull Moose On The March

I’ve been enjoying the Holiday with family in Red Feathers and have finally found a few moments for a blog entry.

My first good photography outing in several weeks has been about, what else? Moose. This past Friday morning was my kickoff to actually hitting the dusty trails in search of moose, fult-tilt boogie wise that is.

I laugh at my own habits some times, particularly, the little mind games I play on myself when moving around. I always think I’m going to find very little, and then, BOOM! I land on a great scene with nice, photographable moose.

Early this past Friday, I stumbled upon 7 bull moose and a cow with a calf. All within a 1 mile radius. Many were too far away for any really exceptional photos, but I knew that all I needed to do was position myself and be patient. Moose would eventually come to me and I’m pre-configured to get the shots I want to get.

Well, blaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrp. The moose do what they want to do and not what I want them to do. I’m watching a scattered group from 100 meters away waiting for them to move closer and two huge mature bulls come walking towards me directly to my right. They were on the move and not at all concerned with me, though they had me in their eyes the whole time. Using my SUV for cover, they actually walked past me from about 10 feet away. I just kept moving around the Explorer to keep it between me and them.

Thus the subject of today’s image. The Bull Moose Woods Profile thing. I have a preconceived image in my head that I constantly look for in the field. This was one of those situations. The moose walking parallel to me with a profile through the woods.

The idea is to track the moose with the camera as it moves across my visual horizon and catch revealing profiles as he’s on the march. When it looks interesting through the view finder, I fire off a burst of shots.

For this composition I made a decision to not get the entire moose in the shot. I wanted the antlers but I sacrificed its hooves, except for the one off the ground. Same with his flanks. I wanted part of him obscured.  I call this cramping the frame. Photography critics will tell you to never amputate a limb, particularly at a joint. That’s good advice if you want your photos to look the same all the time, which I don’t.

The argument is basically “you cut his feet off, it’s too distracting, disturbing, doesn’t follow the rules” or something in that vein. That’s camera club advice.

Many professional portrait photographers use this technique all the time. They’ll chop off a portion of the persons face for the effect. Why? Because it gets the attention of the viewer and creates photographic tension, which is a highly ambiguous but accurate phrase.

The idea is to tell a story and one way to push that along is to create tension in the image.

As for the moose, you know he has hooves, you can see one in the air. It’s doesn’t require a lot of thinking, but I does make you think for a second. “Well, he is moving right along isn’t he?”, which in turn spurs other questions. You end up with a story, all thought out in just a few seconds.

Throwing in a little more self-critique.

The photo is a little busy from a camera club critique point of view, but most people blow past that because the busy background is consistent and in context. The moose stands out even though it fits right in to the environment.

I’m fairly happy with this one.

Back Roads of Life

Kebler pass in Autumn
Autumn Road Trip

 

The plans are made for my Autumn 2018 road trip.  I’ll be heading out to the San Juan Mountains this year during the last week of September with my good friend Jonathan Steele.

In a perfect world the weather will throw everything at us. I don’t really look for perfect blue skies and sunny days. I like drama in my scenes. A little mud doesn’t hurt either.

This photo was taken on Kebler Pass a few years ago on a road trip with my good friend Merlin Peck. It’s having those things to look forward to that make life worth living.

Munching Moose Monday

Photograph of a moose feeding in a lake.
Shiras Bull Moose in a Colorado Mountain Lake

 

For a few years I was lucky enough to find a boat-load of moose hanging out in a particular lake in Northern Colorado. This was one of the first images I made after that discovery.

When moose find a good grassy bottom water hole, they munch like mad. The grass in his mouth and the water dripping from his head make for a perfect combination.

Moose activity is heating up. After the July 4th holiday, I begin working full swing. With any luck, I’ll find more moose in this lake this July and August.

 

Why Did The Moose Cross The Road?

Cow and calf strolling through the woods. Shiras Moose – Red Feather Lakes, Colorado

 

Life these days are about finding simple pleasures.

Earlier this week I ventured out to find the local moose at sunrise, as I normally do when I’m at the cabin. The primary activity lately has been from a couple of cows and their calves. There’s one cow that has twins and she keeps them fairly tucked away in the woods. Closer to the village, a mother and her single calf have been frequenting the woods near my place and it hasn’t been difficult to find them in short order.

Still sipping coffee, I made a quick run to the two areas I felt most likely to find the critters, and after about 10 minutes of poking around with no luck, I elected to go to a third location on the other side of the village in hopes they might be lingering in the open.

Much to my surprise, I’m driving along the road towards my place when I spot the obvious silhouette of the mother moose standing in the middle of the road at the intersection of my street and the main highway. She was standing in the road looking back over her shoulder off to my right at the side of the road where her calf was trying to get over a fence to join her.

Moose Cow and Calf crossing a highway.
Leading her calf across the road near my cabin.

I could almost hear her talking to the calf. “Come on, just jump over the fence and lets get going”  The calf was anxious and made it through the fence with little effort. Momma moose then proceeds across the road with calf in tow, into the field near my house, where they stop to browse the bushes for a quick breakfast snack.  I pulled off to the side of the dirt road leading to my cabin and sat and watched. The sun still wasn’t up but it was getting lighter by the moment. The dawn sunshine hit the field beyond the pair and began its slow creep toward the two. A few moments of browsing and they were done. Mother moose decided to take the calf into the woods in the direction of my cabin so I pulled the SUV off the roadside and drove on down the road running parallel to them. By now they had vanished into the woods. I know those woods quite well and there’s a marshy pond on the far side of the woods they were moving through so I figured I’d just drive on down the road to where that pond was and see if they were anywhere to be found.

As I crept along the dirt road near the pond, the two were coming through the woods directly towards me. I stopped and fired off a few frames from the Nikon D810 as they crested the small hill above the pond, almost directly in front of me.

Mother moose didn’t blink and eye and she led her calf right to me and across the road into the woods behind my cabin.  The end result, I got a good 30-40 minutes of early morning camera time in close proximity to these two lovely neighbors.

Why did the moose cross the road?

So I could get photos.

The Watering Hole

Moose calf at a watering hole near Red Feather Lakes, CO
Shiras Moose Calf – Red Feather Lakes

I’ve been photographing a moose cow and calf most of this Spring and early Summer in the area around the village. There’s a particular water-hole near the village where all manner of wild creatures come to slurp and it’s a good place to watch for activity.

It’s difficult for the moose to find good habitat east of the village, as the area begins transforming from mountain forest to open brush and range land. Moose will move through but they are seldom found in numbers. This makes the forest surrounding the village a good congregation point. The moose come in to the area, browse around. The cows and calves have a good range of feeding in a non hostile environment. The bulls are a different story. They seem to have more of a wandering spirit. They move into the area but seem to eventually move back to the higher country to the west where there is a lot more forest to explore.

Insights From The Moose Whisperer

Photograph of moose calf at a watering hole
Moose calf at a watering hole

Something I learned many years ago was how to find moose.

For the average person a moose sighting is more or less coincidental to their being in the right place at the right time. Moose do move around a lot and are not afraid to be in the vicinity of human populations, though their tolerance to staying in populated areas is limited by the quality of the food they find there and their perceived threat from that population. That means, you may find moose hanging out somewhere for a while but eventually they will move on to an area they are more comfortable with.

I don’t rely on reported moose sightings for finding moose. I may hear about moose hanging out here or there, but I don’t make it a point to chase sightings. It simply doesn’t work on a consistent basis.

The best way to find moose consistently is to understand their movement patterns and their preferences for food, terrain and climate.

One unwavering observation I have made is that moose don’t like warm temperatures. By warm, I mean temperatures above 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The majority of my photographs are taken in cooler weather, usually below 65 degrees and where it’s colder there will generally be more moose to be found. In Colorado that means, for the most part, higher elevations.

Not that moose are all that willing to move into rugged rocky mountain sides, no, they like higher altitude areas that meet their requirements for food, water and such. High mountain valleys, meadows, streams, lakes and marshy areas with dense forest in the vicinity is their preferred habitat.

Most of my moose hunting is in the mountains of North-central Colorado above 8,000 feet altitude. A colloquial term is “the high country.”

I look for certain characteristics in the land such as riparian areas with lush vegetation along a river or stream, high altitude lakes near dense forests and with lots of marsh. Moose love to be wet. Thickets of willows along streams in valleys, areas of low human population density. This is where moose like to be. Moose like weather that isn’t really good weather for photography. Rain, cloudy and cool. For the average tourist, these aren’t the conditions to plan a trip around, but I’ve found the wettest, coolest days are usually the best days.

Finding moose isn’t difficult if you look for them in the right places at the right time with the right conditions. For this reason, I seldom give consideration to the predicted weather conditions, hoping it’s going to be a nice day.

The best approach I’ve come up with is to identify the types of areas the moose prefer and then examine the area on foot to the extent possible. I look for signs of moose activity. Hoof prints near the shores of lakes and ponds, moose poop. Yeah, moose poop is a good indicator, the more fresh poop you can find, the more moose you’ll find in the area. Moose poop is fairly unique among ungulates. Deer and elk have smaller, rounder feces. Cattle, well, if you’ve ever been near cattle, you’ll know about “cow pies.” Moose poop is usually darker and larger than other deer species. It doesn’t always look the same either. Learning to identify the different types of animal scat is of benefit. I can tell moose poop from bear poop, or elk poop quite easily, but if you don’t have that knowledge, you’ll be guessing.

Another thing I look for is bedding areas. A tell-tale sign of moose in the area is finding a large area of flattened grass near a stream or woods. When I say large area, I’m talking about a spot that can be up to 6 feet in diameter. Usually, there are more than one bedding spots in the same area. Moose are social animals and they will often sleep together in small numbers, in close proximity and finding several bed-down spots in the same area is a very good sign. This brings up the obvious point that finding large, fresh bedding spots with fresh moose poop nearby would be an optimal observation.

Once you’ve identified the moose spots, you can plan your photography. I wouldn’t spend a lot of time trying to hunt down the moose, as they are quite aware of humans when present. Sneaking up on a moose is not an easy task and could be a dangerous proposition. Surprising and/or annoying a moose is not a smart thing to do. Keep a safe distance, 50 meters or so. Moose are tolerant of the presence of humans, but they are short tempered animals and can get quite angry with humans when provoked. Moose are not predators though. They won’t hunt you down and try to hurt you. They just want you to go away and if you become obnoxious to their sensibility, they will have no qualms about threatening you and even attacking you. I consider any moose moving towards me making eye contact to be a moose attack in progress. Their eyesight is poor so often they’ll sense your presence and move towards you to identify you. Once they get close enough to confirm their suspicions, they’ll decide if you are a threat or not and act accordingly. Never approach a moose. Be particularly wary of cows with a calf. Cows are more dangerous as they will defend their calf without warning.

I’ve found it better to plan a return to the spot that gets me near moose territory before sunrise. Moose are most active in the early part of the day. Right before sunrise and for the next couple of hours after sunrise. On foul weather days, moose will be more active as the day progresses, but on sunny or warmer days, the moose will generally retreat to the shade of a forest by 9 or 10 AM. Be there before the moose is the best plan. Let them come to you. Choose a spot, get there early and quietly and don’t make noise once in position. Plan your shots and let the moose move in to your scene.

Colorado’s moose population is expanding and from what I’ve observed the overall population is healthy. From time-to-time, I come across an injured animal or one that appears to be a little too thin for the season. A good indicator though is the number of calves that are born each year. Another measuring stick seems to be the number of twin calves observed. The theory goes, the better the feeding conditions, the better the overall health and that leads to a higher rate of twins being born each Spring.

Getting accurate counts are difficult. Colorado Parks & Wildlife don’t consider moose to be a top priority for research and management and as a result the number of scientists/biologists studying the animal is not very high. Other big game animals get the money and attention, as wildlife management is primarily focused on hunting and not on the ecology of the species.  CPW does a fairly good job of managing the large populations of game animals though.

I’ll share more of my moose photography insights in future articles, so check in with me from time to time.

If you’re hungry for moose, let me know. I do photo tours in moose country every summer and I’ve never not found moose. They don’t call me “The Moose Whisperer” for nothing.

 

Variety Is The Spice Of Life

Photograph of two bighorn rams in Colorado.
The mutual admiration of two bighorn rams.

Life’s adventures continue here in Colorado.

I spent the earlier part of this past week in Red Feathers finishing up the cabin work and there is more to do. I came to a screeching halt when I acquired a nasty head cold, from which I’m still recovering.

I used the down-time to consolidate my backups. After last month’s hard drive crash, I came to the realization that I have a boat load of image files on the computer and that my backup strategy was a little too haphazard to be effective. I’ve since picked up an external SATA hard disk drive docking station, which allows me to simply use 3.5 inch SATA drives connected to the computer via a USB 3.0 connection as backup devices. I have 10 of them now filled with everything I have on the computer. 10 Terabytes of image files requires a bit of storage space. I even created a complete clone of my boot drive along with the operating system and personal files, so if I have a drive failure, I can just swap a hard drive and I’m back up and running in minutes.

Job done.

On my Facebook photography group, North American Nature, Wildlife and Landscape Photographers Association, it is “Sheep Sunday” so I elected to use this photo for the group and blog entry today.

I think it’s a nice head shot of two mature bighorn sheep rams, and is a different take from the tons of photos I normally get.

As the old saying goes. Variety is the spice of life.