Shoot Report: Yellowstone Winter Photography Day 3

If you missed reading the reports from the first day and the second day of my Yellowstone wildlife photography tour, you can read Day 1 here and read Day 2 here.

Today, we went through the park without our guide.  It was great to have such an awesome guide as Steve, but we thought we'd take a day to go around on our own.  Today was one of the best photography days I've had in my life.

I received a couple comments in previous posts from photographers saying they don't have the money to get an expensive wildlife lens, but would love to shoot some of the animals near their home.  The answer to the problem is simple: rent a lens for the week!  Borrowlenses.com was kind enough to send me the Nikon 600mm lens for the week and it was fantastic.  I doubt that I'll ever buy this lens because renting is so cheap and easy for trips like this.

Tips for shooting bighorn sheep rams in Yellowstone

Bighorn Sheep Ram Chases a Ewe for Breeding
This bighorn sheep ram chases the ewe when it tries to escape. It's wildlife domestic violence. Nikon D7000 camera, Nikon 600mm lens, ISO 500, f/4 (it was dim), 1/1000th shutter speed.

On the first two days of my trip, I got a lot of “grab shots.”  A “grab shot” is when you just shoot something as you see it without any real creativity.  I got a lot of “grab shots” because I was so excited to see the animals within range that I just shot every instant that I saw the animals.  Today, once the excitement had worn off a little and I already had other images of the animals just standing there, I focused on getting more action into my shots (as much as possible).

The trick to getting action in your wildlife photography is patience.  The bighorn sheep often stood on the cliff for 20 to 30 minutes without a bit of movement, and then the ewe would move and suddenly there would be head butting, chasing, and jumping as the bighorn sheep ran along the cliff.  Photographers often get bored while the animals are sitting there, and so they step away from the camera or take their finger off the shutter button.  Those photographers ALWAYS miss the good shots.  Patience, patience, patience.  If you want the good shots–patience!

The second tip for shooting Yellowstone bighorn sheep is to learn a little biology.  The advantage of having a guide was that he could explain to us how a group of bighorn sheep operates.  Once I learned to spot the dominant male ram, it was easy to know when there was going to be a fight.  It seems that the non-dominant rams in a group rarely fight each other this time of year.  The real head butting occurs when one of the non-dominant rams tries to approach the ewe too closely.  Understanding this gave me 3 or 4 seconds of warning before a fight because I could see that the dominant ram was becoming uneasy.

Rams fighting by butting heads
FIGHT! The dominant male is the one on the left, and he's not happy about the ram on the right approaching the ewe. Nikon D7000 camera, Nikon 600mm lens with no teleconverter, 1/1000th shutter speed, ISO 500, f/4 (it was dark, so I used f/4 to get the high shutter speed. Since the animals were so far away and parallel, I knew I wouldn't have a depth of field problem).
Eagle on the perch. I waited 30 minutes for this eagle to take off. I was ready with my camera focused and cropped for a "taking off" shot, and even had a remote release set up so I wouldn't have to reach up to hit the shutter button when he took off, but I got impatient after 30 minutes and left. This is the shot that got away.
Mule deer buck
Mule deer buck. This was shot at the last light of the day, so it was tough to get a shot, but Jacob (my brother-in-law) pulled off a sharp shot with a 600mm lens at 1/50 shutter speed. Impressive.
One of my favorite headshots from the week. Nikon D7000, Nikon 600mm lens with no teleconverter, f/7.1, 1/500, ISO 400, aperture priority mode.

9 thoughts on “Shoot Report: Yellowstone Winter Photography Day 3”

  1. These are great action shots! I’m a little surprised there’s not more snow up there. I saw a photo recently of Undine Falls completely covered in ice/snow, and assumed it was from this year, but apparently not. My son works there in the summers, and I’m anticipating a trip up there this year.

  2. Love all the pictures but especially the head shot of Ram and head butt fight excellent shots. Way to go good work.

  3. I’ve been following your website for a few months now and it’s a favorite! You always have such great advice and tips. Love the action shots of the bighorn sheeps! Look forward to seeing more!

  4. Thanks Jim for sharing the experience of your trip and also the great pictures!
    I love the first one on this post. Its hard sometimes to wait for the right moment but its worth it! 🙂

  5. Love your site! I’m new to photography and I am so excited about learning new things! I love your post about the eagle, beautiful, my favorite bird. I also laughed that you got impatient….reminded me of yesterday when I finally packed it in after an hour and a half waiting for the deer to come out and feed. I had a perfect set up to get a great shot, but no deer. Problem!

  6. Hello Jim

    I wanted to ask if I could use your image of the rams headbutting in a print advertisment for myself and my portfolio. No real advertisment just for my own, I credit you ofcours because I value the right of the photographer and I will send you a copy of the finish product. But I kinda need a bigger resolution since it will be in my portfolio. I totally understand if you say no.

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