When Everyone Else Turns Left, Turn Right Instead!

Having lived out west for years now, we’ve gotten to know Rocky Mountain (RMNP) and Yellowstone. They are two very different parks with different landscapes and wildlife, but both are so very special. Everyone has seen recent articles of how busy the parks are, especially this past summer when so many families said they were traveling hell or high water! In 2019, approximately 4.67 MILLION people passed through the gates of RMNP to appreciate its beauty, majesty and wildlife. Currently parts of the park, especially the back country, remain closed due to the damage and instability caused by the summer’s destructive wildfires. The purpose of this blog is to share a little insight if you care to visit RMNP anytime soon.

  1. Go early! The earlier you’re in the park the better. There are fewer people, the animals are more active and the light is amazing. When we travel we often get into the parks before 6 am, go back to our hotel about 10 am and relax while the people file in! Then, we head back in about 4 or 5 pm when everyone else (or most people) are heading out of the park to catch dinner!
  2. Go off the beaten path! It doesn’t mean you have to take the worst roads but truly explore the parks in all their glory. Sure, there are the typical stops and lookouts that you’ll want to hit, especially on your first trip. But here are a couple of suggestions:

Bear Lake.

Bear Lake is a must see, but after you’ve taken in its panoramic view and walked around the lake, head to a trail called Bear Lake to Howell Park. You’ll join the rest of the summer crowd climbing a rather steep trail to the Bear Lake Trail, but instead of tuning left with the throngs, TURN RIGHT INSTEAD and head to Howell Park. It is about a 7 mile hike but the beauty is, in part, it is down hill. In the height of the summer season, we ran into one other couple and a bull elk the entire time on the trail. You’re surrounded by woods, babbling streams and exit into a beautiful meadow surrounded by peaks. It was such a pleasure! Be sure to check its availability and whether it is open to the public before heading out as there may be fire damage that restricts access.

Bear Lake In The colder Weather
Bear Lake In The colder Weather
Craig Getchius at Bear Lake
Craig Getchius at Bear Lake
Elk on Bear Lake to Howell Park Trail
Elk on Bear Lake to Howell Park Trail
End of Bear Lake to Howell Park Trail, Entering Howell Park
End of Bear Lake to Howell Park Trail, Entering Howell Park

The West Side of the Park

Many people travel through the park to the Alpine Visitors’ Center at the highest point, enjoy the view and turnaround and go back down to the heart of the park. As you’re leaving the center, you turn left to head back but TURN RIGHT INSTEAD! The west side of the park is wonderful and full of wildlife. Moose are notoriously recluse and are generally found in the marshy landscapes. The west side of the park has abundant wetlands and offers an opportunity to view moose that are elusive on the eastern park side.

Moose On The West Side of RMNP
Moose On The West Side of RMNP

However you choose to enjoy the park, whatever time of year, be sure your cameras are charged up and ready to go and enjoy the experience of photographing one of the most beautiful places in the world!

Craig Getchius Photographing in RMNP
Craig Getchius Photographing in RMNP

Thanks for reading! – ADG

Photographing An Elk And More

Hmmm, about twelve years ago when we moved from Illinois to the west I was excited to be so close to some of the greatest national parks in the world. I figured all I had to do is show up early in the morning in Yellowstone, Grand Teton or Rocky Mountain National Park and I would experience a smorgasbord of animals doing all sorts of wonderful things. Heck, there would be bison running, herds of bison forging rivers. Bears would snarl, wolves would howl and run. Moose would be drinking from a river, and elk prancing about. Eagles would be soaring high and of course antelope would roam. I could not wait to witness animals chasing each other. So on and so on.

Well, on very rare occasions I did experience some fantastic action scenes. But mostly, no matter what time of the day it was, I watched elk slumber or eat grass. Most of the time when watching a herd of elk they seemed to want to show their butts to me. Or they just laid down and did nothing. When it came to bears on occasion I got some pretty good closeups which were nice photographs but, to be completely honest, nothing that one would say “hey that is an outstanding nature photo.”

Probably my best bear action photo was a brown bear sitting on a huckleberry shrub eating the fruit. How that bear maintained its balance on those flimsy branches is beyond me.

Over the course of time I have gotten some nice pics of antelope roaming or running. Note to readers: If your thing is to take photos of pronghorns (antelope) Wyoming is the place you want to be. In Wyoming the antelope are everywhere.

When it comes to elk photos one of my favorites is this photo of a herd of elk crossing the road.

I kind of consider the “elk crossing the road” photo to be a documentary photo of life near a national park in the west.

Of course I have a lot of photos of elk standing and posing for me.

At this time I think you should understand that when I moved west I wanted to dedicate myself to being one of the best wildlife photographers in the west. Then reality set in. To accomplish that goal I would have to spend days at a time away from home and family. I would have to go into the back country maybe for weeks at a time. I would have to return over and over to the same location realizing it might take months, if not years, to get those special photographs that would awe the photographic world.

To become a successful wildlife photographer I would have to shirk my family responsibilities. I neither had the desire or lack of conscience to do that. So my photography slowly started to evolve into landscape photography.

Still, I never lost my desire to be a wildlife photographer. I understood that it would take tremendous luck to get those wonderful capture that we all visualize when we think of wildlife photography. I could not rely on luck. Instead, I had to figure out how do I take an ordinary wildlife scene and make it different? Yep, make the ordinary in nature seem interesting.

To accomplish this I started using what I had learned from other photographic disciplines and applying them to wildlife photography.

In street photography and portrait photography shooting your subject in black and white brings out its emotion.

Again street photography: Look for a normal scene in an odd situation.

Another rule of street photography: Hey stupid it does not matter what the camera is, be ready to be a photographer at all times.

The previous two photos were taken from my car parked on the side of the road with a small old Nikon V1. If I had to get out my bigger camera and lens most likely I would have missed the shot.

In portrait photography start close and work outward. Well, this is a crop of the other photo. With thirty-six megapixels you can do that.

These next two photos I ignored the standard elk photo and concentrated on the face. While taking closeups of the elks face I moved around so I would get different perspectives of the elk.

Portrait and street photography: It is the expression in the face that makes the image.

Sports photography: Remember the horse bet. When photography was in its infancy two men made a bet on when a horse ran if all four legs left the ground at the same time.

Streetscapes and landscape photography: Lines.

Ok, I am never going to be a famous wildlife photographer. Nevertheless, I am still learning and most important of all I am enjoying what is around me and not fretting over what I wish I could photograph.

Hope you enjoyed my little growths in photographing the normal wildlife in our national parks. It is a work in progress. All photos, with the exception of the antelope photo, were captured in either Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park or Rocky Mountain National Park.

The antelope photo was taken about twenty miles southeast of Yellowstone National Park. Like I said, antelope are everywhere in Wyoming. – CLG

A Quick Pullover

I learned my photography with the help of Kodak Film. Black and white photos came to life in my basement using Kodak chemicals. When shooting color I would use Kodachrome 25 or 64. I have fond memories of those days. I was discovering and  learning. And darn it taking a pic with film, developing the film, then creating a contact strip and finally an enlargement, fills one with great satisfaction and accomplishment. Doing that work is tedious, yet awarding.

In the days of film there was no instant gratification and boy, you really had to know the craft of photography. Mistakes were permanent and rarely did you have the opportunity to go back and retake the moment. I had to nail the photo and when it was all finished and I had created what what I had visualized the print to be, I would experience a creative high that would last for days. Today in the digital world I don’t experience that euphoria. It is all instant gratification and the feeling of happiness of nailing the photo is short lived.

Yesterday, I was thinking about all that while driving out of Rocky Mountain National Park. Photographically the day had been a waste. I had taken about a hundred pics that I knew were totally worthless.

I had already download the pics on my iPad and one after the other ended with delete. There was a few I kept hoping that with a second look I would discover something worthwhile in them that I had previously overlooked. Basically I just didn’t want to admit that on this day I had failed as a photographer.

As I got closer to the exit of the park I noticed in the distant four wild turkeys. What the heck, I pulled the car off the side of the road, grabbed my Nikon D500 which had attached to it a Nikkor 200 to 500mm zoom lens.

I jumped out of the car and looked for a clear view of the turkeys. They were about thirty yards away. There was no time to set up a tripod. I would have to steady the heavy lens and camera all on my own. Vibration Reduction was on. I quickly changed the focusing to 3D put the camera up to my eye and started shooting. I took about fifteen close up photos of the turkeys before they were out of view. About forty percent of the photos were okay sharp and about sixty percent of the photos were razor sharp. Amazing, I could never have accomplished this during my film days. Camera would have had to been on a tripod. I would have been more selective with the shutter release because each snap cost money. Plus the turkeys were moving quickly and sporadically so it is doubtfull that my manual focus would have kept up with them. I would of had maybe one or two photos in focus.

Note: the close up  of the Turkey’s profile is what I consider barely sharp.

Then I noticed some wildflowers to the left of where the turkeys had previous been. So for the fun of it I took a couple of snapshots of them. A couple of snaps ended up being about fifteen pics. Again even with a gentle wind swaying the flowers most of my pics were sharp. If I had been shooting film it is doubtful that I would have taken more than one photo of the flowers. As it ends up the flower photos were my favorite photos of the day and I consider them keepers.

Yep, once I got back to the car I quickly download the captures onto my iPad. I edited one flower pic and uploaded it to Instagram. On the iPad the pics I figure were good I copied into Lightroom. When I got home those same pictures were already downloaded into Lightroom on my computer. Now I can study them even more and possibly create something special.

Yes, instant gratification can be rewarding.