Field Techniques

Wildlife Photography ”Beyond the Perfect Portrait” by D. Robert Franz

Alaskan brown bear © D. Robert Franz

Alaskan brown bear © D. Robert Franz


Wildlife Photography ”Beyond the Perfect Portrait”

Text and Images by D. Robert Franz

For many aspiring wildlife photographers capturing beautiful portraits of their favorite birds or animals in the wild is often their primary goal. This is certainly an understandable and a worthwhile endeavor. When I began photographing wildlife over thirty years ago, I was inspired by the striking wildlife photos of Leonard Lee Rue III and Erwin Bauer. I carefully studied how they used the light, controlled backgrounds, and placed their subjects in the frame to create pleasing wildlife portraits. I pursued the perfect wildlife portrait relentlessly and over time accumulated a large collection of. As time passed I became less and less satisfied with my wildlife photography. I desired more evocative images with impact. I felt as though I really needed to elevate my images to a higher level. I will discuss some of the methods I’ve used to achieve that goal and continue in my evolution as a wildlife photographer.

Red Fox (Vulpes fulva) © D. Robert Franz

Red Fox (Vulpes fulva) © D. Robert Franz

A sure way to take your photography to a new level is to capture your subject in action and intense subject action can lead to a once in a lifetime photo. Capturing extreme subject action in still photography has never been easier. Most camera systems now have excellent autofocus capabilities which allow you to acquire focus of moving subjects. Modern digital cameras can now effectively utilize a higher ISO which allows you the ability to use high shutter speeds that were never before possible. Many cameras have frame rates of ten to twelve frames per second. This gives you the ability to capture the peak dramatic moments. Control of your shutter speed allows you to depict motion in a number of ways. Using a slower shutter speed can give your subject a bit of movement which helps depict motion whereas a high shutter speed will freeze everything. When the action starts fire away.

American elk or wapiti © D. Robert Franz

American elk or wapiti © D. Robert Franz

Dramatic weather also can lead to dramatic images. Falling snow, rain, fog and even wind driven sand can add interest to the wildlife image. Many photographers tend to avoid photographing in extreme conditions so when you capture images in such conditions they will be unique and that is highly desirable. Photographing wildlife when snow is falling is perhaps my favorite adverse environmental condition to work in. Dressing yourself as well as your cameras for the conditions allow you to work comfortably. There are some technical difficulties to overcome when the snow is falling. Autofocus becomes difficult. The heavier the snowfall the more likely the camera will attempt to focus on the falling snowflakes rather than your subject. I use a combination of autofocus and manual override of focus to achieve good results. Your camera will have a tendency to underexpose images during snowy conditions so using manual exposure or dialing in a plus compensation during auto exposure is required.

Exceptional light leads to exceptional images. The old adage of keeping the light source over your shoulder for a good photograph, while applicable in certain situations, is quite limiting. Most often now I try to capitalize on dramatic or unusual lighting situations. Today’s cameras allow me to get out earlier, stay out later and even photograph at night. Side lighting, backlighting, spotlighting and silhouettes are also great lighting techniques that help make your images stand out. The ability of today’s cameras to pull detail out of shadowed areas of an image while maintaining correct exposure on the highlights opens up many possibilities as well. With the advancements made in flash photography and the availability of infrared camera traps, never before seen behaviors and habits of nocturnal wildlife is another new and exciting genre of wildlife photography.

Mountain Lion in Yellowstone National Park © D. Robert Franz

Mountain Lion in Yellowstone National Park © D. Robert Franz

Spectacular surroundings will lead to spectacular images. Early in my career I used to adhere to the axiom of “less is more” in wildlife photography. I tried to isolate my subject from any distracting elements. While this is still a great approach for the perfect portrait I now find myself searching for a great animalscape. When you strategically compose wildlife in an already fine landscape image you create an image that will stand the test of time. These days I never go into the field without a second camera with a shorter lens attached, such as a 70-200mm, slung over my shoulder. You don’t want to miss a chance to capture a memorable animalscapes, as they don’t come around often.

Remember, always be looking for exceptional light and be ready for action. When it occurs take advantage of it. When the weather turns bad, wildlife photography can be good. Break out your camera and make the best of it. Find landscapes with wildlife in the scene to create memorable images. With this methodical approach to wildlife photography you can take your imagery to a new level.

Robert Franz has been a professional nature & wildlife photographer for over 25 years. With degrees in wildlife management and geology he has extensive knowledge of the natural world. During his productive career he’s published over ten thousand images and nearly two hundred magazine covers. In 2007 Digital Photography Magazine proclaimed Robert as one the worlds best wildlife photographers. Having a long standing love for the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem Robert and his wife Lorri moved to Cody Wyoming in 2003. For more information on his photo tours and nature photography visit





Shooting the Mums Story and photographs by F.M. Kearney ©

As one of the year’s last flowers to bloom, chrysanthemums offer a last chance to hone your floral photography skills before winter and the following spring. That is, of course, if you live anywhere in or near the Northeast.

Mums are fun flowers to photograph. They come in many different colors and styles, allowing for a variety of creative options. Some of the most common are garden chrysanthemums, which usually grow in neat, tight clusters of similar colors. A popular technique is to move in close and fill the frame with them. You’ll want edge-to-edge sharpness, so use a small aperture opening for maximum depth of field.

CM-17a Read the rest of this entry »

NATURE’S VIEW: The Chattering Songbird of the Salt Marsh Story and photographs by Jim Clark ©

In an earlier column I gave praise to the seaside sparrow, a species common to the salt marshes of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, but rarely sought after by nature photographers. This column is on one of my all-time favorite songsters: Cistothorus plaustris, the marsh wren, a denizen of freshwater and tidal brackish marshes with robust stands of bulrush, cattail and cordgrass.

The marsh wren is every bit as inconspicuous as the seaside sparrow, but two qualities make it stand out. It is curious as all get-out, and it loves to sing.

Marsh wrens have to figure you out, and they will approach as near as arm’s length to do so. Even when you can’t see them, they are likely watching you; sometimes closer than you think.

Marsh Scene 4 HDR Nik NX2 05292015 Blackwater NWR MD

The domain of the marsh wren, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Maryland. © Jim Clark


The other giveaway is its song. Once you hear the marsh wren’s bubbling repertoire of chattering melodies, you will have little trouble recognizing it on future ventures into its wetland domain. A marsh is not a marsh without the wren’s enthusiastic and rapid chatter resonating throughout the tidal landscape. And this little feathered ball of dynamism not only sings during the day, but also at all hours of the night. Read the rest of this entry »

Nikon AF-S 600mm f/4E FL ED VR Lens Field Review by Aaron Baggenstos

Nikon AF-S 600mm f/4E FL ED VR Lens Field Review
Wildlife Photography in Alaska
By Aaron Baggenstos

I was recently given the opportunity to field test the new Nikon AF-S 600mm f/4E FL ED VR Lens in Alaska, one of my favorite places for wildlife photography and a place where I lead several photography tours each year.

I am extremely impressed with this lens. I’ve demonstrated a few of my favorite new features in the video review below including images, video, and time-lapse. Thank you for watching and I hope you enjoy this review.

About Aaron Baggenstos:


Aaron Baggenstos is an Award-winning professional wildlife photographer from Seattle, Washington. Aaron specializes in leading photography tours and workshops in Alaska, Yellowstone, and the Pacific Northwest including Canada.

His photographs have been recognized by National Geographic, Nature’s Best, and the Audubon Society. Most recently, thirteen of his images were chosen for the final round in the prestigious 2015 BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year.

Aaron’s new limited edition coffee table book Pacific Northwest Wildlife is available at retailers ranging from Barnes & Noble to Costco and on His two previous books Wildlife of Juanita Bay and Wildlife of Lake Washington were instant regional bestsellers and all display Aaron’s awe-inspiring wildlife images.

In the Fall of 2011 Aaron co-hosted two episodes of the hit PBS television Series “Wild Photo Adventures” with Doug Gardner which aired internationally on PBS.

Along with guiding tours and instructing photography workshops over 100 days a year, Aaron also enjoys public speaking and presenting slideshows. To date he has spoken at multiple Audubon chapters and birding groups, National Wildlife Refuges, book stores, and other local interest groups.

Through his work Aaron hopes to inspire others to photograph, enjoy, and take action to protect, local and worldwide ecosystems.



Hands Off by Gordon Illg

Land iguana walks through a group of photographers, South Plaza Island, Galapagos National Park, Ecuador. Image © Gordon and Cathy Illg.

Land iguana walks through a group of photographers, South Plaza Island, Galapagos National Park, Ecuador. Image © Gordon and Cathy Illg.

By Gordon Illg

This is a new monthly opinion column by photographer Gordon Illg about what inspires nature photographers and why nature photographers do what they do. Check back next month for the next installment! And please check out more of Gordon’s work at:


If you’re like me, you receive many, many petitions to sign. Well, one of the latest expressed the view that people should totally stay away from some sensitive parts of the planet just to better protect them. Their stance was that even ecotourism was too much pressure for some parts of the world, and they used both Antarctica and the Galapagos in their list of candidates that should remain totally people free. The petitioners felt that we would be better off reading about these places rather than experiencing them for ourselves. I did not sign that petition. In fact, my response was…how can I put this delicately? “What a crock!”

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Add Scale to Your Grandscapes by Kerrick James

© Kerrick James

© Kerrick James

Like many of us, my love of photography began with the wild landscape. My early years were spent emulating icons like Ansel Adams, David Muench and Eliot Porter. I followed the grand landscape dream all over the American West, and after years of chasing light and doing “pure” landscapes with no signs of humanity whatsoever, I began to feel a little boxed in, as if I was repeating my favorite lighting formulas everywhere I went, and missing something I could sense, but not see.

Eventually, I broke out of that mold by showing the friends and guides with whom I was exploring the natural world—on backpacking trips, river-rafting and kayaking adventures, climbing and every activity I could envision. Over time, these new images of landscapes with people meant far more to me, and not coincidentally, had more success in the world of magazine travel photography than the classic landscapes of my youth.
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Juniper tree at Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park, Utah.


When reading this short essay, remember I have no plans to abandon color photography. My feelings are that both mediums have their place. Some images are better represented in color and others in monochrome. The principles of photography carry over to both methods. The only difference is in certain images, the lack of color and the power of monochrome can stand out when applied correctly. I also prefer to use the term monochrome rather than black and white. When viewing a black and white image, we are really looking at shades of gray, not just black and white.

When we think of monochrome photography we almost always think of Ansel Adams, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Minor White, Robert Frank, Paul Strand, Dorothea Lange and Edward Weston, just to name a few. We think of powerful images delivering a story clearly transmitted to our brains. We think of monochromatic images going back to the acceptance of photography as an art. Thank you, Mr. Stieglitz!

Alabama Hills and Sierra Nevada Mountains

Alabama Hills and the Sierra Nevada.



Color film was actually developed in the mid-1800s but due to the primitive nature of the products, colors faded from the prints quickly. Just before 1900, if one had the money, one could buy the proper equipment to make color images. Only the very rich could afford to play in this process.

In 1935, Kodak brought to market Kodachrome. However because of the expense compared to black and white, color processing was not the norm until the 1970s, just 50 years ago! Interesting enough it was Polaroid who introduced the first instant color film in 1963. By 1970, color film was the norm for most “snapshots.” However, black and white film was still used by some photographers for the aesthetic nuances that it offers.

It was common for black and white photographers to do their own developing and printing. Color film was dramatically improved, but black and white photography continued to be used as a different method to tell the story, in unusual and powerful ways.

West Fjords Waterfall, Iceland.

West Fjords Waterfall, Iceland.



Today I strongly feel that deciding to eliminate color, as an option in telling our story through photography, is a choice not to be taken lightly. It is important to decide, even before the photograph is made, if this image is a possible candidate for monochrome. I have made many images where color is actually a distraction from the strength of the image itself as well as subtracting from the meaning I am trying to convey.

Form, as well as texture, can be brought out in monochrome much stronger than in color. In monochromatic photography we are using our eyes and brains to look at the form of a subject, the texture of the subject, and not confusing ourselves with trying, at the same time, to decipher and process color.

When making color images we think about brightness, hue of color and more. With monochrome images we are only dealing with shades of gray. This is one reason why monochrome images can be exceedingly more powerful than color if produced correctly. Again, the process starts before the camera comes out of the bag.

Photoshop, or any type of computerized monochrome processing that we may be working with today, parallels what Weston and Adams did in the darkroom years ago. In many ways, monochromatic photography can exceed the power of color both in emotion and how the image is viewed and interpreted.

Sea stacks at Bandon Beach, Oregon.

Sea stacks at Bandon Beach, Oregon.



When working in monochrome consider using tone, brightness, texture and contrast within your image to tell the story and communicate your feeling. Consider that complementary colors like red and green can often look the same in monochrome. If the textures in a monochrome image are identical they become hard to differentiate. Using different textures within an image in monochrome is another way to bring out the feeling from the start. I find differentiating the depth of field of a subject in monochrome photography is more important than if photographing in color. Making one part of the image sharp and the other out of focus can really accentuate the image.

Using these concepts and techniques will get you on the path to seeing in monochrome and being able to deliver images with significant value, but there is much more to learn about making quality monochromatic images. Understanding the Zone system, proper processing technique for monochrome, as well as perfecting your printing technique are all important.

interior of old barn in Palouse, Washington

Inside an old barn in the Palouse.



Guy Tal’s Guy Tal’s ebooks on Creative Processing Techniques

Ansel Adam’s “The Negative,” originally published in 1981



Jack Graham has been a Professional Photographer and Photo Workshop Leader for over 20 years. For more information, and to view his portfolio, visit To read additional photography articles go to

A Tale of Two Winters by Kathy Lichtendahl

Mystic Falls © Kathy Lichtendzahl

Mystic Falls © Kathy Lichtendzahl

Although Yellowstone National Park is a photographer’s paradise any time of year, it is truly magical in the winter months. But a visit to the Park in the cold season requires a certain amount of research and planning. Many of the roads close down completely in late October and re-open to supervised over-snow travel in mid-December, remaining open until the end of February before closing once again for spring plowing. One exception is the road between Mammoth Hot Springs and Cooke City, Montana, through the well-known Lamar Valley. The road is Cooke City’s only automobile access to the outside world in winter and so it is kept open year round.

Options for winter visits are plentiful, depending on where you wish to stay and what you want to do. Shoulder towns such as Gardiner and West Yellowstone offer a variety of housing options or you can stay in the park itself at Mammoth or Snow Lodge at Old Faithful. Another option is to take a class through the Yellowstone Association and stay right in Lamar Valley at the Buffalo Ranch.

For years my husband and I have been making at least one trip each winter into Old Faithful Snow Lodge (so many years, in fact, that we stayed at the old lodge before it was torn down in 1998!) Six months ahead of time we make reservations, arranging for three to four nights at Old Faithful as part of the “Frosty Fun” package, which we have found to be the best deal for a winter stay. The package includes our snow coach ride in and out from Mammoth, a room for two and breakfast each morning, among other things. We also make sure to arrange for a snow coach “drop” each day we are there which allows us to get a jump start each morning by being delivered, with our skis, to a location several miles either north or south of the hotel, depending on our plans for the day.

In both 2014 and 2015 our visit to Old Faithful took place in the second week of February. The difference in temperatures between the two years was truly unprecedented, proving that you cannot rely on a specific weather pattern for any given winter visit. In 2014 the cold was severe with daily highs well below zero degrees Fahrenheit. The snow was deep and traveling, even on skis, was a challenge. It was critical to have as little skin exposed as possible and keeping camera gear, especially batteries, warm, was a constant struggle. Shots of the thermal features were challenging because of the amount of steam present and many animals were selective about leaving shelter only when absolutely necessary. The images that were made featured trees covered in snow and ice and frosty faced bison desperately plowing through deep snow in search of buried blades of grass. In contrast, this year found us experiencing record high temperatures with middays in the 40 degree range! The challenges were different but still present. With daily thaws followed by nightly freezing, boardwalks and ski trails were icy and incredibly slick. Bear spray was an unexpected but necessary accessory and bison were present in large numbers as they enjoyed the ease of munching on uncovered grasses. The images to be made contained far less snow and frost but steam was less of a problem in the warmer air.

Whatever the temperature, a winter visit to Old Faithful is well worth a photographer’s time and money. Solitude, an impossible concept in summertime Yellowstone, is easily achieved in the colder months. Just the opportunity to enjoy a private viewing of the famous geyser in early morning or late evening is a special treat that few people in the world have the chance to experience, let alone photograph.

Coyote © Kathy Lichtendahl

Coyote © Kathy Lichtendahl

Castle © Kathy Lichtendahl

Castle © Kathy Lichtendahl



Kathy Lichtendahl, owner of Light in the Valley, LLC., is a nature photographer based in northwest Wyoming where she often leads photo tours and workshops in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Kathy is also a partner in Open Range Images Gallery in Cody, Wyoming. See more of her work at:



This Birding Life by Budd Titlow

© Budd Titlow

© Budd Titlow

This Birding Life is a new monthly column by NANPA Member Budd Titlow.

WHITE-TAILED PTARMIGAN: Making the Snow Come Alive!

Images and Story by Budd Titlow

I’ll never forget the day the snow came alive beneath my feet.

It was a Sunday morning in February just after sunrise and I was heading up into the mountains for a day of cross-country skiing. The previous day’s blizzard had dumped more than a foot of snow on Colorado’s high country. But the morning air was surprisingly pleasant—almost balmy—considering it was midwinter and the nearby sign read: Guanella Pass Summit—Elevation 11,699 Feet.

I left the parking lot and started schussing toward a rock-lined ridge about a mile away. The blinding white glare made it difficult to look anywhere but straight down. The wind-whipped ripples of fresh snow squeaked cleanly as I poled along. A few hundred yards in, I paused to check my compass heading.

Suddenly there was a dance of movement all around my skis. Clumps of snow darted away from me in every direction. I knew it wasn’t an avalanche—the ground was barely sloping and, besides, these snow clumps all had orange eyelids, black beaks, and feathered feet.

Even in the harsh glare of the brilliant sun, the frenzy of white was no illusion. Within seconds, bright white, chicken-like birds were skittering everywhere across the snowfield in front of me. After I gathered my wits and realized that I was not about to fall into some deep crevasse or be eaten alive by prehistoric snow monsters, I understood that I had just invaded the snow-laden world of the white-tailed ptarmigan. It was difficult to say who was the more surprised, the birds or me.

Wild animals in Colorado have developed a variety of methods for coping with the rigors of a high-country winter. Many birds just avoid the cold altogether by migrating southward. But the white-tailed ptarmigan sticks around, surviving through some amazing adaptations. By the time the snow starts to pile up above timberline, the ptarmigan’s feathers have morphed from mottled brown to pure white, making these football-sized birds practically invisible to predators during the long Colorado winters. Feeding on twigs and buds of dwarf willows that poke above the wind-blown snowline, ptarmigan have fully feathered feet that keep them warm and allow them to walk on top of snowdrifts.

Ptarmigan also keep warm by digging deep into fresh snowdrifts until they are totally covered by the white powder. Which—as I experienced—makes it possible to be standing smack in the middle of a large flock without even knowing the birds are there. Strangely, these birds have a curious habit of belying their excellent natural camouflage when something stops moving. It’s as if they don’t believe their cryptic coloration actually works. So my compass-check was a lucky one, yielding the unforgettable experience of seeing the snow burst into life right before my eyes.


A Professional Wetland Scientist (Emeritus) and Wildlife Biologist, Budd Titlow is also an international/national award-winning nature photographer and a widely-published writer/author. Throughout his career, Budd has shared his love of photography and nature by presenting seminars, workshops, and field trips Nationwide. He has also authored four books: BIRD BRAINS – Inside the Strange Minds of Our Fine Feathered Friends (ISBN 978-0-7627-8755-5), SEASHELLS – Jewels from the Ocean (ISBN 978-0-7603-2593-3), ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK- Beyond Trail Ridge (ISBN 0-942394-22-4), and ENVIRONMENTAL SUPERHEROES: Now Climate Change Needs A New One (In Press). Budd’s work is featured on his web site (

Photographing the Unseen by Sebastian Kennerknecht

Malayan Porcupine © Sebastian Kennerknecht

Malayan Porcupine (Hystrix brachyura) at night, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia © Sebastian Kennerknecht

Using SLR Camera Traps to Photograph the Unseen

Text and Images by Sebastian Kennerknecht

How do you photograph an animal so elusive that the biologists studying them have never even seen the species themselves? The answer is simple: SLR camera traps. Photographing wildlife with a camera trap seems easy in concept. Place a camera trap in the wilderness, let it sit there, and have it take amazing pictures while you relax at home. This isn’t quite the case. One of the hardest parts about camera trap photography is getting your set-up to work like you want it to. The camera and flashes have to be ready to take a picture at a moment’s notice, but it also needs to conserve batteries enough to last for an extended period of time. And then everything has to be safe in a serious down drench.  Read the rest of this entry »

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