Of all the animals I encounter during my Jackson Hole wildlife tours, the Great Gray Owl has to be one of my favorites. Although they are not common, once located they can be very cooperative subjects. The Great Gray Owl is an ambush hunter, and will stay on their perches for extended periods of time while listening and looking for prey.
This behavior can give photographers more time than usual with birds to capture some nice portraits. Once I feel that I’ve captured some interesting images of a perched owl, I’ll increase the shutter speed in anticipation of the bird taking flight. The owls swoop down on their prey, and if unsuccessful will often stay in the same general area to perch again and continue the hunt.
Jackson Hole Wildlife Tours
If you are interested in Great Gray Owls or the many other species of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, I hope you can join me on a tour. You’ll be sure to have the best opportunity to get some amazing wildlife shots. See a typical wildlife tour itinerary here.
A favorite time of year, winter wildlife tours in Jackson Hole can offer some unique opportunities. To begin with, the animals are much easier to spot! With a heavy blanket of snow covering the valley and the trees being leafless, the wildlife “pops” off the landscape. The stark snowy backgrounds can also help to isolate the animals in the image by creating some nice negative space. While we do have more overcast days during the winter months, this can provide for some nice, even light on the wildlife. It can also give some reflected light off the snow, keeping shutter speeds fast and lowering ISO numbers which can yield higher quality images. Another benefit to the winter wildlife photographer is the animals are less active. The animals are trying to conserve energy , and by keeping a distance that doesn’t disturb them I’m often able to photograph for a longer period than in summer.
Although some of the summer wildlife have migrated, there are plenty of animals about during winter wildlife tours in Jackson Hole. I seem to find more fox and coyote during the winter, and it’s really nice to have some Bighorn Sheep spend the winter here on the National Elk Refuge. Bison, Elk and Moose winter here, and there is always the possibility of a wolf sighting!
If you need a break from our incredible skiing or are here to experience the Grand Tetons, I hope you can join me for a winter wildlife tour in Jackson Hole.
My clients often ask about Yellowstone photography tips. Other than getting out early and staying out late for the best light, one of my best tips is the proper use of different filters. A circular polarizing filter is quite useful for increasing contrast in the sky and also for enhancing colors. I like to use this filter when shooting the hot pools in Yellowstone; it can really make the colors pop. Polarizing filters have the greatest effect when the sun is at a 90 degree angle to the subject you are photographing. While it may seem obvious to some, here’s a top tip. I’ve had a few clients that didn’t know that you need to rotate the filter for it to work. After you’ve composed your subject, simply rotate the filter and observe the effects through the viewfinder. If you shoot the scene both horizontally and then another vertically, remember to rotate!
Graduated neutral density filters are also extremely handy, especially when shooting landscapes at sunrise and sunset. I use the Lee system which has a 2 stop graduated ND 4″x6″ resin filter. By sliding the filter up and down in its holder, I’m able to select where I want the darkening to occur in the sky, balancing the exposure. If you use Lightroom for post-processing, there is also a grad filter there in the develop module. I will sometimes utilize this tool but try to get the image right in camera.
Solid ND filters are great for reducing the amount of light reaching the sensor. This can be useful for giving water and clouds that silky feel by slowing the shutter speed, even during the middle of the day. For the header image of the lightning strike, a ten stop ND filter was used to give an exposure time of 25 seconds at f/8. As the storm moved through the valley I kept shooting, hoping to get a bolt of lightning while the shutter was open.
We used to say film is cheap, digital is free! These Yellowstone photography tips can be used on any scenic shots; experiment with the different filters the next time you’re on location. I think you’ll find that they can really transform an image. You can view more of my Yellowstone Photography here.
To darken the sun and clouds, a 2 stop Graduated ND filter was usedGraduated ND filter used to balance the dynamic range of the exposureCircular polarizing filter used to enhance the colors of Heart PoolA 3 stop ND filter will allow for a longer shutter speed, smoothing the texture of the water
While Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks are justly renowned for their wildlife, wildlife tours around Jackson Hole can be very rewarding with less travel. I had a couple hours of free time one afternoon and was thinking of local photo opportunities. The National Elk refuge lies on the border of the town of Jackson and is always a great area to visit. Miller Butte in the refuge is but a five minute drive from the Town Square and is home to Bighorn Sheep. I was fortunate as these two sheep had come down off the butte and were feeding near the road, allowing for some frame-filling images.
I’d heard that some Mountain Goats had been spotted near the town of Alpine, Wy, about a 45 minute drive from Jackson. I left early, wanting to locate the goats and be on location by the time the light reached the canyon wall. The goats were there and it was a thrill to observe and photograph them on a day that felt like spring