Every other year or so I like to make a trip out to Salt Lake City for two very different reasons. The first reason is the Holi Festival, or Hindu Festival of Colors, and the other is Antelope Island. I'll have a post about Holi later, but to give a basic understanding of the festival it's a celebration of all things positive in your life throughout the past year. The point of this blog post though, is all Antelope Island.
Now I have posted photos from here before, but since I recently got my new Nikon 200-500mm lens I needed something to field test it on. I got into Salt Lake City on Thursday night (March 23rd) and left the Monday morning (27th). I left Thursday night so I could get more camera time on the Island and I was hoping to have two days there and one day at the festival, but I got rained out on Saturday so I only got one day on the Island. I got out there around dawn on Friday, which was about 7am, and didn't leave until around 3:30pm so I got a decent amount of time there regardless.
The island has a few main roads that you can drive on and this morning I took a left as I got on the island to head toward the Southeast part of the island and I drove right past a herd of pronghorn antelope. The name "antelope" is actually a misnomer as they aren't a true species of antelope, but part of the family Giraffoidea, which makes them more closely frelated to Giraffes and Okapi than other species of antelope.
The herd consisted of one male and eleven females, which is common for the Spring season. In the Winter Pronghorns have lareger, mixed sex herds, but in the Spring the females detach from the larger herds and form smaller groups. The males will defend their own territory and let the females come and go, or they will choose a harem of females and keep for themselves and defned them.
I worked with this herd for a most of the morning. I parked my rental car on the shoulder and got out to photograph them from the bottom of a hill and they were a bit wary of my presence at first. They were slowly grazing and movinging from right to left and away from me up the hill. I doubled back on and went up the other road that went to the top of the hill and found them there in a field on the left side. I worked with them more there and within half an hour or so they weren't threatened by me anymore. Some of the females and the male were walking around me roughly fifteen to twenty feet away from me at times which let me get some good shots of them with different backgrounds.
They eventually crossed the road and started heading down into the valley and that's when I got back in the car to try and find some Bison.
I found the first herd of Bison that day on the Southern tip of the island in a protected section of the park that doesn't allow non-park personnel to travel through it. That was a little disheartening because this heard had eight members, which would make this one of the larger herds on the island. I've only ever seen two bigger herds like this and the rest of the Bison form smaller groups or roam around by themselves. The one-on-ones can be really good because you can just post up and let them wander towards you and as long as you don't make sudden movements they'll just go about their grazing like you aren't even there. Not all Bison are like that though and they can spook easily, which is why working with a herd can be more difficult since their are a lot of different personalities present.
After deciding there was no real way to get any good shots of that herd I went back North and made a left on a side road that goes partway up a mountain to a parking area where you can hike up to the different mountain peaks. The first and lower peak is called Dooly Knob (5278ft) and that's the one I usually climb. The other two are Stringham Peak (6374ft) and the trail ends at Frary Peak (6596ft). At the split in the trail (Dooly Knob to the right and the other two to the left) the climb to Frary is another 2.5miles laterally so I don't make that additional climb too often, especially this time when it was 40 degrees Farenheit at Dooly and the other two peaks were snow-covered still.
After coming back down from Dolly Knob I got back on the road and went back to where I was working with the herd of Pronghorn later in the morning on top of the hill. I saw them again there, but I still didn't have any bison shots from the day so I went up to another mountain on the island and on the way I found a few small groups of bison grazing on either side of the road. I stopped off and got out a few different times to work with different groups and got some good shots.
The tough thing about working with bison in a high light environment is that the bison are genereally very dark subjects and the long grasses, mountains, and the sky are very light in comparison. The problem with that is you can expose for the surroundings and get an extrememly dark bison, where you lose a lot of the bison's features, or you can expose for the bison and have your backgrounds completely blown out and extremely bright. There's no real way to account for this unless you can take multpile shots at different exposure and stitch them together, but with living and moving subjects and backgrounds it's next to impossible.
My editing skills aren't on par to correct for such a difference either, which is why I decided to make some of the more difficult shots to fix black and white instead. It's a simple fix and can lend the photo a nice artistic quality. I don't do a lot of black and white photos because I like to capture the images as I see them, but sometimes it's nice to break out of my comfort zone and try something different. I left the last photo in the slideshow still in color and you can see what I mean by exposing for either light or dark. The bison's head is a little darker than I'd like, but if I went any lighter the grass would look even more unnaturally bright.
There was one bison in particular that I was working with that decided to wander a lot closer than I've ever been. It might be hard to tell from some of the photos, but at one point he wandered pretty close to me and the car while I was outside it by the passenger side headlight. I decided not to move to see how close he would get, which was about 10-15ft away. At one point he was just on the other side of a free-standing bush and if he decided he didn't like me there I wouldn't have stood a chance of getting back in the car. I'm not saying I know completely what I'm doing at all times, or how any individual animal might react to what I do or how I do it, but I've learned to pick up on body language cues, postures, and sounds enough to feel relatively comfortable around wildlife. That being said that was too close for even me, so I just stayed put until he walked by because I didn't want to alarm him in any way. All in all it worked out fine and he didn't care I was there at all, which is the best case scenario so it turned out to be a positive experience!
Well, that's all I really had for this trip because of the one day I got rained out so I'll end this post with a few Western Meadowlark photos.