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Photography in National Parks: 3 Things You Must Know

I recently cam across some footage of a woman with her cellphone out frolicking with three bears in Yellowstone National Park. She seemed to be having the time of her life, obviously living out her childhood fantasies of being Goldilocks and capturing the magical moment on her iPhone 12. It was magical, it seemed, until the 1500 pound bear charged her aggressively. She then beat a hasty retreat back to her car and seemed less enthralled with the local wildlife. She became even less so when she was charged criminally, given a hefty fine, and convicted of tampering with wildlife.

This brings up a good lesson that all photographers must learn before embarking on the foray of a lifetime trying to capture that stillshot that will make you NatGeo famous. Most of us who are interested in photography and wilderness exploration will remember Timothy Treadwell, the self proclaim bear enthusiast who, along with his girlfriend Amie Huguenard, was eaten by a bear that he underestimated. That being said, here are three things you should always do when documenting wildlife

  1. Learn the local laws regarding animal interaction. In Ohio, for instance, you are not permitted to spotlight deer at night. I once knew a police officer who was stopped and detained by a local game warden when he was observed using the spotlight on his patrol car, while on duty, to illuminate deer at night. He wasn’t shooting them or attempting to shoot them. He was merely looking at them. National parks have similar laws in place that are meant to protect the visitors and the local wildlife. Make sure you research these before you get the trouble associated with violating federally protected wildlife, it can be long reaching.
  2. Protect yourself while shooting. I can’t stress enough the importance of having the weaponry at your disposal that might be needed to save your life in a dangerous animal encounter. Remember the Timothy Treadwell incident. It went on for three minutes and involved two people. An adequate firearm could have saved the day for the unfortunate pair of conservationists. Even ber spray might have made a difference.
  3. Maintain your distance. No matter what, wild animals are all survivalists and they are dangerous. The best way to stay safe and be effective at the same time is to buy the proper equipment and stay as far away from them as possible. If you can’t afford a 600mm – 1000mm lens, consider renting one or investing in less expensive bridge camera options; some of which can easily reach 1200mm focal length and beyond.
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Hunting Idaho’s National Parks: 3 Thing You Must do to Prepare

It has recently been noted that the world class elk taken by city dwellers,  and would be preppers and survivalists, in Idaho’s national parks, are a thing of the past. Those campsites which used to house truck campers, hobo camps, and military surplus tent enthusiasts are laying empty, windswept, and weedy.

Those trophy bulls, writes Andrew McKean for Outdoor Life™, can now only be found in private properties with river bottom hayfields that will accommodate these majestic animals under the guns of these independent ranchers. The problem, writes McKean, is wolves.

Wolves have been protected, and to many notions, over protected, for the last several decades in national parks. And it is because of these protections that much of the game has been driven from the parks to adjoining areas where private livestock, and property owner rights, make it safer for a herd animals to migrate hither and yon for breeding and grazing purposes.

None of this really affects me as a wildlife photographer per se. I would rather hunt wolves any day as opposed to elk, bear, deer, or bison. What gathers my attention the most is the reference to those empty camp sites and abandoned stands.

A wildlife photographer’s best friend is said to be “down yonder”. In my experience, my favorite people are those found to be “Way Down Yonder”. I absolutely abhor company and love solitude. So it is definitely in my sphere of contemplation for the winter season, to haul my camper out to Lake Pend Oreille in Idaho’s Panhandle National Forest, up near Packsaddle Mountain, and see what kind of lupine footage I can find. Here, in retrospect, are three strategies for a successful hunt in Idaho.

  1. Consider your purpose and make adjustments as needed. Why do you hunt? That is a question I asked myself once while covered in doe blood, my hands greasy with winter fat from a deer I had just ended the existence of. Did I need the meat? No, we had a beef ranch at the time and had several fields full of angus to eat, money in the bank, plenty of food to be had from several different resources. I came to the conclusion that I enjoyed the competition of hunting. So I exchanged a gun for a camera.
  2. Make sure you are well prepared. When I go camping these days, I use a pull behind fiberglass trailer that runs heat and air conditioning from a dual fuel generator that will fire up from propane gas or electricity. Above and beyond that I have two solar generators that will mount on the roof of my camper to run heaters for emergency purposes. I also keep twenty plus gallons of potable water in the storage unit of my trailer.
  3. Be well armed. I cannot stress this enough. In this day and time you should not only want to be armed for dangerous animals, but for dangerous people as well. Generally my photography kit includes a Glock 17 with three 17 round magazines, (on my waist), a KelTec Sub2000, (fitted for Glock 17 mags and folded into a backpack with a bug-out bag holding five 17 round magazines), and a Smith and Wesson Model 629 Mountain gun holstered on my load bearing vest with molle straps.
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Kayaking 202(B): 3 ways to tell when you should just go home

And so with great trepidation and trembling fingers, I loaded my brand new kayak onto the Subaru and headed for the local state park and lake.

It has been raining to beat hell here in southern Ohio, and there was finally a break in the constant drizzly downpour that is supposed to last a few days. So I figured to take advantage of the respite, (I understand that we have another hurricane coming through at some point), and when I got there I discovered that regardless of how excited I was to get out into the water and grab some awesome exposures of buttery wildlife goodness, there was absolutely no way in the world that I was going to. The biggest clue for me was the fact that the only other watercraft on the lake was the mud drudger, and those two guys on it looked   nervous as hell.

The next clue was the fact that there was about five inches of concrete left showing on the boat launch dock, (when there is usually a foot or better), and I could literally see currents forming out on the body of the lake, which was choppy and wind driven. I pondered about how tippy my little 8′ kayak was just being manipulated by the current created from the circulation pump in my swimming pool, and even though I could see the white slash of wings from the eagles flying way out in the distance on the other side of the lake, I left the dreams and visions of snapping some shots there on the lakeshore and grudgingly headed on home. So, here are three clues to keep in mind when you are ponding stormy waters.

  1. Watch for activity on the water. Basically, if no one else is on the water, not even a gaggle of geese, you should probably be asking yourself why that is. If no one else wants to go out because of high water you should most likely follow suit.
  2. Look at the topological indicators. Water levels as opposed to established water lines for instance. Understand that the more volume is present, the greater the force of gravity will affect it and you.
  3. Watch for white water. It shouldn’t take me to tell you that the whiter and more turbulent the water is the more dangerous it is.
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Kayaking 202: Turning a kayak into a photo taking machine

And so I take my final bow as I present to you my kayak, all tricked out and ready to go on lake-water adventures as I endeavor on a trip to capture the stoic visage of a family of American Bald Eagles which inhabit the local state park.

I have labored long and hard on it, (not really), and I have done all that I wanted to in order to get it seaworthy.

Here are the changes I have made to it that make it ready to capture the photos and video that I am going after.

  1. I installed a go-pro mount on the top at the bow. I discovered right off that trying to mount it with marine rivets as I did nearly everything else, because the rivets heads would interfere with the camera mount. Hopefully the gorilla glue that I utilized to mount it will hold, otherwise I’m going to be hoping that the waterproof case makes it float.
  2. I used the gorilla glue to also mount two watertight cases to the floor of the kayak. One is big enough to hold the camera that I plan to use for the kayak photography, and one to hold my cellphone. Though I could have easily drilled and riveted both of these cases in, I didn’t relish the idea of breaking that watertight seal in any way.
  3. I riveted two eye brackets into the bow in order to strap a tripod into the bow. As I shoot more and more photography, I learn more and more that I need to have a tripod for stabilization. And so I plan to utilize this configuration in order to get those photos that have so far eluded me from across the lake. Of course I’ll keep you posted! Stay tuned for the next installment of kayaking for photography…
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Kayaking 201: 3 modifications you must have for photography

Ok, so I have my kayak purchased and I have been practicing with it in my swimming pool. It is very tippy.  And while this is unfortunate, it is not a tragedy because it is very easy to get out of too. However, water and cameras don’t mix well, so I will be practicing extensively with this dude before I get any of my camera gear into it. Perhaps I will visit the local goodwill store or get online and find a nice little zoom camera like the Canon Powershot SX20 IS, which will shoot high definition video and has digital zoom capabilities that allow it to be shot at up to 500mm. I had purchased a Canon G series G1X for these romps into the lakeside wilderness, but with a $400+ pricetag, the tippiness of this kayak has left me feeling less than optimistic about taking this little camera out.

I had previously written about a cute little Sony a100 I purchased for $37 that I ended up selling for $250 to an enterprising young lad who wanted to get a start in photography. The problem with the cheaper Sony was the fact that it doesn’t shoot video and it leaves a lot to be desired in really low light. I definitely don’t want to be juggling two cameras in a kayak… but I digress.

This is a blog about kayak modifications; and here are three must have mods for photography.

  1. Fishing rod holder. As simple as cutting a hole, drilling three more, and pulling three rivets. Viola! You have a fishing rod holder. This is very important because when there is nothing to photograph you are going to need something to do.
  2. Handle and oar holder. Needed so that you can have both hands free to grab camera and tripod to keep them as safe as possible. you don’t want to be juggling a double paddled oar while trying to handle your gear.
  3. A comfortable seat. If you are going to be going after eagles like I am, you will need to have some padding on your rear. Make that seat as comfortable as possible.
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Kayaking 102: Getting Started

Kayaks on a Subaru Impreza

Ok, so I looked around a long, long time before I finally decided on what kayaks to buy for me and my son. I considered everything from used kayaks to inflatable kayaks… I even looked into used inflatable kayaks; here’s what I discovered:

Kayaks become more valuable with age.  And, like good military surplus, those that have a little wear and tear on them, (like a Vietnam era canteen with a bullethole in it), are worth much more than those that are brand new still in the package.

I mean I pored over the used kayaks in the online classifieds. I called, made offers, placed bids… all to no avail; because, every single kayak owner I found, who was willing to part with their beloved kayak, refused to do so -it seemed- without at least doubling their money (and sometimes tripling it). And so, after a couple of weeks of frustration, (yes I’m tenacious), I finally got on the Wally-world site just see what they had to offer. Boy, was I pleased. Wally-world had everything I had wanted and dreamed of right there at my fingertips.  Not only were the exact kayaks I wanted available, they were the right color, $40 cheaper than anywhere else, and they came with oars! Plus, Wally-world had a roof rack to fit my Subaru, AND they had a set of kayak racks as well. All told I spent $448 dollars and there was no shipping costs because I had the entire kit and caboodle sent to my local Wally-world. They sent me an email when it all arrived, and I shot right over there and installed the rack and roof mounts right there in the parking lot with a $5 tool kit I bought in the hardware section.  Total cost… $453, (including the toolkit).

Well, kinda… in the next installation, I will show you the modifications I found necessary to get my kayak right where I needed it to be to turn it into a wildlife photography machine… Stay tuned!

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Kayaking 101: 2 things you must do before you get started

 

 

 

A Sony a100 DSLR camera equipped with a Minolta 100-300mm

I have recently grown weary of walking the same old trails and driving the same old access roads looking for fresh game and new scenery for my photography.

My wife suggested that I take up kayaking in order to get to areas of a local state park that are inaccessible in any other way. Eagles for instance, are nesting on the far side of the lake and if I use digital zoom, my expensive Panasonic FZ-80 will zoom right over there so that I can just make them out, sitting in their trees and cavorting amongst themselves. Below them I can usually find where the Great Blue Herons are raising their elegant younglings, gracefully teaching them to fish among the cattails.  And so, I began the endeavor to find my path towards becoming a water borne photographer, and it was then that I discovered that I need to do two things in order to get started. Here they are:

  1. Consider costs and find the best deal out there. Now, I don’t mean just finding the best deal on a kayak, although I do mean that as well, but consider what kind of risk you will be putting your equipment through before you get started.  I have several expensive cameras and lenses. The first thing I did was go to my agent and add some extra insurance to my equipment. I also got online and looked for some inexpensive but useful alternatives to taking my best stuff out there. I found a Sony a100 on a popular repurposing site online for $37. It’s only 10mp, but it takes legacy Minolta lenses which are extremely cheap but very sharp.  I also found a Canon SX20 IS which is only 12mp but which has a 500mm focal length, ($24, same site). Both cameras work wonderfully and if they fall into the drink, I’ll be disappointed but I won’t sob uncontrollably for several days.
  2. Learn your equipment. Go to the local university and find out where the outdoor pursuit center, and get some safety training. The last thing you should want to do is get drowned while trying to get a couple of photographs. In upcoming posts, I will take you through the process of acquiring kayaks and equipment requirements to start using them for photography expeditions… stay tuned!
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Wilderness photography: tools to take it to the next level

If you are an adventurer, survivalist, hunter, fisherman, outdoorsman, prepper or any other form of military surplus equipment connoisseur, then you are probably a photographer as well, at least on some level. Photography is my passion. I am an avid hunter and outdoorsman; however, in this day and time I have traded in my rifles and bows for cameras.

Not that I have anything against hunting, I still will if and when the need arises, but in the meantime I prefer to keep my skills sharp by  taking photographs of the animals that I like to hunt and eat. I have found that it is less expensive in the fact that I don’t have to pay Big Brother for the privilege of shooting deer with a camera, (not yet at least). There are several plusses to shooting with a camera as opposed to using a rifle; if I accidentally shoot my buddy, it’s no big deal. Me and my buddy can each shoot the same deer, (several times), and if I happen to see the game warden sashaying down the trail, my guts don’t turn to jelly…

But that’s not the purpose of this blog, I want to turn you on to a great little invention that I have recently stumbled upon that has taken my wilderness photography to an entirely new level, that is the window based camera mount. I discovered this at my local outdoor outfitters store and couldn’t buy it quickly enough.

Now I don’t need to scramble for a camera when I see a sasquatch hunting feral pigs in a wooded meadow, or a fox squirrel riding a blue heron as it flies around Acton Lake… no, from now on I have my camera mounted to my driver’s window and merely have to turn it on and focus as best I can.  This thing is even designed to offer one handle operation for tilt and swivel.

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4 great uses for a surplus bag

I read recently that an military surplus army bag makes a great camera bag. Well, huh? I guess that makes sense considering the fact that military equipment is designed to be ultra functional and practical. But there are many uses for a military surplus bag that goes beyond a camera bag. let’s be honest though, the military surplus bag looks cool as hell and there is little else that can just say “adventure and ruggedness” like the rumpled canvas of a coyote brown or OD green military surplus bag. I have had several uses for my military bags over the years. I use one, for instance, as a possibles bag whenever I go hunting with a black powder rifle. I like it much better than I like the stiff leather purse I bought at the second hand store years ago, simply because it is much more functional. These things are great and are multi-functional, the best thing about them is the fact that they are so in-expensive that you can have an assortment on hand for in the event that the need arises to have one. Here are four examples of great uses for a military surplus bag.

Photo By: petapixel.com

Photo By: RDDUSA

Photo By: RDDUSA

Photo By: RDDUSA

  1. As an herbalism bag. I like to hunt for tubers and mushrooms. I also like to go out during certain times of the year and gather flowers, roots, and leaves for different medicinal purposes. A good military surplus bag , especially one like the Australian soft bag, fits easily around the shoulder and neck, and offers a great way to save what you gather without getting in the way or taking up needed pack space.
  2. As a relic bag. I also love to hunt for relics. By relics I mean arrow heads, artifacts, treasures, etc. I find these types of bags to be perfect for underwater excursions as well. I also carry two or three military surplus bags with me whenever I am on a military surplus tent adventure, especially one with the entire family where I am usually the person who ends up packing everyone else’s gear.
  3. As a medical kit. I always try to carry some occlusive dressings, two or three tourniquets, and some combat gauze just in case I get into some trouble in the form of miscreant contacts, bear attack, or I run into a nest of sasquatches. Not common, but not totally unheard of either.
  4. As a shell bag. I had mentioned that I used a military surplus bag as a possibles bag, but another function I like one is for use as a bag to hold my shotgun shells when I am skeet shooting or dove hunting. This is much easier to handle than to try to juggle a box of shells, or to hold them loosely in my pocket.
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