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Natural Perspectives: Memoirs of a wildlife photographer

October 16, 2012|By Vic Leipzig and Lou Murray
(Photo by LOU MURRAY )

Last week, Vic and I wrote about my recent visit to Yellowstone National Park. The reason I was in that area was to attend a wildlife photography workshop in Grand Teton National Park. The workshop was sponsored by a photography group called the Nikonians.

When our friend Mark Singer asked me early in the summer to accompany him to this workshop, I jumped at the chance. We spent four rewarding but grueling days in the Tetons in the company of professional wildlife photographer Jim Stamates and 10 other photographers.

When I say grueling, I'm talking about the hours, not the level of physical exertion. We had to be up before 5 a.m. in order to meet the group at 6 at whatever remote location Jim had chosen for the day.

A predawn October morning in Southern California may require a jacket, but predawn in the Rockies is another whole thing. Temperatures plummeted to a low of 9 degrees. Mark was bundled up in seven layers of clothing in order to hike to wherever Jim directed to catch the best light. But I'm not that dedicated. I stayed in the car with the heater on.

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Ah, but that was why Mark was able to capture a sunrise shot of a bull elk bugling while standing in the Snake River, with a morning mist rising eerily around it. I didn't even see it. But I enjoyed Mark's photos and really enjoyed staying warm.

Once the sun came up, I was willing to go on short walks with the group but not the longer ones. There is no oxygen at those altitudes, and my old body knew it. I was worried about not being able to stay with the group at all times but found that I was perfectly happy staying around the cars and photographing what was there, which was plenty. Jim was quite accommodating of my inability to hike at high altitude, and it worked out fine.

Jim has a low-impact philosophy about approaching wildlife. He believes in forming a relationship with the subject. If it is wildlife, watch its behavior. Relax around it, and let it relax around you. By doing that, a few of us were lucky enough to watch twin fawns nursing a doe mule deer.

It was still bison rutting season, and some of the 800 bison in the Tetons were "getting busy." I photographed some of the action, but it wasn't until I processed my photos that I realized it was one bull mounting another. Apparently, they do that as an act of dominance.

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