Arkansas Wildlife Blog and Gallery
Buffalo National River and NW Arkansas
You haven't lived until you have photographed Boxley Valley at daybreak and early morning in the gloom. There are a number of challenges you will face that can take you to the limit as a photographer, even if you are pretty experienced. Some have given up on morning shoots, it is just too frustrating to them.
Most of the pictures I have that make me the most money were taken before 10AM. A couple have paid for my camera. Those are the facts. So misery has its payoffs. Good comes out of suffering, and all that.
The first challenge is back lighting. The sun rises on the same side of the road as nearly all the fields where the animals are. For morning pictures, forget front lighting, at best expect cutting light or side light. If you are shooting elk in the morning, generally they will be gone by the time you will get light other than back light. If you get this light right it can be pretty dramatic, but it is a real pain.
Boxley Valley is, uh, er, a valley. At sunrise, there is no direct light in the valley. The line of the valley runs north and south roughly, as does the Buffalo National River. By the time the sun rises over the mountains, you are at the end of your elk shoot (of course there are exceptions, and other things to photograph). It could be that you have as little as 15 minutes left for the elk.
I generally organize my morning shoot as elk first, swans next, and then whatever comes along. Elk pictures are the most useful to me. As the morning unfolds, I will try to be very alert to other opportunities like blue herons at the low water bridge, or butterflies on the wild flowers du jour, or spiders spinning webs, landscapes, etc. Sometimes the best stuff comes unexpectedly. Be observant, be opportunistic.
Often you will find the valley full of fog in the morning. This may be fine for elk viewing, but it is a bugger for photography. This reduces the sharpness of your photos, and it reduces the light. Autofocus, you have got to be kidding. I can't think of a purer definition of photographic hell than diffuse, low light. For the earliest shots, you will need a tripod. I can't tell you how many times I have shot "wide open" at ISO 1600.
Generally, I set my camera for ISO 800 or 1600 before I even go out shooting. I do the customary checks for charged batteries, and spares, and lots of extra memory cards. I take my tripod. I have a grip head that enables me to position the camera quickly without fussing with knobs and the like. Practically all the tripod positions are uneven, so a ball head or grip head is a big plus. Practically always I am in manual focus.
Remember you need to be nimble. Your chances are fleeting, and if you can't setup quickly, you will miss many great shots. Another tool I have is a rifle stock camera support. I have a Bushhawk, but I have seen a far more affordable ones online. It is very handy when I have to move fast, and have pretty good light. I can go high and low with it pretty fast.
Sometimes you are shooting through holes in cover so getting high and low, and left and right quickly is important. If you don't have this kind of movement down, simulate it before you go out and shoot, you don't want to have to figure it out when that great shot is in front of you.
Shoot in RAW. DSLR shooters and serious point-and-shooters know what this is. RAW is basically all that our digital sensor output has to offer for any photo. It means that later you will have another step or two in processing, but in cruddy light, it is essential. I think most professional photographers consider it essential anyway. (Do not bother writing me to argue this last point, JPEG vs. RAW, I won't answer, I don't see the point.) RAW will give you some more leeway on exposure errors.
Another tool I have found very helpful for post processing these back-lit, crud light, morning shots is Viveza. I am not your guy to argue about this software, that lens, or the like, but Viveza is one tool that saves me a TON of time, and allows me to rescue difficult exposures EASILY. It has amazing power, it ain't cheap, but if you make your living shooting pictures, I think it is an essential tool. Get a free, fully functional version of this plug-in from Nik Software. It took me about 15 minutes to figure out that life itself would end if I didn't own Viveza.
Shameless Self-Promotion Department
My framed wildlife prints are on display and for sale at a number of locations:
Boardwalk Cafe/Arkansas House
Cliff House Inn
Point of View Restaurant
Jasper Chamber Gift Shop
Lost Valley Canoe Store
Villines Store (Boxley Valley)
Low Gap Store
Compton One Stop
Uncommon Grounds Coffee Shop
Notes to Entry:
There are times when the fog is so thick that it is pointless to try taking photos at daybreak.
If you are staying nearby at altitude, and the Boxley Valley looks like it is full of white cotton candy, that would be the day you can have another cup of coffee and get down there a bit later. Usually I do go down anyway, and then mutter to myself about the fog and light conditions.
If it is foggy, often one end of the valley will clear before the other. I generally find that would be the south end, but I think that is due to the prevailing winds. Fog is usually gone by 9AM at the latest.
Usually by about 9AM, the elk are gone, but not always. For about a month or so the rut often offers exceptions to this rule due to testosterone poisoning.
You need to know that I don't endorse products because somebody is paying me to do so, or giving me feebies and the like. I would not endorse anything I didn't think was exceptional even if my deceased mother, (RIP) was manufacturing it.
A footnote to the above. If you imagine you might get me to endorse for money, forget it. Don't waste your time. Perhaps at some time in the future I will sell ad space, but it will be clear. It won't be for anything I don't like or respect. I hate that crap. I can make my money other ways.
Photography in Boxley Mornings