• Yellowstone's weird side

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    • Pro photographers offer fall tips
      Billings Gazette

      There may be no better time of the year to get outside and exercise your photographic muscle than in the fall.
      “Fall is my favorite time f...
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      Pro photographers offer fall tips

      Billings Gazette

      There may be no better time of the year to get outside and exercise your photographic muscle than in the fall.

      “Fall is my favorite time for sure,” said professional photographer John Reddy of Helena.

      The days can be warm, yet not hot, so hiking around doesn't have to be searing or freezing cold. There are no, or very few, biting insects. Deciduous trees take on varying shades of color that provide excellent contrast while also expanding the visual palette.

      Animals are more active at all times of the day because of the cooler weather and the closeness of winter. There's also a gauzy luminescence to fall light that makes it more moody and appealing.

      “Elk are bugling and the leaves are changing, there's frost in the morning and fog, and the days are a lot more convenient length with the sun coming up later,” said Bozeman, Mont., photographer Thomas Lee.

      With the advent of inexpensive and simple digital cameras and everyone carrying cell phones with cameras, photography seems to be more universal than ever before. Editing software and computers have also given people a chance to play with their images, adding artistic touches and dramatically cropping after the photo is taken. With the advent of Facebook and other online photo sharing sites, people can reveal their photographic talents to a larger audience.

      As people take more photos, some shutterbugs begin to look at their surroundings and their photos with a more critical eye. With that in mind, here are some suggestions that may help fall photographers improve their snapshots.

      Zoom in, back up

      Lee said he likes to backlight fall leaves to make the colors glow. He also suggests varying the photograph's content from standing very close to the subject to backing up far away.

      “I think the important thing is to try and find a clean, monochromatic background that your subject can stand out against,” Lee added, such as a yellow leaf framed against the blue of the sky or the dark green of pine trees to provide a nice contrast of colors.

      “There's something poetic about the leaf that's fallen to the ground, as well,” he said.

      No matter the subject, the light is always more dramatic in the early morning and evening when the sun is low and shadows are lengthened. Some people refer to these as the golden hours, since the light is often gold in hue.

      Soft focus

      Reddy said he likes to shoot fall colors under cloudy skies.

      “The soft light really brings the colors out somehow,” he said. “The smoky skies really enhance the colors, too.”

      Reddy will also look for the reflection of fall colors in ponds, lakes and rivers.

      Yellowstone National Park photographer Jeff Henry said he likes to include animals in his photographs, even if they are small in the frame. Although he favors wildlife, domestic animals will work, as well.

      “A real natural in Montana to add color is a river,” he added.

      He also looks to calm backwaters for the patterns of dead leaves floating on the water. Looking closely can also reveal the detail of veins in a single leaf, Henry suggested.

      Although the peak of color may have passed at higher altitudes, Henry recommends looking along river valleys and to the Pryor Mountains, Bighorn Canyon or areas like Zion National Park where the color of changing leaves can be contrasted with the red rocks native to the regions.

      Eastern Montana's badlands would also provide an unusual contrast, as would the changing larch trees in northwestern Montana, he said.

      “I'm still taken by the novelty of a coniferous tree changing color,” Henry said.

      Click, click

      The nice thing about digital cameras is that there is no worry about the cost of developing a lot of photos, as there used to be with film. That means photographers should feel free to snap a lot of shots, varying the angle, zooming in and backing up, changing the exposure and the area of focus to find what is most pleasing.

      In such instances photographer Merv Coleman, of Red Lodge, said he never deletes photos while they are still on his camera, just in case something from the shot appeals to him after he downloads it onto his computer. He's also a fan of the relatively new process of printing images to specially treated aluminum plates. The process removes the glare and diffusion of glass that is typical with framed photographic prints, and the colors appear incredibly vibrant. The surface of the print can range from a high gloss to a matte finish.

      Even if your photos never make it onto your living room wall, the hobby is still a great excuse to get outside and look at nature with a curious mind and a critical eye.
  • Weird stuff happens in Yellowstone National Park.
    Unfortunately, unless you know a park ranger or someone happens to photograph or video the unusual happening and post it online, we have very little idea of just how much weird stuff occurs. It's certainly not something the park staff wants to talk about.
    A tour into Yellowstone National Park on Saturday to photograph the fall colors and with the hope of seeing some wildlife and hearing bull elk bugle presented a couple of odd moments for my wife and me that I will share with you. They may not rise to YouTube notoriety like the child being chased by a bison, but they still provide a glimpse into the oddities that occur in Yellowstone.
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