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Bighorn Sheep Near Banff

This is among the very last of several thousand images taken during a recent five-day photo expedition with my shooting buddy Chuck to Banff-Jasper, Canada, but it may wind up being my favorite.


We were told to be on the lookout for bighorns in this area and to be prepared with our gear at ready access. I had a Nikon 300mm f/2.8 mounted on a Nikon D700 body on a monopod in my lap. We were on the old 1A Bow Valley Parkway almost into Banff proper when we spotted this lone bighorn licking mineral salts on the side of the road. When we stopped he hopped up about 20 feet above the road and I was able to position myself so the magnificent mountains around Banff were framed behind him. I set the aperture at f/2.8 to isolate him against an out of focus background.


He was staring intently at me to assess whether I was a threat and I did not approach any closer but fired off a series as he slowly moved his head to look around. I chose this one because the eye contact was most intense.


I learned several things from taking this shot. Most important was that the shot you most want may come when you least expect it. The second is how incredibly difficult it is to take wildlife images. The photographer can control only a few of the variables (mostly composition, exposure and choice of equipment). The rest is totally unpredictable. After a week of trying to shoot some of the magnificent wild creatures in this part of Canada I have gained a new and profound respect for the individuals who honestly earn their living photographing wild animals. It is incredibly demanding and extremely frustrating but I also understand a little bit about the adrenaline rush of "nailing" a keeper.


When I first brought the capture into Photoshop it reminded me of seeing stuffed animals in museum dioramas, something about the isolation of the subject against an out of focus background and the soft lighting (it was actually snowing at the time though you can see a little blue sky in the background). There is almost a hyper-real feeling to this image I am still trying to figure out, whether it is the bokeh of the 300mm @ f/2.8 or something that the D700 sensor brings to wildlife imagery but the image was actually not processed a great deal other than exposure and contrast adjustments.

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Taken on October 10, 2008