Thursday, May 13, 2010

May 2009 - Coloradoan Xploore Column

“My favorite place to go is where I’ve never been” is a quote that has always made sense to me. I’ve spent the last week poking around northwestern Montana looking at country that’s fresh to my eyes. New landscape and seasonal transitions are a distractive mix. You can see and feel the tension between the seasons this time of year. The night air remains cold, but not enough to slow spring’s momentum. Rivers are on the rise, landscape is greening on the edges and wildlife is beginning to move toward their summer range. Winter is finally in the rear view mirror.

This morning I’m set up at the confluence of two rivers. Behind me, to the east, the Absaroka Range is beginning to glow as civil twilight approaches. Shadows cast across the landscape as the full moon slips from the sky toward the western horizon. For the past year I’ve been working to capture a full moon in the instant where the contrasts of day and night collide. I hope this will be one of those special moments where great light and great places meet. Weather changes suddenly in this part of Yellowstone and this morning proves to be no exception. Today the sunrise never gets a clear shot at Lamar Valley.

The transition from winter to spring can be a challenge for me. Spring makes me impatient. My first round of images always seems to show that. Change is everywhere and I feel the urge to capture it all. Winter makes me forget I can linger a while, watch things unfold and slow down. In looking at my favorite pictures there is one common theme. I made decisions on what I wanted to create before I pressed the shutter. When I work to make an image, not simply take a picture, I’m always happier with the result.

More often than not with landscape photography I usually set out with a particular shot in mind. Other times I’ll just wander about and see what presents itself. In either case when I’m drawn to something I stop myself from lining up and firing away. I explore the scene and ask “what specifically do I find appealing.” I look for mood, a story or an expression. Once I know what I want the image to say I make my exposure and composition choices. A wide aperture will give me shallower depth of field allowing me to emphasize the subject. For depth in the scene I’ll choose a narrower aperture. My shutter speed choices determine whether I’m looking to stop or create motion.

With wildlife photography I really slow my pace down. It’s not unusual for me to sit with a subject for several hours. The images I find most appealing illustrate natural behavior. Practice and preparation is important to get the results I’m looking for. I start by learning environmental, seasonal and behavioral characteristics. This helps me locate animals and anticipate patterns. Color variations and tonality is also important. A visit to a zoo or game farm is a great way to practice exposure choices. I also choose a wider aperture to knock down or blur the surrounding space. This will help make the subject pop if the background is busy.
Whether you are making landscape or wildlife images the goal is to enjoy time outside. Capture a moment with meaning to you and share those images with friends and family.

Ray Rafiti is a Fort Collins nature photographer. He's a field contributor for Nature Photographer Magazine and a member of North American Nature Photography Association. He can be reached at Visit his work at

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