In a Photographic Rut?
Break Out for Better Images and More Fun

American Dipper (Water Ouzel), Yellowstone RiverAs often happens, a recent photographic journey took us through Yellowstone National Park. We met lots of friends made on past travels to the park during the first few days. We were told about lots of grizzly bear activity along one of the park roads so we frequented that area, as did many photographers and tourists. Everyone wants grizzly bear photos. We saw grizzlies and grizzlies with cubs, but they were usually in tall grass or bad light, or too distant. Lots of people and tripods combined with the need to find clear views of the bears between tree limbs and brush made for a hectic and often frustrating experience too. Everyone tries to be first to get to the next clear viewpoint as the bears move, and there is never enough room for all. When the bears disappear, everyone tries to guess where they are headed, engines start, and the whole frantic thing begins anew somewhere else. Of course everyone is hoping to get a great grizzly image. They're hoping the bear will wander into some short grass, or maybe into a patch of flowers, reasonably close, when and where the light is decent. Once in a great while it happens, usually it does not. As long as people are well behaved I can't fault them. We've often joined the fray too, hoping for a great shot, but seldom getting one. For me, this kind of photographic situation has over the years proven to be a fairly unproductive and frustrating use of limited time in the park.
Such was the case for a few days after our arrival in Yellowstone. I got a few bad bear photos that I will never show to anyone, and the whole situation made me feel like I'd been driving through Manhattan at rush hour. It was making me absolutely nuts! This was definitely not how I wanted to spend my time, and my wife Lee was not enjoying it either. I told her I wanted to leave the park. "Let's go somewhere else, anywhere else, where we can do some creative photography", I said. We discussed where we might go as I drove away from where the last grizzly sighting had occurred, and where a throng of people were still standing, waiting for the grizzly and her cubs to return. After a short drive I pulled into a parking area near some rapids on the Yellowstone River. I wanted to simply unwind, be away from the circus surrounding those bears, and perhaps actually take a few pictures instead of riding, watching, and waiting, for something spectacular that probably would not happen. Most importantly, I wanted to figure out what we might do to make the remainder of our trip enjoyable and productive.

Twin Trees, Mammoth Hot SpringsThere was not a single person at the rapids, and I knew there would at least be flowing water, rocks, and reflections, so images were possible. It is also a relaxing place. We walked to the water, talking about how we might spend the weeks remaining in our trip. I began taking photos of trees reflected in a still and rocky pool. Lee pointed out a merganser sitting on a rock in the middle of the rapids, and some others on the opposite side of the river as she began photographing them. Wow, the one on the rock could make a great image, I thought, but my 600mm lens is back in the car! I ran off to get it, hoping the merganser would still be there when I got back. Of course it was not, so I started experimenting with the long lens, taking photos of patterns in the flowing water and some of the mergansers fishing and preening on the other side of the river. It wasn't long before we heard the call of water ouzels. Sure enough, a pair of them was flying in circles over the water. They landed down river and were working their way up toward us, on the same side of the river we were on. This was great! Years ago I spent many afternoons trying for a good image of these birds in a small creek. I got one, but this situation had much better photographic potential. Luck was with me and I ended up with many good photos of the ouzels pulling insect larvae from the water and perched on rocks with flowing water all around them. These were better than I'd gotten during all those afternoons I previously spent, and we'd been at the location for less than an hour. 
By this time the sunlight at the river was fading, so we headed back to Gardiner. On the drive back the sky started to look dramatic as we got to Swan Lake Flat, so we stopped to photograph what turned out to be a very nice sunset. These were the experiences and images we'd been wanting, and we didn't need to go anywhere else to get them. We stayed at Yellowstone as originally planned, and decided we would not spend any time competing for bear images. Of course we would stop if we happened upon a bear out in a meadow, but otherwise we were going to prohibit ourselves from falling back into the "bear rut". That decision paid off in the form of wonderful experiences in the park and more good images than usual. We did a variety of things and were successful at a number of them. We experimented and learned. Even though we worked hard over long hours every single day, I felt relaxed and always ready for whatever came next. We left the park feeling satisfied that we made good use of our time there. We had also learned a valuable lesson. 
A wise person once said that if you do what you have always done, you will get the same result you have always gotten. If your photography is stuck in a rut, change what you do or how you do it. Experiment. You may find the experiences and images you've been seeking.

Happy shooting, 

Home | Index
Copyright 2005 Dean M. Chriss
Content may not be reproduced or distributed without written permission.
All Rights Reserved.