Bighorns of Miller Butte

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A reliable place to see wintering Bighorns—close to town on the National Elk Refuge.

Ridgeline Watcher

Each November, a herd of around 70 Bighorn Sheep move to Miller Butte on the National Elk Refuge. Exactly when they move in seems to be related to the area snow pack and severity of the early Winter. In 2013 and 2014, the first Bighorns appeared around the middle of the month. In light snowfall years, the first few show up around Thanksgiving.

Bighorn Pair

Besides simply finding a home to spend the Winter, the Bighorns use the area for their seasonal rut. Tourists and photographers are allowed to watch from the refuge road.

Wyoming Car Wash

We moved to Wyoming in 1986 after growing up in the flat prairie of Oklahoma. I always assumed you’d have to hike miles into the back country wilderness to find either Bighorns or Mountain Goats. I was surprised to find out they come to the roads at certain times of the year. In the photo above, my truck was parked at one of the pull outs on the Elk Refuge Road. The sides of my truck were treated with a “Wyoming Car Wash”. They are attracted to the residual salt and chemicals from the road crews.

ImpactWatchers (1 of 1)

Prior to the actual mating, rams gather to determine dominance or a pecking order by bashing their heads together. The distinctive sound echoes across the valley floor.

Impact (1 of 1)

Capturing the head bashing isn’t exactly easy, but if they go at it long enough, you can usually get a few.

Down Hill Chase

While the largest rams do most of the actual mating, young rams chase ewes across the sage and rocks.

Ram in Charge

The largest ram in the immediate area spends part of his time running other smaller rams away from his ewe.

Group Chase

Once in a while a ram gets a prime ewe to run, causing rams from all around to follow in the chase. The most dominant ram is usually immediately behind the ewe, but he will occasionally turn to bash the next closest ram. Doing so lets the rest of the herd get close to the ewe and some of the smaller rams get their chance to mate until the bigger ram catches up again.

Popular Gal

This ewe attracted a large crowd of interested rams.

TiredEwe (1 of 1)

At times, you have to feel sorry for the ewe. A herd of 10 or more rams can chase her to the point of exhaustion for an hour or longer.

Jumpers

Both ewes and rams are adept at high speed chases across rocky terrain.

Cliff Jumpers

“The Show” is free! Best deal in town if you catch it on a good day.

Rock Face Up

When love is in the air, a Bighorn can climb almost vertical rock walls.

Down

Down a shear rock wall is no problem either.

Rocky Chase

The ewe covers large areas of the refuge trying to get away from the relentless rams.

High Ground

Occasionally, a ewe finds a spot that seems to perplex the rams. This one found a small ledge and stood on it for an hour or longer as rams tried to knock her off.

Resting

Action is usually limited to ten or fifteen minutes at a time, followed by longer periods of resting.

White Out

Winter storms can pound the region. Stiff winds and sheets of snow can make photography challenging, but still worth it if you are dressed and ready for the cold and wind.

Portrait

Bighorns often feed near the road, allowing for some wonderful opportunities for close-up images. I’ve never seen one charge a person and the Refuge rangers don’t seem to worry about people being close. Of course, I have telephoto lenses, so even though I can capture images like this one, I am still a reasonable distance. I always worry about a point and shoot photographer pushing the limits that could result in rigid and restrictive viewing distances.

Flehmen Response

Bighorns, like Moose, Mountain Goats, and wild Mustangs will often display a Flehmen Response following smelling the urine of a ewe. Glands in their upper lips help them determine if a female is ready for mating. Some people also call this a “lip curl”. A couple of the rams at Miller Butte are “respectable” in size, but I haven’t seen any really large ones in a long time. Maybe we’ll get one or two this year. Biologists can usually age a ram by distinctive divisions in his horns. As with most “horned” mammals, they keep them all of their life. Antlered animals, like Moose, Deer, and Elk shed their antlers yearly and begin grown new ones. Many of the largest Rams will “broom” the tips of their horns once they grow to a full curl.

Mating

Actual mating can be observed regularly during the rut.

The Chase Crew

Rut activity can begin after Thanksgiving and can continue into early January.

Lamb and Ewe

Ewes with lambs of the year watch as other ewes are chased during the rut.

LambWatching (1 of 1)

Lambs usually stay somewhere near their mother, but still have plenty of freedom to explore and practice their climbing skills.

Lamp On Ledge

Lambs seem to be gifted at birth.

Digging

By mid-Winter, most lambs forage for themselves. I seldom see them nursing.

The approach

Rams move from ewe to ewe and approach each one in this classic position.

Lone Ram

Bighorns are reported to have incredible eyesight. They are aware of all movement.

Snow Faces

After a heavy snow, Bighorns are forced to dig through the deep, white powder to get to clumps of grass. Sometimes it sticks to their face and horns.

March Rams

Bighorns remain on the National Elk Refuge into March. By that time, their winter coats are bleached out and beginning to thin. The snow on the south facing rock faces is usually melted. By March, I have usually taken plenty of photos and am out looking for new subjects.

Photographing Bighorn Head Bashes

I am sure everyone has their own way of photographing the bashing rams, but I’ll attempt to explain how I’ve been doing it for the past few years. First, let me explain the problem. At the point of impact, the heads of  the two rams are typically somewhere near dead center in the frame. That’s the plan anyway. However, if you set your focus point in the center and let the rams move to it, the camera will be attempting to focus between the two rams and usually somewhere in the distant sagebrush.

Focus Point

Normally, when two rams are facing off, one of them will rear up onto it’s hind legs. Actually, both of them rear up at about the same following some signal only they seem to recognize. I try to focus on a spot just above center of the frame. Depending on the specific circumstanced, it could be on the neck or head of one of the two rams, as seen in red circle in the image above. This image was shot at ISO 320, F/8, and a shutter speed of 1/2000th second. Luckily, between the late November days and snow, I can get shutters speeds in this range. To keep the shutter speed up, I don’t have a problem pushing the ISO up to 800 or even 1250 if the action calls for it on. I also like to use a camera with a fast frame rate, like my Nikon D4. The last sequence in this post will illustrate why!

PreImpact

This is the same ram a split second later. I panned to the right, keeping the focus point on his shoulder or head. The second ram moves into my frame.

Actual Impact

Impact! The second ram will usually meet the head of my subject at approximately where I placed my focus point in the scene originally. (scroll back up to see the location of the red circle)

Impact

I miss some of course, but I manage to capture a lot of them. It takes a little practice, and a lot of patience!

Snow Bash

It’s hard to beat Bighorns bashing in the snow!

Locked up

You never know when something like this will happen. It took them a while to unhook their horns.

Too Many Rame

One of the most difficult aspects of capturing bashing rams is getting a clean shot of the event without distracting additional rams.

A Full Sequence

While this might seem a little redundant, I am including a sequence with this ram from beginning to its unique climax.

Shot 1

shot 2

Shot 3

Shot 4

Shot 5

Shot 6

Shot 7

While I included seven images in this sequence, I actually captured 14 images. That’s the beauty of the D4. It can capture up to around 90 raw images at 10 FPS before beginning to hit a memory buffer. If my buffer had filled after 11 or 12 images, I would have missed the last few important frames. With 14 captures, I had plenty of frames in between and was able to capture the most import shots.

Miller Butte Satellite Map

Click this image to see it much larger

If you head out to the National Elk Refuge, you might want to know a few ground rules. First, the area is a “refuge” and not a “park”. The animals get first priority—not tourists! Currently, pull-outs are very limited along the Refuge Road (shown in red above). If you plan on stopping to photograph the wildlife, you MUST use one of the pullouts. I don’t know if they will be passing out tickets, but refuge rangers regularly pull over with lights flashing and run illegally parked vehicles on down the road.  There is a 65′ county easement for the road running through the Refuge. The Refuge Rangers prefer that people stand off the actual county road when possible, but only a few yards off the road bed.  Posts with signs mark the boundaries fairly well. Hikers and joggers use the road, along with refuge trucks, FedEx trucks, UPS trucks and snow plows. It can feel quite congested and even a little dangerous at times with impatient drivers and slick, snow covered roads. I added Big Rock, Amphitheater, and Saddle to the map. Those are my terms for a few of the spots…not official. A few of us use the same terms. If someone says the herd was coming off the “saddle”, we know about where they are talking about. Miller Butte on Photographer’s Ephemeris.

This page might help with more specific rules and regulationsRefuge winter travel restrictions announced – National Elk Refuge – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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Other Bighorn Opportunities

Camp CreekMiller Butte is a very short drive from my home in Jackson. I can go there a couple of times a day. There are a few other places to capture images of Bighorns in the area. Occasionally, a few Bighorns hang around the red rock cliffs at the Slide Lake campground. A herd can also be found around Red Rock Ranch farther up the Gros Ventre, however that road is locked after December 1st. Another herd can sometimes be found near Camp Creek Inn, a few miles “up the Hoback” from Hoback Junction. I’ve seen bighorns farther up the canyon, near “stinking springs” pullout. Regionally, there are several herds in the Dubois area and quite a few on the North Fork of the Shoshone River outside Cody. That’s a long drive from here in the winter. Likewise, several herds of Bighorns winter around Gardiner on the north side of Yellowstone.

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Panasonic Lumix DMZ-FZ1000 review

panasonic-lumix-dmz-fx1000It shoots very nice UHD (not truly 4k) video. There is some noise in the image but that’s to be expected for this price point.

For the body size and handling, it’s really a nice camera for the right person. I can’t use it for my general shooting for several reasons but if I want a stealthy UHD camera, this one just might fit the bill. At a price below $900, I was stunned just how good it actually was.

Image quality

Photo courtesy of Sava Malachowski

Photo courtesy of Sava Malachowski, © Sava Malachowski

The IQ (image quality) of the camera for a still is pretty good, though it’s not a higher end Nikon or Canon. Don’t be fooled. In dark areas at low ISO it’s easy to see the noise. A huge zoom lens just won’t have the resolution for stills. For most, they’ll be amazed. But if you’re discerning, you’ll be only “okay” with the shadow performance.

If you click on the image on the right, you can see a small sized sample of the full image. The red box shows the 1:1 sample area of the image on the moose hide. For as good as the image looks in full screen, when you get down to the nitty gritty, you’ll see it’s “okay”. I didn’t have time to do a MTR test or anything, but those don’t translate well into “what does it actually look like” terms.

1:1 quality of moose hide, you can see noise in the image, 1/160, f/5, ISO 125, 63mm

1:1 quality of moose hide, you can see noise in the image, 1/160, f/5, ISO 125, 63mm

But for video quality you get a very nice image. I was pretty amazed to see it on an iMac display, even though the image was interpolated. It was just clearer than I’ve seen HD. Really, it looked like HD played on a 120Hz TV display. That was the look. The video samples were shot at 60FPS, so perhaps that helped. It really looked like the real thing. I didn’t expect it to be that much better than HD. But if you stack up a 3-chip HD camera with better dynamic range against a limited range, small sensor like this, you might be pressed to tell the difference. Again in the shadows there will be noise. The again, what do you expect for a small form factor single chip camera?

Lens

The aperture goes from about f/3 to ONLY f/8. That’s really miserable for photography. Nature of small sensor cameras. Even though the specs claim f/2.8 to f/11, in the shooting I was testing it with, it only really gave me f/3 to f/8 to work with. That’s a tough one, especially in full daylight shooting.

That zoom and optical stabilizer is awesome. I’d love to have something that goes from 25mm to 400mm and does a real good job on my D800. If I did, I could dump a bunch of other lenses. But I’d need it to be f/2.8 and have it go to f/22. Oh well, I can dream.

Dynamic Range

We had a snow shot with moose and it worked pretty well. But the snow on the mountains was blown out in the video with zebras set to 95%. Again, it’s not a D800 but it’ll blow away your little basic point and shoot. But I think my Sony RX-100 probably still beats it for dynamic range.

View finder

The electronic viewfinder – not bad for a video camera, okay for landscape shooting but poor for sports/action/moving things. When you pan/tilt, you get an image jitter. The swim is very small but the smearing in the image will irritate you if you shoot an optical DSLR. EVF (electronic view finders) aren’t there yet. I worked at a digital night vision company where we went to great efforts to have zero swim, jitter or anything else and this isn’t even close. Then again, those systems were $60,000 and this is $900. You get what you pay for.

The info in the viewfinder for a video camera is very nice. It fits the bill of shooting things where a video camera would get you into trouble. For the price, the image quality is pretty amazing. Is there better dynamic range and such out there? Yes, The GH4 and upwards. But for what this is going for, it really makes UHD accessible.

Controls

The switch to go from zoom to MF – not a fan. 2 rings are more expensive, though. There’s the zoom rocker on the shutter release. Eh, it’s under a finger, so it feels like a little point and shoot zoom for the video camera it’s designed for.

The fully manual video camera mode – thank goodness! Not allowing me to control Auto-ISO ruins other camcorders/DSLRs. Locking down exposure is critical if you want professional-looking images.

The different programmable function buttons are nice for getting what you want. Some of the switch modes like focus control are appreciated. They’re not in ergonomic places like my D800 at all. There are buttons which are appreciated on a video camera but the layout leaves lots to be desired. Like all things, it’s something you get used to.

Autofocus

The autofocus – amazingly fast. I’m not sure what they put in there but it must be a hybrid phase/contrast focus system because it matches my Nikon D800 focus speed quite easily. However, when you need to control focus points, that’s where it falls apart.

Storage

You’ll need lots more storage to use UHD on this camera. Your puny little 320GB drive will be gone in no time shooting with this. Think 2TB drives minimum. Why do I say this? I’m editing my film, Antarctic Tears, which is a feature length film. And it eats up 228GB of my SSD drive. And that’s shot in HD. This camera has almost 4x the resolution. Even a 500GB SSD won’t even come close to supporting a feature length film. 4k/UHD video is what HD was to our computers 10 years ago. Be ready to spend a LOT of money if you want to really work with this.

Other items

Major video shooting issue: This thing has no earphone out. That is one major failing. Why in the world they left this out is beyond me. Perhaps Panasonic is trying to push you into a higher end camera. You might be able to use the AV out and cobble something together. Who knows w/o that cable.

If you don’t have ears on your video camera, you’ll realize only after the shot is over what went wrong. I can pipe audio through my ZoomH4n and listen there, as I can use that as my XLR input, but still. No, this doesn’t have XLR. Of course not.

ND filters for video – buy one. You’ll need one. Or two. For a 3-stop ND, I use this Hoya filter.

The batteries seem to konk out pretty quick, but we were shooting at 10 degrees F with wind chill. Buy more batteries.

You’ll need an UHS-1 SD card for it. UHD video eats up a LOT of card space. I hope you bought a spare hard disk or three. Editing this video – get Rocketstore Thunderbolt enclosure with a SSD drive with a fast computer.

Buy your Panasonic Lumix DMZ-FX1000 here at B&H Photo.

Thank you to Sava Malachowski of Sava Film and Open Range Films for the sample images and video. He had excellent footage to sample and work with in tough conditions, shooting in a Wyoming winter with dark animals and bright snow. There’s not much tougher.

The post Panasonic Lumix DMZ-FZ1000 review appeared first on Aaron Linsdau.

Panasonic Lumix DMZ-FZ1000 review

panasonic-lumix-dmz-fx1000It shoots very nice UHD (not truly 4k) video. There is some noise in the image but that’s to be expected for this price point.

For the body size and handling, it’s really a nice camera for the right person. I can’t use it for my general shooting for several reasons but if I want a stealthy UHD camera, this one just might fit the bill. At a price below $900, I was stunned just how good it actually was.

Image quality

Photo courtesy of Sava Malachowski

Photo courtesy of Sava Malachowski, © Sava Malachowski

The IQ (image quality) of the camera for a still is pretty good, though it’s not a higher end Nikon or Canon. Don’t be fooled. In dark areas at low ISO it’s easy to see the noise. A huge zoom lens just won’t have the resolution for stills. For most, they’ll be amazed. But if you’re discerning, you’ll be only “okay” with the shadow performance.

If you click on the image on the right, you can see a small sized sample of the full image. The red box shows the 1:1 sample area of the image on the moose hide. For as good as the image looks in full screen, when you get down to the nitty gritty, you’ll see it’s “okay”. I didn’t have time to do a MTR test or anything, but those don’t translate well into “what does it actually look like” terms.

1:1 quality of moose hide, you can see noise in the image, 1/160, f/5, ISO 125, 63mm

1:1 quality of moose hide, you can see noise in the image, 1/160, f/5, ISO 125, 63mm

But for video quality you get a very nice image. I was pretty amazed to see it on an iMac display, even though the image was interpolated. It was just clearer than I’ve seen HD. Really, it looked like HD played on a 120Hz TV display. That was the look. The video samples were shot at 60FPS, so perhaps that helped. It really looked like the real thing. I didn’t expect it to be that much better than HD. But if you stack up a 3-chip HD camera with better dynamic range against a limited range, small sensor like this, you might be pressed to tell the difference. Again in the shadows there will be noise. The again, what do you expect for a small form factor single chip camera?

Lens

The aperture goes from about f/3 to ONLY f/8. That’s really miserable for photography. Nature of small sensor cameras. Even though the specs claim f/2.8 to f/11, in the shooting I was testing it with, it only really gave me f/3 to f/8 to work with. That’s a tough one, especially in full daylight shooting.

That zoom and optical stabilizer is awesome. I’d love to have something that goes from 25mm to 400mm and does a real good job on my D800. If I did, I could dump a bunch of other lenses. But I’d need it to be f/2.8 and have it go to f/22. Oh well, I can dream.

Dynamic Range

We had a snow shot with moose and it worked pretty well. But the snow on the mountains was blown out in the video with zebras set to 95%. Again, it’s not a D800 but it’ll blow away your little basic point and shoot. But I think my Sony RX-100 probably still beats it for dynamic range.

View finder

The electronic viewfinder – not bad for a video camera, okay for landscape shooting but poor for sports/action/moving things. When you pan/tilt, you get an image jitter. The swim is very small but the smearing in the image will irritate you if you shoot an optical DSLR. EVF (electronic view finders) aren’t there yet. I worked at a digital night vision company where we went to great efforts to have zero swim, jitter or anything else and this isn’t even close. Then again, those systems were $60,000 and this is $900. You get what you pay for.

The info in the viewfinder for a video camera is very nice. It fits the bill of shooting things where a video camera would get you into trouble. For the price, the image quality is pretty amazing. Is there better dynamic range and such out there? Yes, The GH4 and upwards. But for what this is going for, it really makes UHD accessible.

Controls

The switch to go from zoom to MF – not a fan. 2 rings are more expensive, though. There’s the zoom rocker on the shutter release. Eh, it’s under a finger, so it feels like a little point and shoot zoom for the video camera it’s designed for.

The fully manual video camera mode – thank goodness! Not allowing me to control Auto-ISO ruins other camcorders/DSLRs. Locking down exposure is critical if you want professional-looking images.

The different programmable function buttons are nice for getting what you want. Some of the switch modes like focus control are appreciated. They’re not in ergonomic places like my D800 at all. There are buttons which are appreciated on a video camera but the layout leaves lots to be desired. Like all things, it’s something you get used to.

Autofocus

The autofocus – amazingly fast. I’m not sure what they put in there but it must be a hybrid phase/contrast focus system because it matches my Nikon D800 focus speed quite easily. However, when you need to control focus points, that’s where it falls apart.

Storage

You’ll need lots more storage to use UHD on this camera. Your puny little 320GB drive will be gone in no time shooting with this. Think 2TB drives minimum. Why do I say this? I’m editing my film, Antarctic Tears, which is a feature length film. And it eats up 228GB of my SSD drive. And that’s shot in HD. This camera has almost 4x the resolution. Even a 500GB SSD won’t even come close to supporting a feature length film. 4k/UHD video is what HD was to our computers 10 years ago. Be ready to spend a LOT of money if you want to really work with this.

Other items

Major video shooting issue: This thing has no earphone out. That is one major failing. Why in the world they left this out is beyond me. Perhaps Panasonic is trying to push you into a higher end camera. You might be able to use the AV out and cobble something together. Who knows w/o that cable.

If you don’t have ears on your video camera, you’ll realize only after the shot is over what went wrong. I can pipe audio through my ZoomH4n and listen there, as I can use that as my XLR input, but still. No, this doesn’t have XLR. Of course not.

ND filters for video – buy one. You’ll need one. Or two. For a 3-stop ND, I use this Hoya filter.

The batteries seem to konk out pretty quick, but we were shooting at 10 degrees F with wind chill. Buy more batteries.

You’ll need an UHS-1 SD card for it. UHD video eats up a LOT of card space. I hope you bought a spare hard disk or three. Editing this video – get Rocketstore Thunderbolt enclosure with a SSD drive with a fast computer.

Buy your Panasonic Lumix DMZ-FX1000 here at B&H Photo.

Thank you to Sava Malachowski of Sava Film and Open Range Films for the sample images and video. He had excellent footage to sample and work with in tough conditions, shooting in a Wyoming winter with dark animals and bright snow. There’s not much tougher.

Gas explosion in Jackson, WY

There was a large propane gas explosion in Jackson Hole, WY today. Here are some pictures showing the huge smoke plume in from Amerigas on Gregory Lane and High School Road. All businesses around the area have been evacuated, including Bell Fitness and Smith Food King.

Please email me if you want to use the full resolution images in your news article. These are only cropped down samples.

DSC_D8-9660 IMG_0428 DSC_D8-9659 IMG_0427

All of these photos are © 2014 Aaron Linsdau.