By Frank Gallagher, NANPA Blog Coordinator
When photographers go to a famous location, like Yellowstone, they’re usually hoping to come away with at least one terrific shot. A spectacular sunset, a lone wolf loping across a meadow, or a herd of bison in a snow-covered landscape. And a very special image is exactly what Jodi Smith came home with from a NANPA Regional Event in America’s oldest national park. So, how did she get that shot?
Finding nature photography
“I am relatively new to photography,” Smith said, “having graduated from an iPhone camera to a Canon 7D in November of 2016. While recovering at home from major surgery, I began to notice the gorgeous variety of birds in my own backyard. A friend suggested I join the Birds of Texas Facebook group to learn more about our birds. I was amazed by the close up detail I saw on the feathers and along the eyes. My son had recently taken up photography so he helped me find a good camera for wildlife and started teaching me the basics. My first outing to take pictures of birds occurred over Thanksgiving weekend in 2016, and I’ve been hooked ever since.”
Smith recently retired from a long career as a CPA and a CFO. In popular perception, these types of jobs aren’t normally associated with practicing the creative arts, like nature photography, but Smith says “I’ve always enjoyed crafts and creativity, but have never had the time to dive into the creative element until recently. Photography is a wonderful outlet for engaging both the left and the right side of the brain—more than any other art form that I have pursued. I joke about the freedom to get creative in my new avocation that was not available to me in my lifelong vocation.”
For ten years prior to her retirement, Smith’s former boss kept saying that she “needed to put a Yellowstone in winter trip on my destination list for retirement,” Smith recalls. “He had been there numerous times with friends and colleagues, and we had considered the impact of first the removal and then the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone and its effects on the equilibrium of the park. I will be sending him a thank you gift of this picture on a coffee mug for inspiring me to make this a priority.”
How I got the shot
When she joined NANPA in 2021, the Yellowstone in Winter Regional Event had just been listed and had openings, so she immediately grabbed a spot.
Yellowstone in winter was cold. The temperatures were mostly in the single digits during the trip, “though we started out a bit below zero that day,” Smith recalled. “I was so glad I had received so much information from NANPA about the clothing, footwear, and camera gear for the conditions in Yellowstone. We don’t get much snow in Texas, so I would have been completely unprepared left to my own devices.
“I was borrowing my son’s expensive Canon RF 28-70mm f/2L zoom lens for this trip but assumed I would mostly use my go-to lens, the Canon 100-500mm super telephoto lens for my R5. Our guide suggested we move to a wide-angle lens for the geyser we were about to see. Honestly, it was late in the day and I was getting tired, but I put the lens on and took a few pictures.
When they saw the bison coming up the road, “our guides suggested we crawl under the snow coach for protection, as the narrow road did not permit us to properly distance from the bison as they passed by. We were all quiet and respectful while we grabbed shots from what turned out to be a great perspective. The bison eyed us warily but passed by peacefully. I was actually glad I had this lens on, since the herd passed so close to us.
“In the midst of all the excitement,” she continued “I did accidentally leave the lens cap in the snow under the snow coach. Instead of just buying a new lens cap, I purchased the lens from my son and he had to get a new one. It is my go-to lens now.
“The bison was my high school mascot, so I was quite taken with them already, taking pictures to share with my high school friends. This shot became the icing on the cake of an already incredible trip.”
NANPA and Regional Events
“I kept hearing about NANPA in various classes that I took,” Smith said. “Honestly, the access to the equipment insurance program was the triggering event to take the plunge and join. Once I logged in to the site, I was fascinated by all the opportunities for growth and education in photography, particularly as it relates to wildlife.”
One of those opportunities was a Regional Event, a three- to four-day field workshop led by NANPA members who are professional photographers and deeply knowledgeable about the location. These events are mainly about photography, to be sure, but there’s more to them than just photos. “The knowledge and experience of my fellow participants over a wide variety of issues, from photography to animal behavior to conservation, was mind boggling,” Smith said. “I told my husband he would have loved the event, especially from the broader context of understanding the natural world. And we both enjoy engaging in all kinds of outdoor activities, like hiking and scuba diving. I plan to equip him with my old Canon 7D and lenses so that we can both take these trips, now that he has also retired.”
Among the important things she learned on this trip was the importance of perspective. “Our guide noted that the best pictures are taken from the ground. I’ve heard that before, and have tried to get low before, but the results of this shot have taken my understanding of the advantages of a low angle to an entirely new level!”
Photographing in snow also took a little getting used to. “I always shoot in manual,” she said,” and after experimenting with the presets on the camera, I reverted to manual so I could control the exposure compensation to get the greatest detail available. I tend to expose to the right by one to two stops, knowing that I will need to adjust in post processing. I was amazed this photo did not require a lot of post processing. Fortunately it was on the last day of the trip and by then I had a much better grasp of getting the exposure in the snow right. Fortunately, too, the clouds were a bit overcast at this point, since it was late in the day, and the sunlight could have been quite harsh.”
Sounds like a great experience and a photo to be proud of. A viewer can almost feel the cold and sense the ground vibrating from the bisons’ hooves, combined with a sense of awe from being up close to these majestic animals in such a magnificent setting.