Las Vegas 2011: Grand Canyon and Zion National Park

After driving through the Canadian Rockies, I thought I was prepared for the Grand Canyon. Not a chance. Standing on the lookout on the North Rim (the highest lookout in the Canyon) the mind recoils at the sheer size of it all. I was expecting guard rails and tourist funnels that would keep people away from the edge, but where I was at least, you could walk right up to the edge. It was so far down my usual fear of heights didn’t even kick in, I think my brain just wouldn’t accept exactly how far the fall would be. Unfortunately this was just a side trip, a 5 hour drive each way from Las Vegas, which is where I spent most of the vacation. I could have easily spent a week at either Zion or the Grand Canyon, maybe next time. Zion was surprisingly beautiful as well, and who knew, the best Crème Brûlée I’ve ever had was to be found in “middle of nowhere” Utah in a restaurant housed in an old Gas Station. If you ever drive through Zion, make sure to stop at the Whiptail Grill and try their Peanutbutter-Chocolate-Habinero Crème Brûlée, it’s to die for.

I went on this trip fully loaded, two Leica bodies and my Sony Nex, and just like my England trip, I ended up using the Sony exclusively. Could I have gotten better pics with my full Canon setup? Would it have been nice to have three bodies on me at all times for different films speeds and faster lens changing? Did I miss having a tripod? Sure… but the small size and weight of the Sony and 3-4 lenses made the trip far more enjoyable than lugging a full gear compliment in 115F weather and I’m happy enough with the shots I got. I probably could have gotten better, yes, but travelling with a group I had to balance social time and photography time. I wasn’t about to make people wait around for the perfect light or the perfect spot to setup a tripod, and I really enjoyed travelling with a group. You can see more of my Grand Canyon and Zion shots on Flickr. Stay tuned for shots from Vegas and the Hoover Dam.

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Thanksgiving Birds Who Can Eat You

I was back home in the Niagara Region for Thanksgiving this year and the last thing I thought I’d come across is a Bald Eagle. I was up at the Balls Falls Thanksgiving Festival and a local bird sanctuary had a dozen or so birds of prey showing off the work the shelter is doing.

Some people claim it’s cruel to take pictures of animals in captivity, but I’ve seen the situation from both sides and don’t find it objectionable at all. All these birds would have been dead without the aid of the bird sanctuary, many of them were brought in injured or from abandoned nests. The ones that can be reintroduced into the wild are, and the remaining ones are now too tame to be set free. If they can help raise money to keep shelters like this one running, I see nothing wrong there. The handler even told me some of the birds crave the attention and get jealous when other birds are placed closer to people in the viewing area.

I’ve also seen what happens when photographers try too hard to get “natural” shots. Habitat gets disturbed… animals get stressed out from people too close to their homes and people get attacked by said stressed animals. Many bird species will even completely abandon nests that have been contaminated by outsiders. Don’t get me wrong, there are many amazing and conscientious nature photogs out there, but many more that aren’t. And you have to really get right in an animals face to get shots like the ones I got.

To give you an idea, the shot above was taken with a fairly long lens from about five feet away. Even the best telephoto lens the commonly used by birding photogs would only double… maybe triple that distance. So if this eagle was in it’s nest, 100ft up a cliff, I would have had to do some serious encroaching to get this ‘au naturel’. It might surprise you how many of those iconic nature shots are actually taken at zoos, shelters and special “photo farms” that specializing in letting photographers take natural looking shots in completely controlled indoor and outdoor “studios” with tame animals. You can see more of my birds of prey shots on Flickr.

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Mountain Sheep in Alberta

Alberta is a photographer’s dream. There’s mountains, plains, forests, desert and wildlife everywhere. I really wasn’t prepared for the sheer variety of things I’d be shooting. Once you get into the Rockies you can’t move without tripping over something furry.

These mountain sheep were everywhere, on the highways in the towns and looking down at you from every cliff. I’ve seen domesticated animals more easily spooked as well. I’m not sure whether it’s that people are everywhere, and never bother them… or whether they’re just extremely bad ass sheep that know they could trample me to death without breaking a sweat. I’m inclined to believe the latter after seeing two rams go at it literally head to head no more than four feet from where I was shooting them.

I remember them looking at me with a sort of bored indifference then knocking heads with each other with a scary intensity. At this point I started to wonder if the point was to decide which of the two would get to do the same to me next… so decided not to push my luck and got back in the truck.

I can’t wait to get back out to the Rockies again, maybe in the spring next time, or maybe a bit earlier in the fall. This trip I had just missed the fall colours. More wildlife and landscapes from Alberta can be found on my Flickr.

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