Jeremy Walker, recently named a Nikon Ambassador, recalls a memorable encounter with a wild coyote
Jeremy Walker recalls a wild moment on a wintry assignment in Yosemite
In January I went to California to shoot some winter landscapes. You tend to think of California as sunshine and beaches, but I was up in the High Sierra, Yosemite National Park to be precise. Yosemite is one of the most beautiful national parks I have ever visited, but it is also one of the most crowded, and the Ansel Adams connection draws a lot of photographers, too. In winter, however, visitor numbers are much lower and the conditions there can be stunning.
Earlier this year, winter came to Yosemite with a vengeance. Having checked various webcams and weather forecasts in the weeks and months leading up to the trip, I decided to go for it anyway. Winter boots and warm clothing packed, I arrived to find clear blue skies and unprecedented warmth and sunshine – there wasn’t a snowflake in sight. Even the small ski resort above the park had brown patches where there should have been snow.
It’s at times like these when you earn your money. A great deal of time and effort has often gone into getting you on location and there is pressure to produce good images, so the hunt was on for shots that said ‘winter’, but without the snow.
Fortunately, clear days followed by clear cold nights led to heavy frosts. The sun couldn’t reach some areas of the valley floor, so a heavy layer of ice crystals lay on the vegetation. This hard frost made for some great close-ups of leaves, so during the snowless few days I was there, I sought out ‘micro landscapes’ which I could shoot with my Nikon 45mm PC-E tilt-shift lens (it doubles as an excellent macro lens).
Coyote not so ugly
Early one morning, just as the sun was beginning to strike the mountaintops, I noticed a lone coyote making its way along one of the valley’s footpaths and decided to follow it in the hope of a photo opportunity. Although used to living in close proximity to humans, these are still wild creatures and have to be treated with respect.
The coyote was mooching around in the undergrowth and the light wasn’t particularly great, so my thoughts of breakfast got the better of me and I packed away my kit, ready to head back.
As I did so, the coyote jumped onto a fallen tree beautifully lit by soft, diffuse top-light. More in hope than expectation of getting a shot, I opened up my bag and reached for my Nikon D810 – which, of course, still had the 45mm tilt-shift lens attached. Thinking the moment had passed, I changed to my Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 zoom, bumped up the ISO to 1000 and flicked the VR switch on. As I turned to shoot, the coyote stood still for about 30 seconds with a rather cold, calculating stare. I was very much the focus of its attention. Slightly unnerved I shot a few frames at the 200mm end of the zoom, before it lost interest in me. The final image was not exactly the photograph I had in mind when I went to shoot winter images in Yosemite, but it’s certainly one of my stand-out shots of the year so far.
01 Devoid of snow, the winter light still gives the landscape a cold glow
03 The coyote getting into position on a fallen tree
04 The star shot – complete with unnerving, hard stare
Heavy frost makes for chilly images that are packed with interesting textures