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How I Got These Amazing Action Shots

Presenting some of my best action shots with the story about How I Got These Shot . I would appreciate your comment.

Common Name

Yellowstone Elk

Scientific Name

Cervus Canadensis

Shooting Location

On the West Thumb Geyser Basin Boardwalk, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA.

The Action Elk in the AIR
Caption Elk In the AIR.
The Story I spent the whole morning at Hayden Valley, hoping to find some animals in action. There, I got some furry Bison bulls and cows, not doing enough action. Disappointed, I drove south and make a stop at West Thumb, just to see the Geysers, especially the ones inside the lake, letting out steam occasionally. As I took the boardwalk, I noticed at distance two cow elks munching on grass near a water source. There were already a large group of tourist approaching that section of the boardwalk. I expected those Elks would run and setup my camera on tripod immediately. One of the Elk was still munching on grass, while the other one slowly walked towards the crowd. Almost everyone in the crowd was already photographing the Elk, mainly with their phone camera. Soon the Elk was spooked and jumped across the boardwalk. Off went my shutter, tac tac tac tac .... I was far but the distance gave me the room I needed to get it in the full frame, thanks to my Nikon D500 and 200-500mm wildlife lens. My Yellowstone visit produced at least one satisfactory shot, this one :)

Common Name

Great Blue Heron

Scientific Name

Ardea Herodias

Shooting Location

Shoreline Lake, Mountain View, CA, USA.

The Action Blue Heron Fishing
Caption Blue Heron Fishing.
The Story How do you photograph a bird catching fish? I wrote a whole blog with technical details, link available in the main page. Here is the short story. I went to the lake and found this giant bird standing at knee-deep water where fresh water was entering the lake rapidly. Obviously, a nice place to catch fish. I setup my camera and lens low on the ground to get to the water level as much as possible. Then it was all waiting game. At time the bill would go down rapidly, only to come out empty. The bird kept missing, or there were no fish but illusions. I decided to stick with the bird as long as there were lights. The bill kept striking under water at regular interval and I kept shooting. Eventually, just 10 minutes before sunset, he finally got his catch. I did not miss any bit of it. There were probably 15 shots from this incidence, but this one is the best.

Common Name


Scientific Name

Canis Latrans

Shooting Location

Tomale Trail, Point Reyes National Park, CA, USA.

The Action Pouncing Coyote
Caption Pouncing Coyote
The Story It was a long hike at Tomale Trail where I went to see the Tule Elk, and the wonderful Pacific Coast view. While hiking down, I saw the coyote strolling a bit far above a hill. I continued for my original adventure and returned after 3 hours of arduous hike. I noticed few people crowding around the trail observing something curiously. I immediately knew something interesting was going to happen. I setup my tripod and began mounting by camera, while keeping an eye on the coyote who just spotted something inside a hole. While I kept working on the tripod, I kept one finger on the shutter release button, to make sure I would not miss anything if it pounces too early. Before I could complete my thought, the Coyote was in the air. Off went my shutter release button. I got several pictures in the air, but this one is my favorite.

Nature's Fury

Sunlit Mountain Top

Shooting Location

Highway 140, El Portal, Yosemite National Park, CA, USA.

The Action Clearing Storm at Golden Hours
Caption Clearing Storm at Golden Hours
The Story It was the third week of February, I was driving to Yosemite to shoot Horsetail Fall, the one that lit-up during sunset. The weather was really bad. As I crossed El Portal on Highway 140, I saw the road ahead was completely white. I did not have snow chain in my car, so I had to turn back. I pulled over near the curb, for a comfortable turnaround. When I looked over my right, across the Merced river, this beautiful scene appeared before my eyes. I immediately setup my tripod and took few shots before it disappeared. About 200' ahead, in another turnaround there were already few photographers shooting this. So this is not completely unknown phenomenon, but little known as everyone rushes towards the famous Horsetail Fall during this time. I did go to the Horsetail Fall on the next day, after getting snow chain from a road side van guy who charged 4 times above the store price, but it was anyway worth it. I put this photo ahead of my horsetail photo shot simply because it is more beautiful. This is really a nature's action.

Photographing Havasupai - The Land of Turquoise Blue Waterfall

Deep inside the heart of Grand Canyon, Havasu Creek flow through the Supai Village where the American Indian has been living for more than 800 year.  The Havasu Creek  and Supai village together make it Havasupai, a land of many majestic waterfalls and natural beauty. There is not just one, or two but many waterfalls that you can touch, get soaked in, swim into or just sit on a rock with your feet immersed into the water.  That's what make the place spacial. We have waterfall at many places around the world, but there are not many where you can swim around it. The best part of it, the water temperature is just perfect, about 70 degree Fahrenheit year around.

The Havasu Fall at Full Moon Night

While the destination is wonderful, the journey itself offers an unique experience. If you take the short-cut helicopter ride (the only alternative), you would probably miss a lot. It's an unique experience to hike through the canyon where your footstep echoed back to you from the canyon wall. There are places where sunlight never reaches, and your GPS watch keeps searching for the satellite signal. Amid, you are worried about getting lost, but the chances are very slim unless you ignore all the signs and head towards somewhere with no visible trail. All the while, I thought the trail was actually a river that dried up centuries ago, but I could not find any such references.
Grand Canyon Caverns, we stayed here the night before the hike

The Beautiful Canyon Walls
The landmark to start the journey is Hualapai Hilltop. Once you reach here, you have 3 options to reach your destination.
  1. Hike Down the 10 miles trail with your full camping gears
  2. Give your hiking bags to pack mules (fees apply), then hike down with your day pack & photography gears.
  3. Take a helicopter ride to Supai and miss all the fun 
From a photographer's point of view, option 2 is favorable. It's not easy to photograph everything you want to, while a 40 lbs hiking bag is attached to your back. There are time when you would need to go low on the ground to frame your shot which you can't do with such a huge bag attached to your back. However, you could take your bag while hiking in, and give it to pack mules while hiking out.

Recommended Camera Gears:

In present days, anyone with a cellphone is a photographer. They obviously take some good pictures with the phone camera but sometime they would argue that the phone camera could do everything that those bulky DSLR can. If you are one of those, then this blog is not useful for you. My recommendation is for advanced photographers or hobbyist who see photography as an art that can be perfected with practice and an appropriate gears.

  1.  A Camera that allows bulb exposure: You will need bulb exposure / long time exposure to shoot milky way, waterfall at night.
  2. Extra batteries and memory cards: There is no electricity to charge your batteries and you don't wanna run out of memory card on day 2. So carry some extras. 
  3. Cable Release / Remote ( for bulb exposure ): Anytime your shutter speed drops below 1/30 sec, it's better to use a remote trigger. 
  4. A sturdy Tripod: Without a tripod, you can't shoot silky smooth waterfall, or the milky way. 
  5. Wide angle lens : Everything is so close to you that you can feel them. So if you wanna fit them in your frame, you need wide angle lens. I've used a 16-35mm f4, and a 16mm fisheye. That was enough for me.
  6. ND filters and UV filter: You need the UV filter to protect your lens's front element from the abrasive mineral residue from the mist. 
  7. Lens Cleaning Kit: It's dusty in the trail and mist near the water fall. You should have a lens pen to brush of the dust and a microfiber cleaning cloths to wipe the moisture.
  8. Flash Light: If you wanna hike near the waterfall at night and lit up the fall, you need a flash light. It also help to lit up some foreground object while you shoot milky way.
  9. Rain Cover: If you wanna get too close to the waterfall, you need to protect your lens and camera from getting soaked.

              Photographing Opportunities

              The Canyon Trail:

              The Trail 

              Whether you are hiking down to Supai or returning, you will see the majestic beauty of the canyon that invites you  to click the shutter release button in every few steps you take. The temptation would be enormous. Only, if you ferry your bag with the pack Mules, you would be able to shoot as much as you desire.
              The Pack Mules are used to transport the regular supply and hiker's backpack to Supai. This not only helps the tourist but also provides useful revenue source for the tribal. The Mule usually travels in a pack, but sometime they could be naughty and go off track like this one, only  to be chased down by the owner to put it back with the others.
              A Pack Mule Transporting Hiker's Bag

              This giant rock would come to your sight once you hiked down to the flat land inside the canyon. It is just beautiful. You can't probably guess the size, unless you are really under it
              The Giant Rock
              Mystic Trail  Under the Canyon Wall

              Another Beautiful Rock

              There are rocks everywhere but some would stop you to look back and appreciate their beauty. This one is huge and the erosion made the edge wavy.  

              The Waterfall:

              Then there are waterfalls. This is the land of waterfalls. If you love swimming, then this would be the toughest moment for you. You can't decide whether to jump into the water or stay dry to shoot the waterfall.  
              Mooney Fall

              The Mooney Fall is the most challenging one to photograph. There are mist everywhere. You take your camera out,  before you knew it, the lens would be covered with the mist, and if you are not careful enough, soon it would be soaked. So take all the precaution to protect your gears while photographing Mooney .
              Havasu Fall

              The Havasu Fall is the most admired and easiest to photograph. It is easily accessible, closest to camp (north side), does not require any ladder climbing. You will find lots of people swimming here. This is the place where you can photograph the fall from a distance without worrying about getting your camera wet. 
              When you enter the campground area for the first time, you see the Havasu Fall first.

              Novajo Fall

              The Novajo Fall is one of the most beautiful ones. It is the first one you see while hiking down to the campground. This fall is visible from the hiking trail, however little up there is the 50' fall, which you need a short hike to reach before it's beauty is reveled in front of you.

              The Beautiful Fifty Feet Fall

              The Creek and Rapids:

              There are rapids in every few hundred yards of the creek. And there are places where the creek is calm, but with the combination of vegetation and canyon walls, the beauty is enormous.
              Beaver Fall

              The Milky way:

              This is the kingdom of far far away, with no light pollution around it. There ain't a better place to shoot milky way. However, you need to check the lunar calendar and time your travel date accordingly to shoot milky way.  I was there during a full moon night, so there was no chance of shooting milky way.  But I did shoot my tent with the night sky while others were sleeping.
              The Campground at Full Moon Night

              The People: 

              Last but not the least, you get a lot of happy people to photograph. Just make sure you have their consent.
              The Group I hiked with to the Beaver Fall

              There are several friends who wanted to have their picture taken with a silky smooth waterfall in the background. That requires long exposure, but human can hardly hold still for that long. Result, I got blurred faces with silky smooth waterfall. My friends were obviously disappointed. But I did learn from this experiences.  Such shot could only be done in two steps.  The first frame you shoot the water fall with long exposure, and in the 2nd frame, you take the person's picture at regular shutter speed, faster than 1/60sec. Make sure your picture frame does not move between those exposures. You can post process those images to combine them as one.

              Useful Information:

              The land belongs to tribal and access to campground needs permit. All the useful information related to reservation and etiquette are well documented in this  Facebook page Havasupai and Havasu Falls
              Usually reservation for campground opens in February and sold out within 30 minutes. The online reservation site is Havasupai Campground Reservations  
              If you have any photography related questions, you could contact me for the same.

              How To Clean DSLR Image Sensor

              Back in the old days, we only cleaned our camera body. It was limited to external cleaning and blowing out dust from the mirror & focusing screen. The digital era added another component in that list, i.e. the Image Sensor.  It is also the most delicate part of any DSLR.  If you shoot  in outdoor or change lens frequently, the chances are pretty high that your image sensor will gather some dust, maybe even few stubborn dirt that ruins your images. 

              Know When To Clean Image Sensor:

              The only thing you need to do is to view your digital image at 1:1 enlargement. Almost all photo viewing / editing software has 1:1 enlargement setting. At 1:1 enlargement, scrutinize the image for tiny black ( or dark) dots or lines. You may not see anything in landscape shots if the whole frame is covered with objects  / trees etc. They are more visible in blue or white cloud sky shot covering the whole frame. The best reference would be the blue sky covering the whole frame, or just a white screen. This is a 1:1 crop of blue sky shot, showing dart in the image sensor.

              Tiny dots at 1:1 crop
              At 1:1 crop

              How To Clean The Image Sensor:

              The fist place you should look into is your camera setting menu. If it has a 'clean image sensor' ( most Nikon camera has) in the menu, select that and press 'OK' button. I've no idea what it does internally, but I know it could remove small dust that are not so stubborn. Once, you have done this, take a shot of blue sky ( white cloud is OK too) and view your image in 1:1 magnification.  You are in luck, if the image is clear. If not, read on.

              Please note that image sensor is very delicate & sensitive component. It can be easily damaged by a tiny scratch from any foreign object. If you are not sure of handling sensitive electronic component, you must send it to any professional service center for cleaning. Nikon charges only $50 + shipping for cleaning image sensor. However, a damaged image sensor would need replacement that often cost more than $1000 for high end cameras. If you wanna do it by yourself, you risk damaging the sensor.

              What You Need To DIY:

              The first task is to identify the image sensor size. The full frame camera image sensor is 36 X 24 mm across the brands. Whereas APS-C camera sensor size varies by brand. You will need to get sensor cleaning swab as per your sensor size. Purchase that as per your sensor size. There are few other  items you would need, here is the full list.
              1. Sensor cleaning swab as per the sensor size ( at least 2 )
              2. Rocket Blower ( also known as blower brush )
              3. A small flash light
              4. A magnifying glass
              5. Lens cleaning solution
              6. Fully charged camera battery
              The complete cleaning kit I used to clean full frame sensor

              The Process:

              Insert the fully charge battery in your camera and remove the lens. Turn on the camera and go to the setting menu. Select the option that says 'Lock Mirror Up For Cleaning' and press OK.  This will pop up a dialog that says "When Shutter Release Button Is Pressed, The Mirror Will be Locked UP, Turn the camera off to return to the main menu".
              BTW, Nikon cameras will not allow you to perform this step unless the battery is fully charged.  I don't know about canon or other brand, but they must be having similar restriction.

              Now, press the shutter release button and verify the mirror is really up. You should be able to see the image sensor directly.

              Next hold your camera up, with the opening face down. Gently pump the rocket blower, the nozzle tip should be at least 2 inches away from the sensor. Make sure, your hand do not shake and the nozzle tip of the blower never touches the sensor surface. This will remove all loose dust & dirt.  You should not be needing more than 5 to 10 blows.

              Once you are done with blowing, put the camera down on it's back, with the opening face up. Grab the flashlight and magnifier and inspect the sensor. Look at the placed where you see dirt in the image. Even if you don't see anything, you should still do the next step.

              Unwrap one of the sensor cleaning swab. It might have instruction printed on the packaging. Gently place the swab at 60 degree angle at one end of the sensor and then slide toward the other end. You will need to make it 120 degree when you reach near the other end of the sensor, but make sure you go all the way, till the end. Now, do a reverse sweep till the start point. Put the swab back in it's wrapper, we might need it soon. This will remove moderately stubborn dirt.

              Inspect the sensor with the magnifier and flash light again. If  you are satisfied, switch off the camera, attach a lens, and shoot a image of blue sky or white screen. Transfer the image in your computer, and inspect at 1:1 magnification.  If the dark spot are gone, your sensor is clean.

              If you still see dirt from magnifier & light inspection or from 1:1 image on computer, we need to do a wet cleaning. Unwrapped the second new swab and spray it with lens cleaning solution. Now, repeat the step you did with the dry swab. If you saw any stubborn dart from magnifier & light inspection, you can sweep over that spot few more time. Now, put away the wet swab and run the dry swab again first forward and then backward. The chances are very high that all dirt are gone by now.  Only in rear cases, you might need to repeat with first wet and then dry swab. Don't forget to verify with 1:1 magnification in the computer before you close this DIY project. Good luck.

              Shot the blue sky post cleaning, all stubborn dirt are gone. 

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