Grain Elevators 03-3988

Good, bad or indifferent, if you are not investing in new technology, you are going to be left behind. —Philip Green

Can’t Fence It In


Barbed wire divides ranches and keeps the herds together, but it’s no boundary for a late summer storm brushing up against autumn.

Summer Reruns


I went for an easy one this week, an “old” rainbow from my film archives, circa 1976. It’s one of a handful of pictures where I can recall what camera/lens combination I was using (Minolta SRT and 35mm Rokkor-X), and how I felt while chasing it. Literally chasing.

Dramatic weather sometimes seems fated to occur when the foreground is really lousy—there are either too many complementary items, or none at all. This was taken right before sundown near Charlo, Montana, at the edge of the National Bison Range. I drove out on a couple of side roads, hoping for something interesting before the light disappeared, and literally around the last corner, at the base of a small hill, I found this wonderful cloud hanging on a barbed wire fence…

Good night, and good luck.
—Edward R. Murrow


Bison's Dust BathBW

In my dictionary, one definition of Re•dux is presented in a new way. I couldn’t ask for a better title, or theme, as I revisit this blog’s archives and try to demonstrate improvements to original photos made possible as software programs, and my skills using them, have matured. I’ll end Redux when I’ve run out of worthwhile possibilities but, meanwhile, follow me as I try to prove that some of the photos we file away and forget merit new lives.

I began Listening For Thunder almost eight years ago…that was quick! I had to look up the date of my first post (it was in April, 2006), but I did remember the topic—the National Bison Range, near Moiese, Montana, part of the federal wildlife refuge system. Along with a bit of general information, I included two photos—a white-tailed deer in evening light, and a bull bison in the midst of a summer dust bath. Here’s the link to that initial post, Sidetrack: Home On The Range. The photos are unchanged since I placed them. Otherwise, I’ve refreshed the link to the Bison Range, and added Categories and tags. Both photos were scanned on a Nikon Coolscan V ED, using SilverFast software.

Compare the originals with the updated shots accompanying this post. The more obvious change is the bison (above), which has become a gritty Black & White (the graininess wasn’t added—remember, this is from film). I did this because, at the time, I’d been shooting digitally for barely two years, and hadn’t yet converted anything to monochrome. Tools for doing that were few then, and digital B&W prints were mostly awful. That’s changed remarkably. We now employ many excellent tools. For this I used Nik Silver Efex Pro, with Photoshop following up for retouching (I’ve removed some distracting grass—the photographer’s prerogative). I’m still fond of the color version, as it reminds me of the day’s strong heat, but the reworked image is stronger, and suggests the thunder created when a bison attempts to relieve itself from relentless clouds of flies.

The white-tailed doe, by comparison, is a delicate matter. Only a shaft of sunset light illuminates her, while the fore- and backgrounds fade into dark shadows. To my eye, there’s an overall green cast to the original; either I didn’t recognize it, or I was in a hurry (lazy). It jumps out at me now. There’s also a lack of contrast, and areas where burning, or dodging, would help. Again, there’s no single magic button to transform the photo. I made adjustments in Nik Viveza and Photoshop, including actions from Tony Kuyper to selectively burn or dodge tones, especially the highlights and mid tones. Compared to the bison image, this redux is subtle—remove the greenish hue, and it’s a coin toss.

Whitetailed Deer, Montana-Redux copy

We can’t rewrite history, but sometimes…improving the photos we’ve taken can refresh the recollections we’ve gathered along the way.

Sidetrack: Home On The Range

whitetailHurrying north out of Idaho, Montana state Highway 93 gallops through the Bitterroot Valley to Missoula, then accelerates past Arlee, Ravali, St. Ignatius, Ronan and around Flathead Lake to Kalispell and on to Glacier National Park. Over the hot tourist months it is two-lane mayhem at its worst…sweeping curves, deceptive stretches of straightaway, and too many people in their hurry to see America.

Change your pace and exit this stampede at Ravali, about 50 miles north of Missoula. Turn west onto Highway 200; you’ll immediately cross a bridge over the Flathead River, and although you won’t suspect it, the hills bunching up on the passenger’s side are part of the National Bison Range. Motoring south from Glacier, angle west onto Highway 212 a short ways after Ronan and follow the signs.

A variety of habitats comprise the NBR’s 18,500 acres, from prairie land to forest, and you can experience most of these closely. A self-guiding one-way loop road traverses the hills before topping out at Red Sleep Mountain (on clear days, that’s Flathead Lake in the distance). Viewing the animals, especially the bison, should be done from your vehicle, for your safety and theirs. Walking is encouraged at the small ponds located near the Range’s entrance. Don’t underestimate the photographic potential there; the photo above was taken one evening as I drove out from the Visitor’s Center. Wildlife are often concealed in the tall reeds and cattails (whitetailed deer mostly), but I’ve encountered mink, muskrats, geese, ducks, and an unforgettable and inquisitive weasel on this short trail. (The latter answered the question “Why is a fish flopping in the middle of the path?”)

I was introduced to the NBR nearly 40 years ago; yet while the small communities around it are noticeably busier now, and yard lights speckle the Mission Valley nights, the bison herds still lumber up from Mission Creek in clouds of dust as they’ve always done, and the sun arcs slowly across The Big Sky, and if you forget you have to be somewhere else…your eyes may widen even as your heart rate goes down.
Bison's Dust Bath