Exploring the Earth and Sky of the West


Adventures with a telephoto lens (Part 2)

Here is installment #2 of recent photos taken with my new (well, new to me…used by someone else first) Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR telephoto lens:

Bighorn sheep, Naches, WA. This photos effectively captures the reach of this lens, as these sheep were about a mile away and a thousand vertical feet above me when I took this photo.
Reflections along the Carbon River, Mt. Rainier National Park, WA
Tiny mushrooms, Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, WA
Bullfrogs on a log, Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, WA
A red-tailed hawk in the rain, Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, WA. I was taking pictures of the frogs in the previous photo when another hiker alerted me to the presence of this hawk about ~10 feet above my head.
Moss-covered nest, Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, WA
California Quail, Yakima, WA
Mt. Hood rises above The Dalles, OR as seen from across the Columbia River in Washington.
Juvenile Great Horned Owl, Yakima, WA. This was actually a somewhat alarming experience, as this young owl was sitting on the ground just a few feet off the trail. It made its presence known by aggressively clacking its beak and puffing up its feathers. I initially thought it was a badger or some other mammal before realizing that it was an owl. We retreated a little ways down the trail before looking back to capture this photo.
We found the adults nearby: one in a tree…
…another blending in with the rocks…
…along with a second juvenile!
A week later, I returned and saw just one of the juveniles, now complete with ear tufts (the “horns”)!
A mountain goat expresses skepticism regarding our appearance on a remote mesa in the Wenatchee National Forest, WA
A rare Pacific Northwest thunderstorm builds over the Ahtanum State Forest, WA
Blue Camas (Camassia quamash), Ahtanum State Forest, WA

Adventures with a telephoto lens (Part 1)

As a landscape photographer, I’ve never spent that much time working with telephoto lenses. For about as long as I’ve owned a DSLR, I’ve had an old Tamron 70-300 mm that I use mostly for taking photos of wildlife that would be inadvisable to get too close to. For a lens that only cost me a few hundred dollars, it takes pretty solid photos, but at a maximum zoom of 300 mm, it just doesn’t have the reach to capture anything more than a few dozen yards away in any detail.

This winter I decided to splurge on a telephoto lens upgrade by purchasing an AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR lens. For me, “splurging” means buying used on eBay, and unfortunately the first lens I won arrived rattling around loose in a paper-thin box with virtually no padding whatsoever. There was some external damage that hadn’t been disclosed in the auction listing, and, upon taking it outside for the first time, I quickly realized that the electronic aperture was non-functional. Fortunately, when I confronted the seller about these issues, I got my money back no questions asked.

It took a few more months to find another lens at a price I was comfortable paying, but by early March I finally had my hands on a non-damaged copy. Weighing in at around five pounds, this is an absolute beast of a lens. Thankfully, the tripod mount & collar that it comes with make a nice ergonomic handle to carry the entire kit by hand. (It’s actually been sort of nice to NOT have a camera slung over my shoulder for most of the past few months!) One does attract attention with a lens this large though: On a recent hike up the Carbon River Road in Mt. Rainier National Park, nearly every hiker I passed asked me some version of “Get any good photos today?” (I hadn’t really, and started answering honestly toward the end of the hike, which really seemed to throw people for a loop.)

Performance-wise, I’ve been really impressed with the lens so far. It’s been fun to use, both for wildlife and for closely framed landscape shots. The optics are sharp, and the vibration reduction is quite effective, allowing me to capture crisp images even at 500 mm in low light at sunset, which is pretty wild. This may be an entry-level telephoto, but it’s still a huge upgrade over anything I’ve shot with previously. Even after I made the decision to buy the lens, I had lingering doubts about how much I would actually use it given its size. Those concerns have been put to rest. To my surprise, I’ve spent most of the spring with this lens attached to my camera and have even been comfortable enough with its versatility to take only this lens on several hikes.

Without further ado, here are some of my favorite shots with the lens so far:

Mt. Adams silhouetted against a sunset sky
First wildlife encounter with the new lens: a Yellow Bellied Marmot in Cowiche Canyon, Yakima, WA.
A Cooper’s Hawk perches in a tree, captured from just inside our front door
Unobstructed view of the Cooper’s Hawk
A devilishly red Vermillion Flycatcher, Tucson, AZ
Cactus Wren, Tucson, AZ
Cactus Wren, Tucson, AZ
Ocotillo at sunset, Saguaro National Park, AZ
Barrel cactus, Tucson, AZ
Saguaro cactus, Tucson, AZ

Several of the wildflower photos in my last post were also taken with this lens. Part two coming soon!

Wildflower Season 2023

In recent years, the onset of wildflower season has been the catalyst for reviving my photography habit (and thus, this blog) from the dead each spring. That has certainly been true again this year (though my recent purchase of a new telephoto lens may have also played a role…) as the hills of central Washington have been awash in green grass and a riot of colorful flowers for much of the past month. The show is fantastic, but fleeting. Today on my drive home from work, I noticed that the hillsides have already taken a turn toward the brown as temperatures warm and the early season grasses begin to die back. Fortunately, by heading up into the mountains, one can follow the flowers all the way into July and August in the higher elevations of the Cascades.

Here are some of my favorite photos from the past month:

Arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata), Snow Mountain Ranch, Yakima, WA
Grass widows (Olsynium douglasii), Cowiche Canyon, WA
Poet’s shooting star (Primula poetica), Klickitat River, WA
Showy phlox (Phlox speciosa), Snow Mountain Ranch, Yakima, WA
Spring wildflowers bloom at Columbia Hills State Park, WA, with Mt. Hood in the distance.
Yellow fritillary (Fritillaria pudica) and bluebells (Mertensia sp.), Snow Mountain Ranch, Yakima, WA
Lupine (Lupinus sp.) bouquet at Columbia Hills State Park, WA
Wildflowers coat the hillside at Snow Mountain Ranch near Yakima, WA
Lupine (Lupnius sp.) and large-flower triteleia (Triteleia grandiflora), Columbia River Gorge, WA
One of my favorite wildflowers, the elusive chocolate lily (Fritillaria affinis), Columbia River Gorge, WA
Wildflowers line the trail at Columbia Hills State Park, WA
Hikers traverse slopes covered in arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata), Snow Mountain Ranch, Yakima, WA
Wildflower covered slopes, Columbia Hills State Park, WA
Upland larkspur (Delphinium nuttallianum), Klickitat River, WA
Grass widows (Olsynium douglasii), Cowiche Canyon, WA
Columbia Hills State Park, WA
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