(upbeat music) - From the biggest animals in Wyoming to the smallest photographer Ron Hayes knows how to get the good pictures.
And as a photo outfitter, he knows how to help other people do the same thing.
I'm Steve Pack on Wyoming PBS And this is Wyoming Chronicle.
(upbeat music) - [Announcer] Funding for this program is made possible in part by the Wyoming Humanities Council, helping Wyoming take a closer look at life through the humanities.
Think why.org and by the members of the Wyoming PBS Foundation.
Thank you for your support.
- We're here with Ron Hayes.
Ron, welcome and thanks for being with us on Wyoming Chronicles.
So you've led us to a great spot here today on a November afternoon.
We are near the North Plat River.
How would you describe this area that we're in, which is such a great spot for seeing wildlife?
- So we're in a, you know, a pretty large cottonwood bottom and it's the main waterway through Converse County.
And so you're looking at, well, runs the gamut.
You may be able to hear the Canada Geese in the background.
- There's also snow geese.
We haven't seen 'em yet, but that is one of the reasons that we're here.
We got a tip from a rancher.
- And the Canada geese will welcome in the snow geese.
- Yeah so they'll travel right alongside one another.
And we've also seen mallards.
We've seen an eagle fly over the top of us and we've seen whitetail deer, mule deer, raccoon tracks.
We know that there's fox and coyotes and probably bobcats in the area with the amount of prey base in the area.
There's plenty of room for a predator or two.
You know, we can see probably a hundred, a hundred geese or so in different spots along the river on the gravel bars.
- A mile or so away as we were coming in there with two bald eagles in the tree as well.
- Two bald eagles in the tree, and then we saw one flying over.
And then we also saw sandhill cranes.
- I suppose goes without saying, but we're in a place where it's obvious that if you're a photographer, finding a good place is just hugely important.
And knowing it and recognizing it when you see it.
The goal of any wildlife photographer should be to capture the behavior of the animal when you're not there.
And to do that, you've gotta be careful not to disturb 'em, finding a good spot and you want obviously to find spots where there's not a lot of activity.
So there's a lot of public ground around where we're at, but the wildlife tend to be on the private land where they're not pushed as much.
- Well, that's an interesting point.
You obviously, we observed it when we first arrived today, just out in a parking lot.
You know people here, you've been doing this a long time around here.
People have come to recognize who you are, trust you, you've built good relationships with 'em.
Again, if we're talking about doing something more than just going to the city park, aiming your camera at a tree and clicking, and not that there's anything wrong with that, but to get the greater experience, that relationship building must be really important.
- A network of people is the best tool a photographer can have outside of the National Park system.
- Well, I guess that's whole slow down advice.
- Slow down.
And that, you know, You know, building the relationship before you ask.
Or a lot of times you build the relationship, they ask you, it's a matter of trust.
And building that trust over the course of time.
The other thing that I do that not everybody necessarily does is if I get something good, you know, on a, on a shoot or on a piece of property, I try to, especially at the end of the year around Christmas, provide a print to whoever's allowed me access.
It doesn't cost me much.
And it's well worth the opportunity to get out and photograph in some of these areas.
- For example, we came in today and you had suggested that we meet at a particular spot, but then you called later while we were still on the road and said, I've got a better idea.
And that had to do with this group of snow geese that had been observed, how did you find out about that?
- I got a phone call.
- You did?
- Well, I initially I got a text, and a friend of mine that knows I shoot a lot, and he told me that there were snow geese on the property.
They were with a large flock of Canada geese.
And it is just not an opportunity that we have very often.
- I was a newspaper man and shot a lot of news photography for a long time and we had photographers working for us at the paper.
And one of the guys who worked for us for the longest, I remember asking what's your best piece of advice?
And his was, and this may or may not be yours, his was, be ready.
Understand where you are and what might come up and be ready to shoot it.
It's being ready to, not just to observe, but to use the camera.
- We have a podcast called Wild and Exposed Podcast.
And my friends there have been shooting for a long time as professionals, the other hosts.
And one of the things that they say commonly is if you see it happen and it didn't happen in your viewfinder, you missed it.
- It didn't happen.
I mean, you, you have to be ready, just like you said, and always looking for those opportunities ahead of time.
You know we had a whitetail buck that came by us within a hun well, within probably 75 yards.
And none of us were ready for it, so that's true.
We just got to watch him trot away.
- It was a nice thing to see.
I'm remembering the story of a football game where this guy named Dwight Clark of the San Francisco 49ers went up and made this fantastic leap and grab.. - To catch.
- In the end zone.
The catch, good, you know about it.
And from the ESPN camera on the opposite end zone, there's the moment of the catch and there must be 10 photographers there doing this, just watching.
And one of 'em was doing this, and that was Walter Yost, the Great Sports Illustrated guy.
And that's what it was all about.
He said, I, he was ready.
The rest of 'em weren't, they were caught up in the moment.
So that's, that's just, I would think something that a less experienced photographer would pay to remember.
And even experienced photographers from time to time.
- Yeah, sure.
- You, you do get caught up in the moment, especially when you're seeing something that you've never seen before.
And you just have to remember that you're there to, you're there to capture it.
You help people get better pictures.
- I try to.
- You try to.
And there's, I think a lot of people in Wyoming are familiar with the concept of the hunting guide, the hunting outfitter, and you know a lot about that too as well I know.
But you're provide the opportunity for people to be guided and outfitted, so to speak, to shoot pictures.
How did that idea come to you?
- Well, I mean, there are people worldwide that lead workshops, that type of thing.
And, you know, part of it for me was, I was fortunate enough to be mentored by a guy that had been in the industry for 20, 30 years.
John Timmis is his name.
John is from New York, but he just happened to come out to Wyoming on a hunt.
And the guide was a friend of mine.
And so we met through mutual friend and John basically just, he heard my passion when we met, my passion for photography.
And I didn't have a lot of experience at that time.
That was probably 15 years ago.
And John just started to take me under his wing and he would always, you know, I would send him images, he would give me critique and he's a New Yorker, so he is very straightforward.
So a lot of times the critiques weren't necessarily what I wanted to hear, but they were direct and he gave me positive things to work on.
- Thinking back to those times, what were some things that he said to you that helped you move forward as a photographer?
- Well, the primary thing was you just need to slow down.
- Slow down.
- Because, you get in a hurry, you get in a hurry to capture something and don't take the time to make sure that you're ready to capture it.
Or that you're set up to capture it and to focus on, there's five things in your camera body for instance, that you need to be aware of all the time.
Your shutter speed, your aperture, your iso, and then your composition.
The other thing is your white balance.
So if you're not thinking about one of those things, it can take an opportunity that's a once in a lifetime opportunity and basically make it obsolete because you weren't able to get what you were there for.
Now it's a lot easier now with digital cameras.
Well that was sort of leading me to that.
I mean, so many people now, I remember reading a printed review of some new camera equipment and the reviewer said, here we are in the golden age of photography.
And that struck me because I'm not sure I necessarily would've thought of it that way.
His point was, virtually everybody now carries a camera with 'em all the time.
And before that really wasn't true.
How important is equipment to someone who's wanting to get better at shooting pictures?
- Well, I'll give you a couple examples.
The first one would be, I preceded digital photography.
My first camera body was a film camera.
However, I shot it like a digital camera.
At one time I climbed to the top of a pass in Glacier National Park and I probably took 200, 230 images on a 36 exposure roll of film because the tab didn't connect.
And I just kept shooting.
So I was off the mountain before I realized that.
- You've really gotten nothing.
- And I had to go back up and it was not an easy climb, but I had to go back up to.
- Get both of us who shot in that era, had that happen in one way or the other.
- The, so now with digital, I mean the beauty of it, of course is you can see right away what you've got.
You can see what you've got now with mirrorless cameras.
You can see what you're going to get.
So where all those things that I just listed off, you had to be aware of, with a mirrorless camera and the electronic viewfinder now, you're actually seeing your exposure in real time.
And that kind of leads me to about why I started to guide people is, people now don't necessarily wanna buy the image.
People aren't as interested now in buying the image as they are in having the experience.
There's more and more talk about that, rather than buy something, do something.
They wanna be able to capture it themselves.
And that I think for me, is what led me to guide more than just count on being able to sell prints.
So, I don't know if you guys can hear behind us, but we've got some turkeys that are moving in our direction.
They're getting louder as they yelp.
There's turkeys back behind us.
You can hear 'em as they kind of make their way this direction.
This would be a great opportunity.
We've got some cover behind us.
We know they're moving this direction, so we just sit down, cover up with the Gilly blanket and just wait.
- Well, and so there's a huge similar similarity between the hunting, the hunter and the photographer.
- A lot of carryover.
- Just has to be.
- That probably more than anything is requisite to being successful as a wildlife photographer.
You can find shots where you can drive along on the road, jump out, take a shot, and sometimes the person just gets lucky.
- So can all the other a hundred cars on the road with you.
- Correct Exactly.
More often the person that's out there and just waits and watches everybody else walk on and leave is the one that's gonna end up with the shot that everybody else wishes they had.
- One of the great gifts you can give a child is a camera it seemed to me.
What was the first camera you had that you remember that was really important to you?
- The first camera that I owned was an old Kodak, and I don't even know if you remember these, they were.. - The Instamatic?
- They were pretty flat.
And they had the disc.
It was a 18 shot disc.
- I remember it very well.
- You put in there and that was the first my, my mom bought it for me for my birthday and I burned through, I don't know how many discs.
And got nothing out of it probably.
But that was the first camera that I got and I've always enjoyed it.
- Taking pictures is fun.
- It is.
There's just no question about that.
Maybe that's what the golden age of photography guy talked about.
Now everybody, it used to be that people didn't.
Not everybody had a camera.
- And I think that's exactly why you could say that it definitely is the golden age of photography because if you look at the sheer volume of photographers, it's unbelievable.
Everybody's got one, everybody's shooting.
And it's not just the pros that get good shots anymore.
- That's true.
A story that I love to tell about the newspaper days when my father, who began his newspaper career in the 1940s, was shooting a great big crown graphic, four by five camera shooting a football game, local game.
And of course that those things were cumbersome to use and he only got four frames the entire game.
And one of them was a thing of beauty.
It wasn't of the game, it was of of the bench.
And now of course I would go to a game late in my newspaper career with this thing and I'd get five, 600 pictures frames in that game.
So in one way you could say, well, it'd be hard not to get something good.
- Which is, I, there's something to that.
But I think there it, you can't just count on the equipment to bail you out, I guess is what I'm thinking.
Would you agree?
- No, I absolutely 100% agree with you.
I think that that is probably what a lot of people miss.
And honestly it depends on why they do it.
And some people are there just to get the snapshots and they're happy with just documenting what they saw on a trip.
- And then some people want something that they can put on their wall or that others might enjoy having on their wall.
So it depends on the reason.
But I think probably the most overlooked aspect of photography is actually knowing your camera.
- There's another whitetailed deer running along the, - there he is.
- The horizon there, just as we talk.
And that's what I try to help people with because you know, most people throw their camera on auto and just go shoot.
- But there are some things that you can do with your camera that will allow you to make a little bit more artistic image.
- Standing here with you, it's obvious to me that part of what you've become more skilled at doing is noticing.
You were pointing things out to us as we were driving by.
Did you see that on the way in?
Did you see this just now?
You noticed the deer disc.
Now if I'd been facing that way up, maybe I would've too.
But that is part of the skill through practice and observation that you've acquired.
- When I lost my dad in 2013, that's basically when I decided that this is something that I would like to do for a living.
- What were you doing for a living then?
- Before that I was in law enforcement.
I did, - I see.
- I worked for the Wyoming Game and Fish department.
I had my degree in biology.
Wyoming's home for five generations of us.
As a boy, you're always looking for your father's approval.
And it wasn't necessarily an approval thing, but my dad used to say that, you know, I see the world in a different way than most people.
When he passed away, there was a time where I just wanted to be away from people.
And so it kind of drove me out into to nature and to do what I was passionate about.
And so that it allowed me to build skill in the area of observation and in the area of just remaining still.
And that's where, you know, a lot of people don't have that ability.
- When we're thinking about getting better pictures, what are some things in a situation like this approaching a scene like this that maybe we shouldn't do?
- You've gotta be careful not to disturb 'em, So one of the things that we wanna make sure that we do is, you know, like for instance today we've seen, well there's a bald eagle flying right overhead right now there's a lot of geese down on the river.
So the one thing you don't want do is we, there's a road that goes along the river, but we don't want to drive that and disturb the animals or disturb the wildlife that we're trying to photograph.
So, you know, I tend to park back aways and then I try to find a path to the animals or to the subject that's gonna let me get there without them noticing or without me pushing them.
- They can hear us.
- They absolutely know we're here.
But if we travel the same paths that other animals travel, they're used to seeing activity and in certain spots it's when things are different than normal, that tends to get their attention.
Another thing is, you know, a mistake that a lot of people make is that they'll see a subject and they'll walk directly at 'em.
And a lot of times that's gonna raise the alert, you know, a feeding animal, their head's gonna come up and they're gonna want to move away from you.
And if we walk kind of in a serpentine or just eyes down, don't make eye contact, a lot of times they'll relax.
If you see them alert, just stop, turn, look away.
And just give them an opportunity to relax.
And a lot of times that'll give you the ability to close the distance a little bit more or you know, at least give you the opportunity to kind of squat down, let them relax and then go back to doing whatever they were doing so you can capture those behaviors when they happen.
- It's windy here.
Not super windy, but it's breezy.
Does that affect how they might hear us as well?
- Yeah, actually high winds are good.
They're good and bad.
They're bad because wildlife tend to bed down and try to find a spot where they can stay out of the wind.
So there's not a lot of movement.
- I don't blame 'em.
- I don't either.
I don't either.
But it's good in that it kind of conceals that noise as you're moving toward 'em.
So you fool their ears a little bit and if you're on the right side of the wind, you fool their noses in the case of the, the megafauna, deer, elk, pronghorn, they smell a lot more than the.
- It just unbelievable.
- Then the person would think that they would.
- And alert some.
So you can use the wind to your advantage.
However, again, it might limit the activity depending on how hard it's blowing at the time.
- So we're getting to this place now where we're gonna start shortly turn and shoot some pictures.
And you're gonna, I hope, give me some advice on what to do.
- What we want to be aware of is the animals that we can see, obviously can see us.
So they know we're here.
- So we want to not necessarily walk directly at 'em or walk parallel a lot of times.
Don't look directly at 'em because it can make 'em nervous.
Raise suspicion, I guess you'd say.
- I think if I'm looking at 'em, I might wanna eat 'em.
You've got, you're paying a little bit too much attention.
Like right now with our backs to 'em, there's a group of mallards behind us and they definitely can see us.
And typically birds like that would fly off, but we're not approaching them, we're not rushing toward them.
And they're just relaxed.
They're still feeding on the gravel bar right behind where we're at.
Deer, we wanna make sure that we're watching for them because if we see movement, a lot of times if you stop and just relax and turn, look away, they'll relax.
And that will provide opportunities where they might typically be spooked.
If you just relax and not pay 'em any attention really.
You're gonna have the opportunity to see them relax and then maybe be able to capture an image or two.
- I just can't count the number of times that I know I must have said, Hey, look at that and take a big step, a quick move and, that's a good way to blow your shot.
- And sometimes the best reaction is not to react.
It all goes back to what you're saying earlier.
What's one of the first things you learned?
- Slow down.
- In everything.
Including how fast we walked.
You don't wanna rush anything and when it goes, comes time to take the shot.
That's where you really wanna start to take your time.
- Do you have a favorite animal or type of creature to shoot?
a bird or I mean what do you love?
- This will surprise a lot of people because, I'm in the land of giant elk and monster mule deer and big white tails.
But my favorite animal to photograph is swift fox.
- The swift fox.
- And I like to photograph 'em in the spring because that's when they're, that's when they're denning and Swift Fox are the most animated animals that I've come across and they, everything they do is to prepare their kits for the hunt and to take care of themselves.
So they'll bark the kits will rush back to the den.
You know they're learning everything.
They learn a lot through their nose.
They learn a lot through their eyes, but they also are very vocal.
And then just to watch 'em play.
That's, they get to, you know, the kits play together all the time.
And a swift fox kit is not much bigger than a Labrador puppy.
They're only about six inches tall.
The adults are about the size of a house cat.
So they're, most people don't even know that we have 'em, to be honest with you.
But if you can find a denning opportunity, there's nothing better than to just sit, observe swift fox as they, as they play and just kind of learn the world around him.
Another friend of mine, his name's Doug Gardner, right at the beginning of the pandemic, he was on his way to a shoot in Louisiana for black bears, swamp bears.
And they had a collared bear that was in a cypress tree den.
And she, they knew that she had two cubs Because a biologist down there had looked, looked into the den just to confirm.
And so his task was to get there and film the bears coming out of the den or the cubs being taken out of the den.
And they have to wait until they're quite a lot older.
So she was in the den, he sat in the same blind for 42 days before she exited and he was in the middle of a storm.
It almost didn't happen and it had never been filmed before.
- And she pulled him out by the head so that they could breathe and she knew she was keeping their heads above water as she traversed through the swamp.
- He got it?
- He got it.
- He nailed it.
I mean he killed it.
And they had called him off because of the pandemic and the restrictions that they had in England.
And he basically told them, you know what, I'm on the way already safest place for me to be sit in a cabin by myself for 42 days.
- I guess he had to pick.
So he was able to to get there and get the shot.
And it's probably one of the biggest testaments of patience that I can think of recently.
As long as they tolerate us, we'll work to the slash pile.
- And then we can kind of slowly work our way around it and get close to the waters edge.
- So we may be able to get 'em coming over the tree and large birds typically take off into the wind so they can gain elevation faster and then they'll turn and use the wind to come back and we've got corn fields up behind us.
So they may come up here and feed once more before they go to a roosting spot.
So we may get lucky.
Snow geese in particular, when they take off, they'll almost tornado.
Especially when they're getting ready to leave and go south further, they'll tornado just to, and by tornado I mean just spiral in the big group, gain elevation.
We're gonna go right at that tree, try to keep the tree between us and them.
These big slash piles like this.
That's the best place to photograph bobcats because it holds so many rabbits and mice.
- That or haystacks.
Cuz not only that, they climb in the haystack, they've got a R5,000 insulation.
Turkeys are out.
- Well you called that.
- And that's why birds are so hard.
If we would've sat here, we would've had great opportunity.
- I didn't mean, again, I just, this is what I'm learning at least is being here with you is you knew they were here, you knew an hour ago they were.
And you saw 'em of course way before I did.
- So the Gilly blanket is just a good piece of equipment to have in your bag.
It just provides some concealment when there might not be any available.
Those of us that live in Wyoming and work in and around the sage brush and grassland flats, we need to bring a little bit of cover with us sometimes.
And this is just a great tool.
I've had animals, including cattle come right up to me and thinking maybe I was a little piece of food.
I've had pronghorn sniff my back.
I had a calf elk sniff the back of my hat one day in a Gilly blanket.
And we can see all the geese that are done on the corner.
Just, I see him there sitting comfortable.
- We're having a nice afternoon.
- Doesn't matter what we got.
It's better than sitting in an office, right?
- Beats working.
- [Announcer] Funding for this program is made possible in part by the Wyoming Humanities Council, helping Wyoming take a closer look at life through the humanities.
Think why.org and by the members of the Wyoming PBS Foundation.
Thank you for your support.