The Making of "Three Amigos"

December 02, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

"Three Amigos" has been my best selling photo since I took it almost ten years ago.  In late February 2007 I found myself in Yellowstone National Park watching and photographing a red fox, hoping to get the iconic shot of it leaping into the snow.  I spent several hours watching and waiting while the fox hunted in the deep snow but never giving me the leap I hoped to capture.  The snow as deep and in order to get to the rodents below, the fox had to dig down to get to their tunnels.  I waited and hope the fox would move to some snow that was less deep.  It was a warm day for February in Yellowstone, meaning it was probably in the upper 20s.  Light clouds diffused the sun, which was still low in the sky due to how far north Yellowstone is and the low angle of the winter sun.  As I waited on the fox, I noticed movement to my left.

In 2007, the longest lens I owned was a Canon 100-400mm lens.  I had also only just switched to a digital camera after many years of shooting film.  The Canon 5D was my first digital SLR and I still love the quality of images that the camera produced.  As I looked to my left, I saw three large bison slowly walking down the snow packed road in my direction.  While not in perfect symmetry, I was immediately drawn to the shape the three of them made as they walked toward me.  The first image in this article was the first shot I took.  I remembered the moment differently than it happened, as I often thought I just snapped photos continuously, but as I look at the time stamps on the photos, I actually waited a second or two between shots, probably trying to capture the perfect moment.  The second photo in the series shared here was taken three seconds later.  In late February in tough winters, bison pull all the nutrients they can not only from the meager grasses buried under the snow but also from the outer coat of their hair.  Along with the winter sun bleaching their coats, this contributes to the lighter coloration in the long guard hairs.

The next photo was the that would become my best seller and cover photo for my first book, Three Amigos.  This photo was taken two seconds after the second and five seconds after I took the first image.  As I mentioned, when I recall photographing these bison, I thought I had just shot continuously, but I started with two photos several seconds apart.  But when I saw them in perfect symmetry at the moment I took the Three Amigos image, I then did shoot continuously but less than a second later, the bison were no longer perfectly lined up, as seen below.  I shot all of these images with the Canon 100-400mm lens at 400mm but I did crop them differently later.  For the three other photos in this article, this is the first time I've actually ever posted them.  While I've told the story of Three Amigos many times over the years, it never occurred to me to write it down and share it, let alone to go back and look at the other photos.  But I thought the whole sequence gave the single photo a more telling story.  And yes, shortly after this moment, I needed to get out of their way, which I did.  And I finally was able to get a photo of the fox leaping into the snow.  But as the encounter with these bison was unexpected, the photo of the fox that ended up in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History wasn't the leap but of the fox in the snow after leap, Bottom's Up


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