When Preparation Pays Off
Coyote | Death Valley National Park | 2019
In the fall of 2019, I was in Las Vegas on the last day of a week-long trip exploring landscapes in the Southwest. I had just visited Monument Valley, Horseshoe Bend, and Upper and Lower Antelope Canyons, before meeting friends for a hike of the Rim-to-Rim trail in the Grand Canyon. For the final day, my friends wanted to see a show on the strip, but I tried to convince them to visit Death Valley instead.
I hadn’t visited the east side of Death Valley since 2004, when I completed my first-ever backpacking trip there. Prior to that trip, I read about wild horses that resided in some of the remote canyons of the park. With high expectations, I had gone on a four-day, 31 mile journey which included Marble Canyon, hoping to come home with a few photographs of those wild horses. By the end of that trip, I was disappointed to not come across them. However, I developed a strong appreciation for the desert landscape I’d traveled through. Now, fifteen years later, I was motivated to determine how my impression of it might have changed.
I was able to convince one person to ditch the comforts of seeing a show, so we gathered what energy we had remaining, and made the drive to Death Valley. I had zero expectations to see any wildlife on this trip, so my telephoto lens was stored in the trunk of the rental car, and my camera body and 24mm prime lens were in the cabin. Once we entered the park, we drove towards Badwater, and to my surprise I spotted a coyote on the side of the road. Knowing wildlife encounters are usually brief I quickly parked the car, and attempted to take photos of it with my 24mm lens. However, every time I heard the shutter of my camera, I knew I was failing to capture this moment. I took a calculated risk and went back to my rental car to grab the telephoto lens; I figured that taking uninspiring photos of the coyote might be worse than taking no photos at all.
After I fixed my camera body with the telephoto lens, I found that the coyote had made its way down the road. I decided to try to get close enough to get it in frame with my 70-300mm telephoto lens. I was lost in the moment, and found myself maintaining a fast pace in order to close the distance between us. I walked with one eye looking through the viewfinder, waiting for the right moment to snap the shutter, because I do not enjoy evaluating the endless amounts of photos that typically result from using burst mode.
I wanted to have a bokeh effect for the background, but the telephoto lens would create soft images when the aperture ring was wide open, so I compromised with a f/7.1 opening. This would allow me to have a sharp image in the center of the frame, and a bokeh effect for the background. I just had to maintain the focal point of the camera on the eye of the coyote and keep it near the center of the frame. I did all this while taking high steps to avoid tripping on anything. Then came the moment when I realized I had gotten too close: The coyote paused in its tracks, turned, and gave me a look that I will never forget. Fortunately, I was able to capture that moment. With this coyote’s request for me to keep my distance, I had satisfied my desire to capture a close encounter with Death Valley wildlife.
Full Frame DSLR
70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 Lens with Image Stabilization