Photography

Guaranteed* Bighorn Sighting in Las Vegas by John Clark


You’ll be able to test your creative boundaries trying to take Bighorn images that don’t look like they were taken in a city park!


Shhh… Don’t tell anyone, but there is a spot close to Las Vegas where you are guaranteed* to spot wild Bighorn Sheep. And it’s only about a half hour drive from the bright lights of the Strip!

Many people head out to the Valley of Fire State Park to see the amazing rock formations and search for Bighorn, and of course you can often spot them there. But you’ll have no guarantee* of a sighting, like at most of the locations around Nevada where they roam. But at “Bighorn Park,” you are (almost) guaranteed* a chance to not just see Bighorn, but actually get quite near the animals!

OK, so technically, “Bighorn Park” is my personal, unofficial name! The official location is Hemenway Valley Park, and since we are getting technical, it’s actually located in Boulder City, Nevada, not Las Vegas (fun fact: Boulder City is just one of two cities in Nevada that bans gambling!). Like most city parks it has large trees, shaded grassy areas and covered gazebos to enjoy a picnic. There is a playground for the children, and basketball and tennis courts nearby. And it boasts a wonderful view overlooking Lake Mead. 

But for wildlife photographers, or anyone wanting to spot Bighorn Sheep, it’s definitely worth a visit.

A quick iPhone snap showing just how close humans and wildlife get to each other

Shade trees and cool grass… Definitely a Bighorn vacation spot!

There is a large herd of Bighorn that comes out of the desert and lays in the cool grass and the shade of the large trees. It’s a perfect spot for them to cool off and enjoy a break from the desert heat. While you may get lucky and catch some of the Bighorn roaming the natural desert at the edges of the park or munching on the bushes, most of the time you’ll find them lounging in the grass which means you’ll need to get creative if you want to try and make your photos look like they were not taken in the middle of a city park! 

Usually wildlife photographers will be shooting the herd in the shade, but this can fool a light meter as the bright desert sunshine at the edges of the frame can overexpose the image. Try spot metering so you don’t blow out background while shooting in the shadows from the trees.

There are natural areas at the edges of the park, and if you are lucky you might spot the Bighorn posing in a more natural setting

I find it best to use a longer lens to allow more reach for more intimate, portrait style shots of the heads and horns, something you might not be able to capture if you see a herd far away in the desert. A 70-200mm type lens will work great, and if you have a teleconverter or even longer lens don’t be afraid to bring it. Parking is just steps away so you will have easy and quick access to your gear without any long hikes.

It can also be handy to have a medium wide angle or standard lens in the kit as well, something in the 28mm to 50mm range. This will allow wider shots that might include people sitting on a park bench with the Bighorn nearby. Of course, these shots will show more of the grass and park features, but it’s definitely an unusual image to capture and one that you won’t get in many other locations.

But please, remember, these are wild animals and not Disney characters. While the Bighorn are used to humans being nearby, they can still be unpredictable in their behavior towards people. For your safety, and theirs, don’t approach too closely or too quickly. Never try and pet one, or feed them. When taking a selfie, keep a safe distance away. Watch younger children and make sure they don’t run around and frighten the Bighorn. As with all wild animals, use common sense and watch your surroundings when taking photos so you, or a Bighorn, don’t get too close together. 

As a side trip, because photographing wildlife can build up an appetite, I recommend a stop for food at the Coffee Cup, a fun diner once featured on Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive Ins and Dives” television program. The restaurant is located in the heart of the historic Boulder City district, and is a great place to grab breakfast or lunch! It’s less than a 10-minute drive from “Bighorn Park,” and well worth a stop.

The Coffee Cup has a fun atmosphere and a menu sure to please a hungry wildlife photographer

*This is not a 100% guarantee of sighting Bighorn Sheep, though I have yet to visit the park and not see some. However, this is not a zoo, these are wild animals, and therefore subject to moving around on their own accord. But I will say that the odds of spotting Bighorn here are better than hitting it big on one of the nearby Las Vegas slot machines! 















Review - ICE 72mm Solid Neutral Density Filter Set by John Clark

All this for less than $60? How good can these filters be? Read on to find out!

Even using today’s most advanced post-processing technology such as Adobe PhotoShop, Lightroom or ON1 Photo RAW 2019, there are still a handful of photo filters that you simply can’t duplicate well on the computer. The Polarizer is one, of course. And while you technically could mimic a ND filter in post-processing, it’s extremely time consuming and an extreme challenge to achieve the same natural results that you will in-camera.

The ND, or Neutral Density, Filter blocks the light coming into the camera and allows for slower shutter speeds that you can normally dial in, especially in bright light situations. These slower shutter speeds result in that lovely, milky white waterfall with smooth water, beach waves flattened out, clouds streaking across the sky and even a shot taken in New York City at midday where no people show in the image! I’m sure you’ve seen a number of photos like this online and wondered “how did they do that?”

So when I wanted to get a 72mm ND filter for an Olympus 12-100/F4 PRO lens I started to do a little research. Many companies offer a variable ND which is nice since you can “dial in” the exact exposure needed, but I have one for a 62mm lens and find that it doesn’t get quite as dark as I wanted (typically around a maximum of 6 stops of exposure). Often I’ve found that a longer exposure time was needed to capture what I had in mind, especially in very bright, sunny situations.

So, I began researching options. And while many of the name brands offered individual, solid ND filters that would do the job, one interesting option stood out. 

It was the ICE 72mm ND8 (3 stop), ND64 (6 stop), and ND1000 (10 stop) Solid Neutral Density Filter Kit (available from B&H Photo and Amazon, among other several retailers). As a side note, this kit is also offered in a variety of sizes from 49mm to 95mm. 

The first thing that caught my attention was the price. Less than $60 for a set of three! How good can they be for that price, honestly?

So, I did a bit more sleuthing… First, this is a set of three filters that reduce the light by three, six or 10 stops. Nice! You can also stack them to fine tune the needed exposure or go super dark to really slow down time.

Next, these are made of glass which is important for optical clarity. Excellent! Some filters are made from resin or polycarbonate plastics, especially those with lower price points. Personally, I prefer glass for the best possible image, though typically you pay more for a glass filter.  

Slim, but strong bezel

Another nice feature is these have slim filter rings help prevent vignetting which is important when you shoot at wide angles (this lens has a full-frame equivalent of 24mm). 

Finally, this set also comes with a custom nylon filter pouch with three padded, fitted and non-abrasive pockets to store and transport this filter kit.

OK, so this filter set really sounds too good to be true, right? I thought so too, and could only find limited reviews and additional information online which didn’t exactly help to put my mind at ease. But, B&H has a great return policy so I figured,  “Why not?” With the filters in my cart, I checked out and in a couple of days they showed up on my doorstep! 

The unboxing seemed positive… All the features I mentioned above seemed as good in my hand as they did on paper, so to speak. The quality and edge-to-edge darkness of the glass appeared high, based on looks alone. The aluminum frame was thick enough to prevent bending or twisting, yet narrow in width as promised. Even the nylon case seemed quite high quality!

But the real test would come in the field, and with a trip scheduled to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula I was eager to try them out. 

A few days later I found myself at Whitefish Point standing in front of a set of pier pilings near the lighthouse that clearly begged for a long exposure photo. But, even as the fog rolled in, there was still too much midday light to capture the waves splashing around the posts and really show off the fog as I envisioned in my mind. This was a perfect first test for the ICE ND filters!

I grabbed the ND64 (6-stop) and the real test began. I won’t bore you with the technical details of the image, but I will say that it threaded on smoothly to the lens, and came off easily. This is often a problem with inexpensive filters so that’s a positive sign.

There didn’t appear to be much loss of sharpness either, a testament to the quality of the glass used by ICE. 

As shot, straight from the camera. There seems to be very little color shift!

Additionally, I also didn’t notice much, if any, color shift when using this filter. One major complaint against other ND filters is that they introduce a color cast to the image, often bluish. While typically an easy fix in post-processing, it’s still annoying. Another positive sign was that I noticed no vignetting, even at the widest angle of this lens.

So far I’ve only used this set one time, but first impressions are very good (and you know you only get one chance at a first impression!). I look forward to more situations where I can give them a whirl and really see how well they stand up to multiple uses and things like stacking.

But, if you follow me on Instagram or Twitter, you’ll certainly be able to tell when I post a new photo that used these ND filters! 

The final image, processed with ON1 Photo RAW 2019. It’s quickly become one of my most favorited of the year on Instagram.



Disclosure: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase.

My Favorite Photo from 2018 by John Clark

The “Eye in the Sky” was my personal favorite of 2018

This is the time of the year when I see a lot of photographers posting the top images that they shot during the year. These are often in batches of 10, 12, or in some cases 18 (I get what they did there… But what happens in the year 2100?!?).

Let’s cut to the chase… I’m going to give you just one photo. The image you see above is my single favorite shot that I took in 2018.

This is the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility, located high atop Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii. Situated at nearly 14,000 feet, it’s located well above the clouds and you can see across the Pacific Ocean to the highest peaks of Maui in the distance. I was there in September and at sunset the sky turned from blues to shades of oranges and purples, and the temperature changed to decidedly “not Hawaii-like” and got extremely cold! (As a side note, I felt like a fool packing a down jacket for a trip to Hawaii, but even with that, a hat and gloves it was c-o-l-d!) 

What I like about this photo is the unique shape of the building, and of course the coloring. I framed the shot so it would be on the left side to incorporate the drop off of the cliff and more of the clouds way below the observatory. Looking at the photo, you get a sense of the size of the world, how small we really are in the grand scope, and the search that goes far beyond our galaxy.

Honorable Mentions

You really didn’t think I could get away with just choosing one image, did you?

Shots like this make me want to fly my drone more often!

The first Honorable Mention is the ridges of Calico Basin which is located about a half hour drive from the Strip in Las Vegas. This was shot with a drone late one September afternoon. What I like is how the setting sun created wonderful leading lines across the ridges that lead the eye towards the red rock formations, and how the beautiful shadows add depth to the image. You can almost feel the desert warmth, can’t you? I haven’t flown my drone as often as I would like, but shots like this make me antsy to take my photography airborne more often!

Such a beautiful animal!

My second honorable mention goes to this shot of a Leopard, taken in Kruger National Park in South Africa just a couple of weeks ago. Those who follow me on Instagram already know the story… He was hidden in a dark spot under a tree hunting a herd of Impalas when the wind changed to come from behind his back, which immediately warned them of his presence.

The Impalas all began hissing and huffing at the Leopard, and that quickly ended his dreams of a tasty meal since they were all watching him. The Leopard made a long, slow walk of shame during which I shot a LOT of amazing images, but he kept walking closer and closer.

Finally, he stopped just a few yards from our safari vehicle and was so close I could no longer keep his full body in the frame. Besides the close, natural portrait, the thing that I like about this photo is simply the memory of a most amazing wildlife sighting and the behavior of the Impalas. And, you know it must have been great as the Park Ranger, who sees these animals daily, was as geeked out about the encounter as I was!

More to Come

I’m not done processing my images from 2018 yet, so be sure to follow along on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook where I regularly post new images from my travels.  And for you wildlife enthusiasts, more from my recent trip to Africa will be coming shortly!

And now that the calendar has turned to 2019