I lead my 2011 “Battling Bighorns” photo tour last week. This was the latest I’ve ever run the tour and I’m really glad I did. Up till a few days before the tour the sheep herds hadn’t come down from the high Absarokas due to the lack of snow so far this year in Western Wyoming. Fortunately just days before the start of the tour good numbers of sheep showed up on their traditional winter range.
The rams were really in fighting mood and the rut was going full-bore. My group was able to witness and photograph fighting rams on every day of the tour. It’s quite a thrill to witness these fights, truly one of the most remarkable events in the natural world.
In the above image the rams didn’t collide squarely and the ram on the right flipped over his opponent. It was quite a scene. Neither ram seemed to suffer any injuries as result of this.
Here you can see the moment just before impact. Even firing away at 10 frames per second with my Canon Eos1D mk4 the next frame was the actual impact. The speed at which they come together is amazing.
This is the moment of impact. I can’t imagine the amount of force generated the collision. The crack can be heard for a mile. The rams will twist they’re heads before impact usually in the position shown in the image above.
Here just after impact the large ram on the left went down hard. He seemed to be knocked cold. The smaller ram on the left was coming in for a cheap shot which often happens. The ram quickly got to his feet and after a few minutes resumed the fight eventually proving his dominance.
These fights can be difficult to photograph. You need plenty of shutter speed to stop the action. I tried to have my shutter speed over 1/1000th of a second. Even faster shutter speed were better. In order to achieve those fast shutter speeds you need to sacrifice depth of field by using wide apertures. I mainly used my Canon EF70-200mmF4 IS handheld for the fights. Usually I used the lens wide open at F4. To get both sheep sharp and in the plane of focus you need to be 90 degrees perpendicular to the line of travel of the fighting rams to keep them in the plane of focus. I would often pre-focus on one of the rams and not refocus during the fight. This would work well as long as I was at a right angle from the fight. Another option is to use an outer focus point and keep in on one of the rams as he charged toward his opponent. You had to keep moving and try to anticipate the fights. We were lucky to have ample opportunities this year.
Next years “Battling Bighorns” tour will run from December 16-20th 2012. More information will be posted on my website ASAP….