A young elk bull with stunted antlers in Yellowstone National Park

amateur |ˈamətər, -ˌtər, -ˌCHo͝or, -CHər|

a person who engages in a pursuit, especially a sport, on an unpaid basis.

ORIGIN late 18th cent.: from French, from Italian amatore, from Latin amator ‘lover,’ from amare ‘to love.’

The term amateur has both positive and negative connotations. When it comes to photography I love being an amateur, and I love it precisely because of the origins of the term: I get to photograph what I love.

While on the way back to my hotel in Yellowstone, I came across a bunch of photographers pulled off to the side of the road to photograph a herd of elk. I took a variety of pictures and was about to wrap up when I noticed a young elk bull down a ways from where everyone else was. I walked down to him and realized why no one else was photographing him: his antlers were stunted.

I have a soft spot for animals who have more to overcome, so I settled in to spend the rest of the dying light photographing him.

Whether due to diet or disease or genetics, the poor thing wasn’t exactly photogenic compared not only to the dominant bull but even to the other young bulls in the herd. He was mostly grazing but occasionally raised his head and sniffed the air, so I positioned my tripod so that if he raised his head again, his face would be set against the strip of yellow plants behind him. And not only did he raise his head again, but as if on cue he even looked right at me.

You’re beautiful to me, little one.

Pronghorn to the Rescue

A male pronghorn in a meadow along Mormon Row in Grand Teton National Park

My plans for this fall’s trip to Wyoming were literally made at the last minute. I had planned to take the week off but wasn’t sure where I wanted to go. It had been a while since I had been to Yellowstone & the Tetons and I was itching to get back, but I was also worn out and not sure I was up to the drive. Then I checked the weather and it was supposed to be unusually sunny and hot, which if you’ve followed along here you know is not my favorite photography weather.

I decided to sleep on it and in the morning made my reservations for Wyoming, starting off in the Tetons and finishing up in Yellowstone, then headed out the door. And it was unusually sunny and hot during the day, despite being cold at night, so I had to deal with 40 or 50 degree temperature changes from when I started hiking in the morning to the heat of the day. While the sunny skies did provide good viewing of the Teton range at sunrise, the park staff had been doing controlled burns and a smoky haze hung around in the valley — not thick enough to be interesting, but enough to ruin the clarity of the pictures. The fall colors seemed to be late in arriving and while some of the aspens had turned, many were still green. And my chronic stomach problems flared up several times on the trip, though fortunately never on the trails despite one close call.

But the worst of it was, I wasn’t seeing much wildlife, and so while I was grateful for the chance to visit this wonderful part of the world, the trip wasn’t ranking very highly compared to some of my other visits. But then on my last night in the Tetons I discovered this male pronghorn in the evening light and things started looking up. The next morning I found the bison herd and my mood got even better.

Yellowstone was hit or miss the first few days too, but the last day turned out to be one of my favorite days in the park, ever.

A long way of saying, I’m glad I went.