Monday, October 22, 2012

Cheetahs, Camels and Ostriches

Leaving only dust behind!
© M. Raeder-Photography

Cheetahs, Camels and Ostriches

In my recent Travel TidBits I wrote about the Great Reno Balloon Race and included a time-lapse video and still images of ~100 colorful hot air balloons – giving you a glimpse of being really in the midst of all the activities.  But this was not were the fun stopped during this Photo Workshop weekend, since we also were participating in good old fashion fun at the International Camel Races in Virginia City,  and fast action excitement out into the desert beyond Reno where we had the opportunity to see 2 cheetahs run at full speed.  This is definitely one of the best opportunities to see these magnificent animals run at 60 miles per hour outside Africa – and then in Africa running cheetahs are by no means guaranteed!

The International Camel Race in Virginia City

Virginia City is an old mining town south-east of Reno.  At its hay days, it was a bustling town and the city describes itself as follows:

Once a vital settlement between Denver and San Francisco, Virginia City influenced the entire country. During its boom time, Virginia City's mining proceeds amounted to millions of dollars, equaling billions today. Every inch of this picturesque, Victorian-era town, celebrates this colorful history. Stroll our authentic board sidewalks to Old West saloons, shops, museums, and restaurants. Or visit historic churches, 19th century homes, public buildings, and quaint cemeteries. Maybe it's a ride on a stagecoach, horse-drawn carriage, trolley, or the V&T Railroad steam engine train that crosses the high desert landscape dotted with old mines. Take your step back in time in Virginia City!

Now it is a sleepy town of about 500 inhabitants but when the International Camel Race comes to town, everybody is participating and hundreds of spectators come to see the festivities.  On a boiling hot afternoon, we waited in line for parking spots, stood in line for the tickets and it was a circus with the camel and ostriches as the main actors.

With the bleaches all packed with spectators, we found a spot above the race track with a good view of the fun below.

© M. Raeder-Photography

Off to a good start…

© M. Raeder-Photography

rounding the corner, one camel decided to turn back…

© M. Raeder-Photography

…and almost dumped its rider – hang on there!

And here come the ostriches:

© Lynda Sanders

© Lynda Sanders

… and the ostrich troop wanted to see what was going on!  Laughing at the riders that did not make the finish line – and many did not since the animals were exquisite in ‘loosing’ their riders and even going into a victory dance when the poor rider was on the ground.

The announcer was old fashioned and added running commentary to the amusement of the spectators!  It was truly like stepping back in time.  This was the entertainment from years back and it seems even the well-fed animals enjoyed the commotion.

Cheetahs:  The fastest animals on earth!

The next afternoon, we drove some 30 miles into the desert to the Animal Ark, an animal sanctuary that since over 20 years has provided a safe haven for injured, abandoned or otherwise un-releasable wildlife.  It is nestled into the desert hills on 38 acres and provides enclosures that include natural habitat and vegetation where the animals can rest under shade trees or hide under bushes simulating their natural behavior.

The Animal Ark also houses 3 cheetahs, ambassador animals that participate in a research program.  In captivity like zoos, cheetahs’ lifespan is shorter – about 7-8 years - than in the wild which is unusual given the care and lack of predators.  It has been found that the sedentary life might contribute to the earlier death of the animals.  At the Ark and other places, the cheetahs have the opportunity to run freely at full speed and it has been shown that this exercise prolongs the cheetah’s lifespan.  One of the animals at the Ark, a female cheetah, is 14 years of age, double the typical lifespan of cheetahs in captivity.  The 2 other male cheetahs are younger at an age of 8 years. Although public only several times during the year, the Ark animals run almost every week and seem to enjoy the activity and the reward at the end of the run:  a full bowl of fresh meat.

We toured the sanctuary, visited with the other animals housed in the desert landscape in natural habitat environments, and our excitement grew as the time for the cheetah run got closer.  We took our place along the u-shaped course along the bottom of the u-run.  As the first animal appeared quiet descended and everyone was concentrated to see and capture these fast moving animals.  Considering the less than 10-second run, being ready, camera on the right settings and concentrating on focusing on the animal is utmost important.  And then the sign was given and the first cheetah ‘flew’ towards us, turned the corner and traversed in front of the photographers to turn again to return to the starting point.  Cameras clicked, we exhaled and the run was over.  An exhilarating feeling to be part of such a rare event!

We had discussed all the tips and tricks of fast action photography prior to the event, and I am pleased to report that even those participants with no prior experience in this type of photography went home with excellent images.  But see for yourself:

Following the lure...
© Danielle Olander

© Jeff Johnson

© Yao-pi Hsu

© Larry Calof

A beautiful moment - off the ground.
© M. Raeder-Photography

It was a thrill to see the speed, the concentration and joyfulness of these beautiful animals free in the landscape.  They followed the lure which can be seen in the first image perfectly and knew that a hunk of meat awaited them at the finish line.  Well deserved, Cheetahs!

For those who liked to learn more about fast action photography  here are my tips published last year in October 2011 following my visit to capture the cheetah run:

Fast Action Photography Tips:
For those interested, I thought I would describe the camera settings for capturing fast moving objects.  This technique is often used in wildlife photography and I teach it in depth in my hummingbird workshops during the summer.

To obtain the shallow depth of field, I use f/7.1 and try to achieve a shutter speed of  1/1000 or shorter.  Depending on the light, this will necessitate dialing up the ISO to 640 - 1600 or more.  On our particular day in 2011 at the Animal Ark, we needed to shoot with ISO 2500 or more since a storm front was blowing through and the black clouds were gloomy.  To capture the fast moving cheetah sharp and in focus, set your camera on continuous focusing and either spot or dynamic focusing (this is a smaller focus area than the usual matrix focusing).  These are of course are the starting points and need to be adjusted in accordance to your histogram.  This might necessitate adding some exposure compensation to obtain the correct exposure.  So take some test shots before the action begins and adjust to the particular situation.  

Further, set you camera on 'burst' or 'continuous shooting' to capture the run.  Depending on your camera and your memory card writing speed, it might be advantageous to shoot in jpg fine (best quality) to maximize your buffer.

The challenge in our situation here at the cheetah run was that the action in each run was over in about 3-5 seconds and we had only a limited number of runs!  So being prepared, setting the camera well in advance and being ready was a must!

Til next time,

If you would like to participate in this fast action photography challenge and see the cheetahs run, please consider my next photo workshop in Reno in September 2013:

Hot Air Balloon - inside
 ©M. Raeder-Photography
Reno Hot Air Balloon Festival 
September 6-9, 2013 
Cheetah Run, Reno
Sun, September 8, 2013

Here is an opportunity to see Hot Air Balloons rising into the early morning sky at dawn and then walk among the balloons as the remainder of the 100+ balloons are being set up for launch.  On Sunday, we photograph Cheetahs running at 60 miles per hour!  Best cheetah photo opportunity outside Africa!

Date: September 6-9, 2013
For all details, click here.