Photographer Joe Riis has spent much of the last decade photographing big-game migrations in Wyoming, and a new book showcases that work.
Riis, a 2008 graduate of the University of Wyoming, is set to talk about his work and his book, “Yellowstone Migrations,” during a presentation and book signing at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Gryphon Theatre, 710 Garfield St.
From nonprofit publisher Braided River, “Yellowstone Migrations” includes images of pronghorn, mule deer and elk, along with the harrowing routes they travel on annual trips from summer ranges to winter ranges.
Riis first picked up a camera while studying wildlife management at UW. He took one introductory photography class, spent two summers taking pictures, then jumped into photography full-time when he graduated.
“It’s what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to get a regular job. I just decided to see what I could do, see if I could try to make it work,” he said in an earlier interview.
He spent two years living in his truck and driving around Wyoming documenting the pronghorn migration from the Red Desert to Grand Teton National Park. The twice-yearly journey takes the animals through a corridor increasingly crowded with fences, highways and human development.
Working with writer Emilene Ostlind, the project won several awards for science and environmental journalism and became Riis’ entry into the world of conservation photography.
In 2008, he won a Young Explorer’s Grant from National Geographic magazine, which covered some of his expenses during the pronghorn project. National Geographic used images in the magazine and a book. Riis then began working on assignments for National Geographic, which has taken him to five continents.
In 2013, Riis photographed the mule deer migration from the Red Desert to the Hoback Basin in collaboration with biologist Hall Sawyer. The 150-mile migration is the longest mule deer migration on record, but it was unknown to scientists until Sawyer discovered and mapped it while researching the Red Desert herd.
In 2016, Riis and UW graduate Arthur Middleton were named National Geographic Adventurers of the Year for research on elk migrations in Yellowstone National Park. They spent two years following migratory elk on foot and horseback through the deep wilderness in and around the park.
Those three migrations — pronghorn, mule deer and elk — are the focus of “Yellowstone Migrations.”
Riis has done much of his work using camera traps. After setting the camera in position, an infrared beam triggers the camera when it’s disturbed, allowing for up-close, wide-angle images of wildlife in their natural habitat.
The work requires patience, as Riis said he could spend a couple months in the field and come away with a single image. After two years of work following wild elk, he said, he had 10-15 pictures.
“What I hope to do is encourage people to see the landscape from the animals’ point of view” he said. “Animals don’t see boundaries or borders. Their quest for food and shelter is instinctual, and I hope my images help people understand and experience that.”
Riis is currently a photography fellow at National Geographic and the Wyoming Migration Initiative.
“Yellowstone Migrations” also features contributions from Ostlind, Middleton, illustrator James Prosek, biologist Thomas Lovejoy and writer Gretel Ehrlich.
During the presentation, Riis will show pictures and video clips from his field work. “Yellowstone Migrations” will also be for sale.