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7 Reasons Why the Canon EOS R5 is My Ultimate Wildlife Camera — Bull Elk in RMNP 7 Reasons Why the Canon EOS R5 is My Ultimate Wildlife Camera — Bull Elk in RMNP
 

Is the Canon EOS R5 a good wildlife camera? Absolutely.

I had the opportunity to select any camera available for an over-two-week wildlife photo trip. My choice? The pair of Canon EOS R5 bodies already in my kit, and I am left extremely impressed as I review the images from this trip.

Here are 7 reasons why I find the Canon EOS R5 to be the ultimate wildlife camera:

1. The AF System Rocks, Especially the Animal Eye AF Feature

Most notably, the eye-in-focus rate from the EOS R5 was considerably higher than my experience with any camera prior. Keeping a wildlife subject's eye in focus is a critical challenge of wildlife photography, and keeping the ideal focus point on a wildlife subject's eye is a key to that challenge. When a bird or animal turns its head, the ideal composition typically changes just as fast as the head turned, often requiring the AF point to be moved completely across the frame. Swimming ducks can change directions almost instantly. Too often, the subject changes position again before the AF point is in the required new position. Hence, the shots are missed.

In a large percentage of scenarios, the R5's animal eye AF system eliminates the AF point challenge, permitting the photographer to concentrate on proper scene framing with the eye being tracked throughout nearly the entire frame. I have photographed a variety of birds and animals with the R5, including whitetail and mule deer, elk, moose, coyote, ground squirrels, turkeys (ever try to focus on a feeding turkey's head?), green herons, magpies, whistling swans, frogs, and even stuffed animals. The only subject in that list to confound the R5's animal eye AF enough for me to not trust using it nearly 100% of the time was the moose, and with the dark hair surrounding that animal's eye, it is hard to fault the R5 for that one.

Even when not using eye AF, this camera's AI Servo AF tracked moving subjects very accurately

2. The Frame Rate is Fast

Animals move, and capturing the ideal body, leg, and wing position can be critical. The challenge is even greater when multiple subjects are in the frame. Capturing the movement sequence can also be desired. Even when the subjects are standing still (or bedded), there can still be movement in the frame. A drip of water falling from a duck's bill can make the difference between a good shot and a great shot. A moose's big eyebrow lifting even slightly can allow a catchlight or a larger catchlight, increasing the value of the image. If the eye goes closed during a blink (I'm amazed at my ability to time a single shot with a bird closing its necessitating membrane), the image is not likely as attractive to me as an alert, open eye. A fast frame rate can catch the pinnacle point in time.

Fully supporting the fast frame write is the deep buffer coupled with the fast card write speed. Even when writing to SD cards, I barely reached the buffer full state only once.

3. The EVF is Excellent with Lack of Blackout

When shooting in continuous mode, electronic viewfinders typically freeze or blackout while each frame is being captured, and it is very difficult to track a moving subject without being able to see it. The R5 does not have that problem. In addition, the resolution of this EVF is high enough to be able to see when a catchlight appears in the animal's eye along with other important details.

4. The Image Quality is Excellent, Ultra-High Resolution Included

The R5 delivers crisp, high-resolution image quality that is ready to be printed large, and when focal length limited in the field, the EOS R5 provides adequate resolution to crop deeply.

5. The Grip is Adequately-Sized and Comfortable

Spending many hours a day with the camera in hand was not unusual on this trip, and having a significantly-sized, expensive lens hanging from it was the norm. A sore hand developing could cause problems for the remaining days, and a grip slip could spell doom for especially the lens, a big problem when a replacement is not readily available. I find the R5 grip to be comfortable and sure.

6. The Weather Sealing and Build Quality can Save the Day

While the R5 is not built up to the standard of Canon's 1-series cameras, it is solidly built with good weather sealing. The weather is not controllable, and when photographing wildlife, unfavorable conditions are not uncommon. I photographed in a snowstorm in CO, and while photographing moose in Alaska, it was raining lightly nearly the entire time. Sometimes I used a rain cover in AK, but not always.

That this camera is relatively light is a definite bonus when it is being carried for many hours and many miles.

7. The Controls are Intuitive and Customizable

The faster I can adjust the camera settings that are important to me, the faster I can get back in the game. The set of controls provided on the R5 are just right for changing the important wildlife photography-related settings, especially with the M-Fn button programmed to provide the ideal subset of options.

 
I was fortunate to spend nearly 7 hours with the Rocky Mountain National Park bull elk in the image accompanying this post. Few elk have antlers that are larger, more symmetrical, and more perfectly shaped than his set. My time with this brute included the dreaded mid-day hours where harsh shadows and heat waves tend to rule. Amazingly, the edge of a large cloud remained still, blocking the sun during nearly this entire time. The provided light was bright and soft while the heatwave issue was significantly reduced. In this case, the denser portion of the cloud darkened the background, providing a high contrast that, along with the shallow depth of field from the Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM Lens, makes the subject stand out.

I prefer to photograph wildlife at their level and often like to be even lowered than eye level to give them a larger appearance (and increase the odds of a catchlight appearing). The low flora in this meadow accommodated a squatted shooting level nicely.

Is the R5's battery life adequate? The pair of Canon LP-E6NH packs in the Canon BG-R10 Battery Grip delivered 4,300 images before giving up on this day. It is easy to add another battery or two to a pocket if this volume is not adequate for your needs.

How do EF lenses perform on the Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R? After mounting the adapter, I forgot that it was there. The lens seemed normal during use, and the R5 delivered a considerably higher in-focus rate than I am used to.

Get your Canon EOS R5:

Body: B&H | Adorama | Amazon USA | WEX

w/ RF 24-105 L: B&H | Adorama | Amazon USA


 
600mm  f/4.0  1/2000s  ISO 250
Bull Elk Bugling in Rocky Mountain National Park Bull Elk Bugling in Rocky Mountain National Park
 

A beautiful specimen of one of my favorite animals sings one of my favorite songs under my favorite lighting conditions in Rocky Mountain National Park.
 
I was recently privileged to spend a week chasing Rocky Mountain elk around Colorado with a big lens. For this trip, I based in a small rental cottage just west of Estes Park, CO. Each morning before daylight, I drove the short distance Moraine Park on the east side of RMNP. Upon arrival at the park's huge meadow, I pulled over, turned off the SUV and listened for the awesome sound of elk bugling.
 
With the large number of these animals located in and around the huge Moraine Park meadow, locating a bull was not often a problem. However, it didn't take long to figure out that multiple bulls bugling in close proximity made for the best action during this peak rutting period.
 
Upon locating a number of bulls (and when the 7:00 AM park service meadow curfew lifted), I began to approach the targeted animals from the direction the sun was going to rise. While the majority of the other photographers simply photographed from along the road, I found that hiking into the meadow, often 1/2 mile or more, produced a higher number of images I liked. Reasons for the better images including the ability to approach at a better light angle, better alignment of the background and the option to get a better height with an eye-level camera position generally being preferred.
 
While I came away from this trip with thousands of keeper-grade elk images, it has been difficult to select down to just a few standouts to share with you. Here is why this one stands out to me:
 
First, the sun had just crested the mountain behind me, meaning that this was the warmest-colored light the meadow would see. That light was from directly behind me, meant that shadows were minimized and the low sun angle easily created a strong catchlight in the elk's eye, adding some life to the subject. With clouds shading the background, the sun-lit subject becomes even more eye-catching.
 
That I can almost hear the body position is yet another reason. With the large, symmetrical antlers laid back and the mouth wide open, this elk is obviously bugling. The side-on body position with the head turned just slightly toward the camera usually works ideally. Some frost and golden grasses surrounding the elk with some fall colors in the strongly-blurred background round out the reasons this image became one of my favorites.


 
600mm  f/4.0  1/1000s  ISO 100
Frosty Bull Elk, Rocky Mountain National Park Frosty Bull Elk, Rocky Mountain National Park
 

While the subject is always very important, the background usually consumes a significant portion of the frame and that means it too is important. One background option is to blur it away and the Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM Lens is a master at that task. Still, bull elk are very large animals and even 600mm f/4 does not completely erase the background when the entire animal is comfortably in the frame. At long environmental portrait framing distance as seen here, the background is going to be recognizable.
 
Another great option is to utilize brightness to separate the subject from the background. Having a subject in direct sunlight and the background in complete shade is one of my favorite wildlife photography situations.
 
An evenly-patterned background often works well. In this case, the distant evergreen forest provided that option.
 
For this image, the combination of long focal length, wide aperture, distant background, strong brightness difference and evenly-patterned background all work together to make the bull elk stand out and look good. It was nice of this large, frost-covered bull elk to stop at the top of a small ridge, turn his head and exhale into the early morning sunlight for me.
 
I did not have time to get closer to this rutting bull before he went over the edge on his way to find cows. That meant I simply had to accept the framing available at the time and that was not bad at all. The entire frame was good and with the ultra-high resolution Canon EOS 5Ds R behind the lens, I had a lot of options available for cropping. I struggled to select the one to share and eventually opted to modestly crop the image to show the elk larger in the frame.


 
600mm  f/4.0  1/800s  ISO 400
Bull Elk in Rut – Was I Too Close? Bull Elk in Rut – Was I Too Close?
 

This bull elk was in full rut, was not in a good mood and he was looking for some cows to steal (could be a Charlie Daniels song). This is an un-cropped image captured with a 600mm lens on a full frame body and under many circumstances, I was waaaay too close. What you can't see in the frame is both a Rocky Mountain National Park ranger directing visitors and vehicles and my rental SUV between the bull and I.
 
The meadow at Moraine Park is closed from late afternoon until morning and that means most photography opportunities in that location are then found alongside the road. That also means heavy competition for viewing positions when elk are present and finding a parking spot can be challenging at those times. A 4x4 vehicle with some clearance is helpful in accessing the more challenging parking opportunities (think rocks) and the rangers are also helpful, and especially helpful is preventing people from stopping in the middle of the small road, which of course still happens and creates long traffic jams. Increasing my safety were the people more "bold" (being nice here) than I.
 
At the moment this picture was taken, this solitary bull was about to cross the road. The ranger parted the crowds and I took cover behind the SUV. Because the meadow is lower than the road, the bull had been lower than camera level. While good images can be made from a higher level, eye-level is often ideal and that height was reached as the bull approached the road.
 
A catchlight in the eye adds life to an animal and that light usually comes from the sun and/or sky. There was no sun at this time (it was dark and rainy), but the more-upward angle helps to get a stronger sky reflection, lighting up the eye.
 
I could not adjust my position and was using a prime lens. That meant this subject was going to be cropped in the frame. While I like having the entire subject in the frame, I also like tightly framed portraits. Full subject framing of wildlife is usually easier to accomplish and when tighter framing avails itself, especially with an animal like this one, I usually take advantage of that opportunity.
 
When cropping a subject, there is often a variety of creative options. But, I most often want the eye in the frame. Keeping the head in the frame is often a next priority and ideally, giving the subject some space on the side of the frame being faced (the gaze weights that side of the frame). In this case, my next decision was determining how to adjust the vertical framing and more or less antler was the question. I find antlers very interesting and opted to go big on the antlers, smaller on the body. However, I left enough body showing to send the back line and a portion of the body out the left side of the frame and kept enough space below the chin to include the reverse-curving lines of the beard.
 
In this case, the elk's head, the primary part of the animal, falls approximately on the intersection of the right and lower 1/3 grid lines. The photographic rule of thirds often works well for composition, but ... I more frequently first approach composition from inclusion/exclusion and balance perspectives. What I find is that the rule of thirds can frequently later be applied to my results.
 
In general, the tighter the framing, the faster the shutter speed needs to be. For an image to be tack sharp, the exposure duration must be short enough that no details cross over to another pixel. It was dark out and I wanted to keep the ISO setting down. The 1/320 second exposure used here was a compromise and I tossed many images from this encounter due to motion blur. In the end, this was my favorite image from the series.


 
600mm  f/4.0  1/320s  ISO 1600
Bugling Elk in the Frost, Rocky Mountain National Park Bugling Elk in the Frost, Rocky Mountain National Park
 

The sound of a bull elk bugling is music to my ears and I followed that music to locate this big boy in the dark. As soon as the Moraine Park meadow opened that morning, I was on my way to find this bull and that move proved quite productive.
 
While the golden grass in the meadow provides a photogenic, non-distracting base for an image at any time of the day, it is lighter in color when frost-covered and other colors take on a stronger contrast at that time.
 
Not so photogenic was this bull's right eye. He had apparently been injured in a fight and the camera-facing eye was not very attractive-looking. Obviously, I fixed that problem.
 
When I'm selecting down images, I'm constantly watching for issues in those selected for keeping. When an issue is found, I look for the fix in an image captured just before or just after the selected image. The issues I'm referring to here are many, including not-optimal subject framing and blinking as common ones.
 
With frames of the bull facing the other direction captured in the take, I was able to find one that enabled me to copy the eye, flip it horizontally and integrate it into my preferred image by pasting it in, transforming it (rotating in this case) to match the original eye and masking out the unneeded portion of the copied image (most of it). The portion of the eye that was repaired in this example is small, but without the flesh showing, the image is far more attractive (especially since our eyes are drawn to subjects' eyes).
 
The astute in the crowd have noticed that the horizontal pixel dimension in this image exceeds that of a Canon EOS 5Ds R image. Using the same image the eye fix was taken from, I manually stitched some additional border onto the left side of the frame by matching the details in the grasses and then blending the transition to offset the slight brightness difference caused by peripheral shading.
 
If the subject is important to you, don't worry about taking too many pictures. Not all will be optimal and having too many great images is a desirable problem.


 
600mm  f/4.0  1/640s  ISO 400
7x7 Bull Elk Bugling in Rocky Mountain National Park 7x7 Bull Elk Bugling in Rocky Mountain National Park
 

My big lens choice for my Colorado trip was the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4 L IS USM Lens with the built-in 1.4x extender. The decision to bring this lens was not a difficult one. I was going to be primarily shooting landscape with access to certain views limited to very long distances. I also planned to photograph wildlife in a range of sizes when the opportunity presented itself. For both situations, the zoom focal length range was more important that a (potentially) 1 stop wider aperture for this lens choice.
 
I came across this large, fresh-out-of-the-wallow, bull elk trashing a thick clump of small trees with its antlers. After shooting this activity for about 20 minutes from a bad position (from-the-rear was the only angle available to me), I decided to move on. I didn't have much time in this park and still had a long distance to cover.
 
I was back at the SUV with the lens and tripod torn down/compacted for transport in a Think Tank Photo Airport Accelerator backpack when I saw the bull finally leave the thicket (I think one of Murphy's Laws covers this situation).
 
I rapidly re-deployed the setup and worked my way to the opposite edge of the clearing that the bull had entered. If I had a 400mm lens prime lens, I would have needed to move back into the woods, making a clear shot far more difficult. A 300mm prime lens would have framed the scene wider than I wanted. With the zoom, a quick adjustment to 350mm was all that was needed.
 
My preference is to shoot wild animals at their level (a below-level vantage point also works well sometimes), so I setup the Gitzo GT3542LS Tripod in its fully retracted position. Getting a clean background was not going to happen, but I like the trees being present in this case. I did make sure that the bull's head was framed between trees. I adjusted my position to get a just-slightly-forward of a direct side perspective with the head framed between the trees. In this position, a large number of focus points land on the desired plane of sharp focus that includes the all-important eyes. When the bull bugled, I was ready.
 
You can't tell in a reduced-size image, but even with a wide open f/4 aperture being used, this image is razor sharp even when viewed at 100%. This encounter with the large 7x7 bull elk was another confirmation that the 200-400 L is, in very many cases, the ultimate wildlife lens.


 
350mm  f/4.0  1/800s  ISO 400
Bull Elk and Rocky Mountains Bull Elk and Rocky Mountains
 

When the landscape is attractive, incorporating it into your wildilfe photography is a great idea. The Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens is my go-to lens for this scenario. The focal length range keeps both the animal and the background large in the frame and provides plenty of framing flexibility.

A partly cloudy day sometimes provides ideal lighting. This image was captured just before the shadow of a cloud reached the bull elk, leaving the surrounding background dark, helping the bull and its antlers stand out.


 
158mm  f/9.0  1/1600s  ISO 1250
Bull Elk Singing, Rocky Mountain National Park Bull Elk Singing, Rocky Mountain National Park
 

This large bull elk is singing my favorite Rocky Mountain song.
 
I took a little time to process a few images from my fall Rocky Mountain National Park trip and thought I would share one that I liked.
 
When elk are standing, their antlers rise far above their heads, meaning that wider framing (longer subject distance or wider focal length) is required to fit the entire animal within the image borders. However, when elk bugle, they tilt their heads far back, bringing their antlers much closer to the rest of their body, allowing a tighter portrait to be created. Although I was positioned for a tightly-framed image of a standing bull, I was still able to crop modestly for a large-in-the-frame elk.
 
Most often, the head is facing forward, positioning one antler on each side of their body. For this bugle, the elk's head was turned to the side, allowing both antlers to fit comfortably into a tight portrait. I liked how that pose came together with a beautiful animal in great light.
 
Of course, the Canon EOS 5Ds R and Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM Lens delivered amazingly as well.


 
600mm  f/4.0  1/1250s  ISO 125
Environmental Issues vs. Beauty in Photography Environmental Issues vs. Beauty in Photography
 

I care about the environment, but given the choice, I much prefer to shoot beautiful scenery than the ugliness that often accompanies environmental issues. Sometimes, the two collide.
 
In this photo, contrasting the brilliantly-colored aspens are beetle-killed evergreens. The amount of Colorado's wilderness being destroyed by these beetles at this time is very sad.


 
166mm  f/11.0  1/40s  ISO 100
Magpie, Rocky Mountain National Park Magpie, Rocky Mountain National Park
 

Eurasian magpies are common in many locations, but not where I live. Thus, they are more interesting to me than others. Especially interesting is that they are extremely intelligent (relative to animals in general). That these birds' loud calls can become annoying surely leads to local disinterest, but with their great colors and shape, it is hard to argue that magpies do not look amazing.

Magpies are not a subject I have set out to specifically target with a camera, but I will take advantage of incidental encounters. When one landed in a tree in front of me as I was chasing elk in Rocky Mountain National Park, I went into opportunistic mode. I had the right lens in hand and all I had to do was adjust the monopod height, direct the camera at the bird, focus on the eye and press the shutter release.

I of course pressed the shutter release many times in the short period of time the bird cooperated with me. Why did I select this particular image to share? Here are some reasons:

First, I like the head angle, turned slightly toward me with some sky reflecting in the eye to add life to the subject.

I also like the body angle. While the bird may be turned very slightly away and that is not usually my favorite angle, in this case, that angle allowed the iridescent feathers on the wing to show their colors prominently. The tail was angled downward enough to fit in the frame (that can be an issue when photographing magpies) and with a slight toward-the-camera angle, the iridescent tail feathers also showed their colors.

Aspects I like that were common to this set of images, in addition to the beauty of the magpie, include:

I was able to get to eye level with the bird (by quickly adjusting the monopod).

The background was very distant and became completely blurred with a close subject photographed at 600mm f/4. With all details in the background eliminated, the bird stands out prominently.

I also like that the lighting was very soft with a touch of rim lighting happening. Looking closely at the catchlight in the eye tells me this day was partly cloudy and that clouds were blocking the sun during this exposure.

Unless flying, birds are on something – a branch, sand, rock, water, etc. In this case, that something was a dead tree limb. That this particular limb did not distract from the bird and even had a little character was a positive aspect.

While Rocky Mountain National Park is an awesome location for elk photography, it offers much more. Including magpies.


 
600mm  f/4.0  1/160s  ISO 400
Hallett Peak Reflecting in Dream Lake at Sunrise, Rocky Mountain National Park Hallett Peak Reflecting in Dream Lake at Sunrise, Rocky Mountain National Park
 

On this day's schedule was giving some great gear a workout and the Sony a7R IV and Tamron 17-28mm f/2.8 Di III RXD Lens combination were chosen. These were packed in MindShift Gear BackLight 18L along with a Really Right Stuff TVC-24L Mk2 Carbon Fiber Tripod with a BH-40 Ball Head mounted and the very early AM hike to Dream Lake ensued.

I don't like to be the second person at a popular location and some may say that I arrived too early for this one. The extra time ensures adequate setup time with some starry sky photography included. The extra time also means that very warm clothes were needed, especially with the wind often encountered here.

I love perfectly still water surfaces in the shade and the mirror reflections those surfaces create. This morning did not provide such and the mentioned wind was relentless.

Between reviewing long exposure, high ISO image captures and the light becoming bright enough for the foreground rocks to be visible, this composition was settled on. I wanted the closest round rock centered between the mountain peak reflections with a clean border around it and the other foreground rocks. The camera was leveled for both roll and pitch. I seldom want a camera that is not leveled for roll when photographing landscape and in this case, I also chose to avoid an upward or downward camera angle that would have caused the straight tree trunks to tilt inward or outward respectively. The focal length was selected to be inclusive or exclusive of details in the scene and the camera height was selected for the final composition. The color balance disparity of the warm first light of the day hitting the mountain mixed with cool shade in the valley below is natural and I love it.

The final image is the result of combining two images using manual HDR blending. As is often the case, those exposures were different with the sunlit areas captured darker (f/11, 0.4 seconds, ISO 100) and the shaded areas coming from brighter settings (f/11, 30 seconds, ISO 200).

As you likely noticed, the longer exposure is dramatically longer and includes a 2x-brighter ISO setting. This exposure was needed to compensate for a 6-stop Breakthrough Photography X4 ND filter (great gift idea) being used. The longer exposure this filter permitted allowed the water to be smoothed, averaging out the reflection details in the lake surface ripples, giving the mountain reflections some definition. A third image (another darker one) was pulled in because some of the trees were less motion-blurred than in the primary image.

The aforementioned gear all performed excellently. It was a superb choice for this event. Of course, the bottom line is that Dream Lake and its rocks rock!


 
20mm  f/11.0  30s  ISO 200
The Sony 12-24mm GM Lens Finds a Perfect Sunset in Rocky Mountain National Park The Sony 12-24mm GM Lens Finds a Perfect Sunset in Rocky Mountain National Park
 

The day before my arrival, still late summer, Rocky Mountain National Park received a wintry weather blast that included a snowstorm. With a clearing storm forecasted for the next morning, heading to a high elevation mountain lake for a dramatic landscape image seemed the right plan. That excitement ended abruptly. Instead of an amazing set of landscape images, I was delivered dense cloud cover, continuous snow, and brutal winds.

However, the sunset conditions easily made up for the AM troubles. The wind became still, and the remaining clouds took on great color.

There are times in the field when you know that you are capturing an image that you will be excited about. This was one of those times. I quickly shot a variety of images from my rock perch, capturing bracketed exposures, varying the focal length, and fine-tuning the composition. This selected image was a single exposure captured at an extremely wide 12mm focal length, enabling the large rocks on the lower right side of the frame to be included along with the high clouds and their reflections. A fully-level camera keeps especially the trees on the left side of the frame straight.

What do I like least about this composition? The wide-angle focal length makes the distant mountain appear small in relation to the foreground. I decided that there was enough valuable supporting detail in the frame to offset that deficit (and I zoomed in to capture that image also).

Unknown to me this evening was that the snowstorm had cleaned the air of wildfire smoke and that this would be the last time I would see an even marginally photogenic sunrise or sunset for the duration of my time in Colorado.


 
12mm  f/11.0  1/4s  ISO 100
Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mountain National Park Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mountain National Park
 

Drive Trail Ridge Road through Rocky Mountain National Park and you get to see what the top of the world looks. And tundra is what you find here.
 
While I found this landscape very interesting, I found it challenging to make good compositions with.


 
55mm  f/11.0  1/40s  ISO 100
Epic Rocky Mountain National Park Milky Way Epic Rocky Mountain National Park Milky Way
 

Sony a7R IV and Epic Rocky Mountain National Park Milky Way The Sony a7R IV and Sony FE 24mm f/1.4 GM Lens teamed for an epic Rocky Mountain National Park Milky Way on this September evening. While chasing elk in rut was our top priority during the RMNP workshops, photographing the night sky was also on the to-do list and a clear RMNP night sky never fails to wow us.

For the Milky Way to reach down close to its reflection requires the reflecting surface to have little obstruction above it. Large bodies of water have distant shores and that distant perspective usually results in lower shoreline sky obstructions. Small bodies of water are more likely to have a calm surface than large bodies but trees and mountains typically get in the way of the little-obstruction requirement. Mountains often bring elevation gain that tends to bring reflection-erasing wind.

This particular small mountain lake is set high enough for the southern view to open up to the sky while being protected from the wind for the perfect combination. I love pointed spruce treetops and always welcome their great character on the horizon. Reflections can be counted on to double the value.


 
24mm  f/1.4  13s  ISO 6400
Canon EOS R5 Catches Portrait of a Huge Bull Elk, Rocky Mountain National Park Canon EOS R5 Catches Portrait of a Huge Bull Elk, Rocky Mountain National Park
 

Do adapted EF lenses work well with the Canon EOS R5 and EOS R6? Yes! Adapted EF lenses will continue working as well on a Canon EOS R-series camera as they always did on your favorite DSLR. With the improved AF performance of the latest mirrorless models, you might find your EF lenses performing even better than before. A significant EF lens kit should not be a hindrance to a mirrorless migration.

I love clean wildlife portraits with beautiful frame-filling subjects. Our workshop crew referred to this bull elk as "Incredibull". For 2020, this elk was sporting a huge, symmetrical 6x6 rack – easily one of the best-looking racks I've seen. I look forward to seeing what 2021 brings for this beast.

The soft portrait lighting seen here is courtesy of a lenticular cloud hovering over the meadow. With the edge of the cloud covering the sun, soft, bright light was provided for most of the over 7 hours I spent with this bull and his cows.


 
600mm  f/4.0  1/640s  ISO 400
When the Conditions are Unusual, Embrace the Opportunity, Bull Elk in RMNP When the Conditions are Unusual, Embrace the Opportunity, Bull Elk in RMNP
 

When the conditions at a destination are not as we expected or as we hoped they would be, we tend to get discouraged. However, when those circumstances are unusual, we can capture images that look different. With the extreme number of images being captured today, different is very positive.

The massive wildfires in the western USA were timed with the elk rut in Colorado this year, and the resulting smoke was not a welcome aspect of this Rocky Mountain National Park trip. While the smoke eliminated sky and sunlight color at sunrise and sunset and prevented clear viewing of the milky way and stars, the look of wildlife images captured under a late morning sun was different — and improved. As seen here, the harsh shadows were strongly reduced, and the background has an interesting low contrast appearance that makes the closer subject stand out in the image.

This image is an 86MP panorama captured with the Canon EOS R5 and Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM Lens. At this moment, the bull came in too close for a 600mm lens to capture the composition I wanted.

When over-focal-lengthed for a situation, attempt to capture the composition's in-motion portion in a single frame. For wildlife and portrait photography, the in-motion part usually includes the head and may include the entire body. For landscape, the in-motion subjects may be a stream or an ocean. After capturing the in-motion portion of the composition, quickly capture the desired additional pieces of the frame in subsequent images, ideally using the same focal length (easy with a prime lens), the same focus distance (switching the lens to MF after the first capture makes this easy), and, preferably, the same exposure settings (manual exposure makes this easy but brightness differences can be resolved when editing the individual RAW files). If there is potential subject motion not contained in the first frame (the back legs of the bull in this example), the immediate second frame should capture that potential motion.

Later, stitch the images together using your favorite image processor. The image shared here was manually merged in Photoshop. The images were stacked, and the hard edges between the frames were removed using a layer mask with a soft-edged brush painting black over the edge of the top image mask.

Another teaching point from this image is the camera position. By photographing from down low, more of the elk is shown against the mountain vs. the meadow and the already-large animal is made to appear even larger.

An exceptional subject always helps overcome any shortcomings in an image. Shown here is, among the animals I've photographed, my all-time favorite set of antlers. The overall size is huge with good mass, the points are long, and the symmetry is impressive. I can't wait to see what this bull grows next year.


 
600mm  f/4.0  1/1600s  ISO 400
Beautiful Bull Elk, Rocky Mountain National Park Beautiful Bull Elk, Rocky Mountain National Park
 

When there is a choice, I nearly always go after the elk with the nicest antlers. While everyone has opinions on what "nicest" means, I generally look for overall size (bigger is better with age, genetics and nutrition aiding this aspect), symmetry (or character if something unusual is present), shape (classic shape with long curved tines and a big whale tail) and color (dark with ground-polished white tips is perfect).
 
This bruiser checked most of those boxes and in this position, his primary flaw, a missing G2 (second point from the base) on the left side, is nicely hidden. This 6x5 had not long ago lost a fight with a bull with antlers that were smaller overall. In the battles, it is often the size of the elk's body that matters most and this one needed to go eat more. He is still talking to the nearby herd with a bit of food still in his mouth.
 
This pursuit started not too far from the car, but I eventually ended up on a ridge a good distance from where I parked. When a light rain ensued, I was thankful for weather sealed gear as I did not bring a backpack and would not have been pleased to have to leave a subject as nice as this one.
 
I usually use a shutter speed faster than 1/400 second when photographing elk. But, elk usually move slowly while bugling. So, I grabbed some immediate insurance shots and then rolled the shutter speed down to go after lower noise images. Manual mode was selected with a wide open aperture and auto ISO adjusting for the shutter speed change I made.


 
600mm  f/4.0  1/400s  ISO 400
Head On Bugling Bull Elk, Rocky Mountain National Park Head On Bugling Bull Elk, Rocky Mountain National Park
 

When going afield, I often have some image goals in mind. Being opportunistic, taking advantage of every opportunity afforded, is always the primary plan with wildlife photography, but looking for opportunities to capture the goal shots is also part of the plan.

When viewed straight on from the front, most animals appear symmetrical and that is a look that can often work well in an image. One of my goal shots for this trip was a head-on image of a bugling bull elk (cow elk do not bugle) with its head and antlers characteristically laid back. Put that elk in a meadow with a strongly blurred background and I'd be even happier.

This shot nailed the head position I was looking for and most of the other aspects were in line with the goal. The elk's body position is nearly ideal, but the bull seemed to have its neck shifted slightly, breaking perfect alignment. Few sets of antlers are perfectly symmetrical and this set has some side-to-side variation.

I'll be attempting to one-up this image in the fall.


 
600mm  f/4.0  1/1250s  ISO 160
Bull Elk Chin-Up Pose in Rocky Mountain National Park Bull Elk Chin-Up Pose in Rocky Mountain National Park
 

Rocky Mountain National Park is very scenic but some locations within the park have better environments for elk photography than others. Elk go where they want to and little will stop them from doing so, but I have some favorite locations and usually will pursue the elk found in these. This elk was in one of my go-to locations, featuring a low, clean foreground and rocky mountain base in the background.

Elk are very large animals and that means relatively long distances are required to fit them in the frame of a long lens (and for personal safety). Longer subject distances mean increased depth of field and that means the background will be less diffusely blurred. The 600mm f/4 focal length and aperture combination creating a three-dimensional effect that makes the subject stand out from the background is especially valuable when photographing large animals such as elk.

After seeing how sharp the Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens was (and experiencing how light it was), I opted to use this lens behind the ultra-high-resolution Sony a7R IV for all of my late summer and fall wildlife photography.

The bull in this photo was moving across the meadow in front of us and this great rut-characteristic chin-high pose was my favorite. The other images captured in this sequence provided a small additional amount of background that, with the lack of distracting details, I later decided to merge with the original image, creating a panorama. With the 61 MP resolution provided by the a7R IV, I didn't need the additional pixels. Moving back and cropping would have been easier from a post-processing perspective but moving back would have resulted in a missed opportunity in this instance (and the original framing would have been fine). Note that this capability likely exists in some of your images — be cautious when deleting the lesser images.

Images captured under a cloudy sky, including this one, usually readily accept some contrast increase and a modest amount was added to this image.


 
600mm  f/4.0  1/500s  ISO 500
Bull Elk in Water, Rocky Mountain National Park Bull Elk in Water, Rocky Mountain National Park
 

Just add water, because water usually makes an image better.

I was staying ahead of this bull and his harem in a large meadow for perhaps 30 minutes when we arrived at a small pond that I didn't even know existed. At the other side of the pond (my side) was a tall, steep bank down to a stream at the bottom. While determining if this bull's nose-up threatening pose was meant for me or the cows he was tending, I captured a large number of frames with the 600mm focal length quickly becoming too long. Just as I was about to go down the bank, the bull turned back to the cows and the opportunity stayed alive.

It was a hot morning and the elk were cooling themselves in the water. Especially fun was that some of the calves were using their hooves to splash water onto their backs. It was an awesome experience.

Due to additional interest in the Rocky Mountain National Park Instructional Photo Tour, an additional set of 2019 dates has been added. Can you go from Sun, September 15 to Sat, September 21, 2019?! The rut should be going strong. Let me know ASAP!


 
600mm  f/4.0  1/2500s  ISO 500
Bull Elk Posing in Rocky Mountain National Park Bull Elk Posing in Rocky Mountain National Park
 

The rut is the perfect time to get great bull elk poses. This bull was without a harem but staying close to a larger bull that has one. These satellite bulls are constantly watching for their opportunities to move in.

What is the best technique for composing an image of an entire animal? While this answer can quickly become complicated and is situationally dependent, a simple strategy that often works is to center the entire animal in the frame and open up to the side it is looking toward. In this example, the elk is looking almost straight at me, but with its head angled slightly toward the right of the frame, adding weight to that side, I positioned the elk slightly to the left of center to create an overall balance.

Picture yourself here! As recently shared, I have added a second week for the Rocky Mountain National Park workshop. Photographers at all skill levels are invited to join!

"Bull Elk in Rut and Much More", Rocky Mountain National Park

  • 2 openings: Sun, September 15 to Sat, September 21
  • Possibly 1 opening: Sun, September 22 to Sat, September 28
  • Wait List or Sign Up for next year
Contact me to sign up!


 
600mm  f/4.0  1/1600s  ISO 160
Bull Elk Intently Watching Herd, Rocky Mountain National Park Bull Elk Intently Watching Herd, Rocky Mountain National Park
 

A bull elk with an incredible set of antlers intently watches his herd of cows in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Strongly blurring the background while keeping an animal this large comfortably in the frame requires a long focal length and wide aperture. The 600mm and f/4 combination is unsurpassed for meeting that challenge. In this case, it was the Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM Lens getting that job done.

Behind the lens was the Canon EOS R5.

While the pose shown in this image does not appear to be an AF challenge, this bull was constantly in motion. The elk moving in all directions meant that the required AF point was continuously changing. Chasing the animal's eye with a focus point used to be a considerable challenge — and stress. With the R5's game-changing animal eye AF performing incredibly well, the person behind the camera can better enjoy following the animal in the frame.

As I've said many times before, low shooting positions work great for photographing elk (and most other animals). This scenario permitting going low and a few quick leg lock twists on the Robus RCM-439 Carbon Fiber Monopod placed me there. This position pushed the bright grasses lower in the frame, with the dark blurred evergreens creating an excellent background for the elk's head and antlers.

Elk in Rut and More, Rocky Mountain National Park Workshop 2021 Special Offer

Be at my hotel near the Denver airport in the morning on Sat, 9/25/2021, or meet me at the house in Estes Park late in the afternoon, and you can join me a day early for a soft start to this transportation-provided workshop! There is only one opening remaining for this year. Contact me for more information.


 
600mm  f/4.0  1/1600s  ISO 800
Bull Elk on the Rocks, Rocky Mountain National Park Bull Elk on the Rocks, Rocky Mountain National Park
 

This bull had just lost a fight over a harem of cows and headed for the hills. His rack was larger than that of the opponent, but the opponent's body was larger and that is where the battle strength comes from.

Capturing this image was primarily a matter of repeatedly getting out in front of the bull and properly predicting where it would enter a clearing at the right distance for the big prime lens I was using. As you will notice from the camera settings for this image, it was quite dark when this image was captured. The pursuit started under cloudy weather that deteriorated into light rain.

I still have one opening remaining for the September elk in rut photo tour in Rocky Mountain National Park (or get on the 2020 waiting list). Consider joining a small group of photographers (all skill levels welcome) pursuing these awesome animals and other wildlife and landscape opportunities in this great park!


 
600mm  f/4.0  1/250s  ISO 5000
My Favorite Milky Way Lens, A Meteorite and Hallett Peak, Rocky Mountain NP My Favorite Milky Way Lens, A Meteorite and Hallett Peak, Rocky Mountain NP
 

As long as the correct exposure and basic compositional skills are applied, it is hard to take a bad picture of the milky way.

Here is a list of steps for photographing the milky way.

  1. You need to be able to see the milky way, and it is not always visible. Find that schedule. The Photographer's Ephemeris and similar apps are useful for this. Mid-late summer is ideal.
  2. You need a dark sky. Dark as in no city lights, even in the distance, is most important, and no moon or a small moon is also helpful. Plan for the dark sky location and moon schedule.
  3. You need a clear sky. Heavy cloud cover is a milky way photography show-stopper.
  4. A camera is required. Most modern interchangeable lens cameras will work fine, but with equivalent lenses, the full-frame models have an advantage.
  5. The camera requires a lens, and lens selection is critical. The lens needs a wide aperture to create a bright enough image in an exposure short enough that star trails do not appear within the acceptable ISO range of the camera. Think f/2.8 as a minimum, and f/1.4 is awesome. A wide-angle focal length is needed to get enough of the milky way in the frame. While 35mm can work, go with 28mm and wider (full-frame equivalent). Stars are pin-sharp and you want a lens that renders them pin-sharp fully into the corners at the wide-open aperture. That lens does not exist, but some lenses are considerably better than others for this purpose.
  6. Mount the camera and lens on a solid tripod and head.
  7. While the milky way looks great without any other supporting environment, an attractive foreground can make such an image stand out, as illustrated in this image.
  8. Focus the camera. If the moon or another very distant light is visible, autofocus on it, and then switch to MF. Otherwise, or alternatively, use manual focus (pick a bright star and fully zoom in to focus manually).
  9. Set the camera to manual exposure, and remember that your LCD is going to appear very bright in the dark.
  10. Use a wide-open aperture.
  11. Set the shutter speed. Basically, use the longest possible shutter speed that does not create offensive star trails. Consider starting at 20 seconds for a 24mm lens on a medium resolution imaging sensor. Higher resolution imaging sensors more readily show star trails and require shorter exposures for equivalent pixel-level results. Review the shot until the ideal duration is established.
  12. Set the ISO. Too high is the setting most often needed. At f/2.8, ISO 12800 is probably needed. At f/1.4, try ISO 3200 or 6400.
  13. Set the drive mode to 2-second self-timer.
  14. Frame the scene as well as possible (it will be very dark), capture an image, adjust the camera, and repeat that process until perfection is achieved.
  15. When the composition is just right, cue the meteorite to streak through an ideal area of the composition. Want a meteorite in the frame? The odds for any given frame to have a meteorite in it is low, but selecting a date within a known annual meteor shower, such as the Leonids, greatly increases the odds. After establishing the perfect shot, set the camera's drive mode to high speed, plug in a remote release with a locking button, lock the remote's shutter release down, and walk away. Tending a second camera setup is a good use of this time. If available, a bowl of ice cream is also entertaining. Come back to adjust the composition for the milky way's movement across the sky (I know, the earth is what moves).

Amazingly, and out of the norm for me, was seeing a meteorite streak by while the shutter was OPEN, without using the continuous drive mode technique. While I welcome meteorites, I do not fancy satellites. They get removed (this is easy with Photoshop's healing brush and clone tools).

As mentioned, the earth rotates, causing the milky way to move across the sky like everything else up there. On this evening, I followed the heart of the milky way around Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park until Hallett Peak was a foundational element in the composition. Despite the 4:30 AM alarm, it was well after midnight before exhaustion overcame excitement.

What is my favorite milky way lens? Currently, the Sony FE 24mm f/1.4 GM Lens holds that title for me. The 24mm focal length fills a significant portion of the frame with the heart of the milky way. The f/1.4 aperture is extremely wide, permitting lower ISO settings for less noise. This lens's image quality at f/1.4 is excellent. The size is compact enough that I can take it along as a lens dedicated to this purpose.


 
24mm  f/1.4  13s  ISO 6400
Alone in the Meadow, Bull Elk, Rocky Mountain National Park Alone in the Meadow, Bull Elk, Rocky Mountain National Park
 

If you are a bull elk, there comes a time in life when you are mostly alone during the rut. The other bulls your size have become your enemies and the larger bulls are going to beat you up if you get too close to the herd. You become referred to as a satellite bull.

While this bull is relatively large, he is no match for those having the cows. Bigger is usually better in terms of bull elk subjects, but I cannot resist photographing the smaller bulls in the right scenarios.

While I often seek sunlight from my back when photographing wildlife, the animal looking directly into the sun often works well from a lighting perspective. In this case, I was aligning a non-distracting background (that happened to be in the shade of a cloud) to help the elk prominently stand out in the frame.

There is only one opening remaining for the September elk in rut photo tour!

Consider joining a small group of passionate wildlife photographers pursuing these awesome animals. Photographers at all skill levels are invited to join!

"Bull Elk in Rut and Much More", Rocky Mountain National Park

  • 1 Opening: Sun, September 15 to Sat, September 21, 2019
  • Filled/Wait List: Sun, September 22 to Sat, September 28, 2019
  • Sign Up for September 2020
Contact me to sign up!

Photographers at all skill levels are also invited to join me for these tours:

Fall Landscape in Acadia National Park Instructional Photography Tour

Tue, Oct 15 through Sun, Oct 20, 2019

"Whitetail Buck in Rut and Much More", Shenandoah National Park

Sun, November 10 to Wed, November 13, 2019 and/or Wed, November 13 - Sat, November 16, 2019

Contact me to sign up!


 
600mm  f/4.0  1/2000s  ISO 500
Rocky Mountain National Park is Calling You! Rocky Mountain National Park is Calling You!
 

When a great animal is found, staying with it can lead to great images. Sometimes, it can lead to a lot of great images.

When photographing wildlife, the stay or go decision is often a tough one. The subject in front of us may not be entertaining for relatively long periods of time and the thought that a better opportunity may be nearby runs through our minds. On this day, staying was the right decision.

There is only one opening remaining for the September elk in rut photo tour!

Consider joining a small group of passionate wildlife photographers pursuing these awesome animals. Photographers at all skill levels are invited to join!

"Bull Elk in Rut and Much More", Rocky Mountain National Park

  • 1 Opening: Sun, September 15 to Sat, September 21, 2019
  • Filled/Wait List: Sun, September 22 to Sat, September 28, 2019
  • Sign Up for September 2020
Contact me to sign up!

Photographers at all skill levels are also invited to join me for these tours:

Fall Landscape in Acadia National Park Instructional Photography Tour

Tue, Oct 15 through Sun, Oct 20, 2019

"Whitetail Buck in Rut and Much More", Shenandoah National Park

Sun, November 10 to Wed, November 13, 2019 and/or Wed, November 13 - Sat, November 16, 2019

Contact me to sign up!


 
600mm  f/4.0  1/1250s  ISO 200
Lessons from a Mule Deer Buck, Rocky Mountain National Park Lessons from a Mule Deer Buck, Rocky Mountain National Park
 

My favorite camera mode is manual mode. But, when lighting conditions are changing rapidly, it is often helpful to get the camera involved in the decision-making process via auto exposure. When using auto exposure, most often I'm still using manual mode, but with auto ISO being selected.

In auto exposure modes, the camera must be able to guess the proper exposure, or close enough that the result can be adjusted to perfection during post-processing without detriment to image quality (increased noise for example). When photographing deer, a subject rather neutral in relative brightness, in their natural environment, the camera often gets the auto exposure right. Wildlife photography is usually very challenging, involving unpredictable action and fast camera work, and having the camera take care of the exposure can make the difference between getting a great shot and getting nothing. With the exposure being determined by the camera, I can focus on getting the shot.

When the camera can guess the exposure with good accuracy and auto ISO in manual mode is being used, the shutter speed alone can be rapidly changed as needed to produce a sharp image. For example, if an animal that has been in fast motion (requiring a fast shutter speed) pauses and stares at something while motionless, a quick roll of the top dial can increase the exposure times to allow lower ISO settings be taken advantage of.

One thing I need to focus on is not getting too close to my wildlife subjects. While getting close enough to wildlife is a common challenge, being over-successful, getting too close, can sometimes be an issue. Wildlife subjects often need some space around them in the frame, some breathing room. Getting closer means a stronger background blur, but in this case, it meant not enough breathing room around the mule deer buck. Fortunately, Photoshop helped me increase the canvas size, adding some background to the perimeter of this image.

Another teaching point illustrated here is the catchlight in the buck's eye. In practically all images containing an eye, catchlights will add positively to the result, giving sparkle and life to the subject. Catchlights can be created with flash lighting, but when photographing wildlife, the sun, or at least the bright sky, is my favorite catchlight source as it usually provides the most natural appearance.

For catchlights to happen, something bright, often the sun/sky, must be able to reflect in the subject's eye. Think about the animal's rounded eye reflecting such and the camera angle needed for that to happen. The subject's head position can make a difference with a raised head increasing the chances for catchlight reflections. Your position can also make a difference. The lower your position relative to the subject, the more likely you are to get catchlights reflecting the light source. When the sun is the catchlight source, the lower the sun, the better the odds are that it will reflect in the eyes. The more exposed the sky is, the better the likelihood of a reflection.

In this example, I had a catchlight. However, with just a slight amount of the sky reflecting in the top of the deer's eye, it was a weak one. Using an exposure adjustment layer in Photoshop, I added a mask that was entirely black (not affecting the image) except for the little catchlight and then slid the exposure adjustment slider slightly to the right to increase the brightness, affecting only the catchlight. This tiny adjustment made a noticeable difference in the final result.

I'm always looking for an entertaining or at least unusual behavior to capture in wildlife images. This buck's large rack added points to the entertainment factor, but its behavior was rather boring — it was mostly feeding. While smelling the small plant is not dramatic behavior, it does speak to this animal's keen sense of smell and its ability to communicate in this way. The huge rock behind the buck provided an out-of-the-norm background for the image and the position of the antlers allowed all of the points to be seen. Thus, this image was my pick from this session.

A reminder: there is only one opening remaining for the September elk in rut photo tour in Rocky Mountain National Park. While elk are our primary subject, we'll be opportunistic, taking advantage of other wildlife that avails itself as illustrated here.

Consider joining a small group of passionate wildlife photographers pursuing these awesome animals. Photographers of all skill levels are invited to join!

"Bull Elk in Rut and Much More", Rocky Mountain National Park

  • 1 Opening: Sun, September 15 to Sat, September 21, 2019
  • Filled/Wait List: Sun, September 22 to Sat, September 28, 2019
  • Sign Up for September 2020
Contact me to sign up!


 
600mm  f/4.0  1/1250s  ISO 1250
Big Bedded Bull Bugling in Rocky Mountain National Park Big Bedded Bull Bugling in Rocky Mountain National Park
 

Rarely does photographing wildlife subjects (and human ones also) at eye level not work well. Bull elk are very large animals, but when they bed down, a standing position may yield a downward camera angle. While I don't always mind a downward camera angle, it is frequently not my first choice. So, when they go down, consider taking the camera down with them. A lower position increases the likelihood of catchlights showing in the eyes.

It was raining lightly during much of the time I spent with this bull. There are a lot of benefits for photographing wildlife under cloudy skies, but such images typically have relatively low contrast and often respond nicely to a small contrast increase during post processing. A slight saturation increase is another adjustment that frequently helps images captured under heavy clouds.

There are now two openings remaining for the September elk in rut photo tour, one for each week. It's not too late for you to join a small group of passionate wildlife photographers pursuing these awesome animals and the beauty of RMNP. Photographers at all skill levels are invited to join!

"Bull Elk in Rut and Much More", Rocky Mountain National Park

  • 1 Opening: Sun, September 15 to Sat, September 21, 2019
  • 1 Opening: Sun, September 22 to Sat, September 28, 2019
  • Sign Up for September 2020
Contact me to sign up!

Photographers at all skill levels are also invited to join me for these tours:

Fall Landscape in Acadia National Park Instructional Photography Tour

Tue, Oct 15 through Sun, Oct 20, 2019

"Whitetail Buck in Rut and Much More", Shenandoah National Park

Sun, November 10 to Wed, November 13, 2019 and/or Wed, November 13 - Sat, November 16, 2019

Contact me to sign up!


 
600mm  f/4.0  1/400s  ISO 1000
Elk Family Interaction in Rocky Mountain National Park Elk Family Interaction in Rocky Mountain National Park
 

I'll not likely ever repeat a shot similar to this one captured on a fall evening in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Photographing multiple animals (vs. a single animal) significantly increases the compositional challenge and especially with a 600mm lens in use, having all of the animals in the plane of sharp focus, especially at f/4, is a big challenge. At this moment, these three subjects aligned themselves nicely for me at this moment. The number 3 is meaningful to this discussion in that an odd (vs. even) number of animals often works best compositionally (note that it also works well in landscape photography and in landscaping).

When multiple animals are in the frame, interaction between those animals usually increases the image's appeal. If you look carefully at this photo, you will see a quite humorous interaction occurring. The bull is licking the cow who is showing us her shocked face. The cow's yearling is looking intently at the behavior, seemingly very interested in what is happening. The yearling facing the opposite direction somewhat completes a circle (while a portion of the circle of life plays out). Icing on the cake is that the head shadows of the cow and yearling are showing facing each other on the side of the bull.

There are two openings remaining for the September elk in rut photo tour, one for each week. The time is rapidly running out, but it's not too late for you to join a small group of passionate wildlife photographers pursuing these awesome animals and the beauty of RMNP. Photographers at all skill levels are invited to join!

"Bull Elk in Rut and Much More", Rocky Mountain National Park

  • 1 Opening: Sun, September 15 to Sat, September 21, 2019
  • 1 Opening: Sun, September 22 to Sat, September 28, 2019
  • Sign Up for September 2020
Contact me to sign up!

Photographers at all skill levels are also invited to join me for these tours:

Fall Landscape in Acadia National Park Instructional Photography Tour

Tue, Oct 15 through Sun, Oct 20, 2019

"Whitetail Buck in Rut and Much More", Shenandoah National Park

Sun, November 10 to Wed, November 13, 2019 and/or Wed, November 13 - Sat, November 16, 2019

Contact me to sign up!


 
600mm  f/4.0  1/2000s  ISO 1600
Bath Time in Rocky Mountain National Park Bath Time in Rocky Mountain National Park
 

A cow elk gives her calf a bath while standing in a lake in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Long telephoto lenses were meant for times like these. This was a scenario where I couldn't get any closer – wetter was not an option I was willing to accept. Not only did this lens's 600mm focal length make the animals substantial in the frame but the f/4 aperture created a blurred background even at this long distance, making the subject stand out.

I am considering a return to Rocky Mountain National Park in September. Let me know if you want to be part of this trip!


 
600mm  f/4.0  1/640s  ISO 500
Incredibull, Rocky Mountain National Park Incredibull, Rocky Mountain National Park
 

It had been two years since I photographed this bull elk and he was #1 on my list of subjects to find on this trip to Rocky Mountain National Park. He didn't let us down.

This year, Mr. Incredibull was a 7x7 (referencing 7 points on each antler) with remarkably long G3s (the third point on each side) and long swords (G4s, the fourth point on each side). This morning found the huge elk in my favorite meadow, with short grass and a clean background ideal for photographing in.

While the Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS Lens is not the ultimate choice for blurring the background (compared to the Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens for example), it's zoom range has very strong benefits. The 600mm prime does not do 500mm, the focal length needed for this image.

This bull was not moving fast and permitted a large number of images to be captured. I chose this one as a favorite in part due to the leg position, showing nice separation and a bent front leg conveying a sense of action.

I like as many tines as possible to show in antlered animal images. With this bull's head tilted up, the tail of the left antler is hidden by the body. However, I'd rather capture the desirable bugling pose and there is not much that can be done about partial missing antler in this situation. One tine is hidden on the right antler but the shadow brings that one to light. Antler shadows are great.


 
500mm  f/6.3  1/1250s  ISO 320
Elk Bugling in the Smoke, Rocky Mountain National Park Elk Bugling in the Smoke, Rocky Mountain National Park
 

I love a challenge, and photographing outdoors often presents many challenges. When planning my Rocky Mountain National Park trip, I considered many factors for the timing. Smoke was not one of them.

Smoke filling the air was troublesome overall, but this scenario illustrated making the most of a unique situation. The decreased air clarity meant that contrast decreased rapidly with distance, creating distinct layers of mountains.

I love a tight portrait of a beautiful animal, but it is often more challenging to include that animal in a beautiful landscape. Environmental wildlife images require the photographer to think like a landscape photographer – and a portrait photographer.

My favorite Canon lenses for environmental wildlife photography are the RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM Lens and EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens.

Sony camera owners should consider the FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS Lens for this purpose. While the FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS Lens is a great wildlife lens and has a long end advantage, I sometimes find 200mm to not be wide enough for this type of imagery. That said, this range would have worked great for this photo.


 
300mm  f/8.0  1/500s  ISO 125
Finding Order in the Chaos, Rocky Mountain National Park Finding Order in the Chaos, Rocky Mountain National Park
 

There are many scenes that are beautiful to view, but not all are photogenic. On this snowy morning in Rocky Mountain National Park, there was plenty of beauty visible (after the storm subsided). However, I was experiencing a common landscape photography challenge. From a composition perspective, the beauty was lacking the order my eye sought to create an attractive image.

Upon entering a small clearing, I found what I was looking for. The trees had adequate light to grow tightly together, and there was balance in the form of tree size.

When hiking, I typically carry the gear in a backpack, and the MindShift Gear BackLight 18L was the choice for this hike. Because it takes time and effort to access a backpack's contents, I find myself passing up photo opportunities of marginally attractive scenes. The potential reward vs. time and effort required ratio is not high enough. Carrying a camera and lens in a toploader case keeps a camera and lens well protected while significantly increasing accessibility. The Canon EOS R5 and RF 15-35mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens, my favorite landscape camera and lens combination, were chosen for the toploader case.

Most scenes offer a variety of compositions. Spending time working the scene, assessing the various camera position and focal length combinations, typically leads to the best images.

My assessment of this scenario was that a level camera, keeping the trees straight, was optimal. While I liked just the trees in the frame, adding a base to the image (the ground) seemed best (and the R5's resolution makes changing one's mind later an easy option). A standing position at 35mm gave me the level camera with a bit of the foreground inclusion I was seeking.

I love symmetry in photography. While natural forest is not typically symmetrical, this scene yielded rather well in this regard. The size and shape of the trees are similar on each side of the central gap.

I waited a long time to share this image (along with a Merry Christmas message) — until winter. However, this image was captured in the summer. Sharing a snowy picture in the summer seemed wrong.


 
35mm  f/8.0  1/125s  ISO 100
Bedded Bull Bugling, Rocky Mountain National Park Bedded Bull Bugling, Rocky Mountain National Park
 

More precisely, a big beautiful bedded bull elk bugling in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Stay with an elk long enough, and it will bed down, and a stationary subject is easier to photograph than a moving one.

However, once bedded, obstructions (such as grass or trees) are often an issue. This cooperative bull opted to bed in a meadow with short grass, meaning that foreground obstructions were not an issue.

The background can typically be counted on to present a challenge, and distractions are among the most frequently encountered issues.

In this image, the first background distraction avoidance strategy was to blur it away. The Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM Lens rises to that challenge. The bokeh capability of many ultra-wide aperture lenses is raved about, but the 600mm f/4 combination is unsurpassed for diffusely blurring the background. The 600mm f/4 combination smooths the strong contrasting background lines, such as trees, that would otherwise catch the viewer's eye, distracting from the subject.

The big in-the-field challenge is aligning the subject within the background. Once it is bedded down, you know where the animal will be for at least a short time — usually long enough time to allow perfecting of the composition. In this scenario, the goal was to avoid strong lines and color differences intersecting the animal's body and antlers.

I love a low shooting position when photographing elk (and most animals). While this image was captured from a low position, the position was high enough for the elk's back to remain below the brush behind it.

For many, it is all about the antlers. The camera position that placed the rack between the background trees also worked well for the animal.

A sleeping animal is usually not too exciting (unless it is a baby). Fortunately, during the rut, bull elk make use of their downtime. When bugling (one of my favorite sounds), elk raise their heads which lowers their antlers for my also-favorite elk body position.


 
600mm  f/4.0  1/320s  ISO 200
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