Large Whitetail Buck Picture
A huge Whitetail Buck stands at alert.
300mm f/2.8 1/200s ISO 100
Huge Alaskan Brown Bear in Your Face
This image was one of my Katmai National Park goals. I wanted a straight-on, tightly-cropped bear face image and the image shared here was my favorite from this trip.
The bear was huge. The September coat was beautiful. The pose was almost perfectly straight-on with some catchlights in the eyes. The water drops falling from the bear's snout show that it is active. No, that is not lipstick and yes, it is looking at me. Fortunately, these bears like the taste of salmon and not that of people.
I could have made use of a 1.4x extender behind the Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM Lens for this image but didn't have time to install it. Fortunately, the Canon EOS 5Ds R resolution is so high that this heavy crop still has adequate resolution. A Wimberley Gimbal Head made controlling the large lens effortless and sitting on a small stool makes the time with the bears quite comfortable.
Picture yourself sitting alongside a remote creek in Katmai National Park filling memory cards while photographing these giant bears catching salmon, playing, fighting, etc. That's the opportunity I had and that is the opportunity you have in September 2020! Plan on joining me for the Brown Bear Chasing Salmon, Remote Katmai National Park, Alaska instructional photo tour.
Plan to increase your wildlife photography skills while capturing portfolio-grade images on this bucket-list-grade trip! Learn more here.
600mm f/4.0 1/1250s ISO 1600
Huge Bull Elk and Fall Foliage
My favorite wildlife subject lighting comes from a low-in-the-sky sun behind me, but ... wildlife is not always (not often?) cooperative. In this case, the elk was in the shade while the incredibly-colorful background remained in direct sunlight of a setting sun.
When the subject is in the shade and the background is in direct sunlight, you are most likely going to have a different white balance for each. Usually, the sunlit background will be warmer in color than the shaded subject. However, that is a difference I sometimes welcome. Adjust the overall white balance for the subject and the background becomes especially warm/golden. This is often an ideal situation for fall foliage, making the colors especially vibrant.
For this image, I used an exposure that pushed the red channel nearly against the right side of the histogram (nearly R=255) and let the rest of the image fall where it may. I initially thought I would have a complete silhouette (totally black elk), but there was plenty of light remaining in the shade to work with. While I could have very significantly increased the brightness of the elk in this photo (and did use a +3 shadow adjustment), I chose to keep the animal dark to emphasize the outline.
A mature bull elk with a set of headgear this big is ... really big. Creating a very strong background blur while including most of or the entire animal in the frame requires a large sensor camera, a long telephoto lens and a wide aperture. The Canon EOS 5Ds R and EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM Lens at f/4 created what you see here.
600mm f/4.0 1/3200s ISO 640
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
White-tailed Deer Fawns in Big Meadows, Shenandoah National Park
I love close, frame-filling wildlife photos, but I also love wildlife photos that show animals in their environment. Getting close enough to fill the frame with an animal is often quite challenging, but I often find environmental images even more challenging to obtain. Another thing I love is a challenge and the environmental wildlife portrait challenge one was one I took on during a recent photo trip to the Big Meadows area of Shenandoah National Park.
Be in the Right Location
Location selection is a big part of environmental wildlife portraits. Basically, you need to photograph wildlife in an environment that invites the type of photos you desire. I would not describe the scenery of all locations that hold wildlife as especially photo-worthy and the tighter-framed option works better in these less-desirable landscapes.
Just as important as a photogenic landscape is that wildlife, or more specifically, wildlife that interests you, is in the location. Location selection resources have never been more readily available. Simply search your favorite image sharing site for the subject that has your interest. Then determine where that image was captured.
Timing for Photography
With the location selection made, timing the photography in that location can be done. If you want fall-colored leaves, there will be a week or two out of the year that needs to be targeted. If baby animals are on your list, there will be an ideal time, likely in late spring.
For the example I share here, I knew that early June was a good time to photograph fawns and I knew that Big Meadows in the heart of Shenandoah National Park was a great place to find them. SNP scenery is very nice, though as with most locations, it can be challenging.
See the Image Coming
Within the chosen location, wildlife cannot be controlled (unless baiting, calling, etc.), so a photographer must work with the animals wherever they decide to be. Learning wildlife behavior goes a long way to set up the ideal shot, but wildlife is generally unpredictable. While locating wildlife, visualizing ideal shots will keep your mind focused on upcoming opportunities, including those that may present themselves at a later time.
The key for this white-tailed deer fawn image, in addition to being in a good location at the right time of the year, was thinking ahead. The deer were moving in a general direction and I knew that the white tree trunks in front of ferns and fronted with tall grasses were coming up on their route. The shorter green grass foreground would be ideal and I surmised that these fawns and their mother may pass through this location.
Be Ready with the Right Gear
I was partly right. The mother went slightly off-angle, but the fawns cooperated briefly by walking, broadside, in line and both within the plane of sharp focus, right into the scene I visualized. I was ready.
Under 10 seconds. That is how much time the fawns spent in my scene. That is both extremely short and very long. I had very few other decent opportunities that lasted longer, but 9 seconds is not much time to capture an image of wildlife in motion even when standing (head and ear angles were constantly changing). This was one of the last frames captured before they turned different directions and leaped off to explore somewhere new.
The 1D X Mark II was in manual exposure mode with Auto ISO selected. The light levels were changing rapidly due to clouds and both deer and grass are kind to autoexposure, making Auto ISO a great choice. The adorable fawns were running/leaping/frolicking constantly, so I was using a 1/1600 shutter speed most of time. It is usually better to have more noise due to a high ISO setting than to have a motion-blurred subject. With the fawns slowing down and with their distance being greater than usual (their movement was crossing individual sensor pixels at a slower rate), I quickly rolled the shutter speed down to 1/800. Auto ISO took care of the exposure adjustment, immediately selecting a lower noise level ISO 1000. High speed burst mode with Case 1 AI Servo AF and a single AF point placed on the lead fawn worked ideally.
The Canon EOS-1D X Mark II and Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Lens combo performed impressively on the entire trip. While this lens has many benefits (including incredible sharpness), being able to zoom to ideally compose a scene, especially one with multiple animals, is a big one. Though this image does not take in a wide, grand landscape, it includes enough surroundings to qualify for at least my own definition of environmental. At 362mm, this lens could be set to an even much wider angle. However, I didn't feel that additional surroundings were going to be positive additions to the image. I had enough angle of view at the chosen focal length.
I'll talk more about the 1D X II's amazing frame rate and why it was so important for this location in another post, but ... I made full use of the 14 fps. Just to clarify, there really are two different fawns in this picture. This particular frame taken from a burst captured both in nearly identical positions. Upon a quick glance, my daughter suggested that I may have clone stamped the second deer into the image. I assure you that was not the case – there really were two fawns there. The slightly different leg positions are the biggest clue.
The 1D X II's AF system performed especially well in the tall grasses the fawns were commonly found in and was ready when the fawns started leaping and playing.
Note that I used a monopod exclusively for support on this trip. While a tripod provides better support, a monopod is faster to use. With only one leg to retract or extend and with no leg angles to set, I could quickly move into positions and set up, a key to getting many of the images I captured on this trip. A monopod also means less weight to carry around. The wildlife I was shooting required shutter speeds fast enough to avoid motion blur, especially with the support of the monopod.
Seize the Opportunity
Be ready to take advantage of all wildlife photo ops made available to you. Even if focused on the environmental images, take the tighter-framed images when availed to you. Wildlife photography is extremely challenging and no opportunity should be passed on. Having a mix of subject framing will make a portfolio or gallery appear more complete.
362mm f/5.6 1/800s ISO 1000
Double Bull Elk
When photographing non-voice-controllable subjects, the potential of capturing all subjects in the frame with good body positions decreases exponentially with the number of subjects.
With a single subject, capturing a good body position is sometimes challenging but often not too difficult to accomplish. Add a second subject and the challenge doubles and it doubles again when a third subject is in the frame. While not every subject in the frame is required to have the ideal pose, it certainly helps when all have one.
I had been hanging with these big boys for several minutes. When enough distance separated them, it was not too hard to find individual subject poses worth photographing. When both bulls were in the frame, good opportunities became scarce with the second bull often becoming a distraction to the first.
Photographing groups of animals includes increased challenge, but that challenge serves to make the rewards of success higher.
600mm f/4.0 1/160s ISO 640
Spring Peeper Picture
Isn't he the cutest thing?! The call of the Spring Peeper is beautiful - and loud. The Spring Peeper in this picture appears ready to jump to you!
180mm f/19 1/200s ISO 100
Huge Bull Elk Picture
A huge Pennsylvania Bull Elk is smelling a small tree he has been rubbing.
500mm f/4.0 1/250s ISO 1250
Sometimes, Everything Comes Together Brilliantly – Monster Bull Elk
Wildlife is unpredictable – and too often lives up to the "wild" in its name. Getting warm light from a very late day sun to hit an animal directly from behind your back (shadow pointed to the subject) with a good background is challenging. Having the animal be an incredibly-large bull elk and the background be maple trees in peak red fall color definitely increases the image value to me. Having the broadside bull scratch itself with its antlers, aligning the shoulders within a green portion of the background, the antlers within the glowing red section of tree and the head in front of the brightest background (high contrast draws the viewer's eye) was more than I thought to pray for.
This huge 9x8 bull elk had been bedded in the sage and grass. The sun was setting rapidly and while I captured many images of the head and antlers rising above the obstructions, I really wanted a full (or nearly full) body image in this setting. Fortunately, that happened. I was in a great position when the elk stood up. However, the bull's head, looking forward, was in the shade of trees on the horizon behind me. The back scratch was precisely what I needed to leave only the legs in the shadows, completing the image.
While I prefer to use completely manual settings, the light falling on the subjects was changing frequently and the shots were often being captured in haste. So, I opted to use manual mode with Auto ISO for much of my elk photography on this trip. The color of the elk bodies and their environment was neutral enough in brightness that, at most, only a small amount of exposure compensation was needed. In this case, I exposed this image 1/2 stop brighter than needed. The 5Ds R did not have any trouble recovering the red channel pixels that exceeded a 255 RGB value. This brightness adjustment left just a tiny patch of red pixels retaining 255 values, though even more headroom is available.
Based on the movement of the elk at the time of capture, ranging from standing (often looking at me) to running away, this exposure method meant that I could simply roll the top dial to select the shutter speed I needed for the scenario (to keep the image sharp) while keeping the ISO as low as possible. If only one elk was in the frame, the aperture was nearly always intended to be set at f/4, so don't read anything into my f/4.5 actually used aperture for this image. I must have inadvertently (sounds much better than "user error") adjusted the rear control dial at some point during the action. Bull elk are huge and at the distance required to keep the entire elk in the frame, f/4 was still not shallow enough to completely erase the background in most scenarios encountered.
The 600 f/4 is a large and heavy lens. Using it without support is asking for a shoulder injury. While a tripod with a gimbal head is the ideal support for this lens, I find a strong monopod (with twist-locks for quietness) to be much faster to setup and adjust. This speed is very important for positioning in wildlife photography as the subject seldom stays in place for very long. Setting up fast and quietly can mean the difference between getting a great shot and getting no shot.
As you may have guessed, I have recently returned from a photography trip. This one was a 10-day wildlife and landscape adventure to Idaho and Wyoming. As usual, the trip was exhausting but amazing. The in-the-field experience is not only great fun, but also extremely important in fully understanding how gear works in the situations it is designed to be used in.
This trip featured the new Canon EOS 5D Mark IV DSLR camera that arrived just prior to my leaving. I rotated the 5D IV and a pair of Canon EOS 5Ds R bodies between the primary lenses I was using at the time, namely the EF 100-400mm L IS II and EF 600mm L IS II for elk and other wildlife. The 5Ds R happened to be behind the 600 on this day and the resulting image is incredibly detailed, but I would not have been disappointed to have had the 5D IV behind this lens at this time. It too is a great camera. My 5D IV is quickly approaching 10k frames and completion of its review remains a very high priority.
600mm f/4.5 1/1600s ISO 640
Canon 200-400 L IS Captures Black Bear Cub and an Iris
With the amazing Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Lens getting a nearly-equally amazing $800.00 price reduction, I felt compelled to share an image captured with this lens.
In the spring, black bears come out of hibernation and the cubs enter their new world, full of first-time experiences waiting to happen. This little cub may have never seen an iris before and though it was still nursing from its mom, must have thought the iris looked like candy. After pulling some unopened flower buds from their stems and carrying them around like toys, this little cub approached the big open flower. It proceeded with great effort to pull the flower off of the stem. Too cute.
With a cub this young, you can count on the mother being close by. The zoom focal length range of this lens allowed me to frame the cub reasonably tightly at 560mm with the built-in 1.4x extender switched into the optical path (with some cropping) and then quickly zoom out to 270mm sans extender to vertically capture the momma bear standing upright with a cub between her legs. No single prime lens would have worked in this situation (unless the widest-needed focal length was selected with most images needing significant cropping).
560mm f/5.6 1/250s ISO 1000
Timber Rattlesnake Picture
Because keeping the site going consumes such a huge amount of time, I'm very frequently including work with family - and family outings. On this day, we were going "mountain biking" (testing the Zeiss 21mm ZE Distagon Lens actually) on the Rails-to-Trails near Weikert, PA.
As we pulled into the parking area, I suggested we hike a short distance into the open woods to scout photo ops - I mean ... to scout Penn's Creek for swimming opportunities. As we entered the woods, I reminded the kids that they HAD to be able to see where they were walking as rattlesnakes were known to be in the area. Within 3 minutes, my middle daughter let out an excited/panic "RATTLESNAKE".
Of course, I had the 70-200mm f/4 L IS nearby in the SUV and quickly went to work. The pit viper was high on my list of wanted photographs and this one was very cooperative.
The snake was initially under a large tree branch, so I took a set of shots prior to potentially disrupting the situation. I then carefully removed the branch and took some more shots (more insurance shots). I then (using a stick) removed a leaf partly blocking the snake near its head. More good news - the 4' Timber Rattlesnake posed very nicely.
Acting fast (didn't know how long the snake would remain in a good photo position), I opted to shoot handheld in this full shade location. Image stabilization allowed me to shoot at a still-high-quality ISO 400 while having a decent f/8 aperture (for DOF) - while standing on unstable rocks.
Once again, the kids had a great experience learning about nature (yes, they know what a rattlesnake sounds like now) and I got my shot. And we had a great bike ride through a beautiful part of this state. A win/win day as usual.
200mm f/8.0 1/40s ISO 400
White-tailed Deer Mother and Fawn Interacting
Spring is when most baby animals make their entry into the world and who doesn't love a baby animal photo? Baby animals are the definition of cute.
Create your spring baby animal photography plan now (regardless of the season you happen to be reading this tip in). Determine what your baby animal subject(s) is(are) going to be, determine where they are located and plan on being at the right location to photograph them when they are introduced to the world.
This year, my animal of choice was the white-tailed deer. Newborn whitetail fawns are about the cutest animal on the face of this planet. They are also full of energy and very playful, making them very fun to watch.
My selected location for white-tailed deer fawn photography was Big Meadows in Shenandoah National Park. Whitetail fawns are born in late May and Early June, and I made it a priority to be there in that time-frame.
Watching the weather forecast about a week out, I booked a lodge room for one night. I know, that date was too far away for anyone to accurately predict the weather, but I needed a bit of planning time. The weather forecast was for "cloudy" and that meant I would have decent light all day long and wouldn't need to concern myself with harsh shadows even in the woods.
A couple of days later, the forecast changed to sunny and another day later the National Weather Service began calling for about 80% chance of rain for both of the days I would be there. I prepared for rain (rain gear for both me and the camera equipment along with a large umbrella). What I didn't plan for was heavy fog the entire two days and I really didn't expect it to rain most of the time I was there, but that was reality.
While I sighted many deer, those with fawns were not interested in being in view of photographers (even when approached in a vehicle). The fog drastically reduced contrast and cut realistic photo distances down to 30' (10m) at times, so approaching was necessary. After a long day, what I really felt like doing was hitting bed early the first night, but I continued the effort. That perseverance was rewarded when watching a doe in front of some bright ferns at the edge of the woods.
The ferns made an interesting background and as I was photographing her, she was bleating. Deer bleat to communicate, so I knew that there was another deer or a fawn nearby. With no warning, the cutest little fawn came bouncing out of the woods and began nursing.
The adorable fawn drank with fervor and I shot similarly, capturing nearly 200 images in the about-8 minute long encounter. While the fawn drank, the mother cleaned it and when the fawn finished drinking, it peered out from under the mother, providing additional poses including this one (I also like this image cropped tighter, emphasizing the fawn and removing the bright ferns). Then both went back into the woods and darkness came over the scene soon after.
While my trip overall was not one of my more productive efforts, but 8 minutes with one of the world's cutest animals produced a series of images that made the effort worthwhile.
On this trip with ultimate image quality being my goal, the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II and Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS (used for this image) were my wildlife lenses of choice with a Canon EOS 5D Mark III mounted behind them. When hiking longer distances, I carried the 100-400 L II and also used it from the car at times when the light was strong enough. The 200-400 L was my choice when the light waned and often used it on a monopod when not moving too far from the car. Both lenses and the camera performed amazingly.
Determine which baby animal you want to photography this or next spring and create your plan to photograph it!
258mm f/5.0 1/320s ISO 1600
Assateague Island Sitka Deer Picture
This small herd of Sitka Deer are being bothered by an incredible number of mosquitoes in this Assateague Island wetland. I was bothered as well. My Deep Woods Off repellent ran out in the afternoon on my last day of this trip. A lessor spray did not work so well - I had 55 mosquito bites on one arm after my evening shoot. It was worth it.
800mm f/8.0 1/250s ISO 100
Huge Mule Deer Buck in Velvet
The alert Mule Deer buck is sporting a huge set of still-in-velvet antlers. This shot was taken just after sunrise - a time when the sunlight is very warm colored.
500mm f/4.5 1/320s ISO 250
Canon EF 200-400mm L IS Lens Meets Big Bad Black Bear
This was one of the longest, coldest winters that I can remember, and the leaves that have finally appeared, bringing color to the long-monochromatic landscape, have been calling me. While I have not avoided the typical spring landscape shots, I have been looking for creative ways to incorporate the beautiful light green color of the new leaf growth into my images. And then this guy showed up.
This is a big black bear. One way to tell that a bear is big is by the size of its ears (small) relative to the size of its head (large). It is also is one of the nicest-looking black bears I have seen, lacking scars and other deformities that these animals so commonly have (bears often do not play well with others). It is in especially good physical condition for recently coming out of hibernation. (Yes, the bear is indeed bad - it has been causing damage to multiple neighbors' properties, primarily targeting bird feeders.)
Photographing black bears is usually very challenging. Finding these animals in light bright enough for photography is frequently the biggest challenge. Photography is about capturing light and black, especially in the form of fur, is the absence of light. So, once you find a black bear, properly exposing their light-absorbing black coat is the next challenge. If using an auto-exposure mode, the camera will need to be instructed to under-expose the image by a significant amount. That amount varies depending on the percentage of the frame the bear is consuming and the percentage of the frame you are using for auto-exposure.
If the lighting is consistent (or not changing fast), a manual exposure setting is best. Either way, it is hard to completely avoid blocked shadows (pure black with no detail) – especially on the shadowed areas of the bear and especially if there are bright subjects in the frame (because they will become pure white). With a manual exposure locked in (the log is just under blown brightness before I reduce the final exposure of this image), I was free to concentrate on focus and framing.
Composition and focusing are two additional bear photography challenges. These animals do not stay still for very long – unless they are staring at what they think is a danger (or perhaps is food) to them (me in this case). The closer the selected focus point is to the bear's eye in the desired framing, the less time you will spend adjusting the framing after establishing focus. This means that the bear is less likely to move before the shot is captured and more images can be captured in the potentially short period of time that the bear is posing. A turn of the head means a new focus distance is needed and then I usually want a different subject framing (to keep the animal looking into the frame) and this usually means a different AF point becomes ideal. Sometimes I use only the center AF point and sometimes I use a more-ideally-located AF point.
While I would like to say that I had established this bear's patterns and was waiting for him for long periods of time, this encounter was more divinely-timed with me being able to very quickly capitalize on it. The 200-400 L performed incredibly well as always and the bear did also. The bear's position in the clearing with direct evening sunlight along with brightly-lit green spring leaves in the distant background could not have been better planned. This shot has become one of my favorite black bear pictures and I'm guessing that I will not find a better way to incorporate the spring leaves into a photo this season.
400mm f/4.0 1/160s ISO 640
Huge Bull Moose, Katmai National Park, Alaska
With Alaska being such a massive state, it is only fitting that many of the Alaskan animals are also large. This huge bull moose looked very impressive walking down off of the mountain, initially with only its antlers rising above the trees.
Know what our bear guides were most afraid of? Moose. We spent days sitting among brown bears, some weighing well north of 1,000 lbs, with nothing more than minor issues, but a huge bull moose walking down off the mountain directly toward us definitely got the guide's attention. To reduce the drama, I should also say that part of the attention grab was because the sighting was so unusual in this location – this was the only land mammal other than brown bears that I saw in coastal Katmai National Park.
While moose were not my primary photography target at the time, I consider myself an opportunist and didn't hesitate to turn the camera from the bears when this bull showed up.
The moose was walking at a steady-but-leisurely pace and I could easily fill the camera buffer whenever I chose to, but that would have given me too many images that were similar to each other. Instead, I timed the frame captures with body positions that I thought would make a good composition with an eye also on the background. The body position I often chose had the far front leg in a forward position.
While I did not hold the shutter release down, I did shoot more images than I thought I needed. Aside from having insurance shots, I was trying to use a marginally long shutter speed, allowing a lower ISO setting to be used for less noise. Though a handful of my images were slightly blurred, the tactic proved to be a good one as I still ended up with many good images.
When the bull moose came to the edge of the high tidal stream bank, it proceeded to smoothly drop right over the edge. I caught that action nicely and might share it later, as soon as I get over being slightly bothered by the antler covering the eye. What I didn't correctly anticipate was the speed of the moose's decent and the base image for this shot, the one with the far lead leg in the air and sand flying, became cropped slightly too tightly on the bottom of the frame. Capturing some quick additional shots with different framing allowed me to create a panorama in post, correcting the tight crop and resulting in a 76-megapixel image.
With that much resolution available, cropping into the bull moose much more tightly remains an option, but I like seeing the environment the moose was in and especially like the fall-colored fireweed in the background.
What do you think? Should I have cropped this image tighter?
600mm f/4.0 1/1250s ISO 2000
Brown Bear Catching a Salmon, Katmai National Park
From my coastal Katmai National Park trip, I have lots of images of brown bears chasing and carrying salmon, but this one surfaced for several reasons.
First, there is significant splashing. The splashing adds drama, showing that fast action is taking place.
Second is that the pink (humpback) salmon's tail and head (including eye) are both showing along with the bear's eyes being visible. Having the eyes in an image can make or break a shot.
I of course love the ideal timing of those enormous claws about to hook the fish.
That the bear's head and the fish are sharply in focus is definitely a positive factor as splashing water along with an erratically moving subject presents a significant challenge to both the camera's AF system and to the photographer's skills (including rapid AF point selection).
Put all of those attributes together with the impressive image quality of the Canon EOS 5Ds R and EF 600mm f/4L IS II Lens combination along with the primary subject being the impressive-by-itself brown bear and ... the image rises into my favorites album.
600mm f/5.6 1/1600s ISO 1000
Canon 200-400mm f/4L IS Lens and the 1-Day-Old White-tailed Deer Fawn
A baby animal photo elicits an "Awwwww" response more frequently than perhaps any other subject. And for a good reason of course – baby animals are just sooooo cute.
I find whitetailed deer fawns to be among the cutest baby animals and when a tame fawn became a photo opportunity, I of course made full use of it. While tame is extremely helpful for photographing a wildlife subject, tame does not mean that subject is easy to photograph.
Unless feeding, fawns are mostly in constant motion. That is, until they lay down. Newborn fawns spend a significant amount of time lying down, but finding them doing so can be very challenging as they usually pick a hidden location. That means getting a clear photograph of them in this position remains challenging.
Fortunately, this particular location choice gave me a window of opportunity.
My lens choice was the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Lens. The reason I chose this lens, aside from its excellent overall performance, was for the focal length range combined with the wide aperture. The fawn was in dark woods (heavy tree canopy) and there were plenty of obstructions that I needed to be in front of. Having the focal length range gave me the ability to adjust framing as desired, allowing me to fit the entire fawn in the frame, while keeping the obscuring brush behind me.
The f/4 aperture is the widest available in a zoom lens of this range and I made full use of that feature on this day. The fawn was still moving its head enough to warrant the 1/400 sec. shutter speed and a proper exposure at f/4 needed ISO 5000.
When the right opportunity occurs, it only takes a short period of time with the right subject to get a card full of great images. When that happens, I become challenged to select one or a few favorites to share. And, that was the case with this fawn. I finally decided to share this one because I liked the overall body position and because the eye is so prominent. Hopefully, the adorable little fawn invoked an "Awwww" from you.
320mm f/4.0 1/400s ISO 5000
Black Bear 4
A Canadian Black Bear emerges from the thick trees feasting on ripe berries.
500mm f/4.0 1/200s ISO 800
Shaking Brown Bear, Katmai National Park, Alaska
This was a big trip for me and I did not want to be limited by the gear I was taking. Therefore, I spent a lot of time thinking about and researching my wildlife lens selection for Katmai National Park, Alaska.
Choosing a lens for the first visit to a location must be based on advice given by others and on understanding/visualizing the situations that will be in front of you. As indicated, ultimate image quality was a baseline for my decision making process. The lens focal length was another primary consideration as perspective, framing and background blur are strongly influenced by this choice, affecting the look you get in your images.
Brown bears were my primary subject in this location and a significant interest I had for this trip was to capture frame-filling brown bears in action. For that purpose, I needed a long focal length lens with excellent AF performance. Since the weather conditions could range from sunny to full-on rain, I decided that a wide aperture was also needed (f/4 or wider) for those darker days.
One thing that I knew was that my Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens was going to be along. This lens has everything I wanted for a wildlife lens including a size and weight that I could carry for long distances and handhold, but this is an f/5.6 max aperture at the 400mm end.
Which big lens to accompany the 100-400 remained the question. I love my Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Lens for wildlife. That I already had this focal length range covered by my 100-400 was not a big decision factor as the 200-400 had the significant benefit of a 1-stop wider aperture. But, that I was uncertain that 400mm was going to be long enough was a bigger factor. The 200-400's built-in extender takes this lens to 560mm with the throw of a switch, but a 1-stop impact on the max aperture yields f/5.6. An f/4 max was my preference. Note that I was not at the popular Brooks Falls where the 200-400 L lens may have been the first choice.
Another option was to rent a Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM Lens. This lens would give me an extra 100mm and still have an f/4 aperture. The 500 f/4 is considerably smaller than the 600 f/4 and easier to pack, carry and use.
In the end, I made the Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM Lens my primary long wildlife lens choice. The longer focal length paired with an f/4 aperture is what was the primary decision maker. It seems that wildlife is never close enough and if it does get too close for 600mm, much harder-to-get headshots and similar become possible.
When setup on location, I had the 600 f/4L on a Wimberley Tripod Head II mounted to a Gitzo GT3542LS Systematic Carbon Fiber Tripod. A second camera with the 100-400 L II mounted was at my side, ready for capturing environmental-type images or for closer subject distances when needed.
Packing the 600 around Alaska required some effort, but I was very happy with my decision. Many of my images would have required cropping (or more cropping) if a shorter focal length was used. And, an f/4 aperture along with the required action-stopping shutter speed meant that ISO 3200 by far the most used as about 50% of the time in the field was under dark skies with light rain. I know, some of you are thinking that 600mm would be about 1/2 as long as preferred to keep an acceptably long distance between yourself and the bears.
The mamma brown bear in this image was snorkeling for salmon. Each time that it would lift its head above the water, it would shake. It didn't take long to figure out this behavior and I began timing a burst of shots as the water flew. A 1,000 lb animal shaking a significant amount of water from its fur is an impressive sight. A window in the cloudy skies gave me enough light to use f/5.6 for this image, gaining a little depth of field to keep more water droplets in sharp focus.
600mm f/5.6 1/1600s ISO 800
Shenandoah White-tailed Deer
I had been following this buck for two hours. I already had many in-the-woods pictures of it including some bedded images. But when it moved into the edge of a clearing with great lighting and a great background, I was especially thankful for the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4 L IS USM Lens I had mounted. This lens allowed me to quickly shooting a variety of subject framing with extremely good resulting image quality.
Also note the use of a monopod. Handholding this lens for most of that two hour period of time would not have been practical for me. And a tripod would have taken too long to adjust to get this shot. Using a monopod gives me much enough stability for the somewhat fast shutter speed necessary to capture the constantly moving deer. And the 1/400 shutter speed was not always fast enough for the latter.
338mm f/4.5 1/400s ISO 100
Monster White-tailed Buck
I shot this monster White-tailed deer buck picture for a breeder. The deer was in a large enclosure, but still a great challenge to photograph as it was far more intolerant of humans than any deer I've come across in a national park. The original background was not acceptable, so, just over 1 year later, after the folliage turned fall-like again, I recreated a new background using the same camera, lens and focus distance. After painstakingly removing the original background in Photoshop, I tried various options for the replacement. This is the one I settled on.
800mm f/7.1 1/500s ISO 500
Grand Teton National Park Pronghorn Buck
The pronghorn is a beautifully-colored animal and this sharp-looking buck gave me a glance perfectly timed with a brilliantly-colored background.
I shared the pronghorn chase story (with me being chased most of the time) before, but got around to processing another favorite from that experience. I won't tell you the same story twice, but head over to that page if you do not remember reading the story and strategy before.
The 5D Mark IV is a great general purpose camera and wildlife photography is just one of many excellent uses for this model.
Do you have your fall photography plans in place?
600mm f/4.0 1/1000s ISO 320
Mule Deer on the Trail, Glacier National Park
National Parks are great places to view wildlife. On this 10+ mile hike, I did not have a telephoto lens with me. But, I still like the result my best-available 105mm focal length delivered. This image gives you a good idea of what the trail to Iceberg Lake (Glacier National Park) is like.
I think the two mule deer buck were saying "Mine" "Mine" "Mine" [Finding Nemo].
105mm f/8.0 1/200s ISO 800
A huge Whitetail Buck walks through a field.
300mm f/2.8 1/2000s ISO 100
A crab comes out of its hole in the sand. This picture was taken at night. Lighting was a flash fired into a reflector.
400mm f/11 1/250s ISO 400
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
Cute Black Bear Cub in the Fog
Photographing in the fog brings both positive and negative factors into play.
Starting out with the positive: Fog can reduce contrast, making it easy to layer near and far subjects. When fog reduces contrast enough, it completely eliminates the view of objects beyond some distance. That can make a close subject stand out strongly, as illustrated with this image. Fog also provides a very even light on a subject.
Perhaps the biggest fog downside I regularly encounter is the difficulty of locating subjects. If they are not able to be seen, they are not able to be photographed. Also, fog blocks a lot of light, often making the scene very dark.
The black bear cub in this image was coming around stalks of corn, following its mother. The glance upward toward the mother bear was nicely timed with a paw in the air. You know that bonus points are awarded for each paw/hoof/foot captured in the air, right? All four off the ground is usually the ultimate capture.
Depending on the distance to the subject, the density of the fog and your desired look for the final image, contrast, clarity and/or dehaze post processing adjustments will likely be found welcomed for your in-the-fog captures. Also note that circular polarizer filters act as fog erasers and can be a huge advantage for cutting the effects of fog during capture.
Fog or not, it is hard to go wrong with the cuteness of a little black bear cub in the frame.
600mm f/4.0 1/1600s ISO 2800
Bison and Mormon Row Barn, Grand Teton National Park
Bison are very large (up to 2,000 lbs) and can be very dangerous. I was not far away from this heard of about 50 Bison, but there was a barbed wire fence between us. I was comfortable with them getting as close as about 20' from me. The heard was filing through an opening in the fence about 100 yards/meters away and out into a vast Sage Brush plain. I was busy shooting and enjoying nature when I heard a deep grunt close behind me. I turned to see a large bull coming around my SUV. I quickly went the other way and jumped in the passenger door - and shot from inside the balance of my time there.
In this shot, a lone bull approaches a bull tending a cow.
70mm f/8.0 1/320s ISO 160
A Gray Squirrel peers out of a hollow stump in the bright late afternoon sunshine.
700mm f/6.3 1/320s ISO 100
White-tailed Deer Fawn holding Branch, Shenandoah National Park
The Canon EOS-1D X Mark II is an amazing camera, but I continue to use the Canon EOS 5Ds R a considerable percentage of the time. The primary benefit of the 5Ds R is its incredibly high resolution. Lighter weight, especially without the battery grip installed, is another advantage.
When planning my fawn photography trip to Big Meadows in Shenandoah National Park, I expected the higher resolution to be my preference and packed a pair of 5Ds R bodies along with many spare batteries. I also packed the 1D X Mark II, with expectations for this camera being more for additional in-the-field experience in support of the currently published review.
The Big Meadows meadow is thick with vegetation. Thick patches of thigh-high briars are found throughout and grass covers much of the balance of the meadow area. The grass is not exceptionally thick, but it sends stems and seed heads up rather high and there are few openings void of the tall grass.
While somewhat attractive, these seed heads create problem. The fawns are short – shorter than the grasses. While the fawn may be easily visible, a very high percentage of my fawn photos include a grass across an eye or blocking enough of the fawn's face to detract significantly from the image. With the sun at my back, the ideal lighting for wildlife photography, the grasses created shadows directly on the fawns and the shadows were just as detracting as the grasses themselves, creating double trouble. With careful timing, images could be captured when the fawn passes between the grasses. That is if the fawn was moving slowly and if the wind wasn't blowing.
The problem was that the fawns were seldom still or moving slowly and the grasses move in even the lightest wind, making accurate timing nearly impossible and even challenging with the fawn standing still. Compounding the problem was that grasses close to the camera were not so visible in the viewfinder, but they still contributed to a noticeable contrast reduction in the image. There are a lot of things to concentrate on when photographing a randomly moving animal (focus point selection to mention one) without having to keep track of blowing grasses and their shadows. Shooting from a higher position than ideal (ideal being level with the subject) was often helpful in getting above some of the grasses, but ... the 1D X Mark II's fast frame rate delivered a much greater number of keeper images than the 5Ds R was capturing.
Capturing images at 14 fps, there was often the right combination of body and grass positions in at least one of the frames from a burst. Or, subsequent frames captured so quickly could potentially allow portions of one image to be composited with the other, such as for removing an offending blade of grass.
I'm not sure if this fawn was playing or experimenting with a new food, but it was adorable for sure. I held the shutter release down for the short period of time it was holding the branch in its mouth. While I captured well over a dozen images, only one image gave me a clear view of the fawn's head.
Grass was my #1 nemesis in Big Meadows and was responsible for the delete button being pressed on thousands of images, but the 1D X II ensured that there were plenty of great shots remaining in the keeper folder.
Overall, the success of my three days in Shenandoah National Park was largely due to the 1D X II's capabilities. Even when the grass interfered visually, I was impressed at how adept the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II was at focusing on the fawn. Foreground obstructions are notorious for grabbing AF's attention, but very frequently the 1D X II figured out that the fawn was the real subject and remained locked onto it.
400mm f/4.0 1/500s ISO 2500
Bull and Cow Elk Picture
A large 7x6 Rocky Mountain Elk watches over one of his cows.
500mm f/4.0 1/160s ISO 800
Mosquito Bites Black Bear Cub
See the mosquito on this black bear cub's ear? The black bear is at the top of the food chain in Pennsylvania, but that does not mean they don't get bit. Getting bit is certainly going to be on the back of everyone's mind when photographing a bear cub this small as the highly protective mother is guaranteed to be nearby.
A mother bear nearby makes the zoom capabilities of the Canon EF 200-400 f/5.6 L IS Lens highly desirable. To capture this picture of a tiny cub required use of the built-in extender for 560mm of focal length (plus a small amount of cropping). To capture a full body portrait of the much larger mother (with or without cubs in the frame) required a wider focal length. Bears are very unpredictable and may not have tolerated (or stayed long enough for) a lens change. The 200-400 L lets me work fast, capturing the ideal framing potential from the situation.
560mm f/5.6 1/320s ISO 1250
Brown Bear and Leaping Salmon, Katmai National Park, Alaska
Did I ever find the 600mm angle of view too narrow when photographing bears in Coastal Katmai National Park? Sure, that's why I had the 100-400mm L IS II lens mounted on a second body and ready for immediate use. When I saw action moving closer, I would quickly switch cameras and continue shooting. The gap between 600mm and 400mm usually meant that I could begin using the 100-400 maxed at the 400mm end with plenty of time before I needed to begin zooming out.
But, I didn't always make the right choice. Sometimes, something unexpected happened. When the 600mm choice was wrong, sudden movement taking the bear out of ideal framing was usually the reason. Or, something happened at the border of the frame, such as another bear coming into view. The result was that I have some frames that are cropped too tightly in camera and this was one.
Really, I would never have guessed that a salmon was going to leap out of the water this high while in such a small stream (quite a feat actually) and that the leap would be this far ahead of the bear, but ... the unexpected is certain to happen on occasion.
The too-long focal length problem is not limited to the 600mm focal length. Even full-frame-mounted 100mm was slightly too long for some enormous brown bears that approached very closely (well under 20').
The big question is: "What do you do when your focal length is too long?"
It is far more common to be focal length limited on the long end and recovery in that situation is simple: crop. Though cropping reduces overall image resolution, it is usually better than having an important part of the scene missing.
The solution to being focal length limited on the wide end: shoot a panorama. If you ever find your lens framing a photo framed too tightly, shoot multiple images and merge them into a panorama later.
Planned or Unplanned
Here is the key for wildlife and other action photography: the panorama technique is not limited to very intentionally captured still life/landscape images. Even if you have a subject in motion and can't recreate the original subject pose, a panorama can sometimes be created. A frame with a cut-off in motion subject can be hard to recover, but adding border space to a fully contained subject is often easy.
As immediately as possible after the capture of a frame needing more border, switch the lens to manual focus and the camera to the last-used exposure settings while retaining the selected focal length (easy with a prime lens). If the focus distance and/or focal length changed after the primary photo was captured, do your best to reset them. Then photograph enough additional images to cover the framing that was missing in the original image. Back at the computer, merge the images together in Photoshop or your favorite image editor.
Fortunately in the case of my Katmai National Park brown bear and leaping salmon, I was able to take another frame from the burst and merge the two together. While Brooks Falls is known for salmon leaping toward bears standing at the top of a falls, capturing salmon leaping away from pursuing brown bears was one of my biggest goals in coastal Katmai National Park. When I saw this capture meeting my goal, I knew that the extra time required to piece a panorama together was going to be worth taking.
Apply this technique to your own photo subjects. Did you photograph your kid kicking the winning goal in the soccer match but not leave enough border on one or more sides of the frame? Another frame in the capture sequence may hold that missing border. If not or if you are not sure, capture a couple of additional identical-settings frames to work with later. It may even be possible to go back at a later time or date to recreate the missing portion of the frame (with similar lighting strongly desired).
600mm f/5.6 1/1600s ISO 1600
Small White-tailed Buck Feeding
Looks like a simple photo to capture right? Guess again. I'll explain.
Often, the best height to shoot wildlife from is level with the subject. Typically, the head is the most important part of that subject. And when that head is on the ground feeding, level means shooting from right down on the ground. shooting from the low position has the benefit of a more distant background that becomes nicely blurred.
Usually, the best wildlife lighting is a low sun at your back with your shadow pointing directly toward the subject. Since wildlife does not care about your lighting needs, patience is often required to get good lighting on a particular subject. And sometimes a LOT of patience is required.
The young white-tailed buck shown here was constantly moving. Its path was unpredictable and the head was constantly moving back and forth. I spent a lot of time trying to predict where it would feed to, aligning my position with a clean background for the predicted subject location and focusing immediately when taking the shot just as the head moved into a frame of the deer's front legs.
The narrow angle of view a 600mm lens provides makes this challenge even harder. I happened to cut off the tip of the buck's antlers in the fast-framed shot, but was able to piece the rest of the image together using another image.
600mm f/4.0 1/500s ISO 100
Black Bear Sow and Four Cubs
Seeing a mother black bear with 4 cubs is a rare opportunity. To get a photo opportunity of the same is even rarer, and to get a decent photo of the same is ... priceless.
The cubs were very fun to watch. They were in non-stop motion, running around, climbing on things (including mom) and playing with each other (rolling over each other). This activity level meant that things happened fast. Getting all four cubs in a single frame was very challenging (an image with less-than-four cubs would be far less remarkable) and a decent composition of the same was nearly impossible. Having the 200-560mm (with built-in extender) zoom focal length range was extremely helpful in this situation.
In this specific scenario (my only 4-cub image worth posting from this encounter), I decided to center the primary subject – the apparently-not-happy momma bear. I generally like to compose animals (and people) with more space on one side frame – so that they are looking into the frame. But, the large bear was positioned straight forward and looking (more like glaring) in the same direction with cubs on either side adding balance. I moved the camera just slightly to the right of perfectly centering the large bear to give the cub on the right a little more room to look into the frame because it was a "stand"-out.
Selecting the ideal aperture was another challenge for this encounter. At f/4, I needed and an ISO setting of 800 to get a barely-adequate-for-the-activity 1/320 shutter speed. At 300mm, at this distance, the under-1' (.3m) depth of field provided by f/4 does not keep more than the primary bear's eyes in focus. Using a narrower aperture of course provides more depth of field, but it also requires raising the ISO setting.
Raising the ISO to 1600 would have been acceptable to me, but ... I didn't want to go to ISO 3200 and the resulting f/8 aperture would have provided a still-not-nearly-deep-enough DOF of about 1.5' (.5m). Yes, the cubs would be less out of focus with the narrower apertures, but the background would also be more-focused, creating less separation from the big bear. As is often the case, there were multiple setting combinations that would have worked for this example and a compromise was required. I'd probably make the same decision the next time.
300mm f/4.0 1/320s ISO 800
White-tailed Deer Fawn, Shenandoah National Park
Although the two days I spent in Shenandoah National Park last June were mostly rainy with heavy fog, I managed to get close enough to this adorable just-born fawn for some clear images. The white-tailed deer fawn may be my favorite baby animal and this photo alone would have made the trip worthwhile.
My camera choice for this trip was the EOS 5D Mark III. I made this choice for the combination of image quality (the EOS 5Ds and 5Ds R had not yet arrived) and AF performance.
While I had several telephoto lens choices along, the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Lens was my primary wildlife lens. The deer I photograph in Shenandoah National Park are often at least somewhat approachable (though mothers with fawns seem to be an exception), making 400mm often adequate and the 560mm option is available at the throw of a switch. The other issue is that getting close to the animals is often a requirement to eliminate trees and other obstructions. The need to get closer makes even 400mm on a full frame body very frequently too long (unless head shots are desired). The zoom range feature of this lens offers plenty of flexibility in framing at a range of subject distances.
My second choice lens on this trip was the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens. This is another incredible lens that offers an even longer focal length range than the 200-400. Yes, the 200-400 has the built-in extender, but the 100-400 is also compatible with extenders. The 100-400 is considerably smaller and lighter, but the 200-400 has a wider aperture – a full 1 stop wider at the long end. As I mentioned, the weather was rainy with heavy fog, which translates to dark and being able to stop motion in 1/2 as much light was important.
The next thing you are going to say is that ... this photo was captured at f/5.6. That is correct. The fawn happened to be at the edge of a clearing with an above-average amount of light on it. It had been nursing from its mother moments before and I was using f/5.6 to gain some depth of field. So, in this case, the 100-400 L II would also have worked well.
Moments later, the fawn was bouncing around in the woods and ... that meant that the 200-400 L was the right choice.
400mm f/5.6 1/320s ISO 1600
Red Fox Looking Sly
I was positioned between this red fox's den (and her two kits) and her feeding grounds with a good sun angle for an approach. She had recently brought home dinner and would always go right back out to hunt again and that was the case this time. I knew that she was coming, but I was not able to see her as her distance closed due to the thick brush.
Suddenly, she hopped up on this log, in plain view at a close distance, stopped and looked back while being lit by a late afternoon sun. I couldn't have orchestrated her behavior any better.
I grabbed a quick burst of insurance shots and quickly moved the selected focus point for a better composition. Being able to quickly change focus points is a key skill for wildlife photography. The fox being close, made the framing tight, but in the seconds it paused, I was able to capture enough images to build this panorama, adding a small amount of border to the top and left side of the primary frame.
This particular fox's mottled coat and head angle along with the bright sun causing her to squint produces an especially sly look.
600mm f/4.0 1/1600s ISO 125
Huge Whitetail Buck
This is a captive, but very elusive, huge Whitetail buck. It was moving rapidly and I cut off the left side of the antler. Fortunately, I was shooting rapidly and was able to replace the missing side by using another capture composited in.
800mm f/7.1 1/800s ISO 500
Buck Looking Back, Big Meadows, Shenandoah National Park
Did I ever tell you that the Canon EF 200-400 f/4L IS Lens is really sharp? My daughter and I had one evening and one morning to photograph deer in Shenandoah National Park. The evening presented us with primarily darkness including dense fog and light rain (and wind), but the morning proved much nicer.
This decent-sized 7pt buck tending a doe amidst the short red saplings in Big Meadows was a grand find on this morning. We worked around the deer to get the morning sun at our backs and, as best as we could, stayed within ideal photo range of it for over an hour. The buck was very attentive to the doe and gave us some nice behavior images. In this image, the buck had been cleaning its back (see the ruffled fur?) and stopped to look at the doe.
I used the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS Lens for this image. While my preference for wildlife photography is the look that the EF 600mm f/4L IS II Lens provides, the 200-400mm focal length range has proven more useful to me in this park, primarily because of the need to work in front of obstructions. Fortunately, image sharpness is something this zoom lens does not sacrifice. Take a look at this 100% crop from the ultra-high resolution EOS 5Ds R:
This image was captured at 400mm with a wide open f/4 aperture (to create as much background blur as possible). The RAW image was processed in DPP 4 using the Standard Picture Style with sharpness reduced to only "1". While the camera is extremely sharp, its resolution is unforgiving to lens quality. The 200-400 L is definitely 5Ds R-ready. It is simply a very impressive lens.
400mm f/4.0 1/800s ISO 100
I know, some of you are thinking that snakes are creepy and that putting any thought into photographing them is ... completely wasted effort. Even if that is your thinking, stay with me here as you can likely apply the same thought pattern to a different subject, one that you find more photogenic. If you scroll your browser past the snake image, you even won't have to look at it while reading.
The story starts with me brushing my teeth (you didn't see that one coming, did you?). I looked out the bathroom window and noticed this cute garter snake lying on top of a weeping spruce tree. While garter snakes are common here, they are usually on the ground and are seldom cooperative. So, it is unusual to have the opportunity to photograph them in such a nice environment.
The weather was perfect for this opportunity. It was a very cloudy day, meaning that I had soft light to work with and the camera angle decision was not going to be light-driven. After checking to be sure that I could approach at least reasonably close to the snake without it being immediately frightened away, I decided to move forward with an attempt at photographing it.
There was no action involved here, so the frame rate didn't matter and the Canon EOS 5Ds R is nearly always my preference in such situations. For lenses, I observed that I had a limited working distance and I knew that getting too close would send the snake looking for a safer location. Interpretation: I needed a telephoto focal length, but not the longest available.
I quickly narrowed my choices down to the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro Lens and the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens. I decided that the snake would not likely tolerate me being close enough for the macro lens' close-focusing advantage to be a benefit over the 100-400 L II's already very good maximum magnification ability and I wanted to be able to adjust my framing to the positions I was able to get into along with the scene available at that perspective. Basically, I'm saying that a zoom range was preferable. The macro lens' wider aperture would allow me to create a stronger background blur at 100mm, but the 100-400 easily wins the background blur contest overall due to its much longer 400mm focal length and the longer focal length provides a longer working distance at its maximum magnification. I mounted the 100-400 and began working with the scenario available to me.
Using a tripod was going to be too great of a challenge due to the in-the-tree location of the snake. Thus, handholding was going to be optimal and image stabilization was once again proved highly valuable.
The lighting was relatively constant, but it was changing with enough frequency to make a manual exposure challenging. Also, because I wanted to use a wide open aperture, the variable max aperture of this lens increased the manual exposure challenge. While I still technically used manual exposure mode, I opted to lock in my shutter speed (I was in unstable shooting positions and counting on some assistance from image stabilization) and aperture (I selected f/4.5 with the lens at 100mm and let it auto-adjust to the max available at longer focal lengths) with Auto ISO becoming the auto exposure parameter. Because the colors in the images were relatively neutral, the camera's auto exposure system worked great with the brightest colors, the yellow lines in the snake, being right where I wanted them at the right side of the histogram.
When photographing a potentially-fleeting subject, I quickly capture some good-enough images to have the safety shots on the card. Along with having those safety shots, I can quickly check the exposure and other settings before moving in closer. Upon reviewing these images, I immediately noticed that reflections were impacting color saturation on the snake and that meant a circular polarizer filter would, as it frequently does, provide a significantly improvement in image quality. I slowly backed away from the snake and went back inside to get the filter.
With the filter installed and properly adjusted, I was happier with the results and began to work the composition more seriously, including approaching closer to the snake.
Finding the proper perspective is often the key to creating the best composition and the longer I photograph a subject, the better I can determine what the best perspective is. Moving closer/farther, up/down or around the subject can significantly change the juxtaposition of the subject and its surroundings, significantly changing the resulting image.
To jump start the composition process, I wanted the snake's head to be facing in a direction other than away. That factor eliminates about half of the potential camera positions. A sideways-facing head can work well and a slightly-toward-the-camera angle is usually a great choice. That the snake was on top of the tree removed much of the below-the-subject camera position options.
The background is always a huge key to good composition and using a telephoto focal length is useful in both reducing what remains in the background and blurring what remains into obscurity. I adjusted my position to take in a variety of background colors and textures and also worked my position around the snake to get different angles on the main subject. Eventually I went for a step ladder and tried some downward angle compositions for some variation.
Another compositional opportunity available to me was that, with no discernable horizon or other sense of levelness showing in the frame, I was free to rotate the camera as I desired and that adjustment could change the entire balance of the snake in the frame.
Every so often the snake would move slightly and I was able to work with a modified scenario for a period of time. The snake cooperated for about an hour – long enough for my arms and shoulders to get tired from holding the camera in awkward positions. Then the snake abruptly dropped from sight and it was game-over.
As so often is the case, the 5Ds R and 100-400 L II proved to be the perfect combination for this purpose. With a bit of unexpected rain occurring during this shoot, I was happy for the camera and lens' weather sealing protection, meaning I could simply keep shooting without worry in that regard.
Just an hour of shooting not only gave me some of my best-ever garter snake pictures, but it also provided a great practice session. Simply spending an hour photographing something that interests you around the house can keep your photography skills fresh along with teaching you new ones. So, get out there!
263mm f/5.0 1/200s ISO 1250
Alert Bull Elk
While stalking elk on this ranch, I was focusing on areas with the potential for fall maple tree colors in my backgrounds. The sun had set, but the light, though somewhat dim, was still very nice when I noticed antlers approaching in the distance. I was working in heavy sage a moderate distance out from the maples and this bull's approach was as I would have directed.
I captured many images of the bull, but I selected this one to share for a few reasons. One was that I didn't cut off the antlers even at this relatively close distance and that the bull was large in the frame was another. That the bull is alert with a head angle that reflected the sky in his eye, adding some life to the image was another. I also like the body position displayed here. The bull is mostly broadside but approaching and his head and antlers are about 1/3 of the way into the frame facing toward the 2/3 side for good balance. While the animal itself is beautiful, a beautiful background adds greatly to an image.
When photographing antlered animals, I frequently try to keep the complete antlers in the frame, preferring the legs and sometimes the body to be cropped if desired.
600mm f/4.5 1/800s ISO 1600
7-pt White-tailed Buck
This Shenandoah NP buck was feeding in a small clearing in the oak forest. One of my favorite wildlife photo subject orientations is directly side-on with the head facing forward, or even better, slightly toward the camera.
This particular deer has a slight u-shaped stance that I like. I also like that the legs are somewhat evenly spaced, adding a natural pattern to the shot. That three of the frame borders are clear of heavy contrasting lines is yet another bonus.
I often prefer to shoot level with the animal, but in this case, I had a better background when shooting at a slight downward angle.
311mm f/4.5 1/400s ISO 125
Pennsylvania Black Bear 2
A 1 year old Pennsylvania Black Bear crosses ridgetop field early in the morning.
340mm f/5.6 1/200s ISO 1000
Large Rack Whitetail Buck Picture
A large Whitetail Buck in a unique pose - including a small portion of his tongue sticking out.
300mm f/2.8 1/1250s ISO 200
Big Buck in Big Meadows
Big Meadows in Shenandoah National Park is a great place to find and photograph white-tailed deer. This 11-pt buck appears to be on a scent trail, but ... it just has its tail up while feeding.
400mm f/4.0 1/400s ISO 1600
Ear Cleaning at Big Meadows, Shenandoah National Park
Sometimes, it's all about the ears. The white-tailed deer mother cleaning its fawn's ear in the bright green grass of Big Meadows, Shenandoah National Park was just too cute to not share.
As I have mentioned before, photographing white-tailed deer in Big Meadows is very challenging. Though I took a lot of photos in my few days there, some quickly stand out over the rest to me. In addition to the cuteness factor, I liked this frame for a couple of reasons. The first is because of the relatively evenly colored bright green grass framing and strongly-contrasting the animals – but not obstructing them. I also like the balanced overall position of the animals. And, all the eyes are sharp.
One of the big challenges to photographing moving animals is often keeping the proper AF point(s) selected and when an animal changes direction, the proper AF point may be on the opposite side of the viewfinder. If the primary subject's eyes are not in focus, the image will likely end up in my recycle folder. This means that keeping the selected focus point(s) on the primary subject's eyes is more important than maintaining ideal subject framing. Getting both right is the goal of course, but I am more likely to delete an image because the eyes are out of focus than because the framing isn't perfect. Cropping can often solve the latter issue.
While I concentrated on keeping the ideal AF point selected and placed on the subjects (the doe's nose in this case – to keep both sets of eyes in focus), the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II's high speed burst mode took care of catching the frame of what seems like the ideal ear position in both animals.
Seeing and capturing too-cute moments like this one feed the addiction!
400mm f/5.6 1/640s ISO 800
Bison Calf, Yellowstone National Park
This Bison calf is feeding under the close watch of its mother this early morning.
500mm f/4.5 1/250s ISO 200
Running Red Fox Kits – Anticipation Gets the Shot
I had been watching this pair of red fox kits (what baby fox are called and not to be confused with the kit fox species) at a relatively close distance, within photo range, for perhaps an hour with essentially no good images captured. They were running, resting, wrestling, eating (the mom or dad would occasionally bring them captured food), nursing and simply being extremely cute.
While I was thoroughly enjoying watching the adorable babies, I of course wanted photos to take home. The problem was the thick brush including vines, trees, limbs, grasses, etc. constantly obscuring the view and creating hard shadows that were nearly as problematic as the obstructions. There were very limited unobscured areas to shoot into at this location and the kits seemed to seldom go into these.
At one point, the kits started running together in a big circle. I saw that the arc, if followed, was going to lead them through one of the small openings. I told the small group I was with to get ready, followed my own advice and when they hit the opening, I hit the shutter release.
The result of anticipating the shot was one of the few images worth processing I captured on the trip and anticipation is often the key to successful wildlife photography. Wildlife is frequently moving and determining where that movement will correspond with a good composition is often what is required for good results.
600mm f/4.0 1/1600s ISO 160
Black Rat Snake
A very unhappy black rat snake gets a taste of its surroundings in this picture.
Believe it or not, my 13-year-old daughter carried this snake home (she found it in the woods nearby). While the grass in the front yard does not make a good background for snake pictures, I was able to blur the grass into a very pleasing green color by getting down to a ground level shooting position, moving in close and aligning with a brightly lit area behind the snake.
This image represents the near maximum magnification of the Canon 200-400 L lens. I say near because the snake was constantly moving and I had to leave insurance distance to accomodate for its motion.
560mm f/5.6 1/160s ISO 200
Bighorn Sheep, Glacier National Park
A bighorn sheep stands high over Lake Josephine and Swiftcurrent Lake near Grinnell Glacier. The bighorn sheep were still found at very high elevations in mid-September.
105mm f/8.0 1/400s ISO 400
If I Were a Fly ...
... I would be dead. This American Toad appears that it might be fly hunting. Don't be afraid to move in close to your subjects - to gain a different perspective/look in your images. Macro lenses make moving closer very possible - as long as your subject doesn't hop away.
100mm f/3.5 1/100s ISO 200
Monster Buck Picture
155mm f/3.5 1/180s ISO 100
Stingray in St. John, USVI
A Southern Stingray swims through a dense school of small fish in Maho Bay, St. John, Virgins Island National Park.
18mm f/11.0 1/125s ISO 100
The Muskrat in this picture is digging rocks out of the bottom of a creek and eating the plants off of them. It is unusual for Muskrats to be out in bright daylight, but this picture was taken in the early afternoon on a winter day.
700mm f/6.7 1/125s ISO 100
Huge Pennsylvania Bull Elk Picture
A huge Pennsylvania bull elk passes by the edge of some hardwoods.
500mm f/4.0 1/250s ISO 320
Brown Bears Fighting, Katmai National Park, AK
My coastal Katmai National Park brown bear photography trip was a big one for me and I wanted to take the best-available gear with me. As the camera is the foundation for a photo kit and the Canon EOS 5Ds R, with its incredible resolution, great color and very good noise performance with a handling, feature and AF package to match has proven to be, for me, the ultimate camera to build a kit around. With a pair of these bodies in my kit, it was not hard to select them as two of my bodies. The question remaining was, what was going to be the third body?
On such a trip, I seldom take less than three camera bodies. Although I sometimes use all three at once, more frequently is that the third is ready for backup use in case something unfortunate happens to one or both front line bodies. With a significant amount of wading in various depths of water (including salt water) involved on this trip, one fall and the unfortunate could easily become a reality. And, I wasn't going to be receiving a next day air shipment via UPS or FEDEX out there.
Back to the which camera question ... my options included taking my Canon EOS-1D X, taking my Canon EOS 7D Mark II or getting another 5Ds R (rent or buy). Great AF was paramount in this decision, but ... all three cameras are excellent in this regard.
The 1D X's extremely fast frame rate was an especially attractive feature for bears in action and that I already owned this camera made it a cost effective solution. That I would need to take an additional charger/batteries was a downside as was the "only" 18-megapixel resolution.
The 7D II's primary advantages were not dissimilar from the 1D X: the fast frame rate and the budgetary concern as I already owned one of these as well. That this camera shared the 5Ds R's battery system was a positive feature. That the smaller APS-C sensor would show more high ISO noise at the same output dimensions and would not produce the same amount of background blur as the full frame options were negatives.
My primary question about the 5Ds R option was the frame rate – would 5 fps was going to be fast enough for the bears in action? Not far behind the frame rate concern was the additional cost factor. In the end, the 5Ds R's ultra-high resolution full frame sensor with 7D II-matching pixel density (reach) and along with the latest-available feature set won my favor. And, I simply love this camera. While this need was ideal for the rental option, I opted for the additional purchase in this case. My camera math said that the over-two-weeks rental cost was greater than the purchase price minus resale value minus additional use value. I'll get plenty of use from this body to justify the cost of ownership.
Having three identical cameras meant that switching bodies required no thought (though the 7D II is essentially the same also). They all had the same controls, the same menu options and the same setup configuration.
Was 5 fps fast enough? It was. While I am an opportunist when it comes to subjects, my primary photography subjects were brown bears. Bears (unless sleeping) are in nearly constant erratic motion and present an AF challenge, but they were mostly moving in slow to medium speed. One exception was when they were trying to catch salmon, but even then they weren't moving close to the speed of a bird in flight, as an example. I had plenty of photo opportunities and could often time single frames with body positions I found favorable.
Would a faster frame rate have been better? Yes, there were probably some shots I missed due to the frame rate not being fast enough, but ... having to sort through a 2x higher image volume a faster frame rate would have generated would have completely buried me. It will take me many months to work through the daunting roughly-10,000 bear images I captured on this trip.
Was high ISO performance important? Definitely. The trip started out with an approximately 28 hour float plane departure delay due to rain and heavy fog and things didn't get much better with 2 of the four remaining days on the coast holding the same weather. My most-used ISO setting was 3200. The ultra-high resolution, full-frame 5Ds R has a noticeable advantage at ISO 3200 when resized to a similar resolution as the 7D Mark II.
Was the ultra-high 50 megapixel resolution an advantage? Definitely. While I'm still teaching myself that it is OK to frame a bit looser with the ultra-high resolution being delivered by the 5Ds/5Ds R, I have many 600mm images that will be cropped due to the distance of the subject. These images can be cropped down to a 960mm-equivalent angle of view with the 7D II-equivalent 20 megapixel image remaining. With the range of focal lengths I had along, a majority of my images will remain at or near full resolution, resulting in great detail for very large output.
While I titled this photo "Brown Bears Fighting" and technically they are fighting, this is a mother and her second year cub. The mother is teaching the cub to fight, but the fierceness was toned down to more like hard playing. This is an uncropped EOS 5Ds R image captured with the EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM Lens.
Fortunately, the playing lasted a long time and I was able to capture a large variety of shots of the behavior. I varied the aperture during the event, but only between f/4 and f/5.6 with some additional depth of field being the narrower aperture goal. In AI Servo AF mode with the one-up-from-center focus point selected and placed on the left bear's leg, the plane of sharp focus aligned ideally over the bears' noses. This placement kept both faces sharp even at f/4 and the wide aperture removed all background distractions.
I have no regrets regarding my camera choice - I would make the same decision again. Hopefully my camera decision logic made sense to you. If not, ask questions!
600mm f/4.0 1/1600s ISO 1600
Hayden Valley Bison, Yellowstone National Park
This Hayden Valley Bison has just stood up after having a good roll in the dust.
500mm f/4.5 1/400s ISO 100
11-pt Big Meadows Buck
This 11-pt Big Meadows buck appears to be sticking its tongue out at me (I didn't take it personally).
Unfortunately, at this time (Oct 2013), most of the big buck in Shenandoah National Park are wearing large GPS radio collars that include a black case under their chin, a leather strap around their neck, a black antenna behind their ear and a large green plastic identification number on each side of their neck. I understand that it is necessary to study the deer movements in light of chronic wasting disease, but the collars are very obnoxious in appearance.
The position of this deer hides most of the collar, with Photoshop taking care of the rest.
320mm f/4.0 1/400s ISO 2000
Lion's Mane Jellyfish, Seward, AK
I encountered numerous lion's mane jellyfish (Cyanea capillata, AKA the giant jellyfish or the hair jelly) while walking the docks at Seward Harbor in Alaska. With a Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM Lens mounted to the Canon EOS 5Ds R, I was focused on harborscapes and was not expecting small subjects such as jellyfish. While I could have gone back to the SUV for the 100-400mm Lens, I was able to find a couple of these subjects just below the dock, allowing me to occasionally get close enough to fill much of the 70mm frame.
By photographing a lion's mane that was near the surface with a circular polarizer filter cutting the reflections and by adding some contrast in post processing, I was able to get an underwater look from a surface-captured image. In post, I removed some debrise in the water and increased saturation a bit to brighten the colors. Hard to see at this resolution is the small jellyfish, one of the lion's mane jellyfish's prey, just out of tenacle reach toward the left side of the frame.
70mm f/8.0 1/125s ISO 400
Bull Elk in Idaho Fall Setting
Put a large specimen of one of my favorite animals in front of my favorite tree trunks in front of my favorite leaves and ... an image I like is shaping up nicely. The leaves are from Idaho maples in the peak of their fall color. The tree trunks are aspens and their white color makes most images look better. Of course, a large bull elk makes practically any photo look good.
What is the easiest way to create panorama image? Crop a wide aspect ratio from a single image. While successfully capturing multiple images and seamlessly stitching them together can create a higher resolution image, it is easier just to use a wider angle lens and crop them to the desired aspect ratio. Using the cropping method also avoids issues with subjects in motion (waves, clouds, people, animals, etc.). Especially if a very resolution camera is used (one of the 5D Mark IV's upgrades was resolution), there can still be plenty of resolution for large output remaining after cropping.
In the example shared here, the "wider angle lens" was due to a focal length limitation at the time of capture. I was stalking the elk, didn't have an extender with me and the bull was walking towards the woods (the moment was not going to last). The cropping technique is often useful in helping to mentally justify the result.
I'll save the argument as to whether or not the angle of view from a 600mm lens covers a wide enough view of an area to qualify for the definition of "panorama" for another day, but the wide aspect ratio is at least in the spirit of these images.
600mm f/4.0 1/1000s ISO 800
White-tailed Deer Fawn Close-up
While a 70-200mm lens is seldom my first choice for wildlife photography, it can work quite well if used for tolerant and/or large animals, especially if used on an APS-C format body. In this case, the camera was full frame and the fawn was quite tame.
What tame does not directly translate to, however, is still. While the adorable little white-tailed deer fawn had no problem with my presence, it was constantly moving and often moving very fast. I had a fortunate break when it bounded over the small hill above me, stopped and turned its head. I quickly adjusted the AF point selection slightly to the eye and captured a burst in AF-C focus mode.
At 200mm f/2.8 with a close subject and relatively distant background, especially on a full frame camera body, the subject pops from the melted background.
At 20 fps, I had many images to choose from as this camera can deliver a sometimes-overwhelming number of images. I liked this specific image for a couple of reasons. The first is of course that the eye is in focus, but that wasn't much of an issue while the fawn was stopped. Nice also was the beautifully-blurred, void-of-distractions background with spring colors that attractively contrast the fawn. I also like that that both ears are fully-contained in the frame and that are very few lines of strong contrast leaving the frame is usually an aspect I like. Lines are often an important compositional element and that most lines in this image point in the general direction of the eye (or to another line in that direction) make them "leading".
The extremely versatile 70-200mm f/2.8 lens is one of the most important lenses in many kits. Going beyond 200mm with an f/2.8 aperture results in a substantially higher price tag, making the 200mm focal length the longest affordable f/2.8 option for a large number of photographers. Specifically in this case, the Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens, though not inexpensive, is currently the best choice for kits based on Sony Alpha cameras.
200mm f/2.8 1/1600s ISO 640
Baby Mountain Goat on a Rock, Mount Evans, Colorado
Untimely was that Mount Evans and the other high peaks in the Colorado Rockies were the recipients of a summer snowstorm that dumped up-to-2' (that's right, feet, not inches — 0.6m) of snow the weekend just prior to my Monday afternoon arrival, closing the mountain for the first two days of my trip. Weather is one of the many reasons for planning more time at a location than seems necessary and for this trip, 4 days was definitely not too long.
There is often a photographic upside to bad weather and in this case, that upside was snow available for inclusion in both the foreground and often the distant background of images. Adorable baby mountain goats in snow works for me.
Bonus points are awarded for images having all of a wildlife subject's feet visible. Very often subjects are in an environment that does not allow the feet to be completely visible (grass in a meadow for example). This little kid (what a baby goat is called) was racing around and conveniently opted to run over this rock (it's what all kids do, right?).
I have a tendency to frame my wildlife images too tight and the base image used for this shot was vertically tighter than I liked. Fortunately, I had another image in the burst sequence that permitted a vertical panorama to be created, giving my kid some breathing room.
While I would like the Canon EOS 5Ds R to have a higher frame rate for wildlife photography, the images it creates are simply awesome, especially when a lens like the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens is in front of it. I lugged a 600mm f/4 with me for the duration of this trip but used it very infrequently due to extremely high winds at the over-14,000' (4,267m) elevation making subject framing too difficult. That issue along with 400mm being often sufficient at the top of this mountain meant the 600 spent most of the week in the SUV. The 100-400 allowed capture of environmental wildlife portraits as desired and that technique was definitely desirable at the top of this mountain.
400mm f/8.0 1/2000s ISO 400
Whitetail Buck in Rut Picture
A huge Whitetail Buck approaches a doe during the fall rut.
300mm f/2.8 1/400s ISO 100
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
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
Chipmunk on Rock Picture
An Eastern Chipmunk, with his pouches full, sits on a rock in this picture.
200mm f/3.5? 1/30?s ISO 100
This Tiger Musky looks ready to grab the next thing that moves!
85mm f/1.4 1/125s ISO 640
Seemed like the appropriate photo to post on Valentine's day. This is a mother brown bear playing with/training her second year cub. I think they are trying to make a heart shape together.
600mm f/4.0 1/1600s ISO 1250
The Definition of "Safe" – PA Black Bear Mother and Cub
This mother bear and her cubs (there were four of them) came to the edge of the woods and then this pose happened. The cub sitting at the feet of an upright, alert momma black bear, Pennsylvania's apex predator, with her claws ready, seems to be about as safe as it can possibly be.
This was another case where a zoom lens saved the day. Had I been set up for the normal bear-on-all-fours position (I was) with a prime lens, I would likely have struggled to keep the bear in the frame when she stretched out vertically.
270mm f/4.0 1/320s ISO 800
Brown Bears and Epic Katmai National Park Landscape
With plentiful wildlife and beautiful scenery, Katmai National Park ranks very high on my list of favorite places to photograph.
In this photo, the large, bare, coarse-edged mountain peak, the more-gently sloping mid and lower elevations covered in green, and the various waters below, all being large in the frame, are obvious to the viewer. With a little more attention paid, a sow and her standing cub, concerned about the risk presented by the boar that is eyeing and potentially approaching them, come into view and give the photo that extra element I always like. Additional elements (and not as visible at this resolution) are the large number of salmon splashing their way up the stream in the foreground and a pair of brown bears on the distant shoreline.
The Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens was practically glued to one of my Canon EOS 5Ds R bodies while in Katmai NP and a great complement to my big lens, the Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II. The 100-400 L II, with its long focal length range, can capture wildlife images ranging from environmental portraits to close-ups, depending on the subject distance of course. That 100mm was nearly too long to frame 1,000+ lb brown bears at times was ... a very exciting part of this trip.
142mm f/9.0 1/320s ISO 200
Old Shenandoah Buck
This old buck was feeding at the edge of a woods. To get a ground-level perspective, I was sitting in a small drainage ditch.
400mm f/4.0 1/500s ISO 320
Close-up of Bull Elk Destroying Tree
Obviously, there is one less tree on the ranch.
While I mostly used the Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM Lens on this elk photo trip, there were times when I was really glad to have the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens readily available. In this case, thanks to the zoom range afforded by this lens, I was able to capture both full-body images and close-ups in rapid succession.
This huge rutting bull rocky mountain elk was in the bottom of a valley that had long been in the shade from the setting sun. He was intently tearing up this tree, which meant that I needed a fast shutter speed to stop the motion. My choice of 1/1000 was certainly not overkill, but I wanted to keep the noise levels down as much as possible. The 5D IV's ISO 5000 looks good enough that choosing an even faster shutter speed would have been a non-issue.
With the upward head angle, it was almost as if I was lighting the 8x7 bull with a huge softbox in the studio.
371mm f/5.6 1/1000s ISO 5000
Blue Ridge Mountains Buck
Using a zoom lens allowed me to quickly capture this deer's full body along with some of the also-attractive surroundings after also capturing several more-tightly framed pictures at longer focal lengths. All this before the deer moved its head away from between closest oak trees in the background.
200mm f/4.5 1/400s ISO 125
First-Light Buck, Shenandoah National Park
Many of you know that I usually consider the ideal wildlife light to be from behind me, directing my shadow toward the animal (though keeping it outside of the frame of course), but that is just another of the many photography rules looking for an opportunity to be broken.
It was a great start to the day. I had found this beautiful large-bodied 10-pt buck right away in the morning while there was barely light enough to see it. The buck was staying close to a calmly-feeding doe and defending against the occasional intruder. I was ready to photograph as soon as there was enough light to make it worth attempting.
When the buck moved, I would also change position to what I felt would be photographically optimal (often moving farther away as it approached) and was able to stay with the buck until the sun rose high enough to directly light it. It was at that point when the buck made a short charge to contain the doe, deterring it from going toward a distant intruder. The buck ideally stopped on the crest of a hill. The sunlight was hitting the deer nearly horizontally and I was up-light in position, but ... I saw the background that I had been looking for and that became the higher priority for me.
Shenandoah National Park is known for its many mountain ridges and incorporating them into a white-tailed deer image background is a great goal, but one that is not so easy to achieve, especially with the narrow field of view that a 600mm focal length presents. The lighting was making hard shadows, but the intruding buck was positioned toward the sun and that meant this buck was watching toward the sun, easing the shadow issue.
Selecting the to-share image from the couple-of-minutes take was challenging and I eventually narrowed the choice down to two. In the other example, the buck had its head turned even farther to the right with its left ear angled back, resulting in no shadows on the head. While that pose made the deer appear larger, I opted for the wider rack perspective shown by the more-toward-the-camera head angle.
Especially cool is that, with the Canon EOS 5Ds R's extreme resolution, I can crop this image down to a tight full-body portrait and still have about 24 mp of very sharp resolution remaining.
600mm f/4.0 1/500s ISO 100
Bull Moose Picture
This bull Moose was feeding primarily on Fireweed as I stalked it in this Yellowstone valley. A good position for an animal portrait is broadside with the head somewhere between straight forward and looking your direction.
500mm f/4.5 1/200s ISO 640
St. John Iguana
The Westin Resort is the place to shoot iguanas in St. John. A daily feeding brings them in by the dozens. Finding an attractive composition is a much more difficult task than finding the subjects.
200mm f/2.8 1/100s ISO 160
Amazed Pronghorn, Grand Teton National Park
The obvious reason to use high speed burst mode to photograph wildlife is because wildlife moves and you want to capture the ideal body position and behavior. Use your fastest frame rate to capture the frame with the perfect body/angle/leg/wing positions against the best possible background. When the wildlife is in fast action, that motion is obvious and further discussion is probably not warranted. But, the motion can be more subtle – I'll call it "micro-motion" – and micro-position differences matter.
One of the most frequent subtle wildlife motion issues I encounter is blinking and birds especially cause me grief in this regard. The bird may appear completely motionless, allowing you to take your time to set up for and capture the perfect shot. The image looks great on the LCD, but when you get home and load the images, you realize that the nictitating membrane is covering half of the eye (this is not technically "blinking", but the problem is similar). While this issue can sometimes be remedied in post processing, correction is challenging and time consuming even on the easiest repairs. If 5 or 10 images of the same scene had been captured in rapid succession, the odds are very good that at least one of them would have had a clear eye.
Another issue I find problematic is animals chewing their cud. Even when I'm aware that this is happening, it can be quite challenging to capture a single frame without the animal's fast-moving lower jaw in a strange and usually detracting position. Ear position is a similar issue. Certain ear positions are often preferred and since these features are often moving, a burst can help capture the optimal positions.
Sometimes it only takes a subtle movement to make a big difference in the desired catchlight in the subject's eye. One of the frames captured in a burst may have this key difference, giving that particular image the extra sparkle needed for greatness.
Did you ever have an image degraded by something passing through the frame? This is often a photobombing insect or bird that shows up at just the wrong time. While these can sometimes be removed in post processing, that is not always the case and even if removal is possible, the process may prove time consuming. Grasses blow in light wind, passing into out of ideal positions. Leaves on trees do the same. A frame burst may contain an image void of the undesired objects.
Speaking of the blowing, most wildlife photography takes place outdoors and there are many factors out here trying to reduce your image sharpness, including wind. Not every frame may be sharp, but an increased number of images brings an increased chance that sharp images are in the mix.
On occasion, I find that I need to merge two or more images from a burst to get the ideal subject framing. Especially when using a long telephoto lens not locked down on a tripod, I often get a modest variety of subject framing in a burst set. While the differences may not be big, I sometimes find it optimal to add a side of one frame to another image to provide the ideal framing or to expand the frame. This is an especially good option to use if the focal length is too long and the scene is being cropped too tightly.
Even when not moving fast, wildlife is often moving. Capturing just the right point in time can make a big difference in wildlife imagery and using the camera's burst mode may be all that is necessary to bump your image quality up a notch.
In this regard, a camera with a faster frame rate has an advantage over those with a slower rate. The Canon EOS 5D Mark IV used for this capture has a faster frame rate than any 5-Series predecessor, but the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II and Canon EOS 7D Mark II make the 5D IV seem slow.
Using a high frame rate-capable camera in high speed burst mode greatly increases the volume of photos captured. Be ready for this and be heavy handed when selecting down the keepers. It is OK to delete good images (and far better to have too many good images than missing the optimal one). You probably can't use them all – keep only the best.
Humor has a value in wildlife imagery and a high speed burst rate is advantageous for capturing humor. I photographed this pronghorn having a sit-down dinner (it was eating the green plant in front of it) in Grand Teton National Park in very heavy wind. This wind was so strong that I was having trouble keeping the animal in the 600mm frame. Yes, I had the hood on the lens, increasing the wind load, but it was raining lightly and rain was hitting the front lens element even with this giant hood in place. By using burst mode, I came away with a very satisfying set of sharp, well-framed keepers from this encounter, including this humorous one.
I can still hear him saying "Is that a Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II Lens?!"
600mm f/4.0 1/1600s ISO 1600
Chillin Brown Bear, Katmai National Park
The bears I encountered in Katmai National Park were primarily catching salmon, eating salmon or resting. I thought this bear chillin on a mound of dirt looked humorous.
600mm f/4.0 1/800s ISO 1250
Baby Cottontail Rabbit in a Log
This is a wild baby cottontail rabbit photographed in the studio using a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro Lens. Yes, there are some inconsistencies in that statement. The 100mm macro is not a first choice for a serious photographer photographing wild rabbits and ... why is the wild rabbit in the studio? Let me explain.
First, apparently the dog couldn't help itself and had to show us a baby cottontail rabbit (called a "kit") from a nest it found. Golden retrievers have soft mouths and she gently delivered the rabbit to the front door unharmed. The baby rabbit was so cute that a few photos were a requirement.
To create a natural scene, I took a decorative piece of driftwood and placed it on the shooting table along with a couple of ferns sacrificed from the flower bed just outside. With control over many aspects of the image, the 100mm macro lens was the ideal choice in this case. The 100 L is one of my MFU (Most-Frequently-Used) around-the-house lenses because of its versatility (great image quality, relatively small size with a light weight, image stabilization, 1:1/1x magnification ability, ...). It seems that there is always a subject available for this lens.
A large softbox and studio monolight is always beside my shooting table, ready to light whatever small or medium-sized subject that shows up. From lenses to backpacks to ... baby rabbits. A light source significantly larger than a close subject creates a soft light, lacking hard shadows. In this case, the light was a bit too soft for my taste, making the scene appear somewhat unnatural. Adding a few exposure adjustment layers with creatively painted layer masks (in Photoshop) created a more-natural unevenness (digital flagging) to the lighting. Of course, an octagonal catchlight in the eye is not going to say "sun" to anyone.
The rabbit (mostly) cooperated and after capturing a few photos, the kids asked Sierra (the dog) to find the nest. I thought that request was unrealistic and that the rabbit was orphaned, but ... Sierra took the girls to the middle of a nearby field of thick grass and impressively used its nose to point out the covered nest. The rabbit was reunited with its siblings with ... an unbelievable story to share.
100mm f/11.0 1/160s ISO 100
Huge Brown Bear, Katmai National Park, Alaska
Katmai National Park in Alaska has long been on my destination bucket list and I recently had the privilege of crossing off that line item. Well, that crossing off does not sound quite right as the experience was great and I would jump at the chance to go again. This destination will probably remain on my places to go list forever.
Finding the defining image for this location became a huge challenge. The problem was a good one as the gear and techniques used worked very well, yielding a huge number of images with nearly 7,000 of those being dissimilar and keeper-grade. Finding the single best of that take ... is going to take a long time. I'll pick a handful that I especially like and will share those over the next few months (hopefully not years).
With the brown bear being symbolic to Katmai National Park, it just seemed right to select an in-your-face, nothing-but-brown-bear image as the lead for my Katmai photo series.
600mm f/4.0 1/1600s ISO 640
Angry Pennsylvania Black Bear in the Rain
The 600mm focal length may not be the best for creating a sense of presence for the viewer, but ... it certainly helped me to distance myself from this bear's presence. And, I think the bear did a nice job of creating a presence all by himself.
The bear has apparently experienced trauma in its life as it is missing the bottom of its right front leg and one of his canine teeth is broken. Although such an accident would be enough to make any bear angry, I really don't know for sure if this one was angry or not. But, saying that it is angry sounds more dramatic and people seem to like drama these days. And, almost universally, animals lay their ears back when angry, helping to justify the thought.
The EOS-1D X Mark II has been very reliably focusing on the bears' eyes (bear noses often get in the way of this) even in bad weather conditions and this camera and lens combination easily erased the distant background, making the bear the unmistakable subject.
600mm f/4.0 1/640s ISO 1250
High-Stepping Whitetail Buck, Shenandoah National Park
This old buck has its eyes on the doe it is pursuing.
I like some animal leg positions better than others. In this case, the lifted-high front leg and corresponding raised back leg show that the deer is in motion. When I have the mental wherewithal to time image captures with the ideal leg positions, I do. When I don't, that is what a fast frame rate is for.
While the beautiful early morning sunlight gives the image a warm look, the frost-covered whiskers indicate the true scenario. This was a very cold day. While I was functionally challenged by the heavy gloves (and my breath freezing on the camera), the Sony a7R IV worked flawlessly in these low temperatures.
It only takes a short amount of time with a great subject in a great scenario to generate a large selection of good images. Selecting a single image to share from such a situation becomes the next challenge. I opted to share two images (for now) of this buck, the other illustrating the lip curl behavior.
600mm f/4.0 1/640s ISO 320
Twin White-tailed Deer Fawns, Shenandoah National Park
Most of the time, images of wildlife approaching are better than those of wildlife going away. The problem is, where the wildlife is going to go is not always predictable. It is much easier to follow wildlife than to stay ahead of it.
These incredibly-cute twin white-tailed deer fawns were with their mother and she was meandering through the woods, feeding in a seemingly random manner. I was constantly adjusting my position, trying to be in the right place as they passed through a potentially good scene.
When I saw the adorable little fawns headed for a fern-bordered clearing, I immediately saw the potential image and moved into position. I couldn't have requested a better direction, though they came through very fast. With the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II in high speed burst mode, I was able to capture a string of images as they came through. The fast frame rate afforded me the opportunity to be quite selective, choosing my favorite body positions. This one stood out to me for the symmetry in the fawns' stride along with their head positions.
Photographing in the woods with direct sunlight reaching through the canopy makes lighting very challenging. The giant overhead softbox that a cloudy day creates resolves that problem and this day had been perfect. There was direct sunlight in the early morning, providing great warm lighting in the fields of Big Meadows. As the sun rose and the lighting cooled, cloud cover rolled in and provided great light for photographing in and near the woods all day long. This image was captured at 2:39 PM on a late spring day.
But, just because the lighting is good does not mean that the animals will be there. Deer typically feed early and late in the day and finding them mid-day can be challenging. Many photographers don't feel that mid-day is worth their time. Perhaps I'm not that smart, but ... this mother had two hungry little ones to feed and was in need of additional meals. I was out hunting for subjects and our paths crossed.
As I've mentioned before, a monopod is faster to setup and adjust than a tripod and the monopod was a key part of my kit on this encounter. Being able to set up fast enabled me to position myself closer to where the fawns currently were, making the ideal position prediction more accurate.
Another fawn photography tip I'll share is the timing for fawn photography. You will probably agree that fawns are their cutest just after birth, before they grow very rapidly. But, newborn fawns are not as active as those a week or two old. The newborns stay hidden in their beds a significant percentage of the time, making them harder to photograph. If your time is short and you want your encounter rate increased, consider timing your photography trip for a week or two later than you would for just-born fawns.
400mm f/5.6 1/500s ISO 2500
Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS Contemporary Lens and the Raccoon
While actively reviewing a lens, I generally have it mounted and ready to capture any appropriate subject that comes available. On this day, it was a raccoon that provided the entertainment and the Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS Contemporary was fortunately the mounted lens.
If you could use long focal lengths in a relatively small, light and affordable package, this lens is worth considering. With the 600mm focal length and image stabilization, I was able to capture this image handheld from a distance long enough to avoid scaring the critter away.
600mm f/7.1 1/200s ISO 1000
Black Bear Sitting at the Stone Table
What is the best bear photography lens? The best bear photography lens is the one you have immediately available when the bear shows up. I know, that was a trick question, but the point is, an available lens is much better than no lens and I was very happy to have had even the cheap Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/4-5.6 IS STM kit lens available when this bear showed up. While this lens is near the bottom of my list of bear photography lens recommendation list, when this bear presented itself, the 18-55 mounted to a Canon EOS 77D was what I had immediately available.
I am not going to be the only one finding the Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/4-5.6 IS STM kit lens most-available and there are a number of reasons for this. My reason was because I was evaluating the lens at the time. I'm a bit unique in that situation, but for some, the EF-S 18-55 will be available because it is what they can afford. For others (children for example), it will be all that they are trusted with. And for others, it will be the most expensive lens able to be risked for a lens-dangerous, perhaps even sacrificial, task. With the extremely small size and weight of this lens, the EF-S 18-55 will sometimes be simply what is acceptable to carry for long periods of time.
I had been watching the bridal wreath spirea go into full bloom and feeling the need to incorporate them into an image. While they are beautiful alone, they work even better as a background to another strong element. For example, I was thinking that a cardinal would look great sitting on one of the branches. A mother black bear being that subject never entered my mind, but ... I think it works here.
I have been encountering bears at an increased rate and have photographed many of them, but never before have I used a focal length as wide as 55mm. However, with the bear sitting at a stone table amidst the flowers (with some petals also sticking to her), a wide-aspect crop from that focal length worked well. She appears to be waiting for her waiter.
Do you keep cameras at-ready for whatever opportunities arise? If not, consider doing so. Having an always-ready camera can more-rapidly increase your portfolio. Having more cameras in your kit makes having a ready-to-use camera nearby easier and adding another capable DSLR to your kit does not cost that much. We are always happy to help you make the camera, lens and accessory selection that is right for you.
55mm f/5.6 1/80s ISO 3200
Jellyfish Invasion, National Aquarium, Inner Harbor, Baltimore, Maryland
Here is a winter photography tip for you: Go underwater! Going underwater may not sound like something you want to do in the winter, though destinations close to the equator may be sounding very inviting right now. Your local aquarium may be a much more realistic pseudo-underwater destination that can provide great entertainment, good education, comfortable temperatures and of course, interesting photos.
My nearest aquarium is the National Aquarium located in Inner Harbor, Baltimore, Maryland. My youngest daughter and I spent an enjoyable day exploring the many exhibits together and wisely, she took a book along. Some of my primary photo subject were in the Jellyfish Invasion exhibit and Mikayla found time to get a little reading done while waiting for me there.
To go with this post, I've created a list of 6 Aquarium Photography Tips. Read the tips, grab your gear and go visit your nearest aquarium.
The Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM Lens is a great general purpose lens and it worked very well at this location.
105mm f/4.0 1/125s ISO 5000
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
Big Buck in Early Morning Sunlight, Shenandoah National Park
My Morning wildlife photography in Shenandoah National Park usually involves being where I expect to see wildlife when there is just enough light to start being able to see wildlife. The goal is to find a subject and be in position, ready to photograph, when there is just enough light to do so. The situation was golden on this particular morning. Very early, I found this nice-sized 9-pt buck tending a doe and worked into ideal position as the sun peaked over the horizon, giving me perfect low and warm light from my back.
The buck was looking great and the frost on his back and antlers was a bonus. I went to work, but promptly ran into a full buffer on the Canon EOS 5Ds R I was using. The 5Ds R buffer typically clears fast, but unfortunately, this full buffer took a very long time to clear. I didn't put a timer on it, but ... what seemed like an eternity was probably (rough guess) 10 minutes.
In those 10 minutes, I lost a significant number of images. What happened?
The problem started the night before. I put the 256GB SDXC card in my laptop and decided to quickly delete images I knew were inferior. The goal was to re-gain some capacity on the cards and to reduce the load on the redundant backups next on the to-do list. It is always risky to delete images directly from the card, but ... I was being careful – and apparently feeling bold.
After making a quick pass through the images I had time to review prior to bedtime and completing the backups, I put the card back in the camera. Having run into the buffer issue before, I took a short burst of images to ensure that the camera was working properly. However, in the morning, that burst proved too short.
At a high level, when files are deleted directly from the card using another device, the camera performs organizational maintenance before writing new files and, in this case, that maintenance took a very long time to complete. I've encountered this problem before, but with the test capture, I thought I would be OK in this regard. If doing as I did, capturing a burst long enough to trigger the organizational maintenance routine while still at home/in the hotel is very highly advisable. The best plan is to not touch the images written to a memory card and simply format new cards being used in the camera.
While I went away with many nice images of this buck, the frost melted quickly and I definitely left some good images in the field.
600mm f/4.0 1/800s ISO 250
Adorable Sleeping White-tailed Deer Fawn
Upon seeing this image, what was the first word that came to your mind? Does the dictionary-present "Aw" stretched to "Awwwww" count?
Being tame, this adorable 1-day-old fawn had zero concern with my presence and that opened up the opportunity to capture some unique-perspective close-up images. When it became obvious that she was going down for some solid sleep time (about the only time fawns become motionless), I swapped the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Lens for the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens and moved in close. The close perspective emphasizes the fawn's head, ears and hoof, making them appear large in proportion to what is farther away. As those are especially cute parts of this little animal, that perspective works well.
Having a still subject was only the first challenge solved and several others remained. Shooting under a high tree canopy created several additional challenges for this capture. First, it was rather dark at the ground level. Second, the backlit, light-spring-green-colored hardwood tree leaves created a green cast on the scene. And, as the breeze moved the branches, spots of direct sunlight was intermittently hitting the subject, causing bright hot spots in the image.
Using a monopod braced against my leg allowed me to shoot at a relatively-long 1/25 second shutter speed, addressing the darkness challenge. The color cast had to be removed during post processing and I had to revisit the color balance adjustments over a period of time until I grew comfortable with the result. I may change my mind about the color adjustments tomorrow. The last challenge was resolved with careful timing of the moving shadows, avoiding most of the hot spot problem.
As is so often the case with photography, the effort was worth the reward.
50mm f/8.0 1/125s ISO 2500
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
Whitetail Fawns – Cutest Animals on the Face of This Planet?
What is the cutest animal on the face of this planet? Whitetail deer fawns are at the top of my list. These adorable fawns decided they were going where I was and I was thankful that I could zoom out wide enough to keep them in the frame while they were going.
In the field, scenarios can change fast and keeping photography strategies simple can mean the difference between getting a good photo and getting nothing. That said, selecting an exposure must always be part of the strategy.
Most North American deer are brown and brown is a friendly color for a camera's auto exposure algorithm (unlike the color of most black bears). Green is another friendly AE color and that is the most-common background color at Shenandoah National Park in late spring. Thus, I commonly use AE when pursuing this subject with little need to monitor changing light levels.
Though using AE, I am still using the camera's Manual mode with Auto ISO providing the brightness adjustment. The fawns are often in fast motion, so I want control of the shutter speed being selected with a fast speed being normal. When the subject pauses, I roll the top dial to select a longer exposure, resulting in a lower (less-noisy) ISO setting being automatically selected.
The aperture setting works similarly. If I have a single subject, I can roll the aperture value to a wider setting, again with the ISO setting being reduced and a stronger background blur created. If multiple subjects become part of the composition or I decide that the background should be more recognizable, I simply dial in a narrower aperture.
There are obviously many more factors that go into a wildlife image capture but having a solid exposure strategy that works in many scenarios helps keep the strategy simple. Currently, turning my mode dial to Custom Mode 3 instantly provides this setup.
222mm f/8.0 1/800s ISO 2500
Alert Whitetail Buck, Shenandoah National Park
This 10 pt whitetail buck has a doe locked down during the rut and he is very intent on warding off any competition. During the rut, whitetail buck have their heads in alert positions a much higher percentage of time relative to normal, providing increased photo opportunities.
Notice the rather-slow-for-wildlife 1/200 shutter speed used here. This image was captured late in the day and the lighting was dark. With some images of the buck already on the card (my insurance shots), I was going for higher quality images. The longer exposure enabled a lower ISO setting, but especially with a moving subject, the sharpness rate percentage is decreased with the longer shutter speeds. Taking that chance paid off nicely for this image with a touch of noise reduction making this ISO 2000 result look very smooth.
600mm f/4.0 1/200s ISO 2000
10-Point Whitetail Buck, Shenandoah National Park
Our eyes are typically drawn to the areas of an image containing the strongest contrast. The head and antlers of a whitetail buck are typically this animal's most interesting features and placing those against a nearly blown-out sky utilizes the contrast principle, making them especially eye-catching.
Being in the right place at the right time is always a key for wildlife photography, but in this situation, a key to getting the desired framing was to adjust the camera height. Lowering the camera position until the foreground grasses were just below the buck's head and neck provided an angle that positioned the buck's head against the sky and void of distracting lines intersecting the animal. A lower camera position also makes it easier to get the catchlight sparkle in the eyes. Working from a monopod makes that elevation adjustment able to happen very fast.
The strong background blur created by the 600mm f/4 lens of course further emphasizes this subject. The blur this lens creates is addicting.
Are you joining me to photograph whitetail buck in rut in November? There are still spots open for this tour/workshop. Bring a friend, make new photography-enthusiast friends there!
600mm f/4.0 1/250s ISO 1000
Alert Whitetail Fawn, Shenandoah National Park
Whitetail fawns are cute and curious – and they are bundles of energy (when not sleeping). This one abruptly stopped after leaping around, intently watching something of interest.
Alert poses are one of my favorites for wildlife with the ear position usually being ideal. From a compositional standpoint, the direction of the gaze adds weight to the side of the frame being gazed toward. That means this fawn works well being positioned toward the left side of the frame to provide overall balance. Of course, the beautiful SNP spring green landscape nicely compliments the colors of the fawn.
Fawn photography at this location can make use of all available telephoto focal lengths, from short telephoto to the longest super telephoto focal lengths available. The flexibility offered by a zoom lens has its advantages and, in this case, the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Lens' built-in 1.4x extender was especially helpful.
I have a unique, limited opportunity for you: I'd love for you to join me for "Whitetail Fawns and More", a Shenandoah National Park Instructional Photo Tour. Our goal is to photograph these beautiful little creatures along with many of the other great subjects found in Shenandoah National Park while actively learning photography skills. Read the just-linked-to detailed description to learn more.
560mm f/5.6 1/1600s ISO 2000
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
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
Whitetail Buck Wrapping a Pine Branch Around Its Face, Shenandoah National Park
Did you ever see a whitetail buck wrap a pine branch around its face? The rut brings out the best in unusual whitetail activity. This buck is creating (or freshening) a scrape used for communication purposes at this time of the year and the location selected for a scrape typically has a scent branch just above it.
Only a couple of spots remain open: join me for the "Whitetail Buck in Rut and More workshop in Shenandoah National Park!
600mm f/4.0 1/1600s ISO 250
Lip Curl, Whitetail Buck, Shenandoah National Park
The lip curl (Flehmen response) is a deer behavior especially common during the rut, exposing the vomeronasal organ (Jacobson’s organ) to scents, especially those of a doe in heat. While this behavior is not unusual, it is different from the many images captured of the same old buck simply standing and looking.
The bokeh buck is a want-to-be contender. He doesn't stand a chance against this clearly superior buck.
As I mentioned in the other photo of this buck, a few minutes with the right subject in the right light and location scenario can result in a lot of nice images on the memory card.
600mm f/4.0 1/640s ISO 320
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
600mm f/4.0 1/1600s ISO 160
Spring in Shenandoah National Park Brings Fawns, Ferns and ... Black Bears
This mother black bear had sent her cubs high up into a large pine tree and was searching for food. She kindly paused and looked in my direction at a break in the bright green foliage.
There are many ways to compose a wildlife image and each scenario can be different, but a technique that often works is to center the animal in the frame and then open up the frame in the direction the animal is looking. In this case, the momma black bear was looking straight toward me and its near-centered position works well. I left a slightly more room around the bear on the right side as there is a very slight head turn and the tall green plants on the right helped balance and frame the image.
The color, or lack thereof, of black bears is a challenge for cameras' auto exposure systems with overexposure being the frequent outcome. A manual exposure is often best.
400mm f/4.0 1/640s ISO 4000
Fawn in Spring Green Flora, Shenandoah National Park
For wildlife photography, timing, in a variety of ways, is critical.
The time of the year is one timing factor. In Shenandoah National Park, spring brings bright green foliage and these adorable whitetail fawns.
Another timing factor is where the animal is at the moment it is photographed. That timing involves determining (guessing) where the animal is going next, determining an ideal photo position in that path, being the right distance away for framing and composition purposes, and being ready when (OK, if) they get there.
This time, the timing worked and this image of a fawn against a bed of green was the reward.
Often, wildlife looks best when photographed with a camera that is level for both tilt and roll. The tilt part means getting the camera at the animal's level and when the animal is small (and not at a higher elevation than you), that means getting down low. Photographing from a low position is not always the most comfortable, but the effort is usually worth it and the images taken with a downward angle are often deemed not good enough after some level captures are on the card.
In this example, the low green foliage permitted a level position, but a compromise is sometimes needed if visual obstructions become an issue.
Fawns are constantly moving and a monopod lets me adjust the height very quickly while trying to photograph them.
There is still room for you on the "Whitetail Fawns and Much More", Shenandoah National Park Instructional Photography Tour. All skill levels are welcome!
Sun, June 9 to Wed, June 12, 2019 and/or Wed, June 12 - Sat, June 15, 2019
Email me at Bryan@Carnathan.com to sign up or ask questions!
381mm f/5.0 1/500s ISO 2000
Mr. Unique, Whitetail Buck, Shenandoah National Park
An easy way to get a unique photo is to find a unique subject. I have seen a lot of different antler abnormalities, but this buck sported a new one.
Antlers are very strong, but deer frequently break their tines and even main beams, especially when fighting. However, the broken tine or beam nearly always breaks cleanly, detaching immediately, never to be seen again. Or, often due to injury, antlers grow in abnormal directions. This buck's right antler was broken off under the skin, dangling from the skin keeping it attached.
When photographing animals, I like to see separation between the legs and especially like to see one of the front legs stepping forward, showing action. I'll rarely complain about wildlife photography lighting when there is a setting sun behind me with the catchlight in the eye adding life to the animal.
What will this buck's next rack look like? I hope to find out this fall. Want to join me to photograph these great animals in Shenandoah National Park?
600mm f/4.0 1/1600s ISO 320
The Juxtaposition of Black Bears, Pennsylvania
In addition to presenting danger, this large Pennsylvania mother black bear was looking for danger, a move that often includes a pause that gives a photographer time to carefully focus, compose, and shoot.
At this distance, the bear was not close to fitting in the 600mm frame. Keeping the bear's head in the frame is the primary compositional goal and shooting vertically with a sideways pose meant that a large portion of the frame was empty. Fortunately, the mamma bear's second-year cub was moving in and added interest to the empty portion of the frame.
As I had no control over either subject, this result depended on situational awareness along with a bit of serendipity. Time spent in the right locations increases the chance of serendipity.
While the bright gray background may appear studio-like, it was courtesy of a heavy morning fog between the subject and the distant background.
600mm f/4.0 1/1600s ISO 2800
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
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
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!
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
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
Bedded Whitetail Buck Looking Cute, Shenandoah National Park
With a forward head tilt and relaxed ears, this bedded whitetail buck looks cute and cuddly, presenting an image perhaps ready for a child's storybook. But, make no mistake, this is a huge ball of muscle ready to violently fight anything it thinks poses a threat to its interests (that right-side G4 tine required significant force to break off). This buck knows exactly what the doe bedded nearby behind it is doing and if another buck moves in or the doe moves away, this big bad boy will be up in a flash.
Very positive was that this bedded buck provided a wide range of poses for us, including head rested solidly on the ground, a large yawn, and ears perked in attention.
I'm not often a fan of a downward camera angle when photographing wildlife and in this case, getting down to the buck's eye level using a fully-retracted monopod made complete sense. This low/level angle provides a more distant background that can be strongly blurred with a 600mm f/4 lens, allowing the subject to clearly stand out against an even very distracting background. With the subject being stationary, the distance and alignment could be selected and varied. In this case, the leaves on the ground provide a solid base for the image. The large tree trunk on the left and the small tree trunk on the right provide a frame for the subject.
Wildlife photography is a great source of stories and this situation brought back a memory from the year before. I was in Shenandoah National Park photographing a different bedded buck from a reasonable distance when it suddenly bolted straight toward me. I jumped behind a tree just as it went past a short distance away. Fortunately, it was not racing after me but instead after a doe. I just happened to be in its path.
The shot of adrenaline took a little time to wear off, but the memory is a fun one.
Want to photograph these awesome animals and create some stories this fall? Sign up for the "Whitetail Buck in Rut and Much More", Shenandoah National Park instructional photo tour.
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 900
Fast Food, Katmai National Park
Fish out of water. A female pink salmon races away from a massive brown bear. Just a normal day in Katmai National Park.
This could be an image you captured. Contact me ASAP to sign up for the Brown Bear Chasing Salmon, Remote Katmai National Park, Alaska instructional photo tour!
Dates: Thu, September 17 to Fri, September 24, 2020
Contact me to sign up!
600mm f/5.6 1/1250s ISO 1000
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
Baby Mountain Goat Against a Baby Blue Sky
There are not many animals that are pure white but those that are often have beautiful sharp black accents
This was an easy shot for the Canon EOS 5Ds R that, despite 50 MP of resolution, does seems not to seriously challenge the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens. The combination was perfect for Mount Evans.
400mm f/8.0 1/2000s ISO 400
Baby Bighorn Sheep are Adorable, Mount Evans
I was there to photograph mountain goat kids but the bighorn sheep also showed up and the lambs were totally adorable.
The Canon EOS 5Ds R and Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens combination were perfect for this capture.
227mm f/8.0 1/600s ISO 2000
Whitetail Buck in the Forest, Shenandoah National Park
It is generally much easier to photograph deer in a field or meadow than in the forest where tree trunks and branches create obstructions and chaotic backgrounds. However, the forest is where many deer spend large amounts of their lives. Heading into the forest may reduce the odds of getting good images but the increased challenge makes a successful in-the-forest image more rewarding.
While a 600 f/4 lens is an awesome choice for obscuring a distracting foreground and background via blur, the narrow angle of view can be challenging to use in the forest due to the obstructions. A farther away view results in a higher chance of trees and branches being in the way. Despite having a Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS Lens with me in Shenandoah National Park, I mostly used the Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens. The images this lens makes are hard to beat and once one acclimates to 600mm f/4 images, it becomes difficult to be satisfied with anything less.
All 600mm f/4 and similar lenses are very expensive but the high price has one advantage: it is a barrier of entry, making it harder for those without such a lens to compete with those having one. In a world with an unimaginable number of images being captured daily, this lens' image quality is a differentiator and those able to make the investment should frequently make use of their advantage.
I was working ahead of this buck (with a somewhat unusual drop tine), looking for openings it might pass through. He came into this opening and cooperated nicely, looking toward the camera. After quickly capturing a few images with the currently-selected focus point, I changed the focus point to a more optimal position in the frame and captured another burst of images before the buck turned its head. I selected the image with the best deer pose (both ears forward and looking toward me) and stitched another of the images captured using the other focus point for a slightly wider overall image.
This image was captured on a bright cloudy day. Clouds act as a giant softbox, eliminating the harsh shadows often encountered in the woods. Images captured in cloudy weather often appear slightly cool and low contrast is also normal for images captured under cloudy skies. Adding a small amount of contrast and saturation and warming the color balance slightly brings the image to life.
The increased challenge, increased reward concept applies to many genres of photography. Welcome ways to increase your challenge!
600mm f/4.0 1/400s ISO 2000
Black Bear Cub with an Awkward Smile
It is so hard to get kids to smile nicely but apparently, even animal kids have this problem. What was this black bear cub thinking? What induced it to bend its nose sideways? I have no idea, but I love humor in wildlife images and am always looking for it.
A second cub is facing the opposite direction in the background and the side of the mother bear can be seen along the left edge of the frame.
600mm f/4.0 1/1250s ISO 3200
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!
High Key Mountain Goat, Mount Evans, Colorado
Just because the skies are white doesn't necessarily mean that they should be kept out of the frame. While cloud-covered white skies are sometimes welcomed, especially for the broad even light they provide, they are not usually my favorite for image backgrounds and I often avoid the inclusion of white skies in image backgrounds. However, they can be used to create a sometimes-desirable pure white high key background.
Getting this background is not difficult. Simply find a good subject and align it with the white sky. Note that your camera's meter will want to make a white sky grey (especially if the subject is a white goat) so some positive exposure compensation (or a manual exposure) will likely be needed for such images.
On this day, my daughter and I were chasing mountain goats high in the Rockies and as you have already figured out, the skies were white. The thick cloud cover meant that we could photograph the goats from any angle offered to us without concern for shadows but any sky in the photo was going to be white. Getting into a position that allowed the entire background to be sky and allowing that background to become pure white created a nice portrait.
The versatile and optically-impressive Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens was a great lens to have for this trip. It was the only lens I used for photographing the goats.
124mm f/8.0 1/1000s ISO 2000
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