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.
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.
600mm f/4.0 1/1250s ISO 125
The Canon EOS R5 and RF 100-500mm Lens Meet a Huge Alaska Yukon Moose
I've just returned from 17 days of field testing in some great locations with the Canon EOS R5 (best camera ever), Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM Lens (awesome lens), and an assortment of other gear.
A solid set of images of this huge Alaska Yukon moose was the reward for packing gear nearly three miles into the Alaska mountains. On this afternoon, the cloudy sky created soft, shoot-from-any-direction lighting, and the light rain saturated the fall-colored foliage and hemlock backdrop. I couldn't have scripted a scenario much better than this.
Working in the thick forest meant a zoom focal length was required clear obstructions while facilitating ideal framing that included, at times, a significant amount of the environment around the subject(s). The need to move and work fast meant there was no time for tripod setup. While the RF 100-500 does not have the widest aperture, its image stabilization system coordinating with the R5's in-body image stabilization meant that nearly all of my images were sharp. I came away very impressed and have been re-training my brain to shoot handheld at longer shutter speeds throughout the trip. That is when the animal was motionless.
When photographing wildlife, I usually use manual exposure mode with the aperture wide open (unless the scenario dictates otherwise) along with auto ISO. These settings enable the top dial to be quickly rolled to the minimum shutter speed required to stop any camera or subject motion (or until ISO 100 is reached) in the current shooting scenario. Often, after getting the insurance shots with a relatively fast shutter speed, I capture images at progressively longer exposures attempting to better what has already been captured. Exposure compensation was adjusted as appropriate as moose are very dark animals, encouraging the camera to overexpose the scene.
For this shoot (and for most wildlife photography), AI Servo AF was used, readying the camera for any movement the animal makes. For the moose photos, touch and drag AF was used with the small AF point selected. While this camera's animal eye AF is awesome (game-changing for most wildlife photography, including birds), the black around the moose's eye caused animal eye AF challenge enough times that I opted for the also-good alternative selection method. When I did my job correctly, nearly all images were focused correctly.
118mm f/4.5 1/500s ISO 1600
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.
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
7 Reasons Why the Canon EOS R5 is My Ultimate Wildlife Camera — Bull Elk in RMNP
Is the Canon EOS R5 a good wildlife camera? Absolutely.
I had the opportunity to select any camera available for an over-two-week wildlife photo trip. My choice? The pair of Canon EOS R5 bodies already in my kit, and I am left extremely impressed as I review the images from this trip.
Here are 7 reasons why I find the Canon EOS R5 to be the ultimate wildlife camera:
1. The AF System Rocks, Especially the Animal Eye AF Feature
Most notably, the eye-in-focus rate from the EOS R5 was considerably higher than my experience with any camera prior. Keeping a wildlife subject's eye in focus is a critical challenge of wildlife photography, and keeping the ideal focus point on a wildlife subject's eye is a key to that challenge. When a bird or animal turns its head, the ideal composition typically changes just as fast as the head turned, often requiring the AF point to be moved completely across the frame. Swimming ducks can change directions almost instantly. Too often, the subject changes position again before the AF point is in the required new position. Hence, the shots are missed.
In a large percentage of scenarios, the R5's animal eye AF system eliminates the AF point challenge, permitting the photographer to concentrate on proper scene framing with the eye being tracked throughout nearly the entire frame. I have photographed a variety of birds and animals with the R5, including whitetail and mule deer, elk, moose, coyote, ground squirrels, turkeys (ever try to focus on a feeding turkey's head?), green herons, magpies, whistling swans, frogs, and even stuffed animals. The only subject in that list to confound the R5's animal eye AF enough for me to not trust using it nearly 100% of the time was the moose, and with the dark hair surrounding that animal's eye, it is hard to fault the R5 for that one.
Even when not using eye AF, this camera's AI Servo AF tracked moving subjects very accurately
2. The Frame Rate is Fast
Animals move, and capturing the ideal body, leg, and wing position can be critical. The challenge is even greater when multiple subjects are in the frame. Capturing the movement sequence can also be desired. Even when the subjects are standing still (or bedded), there can still be movement in the frame. A drip of water falling from a duck's bill can make the difference between a good shot and a great shot. A moose's big eyebrow lifting even slightly can allow a catchlight or a larger catchlight, increasing the value of the image. If the eye goes closed during a blink (I'm amazed at my ability to time a single shot with a bird closing its necessitating membrane), the image is not likely as attractive to me as an alert, open eye. A fast frame rate can catch the pinnacle point in time.
Fully supporting the fast frame write is the deep buffer coupled with the fast card write speed. Even when writing to SD cards, I barely reached the buffer full state only once.
3. The EVF is Excellent with Lack of Blackout
When shooting in continuous mode, electronic viewfinders typically freeze or blackout while each frame is being captured, and it is very difficult to track a moving subject without being able to see it. The R5 does not have that problem. In addition, the resolution of this EVF is high enough to be able to see when a catchlight appears in the animal's eye along with other important details.
4. The Image Quality is Excellent, Ultra-High Resolution Included
The R5 delivers crisp, high-resolution image quality that is ready to be printed large, and when focal length limited in the field, the EOS R5 provides adequate resolution to crop deeply.
5. The Grip is Adequately-Sized and Comfortable
Spending many hours a day with the camera in hand was not unusual on this trip, and having a significantly-sized, expensive lens hanging from it was the norm. A sore hand developing could cause problems for the remaining days, and a grip slip could spell doom for especially the lens, a big problem when a replacement is not readily available. I find the R5 grip to be comfortable and sure.
6. The Weather Sealing and Build Quality can Save the Day
While the R5 is not built up to the standard of Canon's 1-series cameras, it is solidly built with good weather sealing. The weather is not controllable, and when photographing wildlife, unfavorable conditions are not uncommon. I photographed in a snowstorm in CO, and while photographing moose in Alaska, it was raining lightly nearly the entire time. Sometimes I used a rain cover in AK, but not always.
That this camera is relatively light is a definite bonus when it is being carried for many hours and many miles.
7. The Controls are Intuitive and Customizable
The faster I can adjust the camera settings that are important to me, the faster I can get back in the game. The set of controls provided on the R5 are just right for changing the important wildlife photography-related settings, especially with the M-Fn button programmed to provide the ideal subset of options.
I prefer to photograph wildlife at their level and often like to be even lowered than eye level to give them a larger appearance (and increase the odds of a catchlight appearing). The low flora in this meadow accommodated a squatted shooting level nicely.
Is the R5's battery life adequate? The pair of Canon LP-E6NH packs in the Canon BG-R10 Battery Grip delivered 4,300 images before giving up on this day. It is easy to add another battery or two to a pocket if this volume is not adequate for your needs.
How do EF lenses perform on the Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R? After mounting the adapter, I forgot that it was there. The lens seemed normal during use, and the R5 delivered a considerably higher in-focus rate than I am used to.
Get your Canon EOS R5:
600mm f/4.0 1/2000s ISO 250
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
258mm f/5.0 1/320s ISO 1600
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Sony Alpha 1 Captures a Weasel's Curiosity, Rocky Mountain National Park
Adorable or vicious killer? Right — both descriptions accurately describe this little predator.
The opportunity was a unique one. What started as a glimpse of a weasel hunting in the brush turned into an afternoon of waiting, with some watching and photographing mixed in.
Often nocturnal, weasels are seldom seen, and when they show do themselves, getting these fast- and erratically-moving critters in the frame is tremendously challenging, even without accounting for accurate focusing. This weasel finally paused momentarily to check out (her reflection in?) the near-ground-level Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens aimed in her direction.
600mm f/4.0 1/1000s 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.
600mm f/4.0 1/1000s ISO 320
Canon EOS R5 and RF 100-500mm Lens Capture a Chillin' Bull Moose
I can attest to the sleeping qualities of the tundra. In general, I avoid photographing wildlife from a downward angle, and unless obstructions such as tall grass are present, you will often find me photographing wildlife from a squatted or seated position. However, when the subject is lying down on the ground, it can be especially challenging to get down to their level. In this case, I was flat out, lying down on the tundra alongside this huge bull moose. With the tundra under me, I have seldom had such a comfortable shooting position — a very welcomed restful position after hiking the miles necessary to get to this location.
Shooting handheld, taking advantage of the excellent image stabilization this camera and lens provide, gave me the ability to get into unique positions very quickly on this adventure.
159mm f/5.0 1/125s ISO 320
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.
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
Giant Bull Moose Environmental Portrait, Alaska
Canon EOS R5 and RF 100-500 Lens Create Giant Bull Moose Environmental Portrait, Alaska When the subject is in a great environment, incorporating that environment into the portrait is usually the priority. While I love tightly-framed wildlife portraits, capturing a great environmental portrait is a more significant challenge.
Of course, with that set of antlers in the frame it is difficult to take a bad picture.
Right, the 1/200 shutter speed is a relatively long exposure for photographing close wildlife. The beast paused (he was watching a cow) long enough for me to roll the shutter speed down to this setting. With auto ISO selected in manual exposure mode, the camera then chose a very low noise ISO setting despite the dark light levels.
100mm f/4.5 1/200s ISO 500
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.
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.
400mm f/4.0 1/500s ISO 2500
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.
600mm f/5.6 1/1600s ISO 1600
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.
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.
600mm f/4.0 1/1600s ISO 125
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.
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.
263mm f/5.0 1/200s ISO 1250
Canon EOS R5 Catches Portrait of a Huge Bull Elk, Rocky Mountain National Park
Do adapted EF lenses work well with the Canon EOS R5 and EOS R6? Yes! Adapted EF lenses will continue working as well on a Canon EOS R-series camera as they always did on your favorite DSLR. With the improved AF performance of the latest mirrorless models, you might find your EF lenses performing even better than before. A significant EF lens kit should not be a hindrance to a mirrorless migration.
I love clean wildlife portraits with beautiful frame-filling subjects. Our workshop crew referred to this bull elk as "Incredibull". For 2020, this elk was sporting a huge, symmetrical 6x6 rack – easily one of the best-looking racks I've seen. I look forward to seeing what 2021 brings for this beast.
The soft portrait lighting seen here is courtesy of a lenticular cloud hovering over the meadow. With the edge of the cloud covering the sun, soft, bright light was provided for most of the over 7 hours I spent with this bull and his cows.
600mm f/4.0 1/640s ISO 400
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.
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.
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
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.
400mm f/5.6 1/640s ISO 800
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.
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.
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
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
Canon RF 100-500mm Lens Captures Cow Moose with Big Bull in Rut
When multiple animals are in the frame, the composition challenge increases considerably, and the juxtaposition becomes critical to a good image.
Spending enough time in the right remote places aids in that good juxtaposition happening.
This day brought a blue sky background scenario. The camera's exposure was set to push the blue channel barely against the right edge of the histogram, retaining the brightest blue details.
During post-processing, I wanted the animals to be brighter than the original exposure provided. Therefore, taking advantage of the Canon EOS R5's exposure latitude, the same RAW file was processed at the initial exposure and again at brighter settings.
The two files were layered in Photoshop with a layer mask separating the animals and ground from the sky. The sky adjustment contained in a masked layer permits full control of the sky brightness in the final image. The result shared here has just enough blue dialed in to not be white.
The RF 100-500 has proven an outstanding choice for run and gun wildlife photography.
100mm f/11.0 1/400s ISO 1000
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?
600mm f/4.0 1/1600s ISO 1600
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.
70mm f/8.0 1/125s ISO 400
Run and Gun with the Canon EOS R5 and RF 100-500, Incoming Bull Moose, Alaska
A large bull moose is a good animal to run out of the path of.
This image is brought to your by the R5's incredible AF system paired with the versatile RF 100-500's outstanding image quality. This camera and lens combination is perfect for the quick catch-the-shot and get-out-of-the-way moments.
200mm f/5.0 1/500s ISO 200
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.
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.
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!
Photographers at all skill levels are also invited to join me for these tours:
Tue, Oct 15 through Sun, Oct 20, 2019
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
Weasel Carrying Ground Squirrel, Rocky Mountain National Park
Previously, I asked if the weasel was adorable or a vicious killer? Most would rate the other image as considerably more adorable, but on this day, both descriptions accurately described this little predator.
As I said before, the opportunity was a unique one. What started as a glimpse of a weasel hunting in the brush turned into an afternoon of waiting, with some watching and frantic photographing mixed in. Often nocturnal, weasels are seldom seen, and when they do show themselves, getting the fast- and erratically-moving critters in the frame is tremendously challenging, even without accounting for accurate focusing.
On this afternoon, a pair of weasels were raiding ground squirrel nests. Capturing photos of the weasels alone was extremely challenging, and capturing photos of the weasels returning to their underground caches with ground squirrels in their mouths was even more so.
A key to successful wildlife photography is knowing (guessing properly) where the subject is going, and finding an attractive composition it might enter into. I guessed right on this weasel's return path, and the near-ground-level Sony Alpha 1 with a Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens mounted captured the weasel running over a rock with a clean background.
600mm f/4.0 1/1600s ISO 320
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.
270mm f/4.0 1/320s ISO 800
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.
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.
600mm f/4.0 1/500s ISO 100
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.
600mm f/4.0 1/1600s ISO 1600
Bull Elk in the Meadow, Rocky Mountain National Park
Photographing animals from or below their level is often preferred, which means a level or tilted upward camera. However, when the scenario is right, the perspective from an elevated point of view can be excellent.
In this case, a large bull elk was defending his harem of cows in a large meadow. Getting lower was not an option, but the lush grasses and their curving seed plumes create a nice background.
The R5 put a lot of good images on the card during this bull's defensive stand. Still, the leg separation and differentiating body position especially led to this image getting selected for sharing.
As usual, the 600mm f/4 background blur makes the animal and its impressive antlers stand out.
600mm f/4.0 1/400s ISO 1250
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
When the Conditions are Unusual, Embrace the Opportunity, Bull Elk in RMNP
When the conditions at a destination are not as we expected or as we hoped they would be, we tend to get discouraged. However, when those circumstances are unusual, we can capture images that look different. With the extreme number of images being captured today, different is very positive.
The massive wildfires in the western USA were timed with the elk rut in Colorado this year, and the resulting smoke was not a welcome aspect of this Rocky Mountain National Park trip. While the smoke eliminated sky and sunlight color at sunrise and sunset and prevented clear viewing of the milky way and stars, the look of wildlife images captured under a late morning sun was different — and improved. As seen here, the harsh shadows were strongly reduced, and the background has an interesting low contrast appearance that makes the closer subject stand out in the image.
When over-focal-lengthed for a situation, attempt to capture the composition's in-motion portion in a single frame. For wildlife and portrait photography, the in-motion part usually includes the head and may include the entire body. For landscape, the in-motion subjects may be a stream or an ocean. After capturing the in-motion portion of the composition, quickly capture the desired additional pieces of the frame in subsequent images, ideally using the same focal length (easy with a prime lens), the same focus distance (switching the lens to MF after the first capture makes this easy), and, preferably, the same exposure settings (manual exposure makes this easy but brightness differences can be resolved when editing the individual RAW files). If there is potential subject motion not contained in the first frame (the back legs of the bull in this example), the immediate second frame should capture that potential motion.
Later, stitch the images together using your favorite image processor. The image shared here was manually merged in Photoshop. The images were stacked, and the hard edges between the frames were removed using a layer mask with a soft-edged brush painting black over the edge of the top image mask.
Another teaching point from this image is the camera position. By photographing from down low, more of the elk is shown against the mountain vs. the meadow and the already-large animal is made to appear even larger.
An exceptional subject always helps overcome any shortcomings in an image. Shown here is, among the animals I've photographed, my all-time favorite set of antlers. The overall size is huge with good mass, the points are long, and the symmetry is impressive. I can't wait to see what this bull grows next year.
600mm f/4.0 1/1600s ISO 400
A Beast Emerges, Massive Bull Moose, Alaska
There is something incredibly photogenic about a huge, dangerous animal emerging from dense cover. Seeing the large paddles approaching through the brush is a bucket list-grade experience.
Often, the key to wildlife photography is predicting where the animal is headed, selecting a photogenic environment along that path, and being in that place with a ready camera. Though highly simplified, that plan sometimes works, as in this case. Getting non-obstructed moose images meant finding the next opening on the moose's route.
159mm f/5.0 1/500s ISO 2500
Huge Bull Moose Appears Out of the Fog
The fog was so thick this evening that I was concerned about getting lost (at least to the point of requiring the compass), and the low visibility hindered subject locating abilities. Having this monster walk into visibility was thrilling.
Despite the capabilities of this incredible camera and lens, the tiny water droplets in the fog noticeably impacted the contrast and resolution of this image, as always.
When the fog effect is undesired, a circular polarizer filter can cut the reflections significantly, improving clarity. However, in this case, I welcomed the fog's differentiating look (and didn't want the light loss incurred by CPL filter use).
One makes the most of an opportunity such as this one. The Canon EOS R5 and ProGrade Digital 325GB CFexpress 2.0 Cobalt Memory Card combination supports holding the shutter release down as long as desired (until the card is full) in high-speed continuous shooting mode, the strategy implemented for this moment. The moose beginning to angle away was provided the logical endpoint to the burst as, at that time, I expected no better images to be made.
The animal was walking at a steady pace but not so fast that the R5's framerate couldn't capture a plethora of images. This particular image stood out as a favorite because of the overall body position. The bull is angling slightly toward the camera (when in doubt of this, use the antler base juxtaposition, minimally indicating head angle) with its legs evenly separated. The front leg lifted and showing slight motion blur illustrates motion.
The RF 100-500 proved an outstanding choice for this moose hunt.
114mm f/4.5 1/200s ISO 2500
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.
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.
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.
600mm f/4.0 1/640s ISO 1250
Big Whitetail Buck Feeding on Red Berries in Shenandoah National Park
Patches of red berry bushes in Shenandoah National Park had my attention, and I was spending time near them, hoping that whitetail deer photo opportunities incorporating the berries would show up. A couple of days prior, I photographed a smaller buck eating the berries, but the images were not remarkable.
On this morning, I discovered an impressive 12pt point buck bedded near a berry-favorable area.
Bedded deer can get up at any moment, but they can also stay down for many hours. When it comes to antler size, bigger is almost always better, and I knew that few bigger bucks were in the area. Thus, I committed to hanging with this buck for the long haul.
Not too long after I sat down, there was a solid thump sound behind me. The doe and fawns hanging with the buck immediately got up and walked toward the sound. An apple had fallen from an apple tree, and the deer were going to eat it. Soon after this, the buck got up and began to move away — straight into the berries.
While incorporating the red berries was the goal, the thick berry bush branches were a visibility obstacle.
Traditionally, a camera attempting to autofocus on an eye in the brush led to the camera focusing on the closest branch in the view. In this situation, obtaining a keeper image typically required manual focusing, a challenge when the animal is erratically moving and the depth of field is shallow.
Game-changing is that the Canon EOS R-series camera's animal eye detection can often focus through the brush, creating a high percentage of properly focused images despite obstructions, such as those seen beside this buck's eye. This outstanding feature is one of many reasons to move to one of the latest mirrorless interchangeable lens camera models.
While this animal was not moving especially fast, its head was, and the Canon EOS R3's high frame captured the relatively few moments when the eye was visible in the obstructions.
I'll likely share more images of this buck. We spent the next 5 hours having an adventure together.
600mm f/4.0 1/500s ISO 320
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
Put a Sky Behind It, Bull Elk in Rocky Mountain National Park
When you get a good but fleeting photo opportunity, you shoot continuously, capturing as many images as possible in the time allotted. When your gear (and you) are performing well, even a small window of shooting time can create a challenging selection project later. Probably no one wants to see 100 images of the same scenario, so at some point, you have to pick one (or a few) to call the best.
That was the case in the results from this morning shoot, thanks to a lone bull meandering to the top of a grassy ridge as the sun rose behind a solitary tree. I think lone trees with character are interesting subjects. So often, a significant portion of a composition is background, and the sky often makes a great background, especially for lone trees and especially at sunrise or sunset.
Having a bull elk to go along with the sunrise silhouetted tree took the point score up a few levels. The problem (a good problem) was that selecting an individual image from this encounter was a challenge.
Why did I select this one?
Overall, it seemed that the composition had a good balance. The dark ground creates a nice base for the image, and the bright clouds appear to arch over the tree at this moment. The elk is in a readily identifiable position, with all four legs clearly delineated.
When you see a faunascape, take advantage of it. Sure, I love tightly framed wildlife portraits, but a pleasing landscape background with an animal in it is another, often greater, challenge.
A great feature of the Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM Lens is the vast range of focal lengths it places at your fingertips. In this case, the RF 100-500 enabled a rapid selection of wide to tight compositions. Awesome lens.
200mm f/5.0 1/125s ISO 250
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.
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.
600mm f/7.1 1/200s ISO 1000
Bedded Elk Calf, Rocky Mountain National Park
Elk calves were at the top of this Rocky Mountain National Park photo trip priority list. However, finding portrait volunteers was quite challenging. Challenge does make success sweeter.
Elk calves spend most of their time bedded, and bedded calves are much harder to find than those up on their hooves. Another challenge was finding the angle to photograph a bedded elk calf. The babies often go down amongst dead trees, brush, and other obstacles, and often, there are no good angles.
The camera angle shown in this image was the only one that worked for this calf, one of only a few bedded calves that were optimally photographable during this week.
Baby animals bring a cuteness factor to images that is hard to beat. So, start making plans to find the babies this spring.
600mm f/4.0 1/100s ISO 3200
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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!
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
Canon EOS R3 and RF 600 Lens Big Buck Portrait Session, Shenandoah National Park
I spent most of a day trying to stay far enough away from this buck to keep it in the frame. What a great problem to deal with.
Finding the ideal clearings in the woods was an even more significant challenge. Foreground obstructions, background distractions, and mottled light problems were high on the day's list of photography challenges.
Challenge reducing was the impressive performance of the Canon EOS R3 and RF 600mm F4 L IS USM Lens, immediately snapping focus on the eye I was looking at, capturing the ideal moments in time. Being able to position a focus point anywhere in the entire frame instantly is incredible.
This buck was in the woods, and the woods are full of distracting lines. As is often the case, the Canon RF 600mm F4 L IS USM Lens blurred the background distractions away. Few lenses, primarily only the 400 f/2.8 and 800mm f/5.6 options, can compete with 600mm f/4 background blur.
As mentioned, foreground obstructions were on the challenge list this day, and a downside to using the 600mm focal length in the woods is finding a clear path to the subject. The key is to predict where the animal will go (or where you most want it to go) and be in position when it arrives.
We typically want wildlife subjects to appear large. Especially when photographing whitetail deer, I frequently shoot from close to the ground as long as the surroundings provide a good line of sight. This camera position increases the likelihood of a catchlight in the animal's eye, adding life to the animal.
600mm f/4.0 1/1000s ISO 500
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
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!
Photographers at all skill levels are also invited to join me for these tours:
Tue, Oct 15 through Sun, Oct 20, 2019
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
Bull Elk Intently Watching Herd, Rocky Mountain National Park
A bull elk with an incredible set of antlers intently watches his herd of cows in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Strongly blurring the background while keeping an animal this large comfortably in the frame requires a long focal length and wide aperture. The 600mm and f/4 combination is unsurpassed for meeting that challenge. In this case, it was the Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM Lens getting that job done.
Behind the lens was the Canon EOS R5.
While the pose shown in this image does not appear to be an AF challenge, this bull was constantly in motion. The elk moving in all directions meant that the required AF point was continuously changing. Chasing the animal's eye with a focus point used to be a considerable challenge — and stress. With the R5's game-changing animal eye AF performing incredibly well, the person behind the camera can better enjoy following the animal in the frame.
As I've said many times before, low shooting positions work great for photographing elk (and most other animals). This scenario permitting going low and a few quick leg lock twists on the Robus RCM-439 Carbon Fiber Monopod placed me there. This position pushed the bright grasses lower in the frame, with the dark blurred evergreens creating an excellent background for the elk's head and antlers.
Elk in Rut and More, Rocky Mountain National Park Workshop 2021 Special Offer
Be at my hotel near the Denver airport in the morning on Sat, 9/25/2021, or meet me at the house in Estes Park late in the afternoon, and you can join me a day early for a soft start to this transportation-provided workshop! There is only one opening remaining for this year. Contact me for more information.
600mm f/4.0 1/1600s ISO 800
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
Elk Bugling in the Smoke, Rocky Mountain National Park
I love a challenge, and photographing outdoors often presents many challenges. When planning my Rocky Mountain National Park trip, I considered many factors for the timing. Smoke was not one of them.
Smoke filling the air was troublesome overall, but this scenario illustrated making the most of a unique situation. The decreased air clarity meant that contrast decreased rapidly with distance, creating distinct layers of mountains.
I love a tight portrait of a beautiful animal, but it is often more challenging to include that animal in a beautiful landscape. Environmental wildlife images require the photographer to think like a landscape photographer – and a portrait photographer.
Sony camera owners should consider the FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS Lens for this purpose. While the FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS Lens is a great wildlife lens and has a long end advantage, I sometimes find 200mm to not be wide enough for this type of imagery. That said, this range would have worked great for this photo.
300mm f/8.0 1/500s ISO 125
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.
227mm f/8.0 1/600s ISO 2000
Bedded Bull Bugling, Rocky Mountain National Park
More precisely, a big beautiful bedded bull elk bugling in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Stay with an elk long enough, and it will bed down, and a stationary subject is easier to photograph than a moving one.
However, once bedded, obstructions (such as grass or trees) are often an issue. This cooperative bull opted to bed in a meadow with short grass, meaning that foreground obstructions were not an issue.
The background can typically be counted on to present a challenge, and distractions are among the most frequently encountered issues.
In this image, the first background distraction avoidance strategy was to blur it away. The Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM Lens rises to that challenge. The bokeh capability of many ultra-wide aperture lenses is raved about, but the 600mm f/4 combination is unsurpassed for diffusely blurring the background. The 600mm f/4 combination smooths the strong contrasting background lines, such as trees, that would otherwise catch the viewer's eye, distracting from the subject.
The big in-the-field challenge is aligning the subject within the background. Once it is bedded down, you know where the animal will be for at least a short time — usually long enough time to allow perfecting of the composition. In this scenario, the goal was to avoid strong lines and color differences intersecting the animal's body and antlers.
I love a low shooting position when photographing elk (and most animals). While this image was captured from a low position, the position was high enough for the elk's back to remain below the brush behind it.
For many, it is all about the antlers. The camera position that placed the rack between the background trees also worked well for the animal.
A sleeping animal is usually not too exciting (unless it is a baby). Fortunately, during the rut, bull elk make use of their downtime. When bugling (one of my favorite sounds), elk raise their heads which lowers their antlers for my also-favorite elk body position.
600mm f/4.0 1/320s ISO 200
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!
600mm f/4.0 1/640s ISO 500
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
Stuck to a Pine Tree in Rocky Mountain National Park
It's all about the scents. He's not physically stuck, but the desire to leave his scent was holding him against the tree.
Rocky Mountain National Park has areas of straight-trunked pines that call me to photograph them. Add an animal, and I'm all in for that image.
The lines in nature running in primarily horizontal and vertical directions result in a uniqueness to this image. Of course, it is hard to make a bad image when a 6x6 bull elk is in the frame.
In this case, the focal length range provided by the Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM Lens permitted getting the ideal subject framing while moving in front of obstructions — other pine tree trunks. A high percentage of my favorite images are currently being captured with this lens.
186mm f/5.0 1/320s ISO 1600
Battle of the Bulls, Rocky Mountain National Park
Bull elk fights are exciting to watch, but most don't end well for one competitor or from a photography perspective. When elk fight, they lower their nose down, leaving the most important parts of a wildlife composition, the eyes and heads, occluded by the thick, tall grass common in the fight venues.
Another frequent hindrance to a good elk fight photo is being in the right position to photograph a single bull with a long prime lens. A second bull in the frame often requires at least twice the working distance, and the fight may be over by the time that distance is traversed. Also frequent is for one elk's back side to turn toward the camera, blocking all of the action.
Despite the excitement, I remembered to roll the shutter speed to 1/3200 (M mode, auto ISO, wide-open aperture) to freeze the action. The lens was zoomed to a focal length that contained the erratic action and focused on the mix of antlers and heads. Holding the shutter release down in continuous shooting mode ensured that this short fight produced a solid number of keeper images.
In this image, both bulls' eyes are visible, and the flying dirt helps to portray the intensity of the battle between these big bulls. Adding to my interest are the seemingly indifferent cows, along with the calf leaping out of the danger zone on the right side of the frame.
I often process my images to honor the original 3:2 aspect ratio, but that practice is not always optimal unless the end-use dictates such. Elk fights are often compositionally wide, and in this case, a wide crop seemed appropriate.
176mm f/5.0 1/3200s ISO 320
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
Alert Weasel in Rocky Mountain National Park
I shared a pair of weasel images (Curious Weasel, Weasel Carrying Ground Squirrel) captured while hanging out with (mostly waiting for) a pair of weasels in Rocky Mountain National Park. One of my favorite aspects of these images is the strong background blur that makes the subject boldly stand out.
While many of you following this site might find this advice basic, the basics are important, especially for those starting out, so let's talk about some background blur basics today.
1. Get Closer to the Subject
Moving closer requires a shorter focus distance. The shorter focus distance takes the background out of focus, increasing the blur.
2. Position Against a More Distant Background
Positioning the camera and lens so that the background is farther from the plane of sharp focus increases the blur. Orienting the shooting position to avoid the closer background trees, rocks, buildings, etc., makes a more significant blur happen.
3. Use a Longer Focal Length Lens
A longer focal length increases the magnification of the background details, which increases the blur.
4. Use a Wider Aperture
A wider aperture creates a shallower depth of field. That effect increases the background (and foreground) blur.
5. Use a Camera with a Larger Imaging Sensor
A full-frame camera takes in a wider angle of view than an APS-C model using the same focal length lens. A wider angle of view requires a 1.5x (Sony) or 1.6x (Canon) longer focal length or a position considerably closer for the subject to remain the equivalent size in the frame. Both of those options are already on this list.
Today, the interchangeable lens most adept at blurring the background is the Sigma APO 200-500mm f/2.8 EX DG Lens set to 500mm f/2.8. However, a reality check after looking at that behemoth's price and specs (B&H | Adorama | Amazon) leads us to consider the second most background blurring capable lens. The next best choice is one of the 600mm f/4 options.
While not small or inexpensive, the 600mm f/4 lenses reward the owner (or renter) for their expense and carrying effort by creating differentiation in their photos. A 600mm f/4 lens on a full-frame camera, such as the outstanding Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens and Sony Alpha 1 Camera combination used for this example can melt the background into a pleasant color blur. That blur can make a subject pop from even a busy, distracting environment.
Keeping small subjects such as the weasels relatively large in the frame makes the getting close blur aspect happen by default. Of course, keeping these hyper little creatures in the frame at this distance is quite challenging. Fortunately, I guessed right at this time, being in the ideal position when the weasel paused to look around.
600mm f/4.0 1/1250s ISO 640
Bull Elk Bugling, Rocky Mountain National Park
I tend to overshoot. While taking too many photos ensures that the optimal shot is on the card, that practice adds to the mental and time challenges of culling the results. The performance of the Canon EOS R5 and RF 600mm F4 L IS USM Lens combination increases that challenge.
In addition to getting the optimal shot, the extra images are sometimes useful for additional purposes. One of those purposes is illustrated here, making panorama processing possible.
After selecting the favorite animal position, I decided that including more background would improve the composition. The two selected images were manually merged in Photoshop.
600mm f/4.0 1/500s ISO 1250
How to Expose a Silhouette, Bull Moose, Alaska
Most often, a wildlife silhouette opportunity comes unexpectantly and is fleeting.
Because the sky is typically very bright relative to the subject, the camera's meter usually selects silhouette exposure settings that lead to underexposed images, and correcting the underexposed images during post-processing yields increased noise.
To quickly acquire the right camera settings this opportunity, rules are ideal. For example, with a blue sky in the background, instruct the camera to create exposures X number of stops higher than it thinks is necessary.
Unfortunately, too many rules are needed to accommodate all scenarios. The primary reason that auto exposure + EV rules do not work is that the percentage of the frame filled with the subject and foreground changes dramatically, possibly during the same opportunity if varying exposures with a zoom lens. Also affecting the exposure rule is the sky color, ranging from bright white to deep blue or even the darkness of storm clouds.
While spot metering on the focus point can result in a more stable exposure basis for rules to work from, even animal color varies. For example, black bears are considerably darker than mule deer.
Mirrorless cameras with electronic viewfinders programmed to show the actual image brightness make establishing the ideal silhouette exposure settings considerably faster and easier than doing the same with a DSLR. While I often have the EVF histogram turned off due to interference with my brain's compositional abilities, that tool clearly shows the selected exposure, especially the bright side's available dynamic range. Even without the histogram enabled, the brightness can be discerned by looking at the brightest areas on the EVF.
What is the ideal silhouette exposure? That answer depends on the final look desired. If the animal and foreground are to be pure black, expose the sky to the preferred brightness. If a high key look is desired, expose for a normal animal brightness, letting the sky become blown — pure white and blinking on the LCD.
To gain the most post-processing latitude or if you don't want to decide what the final image should look like while frantically trying to capture the momentary opportunity, use the expose to the right strategy. Create an exposure that pushes the histogram graph lines to the right edge of the chart. There will likely be some small areas of the image showing over-exposed blinkies during image review, but not large areas of blinkies indicating loss of detail. The goal is to retain detail in the highlights while capturing as much detail as possible in the shadows.
If photographing landscape, an HDR technique would be implemented for this scenario. Unfortunately, animals tend to move before the multiple exposures can be recorded. If your animal is motionless and your camera is locked down on a tripod, bracketing exposures is a great option.
The expose to the right option was chosen for this bull moose image capture. The sky is bright but still blue. Using Photoshop, the moose was selected and brightened slightly.
270mm f/5.6 1/200s ISO 800
Canon EOS R3 and Eye Control AF Capture Alert 10pt Whitetail Buck
Subjects that move are prime candidates for the use of servo AF, continuous focusing vs. the focus distance locked for one shot. Using servo AF requires a focus point or area continuously positioned on the desired point of focus.
Aside from vehicles, moving subjects usually have eyes, and usually that means the focus point or area must be on the subject's eye, with the subject looking into the frame. Maintaining the focus point or area over the eye of a moving subject while maintaining the ideal composition is often a huge challenge, especially for wildlife photography. An animal turning its head the other direction historically required a significant amount of joystick pressing when using a camera with an adequate number of AF points to competently accomplish the goal, and by the time the focus point was in position at the other side of the frame, the animal would turn its head in the other direction (one of Bryan's Laws of Photography). Add thick gloves, and this challenge increases significantly.
In addition to the joystick, the R3 has a pair of Smart Controllers for positioning the AF point or area. The AF-ON buttons have been enlarged, and a touchpad is built into them. Simply slide a thumb across the button to rapidly position the AF point or area.
With a conventional joystick and AF-ON button design, two thumbs are required to make focus point or area position adjustments while pressing an AF-ON button. In servo mode, the R3's Smart Controllers are functional while the AF-ON button is pressed, and this feature works even with thick gloves on.
In addition to having the ability to focus nearly anywhere in the composition, the latest mirrorless cameras have the ability to identify and track a subject, and more specifically, subject eye detection and tracking have been game-changing. When the eye is identified, the camera tenaciously tracks the eye throughout the entire frame, freeing the photographer to concentrate on composition and image capture timing. Thick gloves are not an issue.
The Canon EOS R3 adds vehicle subjects to its detection capabilities, filling in much of the remaining active subject identification needs.
Additionally, the R3 has body detection that takes over when the eye disappears. That feature was at times a hinderance with the whitetail buck as I wanted a looking away deer's antlers or head to be in focus vs. the deer's backside. However, the body is sometimes the next-best focus option, such as when an ice skaters spins.
The R3 brings us a very intriguing new method of AF point positioning. What if you could simply look at the subject you wanted to focus on? The R3's Eye Control AF allows the photographer to position the AF point or area at the speed of look. Look at the subject and the AF point is there, with no buttons to press or slide across.
Eye Control AF requires calibration for each user, and the calibrated performance can be individually different. Calibration is fast and easy. Select a menu option, and follow the prompts in the viewfinder that guide the eye to look at a dot in the center of a small circle sequentially positioned in the center and 4 sides of the viewfinder, with the M-Fn button press recording the look for each.
Canon recommends using the calibration process numerous times, including in different lighting and multiple camera orientations, to refine the data the camera has available. The lens in not involved in this process as the Infrared LEDs in the EVF (notice the enlarged viewfinder size surrounding the viewing area) track the eye position without eyeglasses, and a second set of infrared LEDs track eye position with eyeglasses. Separate calibration profiles are accepted, and useful for with and without eyeglasses and contact lenses and for multiple camera users. Profile data can be saved to a memory card for use on other R3 bodies.
Once calibrated, a small target consisting of two concentric circles (by default, configurable) moves around the viewfinder with your gaze. Look at the subject, and that is where the camera will position the indicator, and that is where the camera will focus or initiate subject tracking.
While the Eye Control graphic is needed, it is obvious and a bit annoying to always have over what you are directly looking at. This graphic, in addition to the focus area and subject tracking indicators, starts to create a busy viewfinder.
Using Eye Control involves a short learning curve as focus should be initiated before or after looking around the frame to study the composition.
My first experience with Eye Control was not stellar. After creating many refinements, I found the R3's calibration inaccurate for my eyes. Most of the time, the indicator did not position directly on the subject I was looking at. The experience was disheartening, but Canon shared that this feature would not work optimally for everyone.
On a whim, I deleted the calibration data and started over. The new calibration, even with only a few refinements delivered significantly improved accuracy.
Packing up the R3 along with many lenses in the review queue, I headed to Shenandoah National Park for five days of wildlife (and some landscape) photography. More specifically, the whitetail buck in rut were the primary targeted subject.
This shoot started with the R3 set to servo AF, animal eye detection selected, subject tracking on, and Eye Control AF enabled (by default, pressing the Set button quickly enables or disables this feature). Accurate focusing on the deer meant looking at the deer's eye and half-press the shutter release to initiate focusing. The R3 usually detected the eye and immediately locked tracking on it, tracking it throughout the frame while providing visual feedback in the viewfinder. While Eye Control AF is not always perfect, I was still using this strategy when I packed the camera for the trip home. The R3's AF performance with Eye Control outperformed any focus method I've used prior.
If Eye Control is found not performing well, immediately creating a calibration refinement can improve accuracy. Not too long into the shoot, I realized that the vertical calibration refinement was not yet created. In seconds, calibration refinement was created, and I was back in the game vertically.
When photographing with large telephoto lenses in strong winds, up to 40 MPH / 64 KPH on this trip, keeping even a motionless subject in the frame can be challenging, and keeping a manually selected focus point on the subject's eye becomes extremely challenging. With the R3, I could simply look at the deer's eye, half-press the shutter release, and then concentrate on fully pressing the shutter release when the framing looked right. This strategy works just as well with heavy gloves on (temperatures were as low as the mid-20s / -3 C).
AS mentioned, the R3's subject detection recognizes bodies, and it recognized deer bodies quite well. However, when the buck were facing away (I sometimes like images of animals facing away, looking into their environments), the head or antlers needed to be in focus vs. the closest body area. With the R3, simply looking at the antlers while initiating subject tracking worked very well.
The 10pt whitetail buck shared in this post came in fast and close, offering only seconds to grab the shot. A glance at the eye followed immediately by pressing the shutter release down made the quick capture easy.
Want an R3? Use one of the links on the site (supports us) to order it. As I write this, prepare to wait in line. This outstanding camera will be difficult to find in stock for a long time.
600mm f/4.0 1/1600s ISO 1000