During last year's Rocky Mountain National Park instructional photo tour, we spotted this bull elk from about a mile away. The size of the antlers was an easy reason to go after this animal, but there was another good reason.
While a great subject is paramount for a great image, a primary wildlife or portrait subject often fills a relatively small percentage of the frame. Elk are large animals, and this one fills the composition enough to leave just-comfortable breathing room at the top and bottom. Still, most of the frame is background.
The full Sony Alpha 1 image measures 8,640 x 5,760 pixels, yielding 49,766,400 total pixels. Cropping the image to fit only the elk results in 3,499 x 4,729 pixels and 16,546,771 total pixels. Dividing the smaller total pixels number by the larger one indicates that the elk consumes only 33% of the frame.
Therefore, the background is a vital part of the image. Blurring the background is a great option for emphasizing the subject and removing distractions. While a 600mm f/4 lens can blur the background stronger than most others, the size of the elk pushes the focus distance long enough that the background details remain discernable. Thus, the background still needs to be supportive.
A reason for pursuing this opportunity was the evenly vegetated meadow background. The meadow provides a complementary color and a sense of the location without competing for attention.
A bull elk standing in bright sunlight is an easy scenario to produce a sharp image in, and a fast framerate is unnecessary, right? Not so fast.
That bright sunlight creates heatwaves, and telephoto-focal-length-magnified heatwaves blur the image. The background is already blurred, but the eye must be sharp. Heatwaves move fast, and high-speed continuous shooting often results in some eye-sharp images among the blurred ones.
A larger version of this image is available here.