Elk Rut and Fall Landscape in Rocky Mountain National Park Photo Tour

Incredibull, Rocky Mountain National Park

Consider this a personal invitation to join me in Rocky Mountain National Park in late September! RMNP is an incredible location (any park with "mountain" in its name has to be great), and the elk rut here is simply awesome, combining for a bucket list outdoor photography experience. This trip is timed for the peak of the elk rut combined with, especially the second week, what is often the peak of fall aspen color. When clear, dark night skies align with our schedule, primarily early in the first week of the 2023 dates, RMNP provides world-class milky way photography opportunities.

View a tiny percentage of my Rocky Mountain National Park images here.

The plan is to stay in an ideally-located (quick access to the hot spots) house in Estes Park, CO, just outside of Rocky Mountain National Park. With each participant having a private room, this home will be the base for our adventure and provide space to gather for image review. Yes, we'll eat at Smokin Dave's BBQ. Yes, weather permitting, we'll spend time along Trail Ridge Road (the highest paved through road in Colorado and the highest Colorado paved road crossing the continental divide).

Plan on hanging out with a small group that shares your passion for photography in a spectacularly scenic location.


Pending/filled: September 17-23, 2023
Waitlist: September 24-30, 2023

The plan is to meet at the home Sunday afternoon. We'll head out to photograph early Monday, wrapping up after the Friday evening shoot, departing Saturday morning.


Hopefully, you, along with 2 (3 at most) other participants. Large group workshops are substantially more profitable from a business perspective, but serious wildlife photography is very challenging in large groups. A small group means better photo opportunities and more personal attention. It also means that we can travel together throughout the park in a single SUV.


The cost for this IPT is $3,490, including lodging (approximately $1,000+ value) with a 50% deposit locking in your spot (balance is due 180 days before the IPT). Email me at Bryan@Carnathan.com to sign up or ask questions!

Bull Elk Bugling, Rocky Mountain National Park

What are We Photographing?

Our primary photo subject will be wildlife. By definition, wildlife is "wild," and that means it is unpredictable. Wildlife provides no guarantees, and some slow times should be expeced. However, Rocky Mountain National Park is an extremely reliable location to photograph rocky mountain elk, the bulls should be in action, vying for herds of cows, and the scenery available for backgrounds here is excellent.

Bull Elk and Rocky Mountains

In addition to elk, we will likely photograph mule deer and other animals. On this adventure, we will be opportunistic, taking advantage of any interesting subjects that we encounter. In addition to the immersive wildlife photography experience, there will certainly be opportunities for landscape photography. The views from the alpine tundra and Trail Ridge Road are incredible.

Our scheduled weeks are busy ones in RMNP, and we will often have others around us. We will work around them, and will search for more private opportunities.

A Perfect Sunset in Rocky Mountain National Park


While the implied definitions of these terms vary, I see "workshops" typically laid out with a planned schedule and "tours" typically designed to put you in front of subjects at the right time. This trip leans toward the "tour" definition as the primary goal is for you to get great images, and we will be opportunistic in that regard, making a firm schedule challenging to implement. That said, we will spend a lot of time together. I will teach (including as we are actively photographing), answer questions (please bring many), critique images, assist in editing, etc. throughout our time together. Thus, the educational element will also be a priority. Therefore, I will call this an "Instructional Photo Tour."

In the field, we will photograph side-by-side. You taking great images home will be a primary goal, but capturing those images yourself is important, and I can best describe what you should do if I am doing it myself at the same time. This aspect also provides the participant opportunity to observe how to photograph wildlife. Your constant feedback and questions during the IPT are essential, enabling me to give you the best experience possible.

An "expedition" is another type of immersive photography experience, and this event involves multiple daily mini-expeditions. Certain is that we will have an adventure.

Photographic Skill Requirements

Photographers at all skill levels are welcome on this IPT. Beginners will quickly learn the basics, moving up to the next levels of competency. Experts should expect to be challenged.

Physical Requirements

This event will be modestly strenuous, with much of the strain dependent on the size and weight of the gear you are carrying. There will likely be some easy wildlife photography opportunities encountered. Still, we will be carrying our gear through the woods, tall grass, and light brush over hilly terrain at times.

What is Included

Lodging with a private bedroom is included. Transportation during this experience along with everything described in the Tour/Workshop/Adventure/Expedition section above is included. By not including the items listed below in the fee, individuals are able to choose their level of spending.

What is Not Included

Transportation to/from the rental house is not included. Denver International Airport is conveniently located and often an inexpensive destination from an airfare perspective. I'm happy to attempt connection with other participants for sharing a ride to/from the airport.

Rocky Mountain National Park requires each participant to have a park pass.

Food and drinks are not included. For expediency, breakfast will be on your own at the house (I recommend arriving with food for Monday morning). Typically, we will come back to the house after the morning shoot before heading out for second breakfast or early lunch. Usually, we pick up food to go for the evening. A small grocery store, a deli, and a couple of small restaurants are conveniently located. Nearby Estes Park has many food options, but we will mostly avoid the heavy traffic in town there unless there is group consensus to visit a destination there.


Our best opportunities will be found early, and late in the day holds promise. We will target these times. We will typically return to the house mid-morning, a grab a meal and a meal to go for later, load, review, and backup images, perhaps take a short nap, and head back out late afternoon. The plans are all very flexible, and we can accommodate any specific interests the group has.

Bull Elk in Rut, Rocky Mountain National Park

Cancellation Policy

Travel insurance is strongly recommended. Planning this adventure is very time consuming, with associated, often non-refundable costs. If a cancellation notice is received greater than 1 year before the workshop start date, a full refund of any payments made minus a $195 administrative fee will be provided. If a cancellation notice is received within less than 1 year of the workshop, no refund of payments made will be provided. Regardless of the cancellation notice received date, any openings in filled workshops that are re-filled will result in payment refunded in full minus a $195 administrative fee.

Let's Do This! Sign Up Now!

Email me at Bryan@Carnathan.com to sign up or ask questions!

Camera Gear Needed

Aside from a great attitude and a strong interest in learning wildlife photography, you are going to need some gear. While most cameras with a telephoto lens will be adequate, mid-upper-grade gear is optimal.

When photographing bull elk in rut, I am not as concerned about a fast frame rate as with some other subjects. There will be times when a fast frame rate is beneficial, but rut posturing often occurs at slower speeds, and I usually opt for higher resolution cameras if a compromise is required. A MILC (Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera) or DSLR camera is recommended.

A telephoto lens or lenses will be needed with a full-frame equivalent of at least 400mm (250mm on an APS-C) suggested, and having longer focal lengths available will be appreciated at times. Wildlife activity is greatest early and late, so wide apertures are often an advantage, and the wide aperture's ability to blur the background is highly useful. Any telephoto lens can work, but there may be times when an f/4 or wider aperture is preferred. This is a great event for breaking out your big lenses, and it is also a great time to try new ones, perhaps via renting.

I usually take a pair of high-resolution cameras (such as Canon EOS R5 bodies) along with a 600mm lens (such as the Canon RF 600mm F4 L IS USM Lens) and a telephoto zoom lens (such as the Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM Lens) for my primary wildlife kit. I'll bring a variety of other lenses and accessories, including a Black Rapid shoulder strap to carry the big lens.

I primarily use a monopod while photographing wildlife in this location. It is not as stable as a tripod and requires more effort to use, but it is much faster to set up and adjust. While neither are mandatory, one or both is preferred, and I always take both.

Epic Rocky Mountain National Park Milky Way

We can potentially make use of a full range of landscape photography gear, including ultra-wide to wide-angle lenses (such as the Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens) and standard zoom lenses (the Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens, for example). I always bring circular polarizer and neutral density filters. If the night sky is clear and dark, the milky way is spectacular when photographed from this park, and you will want a wide-aperture, wide-angle lens to photograph it with.

Bring adequate memory card capacity, enough batteries to last at least a day, and enough chargers to restore that capability overnight. A laptop is highly recommended, enabling review of your images throughout the time we have together. Bring an external hard drive for an additional level of backup. Bring a flashlight, preferably a headlight. Binoculars are not required, but they may be found useful.

Consider what failure of any piece of gear means for your experience, and consider bringing a backup for items identified as critical.

As always, feel free to ask me for gear advice.

Bull Elk Chin-Up Pose in Rocky Mountain National Park

Weather / Clothing

The weather in RMNP in late September is typically very nice, though cool and sometimes even cold (mostly mornings and at night). Especially at higher altitudes in the park, wind and snow are likely and possible. Dressing in layers is optimal. Waterproof boots and clothing are strongly recommended, including rain covers for camera gear while in the field.

Plan for walking in woods and in tall meadow grass that can be wet at times.


Be aware that the altitude at Estes Park is 7,500' and Trail Ridge Road reaches over 12,000'. I assure you that altitude sickness is not fun. Arriving early enough for acclimation is the best defense.

I will be authorized by the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, to conduct services in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Sign Up or Ask Questions!

Contact me at Bryan@Carnathan.com.

Big Bedded Bull Bugling in Rocky Mountain National Park

What Participants Said

I participated in a Rocky Mountain National Park workshop sponsored by Bryan Carnathan concentrating on "Elk in Rut", and it surpassed all my expectations by a wide margin. Not only did we photograph elk, we were also able to get stunning pictures of the Milky Way as well as sunrise and sunsets.

Bryan was a consummate professional and patient instructor, quickly learning each participant's level of expertise and conveying his thoughts and recommendations in terms each of us could easily understand. Bryan encouraged questions on any aspect of photography and equipment. His vast knowledge was obvious and he freely shared it with us. No question was too trivial.

Bryan led the daily search for elk in several of the park's meadows with an emphasis on sun position and surrounding scenery, which would produce the best composition. The closest herd, which may have had a spectacular bull, was not always the best subject due to the hordes of photographers it would attract, sun angle, or objects which would have been in the field of view such as fences, vehicles and other photographers. Bryan ensured we only went after herds which would provide the best overall composition.

The theme of the workshop was "Elk in Rut", but my takeaway was composition, composition, composition. Bryan was continually encouraging us to look at the whole picture, not just the majestic bull elk in front of us. Bryan was very subtle when providing advice, making it more like a "you might consider" or "what do you think about," requiring you to analyze his recommendation instead of just doing it. Very effective.

Toward the end of the week, I found myself analyzing shots prior to taking them instead of just shooting away as I was doing at the start of the workshop, resulting in fewer yet much better pictures being taken. Composition, Composition, Composition.

A bonus to the elk photography was photographing the center of the Milky Way over a stunning setting and sunrise at Dream Lake. Both were great learning experiences we hadn't expected.

This was my first workshop, and it was a success beyond my wildest imagination. I sincerely hope to participate in other workshops conducted by Bryan and most strongly recommend others to do so. You won't be disappointed!

— David W.

I had the pleasure of going on a Photography tour with Bryan Carnathan of The-Digital-Picture.com to Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). If you have never been on a tour you should check out Bryan's site for upcoming events. Bryan does everything first class, from accommodations, transportation, in field/post assistance, plus just being an all-around great person that will answer any question you have about photography. The primary objective was the rutting elk, but you will see on future posts, it was much more. On this tour, I met two great guys/photographers. I now have two more friends in my photography world.

I have no doubt we will be seeing you again sometime in the next year or so.

P.S. the Milky Way nights and our morning hike to dream lake were out of this world, thanks again!

— Perry and Susan E.

This trip was one of the most interesting photoshoots I have ever attended. Bryan knew where to take us to have the best chance of getting up close and personal with the elk. We were fortunate to see a bull moose and on another day a female moose with her calf. To see the bull elk fighting and hearing the antlers clashing was amazing, and to hear them bugling in the forest will leave you in awe. His knowledge of the habits of the elk really helped us to understand what was going on and what to look for to get the best photo. During the photos shoots he was very good about reminding us about the background and our light source.

Our morning sunrise shoot at Dream Lake was great. I've never photographed the Milky Way before, and Bryan made sure I was using the right settings. Bryan answered all our questions about the technical aspects of our cameras and lenses and showed us how to get the most out of our equipment. In the evening he would help with the post production work of our photos if we needed it. The accommodations were 5 star, and I wouldn't hesitate to take another trip with him.

— Jim P.

The Rocky Mountain National Park tour with Bryan was fantastic! I witnessed the park in its fall glory as well as the mighty Elk in rut — neither disappointed and while the primary focus was Elk, the many landscape opportunities were seized upon. This is a great tour for those folks starting out and for those who are looking for more of a challenge. This was my second tour with Bryan, and he has been a wonderful mentor for me in my photography journey.

Daniel D.

Thank you for the recent "Elk in Rut' photo tour! It greatly exceeded my expectations!

I tried to keep an open mind with no pre-conceived notions. In fact, this letter is somewhat difficult for me to compose. In trying to critique I find only one item lacking from our itinerary and that would be extra time in the day. I am spoiled beyond all help. From 11:30am Sunday until 10:00am Saturday I experienced the complete package. Almost every controllable detail was foreseen and covered. From the accommodations, planning, photographic knowledge that you shared, and most of all the abundance of Elk that you were able to guide us to!

I expected to see a few elk but the numbers and the action gave us many opportunities to get some great photos! You also did your best to accommodate each person's desires to capture those hard to get photos. You have set the standard by which all others will be judged, even your own trips. I can hardly wait to sign up for the next photo tour!

Thank you again for your dedication to delivering a first-class experience!

... wishing I was there again! Thank you again for a great workshop! I really enjoyed the size, the people, and most of all your instruction and patience!

— Glenn S.

Portrait of a Huge Bull Elk, Rocky Mountain National Park

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