7x6 Bull Elk Bugling in the Meadow, Rocky Mountain National Park

I just returned from over two weeks of chasing the elk rut (and landscapes and nightscapes), including nearly two weeks of leading small photography groups in Rocky Mountain National Park.

With the incredible performance of the cameras now available, selecting a small number of images to share is daunting, to say the least. The image shared here was low-hanging fruit. Why do I like it?

The subject is a good starting point. Elk make great photo subjects, and this bull is an especially great specimen, having a big body and a large set of antlers, with all points visible. Also, all four legs are partially visible (no overlap).

Bugling is one of the primary elk rut activities, and this bull, angled slightly toward the camera, has his nose up and curled back. The high head position better facilitates a catchlight.

The cloudy sky provided even lighting void of harsh shadows.

The 600mm f/4 compression and shallow depth of field combined with a low shooting position render the foreground and background strongly blurred, making the subject stand out. At the same time, the juxtaposition of the blurred items is complementary to the bull.

While working on a monopod is significantly more demanding than working on a tripod, the monopod permits fast position adjustment that makes captures such as this one possible.

When photographing wildlife in dim light levels, it is advantageous to use a relatively slow shutter speed to enable optimally bright images with a lower ISO setting for less noise. However, motion-blurred subjects are not usually acceptable.

Elk seldom move fast when bugling, and the bugle usually lasts long enough for a quick adjustment before shooting. However, once the bugle is completed, the bull may suddenly chase after another animal. This fast action requires a significantly faster shutter speed.

I use manual exposure mode with the ISO set to Auto to enable quick shutter speed adjustment. A quick roll of the top dial takes the camera from still motion to fast action shutter speeds in a fraction of a second, with the ISO automatically adjusting as needed.

To accommodate auto exposures being affected by bright grass or a dark forest (both seen in this image), I adjust exposure compensation. That adjustment is simply the turn of a dial on the Sony Alpha 1.

Camera and Lens Settings
600mm  f/4.0  1/320s
ISO 400
8640 x 5760px
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