Bugling Bull Elk with Breath, Rocky Mountain National Park

Two weeks of guiding elk photography in Rocky Mountain National Park resulted in a rather overwhelming number of images. Selecting the keepers is a huge project, and deciding which image to share first was daunting. It seems that everyone loves breath shots, so I'll start with that option.

This bull walked in so close to us that it didn't fit in the 600mm frame when its head was turned. While I liked the tight image that crops the back of the antlers, I knew that having the entire elk and its breath in the frame might be an option I later wanted.

To avail that option, additional images containing the cropped content on the left and right were captured immediately after the primary image, and the three images were manually stitched in Photoshop as a panorama.

This image utilized a camera position near the ground, just high enough to create a blur that transitions into the animal's legs, and elk legs are one of my favorite leading line sources, especially when they are equally spaced apart. The relatively close proximity of the elk combined with the distant background creates a strong background blur that makes this bull stand out.

Getting obvious breath in an image requires cold temperatures and a supporting background. While I could see the breath in many other images by the changes apparent when browsing one after the other, light-colored and detailed backgrounds often hide the breath in single images. A dark background and backlighting create an ideal scenario for making the breath element obvious.

Camera and Lens Settings
600mm  f/4.0  1/400s
ISO 5000
7967 x 8843px
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