I just love photographing the elk here in Pennsylvania. No matter how many times I get out in a given year, I still cannot wait to head to the mountains of Elk County to do it all over again. One would think that after so many years of photographing the elk there wouldn’t be any more shots to get. Nothing could be further from the truth! First of all, there are always new elk making their impressions on the scene. Secondly, elk are as unpredictable as any other wildlife species, so I sometimes see things I’ve never photographed before and these are now on my list. The possibilities are just endless!
My favorite photographs are typically the action shots. Photographs of two bulls locking antlers, elk crossing the creek, or two cows boxing are just a few of these types of action shots. My second favorite photograph of the elk are what I call portraits. They depict the elk in their natural habitat and show a pose of the elk. I try to get a highlight or catch-light in the eye closest to the camera and try my best to portray the elk as best as possible.
Here is one such elk portrait in today’s post. Do you think I captured a decent portrait of this bull elk?
Back in September I watched excitedly as a small herd of elk crossed the creek. The water wasn’t all that high, but it wasn’t shallow either. The cows went across first and carefully made their way to the other side. In the midst of their crossing, I saw this little calf making its way across the creek, too. Then I wondered, how dangerous is this crossing for the elk, especially for the calves?
We humans take many things for granted–bridges, for example. There aren’t too many times when we have to ford a stream or creek these days. Perhaps the elk’s four legs help them manage the slippery rocks better than our two legs, but I am sure it is still somewhat precarious for them. I could tell that the elk were methodical as they gently stepped into the water and then slowly made their way across the stream. None of them fell or even stumbled. Then the bull followed and made his way across, bringing up the rear.
But my interest was with the smallest of the elk–the calf. It made its way across successfully but this photograph shows just how high the water was for this little calf.
Getting exposure right in the camera is important to me. I aim to get the best exposed photograph on site rather than just grabbing a shot willy nilly and then correcting it in software. I suppose this goes back to my film days when capturing the correct exposure was absolutely necessary with the camera. Sometimes I miss those days, but that’s another story for another time.
Capturing the correct exposure not only makes our work easier in post-processing, but it shows that we know how to use our camera, too. Some photographers are so good at seeing the light that they can predict with incredible accuracy which f-stop and shutter speed to use! I am not that good most of the time, but I do know how to use my cameras exposure meter to get it right. Still, there are times when proper exposure is not so cut and dry or as easy as we’d like to make it.
Take for example this photo of a bull elk I captured on a recent trip to Elk County. It was a rainy morning and my main focus was photographing the elk of Pennsylvania. I didn’t notice it until I got home, but this shot showed the drops of rain on the trees in an incredible way. The droplets of rain which formed on the end of the branches produced a spectacle of light behind the bull elk. It was neat!
However, the elk was took dark. When I slightly corrected the exposure the bull looked better but it appeared to me that the droplets of rain were not as clear or pronounced. I guess it may be because the main subject now properly exposed caused the whole photograph to be somewhat lighter. This appeared to shift the focus of the photograph off the droplets of rain and onto the bull elk. This is normally exactly what I want since I am a wildlife photographer, but I was torn on this image because of the change in look it created. Perhaps the proper exposure does depend on what we want the main subject to be in an image. Here the two different exposures of this photo. Which one do you like best?
I guess I am a purist of sorts. Perhaps it was the education I received at Temple University when I earned my communications degree back in 1987. I like my photography to depict real-life situations and tell the story exactly as it was seen by me. For example, I never use Photoshop to remove a collar from an elk. I know some photographers who do this extremely well and they are definitely better in Photoshop than I. And I don’t knock them for what they do, I just prefer a different route in my own photography I guess. To me there is no right or wrong here–just a preference, and I prefer to keep my photos as they were captured. I do some crop some of my photos once in a while, but to me this is a little different from removing part of an image that is seen as the main subject. Go ahead and call me a purist and I promise not to knock you for removing a collar in Photoshop.
Those of us who photograph the Pennsylvania Elk see these collars often. They are radio transmitters used by the Pennsylvania Game Commission to assist in tracking the elk herd. This research tool is quite helpful I am sure, but as a photographer, I prefer to see elk without the big yellow or brown collars attached to their necks. Again, I am a purist. However, the collars some elk wear are part of the elk story and culture on Winslow Hill. So documenting and even photographing them makes sense to me even though I usually prefer to show only those elk without collars.
So yesterday, when I saw a blog entry by my photo friend, Brad Myers, and a comment by Coy Hill; I did a little digging. Brad and Coy were discussing the 8A bull, which is a beautiful bull this year! He garnered a lot of attention during the rut. I went back through my photographs and found these photos of the bull known as 8A, since that is the description on his yellow collar. I am kind of embarrassed that I did not post any photos of this bull earlier. And I most likely would not have posted any photos of him without the prompting of Brad’s and Coy’s blog conversation. I hope these photos help tell a little more of the Pennsylvania Elk story and help to show just what a magnificent bull is 8A!
Staying with my theme that you never know what you might see out in the wild, here is a photograph of a very wet groundhog I saw last month in Elk County. I was photographing the turkey when I happened to see this little dude looking for some food. It was comical to me. He was running around and looked almost like a drenched rat. He found plenty to eat though!
Groundhogs were a nuisance back where I grew up in Lancaster County. They like to burrow and they make large holes in the fields. Farmers do not readily see these large holes and can damage a hay wagon or other machinery when a wheel drops down in one. A broken wheel or axle and an angry farmer is not a pretty sight for a groundhog!
This little guy was not creating much damage, at least on this day. He was just out in the rain looking for food. Again, I wish I had a larger zoom lens to fill the frame more, but at least this shot reminds me of that day and the wet groundhog!