PA Elk Rut

Thank you to all my photo friends who I had the privilege of sharing this week with during the PA elk rut on Winslow Hill. I had an incredible time with you! Thanks Dick, Brad, Willard, Coy, John, Buckwheat, and Odie! I also had the privilege of meeting Dave Anderson and he showed me his painting of Fred, which is absolutely awesome!

I will be posting stories and photos of my week’s experience in elk country but I wanted to say a big “thank you” to my photo friends who I appreciate so much! Our camaraderie and common passion for photography and the PA elk are truly appreciated by me.

Thank you!

Recent Trip to Elk County, PA

Last week my son, James, and I ventured to our favorite spot–Elk County, Pennsylvania. Oh, I know this doesn’t have the romantic sound like Yellowstone, Big Sur, or The Everglades have, but it is the home of a herd of elk here in Pennsylvania and we have a little camp that we like to frequent up on Winslow Hill. We thoroughly enjoy viewing, observing, and photographing the wildlife–especially the elk! I’ve been going to Elk County, PA for over 20 years now and we just cannot seem to get enough! Fortunately for me, James shares this passion with me!

So last week we spent three days there and we had a blast!

On one of our “elk runs,” where we drive to the spots which seem to hold elk, James spotted a cow right alongside the road. I could not see it at first because the guard rail blocked my view. I stopped so James could snap a few quick photos while no other vehicles were coming down the road and I scanned the road ahead for a place to pull off. Stopping on the main thoroughfares and blocking traffic is a nuisance, in bad taste, drives the locals absolutely nuts, and is illegal. Still, some elk observers get so excited about seeing the elk that they simply forget some of the basic rules of elk-viewing etiquette. I quickly found a place to safely pull completely off the road and then we walked back toward the cow with our cameras. James was out ahead of me and once he got closer to the cow I immediately saw that she was accepting of his presence. She was busy eating grass and only looked up once to see who was there and then just went back to eating. We spent approximately 20 minutes photographing this cow elk and she never once showed any sign of alarm or fear of us. We photographed to our heart’s content and she made a most excellent model!

Eventually another car came by and parked safely on the opposite side of the road to get a closer view and capture a few photographs, too. Again, the cow took a glance at her new neighbors and simply went back to feeding in the grass. Photographers and clicking cameras were simply no big deal to her! As the sun continued to get lower in the August sky, she slowly fed away from us. We captured some nice, close photos and were blessed to spend quality time with such a beautiful mammal. Her summer coat shone brightly in the early evening light and all was well in her world and in ours. Nature and wildlife are incredible!

Can you begin to see why James and I enjoy Elk County, Pennsylvania so much? Here are two photos I captured that evening with my old, backup camera the Nikon D70. The old boy still works and captures some half-way decent images. I cannot think of any better way to spend a summer evening!

Pennsylvania Elk Photo Experience – Fall Rut 2011

There is absolutely no place I would rather be in the fall than in Benezette, Pennsylvania photographing the beautiful and majestic elk of Pennsylvania. The fall colors, the active bugling bull elk, and the excitement of the fall rut bring sounds and sights that are just out of this world! Photographing these amazing sights is high on my list of must-do experiences every year.

My good friend and photography colleague, Dick McCreight, and I enjoy leading photo trips on the elk range each fall. We particularly enjoy sharing how we photograph the elk with those interested in learning helpful photo skills to do the same. We take viewing etiquette very seriously, so our numbers are small so we can both teach outdoor photo skills to you while keeping our impact on the elk range to a minimum.

This fall photo trip will be our 6th trip and we cannot wait to be out with our cameras photographing the elk!

If you enjoy wildlife photography and want to learn how to take better photographs, then this is the perfect trip for you. Our photo trip features three in-depth workshops where we discuss camera set-up & use, wildlife photography, history of the PA elk, and editing photographs in Adobe Lightroom. You will definitely learn new photo skills in these workshops! Then we take what we learn from each other and put it all into use as we take a minimum of six excursions on the elk range to capture the excitement with our cameras. Each evening we share our photographs of the day and enjoy constructive critiques on our five best photos of the day.

Digital photography has come a long way in recent years. The problem is learning how to use this new technology to capture the photos of your dreams. This trip will not only help you learn how to do this, but will put you in a position to capture the magnificent elk of Pennsylvania with your camera!

Click here to find out more info about these photo trips. Click here to see some photos of previous photo trips and click here to view a slideshow of what our trips offer. Feel free to email any questions you may have about these trips. We are confident that you will not only find our photo trip to be educational but also entertaining and filled with loads of photo fun! Try it out this year by attending our PA Photo Elk Experience–it will be an experience of a lifetime!

Bob Shank & Dick McCreight

Chillin’ Bull

My son and I came across this bull in the small village of Benezette. He was in town just chillin’–laying comfortably beside the road not seemingly bothered by all the attention he was getting! He is not a gigantic bull by any means, but he will hopefully be some day. He looked rather majestic at times and I am hoping we get the opportunity to watch him grow over the next 10 years.

The weekend of New Year’s we saw a lot of elk and two nice bulls. We saw some small bulls, too, but two were 7x7s. It was good to see that at least a few big bulls are still around after the elk hunting season. We do not see as many of the big bulls as we used to before the elk hunt started again. I understand that hunters want the trophy bulls, but I agree with Willard Hill that a healthy balance needs to be struck between the hunters and those of us who like to view and photograph the elk. I am happy to see that more and more hunters are going back to using bows, as I also prefer them to guns. There was a time when I used to collect and assemble the upper parts for AR-15’s with the other equipments, to make the perfect range gun. But now, I would rather invest in the best compound bow for the money, and take time practicing the skill than relying on advanced weapons against these beautiful creatures. I have been a hunter for 33 years, but I choose to photograph the PA elk rather than hunting them more and more often. I do believe that hunting is a viable and good solution to manage wildlife. It just needs to be done sensibly and with respect to all parties involved including those who enjoy viewing and watching the elk. After all, we now have a Visitor Center up on Winslow Hill so we need to have elk to view. I believe keeping some of the big bulls alive not only makes sense but is imperative.

Balance is a difficult goal. I am not nieve enough to believe the attempt to keep everyone happy is possible. In fact, this shouldn’t even be the goal. However, balance is the key.

New Year’s on Winslow Hill

Lydia, James, and I spent the New Year holiday up on Winslow Hill. This is a perfect time to get away to the quiet mountains and celebrate the passing of one year into all the hope and anticipation of a new one. It is a time for reflection. I counted my blessings acknowledging that this year I was able to spend more time in the mountains. My son also bagged his first buck, so that was another blessing. Time spent photographing the Pennsylvania elk is still another. Blessings abounded this past year!

It is also a time to look ahead with anticipation upon the new year. What will this year bring? How many times will I get out to photograph wildlife? Will there be any noteworthy photo purchases this year? What will I learn? What will I see? Where will I go? I am getting eager and excited just thinking about it!

Reflecting, pondering, hoping, and wondering are all important components to any New Year’s celebration. And I can think of nowhere better to do this than up in the mountains on Winslow Hill!

I wonder what this bull is thinking as he looks ahead to a new year?

Sunset Skies

I like sunsets.

I’d like sunrises more, too, if they didn’t happen so early in the morning! Actually, I do get up to photograph sunrises when I am at the beach and other locations that provide beautiful sunrises. It’s just that where I live there are mountains all around so the sun rises later and is already too bright.

This sunset was captured in Elk County looking out from the front of our cabin. It’s one of my favorite scenes to observe and this sunset was awesome. The photo doesn’t really do it justice, but I do like this photo anyway.

I always like to say, “There’s no place like the mountains.” And scenes like this only prove this to be the case. I love the mountains!



The layout or composition of a photograph is important.

There are some general guidelines in composition, such as not cutting off subjects at their joints or chopping the top of their head off at the top of the photograph. Two other important compositional guidelines are the rule of thirds and horizon lines.

Let’s start with horizon lines. When photographing a subject make sure the photograph is not cut exactly in half with the horizon line going directly through the middle of the photo. This just doesn’t look good. To show more of the sky and clouds, drop the horizon line to roughly one-third of the way from the bottom of the photo. Alternatively, to show more of the landscape, pop the horizon line to roughly one-third of the way from the top of the photo. Compare photographs that follow this guideline with a photo that cuts the horizon right through the middle of the photo and see what you think.

The rule of thirds is another very helpful compositional guideline. Imagine your photograph has lines that resemble a tic-tac-toe board overlaying your photo. This pattern divides your photo in thirds both horizontally and vertically. Now note where these lines intersect. This guideline suggests you put your subject on one of these intersecting lines rather than dead in the middle of the photo like a bullseye.

The photograph here follows the rule of the thirds. The top of the calf’s head is at the top right of the imaginary intersecting lines. This produces a more pleasing composition. The body of the calf is also not right in the middle of the photograph, so it also follows the horizon guideline correctly.

Work with these two compositional guidelines in your photograph and see if they make a difference. My guess is that you will produce more pleasing and compositionally correct photographs.

Bull Elk Portrait

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?

The Bull Known as 8A

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!

A Bull Fight & a Fight with Noise

Tuesday evening produced an invigorating scene for over a hundred spectators who happened to be at the Elk County Visitor Center. It was getting close to dusk and a herd of cows and at least 7 bulls were in the field to the left of the Visitor Center. The rut was in the air and the tension was thick with the anticipation of two elk battling it out for the cows. The tension turned to realization as two bulls met head-to-head. Cows quickly ran in the opposite direction as these two big boys fought it out. And fight they did! It was absolutely amazing to witness these large bulls push each other as they locked antlers. It was a fight that rivaled any other fight I ever witnessed between two comparable bulls.

The fight lasted over six minutes. Many witnesses to these elk battles often exaggerate the actual time because it does appear that time stands still during these bullish fights. But we checked the metadata in our cameras after the conflict and verified the length of this battle to be over six minutes! There was not a lot of clashing of antlers in this fight–it was more of a brutal pushing match. Other bulls were close by to witness the end result and all of us bystanders were amazed at the sheer strength of these amazing animals. It was a fight worthy of two royal bulls. In the end, one was the victor and the other walked the other way.

Photographers who shoot digitally face fights with noise especially as we increase the ISO settings in our cameras. This was necessary the night these two bulls fought because it was very close to dusk and light was fading fast. I actually shot this image at an ISO setting of 1,600 in my Nikon D300. I knew noise was going to be an issue with these images. Fortunately, the newer cameras handle noise better than the old ones ever did. I would never have thought about shooting at this ISO setting with my old Nikon D70. But the D300 handles noise much better. In addition, Lightroom 3.0 does a great job of noise reduction.

Here is one of the images I captured of the bull-fight that Tuesday night. It was shot at ISO 1,600 and edited in Lightroom 3.0. What do you think of this image? Did the newer equipment and software win the battle against noise?