How I Photograph the Pennsylvania Elk is a book I wrote to share my methods of how I photograph the beautiful Pennsylvania Elk. I don’t pretend to be an expert on the subject; I just wanted to share with others what works for me. I am blessed to have incredible mentors who shared with me and now I am sharing my photography passion in return.
Over the past 22 years I have spent time walking through the hills of Elk County near Benezette, PA. I own some property up on Winslow Hill and thoroughly enjoy every minute I get to spend up there! My photo passion has increased greatly over the last four years and some of my photographs appeared in a few newspapers and the Pennsylvania Game News. I also have postcards, matted prints, photo buttons, and printed copies of my book available for sale at the Elk Country Visitor Center.
Wildlife photography is like nothing else in the world to me and I can’t wait to be out in nature trying to capture the beauty of God’s incredible creation! In this book I share some of my favorite methods of finding the elk. Then I share some techniques to make quality photographs. I also go through the seasons of the elk and talk about how to brave the elements when photographing them. Photo equipment is mentioned, too. My favorite chapter is “Don’t Just Shoot the Bull,” and encourages the photographer to aim the camera toward the cows, calves, and spikes, too!
The new eBook version can be uploaded to an iPad, and iPhone, or your computer.
Check it out here: How I Photograph the Pennsylvania Elk
Animal behavior shows a lot about their comfort level. If they are feeding, for example, this shows they are relaxed and not too worried about any impending danger. But most animals reveal specific behavioral signs that indicate when they are not happy. This bull is showing the whites of his eyes–a sign that he is not overly satisfied with me at the moment. I might be in his way to greener pastures, I might be too close to him, or I might be viewed as just in his way for whatever reason. The whites in his eyes show that is not relaxed.
Similarly, this cow is busy eating some grass, but her eyes show that is worried about something. At the very least, she is keeping a keen eye out for any sign of trouble.
We can photograph our subjects better when we learn more about them. It doesn’t matter what subject we are photographing either. When we learn more about our subject we will be able to get better photographs. So the next time you are out with your camera pay close attention to your subject. What do you see? Are there any signs that is putting your subject at ease? Or are there signs that indicate something is wrong.
Be patient, work slow, and pay attention to the animal’s behavior. It can tell us a lot!
This is a Pennsylvania bull elk. He is big but this is a different perspective from how I typically photograph these majestic animals.
This perspective takes in more of the surrounding environment where this bull roams. The foreground features a field of grass, which is turning to brown in the late fall when this photograph was captured. The background shows trees with just a hint of the changing color coming to the leaves.
The bull seems to be overshadowed by these surrounding elements and yet he appears to be just coming onto this scene. His majestic antlers are reflecting some of the light and they are huge!
What do you think of this different perspective?
This is a profile of a nice bull elk. I watched him for several hours one afternoon this fall. First he was feeding in a small field. Then he laid down to chew his cud. I took many photographs, went back to get my photo colleague, and returned to take more photos. It was an incredible site to say the least!
If you look closely at the top of this photograph you will see that this bull’s left antler is broken. It was broken most likely in a fight with another bull, and probably taking him out of contention with other competing bulls for the fall rut. Interestingly, he was accompanied by two cows earlier in the day but they wandered off in the middle of the afternoon. A bull with a broken antler is no match for a dominant bull and he knows it well.
Fights between bulls rarely are fights to the death, but broken antlers and punctures from antler tips are somewhat common. These bulls fight when they must and they fight hard. Capturing such a bull-fight is difficult with a camera for a variety of reasons. The aftermath of these fights are easier to photograph; like this broken bull profile.
Many photographers pack up their cameras and photo equipment when the sun gets high in the sky. This is understandable because the midday sunlight is often too harsh for good, quality photographs. However, some days provide excellent light even at midday.
This fall I was in the mountains of Elk County, Pennsylvania during a rainy week. It rained every day I was there! One afternoon I decided to take a walk. It was midday but it was cloudy. On my walk the clouds separated somewhat and the sunlight came pouring through. The light was absolutely beautiful!
Pay attention to the quality of light even at midday. Once in a while it will be okay to shoot photographs even when the sun is high in the sky.
I came across this bull elk after quite a hike. I heard some bulls bugling and did locate two of the three I heard, but it was far too thick with trees to capture any decent photographs. Somewhat rejected, I returned to a field I visited earlier in the afternoon. I was surprised to find two cows and this bull out in the field!
Elk can sometimes be predictable while other times they are completely unpredictable!
I was below this bull and set up my tripod carefully, hoping not to alarm or scare this guy. He just kept looking at me and studying every move. I was slow and deliberate and was able to capture this photograph and quite a few more. Eventually, he slowly stood up, reassessed his surroundings, and moseyed up the hill into the woods. Amazing! These mammals are absolutely amazing!
Bulls jockey for position to gather their harem in the breeding season. This is not an easy task, however. Other competing bulls constantly vie for the same cows. These competing bulls sometimes challenge the dominant bull hoping to oust them from their position and take their place.
These challenges often look like antler jousting as the two bulls butt heads and lock antlers. They push and shove each other and sometimes clash their antlers with a loud thud! Sometimes this results in a broken antler. This fall I saw at least two bulls with a broken antler. This one has a broken brow tine on his left side. The brow tine is the first antler from the bottom and the closes to the bull’s brow, hence the name “brow tine.” You might have to enlarge the photo so see this broken brow tine, but it is broken. Just another battle wound from the fall rut.
The elk rut each fall is a time of anticipation and excitement!
This year was no exception. In fact, this year turned out to be one of the best fall ruts I ever photographed! There is just something special about the fall season — the cooler air, the rich aromas, and the colorful sights all contribute to this unique time of year. The goldenrod is in full bloom at this time of year and it provides a wonderful background for photographs of elk. I just love the bright yellow colors!
Backgrounds are critical in photography. A bad background can ruin an otherwise excellent photograph. A good background can enhance even a mediocre photo. Backgrounds are critical, so learn to pay attention to the background when making photographs.
This background is nothing fancy. In fact, that’s why it works. The white clouds in the background help to eliminate any distractions and help the subject of the bull elk stand out in this photo. I do wish the blue sky was brighter, but otherwise I think this photo works. What do you think?
This bull is bugling in the fall rut as many bulls do, but I was struck by his somewhat unusual pose in this photograph.
His back legs are spread out slightly, which created an interesting angle in his left rear leg. The bugling posture is typical, with antlers tilted backward. I am not sure exactly what it is about this photograph that I like, but I do like it. Do you?