Humans are not the only inhabitants of this world. All wildlife share an important role in the world ecosystem. Telling their tale takes patience and knowledge but it is important that we document their stories while they are still here.
There is one doctrine that all Wildlife Photographers need to abide by. No Photograph is worth endangering the life of the subject.
There is no better time to work with large mammals in North American then Fall. Living in the Rocky Mountains has taught me this lesson because the behavior and physical characteristics of each species are far more interesting then any other time of the year. On top of that the color pallet of their fur coats combined with the foliage makes for more natural looking and less contrasty images which in my mind is visually more appealing.
Fall is when the rut begins for the ungulates of North America. This is when the males battle each other for dominance in order to get the females. Mating season for Elk, Deer and Sheep vary throughout the fall months but all are trying to mate while the females are in heat. The gestation period for each species also varies with offspring coming out sometime in the spring. Weather can be a factor in all of this which is why it’s important to watch both weather and the species to see when the best photographic opportunities will be.
So what does all this mean when it comes to your photography? Well wildlife photography is all about biology. You have to know your biology of each species that you are trying to photograph in order to get the best images. If you want that classic shot of the two male Bighorn Sheep butting horns together then you need to know when they are competing for the females. If you want the Bull Elk with the massive racks then you need to be watching the herds throughout Summer and watch the growth of the individuals. There are many little things to watch for but that’s what you gotta do. Now the one benefit to these mammals in the Fall months is that they usually are so concerned about the females being in heat that they tend to ignore us photographers. That’s not a blank check to go do whatever you want, because you still need to be respectful, but it can make photographing them a little easier.
When it comes to working with large mammals there are a number of ways to work with them. Whether it’s a long lens like the 600 f/4 or even a 70-200 VRII, it really all comes down to the story in which you are trying to tell. I’ve used a 70-300 VR with Bighorn Sheep in order to get a shot of just one individual, to capturing the movement of the rams butting heads. I’ve used a 200-400 VR to capturing groups of Pronghorn and even portrait shots. This here Bull Elk in Yellowstone was a straight 600mm and it only fills half of the frame. So it really depends on the situation and what you’re trying to achieve. One of my go to’s is driving with a 200-400 on my lap and then switching out once I arrive at a location. I like being prepared that way. Now this is an older image but it’s one my favorites because it says a lot about Fall and Large Game. This is why Fall is the best because of the color pallet between the fur and the foliage of the season. So much is going on because of the light bouncing off of everything creating the differences in color. Could I have gone tighter? Working today with the D5, in this scenario, High Speed Crop or even a Teleconverter would’ve worked to get a portrait. To me that wasn’t what I saw when I came upon this scenario, so in that sense you will have to make your own calls as far as how tight or wide you go. If at all possible try and do both.
The one side element I want to bring up is clothing. Since it is Fall that means the temperatures are going down. The best light is often in the morning or the evening but that’s not always a guarantee. Sometimes you have to be patient and wait outside for something to happen which means you have to stay warm. Animals don’t like a lot of motion, they attribute that to a predator. So going back and forth from your car doesn’t work. Bring lots of layers just in case.
With all wildlife you need to be respectful. If you follow the realms of wildlife photography, then you probably hear the stories of close encounters and might have seen some of the videos that pop up of people being too close. No photograph is worth any of that. These creatures are bigger and stronger then us. They deserve our respect and thus safe viewing distance.
Wildlife Blog Posts
- Long Lens, Low Light
- Have you seen the Rut?
- How to Work a Big Flock
- When You Need That 2x
- Ahhh, A New One For the Files
- The Other Spring Visitors
- Columbia Ground Squirrels are Spring Markers
- The Cutest Spring Kids
- They Make For Good Practice