Friday, June 24, 2011

Pennsylvania Elk Photography: Fast Lenses Needed?

6x7 On Winslow Hill: Low Light Requires Fast Lenses
During my recent trip to Pennsylvania Elk Country, I stopped by the Elk Country Visitors Center and purchased "How I Photograph the Pennsylvania Elk" by Bob Shank.  The book is only 39 pages long, but it is chock full of good advice and information about a wide range of subjects ranging from where to find the elk, the proper equipment to use, elk viewing etiquette and more.

In chapter 2" Techniques for Making Quality Photographs", and again in "Photo Equipment and Software" in chapter 5, Bob stresses the importance of large f stop lenses,  for their ability to capture wildlife in extremely low-lighting conditions such as morning and evening when elk are most active, and for their shallow depth of field at the wider f stops, which  isolates the subject from the background.  He recommends a  f2.8 lens such as the 70-200mm f2.8.  This trip served to  highlight the importance of such lenses as most of my encounters with bulls were in very low lighting conditions, which required lenses of F4 or larger for best results.

The first photo posted today was taken at 6:15 in the morning at ISO 400mm with the Canon 70-200mm f2.8L lens.  I did stop it down to F4 to increase the chances that both the antlers and the tip of the nose would be acceptably sharp.  This called for a 1/50 second shutter speed, which required the subject to be standing perfectly still with no movement on the part of the photographer.  In this case the rig was mounted on a Gitzo tripod with Wimberley head and the camera was fired by a remote release to lessen the chance of camera movement.

The following photo was taken even earlier that morning at 5:56 am. I was filming this bachelor group of bulls with the Canon 7D and the 70-200mm when at one point I paused, put the camera in still mode and fired a few frames at 1/30 sec. f3.2 ISO 640.

Bachelor Group In Rain
On another morning I found one of these bulls alternating between grazing and browsing before he went into the woods for the day.  Again the situation required low shutter speeds and wide f stops.

 1/80 Sec. f2.8
1/60 Sec. f3.2
Excellent photos can certainly be taken with slower lenses, but when one is upgrading they should consider the faster f2.8 and f4 models.  It is also good to look for a lens that has a consistent f stop throughout the zoom range, but like most good things in life this does not come cheap.  At this point my two favorite elk lenses are the Canon 70-200mm F2.8L IS lens, and the 300mm F2.8 L IS.  No matter how much one may like the prime lenses such as the 300mm F2.8, the 500mm F4, or the 600mm F4, it seems that  the 70-200mm receives the most use for elk, as the other lenses are too powerful in many cases. This changes, however; when photographing at the restricted areas such as the Gilbert or the Dents Run Viewing Area, where elk are often at long distance and the power of the long primes is a welcome feature.

Be sure to stop by Elk Country Visitor Center and check out Bob's book, which is for sale in the gift shop there.  Also visit his blog,  Bob Shank Photography  for interesting and informative writing about sports and wildlife photography, and for information about he and Dick McCreight's  "Pennsylvania Elk Photography Experience". which features workshops on the natural history of elk, photography equipment, and Adobe Lightroom.  To see Bob's book online or to order visit:

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Pennsyilvania Elk Herd Increases As Calves Are Born

Most Pennsylvania Elk Calves Are Born In Early To Mid-June
Most Pennsylvania elk calves are born from late May to mid-June, with Carol Mulvihill reporting in her May 28th "Endeavor News" column, that she had her  first calf sighting of the year on May 22, but it seems that most are born somewhat later--most likely during the first two weeks of June.

I spent several days in Pennsylvania Elk Country last week, photographing, and filming the young calves and bulls in velvet.   The Pennsylvania Game Commission again hosted the "Wild About Elk" workshop, which it has held for the past several years (I attended last year).  The workshop is geared toward giving educators and outdoor writers, etc.  the tools they need to promote interest in elk and other wildlife among their students, or other target audience as the case might be.  I was fortunate enough to encounter PGC Northcentral Regional Biologist, Tony Ross Wednesday morning on Winslow Hill where he was helping to conduct a tour of SGL 311, which is an integral part of the workshop.  I first met Tony when he conducted a training session for our Game Lands Management Group, soon after I became a Maintenance Supervisor for the PGC in 2002.  I have encountered him a few times since over the years including at last year's workshop, and it was good to have another opportunity to chat about past experiences, elk biology, and photography.  Soon Ron "Buckwheat" Saffer, and Paul Staniszewski arrived and joined in the discussion.

Northcentral Regional Biologist, Tony Ross and Ron Saffer Discuss Elk Biology And Habitat
Paul Staniszewski Contributes To Discussion
 Mr. Ross remarked on how much Winslow Hill has changed in the past few years due to the reclamation work, and there was general agreement as to the astounding beauty of the view from the area in which we were standing atop "The Saddle" and how the planting of  grains and grasses, and strips of nut producing trees for food, and evergreens  for winter cover benefits wildlife. None of the open areas in the photo below, existed before 2007, but they are now havens for elk, deer, turkeys, and other game and non-game wildlife species.  There is a common misconception that more trees is always better, but many species thrive best in a mixture of woodlands and openings and a mixed habitat such as is shown in the photo below will support more wildlife than a forested monoculture.

Reclaimed Strip Mines Maintained As Food Plots Are Perfect Elk Habitat
Reverting meadows, which feature a mixture of grasses, weeds, and shrubs are also excellent habitat, and are favorite spots for elk to give birth, as the grasses and shrubs provide food for the cows, and excellent cover in which the newborn animals may hide from predators.

 Look closely at the photo below and you will note a cow standing in the center of the meadow and back somewhat toward the treeline.  The animal was there at dark on Thursday evening before, was still there at dawn on Friday and had not left the spot by 9:00 am.  This indicated that she was ready to give birth or had already done so.

Reverting Meadows Make Prime Habitat For Young Calves
I took several photographs of her with the 500mmF4 and when I loaded them in Photoshop after arriving home, I was amazed to see proof positive that birth had occurred.  Look closely at the photo below and you can see afterbirth materials dangling from the cow. (click to enlarge)

Afterbirth Is Still Attached To Cow
Stay tuned as we cover more highlights from the trip in the near future.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill