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.


Anonymous said...

Hi Willard!

Thanks for the review of my book. I definitely believe the fast lenses are invaluable for wildlife photography. My favorite lens is the f/2.8 70-200mm and I am saving up for the 4/4 200-400mm. I also love my f/2.8 24-70mm but it isn't long enough for wildlife photography.

Visitors to your blog can see my book online here:

Thanks so much!


Ruth Hiebert said...

Lovely pictures.

Unknown said...

Very informative post.


sfriel said...

Ron told me you were going to be there I just can't get down there. I have the Canon 70-200 2.8is and I love it. I would recommend it to anyone. Very nice work here Willard.
Steve Friel

V.L. Locey said...

Wonderful images Willard,as always!

Anonymous said...

I actually sold my Canon f/4 70-200mm lens for just over a thousand dollars. I used that to buy the f/3.5 Tamron 18-270mm lens that I am still learning how to use.

I would buy any f/2.8 lens out there but I really don't need it here in my backyard. It is a big piece of glass to be sure and captures an amazing amount of light.

We can also rent the lenses of our dreams here at the camera store. I have friends who will do that for a weekend and it isn't that expensive.