Wildlife photo tips

September is breeding season for elk, known as “rut,” from the Latin meaning “roar.” If you’ve ever been around a male elk in the fall, you’ll know why. As the bull (male) elks descend to lower elevations to mate, they bellow to attract females. This is known as bugling, and the sounds can range from deep tones to high-pitch squeals to grunts.


More than 3,200 elk reside in Rocky Mountain National Park in the summer months, and their bugling can be heard all night in September and October. That makes it the perfect time to head out on an elk bugling trip with CWRAG, camera in hand.


To help you make the most of your memories, here are a few tips on capturing fantastic wildlife images, straight from some of the world’s best photographers.


Photo by Tom Hisgett, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Realize that you’ll need to maintain a safe distance, and pack the long lense, says Chuck Davis, a self-taught photographer who has captured everything from desert mountains to coral reefs. Davis also recommends adjusting your camera’s settings to take six shots a second to capture subtle changes in the animal’s expression.


And don’t forget the basics, Davis warns. Draw attention to your subject by framing it; between trees, or using a road or stream as a line. And remember the most basic photography tip: the rule of thirds.  Divide the camera frame into nine equal squares and position the subject at one of the four intersecting corners of the grid.


An example of the rule of thirds. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Wildlife photographer Morkel Erasmus has captured some of his most stunning images by getting down and dirty. Erasmus recommends getting eye-level or lower. That might mean lying on the ground, or fighting your way through some tall grass. The difference in perspective is illustrated in Erasmus’ two images of an African Painted Dog. The second was shot by lying on the ground, making it come alive.


African Painted Dogs. Photos property of Morkel Erasmus

John Denvries explains why shooting up at animals makes for better photos:

“If you shoot looking down on your subject, be it an animal or bird or whatever, you will make it look as though you have dominance over it —  and it looks less significant. If you want to portray a sense of vulnerability, then that is fine, but more often than not, we are trying to do the opposite and make our subject look important or dramatic.”


The animal doesn’t always have to dominate your shot. Photographer Grant Ordelheide recommends thinking wide. Include some of the natural habitat with the animal to create a story of what its daily life is like.


A Guanco in front of the Cordillera del Paine (The Towers of Pain) in Chile. Photo property of Grant Ordelheide.

The one piece of advice every photographer had? Be patient!


You’re in the elk’s environment, there to observe. Some of their behavior might be, well, boring, but never forget that you’re in the presence of a powerful and magnificent creature. If you hang around long enough, you’re bound to witness some of that majesty.

An elk in Rocky Mountain National Park. Photo courtesy of DW Ross (

Call Colorado Wilderness Rides and Guides today to book your elk bugling trip: 720-242-9828
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