I have often written that bird photography isn’t easy and that it can be frustrating, wildlife photography can be much the same and my two recent sightings of Moose in the Wasatch Mountains can prove my point easily.
Bull Moose resting before dawn – Nikon D500, f5.6, 1/320, ISO 1600, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light
On the 26th of September I spotted a bull Moose bedded down which would normally cause me to jump for joy except that the sun had not yet risen over the mountains and the bull was still in what I would call pre-dawn lighting conditions. With the light being low I had to crank up my ISO to get any shutter speed at all and since I was shooting from inside a vehicle I couldn’t lock my camera down on a tripod to reduce shaking movements so I had a lot of unusable photos of the Moose with only a few that were sharp enough for my tastes. The bull was also close enough that my only options were to take portraits of it or use my landscape set up and he was too far away to use it. It was going to be while before the sun rose high enough to put good light on the Moose.
Bull Moose laying down – Nikon D500, f4, 1/800, ISO 1600, Nikkor 500mm VR, natural light
About an hour later the sunlight was getting close to falling on the Moose and it was still laying down but a runner came up the road about that time and then another vehicle drove by, saw the Moose and pulled up behind the vehicle I was in and left their motor running which caused their fan to run on high, I could see that the Moose was feeling uncomfortable so shortly after I took this photo he got up. I had really hoped to photograph him bedded down in better light. It wasn’t to be.
Bull Moose moving towards some willows – Nikon D500, f4, 1/800, ISO 1600, Nikkor 500mm VR, natural light
When the bull got up he moved towards some willows in the hollow he had been bedded down in and I was able to take some portraits of him but my concern was that he would amble into those same willows and disappear before the good light fell on him. I liked this portrait though because the entire face of the Moose was clear and I was able to fit his antlers into the frame too. But he still wasn’t in the soft morning light, he was in the shadows of the mountains to the east.
Please bear in mind that I was a distance away from this Moose and was using my 500mm for this image and the one above which gave me an effective reach of 750mm attached to my D500 cropped body. I know the images make me look a lot closer than I actually was.
The other vehicle left and it seemed like that calmed the bull back down…
Bull Moose portrait – Nikon D500, f8, 1/1250, ISO 640, -0.7 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light
And he moved into better light. The problem for me was that I had out of focus grasses in front of the Moose’s face and when it comes bird or animal photography the face and the eyes are the most important parts of to have free of obstructions, if I had been even six inches further forward the grasses wouldn’t have been an issue. I kept hoping that the Moose would move backwards a tiny bit and give me a clear view of his face for what felt to me like an eternity. I checked the timestamps for the images that I took during this time and it was actually 11 minutes but I can tell you it seemed a lot longer than that for me.
At least the Moose turned his head once and looked towards me but I would have preferred to have him to looking less towards his back and more towards me so I could have taken photos showing both of his eyes but what I really wanted was a profile of his head without those out of focus grasses in front of his face and I didn’t get those photos because he turned and disappeared into the willows. That was very disappointing for me.
Moose calf keeping an eye on me – Nikon D500, f7.1, 1/200, ISO 800, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light
Then last week I found a cow and calf Moose but again I saw them before the sun had fully risen over the mountains, the cow was lit up but I couldn’t get a clear view of her because there were trees in front of her. She looked gorgeous in the full sunlight but those trees were a problem so I focused on the calf. The problem with photographing the calf was that I only had a small clearing between the trees to photograph the calf and the calf was still partly in the shadows while the grasses behind it were in full sunshine. As I sat in my Jeep next to the road the calf grazed on the grasses and I waited patiently for the sun to light up the area where it stood.
That morning I only saw two vehicles on the road I traveled and wouldn’t you know it but one of them came by right then?
Moose calf moving towards some trees – Nikon D500, f7.1, 1/200, ISO 800, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light
A noisy pickup truck rumbling down a gravel road which made both the calf and the cow nervous enough that they both turned their backs to me, walked towards each other and disappeared into a thick stand of willows west of where they were. I could have cried.
So yes, wildlife photography can be just as frustrating as bird photography.