Keeping with the theme of ungulates and that home away from home they call Yellowstone National Park, I bring you the big boys of the park – the Cervus Canadensis which is sooo big they have two names. Thanks to European settlers we have the moniker of the Elk where are native Americans (according to Wikipedia specifically the Shawnee and Cree) we have “it which has a white rump” or Wapiti. Since the first days of hearing this original name I’ve always associated it with a snapping window shade – do those even still exist? If you recall, when one of them recoiled (typically never when you want it to!) first you will involuntarily twitch as the piece of wood in the bottom goes whipping past you and then your ears are barraged with Wapi Wapi Wapi Wapi as it cycles around the cylinder. Ironically, whenever I get the opportunity to see these creatures I also twitch except in this case it is with excitement. They are fairly docile (at least in Yellowstone) and are great subjects for us wildlife photographers. Here is a younger one that was more than happy to pose for me.
If you haven’t noticed yet (which means you haven’t been looking close enough at about every animal set featured in this blog), I’m partial to the turn back across the body pose. Just my thing I guess, but it is something I set out to do on each outing. Personally I think it quickly distinguishes the prey from the predator.
If you can see the full eye, you should feel a little more at ease since you are not looking at an aggressive animal. I also find that Elk have a tendency to pose which is a self serving description of animals that tend to have an intense curiosity. Case in point.
Hit the jump to see a whole bunch more pictures of Yellowstone Wapiti
So not only do you have a very calm animal that doesn’t jitter around much you also have an animal that naturally has a tendency to play to the camera. How great is that! I’d like to say that it would be impossible to take a bad picture, but leave it to me to have a number of frames that mysteriously never made it from the camera to the gallery – thank god for the digital age. The elk above was actually one of several that decided to take a stroll across a very cold Yellowstone stream. None of them had any difficulty getting across the slick stones and not a one of them pulled out a life preserver. The shot below was from the same crossing but unfortunately I left myself with a tight crop. It almost seems like the elk isn’t too pleased with being pinned in like that and decided to take matters into her own hands.. er hoofs and push it back out.
I left off the shot when they were in the middle of the stream that showed the water up to their bellies, but here is one that shows the water up to the knees — and a glamour pose to boot – what a ham.
Of course I came home with some buck shot. I have to admit a little secret on the bottom one … lean in close… this was actually taken in Mammoth. The elk are thick there and basically treat everyone’s yard as their own personal playground. I guess technically it IS their land, but this herd must be a bunch of softies. “Shall we have tea today Mrs. Wapiti? Why yes I think I shall perhaps with a side of Poupon”. I wonder if they are still hayseed enough to say look who’s in the big town.
The following shot bring a smile to my lips every time I look at it. The center shot of the bull draws the initial attention standing stoic and watchful of his herd. Eventually your eyes will wander to the left and you’ll see a cow expressing her opinion. Not sure if that was directed at the bull or maybe some other harlot trying to make a move on the stud.
Hopefully, your eye didn’t focus too much on the background. There might be some shopping in the future of this one, but for now I’m leaving it as it is. Unlike the previous one, I failed to throw the background sufficiently out of focus. How odd to come upon a rock in the of the woods shaped like a car. Somewhat bummed on this one since I really liked the head positions… and no, the cow in front did not bite the other in the ass to instigate the look back.
How about some interesting facts courtesy of our friends over at Wikipedia (by the way, as a historical note, Encyclopedia Britannica has now stopped printing their volumes after 244 years). First off, elk have a 4 chambered stomach – did not know that. In the deer family they are second in size only to the Moose (which we have never had the privilege of seeing in Yellowstone). Maybe you are one of those people that like to get up close to wildlife (say perhaps a photographer). Find yourself less cautious because of how tame they appear, thinking what harm could a cute deer to you. Try this on for size. The cow can average over 500 lbs and the bull on average is up in the 700 lbs. Now imagine that weight moving directly at you with antlers down at 25 mph. Better bring another pair of shorts with you next time you get that kind of courage. Speaking of bulls.
There is another shot of the bull above in the gallery with a more mature look – this one looks like he’s getting quite a laugh at some yahoo trying to photograph it. On the post processing front, that picture was a lot of work thanks to some very low light that forced the ISO to rock concert noise level. Same with the shot below. The raw file was nearly black on this one, but then again.. this is why you should ALWAYS shoot in raw.
Back to that comment on getting close to wildlife. I had to go into the field to get a good angle on this huge bull. He was content to graze almost the entire time I was out there resulting in a serious case of frustration. Lucky for me, there were a couple of idiots on the other side of him trying to get a gallery shot with their instamatics – at one point they had made it roughly 20 feet from it – needless to say, I had already practiced a quick pan to the left to catch any mauling that might have happened on the SD card. I probably spent 40 minutes trying to capture this beautiful animal. Meanwhile Linda, David and Dr. Giselle were back in the car having quite the experience as well.
All of a sudden I heard some laughter come from the vehicle (parked down the road from where I entered the woods). Not sure what that was all about I wrapped up the shoot to find out. Turns out a stranger ended up accidentally getting into the car with them thinking it was his car. I can’t imagine the looks on everyone’s faces – it should be noted, that the individual’s actual car looked nothing like ours so chalking it up to drunk with nature. Oh.. for you warm favored individuals out there, here you go. Side by side, I’m with those people in this situation – the warmer tone does seem to work better – might go back and warm the one above up a tad. (Of course, I should just see what Linda thinks seeing as how certain people tend to favor her side ALL THE TIME hehehe).
Speaking of Wapiti softies, it doesn’t get much easier than this. Sitting down on the porch kicking back a few lemonades while watching the bulls strut by without their shirts on. They better hope the wolves don’t find out about this easy street or there will be some fat wolves wandering around Yellowstone.
Now for a public PDA. We saw this group wandering around Mammoth as we were heading into the park one morning (actually, I think this was the same morning we saw the elk crossing the river). The Beast was trained on the left one and pretty much tracking it looking for something interesting to shoot.. preferably a shot without a picnic table in it! To my surprise, the elk on the right came over for a quick nuzzle across the table. Regardless of the background I was definitely going to capture that shot. Kinda cute eh?
Okay, now for some reader participation. What is your feeling of the following shot? I’ve come back to it about 10 times now trying to come to consensus on how I feel about it (yes, consensus, me and my 10 imaginary friends that all worship me and prefer my opinions on picture processing). I am purposely not giving you Linda’s opinion so you will not be tainted in your response.
Wow, that was a long post – kind of a picture blitz, but there were a lot of shots in this set I wanted to share. Hope you don’t mind me filling up your browser cache and wasting your time reading about one of my favorite hobbies.
Good luck on getting that window shade metaphor out of your head the next time you have an encounter with a Wapiti!