Wildlife Photography ~ How Close Is Too Close……..?

Cow elk and calf crossing the river in Estes Park

Cow elk and calf crossing the river in Estes Park

A friend of mine and I were talking about a photo we saw this morning of 4 photographers running away, one of them leaving their tripod with the camera as fast as they could; approaching the camera was a younger grizzly bear.  The bear wasn’t running at them, it actually appears like it’s on a Sunday stroll.  We were laughing and he said that bear spray may have prevented this.  His next comment was “Stupid photographers!” and then he said, “Ohh wait!  I’m a photographer!”  We both laughed.  The photo was sent around and it was meant to be funny and it was.  Of course this led us to even more conversations and memories.

I normally don’t like photographing animals when there are fences in the back ground or houses but if I see wildlife I will stop regardless of where they are just to take a look.  One afternoon a few months ago on the way to the Rocky Mountain National Park to hike in the snow; the snow hadn’t arrived yet, it was nice out and as we drove through Estes Park near the golf course, we spotted a herd of elk.  Of course we stopped.  We walked out taking in the herd and noticing who the big bulls in charge were and how far away they were.  The rut was over but that doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t react if you were to get too close.  We stopped after we noticed 2 pretty large bulls about 200 feet from each other, they were still singing away and we didn’t want to be in the middle if they wanted to discuss who was boss.

Big bull elk in the golf course in Estes Park

Big bull elk in the golf course in Estes Park

As we stood taking a few shots from about 80 yards and watching the cows and calves move by one of the bulls stood to his feet and started walking the direction we were standing so we started backing away.  There were no signs of aggression on his behalf but I like my personal space and I wanted to keep his happiness just the way it was.  I turned when I heard something running up behind me just in time to see a younger blonde woman run right by us with her iPhone in hand yelling about how cool it was to see a bull elk up so close.  Don’t worry, it’s okay, she stopped probably about 20 feet from him!  My friend and I looked at each other, our mouths dropped to the ground and our eyes huge!  It was obvious to us that day that God does protect certain people out there in the world!  She stood for a long time photographing this big bull and occasionally even got in closer while my friend and I stood in amazement.  When we finally walked back to the car we were laughing about the whole thing; had we attempted to do that it wouldn’t have ended so nicely.

I was reminded about the time I was out photographing Mountain Goats about 8 months ago.  I love sitting down a safe distance from the animals I am shooting and watch behavior and how they interact with each other.  I had never photographed Mountain Goats before, they were so pretty, there were so many of them ~ I planted myself on a rock, took a couple hundred images and then just sat and watched.  One younger kid seemed to have lost its mother.  I sat on that rock and watched her over 2 hours as she approached other mother’s and was chased off, other kids didn’t play and she continued her search, crying.  That made me want to cry.  I would take some shots off and on and as I continued watching her I started taking more images as she got closer, I was using my 300mm lens at the time.  At one point I felt myself leaning backwards so that I could get more of the little goat in my frame and I even started scooting backwards on my rock to get a better shot as I kept trying to pull my lens back.  I finally put the camera down frustrated that I was missing out on decent shots because my camera wasn’t helping me.  When I did I realized the little girl was nearly in my lap!  I guess it wasn’t the camera after all.  She stood in front of me crying out a few times before she realized I wasn’t her mom either and moved on.  About 30 minutes later her mother and twin jumped down from a rock formation behind me; they were not there when I sat down!  I had never intended to get that close and personal with the goats, but through my excitement with having the opportunity to spend time with them I got closer than I ever expected.

Not cropped in at all, and this was my 70mm lens and it was still too close

Not cropped in at all, and this was my 70mm lens and it was still too close

My friend and I continued to laugh about the image with the grizzly bear but I can say I have been so intrigued with shooting certain wildlife and forgotten my surroundings while looking through the view finder at times.  Lucky for me when I do shoot bears I’m with a group who is very experienced and we watch out for each other.  Normally I’m the one who forgets to shoot the images and am watching and learning from new behaviors and can sound the alarm if they are getting to close for my taste.  My favorite animals to shoot are normally horses, wild and domestic.  The domestic horses have no concept as to what personal space is and as soon as they see a camera feel that you want them to come in closer!  And I still haven’t figured out what it is with wildlife sticking out their tongues!

Blueper's nose on a snow day.  Didn't see the tongue till I got in the house and looked at the images

Blueper’s nose on a snow day. Didn’t see the tongue till I got in the house and looked at the images

2 thoughts on “Wildlife Photography ~ How Close Is Too Close……..?

  1. That’s a great post. It’s truly amazing that more people don’t get hurt as they charge toward wildlife. I can certainly identify with the enjoyment of sitting and watching animal behaviour.

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