While I'm not a prolific wildlife photographer, I either lack the patience or monetary funds to give it its proper due, I do capture the occasional image. Some of my wildlife images are made through actual planning and hard work, but I'd say the majority come through luck while pursuing landscapes; this image is one of those occasions.
In preparation for the 2nd revision of my Colorado Fall Colors eGuide I made a visit to Alberta Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park. I had visited the falls in previous summers and while I noticed a few aspens, it didn't seem like a hot autumn spot. I was actually convinced by a friend to give it a shot and we met in the park with plans to photograph the falls followed by Bear Lake.
Alberta Falls is a short hike and soon after leaving the trailhead we came upon the stunning scene of a trail winding through golden aspens next to a thundering waterfall. We spent the next hour or so photographing the location with the best spot actually being above and looking down the falls, towards the small grove of aspens below. With a new location wrapped up we repacked our gear and headed for the car.
As we hiked up the last steep ascent to the parking lot we were again immersed in a grove of aspens. Suddenly, I heard a loud bugle to my right, and I turned to see a large bull elk calling to its small harem. As I said before, I'm not typically prepared for wildlife photography but in this case I had two factors working in my favor. The first was I had recently bought a chest pack for my F-Stop bag, allowing me to hike with my camera easily accessible and ready. The primary reason behind this was actually to facilitate taking more photos as the hassle of removing my gear would sometimes stop me from photographing a less striking scene (I know, lazy right?).
The second factor working in my favor was that the bull was not only really close, he was close enough to get a good frame with the 24-70mm lens already on my camera. I quickly whipped out my camera, boosted the ISO, dropped my aperture, and manually focused for accuracy in the dense forest. This is where knowing your camera well can really help, because as soon as I took a few shots, the bull moved out of the trees and into the much less photogenic parking lot. Unfortunately, my friend wasn't able to get to his camera in enough time and missed the opportunity. While my skills definitely helped on this adventure, it was mostly the luck of happening upon the elk at the right time with the right gear ready. I still hike and backpack with my chest pack despite the occasional annoyance at wearing it, the lessons of that experience continually earned.