Tule Elk Rut

Tule Elk Rut - Future King


Image of the Week

Tule Elk Rut – Future King

One of my annual photography adventures is going to the Point Reyes National Seashore for the tule elk rut. This is mating season and the bulls are competing for the females. The tule elk rut is always an exciting time to see these wonderful animals, and it is hard to beat getting to see them with views of the Pacific ocean.

This young bull seemed to be doing well considering its young age. It already had two cows in its harem that I could see. Most bulls of this size were only dreaming of poaching a cow from another harem. Give him a few more years, and he may be the alpha bull in the area.

Image Considerations

The Point Reyes area is actually a fairly easy location to photograph during the tule elk rut. If you can see the elk, they are generally in the open. They do not usually move quickly unless a bull is chasing off another bull, or being chased away. The biggest issue is usually trying to be sure you have a good angle for a composition, and trying to avoid the low weeds that can cause issues in the shot.

Overall, the tule elk are fairly accustomed to humans in the area, so are not overly skittish. This does not mean you can do anything you want. If you do not pay attention to your behavior around them, they will not stay long enough to allow you to get a shot. Be patient, move slowly, stay at least 25 yards away, and all will be fine.

Image Lighting

On this particular day shooting the tule elk rut, there was a light cloud cover. The sky was still fairly bright which creates a big contrast with the dark head and shoulders of the elk. Because of this, getting the correct exposure is critical. It is all too easy for the elk to appear under exposed, or the surrounding area and sky to appear over exposed.

Camera and Settings

I shot this with my Canon 5D Mark IV and Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS lens with Canon 1.4x extender. I wanted a little extra depth and sharpness in the image, so decided on an aperture of f/10. Although they do not usually move quickly without at least a little warning, I needed my shutter speed above 1/500th just in case. I also wanted to over expose the image just enough to ensure the head and chest of the elk had enough details to work with in post processing. ISO 2,000 was needed to make the rest of the camera settings work for what I needed.

  • 560mm
  • f/10
  • 1/640th
  • +0.3 exposure bias
  • ISO 2,000

Editing Inspiration

This image virtually edited itself. There were so many details in the elk that very little was needed. I really only enhanced what was there a little. The only real effort was giving the sky and clouds in the background the look I wanted. In the raw image, they had an odd feel, but were easy to work with. The goal was to show the strength and focus of this young bull tule elk in his territory.

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