Trials & Tribulations of Wildlife Photography | The Struggle is Real

by on April 22, 2014

I finally headed to Elk Island after being away far too long, hoping to come across some moose or elk. My goal was to shoot wildlife as the sun rose, but after a couple minutes, the sun escaped behind the clouds and it stayed tucked away until I left about 2.5hrs later. This is the tricky part of photography this time of year — once the snow melts away, we are left with an ugly brown ground, littered with clutter. It can actually make for an interesting and moody landscape when all the elements of ugly come together, but it’s not easy to pull off.

My quest for wildlife was pretty much a bust, as I arrived about 15 minutes too late if I had to guess how far I saw moose and bison spread out by the time I entered park boundaries. I came close to bison a few times, but I chose to leave the lone stragglers be and I carried on – they don’t need to be bothered by me. The light was not good, the wildlife were largely in hiding and because I faced gear, light and time limitations, I decided to really soak up the fact I was pretty much alone in the park, with the exception of park employees and the wildlife and I explored. And scouted. No matter how many times I’ve been to the park, I always find something else I need to add to my large EINP inventory, so it was a successful wildlife-turned-scouting trip.


Canadian geese, Branta canadensis, survey the area after a change in weather, at Elk Island National Park. Sidney Blake Photography. No. 2002

I did however, come across one herd of bison and since it’s been a really long time I’ve been able to make my way to the park, I walked around a bit and just watched the bison. It was my first time using a larger lens in almost a year, and while I love the lens, I was reminded again of the limitations of a shorter focal length of 300mm. I usually carry my 1.4x converter with me even though I do not like using it, but I left it behind in a different camera bag. Oops. With it, I could have possibly focused on shooting just the bison up close without including their habitat this time, as let me tell you folks, it was a scene no one wants to see. Well, maybe a biologist doing a study, but that’s about it! The field was littered with bison pies! This is nothing new in bison country, but in this bland stage of the season where everything is so blah, bison pies really stand out. Haha!

I don’t like cropping wildlife images too much, but sometimes I do when I cannot shuffle with my feet to change the distance between myself and the animal; this time I sliced the bottom right off as no one needs to see all the bison pies. What you see below is more than enough! This is the kind of photo that is a great example of when wildlife photography doesn’t work out as planned. So what is a photographer supposed to do?

Small herd of Plains bison grazing on nutrient-deficient vegetation at Elk Island National Park.

Keep on shooting, of course. Mac and I have a running joke on our podcast, where I often end the show with keep on shooting and he almost always ends it with keep on clicking because he knows it drives me bonkers, but really — he’s right. We both are. We HAVE to keep on shooting. Why? Because we are photographers. And bloody hell, photography is about many things, and one of them is you have to keep picking up the camera, studying your craft and your subjects, no matter what happened on your last shoot.

If I didn’t stick around past the first few moments, I wouldn’t have been able to witness some amazing interaction between this herd of bison. I wasn’t able to capture it all, but had I been sporting a longer focal length, I would have focused on the two bison below, filling the frame with, well, them. This Lightroom screen capture is a massive crop of the original image, but you get the idea.

Screen capture of my Lightroom 5 workflow-plains bison.

I could tell the ages by not only their body sizes, but also the size of their horns. To most folks, this may look like nothing special, but wildlife enthusiasts might appreciate that I saw two female bison (cows) face-to-face, interacting with one another. The younger bison cow looked to the older cow for perhaps guidance, nurturing, or even camaraderie between the two. Bison are highly social animals and it was really amazing to watch them interact with each other.

This alone made the two hour trek there and back worth it. Btw, Elk Island recently celebrated 101 years of service and I blogged some photos of the park on their birthday. Please check them out!

Keep on checking my blog, because I’ll keep on sharing the moments I do succeed, those times I come close to doing so and those moments where I’m not even in reach. I think it’s important not to sugar coat our craft, because wildlife photography, like any photography, is hard. Really hard at times. You have to put in your time and the effort in order to succeed and you have to learn to accept those frustrating moments you don’t. A legend behind the lens told me that once … and I’m thankful he did so.

Cheers as always for reading.


See you in the field!



Photographer. Podcaster on hiatus. Edmonton Oilers lovah. Cinematic Star Wars fan. Fond of wildlife conservation, animal rescue orgs, and all things Johnny Cash. Gen X. 

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