Behind The Shot: Young Elk

Wasatch Mountains, Utah

Photo By Debbie O’Dell

The Wasatch Range is a beautiful mountain range located in northern Utah. The highest peak is Mount Nebo, at the southern end of the range, at 11,928 feet. There’s a wide variety of wildlife living in the area, including deer, moose, elk and black bear.

Early fall is my favorite time of year to photograph in the Wasatch. The days are warm, and the nights are crisp and cool. The leaves of the scrub oak, maple and aspen trees turn brilliant shades of red, yellow, orange and gold. There’s the possibility of snow on the mountain peaks. The animals begin growing their thick coats of fur for the approaching winter. All of this presents many opportunities for a photographer.

My plan on this day was to head into the Wasatch to photograph wildlife, specifically moose and elk. My first destination was Little Cottonwood Canyon. The canyon, just east of the Salt Lake City area, offers wonderful views of high mountain peaks and lovely fall foliage and good opportunities for wildlife viewing. The scene was spectacular, with the autumn leaves glowing and a light dusting of snow on the mountain peaks.

After a while of photographing the landscape and not seeing any wildlife, I decided to leave and go to the eastern side of the Wasatch. A few weeks earlier, I had photographed elk near Park City, and I was hopeful that they were still in the area.

On the way to my destination, I noticed a small herd of elk not far off from the road. However, there were some large trees in front of the elk, making it difficult to see them clearly. Continuing further up the road, I came to a clearing with colorful scrub oak on the far side of it. Hoping that the herd would make their way here, I decided to stop and began to prepare my camera.

The sky was overcast, and the light was a bit dark and flat, so I set an ISO of 800 in order to have a fast shutter speed to capture movement. I also set a beanbag on the car door for camera stability. If the elk did come, I didn’t want to scare them away by being outside of the car. Then I waited.

Eventually, the small herd meandered into the clearing. They were so calm and peaceful. Glancing toward the far side of the clearing, I noticed this cute young elk taking an interest in the colorful leaves of the scrub oak. It was a beautiful setting. The young elk seemed curious, and when she started to sniff the leaves above her, I was able to capture the sweet moment. The thought “stop and smell the roses” came to mind.

Soon after, the herd began to leave the clearing, nudging this young elk back toward the large trees and out of sight. It was a wonderful experience to spend even a few minutes with these beautiful animals. 

See more of Debbie O’Dell’s work at debbieaodell.com.

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM, LensCoat LensSack Pro. Exposure: 1/1000, ƒ/5.6, ISO 800.