As you may recall from last week’s post, Pat, Tisen, and I went to Asheville for the weekend and went up to Great Smoky Mountain National Park very early last Saturday morning in search of elk.
In photography, there is a phenomena I think of as the “lens law.” This law dictates that when you have a long lens on your camera, you will see the best sweeping view ever (requiring a wide lens) and when you have a wide lens on your camera, you will see wildlife or distant subjects (which require a long lens). This is why I often carry two cameras.
However, since we had given up on seeing any elk and were only going to do a short walk along a river behind the Oconaluftee visitor’s center, I slapped my 24-70mm lens on my full frame camera and left the second camera and long lens behind. This is the surest way to guarantee you will see wildlife–just as leaving an umbrella in the car guarantees it will rain cats and dogs.
We made our way slowly down the 1 ½ mile trail with me stopping frequently to shoot. The trail paralleled the main road to the visitor’s center with a line of trees between the trail and an open field leading to the road. As we neared the turn-around point in the trail, I climbed down to the water’s edge to shoot ice on the river. When I turned and climbed back up the bank to the trail, I was shocked to discover an entire herd of elk making their way into the grass field.
Cars on the park road started accumulating along the shoulder as passers-by gawked at the elk. The elk, slightly nervous, moved deeper into the field. We walked slowly along the trail, trying not to spook them with our movement, sending them back to the road. I crept into the trees between us and the field, trying to only glance at them enough to confirm that they weren’t concerned about me moving closer. When I got to a tree at the edge of the field, they all stopped and looked at me. I froze and looked away. They decided I was harmless and went back to grazing. I fired off a few shots with my wide-angle lens, silently cursing myself for leaving my telephoto in the car.
Then, I moved slowly back to the trail and we high-tailed it back to the car. After a quick lens change, we drove down the park road on the far side from the elk. We sat on the shoulder, joining the rest of the gawkers, and I shot at will out an open car window. While the light conditions weren’t what I’d planned for and grazing elk are not quite as dramatic as, say, elk playing or running or just about anything else, I was pretty darn pleased I got any shots of elk at all.