Story and Photo by Julia Pelish
Vacay.ca Visuals Editor
JASPER, ALBERTA — Does taking a moose photo bring one happiness? It took me a long time to answer this question.
It is always a thrill to see wildlife within their natural habitat and even more memorable are those elusive sightings of animals such as the moose, whose lumbering frames can somehow manage to practically glide by unnoticed despite their bulk.
During the past three years, I have visited eight of the ten provinces in Canada and while I have taken images that will be keepsakes for the rest of my life, the one image that has eluded me had been the majestic moose.
Until last month, that is.
When I visited Alberta’s Jasper National Park for the annual Dark Sky Festival, it turned out my star-gazing assignment also produced some terrestrial wonders too. My search was finally rewarded with not one but three moose sightings, including a mom and her calf nuzzling in the middle of the road. I pretty much hit moose photo heaven and I could not wait to tell everyone about it.
Jasper is one of Canada’s largest national parks, spanning an area of 4,335 square miles and boasts the world’s second-largest dark sky preserve. All this open space with only 150 head of moose can make for a bit of a challenge. However, it is a known fact by the locals that the area around Maligne Lake provides good moose sightings and that is precisely where my luck changed. Most importantly a big thanks goes to Jasper’s Sundog Wildlife Tours who basically drove me right up next to the posing moose in the photos above. The expertise of the right guides can be invaluable to locating wildlife habitats and getting the most out of spectacular nature touring.
Considering I have been to Cape Breton Highlands National Park in Nova Scotia — home to almost 5,000 head of moose within an area of 400 square miles — and I did not see a single moose, I arrived in Jasper with almost zero expectations of getting a moose photo.
But just in case I could be wrong, I packed prepared. There is nothing more frustrating than having a great photo op while simultaneously remembering that the essential piece of equipment is sitting miles away on a shelf at home. I always try to travel with two camera bodies and multiple lenses in various focal lengths. For the photos here, I used my Nikon D7000 attached with a 70-300mm medium telephoto zoom lens.
In photography, access is everything. The subject needs to be identifiable within your viewfinder otherwise it’s not going to be in the photo — that sounds basic but what happens if you are prevented from physically moving closer to the subject? With wildlife it is important to respect their spatial comfort zone as it ensures both your safety and photo success rate. The last thing you want to do is spook away your moment of photo greatness before you can even manage to switch on the camera. Instead, bridge the distance between you and your subject by using either a prime telephoto or telephoto zoom lens and pull the subject to you. An added bonus to using a long lens is compression perspective used with open an aperture; the subject will appear sharp and isolated from the lovely out-of-focus background. So not only is access key, but so is having the right tools for the job.
Nikon has fancy and more expensive top-of-the-line camera bodies, but I have had wonderful results with the D7000 and I did not have to break the bank for technology that will most likely become obsolete within a few years. I have invested in decent lenses and being a Nikon shooter since film days, these purchases have paid off as they are compatible with today’s DSLR bodies. With today’s superior image sensor capabilities, the stronger glass quality used on the camera translates into better image capture. Learn how to maximize what you own by learning to use image-editing software. I always shoot in raw format, which allows me to enhance the image during post production. And better picture makes for a happier photo globetrotter.
A major perk travel offers is the opportunity for unique discovery. And for the photographer the most precious travel souvenir is being able to transform these once-in-a-lifetime moments into visual memories that last long after the trip is complete. Solid preplanning and smart gear packing will allow you to turn fleeting possibilities into wonderful photographic memories.
And yes, moose photos do make me very, very happy.