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Guide to Photographing Elk in Arkansas

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When you think of photographing elk, you normally think Colorado or many of the other western mountain states.  The truth is that some of the best opportunity for great elk photography is in Arkansas.  The Arkansas herd numbers over 500 at this time and over 200 have been legally hunted in the state.  The best location for elk photos is in Boxley Valley Near the Buffalo National River, and this guide will deal with this area.

The University of Arkansas has published an excellent brochure which will give a great deal of information on the history and reintroduction of elk into Arkansas, as well as biological information about the elk.      Elk: Arkansas’ Largest Wild Mammal

Location

The elk in Arkansas are wild and as such will go where they wish, they can jump most any fence and climb up and down very steep terrain.  Since their reintroduction into the state they have been spotted in many counties throughout northwest Arkansas.  Within  this wide spread area most of the elk are found in Newton and Searcy counties.  If you want to be sure and have the best chance of finding elk, then we narrow this down to Boxley Valley where they are easy to find and photograph.

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Also be sure to visit the Ponca Elk Education Center on highway 43 a quarter mile north of highway 74 intersection.

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View Larger  Interactive Google Map

To find the elk in Boxley Valley you can just drive along highway 21 and highway 43 keeping a watch in the fields.  Be sure to drive slow and watch out for elk and others watching the wildlife.

For current information on the elk and where they have been sited I recommend visiting the Arkansas Wildlife Blog and Gallery by Michael Dougherty.

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Click on map to enlarge

(Map used by permission from Michael  Dougherty Arkansas Wildlife Blog and Gallery)

When To Shoot

Now that you know where to look for the elk, you also need to know when to look.  Your best chances of seeing elk are in the early morning (from the time it’s to dark to see them) until about an hour after sunrise. then again in the evening from about an hour before sunset till dark.  Elk do not like direct sunlight, so the longer it stays dark (cloudy and overcast) the longer the elk may stay in the pastures before escaping into the woods for the day.  Also the colder it is the longer the elk will stay out of the woods.

The Rut

There is one big exception to the above, that is what is called the “Rut” or mating season.  During this time, September and October, all rules are off.  You may be able to see the elk at anytime of the day and they are more concerned with the mating rituals than with people taking there photos.  This is the best time for elk photography.

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Fog

Now that we know when is the best time to shoot I should point out that this is also the worst time to shoot.  The time in the morning that the elk are easiest to find and most active is the same time that the valley is likely to be filled with fog.  A little fog can be great for mood and impact in your photos, but a little goes a long way, and Boxley valley often has a lot.  Many days by the time the fog clears out so do the elk.

When shooting in the fog there are some things that you can do to improve your photos:

  • Do not use a flash, it will only light the fog and give you an almost total white picture with no elk.
  • Do not use autofocus, the fog will reflect back and can make your camera continually try to focus on the fog.
  • You will need to add some exposure to compensate for the lightness of the fog (same as with snow).
  • Make levels adjustments in your photo editing software after shooting to bring back detail.
  • Use a tripod, the fog cuts the amount of light and causes longer exposure times.
  • Be sure that you have a lens cloth to wipe the moisture off your lens.

Boxley Valley Elk 1

Boxley Valley Elk 3

Current Weather

Equipment

To photograph elk you will need to have a Long Lens, the longer the better, for best results this should be a 400 mm or more.  This does not mean that you can not get great shots with a shorter lens, but for optimal results you need optimal equipment.  As we discussed earlier most of our shooting will be in low light levels, which means we need not only a long lens, but a fast long lens (this is why the pros will spend 6 to 10 thousand dollars on a lens).  It is often said, and I totally agree, that the equipment does not make the photographer, but in some cases it can be the difference between getting the shot or not, and this could be one of those cases.

Using a digital camera with a higher resolution, (more megapixels) will give you the ability to crop your photo (in effect zooming in) and still maintain a quality print at normal print sizes.  As a general rule the larger the sensor,  and the newer the camera, the lower the digital noise will be and the higher the ISO that you can get acceptable photos shooting in low light.

One of the most essential pieces of equipment will be a good sturdy tripod.  Shooting with a long lens in low light will cause long exposure times and handholding will not work (besides it gets real heavy quick).  I prefer to use a ball head tripod so that I can quickly move the camera any direction without adjusting multiple knobs and levers.

Be sure to have extra memory cards and batteries,  you will be surprised how quickly you can fill a card and batteries die faster with long exposures and cold temperatures.

Technique

When taking a portrait of a person the most important part of the photo is the eyes, these must be in focus.  The same holds true for wildlife photography, the eyes must be in focus.  Many of the other factors from people photos translate to wildlife photography, don’t be content just to get a photo of an elk, work to get a portrait of the elk.  This is where we must have a long lens, it is both dangerous and illegal to get to close to the elk, a long lens lets us get up close and personal without getting up close.

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An alternative to the portrait is Environmental shot, in this case we use a shorter lens and show the environment that the elk is in.  In the Buffalo National River area this be can be some spectacular scenery and makes for great photos.  When shooting this type of photo pay close attention to the background and watch for unnatural distractions and frame your photo as you would for a great landscape.

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Try to capture some action, at first you will be trilled just to get a clear in focus shot of an elk, but work toward getting a good action shot of the elk running, jumping a fence, engaged in sparring or a bullfight, or other exciting action situation.

Running Elk

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Safety

Elk are wild animals, these elk have been exposed to people along the highway for their entire life and are much less spooky when you drive up, stop, and get out of your vehicle.  Make no mistake they are not tame, mature bulls weigh 600 to 800 pounds and have horns that can kill and can be dangerous and unpredictable.

Do not cross the fences (much of the land is private property) or attempt to chase the elk.

When stopping to photograph the elk be sure to pull completely off the road, this is a major highway (any paved road is a major highway in this neck of the woods) and has a lot of truck traffic, so do not block the road.  Oh yeah the sheriffs dept will ticket you.

Watch out for traffic before stepping into the road, chances are they are looking for elk not people (who should know better than to walk out in front of a moving vehicle).

Fall Canoe Trip on the Buffalo National River

 

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This week I had the opportunity to make a canoe trip on the Buffalo National river with my son Matt.  This is an extremely rare possibility this time of year, normally in October you can step across the river at most points, only finding major water in the deep pools.  The fall foliage was not quite at it’s peak, but still spectacular.  We launched at Steel Creek and floated to Kyles Landing, I feel the most scenic section of the river.  We hiked up to Hemmed in Hollow, a 200′ waterfall (the tallest between the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains and found the water to be flowing good.

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Halloween Themed Photo Shoot

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I hosted a Halloween themed photo shoot in my studio for members of the Photographic Alliance of Fort Smith tonight.  These are some of the photos that I was able to shoot.  Everyone seemed to have a devilish good time.

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Haw Creek Waterfall and Campground

 

Haw Creek Falls

Description:

Haw Creek Falls  is located in Haw Creek campground of the Bayou Ranger District of the Ozark National Forest.  The small steam contains the falls which are only a short walk on an access trail suitable for physically disabled visitors.  The falls are only about 5 feet high at the most, but are very picturesque even with low water.  Located nearby  is Big Piney Wild and Scenic River and access to the Ozark Highlands Trial.

Cost:
There is no entrance fee for day use.  Campground is $4.00 per night year round.  There is no water or electric.
Best Time to Visit: As with most waterfalls in Arkansas the best time is in the spring after heavy rainfall.
Where it is: Haw Creek Falls and Campground is located in the Ozark National Forest approximately 25 miles north of Clarksville Arkansas.
Directions:

Take Arkansas 123 (paved) north from Hagarville (located north of Lamar) for 14 miles, or from Russellville, take Arkansas 7 north to Pelsor; then left (west) on Highway 123 (paved) for 12 miles. Negotiable by camping trailer rigs but use caution entering the campground.

Map:
Links: US Forest Service Site
Facilities:
  • Camping (9 family units)
  • Vault toilets
  • No Drinking water is available
  • Picnicking
  • Wading
  • Fishing
  • Hiking (access to the Ozark Highlands Trail)
  • Camp trailers are allowed, but no special facilities are available
Weather:
Contact: Bayou Ranger District
12000 SR 27
Hector, AR 72843
(479) 284-3150

Tips for the Photographer

Equipment: The Dam can be photographed easily with most any camera and a normal lens.  A tripod is needed to keep the camera steady while shooting a long exposure to blur the water.  A polarizing filter to saturate color and cut reflections on the water.  During bright light you may also need neutral density filters to cut the light passing through the lens to enable a long exposure.
What to Photograph: The waterfall and the campground make great subjects.  There is great color in the fall due to the campground being a mature hardwood forest.  The historic one lane Big Piney Creek Bridge can also be an interesting subject.
Photography Tips: Please read my article on shooting waterfalls.http://blog.gregdisch.com/2009/03/22/how-to-shooot-waterfalls/

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Haw Creek Recreation Area Photo Gallery

Click Here for full page gallery

More Photographic Destinations in Arkansas:

Interactive Google Map

Use the map  + – controls to zoom in and out, use the Map drop-down to change to “Map”, “Satellite”, “Hybrid”, or “Terrain” views.  Drag the little man icon from the upper left corner to a map location for street level view. Click on a pushpin for more information about the Photographic Destination, then click on the title to go to the location page.

Click Here for Photographic Destinations by State

 

 


 

Greg Disch is a freelance photographer located in Fort Smith, Arkansas.  Greg specializes in nature, scenic, wildlife, and other outdoor subjects in Arkansas and other areas of the country. Greg also shoots portraits and event photography and is available for assignments.  Greg teaches photography classes and workshops in Arkansas and other locations.  Most of the images on this site are available for sale as prints, personal use, or rights managed stock photos.
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Natural Dam Arkansas Waterfall

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Natural Dam Arkansas

Description:

Natural Dam is just what the name implies, a natural rock dam, located at the town of Natural Dam Arkansas.  The dam is nearly 200 feet wide and spans the width of Mountain Fork Creek where it runs into Lee Creek  You can easily view the dam without getting out of your vehicle , but the area features an excellent picnic area.  This is a very popular place for getting your feet wet and swimming during the hot summer months.

Cost:
There is no fee for this area, but it is for day use only, no camping and it closes at dark.
Best Time to Visit: Anytime is good, great for fall colors
Where it is: 15 miles north of Van Buren in the Boston Mountain range of the Ozark Mountains, in the Ozark National Forest
Directions: Take Exit-5 off I-40 at Van Buren and go north on Ark. 59. Turn left at the Natural Dam Community – the picnic area and waterfalls come into sight after making the turn.
Map:
Contact:
Boston Mountain Ranger District
P.O. Box 76,
Highway 23 North
Ozark, AR 72949
(479) 667-2191
Crawford County Sheriff   911 or 479-474-2261
Physical Address: 2137 Natural Dam Road, Natural Dam, AR 72948
Weather:

Tips for the Photographer

Equipment: The Dam can be photographed easily with most any camera and a normal lens.  A tripod is needed to keep the camera steady while shooting a long exposure to blur the water.  A polarizing filter to saturate color and cut reflections on the water.  During bright light you may also need neutral density filters to cut the light passing through the lens to enable a long exposure.
What to Photograph: The waterfall, the surrounding forest and creek also contain great scenery.
Photography Tips: Please read my article on shooting waterfalls.http://blog.gregdisch.com/2009/03/22/how-to-shooot-waterfalls/

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More Photographic Destinations in Arkansas:

Interactive Google Map

Use the map  + – controls to zoom in and out, use the Map drop-down to change to “Map”, “Satellite”, “Hybrid”, or “Terrain” views.  Drag the little man icon from the upper left corner to a map location for street level view. Click on a pushpin for more information about the Photographic Destination, then click on the title to go to the location page.

Click Here for Photographic Destinations by State

 

 


 

Greg Disch is a freelance photographer located in Fort Smith, Arkansas.  Greg specializes in nature, scenic, wildlife, and other outdoor subjects in Arkansas and other areas of the country. Greg also shoots portraits and event photography and is available for assignments.  Greg teaches photography classes and workshops in Arkansas and other locations.  Most of the images on this site are available for sale as prints, personal use, or rights managed stock photos.

ABOUT THIS BLOG

I will post images I have captured, primarily in Arkansas and Oklahoma, but also from my travels.  I will also post articles about photography , photographic tips,  articles on using Adobe Lightroom and other random photo related information.

 I will be posting an ongoing project I call "Photographic Destinations".  In this I will give details on where, what, when and how to photograph various destinations both locally and from my travels.  Click on the "Photographic Destinations" under Categories and they will be sorted by location.

Greg

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