Rocky Mountain Photography: Wildlife by Erik Stensland

With patience and a little luck, Rocky Mountain’s charismatic megafauna make for thrilling photos. When you spot an animal, approach it slowly, and from downwind. But don’t get too close: If the animal looks alarmed or changes its behavior, back away. Try to anticipate where wildlife will move and get in position so that they’ll walk toward you. Many animals are most active at dawn and dusk—incidentally, that’s also when the light is best—so rise early and stay out late.

Walk on the Wild Side

In Kawuneeche Valley, just south of Holzwarth Historic Site in Rocky Mountain National Park

Moose in Kawuneeche in Rocky Mountain National Park
Erik Stensland

Rocky’s largest animal, the moose can reach more than 7 feet in height and weigh up to 1,600 pounds. The ungulate roams the park’s west side, preferring its cooler climate and wetlands. Though they look silly, take care—moose have been known to charge cars and trains when angry.

Pro tip Most animals don’t stay in one place for long, so a fast shutter speed is essential. Start with a speed between 1/300 and 1/600 of a second to freeze wildlife in action, keeping in mind you might need to boost your ISO to achieve these speeds.

Shot details Canon Rebel T31 camera, 250mm lens, ISO 400, f/5, 1/320 second

Stare Down

Near the Wild Basin entrance, Rocky Mountain National Park

Mule deer in autumn in Rocky Mountain National Park
Erik Stensland

As I was shooting fall foliage, a mule deer peeked over the bushes to find my 400mm lens pointing at him. Seconds later, he bounded away through the red-berried shrubs.

Here, Kitty

Allenspark, near Longs Peak

Rocky Mountain Bobcat near Allenspark in the winter
Erik Stensland

One winter, a bobcat kept visiting our house for his evening meal, feasting on the field mice that had made their home under our porch. I was able to open my living room window and watch him in the twilight. He turned just in time for this shot.

Snow King

Big Thompson Canyon, Rocky Mountain National Park

Bighorn sheet in winter in Rocky Mountain National Park
Erik Stensland

Bighorn sheep grow double-layered, thick coats to survive winter in the park’s high-elevation alpine zone.

Pro tip A long lens is crucial for wildlife shots. If the animal moves away from you, you’re too close—better to keep your distance and zoom in on their undisturbed everyday behavior.

Shot details Canon Rebel T3i camera, 320mm lens, ISO 160, f/5.6, 1/400 second