Young Moose - 2010 Algonquin Park

Shooting Moose in Algonquin

In 2010 I heard rumours of Moose in Algonquin park that would approach highway 60 for licks of road salt.  I’ve heard stories from my father about hunting in the vast Northern Ontario, and while I had no appetite for Moose, still, I wanted to see them up close and take some photos.  My father had described them as “big and goofy looking” but I had to find out for myself.

Our Escape

So, in late May I loaded up my car with a weekend supply of food, a tent, and an extra pair of long johns and took my pre-teen son toward Algonquin Park.  All the while I was wondering if I would see the elusive swamp Moose, or if I would come home empty-handed.

The drive from Barrie to Algonquin takes about 2 hours and takes us through the quaint town of Huntsville and through several tiny villas where you could get a supply of firewood, chips and things to change the colour of your campfire.  Clearly, it’s a well-travelled route and the people along it have adapted to the three-season mass of visitors passing through.  If you find you’ve forgotten something, you can usually find it in these shops. For larger items such as a space heater or sleeping bags, you may need to visit Dorset on highway 35 – I did and it was worth the drive.

Our Campsite

We arrived at our campsite around 8 pm with enough sunlight to set up our tent and get a fire lit before the heat went away.  It was a long drive and some sweaty work but now it’s time to enjoy yourself with family at the campfire.

 

Off We Go

Bright and early the next day, while the mist is still rising from the lakes and the dew weighs down the new spring vegetation, you’ll find along highway 60 a flock of visitors and observers, all here for the same thing; Moose.  It’s easy to spot a Moose, you just look for the cars parked at the side of the highway.  Pull up slowly and carefully, open your door slowly and close your door as quietly as you can.  If you’re as careful as the others here, you won’t spook the Moose and you’ll get plenty of time for shots.

Moose and Visitors Meed along Highway 60
Moose and Visitors Meet along Highway 60. (C) Andrew Shirley
Moose on HighWay 60
Moose walks across Highway 60 in Algonquin Park. (C) Andrew Shirley

What Equipment Do I Need?

  • Long fast lens, f/2.8@300mm or longer
  • Medium fast lens, f/2.8@70-200
  • Wide/Normal, f/2.8@17-50
  • WOH – What’s on Hand

Notice the blurred front hooves. This is from using an f/5.6 and low ISO, resulting in a long shutter speed and noticeable camera shake.

This is no time to skimp on lenses.  For the most part, you’ll be shooting outdoors in the dim morning light so you’ll want the fastest lens you have in your collection.  Some of my shots are with a 300mm, f/2.8 manual focus lens.  Later when the light comes out, you can use slower lenses such as the ever-handy Sigma 70-300 f/4-5.6 and use a little stopping down to increase your DOF and sharpness.

That being said, it’s possible to get great shots with slower lenses, even in lower light if your camera is capable of clean high-iso shooting, ie: 1600 and up.  In this case, you can get away with an f/4 or even an f/5.6 with the added advantage of a little more depth of field.  Most modern digital cameras at the time of this writing can easily handle 1600, 3200 and even 6400 ISO.  Meaning, you can shoot with a lens at f/5.6 rather than f/2.8 by increasing your ISO to compensate for the reduced amount of light reaching the sensor.  In order to use an f/5.6 lens in place of an f/2.8 lens, you need to raise your ISO by four times.  So, if at f/2.8 your ISO is 400, then at f/5.6 your ISO should be 1600 for equivalent shutter speeds.  Again, most modern DSLR-type cameras can do this and some compact cameras will too.

As for sharpness, I prefer capturing as much detail as possible.  Since this outing, I’ve changed almost all the lenses I was using for the sharpest I could afford.  I love to see fur detail or shading that might not be possible with a lens that has contrast or purple fringing deficiencies.

Choosing which lens to use is almost as easy as choosing one with enough “reach”, ie: it’s long enough to capture the entire image, sufficiently on the sensor.  But there are other considerations.  Some of my lenses are better than others at looking into the sun for example.  Backlighting can make a difference between reaching for my Tamron 300mm manual focus or choosing a more modern lens with better coatings so as to avoid too much glare or purple fringing.

Consider the background.  If you want to isolate the highway and other spectators, then a longer reach lens can isolate your subject material while cropping out unwanted background distractions such as tourists and the highway.  Depth of field can also blur out unwanted background subjects.  If your Moose is close to the highway, or you, then it’s time to bust out the medium reach lens, 70mm.  If he’s really close, then a wide-angle is your friend here, although try to avoid placing anything near the edges to avoid wide-angle distortion.

 

Should I Use A Polarizer?

Algonquin Park - 2010

Yes, you should use a polarizer.  A polarizer can remove glare and haze leading to an improvement, in contrast, saturation and sharpness. It can make vegetation look vibrant and colourful.  However, they reduce your exposure from 1 to 3 stops, so if you have a fast lens with good high-iso performance, then you’re all set.  If you have a slow lens or poor high-iso performance then a polarizer may not be for you in low light.

 

However, if you have no polarizer, you can still take great pictures and reduce some amount of haziness in post-processing.  Adobe has a feature that I use in Lightroom called Dehaze which does a wonderful job of bringing out detail from your otherwise hazy pictures.  Take a look at these two pictures.  Can you guess which one I used the “Dehaze” tool on?

 

When the Moose retreat to the swamp for the day, then what?

Algonquin Park - 2010
tamron 300mm manual test with my model

Algonquin Park is beautiful.  If you don’t mind the gnats, you can explore the walking trails and canoe on one of the many rivers and lakes.  If you’re like me, however, you stick around the campsite and test photographic equipment on your son and any local wildlife you can coax with a few peanuts.

pro tip

get a photographers' ephemeris​

photoephemeris.com/en

They are available on Google Play Store and Apple App Store.  This app will tell you when and where sunsets and sunrises will occur.  We were able to use this app to shoot Brewer Lake at the time the sun was setting. From the app we knew exactly where to place our tripods and were treated with this rare blue sunset.

Landscape – Algonquin Park

See the photo gallery of the weekend’s pictures here:

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