How to Photograph Moose

how to photograph moose

For many wildlife photographers, the majestic moose is high on their bucket list of animals to photograph. If you’re wondering how to photograph moose, read on for some tips and techniques to capture stunning images of these magnificent animals.

how to photograph moose

Seeing the king of the forest will undoubtedly captivate any photographer who is lucky enough to see this goofy-looking, yet beautiful creature in the wild.

In this article, we will learn about moose behavior, habitat, and relevant photography techniques!

An interesting fact, the term “moose” is derived from the Algonquin word “moosewa,” which means “eater of twigs.” Whilst researching the origin of the word ‘moose’, the name takes on various forms, but the idea is the same, that the name came from the Algonquian languages.

What is a moose

The moose is the largest living species in the deer family. They are native to boreal forests across Canada, the United States, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, and Russia.

In North America, we have many types of moose, including the smallest sub-species of moose, the Shiras moose, to the largest, the Alaskan moose.

how to photograph moose

The size can vary with the type and sex of the moose. A bull (male) moose can weigh between 1,200 and 1,600 pounds and a cow (female) between 800 to 1,300 pounds.

Females are shorter than the males, standing at six feet shoulder height. Males can be up to seven feet tall and have antlers that can grow approximately six feet wide and weigh over 80 pounds.

Moose are herbivores and eat a wide variety of deciduous plants and shrubs. On average, a moose can eat up to 70 pounds per day. They have a sweet tooth, and like to munch on high sugar content shrubbery like willow.

In the spring and summer, the moose will eat a diet of varied plants and willows, as well as aquatic plants. In the winter, when food is not as plentiful, they feed on willow, bitter brush, pine, and fir tree needles. When food is scarce, they eat the bark.

moose licking salt off car

The moose also require dietary minerals such as salt, and if they come upon your vehicle they will probably want to lick your car clean. This is sometimes called the “Canadian Carwash”.

Many times moose will be seen on the roads kneeling to lick the salt off the ground, another easy way to get that salt in their diet.

Read more: Photographing a Species In-depth

Where to find and photograph moose

Moose can be found in many states in America, from Maine to Alaska. There are so many moose in Alaska that they are frequently found sleeping in people’s yards!

They can also be found in many areas of Canada, including Algonquin Provincial Park and Gros Morne National Park.

Many of the US National Parks including Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Denali National Park, and Isle Royale have large populations of moose that are somewhat habituated to people.

how to photograph moose

When in moose territory, look in riparian zones, forested areas, shaded meadows, and small lakes surrounded by forests. Since moose don’t tolerate the heat very well, looking in the dense and cool forests is usually recommended.

But be careful.

Moose, although large and clunky, are quieter than you might think. When looking in popular moose habitats, you can easily stumble upon a moose. They are masters of disguise.

Read more: 6 Tips for Better Fieldcraft in Wildlife Photography

When to photograph moose

Moose can be photographed during all seasons. It just depends on what behaviors and environments you would like to capture.

Read more: Composition in Wildlife Photography – Getting Creative

Moose in spring

In late spring, when moose emerge from their winter hiding, the moose will look somewhat dishevelled and thin.

They are frequently seen with winter ticks all over their body. These ticks, in addition to causing constant scratching, leave grey, patchy areas across the moose’s body. They will eventually drop off and new shiny coats will begin to grow.

where to photograph moose

You might notice that mature bulls don’t have large antlers at this time of year, but instead have nubs which are slowly growing to maturity. These antlers can grow approximately an inch a day and add a pound a day in weight.

While adult moose are not very photogenic at this time of year, it is ‘baby season’, so there’s plenty to photograph!

baby moose

Beginning in mid-May, cow moose give birth to their young. They usually have single calves, though twins are not uncommon! Very rarely seen are triplets.

When moose calves are born, they immediately try to use their little legs. It is always a treat to see a newborn calf checking out its new legs, and this can make for some lovely images.

The calves will stay close to their mother, nursing and sleeping, learning the ways of a moose. In addition, the calves are a reddish hue and not the typical brown we see on adult moose. This is the ideal time to witness and photograph the bond between cow and calf.

If the cow moose has had a calf from the year prior (known as a yearling) you might witness the cow chasing the yearling off. It is a sad scene, but now the cow has to raise another baby.

If there are other yearlings in the area, the cast-off yearling may interact and hang out with them.

how to photograph moose

Cow moose also don’t like to be around other cows with babies or bulls at this time. Unlike herd animals, the moose are more solitary, and as a result, the calves don’t often have a playmate unless they are twins or triplets, so bear this in mind when planning your compositions.

Read more: Wildlife Photography – Understanding Animal Behaviour for Better Images

Moose in summer

During the summer months, both the bulls and cows are on their quest to gain back the weight they lost during the winter months. They constantly eat willows and other deciduous plants. In fact, moose can eat up to 70 pounds a day!

Moose can be seen in willow fields or possibly in the water eating the aquatic plants in the early morning hours and late in the evening. There are always some nice photo opportunities while they are eating, especially if you can photograph a dribbling moose in a lake.

This is another ideal time to photograph the calves, as they are growing quickly and learning life skills from their mothers.

how to photograph moose

Oftentimes, you will see the calves becoming more curious and sneaking away to longer distances only to be scolded!

The calves will learn how to swim and can often be seen in the water with the cow – an incredible sight to capture on camera.

While the calves are still nursing, they will also begin to eat willows and other plants. Again, you can capture some interaction between the cow and the calf.

This is also the lazy time for the bulls as they don’t like to be in the heat. You can expect them to be more active during the cooler times of day, around sunrise and sunset.

The cow moose, on the other hand, will be more active, eating at all times of the day. It takes many calories to raise a moose baby and to gain weight, and the cow needs to eat constantly!

The bull’s antlers, covered in velvet, are starting to grow larger at this time, and bull moose will tolerate being in the vicinity of one another for long periods. If you want photographs of the classic ‘moose in velvet,’ this is the ideal time.

Read more: 12 Ways to Evoke Emotion in Your Wildlife Photos

Moose in late summer/early fall

As the day gets cooler and shorter, the moose become more active during the day. As the testosterone levels of the bull moose increase, the velvet is shed and the bull moose’ antlers become hard and weathered.

The timing of this ranges between mid-August to mid-September, depending on the location of the moose. In Colorado, we usually plan on it beginning during the Labor Day Weekend (the holiday varies, but usually this is the first week in September).

moose rut

This is the rut season, when the bull moose is seeking a mate to spread his genes. The bull moose often engage in sparring, a behavior of fighting for the mating rights of the cow.

The moose that were once friendly to one another suddenly become mortal enemies in the battle for reproductive rights. Although rare, this behavior can end in death.

When a bull finds a willing and able cow, he will make a wallow pit from his urine that the cow rolls around in. The bull moose will spend enough time with the cow to get her pregnant, before heading off to find another willing and able mate.

This is a favorite time of year to photograph moose. It offers a variety of behaviors and beautiful and vibrant fall colors for stunning backdrops.

Read more: An Introduction to the Power of Colour Photography

Moose in late fall/early winter

As the weather turns colder, bull moose become less aggressive and more friendly toward one another.

Often, bull moose form bachelor groups, which can offer some charismatic interaction images.

moose rut

Snowfall in moose habitat can be unpredictable. Early winter storms will often blanket the ground with fresh powder, providing nice opportunities for photographing moose in snow.

To prepare the moose for the long and harsh winters ahead, bulls will shed their antlers, usually in December or January. This happens very quickly, though sometimes a bull will drop one antler days before the other drops.

The younger, less mature bulls, may keep their antlers throughout the winter.

As the season progresses, bulls may climb to higher elevations, whilst cows and calves may stay at lower elevations.

how to photograph moose

In general, moose are most active during sunrise and sunset during this time of year, so this is usually the best time of day to photograph activity.

On cloudy and cooler days, moose may be active for longer stretches in the mornings and earlier in the evenings, allowing more time to photograph them.

Read more: 5 Tips for Photographing Wildlife in the Snow

Essential equipment for moose photography

It is always best to have lenses of varying focal lengths when out trying to photograph moose. Everyone likely desires a headshot of a bull moose looking straight into the lens, and that normally requires a focal length of at least 400mm, preferably 600mm.

Having a teleconverter is always a good idea in case the moose are further away!

A zoom lens, such as a 200-600mm, allows you to have the flexibility of obtaining photographs at different focal lengths.

You will often find moose in scenic habitats, like in and around water, lush and green forests, around vibrant fall color backdrops, or in snowy landscapes.

how to photograph moose

Having a wide-angle lens, perhaps a 24-70mm or a 70-200mm, will allow you to get that perfect ‘animalscape.’ If hiking long distances, it is best to travel light by carrying a 100-400mm or 100-500mm lens.

Since moose are most active during the early morning hours and late evening hours, it is best to have a fast lens such as an f/2.8 or f/4.0 to cope with low light photography. Use a tripod or monopod if you are unable to hold your camera setup steady.

Don’t forget proper footwear. You will want sturdy hiking shoes, and warm winter boots for winter.

Top Tip: Moose can be photographed in all types of weather, so carry items such as lens covers to protect your equipment from rain or snow. Don’t forget the lens cleaner in case you get unwanted moisture on your lens!

Read more: The Best Camera for Wildlife Photography

Composing moose photos

I always recommend having some fun with this, and trying different techniques and compositions.

Tight, close-up headshots will emphasize the power of the bull moose. By zooming in, you can capture the bond between a cow and calf, siblings, or a cow and bull.

However, don’t forget to think about including some of the moose’s environment. Moose habitat is so colorful and dynamic that it is easy to give your photographs a sense of place.

Wildlife images in beautiful, golden light are always on the list too, but more often than not, the moose don’t cooperate. Remember that no light is bad light and use the light to your advantage.

how to photograph moose

Don’t be afraid to change positions and try shooting into the sun. This technique can give you some unique photographs, especially when the bull moose are in velvet; the effects of rim lighting and backlighting can produce amazing results.

how to photograph moose

If you find a moose in winter, try creating high-key images when photographing moose in snow. I love these types of photographs, which give a minimalist and clean look without distracting backgrounds.

Read more: How to Photograph Animals in Their Habitat

Personal and animal safety

Like any wild animal, moose can be very unpredictable. Do not approach a moose when you notice a change in behavior. Here are some important warning signs to know and look out for:

If you see a moose licking their lips, drooling, or ears turned forward, this is a sign that you have encroached too far into their territory. Stop, move slowly, and leave; if necessary, use a tree as temporary cover.

Moose are normally docile animals, but at times they will give a mock charge which is a warning that they don’t like your presence. If you don’t heed their warning, they could potentially stomp you. This behavior can result in physical damage to equipment or a person.

Moose do not like dogs since wolves are their natural predators. There have been incidents where a moose has defended itself and/or its young to the detriment of a dog and its owner.

moose calves

Never, ever get between a cow and her calves. If a calf finds you curious and approaches you, back away and give it some space, and if a cow moose gives you the signs it is irritated, leave the area immediately.

Top Tip: Always carry mosquito spray! Moose typically make their homes in riparian areas which have high concentrations of pesky mosquitoes. In the summer months, you can get eaten alive.

I once forgot to put on mosquito spray, and while I was waiting for a cow to wake up from a slumber, I got bitten like crazy.

Also, make sure you have proper clothing to protect you from the sun as well as sunscreen. Moose are found at higher elevations and you can get burned quickly if not taking precautions.

how to photograph moose

In winter months, make sure you dress warmly and in layers.

When I am out hiking and out of cell phone service, I usually have an InReach or Satellite phone in case of that potential mishap. Lastly, always make sure you have an adequate supply of water if you decide to hike to moose habitat.

Read more: Ethics in Wildlife Photography – Code of Conduct

In conclusion

Moose are a fun and rewarding species to photograph at any time of year. They are a unique species, and their docile nature will provide you with amazing and wonderful photographs.

When you find and photograph a moose, you will learn to appreciate what gentle creatures they are.

Hopefully, if you spend enough time with them, you will get to see those incredible personalities which will keep you coming back for more photographs!

Visit Deena's website

Deena is a former Airline Captain turned wildlife photographer. She is based in Estes Park, Colorado, USA. Her focus is moose and all things bunny. Her awards and accolades include being a two-time top 25 finalist for the Wildlife Photographer of the Year People’s Choice Award, Highly Honored in Nature’s Best Awards Animal Antics Category and Audubon Top 100.

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