Anatomy of a photo #74: Elk tongue


A Tule Elk, licking its lips

Elk are a tongueful animal. I believe I have more photographs of Tule Elk tongues, than I do of any other animal’s tongue. Maybe it’s just them, or maybe it’s just how they act when I am around… eyeing me as a tasty chunk of meat, and licking their lips as they think about tearing me apart and ripping the flesh from my bones…

It may not be so far from the truth… I’ve seen things. But that is not for this post. Right now the topic is the elk pictured above and capturing a photograph of its tongue.

The two things you need straight off the bat are an elk and a camera. Once you have those two things, photographing an elk tongue becomes that much easier. Myself, when I want to find an elk, I head out to the Pierce Point Ranch which is towards the northern tip of the Point Reyes National Seashore. (Beautiful spot to visit, even if it weren’t for the hundreds of elk- Tomales Bay on one side and the mighty Pacific Ocean on the other.) There is an elk preserve out there with a 400+ elk herd. These particular elk are Tule Elk, a cousin to the Roosevelts. No hunting though. If you want to shoot them, it’s cameras only (which is hardly a hardship for me).

As far as cameras go, having one with a telephoto lens is a big help. Elk are big. If by some chance you didn’t scare it away by trying to approach it there is a good enough chance that it could hurt you by striking out with its hooves if it is a female, or with very big, very pointy antlers if it is a male. For everyone’s safety, use long lenses to get close to elk, not your feet.

The rest is partially luck and timing. Watch the elk, see if it seems likely to be about to stick its tongue out. This is more common if it is eating or grooming. Take your chances, observe, and shoot. If you’re fast enough, ou too may get a picture of an elk’s tongue.

420 mm lens, shutter speed 1/1000th of a second to freeze the motion of the tongue.

For more animal tongues, you can have a look at these animals-

River Otter tongue
Gull’s tongue while swallowing a whole starfish
White-tailed Kite tongue (it’s a type of bird/hawk/raptor
Song Sparrow tongue while singing
Sea Lion tongue

Happy shooting

About Galen Leeds Photography

Nature and wildlife photographer, exploring the world on his feet and from his kayak. Among other genres, he is one of the leading kayak photographers in Northern California. To learn more about him, visit him on his website-
This entry was posted in Anatomy of a photo, elk, photography, tongues, wildlife photography and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Anatomy of a photo #74: Elk tongue

  1. If you want pictures of animal tongues, then you’ll have to find a herd of bison. They use their tongues to grab clumps of grass in much the same way elephants use their trunks.

    You’re right about staying back from elk, they turn mean quicker than my ex when she had been drinking. They can be standing there feeding as if no one was around one minute, and charging the next when some one got half a step too close.

    • Cows are similar to bison in how they graze, wrapping their tongues around the grass to uproot it and/or tear off chunks. As you say, similar to how an elephant uses its trunk.

      I haven’t been charged by an elk yet, but I’ve definitely been made nervous a few times… I actually have a fun story of my own stupidity with an elk that I will have to post sometime soon

  2. Mattie Ivy says:

    This Tule elk certainly has character! He’s such a goofy looking fellow with his tongue stuck out.

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