You don’t have to look far to find photos of successful hunts these days, especially if you are on social media. Not long ago, friends and family had to wait for you to return home to see your trophy, now with a simple click, the whole world can see your buck long before the knife ever touches its hide. Being a hunter in today’s digital age is easy. No more waiting on rolls of film to be developed, hoping for a great shot, only to find out that your eyes were closed, or a tree branch was obstructing the view of the deer’s antlers. Those days are long gone. I read somewhere recently that over eighty-five percent of the U.S carries smartphones, so why do we continue to see bad photos popping up all over social media? Is it possible that the perfect photo doesn’t really exist or is it actually true that beauty is in the eye of the beholder? I am going with the latter on this one. What a prize-winning photo is to me may not even warrant a second look by you as you’re scrolling by. If you really want to produce great photos every time out you first need to answer the question, “who am I taking this photo for?” Identify your audience and shoot for them. Everyone’s audience varies in one degree or another. Some hunters take photos strictly to procure memories to share with family and friends. Others might look to capitalize on the perfect shot to promote their brand on social media. To each, their own.
For me it is quite simple. My audience is my family. Hunting for us can’t be defined in a sentence or two. Unlike some that hunt in multiple states, we typically only get to do this for a couple weeks every year. Therefor we take full advantage of the opportunity to enjoy every second of it. One way to assure we don’t forget any of our hunts is to take photos, lots of photos. Years down the road your photos may be the only physical memory you have of the hunt, aside from a set of antlers, assuming you know where they are. For a lot of us, only a select few trophies will ever make it to the living room wall. Most end up nailed to the woodshed, tossed in a pile, or worse yet, left on the tin roof of the chicken coop years after mother nature has completed her task. These antlers were once very important so don’t cast them aside like ‘Charlie in a Box’ on the Island of Misfit Toys, never to be touched, held, or talked about again.
Like I said earlier, my audience is my family. I write stories and take photos for us, so it is pretty easy. Here is a list of ideas that has helped us shoot some great photos.
Choose your background. If at all possible choose a contrasting background that helps the viewer see the antlers better. Fall maple leaves not only make for a cool picture, but the yellow backdrop will also make his headgear really stand out. Don’t get stuck in the same old poses. The straight on shot, kneeling directly behind the animal might let people know it was you, but a 4-point can become a 2-point if you’re not careful.
Be aware of the blood. Sometimes it’s avoidable but whenever you can, try to minimize it. Roll the gut pile away from your work area. It doesn’t make for a great picture and who wants to stand on it while field dressing anyway. When it comes to blood and gore, if grandma doesn’t want to see it in the photo, change your angle.
What are you showcasing? Typically, I will make the animal the center of attention, not the hunter. A great way to capture this is by using the selective focus feature on your phone when taking the photo. By blurring the background, it helps direct the focus to the animal, making for a great picture.
Angle is everything. Take time to check your angles. Unless you want certain features to be unnaturally enhanced, put some thought into it. If a buck is positioned with its head uphill and the picture is shot from downhill, the body will look enormous, but the rack will shrink. Just the opposite of the shot you see often where the head is downhill and the hunter is uphill, behind the animal, making the antlers appear taller than they really are.
Every photo tells a story - capture it. If your pack was difficult, or you had to bone or quartered the animal, take some pics. Be creative. I have written stories about how terrible the pack outs were with my boys’ deer this year. So naturally I wanted to take some shots of them packing the bucks on their backs. This can serve two purposes, to remind us of how much work it was, and to remind us to quit shooting deer so far from the road. Whatever your story is, tell it.
Use your filters. After you get home and take care of your kill, grab something to drink and start going through your photos. If you see something you don’t like, say a gut pile in the background, crop it out. I took some really cool pictures of Logan’s cow elk this archery season where the boys were skinning and boning it using headlamps. What I didn’t care for was the exit wound on the back edge of the rib cage. With a few adjustments I had a great photo.
Don’t forget about black and white. Some of my favorite shots over the years were in black and white. Using this filter on your phone can transform any picture into a classic. Also, if you do have some unwanted blood in your favorite photo, the filter will help minimize it.
Take time to clear obstacles. Nothing ruins a great picture faster than grass, thistles, or anything else that hides or takes away from your desired shot. If you can’t remove everything, try repositioning the animal for a different shot. You waited a whole year and put in long hours to finally fill your tag, why not take five extra minutes to take a great photo.
Props. Do you add your rifle to the shot, or not? That’s up to you. If you do add a rifle, make sure it is not pointed at anyone. You know that it is unloaded but to the viewer, a rifle pointed at dad might be the only thing anyone remembers from your photo. A bow with a quiver full of arrows looks good laying across an elk but may cover up half of a deer. If it doesn’t look right, take it out.
Show some respect. I took a guy out hunting years ago and he killed a buck. When I got over to him, I was thoroughly disgusted to find a lit cigarette in the buck’s mouth. Keep the beer cans off of their antlers and out of their mouths as well. Image is everything. Some people are on still on the fence, we don’t need to push them over to the outspoken, anti-hunting crowd.
Lastly, when it comes to taking photos, have some fun and don’t be afraid take lots of shots. Sometimes the one you don’t even remember taking ends up being your favorite. Happy hunting - KW.