Now that you have located your trophy where you want to take the photo it is critical to do a little prep work before you start snapping away. Have you ever seen a guy holding a 12 pt. buck on the front of a magazine cover with its tongue hanging out and blood matted all over the side of its body? The answer is no, and yours shouldn’t either. As hunters it is important to remember we portray an image to those that do not hunt. When you share photos on social media or even at your home to friends and family that do not hunt, they can easily be turned off something as simple as a little blood on the body. Use a wet cloth and remove all blood that might show in the photo, if you must, take the photo with the side of the animal that shows less damage. Wipe off all wounds and blood around the nose or mouth. Sometimes an animal’s tongue might be hanging from the mouth, shove it back in the mouth. If that doesn’t work, cut it off! If you can’t stop blood from coming out of the mouth cram some paper towel in it. And don’t forget to get yourself clean, remove any blood on your hands or clothing that may be in the photo. The goal here is to hide any and all signs of damage to the animal.
Both the setup of the animal, and the hunter, are critical to a good photo. Once you have taken the time to move your animal to that perfect location and cleaned it up you can start getting ready for the photo. For the purpose of this article we will use the Whitetail Deer as an example. You want to lay the deer on its side and tuck in those legs! If rigor mortis has set in you should be able to flex the legs in and out at the joints to loosen them free again. Next is the hunter’s position. While it can vary for all types of game, in most North American Big Game hunting situations you want to be seated closely behind the animal. That’s right, get your butt on the ground! When showing off a trophy set of antlers position yourself so you are not directly behind the antlers in the photo, instead sit more towards the middle of the body if possible. And as for the hand position, a lot of folks like to wrap their hands around the antlers to show off that mass, and while that is fine and on those really big racks, it is better in most cases to take pictures with your hands off the antlers or at least only hold them at the back of the antlers, unless of course you have shot something like a moose or elk that require a good handle to lift. Grab the back of the head while extending your arm to hold the head up in a level position hiding your hand(s). If desired, in the other hand you can be holding your bow or rifle but be sure to position it such that it is not covering up the animal. Another crucial point to this tip, remove anything obstructing the view of the animal such as high grasses, branches, sticks, weeds, agriculture etc. You want a clear view of the entire subject. Remember, the animal is the star of the photo.
Time for the Photo Shoot:
We’re not done yet, this is a crucial step so don’t skip it! You have moved your animal to that prime photo location and cleaned him all up, he’s in front of you and your butt is on the ground holding up that massive set of antlers, time to start taking those photos. If you have made it this far it should be safe to assume your buddy is there to take the photos but the same methods can be applied to a tripod and timer if you’re alone. Now is the time you stress to your buddy that he has an important job to do, after all he is taking the photo. Camera Angle, camera angle, camera angle. It cannot be stressed enough. The camera needs to be eye level with the animal if not lower. In many cases the photographer might even want to completely lay on the ground. With Big Game in particular you should NEVER take the photos standing up looking down on the subjects, you will hardly ever achieve the magazine cover look that way. The distance between the photographer and the subject is also important. Avoid using the zoom on your camera, you will lose quality. For a larger animal like a deer you should frame your photos with at least half of the body in the photo. You might even want to take a few a little farther back and get the entire body in the image. Depending on your camera type this might mean 3 feet back or 10 feet back from the subject. For those of you using DSLR cameras or handhelds with different modes this is a good time to set that Aperture low, or put the camera in Portrait mode. By doing so you bring all of the focus to the subjects and give a blur the background. Don’t be afraid to play around with the camera angles side to side, we all know some racks just look bigger at certain angles, just remember to keep the camera close to eye level with the animal. And one last final tip, make sure you are smiling! This is an exciting moment so it should be enjoyable. Sometimes that post hunt adrenaline is still in us so it’s hard to let loose and relax. Take a little more time if you must. You just harvested a trophy, you should be happy, not look like your posing for a high school football team photo!
An example of a great hunting photo and my wife’s first turkey. Good camera angle height. There are no signs of damage to the bird or blood on my wife’s clothing. She chose to hold her shotgun in the photo but it does not block the bird at all. In addition she is smiling. The only way this photo could improve would have been to remove more grass in front of the bird and for her to have been sitting completely on the ground although again, the kneeling seems to have worked in this case. This photo was taken using a DSLR camera with a low Aperture, notice the focus is on the subject with a blurred back ground.
Like most hunters, I have taken my share of game. I have also taken some great photos of my harvest as well as those of my friends since I started following these tips. Unfortunately, there are also a few animals I have taken photos of when I was not aware of these tips and those memories have been left in a photo stack collecting dust. Next time you take a trophy animal slow down and take the time to give these tips a try and rest assured you will come away with great looking photos that you can proudly display at your home, office, or online, that even the non-hunters will be able to enjoy for a lifetime.
Get Out There,
Caleb Smith - "You either get better or worse, you never stay the same"