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Do’s and Don’ts of Trophy Photos

Aug 25, 2015 |  #compound #bowhunting #Hoyt

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Many visitors are surprised by the stack of antlers outside the Outback Outdoors’ studio and archery range. I am often asked, “Why don’t you mount more animals?” My wife always responds that it’s because we are running out of room. Though she has a point, the truth is that as much as I love the mounts I have, I cherish my field photos more. I would rather have 5-10 great field photos of a trophy than a single mount that will hang lifeless on my wall. Now before you start throwing fruit and berating me as an ungrateful hunter who doesn’t respect the animals I hunt, let me explain…

I do respect the animals I hunt, and feel that honoring the animal I have killed is the most important thing to do after a grueling bowhunt. I do this in a couple ways. Caring for and consuming its meat is my first priority, but a close second is preserving the memory of that moment in the field, and the magnificence of the animal, for a lifetime. There is no better way to preserve the memory of that experience than through taking the time to set up the animal for a few great photos.

I want to touch on two specific photo categories that are both equally important. The first is the “trophy photo”, sometimes called the “grip-and-grin”, and the second is the emotional/reflective shot. I will discuss the trophy photo in this blog, and our producer Dustin Etheredge will discuss the emotional/reflective shots in a later post.

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Trophy Photos

               Trophy photos are the most common, most shared pictures when it comes to telling last season’s success stories, and are often seen on the covers of western hunting magazines. When and how these shots are set up has a lot to do with the hunt, the terrain, and the animal that was taken. For example, pronghorn antelope are often quite easy to photograph because they are usually taken in open country with open sky and good horizon lines and are easy to maneuver for a good shot. Elk and moose, on the other hand, can be quite difficult. These magnificent animals tend to expire in dark, heavily wooded areas and can be very difficult to maneuver for a good picture.

               However, with some simple tips and a little planning, you can take your trophy field photos to the next level, regardless of the situation, and more fully respect the life the animal gave by memorializing it in a great field photo. To start, let’s go over some simple “do’s and don’ts”.

Do’s:

  • Clean up the animal. Be sure to wipe away excess blood (I carry a pack of baby wipes for this purpose). Tuck the tongue into the mouth and close it.
  • Quickly position the animal in a natural position, before rigor mortis sets in. I like a “bedded” look where the feet are tucked up under them. This position works especially well if you have already gutted the animal.
  • Have your tripod or camera person set up in a low position. The best shots have the camera shooting up, towards the subject. (It will likely require your cameraman to lie on his/her belly)
  • If at all possible, wait for flat light (the first or last hour of light) to take pictures. It may require you to gut the animal first, and wait a while before packing out, but it will be worth it. These golden hours alleviate the harsh light that cause dark shadows, and really soften your trophy photos.
  • If the temperature is cool enough, and there isn’t an issue with predators or scavengers, you may consider propping the animal up against a tree overnight, using Para chord, to get good morning lighting. If you choose to do this, apply a thin coat of cooking oil to the eyes, nose, mouth, and antlers to showcase the animal better.
  • Take a few shots of just the animal.
  • Be creative and take a lot of pictures, you can never have too many. Try mixing up vertical and horizontal shots.
  • Take a few photos both with and without the flash, to see what turns out better.
  • Lastly, smile.
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Don’ts:

  • Don’t forget that the animal is the star. Don’t make it about you, showcase the animal as a means of respect and gratitude.
  • Don’t straddle the animal.
  • Don’t take pictures in the back of your truck, be prepared to do it in the field. It’s fine if you need to get the animal to the truck before you take the photos, but rotate your shot to show a natural backdrop, without the truck, ATV or house in the background.
  • Don’t take your pictures in sunglasses, remove them.
  • Don’t change into street clothes, take the pictures in what you wore for the hunt, even if they are dirty or a bit bloody.
  • Don’t take a selfie, unless you can frame the photo correctly with a tripod and timer, “duck face” selfies belong in the gym, not the backcountry, and certainly not in a solemn moment of respect for an animal.
  • Don’t take “full-arm-extension” photos, holding the buck as far from you as possible to make him look bigger. This tactic is obvious and the buck is big enough just how he is. Relax, be natural, and smile.

Set Up:

               Setting up a shot varies from situation to situation, but with some creativity you can adapt to just about anything. We will discuss a couple of options based on animal size. Remember, this is just a rough guide, but hopefully it will help you identify what you like, and give you a good foundation to build your own style upon.

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Deer, Antelope, and Sheep-

               With these small-to-medium sized critters, it is critical that the photo is taken from a low position. The manageable size of these animals makes positioning and moving them a possibility; find a position that showcases the setting and animal well. Remember, the more open sky you have behind the antlers or horns, the better the head gear will display; the solid sky background really helps in this respect, as headgear tends to blend in with trees, bushes, and, especially, camouflage apparel.

               I like to position the hunter sitting or kneeling behind the animal, with the top of the headgear even with, or higher than, the top of the hunters head; doing so makes the animal the focus of the photo. Three good orientations include: The hunter in front of the animal, holding the chin and antlers, the hunter centered behind the animal with his head in the middle of the rack (Great for mule deer or whitetail bucks), or the hunter off the back shoulder, holding the head up by the rack/horns.

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Moose, Elk, Caribou-

               These larger animals are much more difficult to move, and therefore take a bit more creativity. Again, the key is still to get the camera operator low, and shoot up towards the animal. For these large-bodied animals, shots from the side or quartering to the animal turn out best. The hunter will be behind the animal in these shots, just as before, but remember to position the hunter closer to the back hip of the animal, to avoid blocking or distracting from the antlers in any way. Try to get as much open or solid background as possible behind the antlers, but be prepared, these animals are not maneuverable, so sometimes you just get what you get.

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 Turkeys and other small game-

Taking field photos with smaller critters like turkeys can be somewhat difficult and a little less cut and dried. I prefer the natural in-the-field look, where the bird is in front of the hunter and the Hunter is holding the fan open in front of him. One good tip is to position the bird on a log, stump, or rock so that it gets the bird a little off the ground and the Hunter doesn’t appear so “bent over.” This also helps the cameraman shoot up at the bird easier, giving a better overall image. Another good option is the over-the-shoulder shot where the Hunter actually has the bird over his shoulder. This shot shows the fan well, and adds a dimension of finality to the shot.  The key is to showcase the fan, so remember to give yourself a solid background such as the sky or an old barn to help the plumage pop.

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Above photos courtesy of Andrew Gue and Nicole Larson

Summary:

               There are so many additional tips and tricks we could get into when it comes to taking quality pictures and truly capturing the memories of each adventure, but these are a good foundation. If taking pictures is something you find yourself enjoying, check with your local community college for a photography class. This will deepen your understanding of how cameras work, while molding you as a photographer. Photography is a captivating hobby, regardless of what memory you are capturing. By understanding a few basics in setting up and photographing your harvest trophy photos, you can turn good field photos into great reminders of amazing adventures.

Trevon Stoltzfus

www.outbackoutdoors.net/