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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
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.
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”.
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.
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
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
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
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.
Deer, Antelope, and Sheep-
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
Moose, Elk, Caribou-
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.
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.
Above photos courtesy of Andrew Gue and Nicole Larson
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.