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TEN TIPS FOR GREAT FIELD PHOTOS - A strategy for taking quality success photos

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I wrote this article about a year ago for the Pope & Young Club.  I thought I'd post it here for the benefit of all our Hunting Washington members.  Per my request, boneaddict was kind to contribute some of his photos as well.  I've not included all the photos here because it would take multiple posts so if you have any questions, please PM me.

The main point I'd like to convey is that you don't need a high-dollar professional camera rig to take nice photos of your hunts and successes.  The 3 to 5 Megapixel point-and-shoot you already own will suffice if you consider some of the tips outlined here.  I hope you enjoy it.

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The adage ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ is quite fitting when considering the pinnacle moment of a hunt when we kneel down beside a fallen game animal.

But few bowhunters are formally trained photographers.  To many, the whole “photography thing” can be downright daunting.  F-stops, apertures, light metering, a myriad of lenses, and a host of other variables can paralyze the average bowhunter like a bad case of target panic.  Rest assured, taking quality field photos by yourself is easier than you might think.  Herein I will suggest 10 tips that will enable you to capture your hunting successes with all the confidence of a well executed bow shot.

Getting Started

Properly presenting a harvested animal in a photo does take a bit of effort but with some planning and the right equipment, anyone can take excellent photos suitable to share with fellow hunters and non-hunters alike.

Unfortunately, many hunters wait until a harvested animal is at rest in the bed of a pickup before taking pictures.  These photos lack both respect for the animal and the emotion of the hunt.  So the first step is a commitment to packing a camera with you each and every time you go afield.  We all know that shot opportunities can be bestowed upon us when we least expect it, so it is essential to make sure your camera is with you and ready for duty at all times.  

Whether you’re a flatlander hunting farmland whitetails or the adventuresome sort who enjoys the solitude and challenge of remote places, the equipment you’ll need is virtually the same:

1. High-quality digital camera
2. Tripod
3. Memory Card(s)
4. Batteries (one comes with the camera, but it’s good to buy a back up)
5. Camera case
6. Hand-pruners
7. Folding saw

Ten Tips for Great Field Photos

Tip 1: Plan ahead.  Make sure you have fresh batteries and enough memory.  Buy a compact soft-case to protect your camera from the daily ride in your pack.  Most cases have pockets for an extra battery and memory cards which help keep everything together. A gallon-sized freezer bag will provide additional moisture protection.  Pack several paper towels to clean up any visible blood.  Pick up a small, lightweight tripod and practice with your camera’s self-timer feature.  Many cameras allow you to choose the time delay which will provide you ample time to get ready.

Tip 2: Prepare the kill site.  No matter where you hunt there will likely be some site preparation needed before you can capture high-quality field photos.  Here in the Pacific Northwest many hunters carry hand-pruners to aid in navigating the dense vegetation.  They are also an invaluable tool for preparing a kill site for photos.  Use them to quickly snip limbs, brush, grass, and weeds.  A small folding saw will make short work out of larger limbs.  Look for those long strands of dry grass between your camera and your quarry.  They are distracting, especially when lit up with a flash after dark.  Also be aware of blood on the ground or vegetation as this will show up in photos.

Tip 3: Consider the lighting.  Before you begin shooting photos you need to size up the situation and set up for the best lighting.  For deer-sized game, you can usually turn the animal facing the sun.  For larger, heavier game, such as moose and elk, you may not have that option.  Use your clippers or saw to open up the area as best you can, taking note of the sun’s position.

An overcast day provides excellent lighting by evenly diffusing sunlight.  Bright sun overhead or behind will cast dark shadows, especially under hat brims.  Using your flash will help reduce the dark hat shadow hiding your smiling face.  If you can, position your photo to be facing or slightly quartering into the sun for best results.

Night shots can be a bit tricky.  Most point and shoot digital cameras have great auto focus and auto light metering features that are typically part of the “Program” or “Auto” mode.  These features work in sync to allow your camera to focus on an object in total darkness by projecting a red light onto the subject.  On most cameras this is done by pressing the shutter release button half-way down.  Metering off the head of the animal will provide good focus and appropriate depth of field.  Most cameras have a red-eye reduction feature that is useful for night shooting as well.

Tip 4: Composition – Capturing the essence.  A well-composed success photo will have all the elements of a good story.  The subject matter will be prominent and in crisp focus.  Key supporting elements, such as a hunting bow, will be casually included and carefully placed not to distract from the primary subject.  Creating this balanced visual collage of man, beast, and tools is called composition, and it is key in producing great field photos.

The rule of thirds is the general principle that your subject matter should reside within one of the four intersections of a tic-tac-toe grid overlaid on your photo.  Some camera’s viewfinders have this feature built in like the crosshairs of a rifle scope.  Another trick when composing your shots is to consider leading lines or natural elements in the frame that leads the eye to the main subject.  These can be subtle elements such as a treeline or skyline.

Long legs of the deer family can clutter the foreground of a photo so it’s best to tuck them back away from the camera lens.  Some folks like to tuck the animal’s legs underneath in an “African pose” to create a more regal presentation.

Composing photos with antlers or horns against a clear sky or sunset backdrop create stunning visual interest.  Remember to keep the antlers from obstructing your face. You might try this if the conditions are right on your next hunt.  

It bears repeating, watch for those pesky blades of grass and twigs that always seems to plague success photos.  Ensure you have a clear path from lens to subject.

Tip 5: Capture the emotion!  Each year we bowhunters put forth substantial energy obsessing about the forthcoming hunt.  Countless hours tick by as we research new hunting grounds, apply for special permits, and fret over our gear with excited anticipation.  We juggle priorities and commitments, and we’ll drive all night to get a jump on the rising sun.  Yes, bowhunting is a passion of the heart and soul.

Yet I find it ironic that with each passing season I see many field photos depicting hunters with droopy, glum faces.  Some folks even look mad.

Be aware - the expression on your face is telling a story.  It’s good to show some excitement or look down at the animal with respect and admiration.

Tip 6: Show Respect.  It’s not uncommon to thumb through an old timer’s hunting album to find the hunter straddling game or standing next to a field dressed buck in the bed of a pickup.  They are nostalgic for sure, and for many, they are prized family heirlooms.  But today we have many strong social and political forces at play; forces that would have you out of the woods and hunting banned if they had their way.  We need to be cognizant of the image we portray, including our success photos.

Here are a few ways you can show respect for your quarry with your success photos.  Do not sit on the animal.  Instead, kneel beside or behind.  Do you best to wipe or rinse off excess blood and/or compose your shot to crop out unsightly blood.  Remember that a flash will light up blood on ground cover and vegetation so do your best to reduce the amount of visible blood in your photos. Often the tongue will be hanging out of the animal’s mouth.  You can simply cut it off or tuck it back inside.

Tip 7: Take both horizontal and vertical photos.  All too often people seem to forget that you can turn your camera 90 degrees to achieve vertical compositions.  Some situations are much better suited for a vertical orientation so look at the shot both ways.  Experiment and leverage the freedom of digital photography.  You can view your photos instantly on the LCD screen and delete any that don’t have promise.

Tip 8: A tripod is required.  Many hunters are quick to pack a camera but fail to pack a tripod.  You know who you are – balancing cameras on rocks, logs, your pack, and anything else that might work.

Today there are a variety of great tripods available for every budget.  The Joby Gorillapod Go-Go is perfect for the weight and space conscious hunter.  Its unique ball-and-socket design allows you to position your camera just about anywhere, even on tree limbs or a clump of brush.

Tip 9: Environmental Considerations.  Most of the technical gear we use is designed for the onslaught of abuse we impose on it.  Most consumer-grade digital cameras were not, however.  They must be kept dry and free from dirt and dust in order to function properly.  I have found that by keeping my cameras in semi-hard shelled zippered cases, they ride safely in my pack day in, day out.  For an added dust/moisture barrier I often put the case inside a gallon Ziploc® freezer bag.

Tip 10: Keep Shooting!  Don't hold back - digital photography technology is like a banana clip for your shotgun.  I will take a lot of photos that I know will turn out well, and then a bunch of experimental shots just to have fun with the process and learn about additional camera features.

For some folks an annual bowhunting outing is a leisurely affair with friends and family; a tradition that forges relationships over generations.  For others it’s the personal test of endurance, stamina, and mental toughness that comes from a backcountry bivouac hunt.  Regardless of our personal motives and aspirations, one key element remains constant – the hunt is meaningful.  Therefore, it makes good sense to capture this goodness as a means to relive, share, and reflect.  I hope you’ll try these photography tips on your next hunt and enjoy the memories for years to come.

[copyright 2008 Tom Ryle]

Some great tips there, thanks for sharing.

The blood on that stick above the bridge of the nose and the blades of grass in front of the neck are distracting. ;)

Just kidding.  Very nice write up in terms of information and proper use of the English language (which some of us greatly appreciate!). :)


--- Quote from: Dipsnort on November 20, 2009, 01:29:21 PM ---The blood on that stick above the bridge of the nose and the blades of grass in front of the neck are distracting. ;)

Just kidding.  Very nice write up in terms of information and proper use of the English language (which some of us greatly appreciate!). :)

--- End quote ---

Funny, because that grass bugged the tar out of me!  It was a quick-turn assignment and there are still a couple poor grammatical errors but thanks for the kind words.  I appreciate the feedback.

bigpaw 77:
Great tips, I just got a new digital camera and have been taking a lot of pictures of the deer around my place, Your tips should result in better pictures, hopefully this fall


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