Taking Better Field Photos

by Brad Carter

“While photos of animals in the back of your pickup, or outside your tent can be very nice, it is hard to beat a good field photo…” The above pictures are a great example.

Everyone loves the old time pictures of twenty or thirty deer hanging on a skinning pole behind a bunch of hunters. Today those types of pictures, while impressive, are not suited all audiences. The best photos are taken in the field, where the animal fell (or near to it), before the animal is dressed for transport back to the truck or camp. While photos of animals in the back of your pickup, or outside your tent can be very nice, it is hard to beat a good field photo taken minutes after your trophy expired.

Today, we have a responsibility as hunters to show respect to the animals we harvest. A good impression must be made to other hunters, non-hunters, and anti-hunters alike. By taking a few simple steps, you can turn what would have been an average field photo into an exceptional photo, worthy of framing next to your shoulder mount.

Your Camera

The first step is finding a camera to fit your needs. With the recent transition from film to digital, a digital camera is your best choice. The advantage of having a digital camera is that images can be reviewed, on site, without developing. You can make sure you got the shot you want. While some hunters who are more into photography may carry expensive SLR style cameras, a simple “point-and-shoot” is better suited to most hunters. Today’s cameras are small enough to fit in a pocket, and rather inexpensive, while providing crystal clear images. A camera of 6 megapixels or greater is recommended, some outdoor magazines require very clear images that can be printed on a full page, and ask for a photo taken with a camera exceeding 8 megapixels (which isn’t hard to find today).

The best way to choose a camera is to test them out. There are a lot of different brands, by going to a department or specialty store, you can usually turn on every camera and tinker with it in the store. This will give you an idea of the operation and overall feel of different cameras so a good decision can be made. Today, waterproof and shockproof cameras are available. This may be a good investment as hunting, especially in bad conditions, can be very hard on gear.

Features you may want to make sure your camera includes are high quality glass in the lenses. Hunters understand the need for good glass in binoculars and spotting scopes, cameras are no different. Self timers are also important, as often times, a hunter will be hunting alone, or a hunting partner may be on the next ridge when your animal is on the ground, ready to be dressed. Other important features include a good flash and image stabilization. It may be a good idea to carry a small tripod, as balancing a camera on a rock or jacket may not be suitable depending on the terrain and angle of the shot.

Setting up the Shot

Use the sky, or other contrasting features to help your trophy stand out.

Setting up to take a photo takes time and thought, much like setting up for a shot with your rifle. Composition is key in field photos. While there is not a specific pose or stance for field photos, here are some tips for getting the “shot of a lifetime.”

Remove excess blood from the animal. Sometimes this is difficult, but by cleaning up the face of your trophy, your photos will be much cleaner and less repulsive to wives, non-hunters and anti-hunters. Carrying tissues or a small towel and a little extra water can go a long way in making your trophy presentable for field photos. Many times animals will bleed from nose and mouth, due to lung and vital shots. By stuffing tissue into the nostrils of the animal, and cleaning up the mouth with a rag or tissue, this problem can be fixed.

Take advantage of what is around your animal. Take the time to move your animal, or set up your photos to use the scenery to your advantage. Capture the natural beauty of the area as well as you can. This not only makes for great pictures, but can bring back memories and sense of “place” when reminiscing and looking at field photos.

Make the animal look as natural as possible; tucking legs under the body, and putting the tongue back in the mouth will show respect for the animal and make your field photos much more attractive. Perhaps you can compose photos so that bullet holes are outside the frame. Any items you want in the photos, such as a rifle, or bow should not detract from the photo. Keep unnecessary clutter, such as knives, ropes, wrappers or other items out of the photos. Simplicity is important when taking field photos, the animal should be the focus of the photograph.

Get Close, Use Contrast, and Change Camera Angles

By taking a few extra steps, you can make your field photos look their best. The above pictures are of the same Muley buck, by cleaning up blood and changing camera angles, the true size of this buck is shown.

Get close; wide angle lenses do wonders for turning average animals into trophies. Use contrast to your advantage, it will make your trophy stand out. Take pictures from different angles and take your time. The wonderful thing about digital photography is that images can be reviewed. Contrast this with film cameras; it was always a surprise what the field photos would look like when you got them back from the developer.

Using contrast in your photos is very important. Hold polished elk and deer antlers against a light sky, or white moose paddles against shadows or brush. Use lights and darks to help your trophy stand out. This may require moving your trophy a little bit–but will be worth it in the long run.

Take the time to change camera angles, and move the antlers/trophy. With digital cameras, you’re usually not limited to 24 pictures so take a lot. By experimenting with different angles and poses, you are sure to get a photo you will be happy with

By taking your time, taking photos from many different angles, and paying attention to the composition of photos, you can best record and remember your hunt. Field photos can be a great way to display your trophies, in addition to remembering the hunting experience. Photos capture things that taxidermy cannot. They take you back to the hunt, the surroundings, the mountain, and hunting partners, so you can relive your hunt again and again.