I’ve spent some time writing about this subject in the past but the more I look at social media the more I feel I need to keep bringing it up. Taking pictures has never in our lifetime been as easy as it is today. Certainly not everyone has the equipment I have or for that matter, need it. The smart phones of today will do an excellent job at taking hunting related photographs with just a small amount of thought. Id like to go over that thought process in detail if I may.
While I would love to begin this message with positive notes I cannot. I first must criticize each and every one of you that post pictures in total disrespect of the animal. When you post bloody mutilated images you not only send a very wrong message to our opposition but the pictures are simply ugly. Dog hunters specifically seem to be the worst of all at this but others are guilty. It seems like a daily occurrence that I find images on one or more social media platforms with predators either in half or almost in half. This should never ever be posted. We cannot spend our lives thinking that there are not people out there trying to ban these things that we love so much. We have two saviors where this is concerned. First and foremost those of us that love hunting will never vote people into office that will assist in banning it. Secondly, is that person that may not hunt but are not brainwashed into hating it. When images of mutilated animals grace the pages of social media these non-hunters in limbo may well join the wrong team. I know you want to post images of your catches, you are proud of your dogs and you should be. But that doesn’t alter the fact that some of the animals you take don’t need to be photographed. I would say that I catch more bobcats then most; I would further add that between my brother and I we definitely catch more. However, you can scroll through our personal pages or hound page (Melon Ranch Hounds) and you will never see an image that shows blood and guts. There is no point in it. Another truly remarkably ignorant move is you hog hunters that constantly post videos of bull dogs hanging off of the ears of hogs while you kill the hog with a knife. I know that is fun, I know you’re proud of your dogs, and I know you want people to see it. But, it shouldn’t be posted because it isn’t a question whether, but when these images are going to be used against each and every one of us. If you want your friends to see these things send them a text. If you want to post to social media do it, but be mindful of what you place on the table in front of someone that might well use your pictures against you.
Now lets talk about photography after the hunt. One cannot begin to explain how important the pictures of your child are with their first deer. Actually all post hunt photographs are important and a certain amount of thought and time should be in place to make them great. After a successful hunt I prepare for the pictures by default. My process is as follows:
- Light – Ultimately you would like to be taking these images when the sun first gets completely above the horizon or shortly before it goes behind it. Unfortunately this only happens about once in every ten years so you will have to make things happen. Lets be honest, it is going to very hard to expose an image totally correct if the mid-day sun is burning a hole through the earth. There are some things you can do to offset it but for the most part this is simply a bad time of day. You can use a fill flash to offset the shadows and even take away from the sun’s light. You can also find a shade but rarely does a shade completely block the effects of mid-day light. If it is at all possible your best bet is to wait until the evening golden hour and shoot the pictures. Sadly in many cases waiting isn’t possible so it has to be done here and now. Use your flash and pay close attention to shadows. If you have a camera with manual setting I like to slightly under expose my images during this time of the day and fix the lighting in post. This works better for me but I am sure others do it very differently. Make sure to pay close attention to faces, as they will normally be the first things to be overexposed. Shadows create a problem during this time of day and hats are the main culprits. There is nothing quite as frustrating as a good picture with the nose and eyes blacked out by shadows. When this gets bad enough there is little that can be done in post that looks anything close to normal. Furthermore, many people don’t have the time or desire to mess with color correction and other elements of photo editing. Have your subject remove the hat or at the very least tilt it back so the eyes can be seen. The eyes are the key to this entire image for a normal post hunt picture. If your camera is set to auto, which most are unless you know what you’re doing, focus on the eyes and you’ll be good.
- Background – It seems like few people realize that the background of an image can make or break the entire photo. There are all kinds of things that I look for but for the normal guy that isn’t deeply into photography the main thing is that you don’t want things lying around in the image. Check and make sure that you’ve not left a towel, knife, or other unwanted articles lying on the ground. It is super frustrating to get home and look at your pictures and find a bloody paper towel lying in the grass. Another common mistake that I see is power lines. Far too often I see a pictures on social media that is really nicely done and then at second glance I find a power line running through the sky. Be aware of these things and remind yourself to look for them. Before long all of these things will become second nature. Lastly, the contrasts between the subject and the background are crucial. I’ve seen more deer pictures then I care to remember where the antlers are in front of a bush with the leaves off of it from the winter cold. The antlers blend so well with the background that if you stare long enough the entire image dissolves into a very confusing collage of nothingness. If you plan to sit or kneel directly behind any antlered game (which I do not like) don’t do it if you are wearing camouflage. The camp pattern nine out of ten times will have the same affect that the dead bush has. Offset your body and place a high contrast between antler and background.
- Body Placement – You have the animal set up in a way that shows respect, your background is clear of unwanted trash, your contrast between antler and background is good, so now what. Where should you be? If there is one single pet peeve I have with this it is the guy that sets his butt ten feet behind the animal making it appear bigger. That doesn’t work unless you don’t mind the world knowing what your doing. This is why when I am taking these types of images I want at least one hand of the hunter on the animal’s body or antlers. However, I rarely if ever want them directly behind any part of the head. For me it is the cookie cutter way to photograph these scenarios and it should have become extinct with the dinosaurs. The guy standing straddling the animal holding the head up while bent over drives me insane. That solidifies just how lazy the hunter and the photographer are which means that neither should be hunting. Sit or kneel to the side, yes it’s going to be work and yes it’s probably going to be uncomfortable, but it will in fact be worth it. Another thing that gets over looked is boots. Few things on this earth kill a perfectly framed and exposed image like the sole of a boot sticking in your face. Be conscious of these things and omit them.
- Never take one – As a professional hunting guide people more often then not get frustrated with me when it is time to take pictures. They get upset because I want to take ten or more images in several different positions. Everyone wants a good photo but very few want to take the time to do it. Lets face it, if you are taking pictures of your animal the hunt is over. This picture will be one of the very important reminders of this moment for the rest of your life. It will also be something held dear to your loved ones long after you are gone. What people don’t understand is that I am looking for one single image. I want that one with the perfect facial expressions, perfect depth of field, perfect exposure and perfect lighting. That is a lot of perfect to ask for from the click of a shutter that is far faster then a second. You can blink, you could not be looking relaxed, there are a million different things that could be wrong while you are looking for one thing right. Be patient and be thorough, shoot a lot and when you think you have too many switch positions and shoot twenty more. Chances are way better that you will find the one you want if you have many to go through. I like that idea much better then shooting the picture and leaving in hopes that everything is how I want it.
- Backing up your pictures – Lets face it if you keep them on your phone it’s just a matter of time before they are gone. If you shoot pictures with a camera and store them on a drive, in time the drive will fail. It is smart to back them up and I like to do so in three places. I am not a fan of the cloud but millions are and it works great. I have several drives that they are backed up on and I have a smugmug account. In doing it this way I feel pretty good about not loosing my pictures.
Photography is something that one is never too young or too old to become involved with. The biggest myth of them all is when someone says I can’t work those cameras; there are too many buttons. Perhaps my camera has a lot of button but you can walk in any number of stores and buy a quality point and shoot digital camera that will do everything for you. Simply charge the battery, place the proper card inside, and set it to auto and start shooting. It is literally that simple with today’s technology. Photography has fulfilled so much for me that it is hard to explain. Granted I have taken it to where most people don’t care to and that is perfectly ok. But, you are a hunter and you do it because you love it. If you are going to preserve the memory, do so in a way that everyone enjoys it, most importantly yourself.