Tips for Taking Better Trophy Photos

From Dr. Judy McFarlen, veterinarian and writer of “Deer Food Plots Made Easy” Featuring a Fellow Whitetail Deer Hunter, Deer Food Plots Manager and Farmer from Minnesota.

We are fortunate to have Colin Williams as a guest on Colin is an avid hunter and niche writer who uses deer habitat management with deer food plots being one of his overall strategies for the farm.

To a great extent, whitetail or mule deer hunting is all about collecting memories.

While the memory of your November, heavy-beamed, ten-pointer can linger in your head, nothing can capture that moment in time like a quality trophy whitetail or mule deer photograph.

Pictures to share
Tips for taking better trophy photos
Taken by David Kitner Ranch Manager, @ Duval County Ranch, Southern Texas.
November 29th, 08

No matter how creative an anecdotist you claim to be, pictures are by far the best way to share, with family and friends, your memories of hunts gone by. A quality deer hunting photograph can provide a medium for hunting stories told and re-told countless times. See our great photo of Deer Sheds also found by David Kitner.

This season, instead of pictures with the buck in the bed of a pickup, hanging from a tree, or in some cases already de-boned and laying on the floor of the shop, take the time to capture the memory of that hunt in some quality photographs. Taking the time to take a good quality photo may create the type of hunting memory worthy of the mantel.

For those of you wanting to improve the quality of your hunting memory photos, here are some:

Deer hunting tips for the photographer in you

1) Take the photo opportunity seriously.

Find a good location with a background habitat relative to the area of the hunt. Better yet, take the photos at the site of the kill (the background of this type of shot alone can initiate conversation, or at a minimum can create a wonderful memory of the site.) If you are like me, you may be lucky enough to even have the opportunity to take such a picture inside your deer food plot! If such conditions are not favorable, no worries, be creative. Such backdrops as a meandering stream, a photo with your deer stand in the background, the cabin, whatever, may evoke memories over and above the harvested whitetail or mule deer deer.

The point here is to take the time to set up your shots.

2) Clean things up.

Take the time to grab a bucket of water and take it to your deer. Or better yet, bring some wet wipes to the site of the kill. Either way, wash off the bloody spots, smooth back the hair as best you can and moisten up the eyes and nose. (Some photographers carry glass eyes with them, just in case the eyes of a deer they are photographing have already sunken).

Clean yourself or the person in the picture up as well, such as taking off a blood stained coat. Try and cover up the impact spots with your bow, gun, or leaves and position yourself in angles that will hide those gunshot holes.

3) Find the trophy buck’s best look or feature.

If you’re taking the shot, have the hunter pose with different positions and animal angles in an attempt to find the best shots. Actually take the time to look through the camera at different angles before you start clicking film. Even consider moving your buck several times to take advantage of different locale settings.

4) Take a full role of film for each deer.

You have just spent a ton of money on gear, licenses, food, leases, in some cases, and have invested your valuable time in the pursuit of these hunting memories, so don’t skimp on the cost of a little film. Keep in mind that these pictures of your whitetail or mule deer trophy deer are keepsakes, something your sons or daughters can show their kids someday.

If only one photo in the 36 exposures comes out perfectly, well that is all you need for a lifetime of memories.

5) Use a tripod, if you can, to stabilize your shots.

Even a stump or something solid can be use to rest your camera. For those of us who spend a great deal of time in the deer woods, on a duck slough or in a spring turkey hardwood ridge a tripod with a self-timing camera should be considered a necessity.

Lighting can make-or-break your photos.

A high, hard sun makes for difficult lighting conditions. The best light is the slanting light of early morning or late afternoon. That’s right, about the time you want to be hunting. Sacrificing a morning or evening hunt to ensure you are able to take some good quality photos will be worth it when the hunt is over.

Taking a full role of pictures can help ensure that one or more of your camera angles will work well with your light conditions. In many cases, camera angle can take advantage of the shadows and highlights the light can create.

The old philosophy of making sure the sun is always at your back does not always apply.

If you are taking your photos early in the morning or later in the day, actually taking photos into or just at an angle to the sun can produce a photo with incredible detail: so be creative.

I also prefer to add some color diversity in my shots.

I will often attempt to fill empty, drab or uniform spots in the photo with color or background diversity. Bending an apple branch into the corner of the shot, transplanting or repositioning a flowering goldenrod or bringing in some fallen leaves of varying colors and spreading them between the buck and the camera can add character and balance your photo.

As far as a camera goes, you really don’t need anything real fancy.

Any camera can take a photograph that can capture the memory of the hunt worth sharing with friends and family. The key is being serious about your shot and taking your time. Having a camera with a zoom can really help the quality of your shot. The advice I was given, if you do have a zoom lens, was to take your photos between the 70 mm and 90 mm range.

This helps manage the “big nose syndrome” you see in so many photos. These are shots where the animal and the hunter are so out of balance it looks unrealistic. When it comes to film, nothing real fancy here either, the standard quality Kodak or Fuji print film, ASA 100 or 200 with 36 exposures will work just fine.

The first time you go through the routine of staging good quality whitetail or mule deer photos for someone in your hunting party, you may find them rather impatient. I've done this several times with friends and hunting partners, but when they get their photos back, they realize all the staging was worth it.

Keep in mind, you are not just taking photos, you are cataloging memories.

Dr. Judy McFarlen Veterinarian, Alberta Rancher, and publisher of Deer Food Plots Made Easy, Dr. Judy McFarlen has helped a large number of novice and experienced deer food plotters establish and improve their whitetail deer food plots.

From deer food plot location strategies to seed selection, this text is a nuts and bolts kind of reading. It is guaranteed to make sense to even to the most inexperienced grower.