10 Tips for Great Deer Pictures

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Do You Take Good Trophy Photos?

(Heartland Bowhunter photo)

This fall, either in bow or firearms season, maybe you will have the thrill of having a trophy whitetail come walking toward your stand site. If all emotions are controlled, you’ll make the shot and will soon be kneeling beside the buck of your dreams. At other times, kids and other hunters new to the sport of whitetail hunting will taste success for the first time. Whether it’s a doe, fawn, or small buck, it will also be a trophy to them, and picture taking will be in order, just as it is on those trophy bucks.

What you do after the shot is made will add to the quality of your memories of the memorable day. With this in mind, we decided to share with our readers what it takes to capture images that are magazine-cover quality.

Field-dressing doesn't have to be a messy proposition. Use water from a nearby creek or pond to clean the animal and yourself.

1. Dress for Success

After the jubilation period is over, the first thing to do with your trophy is to do a good job of field-dressing the deer. Preservation of the meat is your No. 1 priority at this time. It’s important that you learn how to properly field dress a deer. For example, the incision in the stomach section should be as small as possible, and you should learn how to cut around the rectum and remove the intestines without splitting the pelvic bone. Clean all blood from the deer at this time.

2. Know When to Snap

Your next step is to determine when to photograph the whitetail. On sunny days, the prettiest light is early in the morning and late in the evening, so those are the best times to break out your camera. Sunny midday light is harsh, and produces dark, ugly shadows. If you must photograph your deer at this time, use the fill-flash setting on your camera to get rid of those quality-robbing shadows. On overcast days, it is possible to take pictures of your deer throughout the day. On very dark days, use a little flash to add some punch to your pictures.

3. Pick the Right Spot

Pick a pleasing location for picture taking. A clean background is important. Position the deer far enough away from the background to prevent a cluttered look. We normally use a hardwoods setting since that’s where we kill our deer. Make sure no cars, houses, fences, or any other distractions are visible in your picture. Be sure to cut away any distracting weeds or saplings that might compete with seeing the antlers in their entirety.

4. Use the Live-Eye Trick

Once a deer is dead, their eyes loose pressure and start shrinking, making the deer look, well, dead. A neat little trick we started using years ago was to buy a pair of glass eyes that taxidermists use in deer mounts. These eyes can be easily inserted over the deer’s eyes just like a contact lens. This gives the whitetail a still-alive look. Don’t miss using this little trick. We always carry a set of fake deer eyes in our camera bag. Heck, you never know when you’ll have two hunters find success on the same day. Better pack two sets of eyes just in case.

Drop a fake eye in the leaves and you could waste precious good-light time searching. Use a dab or two of blaze orange paint and mark the backside of the fakes. A small piece of blaze-colored tape should do the same trick.

5. Clean It Up

Once you have the shooting location and the fake deer eyes in place, thoroughly clean the deer once more, making sure not one drop of blood is showing. If blood is coming out of the nostrils, insert Kleenex or paper towels well up in the nostrils. This will soak up the blood and prevent it from dripping out of the nostrils. Make sure the deer’s mouth is closed. From time to time, we have trouble with this. We simply take a 10D(penny) or 12D box nail and drive it through the soft skin in the lower jaw, then hammer it up until it penetrates the palate in the upper jaw. This holds the mouth firmly shut, and causes no damage to the cape.

6. The Leg Fold

For the most impact, the deer should sit upright. To accomplish this, fold the front legs underneath the deer. Next, have someone hold the deer upright while you place a stick of firewood, or a small log under the back shoulder. This positions the deer high, and also balances the body. This is very important. If the deer’s entire body is to show, take a trash bag and stuff it with leaves, then place it in the body cavity. This tip enlarges the stomach section and makes the deer look life-like. Use leaves to cover the field-dressing opening in the body cavity.

7. Primp the Hunter

Now get the hunter in the picture. Make sure they look nice and clean, have blood-free clothes, wear a hat in a pleasing position, have their hair combed, and have gloves on. The human hands are very interesting to the human eye and it pulls the viewer’s eye away from the deer’s rack and to the human hands. Gloves cover the hands and solve this problem.

8. Place the Weapon

Make sure the weapon is in the picture. It will help tell the story and give the shots a more complete look and feel. The hunter should kneel down and get as low as possible. By holding the buck’s rack with one hand and bending their elbow and placing it on their knee, the hunter will be able to easily hold the deer’s head up for a long time, even if the hunter is small.

9. Make it Real

Be sure the camera is placed eye-level or below the deer’s head. Focus on the deer’s eye. A tripod is great to use for getting the correct composition. Use a lens somewhere in the length of 50mm to 100mm. This makes the pictures look realistic. Wide-angle lenses make you look small, and the deer appear huge, but cheapens the look of the picture. Show the deer in a true-to-life size.

10. Work All the Angles

Take every angle conceivable. Have the happy hunter look at the camera, but also have him (or her) look at the rack. This draws the viewer’s eye to those trophy antlers. Show the rack from the back as well as the front. And don’t forget to take both horizontal and vertical pictures. Also take pictures of the happy hunter walking up on and “discovering” the deer. Be sure to put hunting buddies and family in the pictures at times. You can never get too many pictures of family and friends.

So there you have the 10 tips. With today’s digital cameras, there is no reason for not having quality pictures of your trophy deer, regardless of its size. A 3 megapixel camera will produce an eye-catching 8-inch by 10-inch picture, and a camera film setting in the 200 to 400 speed range will give the images a sharp look.

Editor's Note: This was originally published on September 29, 2005.

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