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10 tips for taking better hunting photos

Hunting photos should tell the whole story.
600 400 Survival Common Sense Blog | Emergency Preparedness

That once in a lifetime photo of your trophy didn’t quite turn out like you planned? Here are some tips to help capture that elusive moment.

by Leon Pantenburg

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I’ve made my living as a newsguy for most of my career, and much of the time was spent behind a camera. My Journalism degree has a photojournalism emphasis and I carry a quality point-and-shoot  camera on a daily basis, along with a notebook and pen. Old habits die hard.

In my current day job as an instructor/mentor of a community college student newspaper, I teach all aspects of journalism related to newspaper publication and social media promotion. That includes photography.

This photo show safe firearms handling and respect for the downed animal.

This photo of me and my 2015 elk shows safe firearms handling and respect for the downed animal.

So quality photos are important to me – and to you – when it comes to getting that photo of your trophy harvest.

Here’s a couple tips before we get started:

  • Get a quality compact, waterproof and shockproof point-and-shoot camera and carry it with you whenever you go out. Murphy is just waiting for you to leave the camera in camp so you won’t have a way to record your harvest. An easy-to-carry camera means you’ll take it along.
  • Take along a lightweight tripod. The camera’s self-timer lets you take photos of yourself and the game animal but there has to be a way to hold the camera. Also, in low light settings the tripod can hold the camera steady.
  • Make sure the battery is charged, and the card has lots of room on it.
  • Take lots and lots of photos. Tell a story with your images. Sure, the harvest is important, but take some other photos that tell us more. This can include pictures of the camp, the skinning process, scenic areas you hunted in, what you wore etc. Everybody loves looking at photos.

Here are ten tips for better hunting photography:

Read the manual first : Elementary, but good advice. How often do people having problems with electronic gear that could have been solved by checking out the manual?

Boots over John Day

It’s amazing how popular my boots photo is.

Way too often.

Good taste: Make sure your photo is not tacky, and doesn’t make you look like a fool. Don’t put a beer in the dead bear’s paw, a hat on the elk’s head or show a lot of drinking or partying going on. The antis are looking for anything they can find to make hunters look like jerks. Don’t help them by posting such photos on Facebook.

Not enough context: I want to see some of the background, and preferably where the animal was downed. A mule deer harvested in the Oregon high desert is night-and-day different from a whitetail killed in a southern swamp. We like to see the difference. Closeup is nice, but show us what the place looked like.

Not natural: I know how to use Photoshop and all sorts of editing software, but I don’t like it for photos that are essentially documentation. If the light was foggy and muddy, that shows the hunting conditions. Likewise, it takes an expert to make a photoshopped image look like it wasn’t messed with.

Bad lighting: The best hunting times – dawn and dusk – are the worst photography times. Make sure your camera has flash capacity, and don’t forget to use it. Also, know how to use the ISO setting to compensate for bad light.

Basically, the higher the ISO number, the faster the camera can shoot and the better it can capture low light images. On the other hand, that bright scenic should have a lower ISO for better color saturation and sharpness. Know the difference, and how to set your camera.

Camera shake: One of the most common reasons for fuzzy photos in low light is that the shutter speed was too slow. Ways to boost shutter speed include opening the aperture wider, boosting the ISO number higher and using a tripod. Most of the time, the  automatic setting will work just fine, but in low light, be careful. (See “Read the manual first” above.)

Detail shots can help tell the story of the hunt.

Detail shots can help tell the story of the hunt.

Avoid distracting background: Bloody paper towels after field dressing, trash etc. take away from the focal point of the shot. We probably don’t need to see the gut pile. Also be aware of branches growing out of heads, or other objects that appear to be in the background, but might take prominence.

Show respect: Nothing detracts from a photo, IMHO, than evidence that the hunter doesn’t respect the animal. Position and pose the animal in as natural a setting as possible. One of my pet peeves is the deer with the tongue hanging out of the side of its mouth. Tuck the tongue back in the mouth.

Be safe: Make sure the firearm is unloaded before you take any photos. It’s easy to get excited and possibly forget your safe gun handling skills.  Make sure it doesn’t look like you’re pointing the firearm at yourself or another hunter.

Practice: Everything gets better when you practice it. Take along the camera and take photos for fun under challenging situations. It will pay off later.

Hunting is expensive, in time and money. Take a little extra time to set up and take quality photos, and you’ll have memories to enjoy for years to come.

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