DEER HUNTING… WITH A CAMERA
I recently had the opportunity to spend a day in the woods “hunting” deer and I didn’t fire a shot with my rifle or bow. I was using my trusty Nikon camera to capture some images of whitetail bucks with noted wildlife photographer George Barnett on his ranch up near the Oklahoma border. For many years, George’s breath taking images of giant whitetail bucks and other game animals have graced the covers of many of the major outdoor publications and his whitetail calendar, “Whitetail Super Bucks” can be found hanging on the walls of whitetail enthusiasts all across the country.
George is the consummate wildlife photographer with decades of hard work and dedication capturing with his camera the day to day lives of whitetail. His coffee table book, “Whitetail Images, Up Close and Personal” is chock full of stunning whitetail pictures, as well as a good written account of the effort necessary to capture these images.
Through my almost three decades as an outdoors writer for magazines and newspapers, I’ve had hundreds, probably a few thousand images of fish and game published. A few even made magazine covers, but I am by no stretch of the imagination, a photographer.
Through necessity, I learned how to “frame” a picture; and thanks largely to automatic camera settings, usually do an adequate job of capturing my subject. On occasion, often while actually hunting, I’ve taken some good images of wildlife, thanks in large part to the sun being just right, or sometimes just happenstance.
Mr. Barnett invited me up last week to photograph whitetail bucks on his ranch and after watching a master at work, I came away with a better understanding of what really takes place in the production of those stellar images we see on the cover of a magazine. I won’t kid you, we had a lot of fun joking and kidding each other. Our time spent photographing bucks wasn’t at all boring or “intense,” but it was educational.
I guess occasionally those “picture perfect” images occur by just being at the right place, at the right time, with the right lens and sunlight. I’ve been lucky a few times photographing wildlife by just “being there.” But photographing deer is serious business to George, it IS his business, and there are some things he does to help ensure success on every photo shoot.
The afternoon we spent “shooting” was partly overcast with brief periods of sunlight. As George put it, “the lighting was near perfect.” Rather than just randomly pick a spot and set up our tripods/cameras, George positioned us on the side of a wood line adjacent a small food plot with the sun at our backs or actually quartering over our shoulder. The plan was for us to photograph some bucks that filtered out of the heavy cover to feed along the field’s edge.
A low camera angle or one taken from ground level is important when photographing deer. George always shoots from the ground. Nothing looks more unnatural that a deer picture taken from an elevated position, such as a tree stand. We were concealed behind some brush on the ground for this “shoot,” with a clear field of view ahead, just slightly lower in elevation than the ground at the edge of the tree line. Later in the afternoon, with plenty of good shooting light left, the deer began to filter out about 50 yards from our position. Our 300mm lens allowed us to get some really good images of bucks that almost filled the viewfinder. Accustomed to “staging” my picture of harvested fish or game, I usually shoot one frame at a time. I heard George’s camera clicking away, firing multiple shots in a burst. At the end of the day, I think I had shot about 50 images to several hundred on George’s camera. Multiple shots are very helpful to the wildlife photographer for reasons that became obvious when viewed on the computer back at George’s house. In some of the photos, deer either had their mouths open or eyes closed, or just weren’t striking a becoming pose. Where some of my photos were lacking in this regard, George with his multiple frames, captured some great poses of each buck.
Taking good pictures of harvested game is obviously much easier. This is something that I have had a great deal of experience doing.
George and I discussed what it takes to create a great “keepsake” image of a harvested game animal. Rule number one is low camera angle. Lie down on the ground in front of the hunter/animal and get that lens as close to the ground as possible. Make sure and remove any leaves/weeds that would obscure the shot. Never have the hunter directly behind the head/antlers of the buck, but rather try to “skylight” the antlers off to one side. Have the hunter hold one antler at the base, rather than use both hands and obscure the antlers with a “grip and grin” shot. Just like when photographing live animals, take plenty of shots with varying poses. Chances are good that you will have several that will become lifelong remembrances of the hunt.
This recent afternoon shooting “deer” pictures with a “sure ‘nuff” professional has sparked me to spend more time in the woods attempting to capture more quality wildlife images. But for now, it’s still hunting season. These camera sessions will have to wait a few more weeks!
To learn more about George Barnett’s whitetail calendar or book, visit his web site, George Barnett Photography.