Advice on How to Take Better Trophy Photos from Me, AND People Who Know What They’re Talking About.
(I recently wrote an article for my friends over at TeamHUNT with onXmaps about things I am working to change about my taking harvest photos. They were kind enough to give me some tips on how to take pictures that are actually good. I’ve shared the article below, hope you enjoy!)
Pictures have a lot of power. Right?
With one, just one, buck naked picture of you as a kid, your mom can absolutely ruin your social
life for months. Pictures of your kids’ first Christmas can surface emotions that pile on you like a ton of bricks. That’s why we take pictures, to remind us of the emotions and events that we don’t want to forget (or use later as blackmail).
But seriously, pictures do have a lot of power. That’s why I want to get better at taking photos, especially harvest photos.
I work hard at this. I put in countless hours and want to remember it when I finally fill my tag. Yes, it’s something I’m not good at. And yes, I’ve got a list of excuses why I am exempt, but who cares.
HERE’S MY SIMPLE ADVICE
#1 – Smile, Dang It!
I recently posted an article about how I smoked a wild turkey that I killed this year. If you read that article, you saw the picture at the top of this post. And, if you are like several of my friends, you also saw my “mad face”. Fact is, I’m so excited that’s actually my “try to look normal, you dork” face. In case you’ve missed it up til now, I’m not a serious guy. I don’t like how hunting can become super-intense and all about conquest. For me, it’s a lot of fun. I want my pics to show just how much fun I’m having. I do not want the “just take the picture so I can get back to being awesome” vibe my face is giving in this turkey pic.
#2 Be IN The Picture, BUT NO SELFIES!
Most of the season here is pretty warm. Early Georgia bow season is downright hot. The kind of hot where you’re trying not to think about the sweat rolling down your back in the treestand. So, when I finally manage to arrow a buck (usually early season) the rush is on to get him home and on ice. So, my pics are rushed too, or at night, or just grainy cell phone pics. Oh, and did I mention that I usually hunt alone? Alone, as in no cameraman to take a pic. Take the pic to the left for example. This may not look like a trophy to some, but it’s my first buck with a bow. It’s a HUGE trophy to me (more on that here), and I only have two pics of it – this being the best one. At least my hand is in it, right?
In an effort to respect the game, save all the meat, and be a good steward, a lot of my trophy pics are just of the animal laying on the ground; like this pic for example. I recovered the deer as it was getting dark that evening. I hauled it out of the woods into the field, snapped a quick pic, and loaded it up to get it on ice. I wish I had a pic with me actually in it.
#3- Light Is Your Friend
If you’re anything like me, you rarely think straight after harvesting an animal you’ve been hunting for a while. Take the pic to the right for example. I chased that buck for 5 days straight, and finally connected at the last chance, on the last day of the hunt. I was so excited, I didn’t even pay attention to shadows, glare, the smudges on the camera lens – nothing.
At least this is better. It’s not dark yet, which is a win for me. I’m actually in the pic, check. And wouldn’t you know it, a half-smile snuck in there too. Even when I’m not actively screwing up the pic, I still wasn’t paying attention to the light. A quick spin 45 degrees to the right would have set the perfect lighting for this photo. Did I notice that? Nope.
NOW SOME GOOD ADVICE: HELP FROM TEAM HUNT BY ONXMAPS
Let’s be honest with each other – I have no idea how to take a great harvest pic. Hopefully you’ve gotten that by now. The good news? I know some guys who are pros at it! To help me get some tips on how to take great harvest photos that capture the memories I reached out to my pals at Team HUNT by onXmaps, whose Creative Director has a few tips. She didn’t hold anything back, so let’s get right into it!
#1 – Make The Hunter (And Critter) Look Good
- Clean the critter (and the hunter) up! Wipe any blood off the mouth, nose, and carcass with a wet rag. Get the tongue back in the critter’s mouth – use fishing line to keep the mouth closed and the tongue inside the critter
- Put the critter and the hunter up on a rise or ridge with the camera tilting up to them. This will make your hunter and critter look bad-ass. Think epic Hero shot. Sky, especially blue sky is your best friend. Skylight critter antlers, if possible
- Keep the hunter in field gear - use camo gloves to hide the hunter’s hands that may cause a glare and be distracting from the overall photo
- Watch for shadows – tip hats up to keep shadows from covering faces, if you are in a heavily shadowed area, make sure shadows and pieces of surrounding vegetation aren’t covering the faces of both the critter and the hunter(s). If you have helpers, make sure their shadows aren’t in the shot either
- Don’t cut off anyone’s head in the photo – nuff said.
#2 – Setup The Scene
- Find a spot that captures the terrain and habitat. If you hiked up a huge cliff to get that critter, show it in the photo - let the photo tell the story
- Keep brush and weeds out of the background immediately behind the critter and the hunter—these things don’t grow naturally out of our heads, the photos should reflect that
#3 – It’s ALL About The Positioning
- Use the right aspect ratio. You want to share your hard work and have it print out or put on screen and look good right? Take your photos at a 4:3 (best for 5″x4″ or 10″x8″ prints) or 16:9 aspect ratio for films and HD widescreens). I always prefer 16:9, and then I can crop to 4:3 when processing for print. (Learn more about aspect ratios)
- When using the 16:9 aspect ratio, take the photo horizontally (which is always the preference for video). This will create an appealing photo to be used for sharing on digital platforms and allow for additional photo editing.
- Try different angles. Move around to capture different angles of the critter and background. Also, have the hunter turn the critter’s head to highlight different aspects of the head.
- Try to frame the hunter and animal appropriately for the background and surroundings. Utilize the Rule of Thirds if possible.
SO, JUST TO RECAP:
GOOD HARVEST PHOTOS
- DO position your camera horizontally
- DO use the environment to tell the story
- DO use a 16:9 or 4:3 aspect ratio
BAD HARVEST PHOTOS
- DO NOT take photos vertically
- DO NOT cut off heads
- DO NOT forget about shadows