You’ve just shot a big-game animal. The adrenaline is pumping; you and your buddies are stoked, and then the reality sets in that the work is now upon you to butcher and pack-out the caribou, moose, bear, sheep, deer, goat, elk, bison or musk ox. In the haste to get started butchering, you snap off a few photos, trying to capture the animal and moment, but without forethought, the photos rarely end up capturing the elation and satisfaction of the hunt or the image of the quarry.
To prevent that bad news from hitting you when you get home from your next trip and start scrolling through your images to pique the memory, here are some thoughts on how to maximize your photos of the hunt.
Fill most of the frame with the hunter and animal
Take photos that fill the entire frame with hunter and animal. Have the hunter change positions in relation to the animal. Try different poses crouched near the animal, holding its head, propping up the head or body, and with or without the gun or bow. Have the hunter sit back behind the animal and to the side of the animal. Change the angle at which you take the photo—standing, kneeling, prone, crouching, etc. When photographing a bear, move it so it is belly down and the legs to the front and back. Shoot the photo from a low angle.
Also take some photos where you fill the entire frame with just the animal. And remember to encourage the hunters to smile. If you are hunting solo, use the timer or remote for your camera so you can be in the photo. Bring and use a tripod.
Nice example of background and framing both hunter and animal.
Keep the sun at your back
You’ll want the sun at your back, with the understanding that with big animals such as moose or bison, you are constrained by where the animal goes down. Experiment with the angle between you, the subjects and the sun. Try to avoid having a subject have to look into the sun without sunglasses, as this will usually cause he or she to squint. The best light of the day is within the first and last few hours of daylight. If it’s bright and sunny, have the hunter take off his hat as that will cast a shadow on his face. Take photos with and without fill flash. After taking a few photos, preview to see if you are on track and so you can correct exposure, focus or framing.
photographing in bright mid day sunlight.
Keep shadows off the people and animal in the photo
On a sunny day with the sun at your back, the shadow of the photographer can fall on the subjects. Try to position the parties to avoid this. Also be aware of other shadows that fall on the subjects, such as how a baseball hat can cast a shadow on the face of the person being photographed. If possible, especially on bright days, drag the animal into the shade. If there are clouds moving through, then take advantage of the sun going behind a cloud to soften the light.
Choose a good backdrop
Scout out backdrops that present contrasting colors or textures, or ones with incredible views. You are obviously constrained by the immediate area, so just try to make the most of your surroundings. If possible, position the hunter on a slight rise, which will allow you to have the camera level even with the animal; this also lets the hunter skyline the antlers / horns above the horizon.
Take photos immediately upon taking an animal
Clean off any blood that you can from the head of the animal and start taking photos as soon as possible. Bring a pack of wet wipes to clean up the animal before photos. Put the animal’s tongue in its mouth or remove it. Try and cover up blood on the ground with grass, dirt or brush. If there’s not enough light for good photos, and the conditions are such that the meat won’t spoil, gut the animal and take the photos in the first light of day the following morning. Also take some photos at the time of taking the animal, even if it’s dark, and by using the camera’s flash, you can at least capture the moment and may get some usable photos.
If you end up waiting until the following morning, there are some things you can do to make it easier to photograph the animal. Since rigor mortis will set in, you’ll want to position the animal for photos. Prop the head up, put it in a bedding position if possible and prop open the eyes with sticks.Flat light reflecting off snow is a challenging scenario.
Still the photo captures the essence of the day.
Take lots of photos
Digital cameras allow you to take lots of photos and sort through them later. Experiment with close-ups, various positions, camera angle and backdrop. Consider different compositions of the photos—add a gun, ATV, pack, etc. Take both vertical and horizontal photos.
Again, remember to keep the camera on you and accessible so you can capture moments like these two bull moose sparring.
Have hunters wear bright colors
Camouflage is great for hiding from animals, but kind of drab in photos. Add an accent color such as a bright red hat or sky blue bandana to bring those pics to life. Ask the hunters you intend to photo to put on something colorful when it’s time for the photo shoot.
Take pics of the whole process
In addition to the hero shots you take once the animal is down, take shots of the butchering process, loading packs, hiking or riding out and anything else interesting. If possible, take pics of the animal during the stalk while it’s alive.
Action shots like this capture the essence of the hunt.
The difference between using and not using flash on acloudy day.
Know your camera
Try different shutter speeds, focal lengths, and with / without flash. Practice with your camera and spend time reading the owner’s manual so you are proficient and ready to go when the moment arrives.
Apply some of these tips and increase the quality of your hunting photos. Trust us: A quality set of images helps keep that special memory fresh and alive—and it’s never bad to have some more bragging material.