November 4, 2012

Photo Tips for Hunters : Taking a Respectful Photo of Your Harvest.

Hunting season has been in full swing at our house for a couple of months now.  As noted about our family, we have a household of archers, hunters, & gatherers.  We eat wild game (and rarely buy store bought meat.)  We live on it, our children grow on it.  There are, on occasion, hunting & fishing photos on this site.

This weekend began northern Minnesota's firearm season on whitetail deer. I have a complicated mix of feelings about this time of year. Growing up in a very rural area & being property owners in one of the most hunted areas in the state, the season has affected me all my life.
As children, my siblings & I had to keep blaze orange in our backpacks so we could wear it up our long driveway when we got off the school bus.  My dad did a good job of putting fear into us as kids.. a respectful fear of the Mississippi water we grew up on, a cautionary fear of falling in ice fishing holes, and a very rational fear of being safe out in the open during hunting season. 
Every hunting season there are reports of reckless behavior & trespassing in our part of the state.  The main thing that would prevent those things, the main thing I wish for each hunting season is RESPECT.
Respect for the woods. Respect for property owners & boundaries. And above all - respect for the wildlife that is hunted.

The point in harvesting an animal, in my moral value, is to harvest food for nourishment & sustenance for our family. I don't believe in killing for sport.
I think if you hunt venison, it should be mandatory that you eat venison.
Using the animal for sustenance in the circle of life is the greatest respect you can offer for taking it's life. Wasting it is senseless.
Respect is the key characteristic of a good & ethical hunter.
If you respect the animal you hunt, you will care about treading lightly on it's habitat.  If you have respect for it, you will take responsible, clean shots, as not to wound or cause suffering. (This level of respect would also prevent many senseless accidents involving pets, humans, livestock, & property.  Knowing you are making a clean shot would mean knowing what you are shooting at.)
Furthermore, something that I feel strongly about is showing respect for the body of the animal you harvest.  Whitetail deer are beautiful animals.  Be thankful for that creature, and treat it honorably.
In a time of social media, photo texting & endless visual communication.. I shudder at the photos I see during hunting season each year.  They do not give hunting & hunters a good reputation. 
You don't have to be a professional photographer to take a respectful picture.
In hopes to see more respectful photos, and since I live with hunters & have a fair & accomplished amount of experience in this department, I decided to share some tips. 
These are simple steps that anyone can follow.

1.  Consider the surroundings.  Take a photo in the location the animal was harvested, if possible.  If your deer is recovered after dusk, take a few moments the following day to position it's body in an area free of buildings & obstruction.  We have done this on multiple occasions.  Keep the surroundings as natural as possible. 
We have the fortune of hunting on the property we live, so deer are brought in from the woods by hand or ATV.  I'm aware that in many/most cases, people hunt in locations other than their homes, and vehicles are used to transport animals.  But vehicles are not (should not be) used in the hunting of big game.  Period.  Tailgate photos give off a number of very bad vibes of stereotypes in which I'll refrain from mentioning.  Take the time to remove your deer from any motorized vehicle for a photo.

2.  Position the animal respectfully.
Once your deer is in a nice spot, not on a tailgate, take time to position it naturally.  It feels odd to say, but you want your deer to look as life-like as possible.  I have seen photos of huge, majestic bucks on the ground in a pool of blood doing the splits - all four legs splayed out.  It's completely dishonorable & I find it awful to look at.  That is not a photo worth framing (or sharing.)

3.  Camouflage the chest cavity.  In most, if not all, of the hunting photos I've taken (including the photos of my husband & son in this post), the deer has already been field dressed.  
Position the animal with the cavity tilted down & camouflaged by vegetation or snow. 

4.  Put it's tongue in it's mouth.  If you do no other thing on the list but this, it will still improve your photo's respectability drastically.

5.  Make them look their best.  Use a rag to clean up visible blood, especially around the face.
Yesterday I saw a photo posted to facebook of a hunter with a small deer on a tailgate, who's head looked as if it had been entirely dunked in blood.  I found it repulsive. 
I can easily see how viewing an image like this can taint the view of hunting & "hunters as a whole."
If you're going to take a photo, have the decency to clean it up.
If you made a terrible shot - it may be tasteful not to share a photo.
By simply cleaning up & smoothing the coat, you're able to give a few moment's respect & have time to appreciate the magnificence of these animals. 

6.  Include your bow or gun in the photo.  It helps to tell the story of your hunt. 

7.  Position yourself respectfully.  Never sit on the animal.   

8.  Don't use your camera's flash unless you absolutely have to.  This relates to Tip #2,  making the deer look as natural as possible.  Flash makes deer eyes glow.  Glowing eyes are not natural or flattering. 
This also coincides with Tip #1.  Sometimes you only have the opportunity to take a photo after dark.  If so, then flash will have to do.  But if you can, invest the time to wait for a daylight picture. 

Yesterday morning, after many hours a day spent in the woods over the past months, Mason (14) brought home this beautiful buck.  I was humbled by it's awesomeness.  With a few minutes time & consideration, Mason has a frame-worthy photo to look back on this day and this buck forever.


  1. I really liked this post, and am sharing on face book. I understand the need for hunting and appreciate the need to both control the deer population and to hunt for food. But most photos of dead deer on facebook very much bother me. Your photos are both tasteful and respectful.

    1. Thank you so much, Kateri! How encouraging to wake up today to this feedback. Hunting is a touchy issue, so I was anxious about sharing so publicly about it. It sounds to me that you are well educated in your perspective on hunting.
      Thank you for sharing this with others!

  2. I can totally relate to this post Amanda. I've taken many deer season photos and have been able to actually teach my hubby and son a thing or two about capturing the moment in the best possible way.

    These are great tips. Thanks for sharing at YSB this week.

    1. Thank you, Nancy. And thanks for the opportunity to share!

  3. Wow and thanks this is a great post!

  4. An interesting and important don't think about this unless someone points it out...I mean, how to respectfully photograph your deer.

  5. Well and respectfully said. Handsome young son there...:)

  6. Tweeted a link to this post - wonderfully done!

  7. Hi Amanda, I admire the respectful attitude and values you and your family share concerning hunting and nature - like your photo tips in your earlier post! I've grown up in the countryside by a forest and rivers, so I share the deep love and respect for the nature and wild life (I have no experience in hunting, so I enjoyed your posts on hunting a lot)! The nature in your pictures reminds me off the forests in Finland where I grew up - bringing all the cherished memories in my mind :)
    Have a great week!

  8. I saw your great post on AT about the wildlife holiday tree. This post is so amazing. I can't stand the terms "helpless" or "poor" animals. This is the type of disrespect towards nature that got us into the mess we're in now. I was a vegetarian for 20 years but a wheat allergy forced me to become a meat eater again. Then my cat developed an autoimmune disease and he can only eat venison. I love eating meat and I'd love to learn how to hunt. Thanks so much for showing us how the process can be done respectfully.

    1. Thanks so much for your time in reading it, and sharing feedback!
      I really appreciate it.

  9. One tip I will pass along - this I gleaned from my husband who was lucky enough to hunt in South Africa - he was instructed not to touch the antlers. That being said, I think the (now two) photos of Mason with his buck is beautiful!