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Monday, September 17, 2012

Making the Most of Your Pictures from the Field

Over the years I've grown to appreciate that one of the most enjoyable aspects of a successful day afield is being able to look back upon the pictures taken from that particular hunt. Maybe it's because we spend many hours in duck blinds watching empty blue bird skies when the forecast called for much duckier weather just yesterday. Or maybe it's because we've all shared the frustration of days spent on the stand where the deer seem to just tip toe on the outer limits of our range. So, when the moment finally does happen with the stars, moons, planets, and Hunting Gods all aligning simultaneously, our successes always taste oh so sweet. In those moments of success take a few extra seconds to soak it all in by pulling your camera out of your pack to capture some memories to share. Whether you're shooting pictures with your cell phone, a point and shoot, or a digital SLR camera, here are some basic thoughts to keep in mind when you're taking pictures in the field.

Photography (no matter what kind of camera you have) is all about light and how to use what is available. If you're using a point & shoot with auto settings the camera will do most of the thinking for you by adjusting ISO (a measure of the camera's sensitivity to light), Aperture (the size of the hole in the lens controlling the amount of light let in), and Shutter Speed (how long that hole is left open for the light) to the amount of light detected at the time you're focusing the camera in for the picture. Shooting with an SLR camera, and out of the auto settings can allow you to get a bit more creative with the particular settings, even though the camera can still do some of the thinking depending on the mode you're shooting in.

So what about light? How do we need to use it? Well fortunately for us, most of the time we're out hunting it's either dawn or dusk, which coincidentally is also referred to in photography as the "golden hour". By definition, the golden hour is the first hour after sunrise, or the last hour before sunset. You've probably had those evenings on stand in the fall when the colors of the leaves in the last hour of shooting light is just amazing. Especially in mid to late October with the sun setting against a bold blue backdrop makes the reds, oranges, and yellows of the leaves just pop out in contrast. That's why it's called the golden hour. The sun is low in the sky, so it's impact on light is much softer, and subtle than it is at high noon when the sun is directly overhead. The shadows are subdued and the amount of light is lessened, making the general view easy on the eyes. So if you kill that big buck at last light, and don't find him until well after dark, just wait until the next morning if at all possible to take your trophy pictures during the golden hour.

This also leads into some other points. If you're going to wait until the next morning to take the pictures, then take some extra time to clean up the appearance of the deer. Use a damp cloth to wipe away any blood from the mouth, nose, and hide of the deer while it's still wet and easy to remove. When you're posing the deer, if you're taking pictures after it's been field dressed, try to either position the open cavity away from the lens or place your bow over the opening to help disguise the area. Make sure the deer's tongue is tucked back in it's mouth too. It just makes for a better overall picture, especially if you plan on sharing the picture with those that fall into a non-hunting audience, or if you're going to have it set up as your screen saver at work.

If time is of the essence, and waiting for optimal lighting isn't an option because you have to work tomorrow morning, then take a look at the light around you. Is the brim of your hat going to cast a shadow over your face because the sun is high in the sky? Look for some shade to set up in for picture time to try and eliminate those harsh shadows. If there's no shade to work with then try changing the camera's flash settings so that the flash goes off to help lighten up those otherwise dark areas.

This picture was around high noon, taken where the buck fell. I should have either cleared out the foreground, and used fill flash to get rid of the shadows, or drug the deer 20 yards and into the woods for some shade. 
Clear away the area around the animal so that the distractions are minimized. Pull out the tall grasses or corn stalks that are laying in front of the pile birds you're taking a picture of. Pull your deer into an area free from saplings that your camera may want to auto focus on. Get the fallen branches out of the way so your camera has a clear view of the animal and the hunter.

Try to take your pictures in a natural setting. Not that tailgates are unnatural, believe me I have my fair share of tailgate pictures, and still take some like that every season, but mix it up a bit. Try to see what around you could work in replacement of the tailgate. A picture of a pile of geese draped over an old log laying alongside the riverbank with the water as a backdrop tells more of the story from the hunt.

We probably shot 20+ pictures of this setting to try and get the dogs looking, the birds stationary, and the sun not too harsh. There's still some things I'd like to have different, but just like in hunting, I'm always learning something more when it comes to field photography.
Did you ride that deer into submission, or shoot it with your shotgun? Again, this is a picture pose I've done before, as have millions of other hunters, but try your best to refrain from sitting on the back of that buck and pulling up on his antlers like the reigns on a horse.

I didn't ride him like a rodeo bull, but I wish I had pictures of this buck in the field when he was killed in mid October. The fall setting would've been much better than the truck bed in the fast food parking lot. 

Dig into the details. Take a few minutes and look around at the details of nature. Take pictures of the spiderwebs still dripping with dew as the morning sun is breaking into the horizon. Before you pull that blood covered arrow out of the dirt, take a couple close up pictures of the fletching, or the drops of blood still pooling up on the oak leaves. Look out on to the water where your shell casings are floating along side the feathers from the ducks you just dropped out of the sky. Take pictures of the details, the little things that just look cool!


Try taking pictures from a different perspective. Get down low, with your belly on the ground and shoot upward. Stand on the roof of your truck and shoot downward, giving an aerial perspective. Take a knee, shoot sideways, set the self timer to shoot in multi-shot mode so that a series of shots are taken, just try doing something different. That's the beauty of digital cameras as well! You get instant feedback to know if you were able to get "the shot" or if something needs to be changed or altered. You never know what might turn out to make for a memorable picture to look back on someday down the road, so shoot away and have fun.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

3rd Camera check at the G farm


Checked the camera again recently, but the picture count was way down at the mineral lick on the outside corner. The western edge of the woods has corn planted in it, while the northern edge of the corner has beans. I'm guessing that the deer are starting to move off of the beans now that they're turning yellow and the acorns are dropping. There are no oaks along the outside corner, or within 60 yards of where this camera was hung. With only having a few hundred pictures compared to the other camera hung at the opposite end of the farm I decided to pull it off of the mineral site and relocate it on a trail coming into the woods from a fence row that contained some big rubs last fall. The trail runs from the west to the east, borders against some thick bedding area, and filters into the southern edge of a small stand of oaks. I hung the camera probably a little deeper into the woods than I normally do, but we'll see what happens. I won't be going back in to check it for a few weeks, and only when I've got a good rain in the forecast. Hopefully the picture count will be a little higher here on my next check, letting me know who is using the trail and coming in to feed.

A couple pics of Trent is all for bucks on my target list...



Some other pics just to throw in...

This yote needs to go. The fawns & polts seem to be going well around this farm and I want to keep it that way.


A couple turkey shots. They seem to be making a presence on the farm this summer. Hopefully they stick around for the fall season...



I think this might be my first pic of an owl...