Getting the Most out of Harvest Photos
By Jeff Warren
With hunting season on the doorstep, I thought it would be a good idea to share a few tips that I have learned along the way for taking quality kill photos. Every year we have great stories about successful hunts for trophy animals come into the office that we can’t print in the magazine because the photos didn’t make the grade. It is a shame as some of these critters are World Class.
The very first thing you need to do after your trophy has been secured is slow down, relax, and enjoy the moment. Unless special circumstances apply, the need to rush is over. Setting your animal up for photos is very simple, and it makes all the difference. If darkness is a factor, field dress the animal and set him up for a morning photo session. I have left many carcasses overnight, and with proper precautions, spoilage does not need to be a factor. Each situation and type of animal is different, so your good judgment will have to be used.
I like to get the animal skylined, if possible, but it is not necessary. With large animals like elk, moose, and Brown bear, you’re pretty much committed to where they fall. I have spent a good deal of time cutting down vegetation around a carcass so that I had an outside shot of getting a good photo. If it is feasible, try to move your trophy to a spot where you have an uncluttered background. Branches, rocks, brush, logs, etc. can make the animal’s special qualities hard to see. Be sure to clean all blood from the subject as best as you can. If bleeding persists from the mouth, nostrils, or wounds, I stuff toilet paper into the problem areas deep enough to stop blood and to be out of sight. If you don’t have toilet paper with you, that’s a mistake that I can’t help you with! Maybe you can cut the tops off your socks or the sleeves off your shirt; it’s amazing what you can learn from an emergency.
Next, roll the animal up on its brisket and tuck the legs under the body to make it look like he is lying in his bed. You need to do this promptly as the legs will “set up” and they will be next to impossible to bend once they do. You can use the animals opposite side legs as kickstands to help balance the body on the brisket. I will then prop up and turn the head the way I want it with branches, ropes, tripods, backpacks, or whatever else is available to hold it in place. You can refer to the photos that I have added to give you an idea of what I’m talking about. You can also use sticks, branches, string, binocular straps, or boot laces to keep the mouth closed and the ears in a natural position. Don’t mess with trying to keep the tongue tucked inside the mouth, simply cut it off and toss it. After an hour or so rigor mortis will set in and you can remove all of the things that you used to set the animal up and it will hold itself in the general position you set him up for.
Gently clean the eyeballs with water to remove dust, dirt, and debris, which will make the eyes look moist and natural. If water is not available, you can spit on your finger and wipe the eyeball. It works great! For bigger game, it is very tough to get the head off the ground. You can use rocks or small logs to help with this. Getting the jawline off the ground is important. With elk and moose, the throat hair is usually long enough to cover up whatever you decide to use. I like to position this makeshift shim under the jaw where it connects to the neck.
When you sit beside or behind the animal, make him the focal point, not yourself. Sometimes this is tricky, but with the instant photo playback on today’s cameras you can experiment until you get it right. Remember, slow down and relax. I have had many clients get a little frustrated with hour-long photo sessions, but they were very happy months later when great kill photos were being enjoyed. Also, don’t be afraid to take a lot of photos from a bunch of different angles. It’s amazing how you can snap hundreds of photos and just a few of them will turn out. I like to mount my camera on a tripod, set the camera for a 10-shot burst, and let it rip. The erase button makes short work of unwanted photos.
Speaking of angles, it is important to take shots of the animal that show off his best qualities, whatever they may be, such as antler points, skull size, or horn length. This is where taking a lot of pictures comes into play. As an example, with bull elk, side views and quartering views are usually best as front views will oftentimes hide antler points. When possible, I like to sit to the side of and behind the subject but not directly behind, but that is just my personal preference. When you are directly behind the subject you risk interfering with or blurring out your trophy’s special qualities. Also, try not to get caught up in making the critter look bigger than it actually is. Hunters who pose themselves many feet or even yards behind the subject or tipping it up unnaturally on its nose, in my opinion, is tacky and kills photo quality immediately. My rule of thumb is to place yourself close enough to the animal that you can place your hand somewhere on the carcass without making yourself look unnatural. If it works out that you can control the animal by handling its headgear, make as little contact with the antlers as possible with your hand, using just your fingertips on the backside of the antler. Weapons in kill photos can be tricky. Take some photos with the weapon so you have them, but take most of the photos without involving the weapon.
These are just a few suggestions that I think could help you take great photos. Try different things for yourself and come up with your own ideas of what is pleasing to your own eye when viewing the final product. I hope your 2014 hunting season is a great success and that your dream animals are harvested. Remember, all you have when looking back on previous years’ hunts are the occasional mounts, memories, and photos. These photos are the one thing that is under your control. Hunt hard, and have fun!