Ten Tips To Better Showcase Your Trophy Deer

I wouldn’t call it a pet peeve, but it comes close.   I’m talking about those successful deer hunter photos where the participants involved are so inept as photographers you have to wonder if it was pure luck that they scored on a deer.   Truth is taking a better deer photo doesn’t require a whole lot of skill or technique.   It doesn’t even require fancy photographic equipment in the hands of a professional.   It usually does require, however, that you spend a few extra moments to prepare and pose properly with the fallen game.

Now before we get into the photographic tips let me define something.   First off, a trophy deer should be any deer you decide to harvest.   Seriously, a trophy should not be measured by the size of the rack or the dressed carcass weight of the animal.   In my opinion ALL DEER HARVESTED warrant the hunter posing with the fallen game for a picture as a show of respect.   Period.   End of story.   Any sportsman who claims they don’t want their picture taken with the deer they shot should reexamine why they killed the animal in the first place.

I learned years ago that the concept of a trophy deer is in the eyes of the beholder.   What purpose do I serve if I diminish the accomplishment of another hunter by ridiculing their achievement by somehow making it seem inferior.   Hey, don’t get me wrong I know that sort of good-natured fun goes on in hunting camps all the time…but it doesn’t make it right.   Besides, when one hunter belittles another hunter’s accomplishment in the woods it often says much more about the person doing the kidding than the man or woman holding the deer.   More often than not the hunters who find it necessary to create such a stir do so when they have nothing to show for their efforts.   It usually deflects attention away from their lack of production afield.

Okay, well I hope I’ve adequately established the point that it’s okay to take a picture of a hunter with their deer…and to do so no matter what size the critter happens to be.   It’s a sign of respect not only for the game but also to the successful hunter.


#1.  Put a smile on the hunter’s face.   The first thing I look at after viewing all aspects of the animal is the emotion shown by the hunter.   If they are somber and all serious looking…they have just ruined the picture.   A big smile adds so much.   As the photographer say or do something to elicit a big ol’ grin on the sportsman’s face.   It usually makes or breaks the picture.DeerPic2

#2.  Show the deer in its natural habitat.   Alright, so you left the camera at home and now the deer is sitting out in the pickup bed.   Drag the deer over to that spruce tree between you and your neighbor’s house.   The lawn and the tree make for a much nicer backdrop than that beat up old Chevy you call a hunting truck.   Ideally you want to take the pictures in the deer’s natural habitat.   If nothing else it shows you were prepared and expecting to be successful by bringing a camera out in the woods.

#3.  Clean up any excess blood.   Do this both on the animal and the surrounding ground that will be in the photo.   As hunters we all know that blood loss is part of the sport.   Still, we realize that non-hunters will likely see the photo and for some folks the abundance of blood can be an overpowering sight.   Spending a moment to do a little cosmetic touch up will mean the difference between a photo that is tasteful and one that completely lacks respect.

#4.  Crop the evisceration cut out of the photo.   One of the biggest problems most amateur photographers have is standing too far back when taking a picture.   Get up close.   The deer is dead so it shouldn’t bite.   If the picture you’re taking shows the cut on the chest or abdominal cavity you need to zoom in or physically take a few steps closer to eliminate that from the photo.   If you find it necessary to expose more of the deer’s body for the picture, then roll it over slightly to better hide where the deer was field dressed.DeerPic1   NEVER cut a deer all the way up the neck to the bottom of the throat.   It not only is a waste of time but it ruins many a good picture and that action will give reason for your taxidermist to cuss at you.

#5.  Hold the deer in a natural position.   If you crank on the neck or twist it unnaturally it will look like you wrestled the deer to its death rather than shot it.   If rigor mortis has set in to the point the deer just won’t cooperate then don’t force holding it in any special position.   In this case just kneel down close to the deer.

#6.  Never allow the tongue to protrude from the mouth.   Either push the tongue back in or take your knife and lop it off.   Again, it’s a simple act of showing respect and pride in the manner in which you display your fallen trophy.

#7.  Use the flash on the camera.   Many an otherwise great looking picture has been wasted because the photographer failed to use the flash.   Even in fairly bright conditions a “fill-flash” can bring out some of the details in the picture that would otherwise be lost to shadows.   If in doubt take some pictures with the flash and some without.   More often than not the ones using the flash will be the better of the two.DeerPic3

#8.  Try several poses.   Take some pictures with the bow or gun in the picture…take others with just the hunter and the deer.   You’d be amazed how if you take a variety of poses and get the camera at some different angles certain pictures will become natural favorites.   If in doubt…take lots of pictures to properly capture the moment.   Especially with the digital cameras these days…taking lots of photos only cost you the time to experiment.

#9.  Wear the clothes you were wearing when the kill occurred.   I’m sorry, but wearing a New York Yankees T-shirt with jeans and sneakers while holding a deer for a photo somehow just doesn’t quite look right.   Wear the clothes that make you look the part.   And if you have sunglasses on your face any photographer worth their salt should threaten bodily harm if they are not promptly removed so the hunter’s eyes can clearly be seen.   Chances are good you didn’t hunt with sunglasses on…so don’t wear them in the photos, either.

#10.  Keep it simple.   The best photos involve one hunter and one deer.   Gathering several hunters around one deer or several hunters with several deer loses some of the visual impact.   Do take a wide variety of poses with multiple people for special effect…but the best results will likely be the one-on-one images that are kept simple.   Resist the temptation of having your kids pose with you unless they were actually part of the hunt.   Too many people can become a distraction and will force the photographer not to be cropping as close as they should be for the most dramatic still images.DeerPic4

Keep in mind that what I have outlined here are just a few of my hard and fast rules when I set up the scene for taking some success photos.   Certainly there are many other tips and techniques that seasoned photographers use in this situation…but I’m confident if you adopt some of these strategies most successful deer hunter photos could be improved.

I’m quite serious when I say that to some extent I judge a deer hunter’s overall skill and ability as a sportsman with how well they tend to take quality images of their kill.   If they prepare and do the little things necessary to take good pictures then chances are quite good they will also carry this attention to detail to the way they hunt, as well.

Perhaps it is not completely fair to judge another hunter by the way they appear in this genre of photos…but you’ve heard it said pictures speak a thousand words.   A good photo will therefore speak volumes about you so make sure to do it right.

Any other photo tips I missed?   What unique photographic technique do you use for the most stunning hunter/deer photos?

© 2006 Jim Braaten.  All Rights Reserved.  No Reproduction Without Prior Permission.