Taking Proper Photos of Our Game

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There's no doubt that a quality photo from a hunt or a special harvest we have made adds immensely to the memories of that hunt that we take from that day forward. Having a picture framed sitting on our desk at work, mantel at home or stuck on a dresser in our bedroom can take us back to that special time and place in an instant and that's something very special.
Some hunters enjoy a mount hanging on a wall, and all the memories it keeps inside it's furry or feathered exterior. Some don't have the room or an agreeable mate to allow such an extravegance. A picture, however, when done with respect and shown with pride, can be an enjoyable attraction to most everyone, even the non-hunting guest, aquaintence or friend.
Conversely, a picture with blood and gore spilling from a broken animal with your smiling face at it's side, well, you get the picture (pun intended). An improper or disrespectful picture is a portrayal we should never consider showing of ourselves in the realm of sport hunting. Whereas a well done photo with good lighting, no foreign matter or blood present and with a clean respectful hunter included, shows us and anyone looking, something positive of ourselves and our sport.
I've seen way too many shots of joyous hunters (rightfully so) holding an animal's antlers with his bloody hands, with the tongue and even blood itself dripping from the mouth of a recently harvested trophy. This is not the way I choose to remember the trophy of a lifetime, or any harvest for that matter. A wise man can take some simple steps to ensure the photos he brings home from his hunt, are something he can enjoy and be proud to share with others.
There are few things more special to a serious hunter than the moment he walks up to his harvested trophy. Likely, he simply stands for a few seconds in awe and respect for what he's just done. He cannot wait any longer to hold this special trophy in his hands and after carefully approaching and ensuring the animal is dead, he bends and finally touches it. It will be within mere moments that he remembers he has a camera with him with which to perpetuate this happy moment by way of pictures taken of his harvest.
These next few minutes are what will determine, forever, whether the photos saved for all time, are good or ghastly. There won't be any "do-overs" folks, no second chances here. You absolutely must do the right thing the first time!  One thing we want to preclude from happening is having  blood and gore become a major part of the scenario. Yup, I understand that blood and death are part of a sucsseful hunt, but no one wants to see that part in a nice picture, no one.
After you've had some time to be grateful and give thanks for the occassion, let's now think of some reverence for our deed and for this fine animal. We will need to move the animal at least a bit, and get away from any accumulated gore/blood. I had occassion to drop a nice mule deer buck on a very narrow shelf on the side of a very steep mountain in Idaho a few years ago. There was not a lot of room to work with, but we did our best and got decent pictures even if the horses and guide could not be removed from the background. The picture is still a good one showing the animal and the "rest of the story" as well.
Move the animal to a clean and hopefully well lit area, facing the sunlight, so the picture may ultimately be taken with the sun lighting the subject(s). Check the deer's mouth for signs of flopping tongue and perhaps blood dripping out (we'll simply use a deer as an example from here on out, other animals are at least similar in most respects) The blood present should be wiped from the animal's mouth and the tongue either pushed back into the mouth or eliminated.
Now, the decision as to what side to have showing in a photo. Generally the side the animal ends up having against the ground ends up being the most bloodied. Even so, take a moment to look over both sides of the animal and pick the cleanest and also the side with the least obvious wound. Keeping the chosen side up, clean around the wound (if present) and at least clear as much visible blood away as possible. 
Once the animal has been cleaned up a bit, it's time to check and ensure there are no foriegn objects such as branches, grass, bushes, etc., that may block some of the subject, or worse yet, distort proper focus. Even grass or branches at the rear of the animal will detract from the main subject of the animal or, you and the animal, as center subject(s). Be aware of the backdrop and try to use nice scenery to your advantage, if at all possible. Taking a picture with something like a lake, or a nice mountain view as a backdrop can make the end result all but breathtaking.
If a buddy is there, you're in luck. They can shoot the photos (after some serious camera training) and you should end up with good pics, especially with a new digital camera which allows you to view your work. If you are alone it will be a bit more challenging to get some good pics, but with a bit of trial and error, you can hopefully use the timer to join your trophy in the frame, or at least take some posed pics of the animal alone. Be sure this is done prior to field dressing, if at all possible.
Try to include some hunting gear in the pictures, especially if it was instrumental in the harvest. These items might include binos, shooting sticks and of course, your rifle itself. You've already safened the rifle by placing it on safe and/or unloading when you arrived at your trophy. Make sure no one looking at the pics afterwards has any doubt but that the rifle has been placed safely and most appropriately unloaded as well. (there are exceptions to this rule, such as while in bear country, of course).
Open the bolt, open the lever, or similar. Do not allow the unloaded rifle's barrel to point anywhere near a human in the picture, portraying bad judgement. If you cannot be in the picture, as you are acting as photographer as well, be sure to pose the animal with the rifle, pistol, or shotgun with the animal. It really is a nice touch. Whether to be wearing an abundance of orange while posing is up to the individual. Personally, I've found it better to my eye to have removed some or all of my blaze orange clothing for the pictures. Simply looks a tad classier to my eye. Maybe not to yours though.
We've discussed some basics here in detail and a few other things should be covered, at least briefly. Again, leave the field dressing chores to after the photos. No one needs to see a gaping hole in the midsection of a recently deceased game animal. Obviously, try to remember to bring your camera with you in the field and, if it's been forgotten and the pictures must be taken after moving the game animal back to your vehicle, Please, Do NOT take the pictures posed in the back of your Pick'em-up truck!  This, Sportsfans is the ultimate Boo Boo.
Nothing worse than showing off  the 22" spread of a nice whitetail, with a pool of blood covering the bed of said truck, used as a backdrop. Simply take the pictures on a grassy side area, or at the edge of the woods as you arrive at your vehicle. If field dressing can be put off until then, try to do that. I can promise you that actually following these fairly simple suggestions will take not much longer than it took you to read them. And, further, I can ultimately promise the pictures taken after a little thought and "clean-up" work will be well worth the few minutes time invested.

Here are some good & some bad examples of photos:

This is one of the first pictures taken of my big Georgia Boar

Here's one taken just a few minutes later. Which would you rather have hanging on your wall or sitting on your desk?

Can you say "Bad Lighting"??

Better lighting, but a small trickle of blood has escaped since initial clean-up

These deer don't really look good with all the clutter and very unnatural "pose".

Same deer 10' away and 5 mins earlier. Nicer? In my eyes it is, for sure.

A good picture with both the hunter and his friend, one both will enjoy for a long time.


Color match the interior

Color match the interior lighting of street furniture in the reception with a white photography backdrops sheet covered, looking like a tent. This is an exceptional opportunity to get a quality photo.

Retired2hunt's picture

Now Picture Pose Educated

I recently harvested my 1st mule deer last week. After reading your article and reviewing my pictures I see I could have accomplished a far better final result. Thanks for your tips. The subsequent hunt pictures of mine will be far bettter to share and enjoy!


ManOfTheFall's picture

Thanks for the great tips. I

Thanks for the great tips. I know this is an area that I greatly lack in. I usually don't put much thought into the pictures themselves. Then when I see the pictures I'm always disappointed. But. I only have myself to blame. I just need to take that little extra time to make those bad pictures into good pictures and those good pictures into great pictures. I do have alot of mounts, but you can't carry mounts with you everywhere you go. you can however carry pictures and share your memorable hunts with friends, family, and whoever else may enjoy them.

hunter25's picture

Excellent photo tips. My

Excellent photo tips.

My picture taking has gotten alot better over the years but I still have a lot to learn. I also have a lot to teach as the photos my son or dad take are far worse than mine.

It always seems like everyone is in to much of a hurry to get moving, but like you said it takes very little extra time and the results are worth the little extra effort.

Your insight has helped me to think more about details that I had not considered before but will make an effort to implement in the future.

Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts and picture taking ideas with us.

groovy mike's picture

Great tips, your photos really show it

Ed -

Those are great tips.  Your "before and after" photos really show exactly what you are talking about.  There are some there that any hunter would be proud to show on their den wall - even to non-hunters.  The others you might show to a hunting friend who understands the image and the results.  But for the most part you are likely to just look at the photos like the pig in the truck yourself and not show anyone else. 

These are really good reminders.  In fact, you haev just prompted me to add some wipes to my hunting day pack.  I don't normally carry anything that would be suitable for wiping blood away in the field.  Normally I just try to wipe the blood away with leaves and it doesn't do as good a job as I would like it to.  But if I pack just a handful of paper towels and maybe some of those packets of hand wipes - they would be just the stuff to do a quick clean up before picture taking.

At the very least I'll makle a mental note to grab some when I come inside to retrieve the camera bag if I am taking photographs at the house after I have brought game home for butchering etc.  I even just called my son in to take a look at your article since he is the one who normally takes any hunting pictures of my game that I am in.

Thanks for the reminders for me and the visual lesson for him!


jaybe's picture

Very Insightful Tip

Thanks for the very insightful tip, Ed.

There really is a huge difference in how the picture turns out depending on the pose; professional photographers are all about the pose - and it shows.

I'm really thankful for the digital camera. Some of my older pictures were taken on film, printed, and now - 30 years later, scanned. Some of them are grainy and faded. The same picture taken on a digital camera would look like it was taken yesterday.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to take my first picture of a deer I shot when hunting alone. I jabbed a stick in the ground and "screwed" the camera onto it - a make-shift tripod (it worked).

I had the deer all posed with my rifle laying on it, so I set the timer, pushed the button and stepped over the camera to take my place behind the deer.

Unfortunately, I had pressed the Video button, and got a nice, 15 second vid of a big foot stepping over the camera and then me taking my position waiting for the shutter to click.

The results were pretty funny!

Anyway, thanks for this tip; we all can use these ideas to make better pictures for our desk, wall - - or on the BGH forum.