Story and Photos By: Jared Bloomgren
Let’s talk trophy or field photos.
What defines a trophy photo? It doesn’t have to be a giant buck or bull to qualify. Every animal is a trophy and each deserves a photo that will go along with the memories that last a lifetime.
I take extreme pride in getting just the right field photo of any animal I am fortunate to take. When it comes to honoring the animal, it is very important for us as conservationist outdoorsmen and women, to take good quality photos. To me, it’s not just about sharing the photos, it’s more about helping preserve the memory of a fantastic, successful hunt.
In today’s digital age, trophy photos are shared and judged instantly by anti-hunters. If you share your photos publicly, quality photos are as important to the image of our sport as they are to your personal memories. With that in mind, I have put together a few tips and guidelines I’ve learned over the years that will help you take better trophy photos. Let’s get started!
Take Pictures as Soon as You Can
Taking photos right after you take an animal is best, but I understand that it is not always possible. Sometimes it takes hours to find an animal after the shot and rigor mortis has already set in. Do your best to get the animal into a pose as natural as possible for the photos. Wetting the animal’s nose and eyes with water can help bring back a bit of “life," increasing the overall quality of the photo.
Clean Up the Animal
An animal's tongue hanging out is enough to ruin even the best photos. This same thing can be said about a large amount of blood and gore present in a photo. Not only are these photos disrespectful to the animal, they may be harmful to the sport as a whole. Tuck that tongue in, move away from the gut pile and wipe away what blood you can. Take the time to clean up the animal to get a quality photo, or be prepared to spend time editing the photo once you're home to ensure the photo is proper for posting. Also, be sure to clean the animal of more than just blood. Clean away non-natural dirt, mud and debris.
Choose the Right Background
Always be cognizant of the background in your trophy photos. Stay away from pictures of an animal in the back of the pickup bed, on the ATV, or hanging in the shop or garage. Remember, the anti-hunting community is watching. The best photos are those with a natural background. This may require repositioning the animal slightly, being careful to avoid posing in a location where it obviously wasn’t killed either. The background may be awesome, but the realistic aspect is even more important.
Clear away anything in the foreground that may hide the animal, particularly the head. Clear brush, grass or anything in the way in order to get a good picture of the animal. If that is hard to do, try and prop the animal’s head up and above the vegetation. Any vegetation between the camera and the main focal point of the picture can really ruin a good shot.
Position Yourself Correctly Around the Animal
I cringe each time I see a photo of a hunter sitting on the animal and trying to hold the head up. Even though it may have been a fun photo and the hunter didn’t think about it at the time, it can really take away from the photo and disrespect the animal. We've also all seen photos where the hunter is trying to make the animal appear bigger by stretching their arms out as far as they can. This often makes the hunter appear goofy and awkward and takes away from the quality of the animal. Find a position that will help you show off the animal. Position yourself either closely behind or off to the side of that animal.
Wide angle lenses have also become a big deal lately. They make the spread of the antlers or horns look much greater than they actually are. Forced perspective is an easy-to-use optical illusion that makes objects appear larger based on their position in the frame relative to other objects. Don’t get me wrong, the pictures can look really cool, but don’t do it if your intention is to make your animal appear bigger than it is.
I know all of us have a different demeanor while we take our trophy photos. I know of a couple people who refuse to smile in any of their photos regardless of having a bubbly personality. I have never quite understood that and probably never will. With each animal that I take the life of, there are mixed emotions. There is a feeling of sadness as well as a feeling of happiness and accomplishment that seem to occur at the same time. I do not take pride in taking the life of an animal, but I do take pride in the act of hunting. It can be hard to explain to those that do not understand the act thereof. I am sure many of you can relate. However, if you are happy for the opportunity to take an animal, then why not smile? To me, not smiling takes away from the photo and the animal.
Avoid Over-Editing Photos
Editing is another aspect in the trophy photo game that has allowed us to touch up photos and make them the best they can be. You can use various editing programs to remove blood from a picture or sharpen and brighten darker photos. This is a great technique, but don’t take it too far. Over-editing a photo can make it look unrealistic with a grainy appearance, over-saturated colors, a hue around the animal or person, etc. The more natural the look of a photo, the better. Editing the brightness, warmth or ambiance can make a photo better, but too much makes it look terrible.
Honoring the Animal
Another aspect of quality trophy photos that respectfully honor and preserve the animal you've just taken have nothing to do with the photo itself, but the caption or write-up you post with the photo. Here are a few comments that can really ruin even the best quality photos:
-“It’s sure not the one I wanted to shoot. But he will do.”
-“It’s not the biggest animal out there.”
-“I made the mistake of shooting this one instead of another.”
-“He doesn’t score what I wanted him to.”
If all animals scored what we wanted them to, imagine the beasts that would have been taken over the years! Respect what the animal is and be sure of it before you make that shot. Many get too wrapped up in the “score," and it can come off as disrespectful, boastful, unethical and ungrateful for the opportunity you've just had, overall sending the wrong message to hunters and anti-hunters alike.
There are a few things I like to keep in my pack to help when it comes to taking pictures:
- Water and toilet paper for wiping blood. Both of these items come in handy and should be with you anyway. I not only use the water to clean the blood away but also use it to wet the eyes and nose of the animal, making the animal look better.
- A good camera with remote control or timer option is important. I take hundreds of photos of each animal, even when I am alone. A remote trigger or a timer allows for great photos on a solo adventure. I take multiple photos in as many varying angles and poses as possible.
- A tripod for the camera is a must, especially if you are alone. I have had to pile up rocks or branches to support the camera when I forgot a tripod and that makes it very hard to get the photo angles you want.
Sharing memories of the hunt is what we most often do with others. Why not have the best pictures possible to support and back up the story? Trophy photos are what you make of them. Have the right gear and put in the extra effort to respect and photograph your trophy. You will be glad that you did!