Through QDM, deer hunters all across the country can feel a tremendous amount of pride in assuming responsibility for the betterment of the whitetail. We invest a lot of time and energy into growing, holding, protecting and then hunting whitetails, which can lead to certain emotional aspects of QDM. Specifically, I’m referring to the humility, respect, and reverence felt when you kill a deer you may have been following for years. I used to struggle with ways I felt would adequately give the deer the honor and respect it deserved after I killed it. I’ve learned that taking quality harvest photos can be the ultimate way to pay homage to any deer you harvest. I’d like to share my favorite tips and techniques for capturing and preserving the memory of each whitetail I kill.
Anyone Can Do It!
Anyone can take quality deer-harvest photos. Really, it’s not rocket science, and don’t be intimidated if you don’t have expensive camera equipment. Beautiful, respectful harvest photos that can make any hunter proud can be captured even with inexpensive “point-and-shoots” or even camera phones. All it takes is a little extra time and effort and a dash of creativity after the kill to give your animal the respect it deserves. You worked and hunted hard to make this moment possible; you can work a little more to ensure the moment is preserved in a quality harvest photo!
QDMA member Willie Urish of Illinois took this photo of his dad’s 2012 buck with a cell phone, proof that you don’t need expensive equipment to take great pictures!
Respect the Animal
As a hunter and someone who is fascinated by whitetails, it bothers me to see a photo of a mature buck thrown in the back of a pickup truck with his tongue hanging out, and a hunter with a cheesy grin straddling the animal and giving a thumbs up. Don’t get me wrong, I’m extremely happy for the hunter, but I believe such pictures show little respect for the hunt or the animal and are soon forgotten.
Step One: Clean the deer if necessary. A whitetail shot squarely in the lungs will generally bleed profusely from its mouth and nose as well as the entrance and exit hole. Lots of blood is great when you’re trailing a deer, but it makes for a tasteless harvest photo.
To remedy this problem, I always carry bottled water and old rags with me in my pack and simply clean the blood off the animal and restore the whiteness of the deer’s chin and chest. It’s also likely that your deer died with its tongue out as well. Again, this doesn’t make for the greatest photo, so simply put it back in the deer’s mouth. If its jaw is locked shut due to rigor mortis, you may have to cut out the tongue.
Step Two: Position the deer for the shot. My personal favorite is what I call the “bedded position.” Simply roll the deer onto its belly and tuck the legs under the sides of its body, as if it were bedded, to balance the deer and give it a more natural look. If done properly the deer will sit upright without your support, as in this photo of Willie Urish with a doe he killed.
Next, I like to have the hunter positioned behind the deer and, if it’s a buck, have the hunter hold the buck’s rack away from their own body. The reason is, I think the deer should be the focal point of the photo. However, don’t take this too far. Some people go to extremes to get far behind a buck to make the rack look larger. This exaggerates the actual proportions of the buck and in the worst cases results in a silly-looking photo.
Finally, position the camera or cameraman at eye level with the deer, or slightly below if possible. If you don’t have someone with you to take pictures, placing the camera on a tripod is an alternative. Similarly, placing your camera on your pack or a stump can serve the same purpose.
Notice all of these tips in the photo below of a buck I killed. The buck is clean, he’s in the “bedded position,” I’m behind him (but not too far), and the camera is positioned below the subject.
Tell a Better Story
I’m convinced that deer hunters are some of the best storytellers in the world. If you’ve ever shared a campfire with a group of deer hunters you certainly understand why. Unfortunately, however, one area of storytelling that deer hunters could use some improvement is their picture taking. Properly taken harvest pictures can both complete, or compliment your animal’s story.
Consider both the foreground and background of your image when taking a harvest shot, as both can greatly contribute to your photo. For example, I’m not a fan of using “props” in harvest photos, but if you killed a buck with which you a long history, including a set or two of sheds, include those in the photos. That tells the viewer that’s an old animal that you’ve been hunting for a while now, and the kill was just part of the story.
Conversely, if food plots were instrumental in your success, lush clover in the foreground lets the viewer know that deer was reaping the benefits of your hard work.
Further, let Mother Nature do her part as well and use the environment around you to give the viewer an idea of the terrain you were hunting when you harvested that animal. For instance, a giant Midwestern corn-fed buck looks nice in a, well, cornfield. What if your buck was shot deep in the mountains? Perhaps a wide shot that includes the intimidating hills and ravines that buck once called home would make sense. Remember, you and your deer shared the woods the day it was harvested, let the terrain and topography do their part in telling your story.
One of the first shots taken of the hunter and his deer should capture his or her genuine excitement and an ear-to-ear smile. Once those shots have been taken, however, it’s time to get creative. Experiment with different poses and angles. A hunter looking down at a buck’s rack depicts a feeling of respect and admiration. Having the hunter kneel over the animal portrays thankfulness and appreciation, as in the shot below. Everyone has got their own creative mindset, and harvest photos are a great chance to express it. Enjoy and celebrate the hunt!
See the Light!
Light is one of the most important elements in a great photo. Unfortunately, we can’t ensure a successful hunt coincides with great light conditions.
There are several solutions to this problem. The majority of today’s cameras - from camera phones to digital SLRs - have a built-in flash that can be used to illuminate the subject and eliminate shadows. However, my favorite tool is patience. Simply waiting for the right light makes all the difference in the world in a quality harvest photo. This usually means waiting until dawn or dusk, when the sun is low in the sky and the light is soft. Obviously, your primary concern is not letting the meat spoil, however, when conditions allow, waiting for these times of day will make for better photos.
The photo at the top of this article is one I took of my brother Damin in early light conditions.
It’s during these “golden hours” that the best pictures are taken. Personally, I like to have the deer and hunter slightly “backlit” – that is, with the sun behind the subject, but not directly – to eliminate shadows on the face, but to also avoid the hunter looking directly into the sun. Overcast days make for great shots regardless of what time it is.
Here’s another shot of Willie with a great buck he killed in 2012. He waited until the following morning for better light to take pictures.
As QDM'ers, we’re no strangers to rolling up our sleeves and putting in the work needed to better our deer and deer hunting. The same mentality can be applied to taking quality harvest pictures. Sure, it takes a little extra time and effort, but the end result is something to be proud of! As hunters and deer managers, we have a responsibility to showcase the genuine respect we have for whitetail deer and the hunt.
I hope you consider some of the tips and techniques when taking your own harvest pictures this fall. We were all blessed with a little creativity, so open your mind, experiment and I can promise you you’ll come away with beautiful shots that you can be proud of, that will show respect for the animal, and that will be the envy of all your hunting buddies!
About the Author: Cody Altizer is a freelance outdoor writer, photographer and videographer from Bath County, Virginia. He is the Junior Editor of Bowhunting.com, and his passion lies in sharing his QDM experience through multi-media platforms, including blogs, articles, photo-journalism and short films. You can view two videos he produced for QDMA about his hunting land and experiences with Quality Deer Management here: