A series of columns on outdoor photography
The f-Stops Here
Shooting the Hunt
October and November are a time of wet dog smells and game vest stains, of backcountry camps, the squeak of saddle leather, pre-dawn coffee, a hunter’s frosted breath drifting away on chilled winds.
by Sharon Watson
All too soon winter white sets in, and autumn’s bright adventure starts fading into memory. It doesn’t have to, though, if you’ll take a camera on this year’s hunts -- and use it!
True, the peak moments of autumn outings are tough to capture on film. Most of us are so immersed in the action that we won’t remember the "memory box" around our necks. A dramatic double on Huns, a comic tumble from a horse, a pheasant exploding from beneath the dog’s nose, a surprise encounter with a bear -- these special shots are just not feasible for most of us, not reasonable, not possible, hardly! They’re too fast for us. Words alone will have to suffice. They become part of our repetitive hunting stories.
Every hunt, though, has hundreds of easy-to-capture moments well worth shooting. In retrospect, small events are sometimes felt to be the real highlights of a hunt: a fondled dog returning affection with a sloppy lick to your schnozz; a young hunter reaching out in awe to touch the dead bird; sharing sandwiches with Dad on a rain-wet log.
To help spot such pictures lurking in the "underbrush" of a day’s hunt, try a trick of the pros -- write a short shooting script before you set out. Nothing elaborate, just a few things you’d like to take home on film.
Advance photographic planning of this sort may feel unnatural at first, but the resulting pictures will double your hunting pleasure and triple your memories -- and quadruple your resolve to write those shooting scripts. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll start seeing terrific pictures hiding everywhere in the field.
Try adding a dab of color to the dun-and-camouflage of hunters’ garb. A red scarf around the neck of a brown-clad hunter brightens a picture tremendously. Or open your subject’s jacket to reveal a spot of red in a shirt. Try red or yellow shotshells lying next to a chukar or ruffed grouse, or corncobs tossed near a fresh-killed ringneck. Hunter-orange clothing may be controversial in stalking close to game, but it sure dresses up hunting pictures!
"Props" in general make a picture more interesting. In hunting photos, what props could be more essential than guns, bows, arrows, shells, or cartridges? Also use hats, sunglasses, game vests, whistles, rattling horns. Or, try natural items: cattails, a few feathers, dew drops (even if you have to sprinkle them on yourself). Keep it simple, but props plus some color make a photo "go that extra mile."
Don’t be shy about reconstructing or "setting up" photos. You always take the classic set-up shot of dead game with hunter, don’t you? That’s a picture’s picture. How about setting up something that occurs more naturally?
If you see a picture getting away from you like a boy scrambling under a barbed wire fence with a pheasant in his hand, make him do it again! He may grumble, but wait till he sees that great shot later! And, years from now you won’t even remember that you had to re-enact the memory-making shot.
Ask your rifle-toting partner to pause a moment as he or she glasses a foggy wilderness canyon. Kick a splash of snow on a just-dropped quail for a close-up. These photos won’t feel fake at all when you look at them. All the elements are real.
Even more photos are lurking in unusual camera perspectives and techniques. Try a high angle from a tree stand of a hunter in the woods, or kneel down for a low angle of the dog on point (let a couple birds get away just for the joy of this photo). Shoot your partner holding a pheasant against an evening sky for a silouette.
Idaho’s hunting seasons are too great not to photograph.