As part of our 2021 Public Lands and Waters Photo Contest, our judges are offering some tips to improve your photography while out recreating on our public lands and waters. For our second installment, renowned hunting photographer Tony Bynum tells us how to up your hunting photography.
As a Montana photographer, photographing hunts is part of my regular yearly routine. I'm hired to take photographs of people's hunting adventures. I'll share some tips on how to photograph your next hunt. To begin with, plan to take more than the usual “grip-and-grin” photograph.
Whether you’re hunting a mule deer buck to photograph or to put on your table - or both - try telling your story through your photographs. Hunting, in most places around the world, begins in the fall when the colors are splendid and the weather tends to be warm in the day and cool at night. Nice weather, fun times, the great outdoors and your adventure can be told through photographs.
Over the centuries, our hunting stories have been scribes into rocks, painted on walls, shared around a campfire with family and friends, photographed (more recently of course) and written down in journals. We are visual creatures; we like to see the world in pictures. Pictures stick with us longer than words, and we’re more likely to remember a photo than a paragraph. Today, photographs and the digital age make sharing your story easy.
There’s no doubt that most of you pack a camera on your hunts in anticipation of photographing the “grip-n-grin” shot. This year, consider telling a more complete visual story of your hunt. Snap photographs of real, authentic outdoor and hunting experiences. I’m not saying go crazy and strap a GoPro to your head (although it’s fun, and you should try it sometime) and one on your rifle. I’m saying begin taking photographs of the things you see and do while you engage in your primary passion, hunting.
Photograph some simple images of things that are often heard about but seldom seen. Get personal. Think about what you do to prepare for the hunt. Include a photo of that knife your grandfather gave you as a kid and other significant heirlooms or important pieces of your hunting heritage. Show us those remarkable treasures. Take pictures of maps, your notebook, your gun and ammunition, and by all means your friends!
Some other thoughtful photos could include the reloading bench, cleaning your gun, sorting out your gear as it’s spread across the entire man cave or living room, running, exercising, your food - especially if you make Wilderness Athlete part of your diet (if you don't, you should)! Not only will these things make great additions to the hunting story, some might even come in handy for insurance purposes. Photos of guns and gear can be helpful if, heaven forbid, there's ever a theft of catastrophe.
Next, while you’re in the field, take some photos of the actual trip. Capture simple but essential elements of your adventure. I've always like photos taken while fueling up. Images of the old market or store that’s been there since your grandfather was a kid, make great photographs and even better memories. And by all means if you still have to reset the mechanical pump, and the store owner still lives by the honor system that requires you to actually go in and say hi, by all means document that place and, if you can, the people that run it!
Other items can include hiking in to and setting up camp. You don't necessarily have to take photos while you're stalking that trophy buck, but try to document the hunt as much as you're comfortable with and have time for. Whatever you do, make it fun and show the little details that often are what make hunting so important to us as individuals. So, this year, why not be a hunting photographer - tell your hunting story with your images!
8 tips for capturing usable photographs of your hunting adventure
First, remember you're trying to show simple elements. Don't try to show everything in a photograph. The best ways to do this are to get close so that no one can mistake the subject of the photograph. Make the subject a single element.
Second, use a wide aperture like f 2.0 (the widest aperture your camera has); a shallow depth of field blurs the background and makes the subject stand out better. This is a simple way to make sure the viewer knows exactly what you're trying to show them.
Third, photograph some elements that put a person in their environment. Show the weather if you can. Show some background that puts you in your place. You don't have to show the ridge that will tell everyone on earth the location of your favorite hunting grounds, but a few canyons, some far off trees or meadows etc., help to add some reality to the photo.
Fourth, make use of early morning and late evening low angle light; both the quality and angle of light are unbeatable. This is the best time to shoot environment and outdoor human interest photos, as the light is easy on skin tones, and generally if you shoot during these periods it’s almost impossible to take a bad photograph.
Fifth, when the sun gets high in the sky, use shadows and trees to shade your subject; oftentimes you can get better shots of your gear or a person from a shadowed location.
Sixth, don't be afraid to turn on the flash, even if it’s sunny out. Most cameras these days will allow you to manually engage the flash, and smarter cameras will read the ambient light (the light that’s around you) and adjust the flash according to how much light it thinks is needed for a proper exposure. This is often referred to as fill flash. Remember, this is a function that most cameras have, but you have to deliberately and manually engage the flash. Some units even allow you to turn the power of the flash up or down - check out your manual under “flash.”
Seventh, use slower shutter speeds like 1/50th or 1/30th of a second to show motion. Often times adding a little motion blur really brings your audience into the image. It evokes your other senses and helps make the story more real. Motion techniques include either holding the camera steady and allowing the subject to blur or moving the camera with the motion of the subject (called “panning”), which results in blurred background and hopefully a sharp subject. This technique requires some practice, but it's fun. Give it a try.
Eighth, try unique angles. Get low or below eye level. Sometimes showing an average activity or subject from a new angle changes the way we feel or gives us a new perspective.
Post production and sharing
After you have the photos in your camera the obvious thing is to make prints and share the photos. I like to share my hunting photography on my Tony Bynum Photography Facebook page. But it’s hard to tell a story with one image. So I suggest you make a book or slideshow.
I've used many sources for book publishing, and now my top two are Blurb and MyPublisher. I've gone back and forth between the two, and right now I’m leaning back toward Blurb because of its simple interface with Adobe Lightroom. I can edit the photos in Lightroom, plop them into a simple, customizable layout, and send it directly to Blurb, all from within one program.
For slideshows I like to use ProShow. It’s not free, but it’s a great program for making slideshows that you can put on disk, make into screen savers, or share online.
Here’s a few more helpful tools. Picas and Gimp are good free photo editing programs. SmugMug and Flickr offer great platforms for putting some of your photos online.
Cotton Carrier makes a great solution for carrying a camera. You can strap the simple harness to the shoulder strap on your pack and keep your camera in reach.
You can read more on Tony's thoughts on hunting photography and see more of his work here!