Let me be honest: I am not a professional photographer. Over the years I’ve been fortunate to capture some good images, but it’s been luck of the draw. As a writer I’ve been blessed to work with a lot of excellent photographers and they have kindly offered me some constructive tips. When I look at a successful picture I smile because I can pick out which professional photographer provided the tip. And with that, I called my friend Chip Laughton from Days Afield Photography to get a few tips for taking better hunting photos.
Get Dirty – If you’re ever in the field with Chip, you will immediately recognize Chip ‘cause he’s the guy wearing tin cloth bibs that are shredded beyond belief. “One of the important parts about photography is first getting the right angle. With pointing dogs that sometimes means getting on the ground so I can shoot up at the dog’s face. Other times it means crashing through the brush so that I’m in the obstruction shooting a dog that is in the clear. In doing so I capture images that don’t have brush or branches in the way and an angle that most people never see of their dog.”
Flash is Important – Certainly on a dark day but also on a bright day. “A lot of images are ruined because of shadows. I prefer an off camera flash or at least one with an adjustable head on the flash. This enables me to fill in the shadows underneath the brim of a hat, in the corner of a dog box, or in the woods where trees block the sunlight. Flashes are not always convenient but I use them when I can.”
Get Close Up – “Zoom lenses are great for really zeroing in on your subject matter. That’s where the magic usually is and it’s what connects people to certain pictures. Close ups show the caked mud in a dog’s fur, their muscular definition and vascularity, or a woodcock’s camouflaged coloration. It captures the emotion that we feel in the woods and helps an audience connect with the subject. We see things that aren’t perfect, like a curve at the tip of a pointer’s tail, rusty bells, and stained and soiled shooting shirts. But those images are real and by zooming in to your picture you’ll gain a greater emotional connection.”
Picking Your Scenes – “It’s always nice to have grip and grin picture to commemorate a hunt, but I like to capture the
entire process. I’ll shoot dogs getting collared up, guns in racks, shells on the ground, a lot of the things that you see when you are there but often don’t see in a picture. If you look through books or magazines you’ll see a lot of the standard must-have shots: a lab quivering in a blind when the mallards are circling. Dogs with birds in their mouth. I like to capture movement, so I’ll focus on a one-off, like a dog with a bird in its mouth jumping over a fence to retrieve. Those are the pictures that stand out from the crowd and tell the story.”
Shoot A Lot of Pictures – “As you let your eye wander around looking for the perfect shot be sure to take some images along the way. Digital is easier than with film. You can quickly see if you nailed the shot, and if you don’t like them then just hit delete. With a dynamic sport like wing shooting the odds are high that you’ll miss a perfect shot. But if you’re shooting consistently then you’ll probably get a whole bunch that are more than good enough.”
Tom Keer is an award-winning writer, columnist and blogger who lives on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. He is a columnist for Covey Rise magazine, the Upland Almanac, and a Contributing Editor for both Fly Rod and Reeland Fly Fish America. He’s also a national spokesman for the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation’s Take Me Fishing program, and writes regularly for over a dozen outdoor magazines. When they are not fishing, Keer and his family hunt upland birds over their three English setters. His first book, a Fly Fishers Guide to the New England Coast was released in January 2011. Visit him at www.tomkeer.com or at www.thekeergroup.com.