More and more hunters are taking a photo or video camera with them on hunts – to record their everyday adventures and fill their social media channels with content. This is beneficial because it puts hunting in the public eye – but there are a few key things to keep in mind.
It’s not perfect equipment that makes for a good photo. A few technical skills, a feeling for the right moment, and a grasp of what is ethically and politically acceptable are indispensable for any ambitious “photo hunter”. It has been shown that careless handling of disrespectful images can cause great damage to individuals and, especially, to hunting as such, but not everyone is always aware of this.
1. Master the basics of photography
Although good smartphone cameras now do (almost!) everything on their own and optimize the data to produce a halfway reasonable image, you should explore the basics of photography before setting out.
The exposure of a photo is the be-all and end-all of photography, which in turn is determined by three parameters: the shutter speed, the aperture, and the ISO number (i.e. the light sensitivity of the image sensor). Depending on your subject and the ambient light, you should choose these values so that they support the image and make the photo more expressive.
The aperture primarily affects the depth of field and the exposure of the motif. Keeping the same shutter speed, a smaller aperture means a darker subject, and a larger aperture means a brighter one. However, an open aperture causes the depth of field to decrease and the subject to become blurred in the area outside the distance setting. This gives the photo more depth overall and focuses the viewer on the important elements of the image. A shallow depth of field is most suitable for close-up subjects and motifs with a large image scale. With landscapes, on the other hand, a large depth of field is more helpful for the success of a photo. So far, so good. But aperture numbers are not exactly intuitive: By raising the aperture number, f/2.8 to f/5.6 for example, you are decreasing the amount of light reaching the sensor.
In addition to the aperture, the shutter speed decisively determines the effect of the image and should be selected accordingly. As a general rule, the more quickly your subject is moving (e.g. hunting dogs in action), the faster the shutter speed should be, so as not to blur the subject.
The third component of proper exposure is the correct ISO number. Basically, the higher the ISO number, the less light is needed to properly expose the image. Now, you might think that a high ISO number is always helpful, but it also has disadvantages. If the ISO number is set too high, the image will appear “noisy”: blurred and with low contrast.
2. Assess the light correctly
Ambient light is one of the most important factors in photography: It often makes the difference between a photo that’s really good – and one that’s rather dull. Depending on the subject, the direction from which the ambient light comes is crucial. If the light falls on the subject from behind the photographer, it is called frontal light or, when the sun is high in the sky at midday, incident light. If the light comes from the side, it is called side light or grazing light, and if the light comes from the direction of the subject, it is called backlighting.
Photographing with frontal or incident light is certainly the easiest form of photography, since the subject is well illuminated. However, little visible subject structure can be seen and a three-dimensional, three-dimensional reproduction of the subject is not as possible. If, on the other hand, the light comes from the side, you get easily recognizable shadows and structures and thus a more plastic reproduction of the motif. If the light source is behind the subject, a visible 3D effect is created and the structures of the subject can be seen clearly, for example. However, backlighting often poses great challenges for both the camera and the photographer.
The most favorable lighting conditions are in the hours just before sunset or sunrise. These are ideal from a lighting point of view. In the morning, the light is very soft and particularly suitable for romantic, atmospheric moods. In the evening, the sunlight begins to develop its full effect one to two hours before sunset. Here the light takes on a warmer, reddish hue, and the contrasts between light and dark become stronger, so that the contours are easier to recognize. This light is particularly suitable for landscape shots, such as those taken from a high seat.
3. Find varied motifs
As a hunting photographer, you need to decide which motifs are personally important to you, and which you will show on your social media channels. Please always be aware that outsiders will associate these photos with you, without knowing you or your ethics personally. Whether you choose to share hotly-discussed “kill photos”, or do without them completely, is up to you. This may also depend on your personal environment. In any case, these photos should always be photographed with particular care, with much emphasis on coherent details and above all with respect for the hunted animal. An unfortunate composition, the wrong facial expression, or a misleading pose is often enough to ruin the good impression one has made so far.
What’s more, there are so many possible photo motifs that show how diverse and varied our passion for hunting is. We hunters walk through nature with our eyes open and alert. It is often the details and the little things that we recognize and discover, be it the fire salamander on the way to the high seat, or the dreamlike mood of the morning forest.
4. Change perspective
Once you have chosen a good subject, you need the right perspective from which to take the photo. In principle, the camera position should always be at the eye level of the subject (exceptions prove the rule, as always). If you want to photograph a hunting dog, for example, you should be at eye-level with dog and focus the photo on the dog’s eyes.
But a change of perspective can often make a subject interesting. Hunters photographed from diagonally below, stalking their prey or climbing the ladder, adds variety and drama. The view from above, for example of a hunter lying in shooting position, often proves to be exciting, as well. There are no limits to your imagination here, and sometimes a new angle delivers surprising results. However, please make sure that the proportions of the body (legs to upper body, and vice versa) are halfway correct – otherwise, the perspective becomes distorted and the photo starts to look unnatural.
5. Compose your image
A common mistake when taking photographs is to position the main subject of the photo (the high seat at the edge of the meadow, or the stalking hunter in the forest) centrally. This often looks too static and boring. To build up tension in the image, it is important to master a few basic rules of image composition such as the golden section or – for those who like it simpler – the rule of thirds. Here, the subject is positioned within a specific design grid, and the individual image elements are aligned accordingly. This arrangement usually results in an appealing, harmonious photo.