Photographing a Trophy


A telephoto lens softens the background of this trophy pronghorn photo while keeping the animal and the hunter in focus.

If you’re interested in such things, by now you’ve seen many photographs of dead bucks, white-tailed deer, mule deer and pronghorns. Most have likely been okay photos. The rest are evenly divided between good photos and horrible photos.

When I was a rookie newsman in Lufkin, I had an editor who was not a deer hunter. Every year on opening day, which always falls on Saturday, numerous hunters brought their bucks by the newspaper office to be photographed. We obligingly ran the photos in the sports section.

Being low man on the totem pole and interested in hunting, the editor assigned me the job of hanging around on opening day, waiting for deer hunters. He told me to get the photos of dead deer and he protruded his tongue as far from the side of his mouth as it would go, mimicking what he expected me to see. The editor was right, too, and I didn’t know enough at the time to improve the aesthetics.

Most bad deer photos I see these days feature a deer with its tongue hanging out and/or unnecessary gore—eviscerated belly hanging open or lung blood dripping from the deer’s nose. As often as not, the dead deer is loaded in the back of a pickup truck, surrounded by a spare tire and a pile of empty beer cans.

It’s for sure a snapshot of a moment in time but such a photo is disrespectful to a fine game animal and it’s not the kind of keepsake you’ll enjoy showing off in the future, especially to those who do not hunt. In truth, getting good photos of dead trophies requires a considerable effort. It’s well worth the trouble. It will be a year before your mounted trophy is available for display. In the meantime, you’ll have good photos to show anyone who might want to see them and you can e-mail them to all your friends.


When possible, pose the animal on a high spot, like a tank dam. With the photographer lower than the subject, the open sky background shows off the antlers.

Point-and-shoot digital cameras have removed the difficulty factor from photographing an animal over which you have total control. Here are some tips for making a better photo:

  1. Use your knife to remove the animal’s tongue. The tongue does not bleed once the buck is dead.
  2. Keep a roll of paper towels in your hunting gear and use the paper towels to wipe away any excess blood.
  3. If at all possible, photograph the deer before it is field dressed.
  4. If you kill a big buck late in the afternoon and you have access to a walk-in cooler, prop the deer up in the corner of the cooler with its front legs tucked under the animal and its head upright. You can use a rope attached to a hanging rack to hold the head in the correct position until the animal stiffens. If you hang the deer from a rack, it will be very difficult to work with the next morning.
  5. Take the deer out of the cooler early in the morning, assuming the sun is out. The best light for photography occurs during the first and last hours of daylight. Midday light is harsh, though digital photography cures most of that problem, particularly if you have a good editing program on your computer.
  6. Pose the deer on a high spot, like a tank dam, where there’s nothing but blue sky behind the animal. Then pose the hunter with the deer. Do not allow the hunter to sit on the deer. Pose him or her behind the animal, but not behind the antlers. For the antlers to show best, you need open sky for a background.
  7. Once the posing is done, take lots of photos from different angles to make sure you get at least one good photo. Back off a little and use a longer lens, which blurs the background and leaves the subject in focus. Use fill flash to brighten up the photo, even in broad daylight. The best thing about digital photography is that it doesn’t cost anything to shoot lots of different photos. This is particularly important if you’re photographing the trophy of a lifetime or your son or daughter has just taken a first big game animal. You only have once chance to do it right and even a veteran hunter would rather see a tasteful photo than a tasteless photo.


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