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Mastering Field Photography

Mastering Field Photography

By following a few simple tips, you can produce a high quality image of that memorable trophy.

This vertical image shows the author with a summer steelhead. Photography in a boat, particularly in moving water, is especially challenging. Photo by Troy Rodakowski.

Most of us haven't taken a professional photography class during our lifetime. No, it is very likely that many of us have learned to take pictures in the field by trial and error. Unfortunately, it takes time to learn positioning, cleanliness, lighting and backgrounds, not to mention other important aspects of outdoor photography.

Moving away from the use of 35mm film to digital has helped immensely over the years. With digital cameras you can take more pictures, and edit and re-take them while using various settings provided by your camera. Here are a few useful tips to keep in mind that should help your efforts and take little time to perfect.

Probably one of the most important things prior to even pulling your camera out of its case is the preparation of the game animal/fish and its surroundings. First of all, make sure to clean all blood and dirt off of the subject. I like to carry some small rags, towel, gauze and cotton balls. These things are light and don't take up much room. Using available water to help remove blood, dirt, leaves, grass, etc. is a great way to improve the appearance of your trophy.

For game animals, make sure the tongue is retracted. Push the tongue as far back into the mouth as possible and wipe all blood from around the nose, lips, face and ears. I like to use the gauze and cotton balls to help plug the nostrils, mouth and bullet/arrow holes that may produce additional blood drainage. Wipe any dirt or debris from the body and face. It is important to take a few minutes and make the animal look as if it was entirely still in its natural state. Make sure the fur or feathers look as in place and natural as possible. Just sweep your hand in the direction of the fur or plumage to smooth it down.

With fish, much of the same holds true. Using towels to remove blood is a good idea. Carrying a few of them in your tackle box or gear bag is a must. Dunk or spray fresh water on dead fish to give them a lively look. When posing with a stringer of fish, try to position all of them facing the same direction. If you are taking a photo of a larger game fish like salmon, steelhead or sturgeon, try to hold it away from your body. This will not only make the fish stand out, but look bigger, as well.

When possible, always try to position yourself behind the animal or fish. This will not only accentuate the subject but make it the focal point of the photograph. With big game mammals, try to prop them up so as to highlight their best features, such as the antlers, the coat or the animal's size. For this, I like to use logs, boulders and sticks to help hold the body or head in the desired position.

For subjects like turkeys, upland gamebirds and waterfowl, make sure to display the plumage in front of your body in a way so that the available light can help to show off the coloration.

While taking pictures on a slope, make sure to position the animal facing uphill. This will not only help with stability, but make it much easier to take pictures. Taking pictures from an uphill position downhill can distort the size and perspective. So, in these cases, try to remain on even ground with the subject of the photograph.

Luckily, most of the time we harvest animals or catch fish it is in the mornings or afternoons. These times are naturally best for picture taking. Midday shots are usually distorted by too much light. So, do your best to try to take the photos when the sun is lower in the sky. Try to put the sun behind you (the photographer) and in front of your subject. Having the sun positioned on either side of you works well, also. Remember that the higher the sun, the better the chance of glare or color distortion. So, before snapping any shots, always make it a priority to keep lighting in mind.

If the person in the photo is wearing a hat, make sure he or she lifts the bill or brim so that their eyes aren't in shadow.

Many times we hunt and fish alone, so I like to take a small tripod along to set my camera on. Most cameras have a timer, so it works out very nicely.

It may seem like a lot to remember until you get the hang of it, but then these steps will seem like second nature. Most importantly, don't forget to smile and enjoy the many unforgettable moments that you will be able to cherish for years to come.

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