Trophies are defined in many ways, but most importantly and accurately, by those who acquired them.

For some, it may be their very first deer, a trophy regardless of size. Maybe it’s that big-antlered buck of a lifetime, a particular individual buck the hunter has specifically targeted, or a deer taken after an especially arduous or otherwise memorable hunt. Or perhaps, sadly, it’s a deer the hunter knows may well be his or her last.

In any case, all are trophies. They represent some sort of accomplishment by the hunter, and as such should be celebrated and, to whatever extent is practical, preserved. The best and easiest way to accomplish that is by simply snapping a photo, a task you would think should be fairly easy, particularly given the technology available in hand-held smart devices and digital cameras. Yet far too often, the opportunity to capture and preserve a momentous accomplishment is squandered. Toward that end, here are a few tips for taking trophy shots.

Once you get your deer out of the field and home from the tagging station, you can take all the photos you want under more controlled circumstances, but whenever possible, you should take pictures at the recovery site. Your harvest will never look fresher, and it will add to the memory and the story.

Take a few shots right away, before you go messing things up and dragging your big buck through miles of mud, even before field dressing, if possible. It will make for a more attractive photo, and the deer will look larger. But first …

Clean up the subjects. You want the subjects – hunter and hunted – to look their best. Use a rag, toilet tissue, leaves or moss to clean away any blood around the nose, mouth and wound. Then, smooth out any ruffled or unkempt hair. Get rid of the tongue. Almost nothing spoils a good trophy shot like a tongue hanging out the side of a deer’s mouth. Put your hat on straight, neaten your apparel and smile!

Clean the scene. A cluttered background is very distracting and can ruin an otherwise perfect photo. Watch for skylines, treelines, power lines or roof lines cutting through the frame, odd-angled branches, or anything else that could be distracting. And for heaven’s sake, don’t take photos of the buck in the back of a pickup truck, in front of a building or in a cluttered yard.

If you’re shooting in a field, pay particular attention to the horizon. If you can skyline the subject, both will look bigger and better; just make sure you have the proper exposure so the image isn’t washed out. At the very least, skyline the rack.

Shoot up. You have to in order to skyline the subject, but even in the thick woods, if you can get below hunter and deer and shoot at an upward angle, the subject will appear larger and more attractive to the eye. Another trick used by all those TV hunting heroes is to move the hunter as far behind the animal as possible while keeping both subjects in focus. The difference in perspective will make the animal appear even larger.

Think safe. You’ll want to include your weapon in the image. If it happens to be a gun, don’t pose with the muzzle pointing toward the subject or the camera.

Compose the shot. The best composition is hunter and deer posed in what’s referred to as a hero or grip-and-grin shot. Squat or kneel behind the buck. Don’t straddle it; it’s not a horse. Grasp the antlers as low on the rack as possible so as not to obscure them. Also, gripping with your fingertips is better than a full, wraparound grip for the same reason.

Shoot, shoot, shoot. When offering photo tips, I used to say: “Burn up the film, shoot lots of images because film is cheap.” Digital images are virtually free. Best of all, you can see them instantly and correct what might be out of place or missing. Try different poses and angles. Add some fill-flash.

Two more tips that can make the difference between a good image and a great one also involve image composition. Any professional photographer or artist will tell you, “Don’t center the subject.” Try to compose the shot with your subject slightly off to one side, preferably the right side. The human eye naturally travels from right to left when viewing text or photos. Put the deer’s head to the photographer’s right, and the image will be more appealing to anyone viewing it later. It all sounds easy, but so many great potential photo ops are lost because the subject is excited or in a hurry. Take five or 10 minutes to capture a memory that will last a lifetime.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer, registered Maine guide and certified wildlife biologist who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

[email protected]

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