Capturing the Essence – Photographing Your Hunt, By Nolan Osborne

All Photos Credit: Talus Creative

As hunting seasons across the West begin to open up, and many more to come, the time of year when memories are made is upon us. Plans are refined, coolers and gas-tanks are filled, and weapons of choice are tuned and tweaked in the quest for perfection. The question is, have you put as much time into capturing those memories to the best of your abilities, as you have your shooting, fitness and gear? This article will help you do just that.

Jack O’Connor once wrote: “Sheep Hunters are Romantics, who love high places and solitude. To them the wild ram embodies the mystery and magic of the mountains, the rocky canyons, the snowy peaks, the fragrant alpine meadows, the gray slide rock, the icy dancing rolls fed by snowbank and glacier, the sweet clean air of the high places, and the sense of being alone on the top of the world with the eagles, the marmots, and the wild sheep themselves.”  While this fine prose does accurately describe those of us who pursue these magnificent beasts, it was certainly penned in an era prior to Gore-Tex, carbon fiber, and ultralight mountain rifles. That is to say, it neglects to mention that many mountain hunters are also meticulously gear oriented.

Of my friends and colleagues who dedicate a significant amount of time annually to pursuing mountain game, the vast majority of them take to planning with OCD level intensity. Hours are spent poring over maps, training, and trying to minimize pack weight. They make arrangements with air charters, butchers, and taxidermists. As opening day approaches, final alterations are made to our kit, and the excitement fervently builds in each of us — every little detail is accounted for, or is it?

How many of us actually put any time or thought into photography? Sure, we all take photos, typically the ones that “matter”. A picture of your buddy after they lost their footing in a glacial creek, the trophy shot with your hard earned prey, or the gnarly hell-hole you spent the night on the mountain in to acquire said quarry. But, I am talking about really taking photos, photos that stand the test of time, evoke emotion — photos that truly capture the essence of a tough mountain hunt.

Before any of you go into a long-winded diatribe against social media, not wanting to post up locations, or not having the budget for a decent camera, save it. I am pre-emptively calling bullshit.

Collectively, we cherish the history of the hunt. Photos from bygone eras let us relive these times, they let us dream of great animals of the past, and hope for great adventures in the future. Few things spark the mountain hunter’s interest like old photos of heavy rams, or big bulls. We don’t just look at them — we revel in them. Storytelling is an integral part of our cultural DNA, from the rock walls of our ancestors to the digital media landscape of today, we have captured and shared our great successes and failures, passing on our imagery — our stories — to those who seek to follow in our footsteps. It is this rich cultural history, the wild places and animals that call them home, that binds us as hunters.

As I have now made my case for exactly why it’s important to capture as much of your hunt as possible, you may now be wondering how this article will actually aid you in taking better photos. While I do have a background in photography, a wise person once told me, “You don’t need to be an expert in every field, you just need to know the people who are”.

I have asked four influential photographers in the mountain hunting space to provide me with five tips to better capture a hunt, and one camera recommendation under $1,000. Respectively, these photographers continually push the forefront of their industry. Their vision and ability to create evocative content encapsulates the essence of mountain hunting. There is some overlap in the tips below, but I thought it worth leaving in, as it drives home how important those points are.

Nick Trehearne – Nick Trehearne Photography

  1. Think of the details, not just the whole scene. Could be something as little as the moss on a rock, to the individual annuli on a ram.
  2. Don’t keep your camera in your pack. Use a hip belt pocket, etc. to store your camera so it’s accessible. If it’s not handy, you won’t use it.
  3. Think outside the box. Rather than try to copy other people’s images, try to be unique and put your own spin on them.
  4. Don’t hide your camera from bad weather. That’s the best time to have it out! Gnarly weather brings out emotion, emotion makes for great imagery.
  5. Never forget the scenery. Landscapes, sunrise, and sunset shots can be breathtaking. These shots are the ones you typically see the least in our still kill-centric community.

Nick’s Camera Recommendation: I’d go with the Fuji XT-20. For the price, it takes a solid image and gives you lots of control. Also comes with an 18-55 which is a good all-around lens for hunt documentation.

Adam Foss –  Foss Media

  1. Know your gear. Regardless of make, model or style, be sure to familiarize yourself with the settings and functions of your camera before you take off.
  2. Practice makes perfect. Shoot photos, any photos – seriously, they can be of your dog, a plant, anything that catches your eye around the house or even take the camera on your summer scouting missions to start using it in a real world situation.
  3. Gear…less can be more. Don’t get caught up in the craze of having the best camera gear, lenses and do-dads. Your best option is whatever gear you have access to. Make sure it logistically makes sense from a weight/volume perspective and that you’re comfortable using it.
  4. Tell the Story. Try to push yourself to pull out your camera – or better yet, already have it out – when you feel a key element of the hunting story is unfolding. Capture details like the fletches of a crimson-soaked arrow, weathered corners of a map or the age rings of a fallen old ram – these are examples of visually interesting ways to show the small details that help in painting the bigger picture of the hunt.
  5. More to a hunt than hunting. There is so much more to a hunt than just the days afield. Pushing yourself to capture these moments will only create a more in-depth look at what went into that special trip. Get shots of the weekend scouting trips, the hellacious 4×4 road into the unit, or packing and repacking gear in your garage.

Adam’s Camera Recommendation: The iPhone 8+. Why suggest a smartphone for a camera? Because, true to a mountain hunter’s mentality, it’s slim and relatively lightweight. Plus, if you’re like me you’re already packing a smart phone to use as a GPS, music player, emergency satellite communicator (when paired to a Delorme or similar device), alarm clock, backup flashlight or e-reader. The video and photo quality is surprisingly sound and the portrait photo mode is stunning.

Connor Gabbott – Talus Creative

  1. Keep your camera close and ready, you won’t use it when its packed away. I recommend a camera that fits in your pocket or use a Peak Design camera clip, or a hip belt pocket to keep it on your pack within reach. If you have to remove your pack to access it, you won’t take pictures.
  2. Shoot lots. We don’t shoot on film anymore so no sense being gun shy with the camera, we can always delete later. Sometimes we don’t recognize the importance of a moment until the hunt is over.
  3. Capture the random and benign moments. The first things we forget are the small details but it’s all these details put together that make a mountain hunt so memorable. A picture of a melted energy bar can transport us back to a hunt just as easily as a trophy shot, and years from now it will put a smile on your face when you remember the day you learned not to store your energy bars in your pocket while hiking.
  4. Capture faces. They are a window into the emotions and physicality of the hunt. Faces tell the best stories of all.
  5. Learn your camera settings. Cameras are smart these days and will make adjustments on the fly to try and help your pictures look great, however the camera doesn’t always know what you are trying to capture or what sort of style you are working towards. Main ones are how to get it to focus on the subject/area you want and the exposure. Nothing worse than getting home to realize that some of your once in a lifetime pics are out of focus or over/under exposed. 

Connor’s Camera Recommendation: The Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-RX100 IV. Good focal range, great aperture range, 4K video, great low light performance and the screen flips up so it’s easy to take that epic selfie when you are out there solo! Just over the $1,000 limit but worth it.

Steven Drake – Annuli Collective

  1. Shoot when you least want to. When the weather sucks, your hands are numb, the mood is dreary and the last thing you want to do is shoot a photo. That’s exactly when you should shoot! Human emotion and struggle are most prominent in such moments which make for outstanding photo opportunities.
  2. Shoot the hunt in its entirety. It’s easy to get distracted by the animals and the kill, and yes, we’re ultimately there to harvest an animal, but killing is a small fraction of the hunt. I like to photograph the entire hunt from the moment I start packing. Shoot images of the highs and lows of the hunt. The culture of the region you’re hunting. The beauty of the locations hunting takes you and the faces and emotions of those you hunt with.
  3. Shoot lots! In today’s digital era memory cards and batteries are very affordable. On hunts where I’m the designated photographer I’ll shoot 1,000+ photos a day. Of course not all those are keepers, but I love shooting lots as it gets the creative juices flowing.
  4. Have your camera accessible. Big DSLR cameras produce amazing images but they’re also large and cumbersome and often find a place inside your pack, not in your hand shooting. I use large cameras but I also have small point-and-shoots because they fit in my pants pocket or waist belt pocket on my pack which means they’re always accessible.
  5. Shoot with what you know how to use. Buying a good camera won’t instantly give you good results. Use what you know how to use. Heck, smartphones these days take outstanding images and you can mount them to a spotting scope via cases like a Phone Skope to get crisp wildlife footage.

Drake’s Camera Recommendation: Your smart phone because it fits in your pocket, can mount to your spotting scope, takes good images, and you can edit and upload directly from your phone. For those who don’t use a smartphone, Sony’s RX100 series is a pocket sized point and shoot with outstanding image and video quality and it’s relatively easy to use.

Posted by jomh