11 Tips For Taking Fantastic Deer Harvest Pics With Your Phone

August 15, 2017 | by Nick Skinner

Today’s smart phones are armed with camera features that enable hunters to produce better amateur photography than ever before. There’s no excuse for harvesting the deer of a lifetime and coming away from the experience with poor photos. It honors the animal and preserves its memory to take good photos, and you don’t have to be a pro to do it anymore. Here’s 11 tips that will enable you to take jaw-dropping photos of your buck (or some else’s), and these photos were all taken with a cell phone camera by me.

1. Don’t Take Photos At Night If You Can Help It

If you recover a buck after dark and can keep it cool enough to preserve the meat, wait until the next morning to shoot photos. You’ll benefit from more light and morning dew or frost can really add beautiful elements to the hero shot.

2. Prepare Your Buck For Photos as Soon as Possible

As your buck stiffens from rigamortis, it becomes harder and harder to manipulate his head and body for photography. As soon as possible, try to prop him up in a bedded position with his head up. Do not hang him up by his feet or head before photography. If you field dress him before taking photos, try to keep the cut as small as possible.

3. Make the Buck Handsome 

Using water, paper towels, or field wipes, wipe as much blood as possible off his face and neck. You might even want to spray him off with a hose around his belly (from field-dressing). If his tongue is hanging out, cut it off or tuck it back in the deer's mouth. Make the buck look as handsome as possible - he deserves it and your photos are how you will remember him and show him off for the rest of your life.

4. Choose a Good Location

Whether it’s five minutes after the shot or five hours, you probably don’t want to make noise around your favorite spot taking photos and spoiling the area. Be willing to move the buck for photos. Choose a spot that helps tell the story of the region you’re in. For instance, if you’re in the Midwest, crop fields make a nice location. In the Southeast, you might like some pines in your photo. Keep an eye out when you're not hunting for good locations that would make awesome backgrounds once you harvest that buck you’re after. Also pay attention to where the sun sets or rises.

5. Take Photos in Morning or Evening

When bright sunlight is directly overhead, it can make it difficult to take good photos. Morning or evening will produce the best possible light for your hero shots. If it’s overcast, the time of day won’t matter as much. If your time is limited and you must take them during direct sunlight, wear a beanie or no hat if possible. The shadow from a hat can completely block the grin of a happy hunter.

6. Position the Hunter and Animal Correctly and Be a Coach 

Decide what angles will show off the buck's rack the best and then position the deer relevant to the background that you have chosen. Position the buck in a bedded pose and seat the hunter behind the animal - no squatting like a catcher.  The smaller the hunter looks, the bigger and grander the buck will look. Take the photos from eye level with the hunter or lower. Try to position the deer’s rack with no obstructions behind it and keep the deer as level as possible. Sky normally serves as a great backdrop. Elevated areas in certain terrains work very well to help the photographer get lower than the hunter and buck. Coach the hunter to smile, and move the buck’s head back and forth and take photos from different angles. As you're looking through the viewfinder, make adjustments to the pose until it looks its best. 

7. Remove Debris

Grass, sticks, leaves, cornstalks, etc., can block the photo and they’re hard to notice until it’s too late. Before snapping pics, make sure there’s nothing blocking the buck’s eyeball or that a leaf didn’t get stuck to the deer’s nose. That stuff happens and you’ve got to catch it before you take the photo. Practice a few photos and then review them to make sure everything is the way you want it before you get serious and take the final shots. 

8. Frame the Shot Correctly

The two things critical to frame correctly are the hunter and the deer. Make sure that you don’t accidentally chop off the rack, neck, or brisket of the deer or the top of the hunter’s head. Framing the hunter and buck seems simple, but you’d be surprised how many photos end up with the tip of a tine chopped off or one arm of the hunter gets chopped. Also make sure the hunter's face is completely visible and not blocked by tines. Be safe and start wide, you can always crop and edit the images later. 

9. Focus and Expose Correctly

Most cell phone cameras will auto focus and turn out well. That said, most phone screens allow you to tap in the place you want to focus (which will also adjust the exposure). In most cases, you’ll want to tap the hunter’s face just before taking the photo to ensure the hunter is in focus. Another great feature some phones have is AE/AF LOCK. When you tap the screen to change the focus, you can hold your finger on that spot and you will see yellow text pop up that reads “AE/AF LOCK.” This will lock your exposure and focus. It's helpful when you're alone or someone inexperienced is using your phone. Use both hands on the camera or even get a cheap tripod like this one that can steady your camera and ensure you get clear photos. A tripod combined with using your phone's timer will allow you to take photos if you're alone. 

10. Take Photos at Different Angles and Different Styles

Don’t just take photos at one angle, try several. You may find one that looks better using trial and error. Have the hunter grip and grin, and also look seriously at the deer, which illustrates respect for the animal and the amount of time and thought you put into the hunt. Recreate things like dragging the buck, looking at your arrow, walking up on him, etc. Create your own look and style.    

11. Use Tools and Apps to Add a Professional Touch

Most camera applications have features now that allow you to adjust the colors and effects on a photo, and there are a ton of great apps out there that can take your photos to the next level with special effects and filters. Some of my favorites are VSCO, Camera+, Snapseed, Enlight, TouchRetouch, Instagram, and Mextures. 

About the Author: Guest blogger Nick Skinner is National Deer Alliance member, veteran outdoor industry photographer and video producer. He’s been behind the camera for countless big buck harvests that air on outdoor television enabling him to build an epic portfolio of harvest photos of bucks and hunters. Skinner and his three brothers operate Iowa Land Company, a rural farmland real estate and auction company in the Hawkeye State. Follow Nick on Instagram at @nick_skinner_1 and Iowa Land Company at @iowalandcompany