“Did I want to be hunting, or did I want to be doing a shooting of another kind?”
Shoot or Shoot?
My last trip to the Kaimanawas left me with a conundrum. Next time, was I going to take out the rifle, or the big camera?
It’s not the first time I have had this thought enter my mind. I realised there was no way that I was going to take both my X-Bolt Rifle (3 kg) as well as my Canon 5DmkIII Camera, Lenses and Tripod (over 3kg). For both physical reasons and practical I soon realised it needs to be a choice. Did I want to be hunting, or did I want to be doing a shooting of another kind?
This is not to say that you can’t go hunting with a camera. Plenty of guys do. There needs to be a compromise made somewhere – either it’s a lighter choice of Cameras (if I am hunting I still take my 250 gram Sony RX100). But despite massive advances in technology, still don’t compare to a full frame camera with high quality glass on it.
Or it’s a division of focus. You cant invest yourself in stalking if you are looking for photo opportunities. You cant focus on getting something special in regards to images and video if you are also looking for a kill. Or at least, I can’t.
What are you there for?
It’s not like one option is easier than the other either. Both need high levels of stealth. Getting in close enough to take a good photo – even with a Telephoto lens – requires you get into the same distance a bow hunter does.
Of course – this also all depends on your definition of what a ‘good’ photo is. And this is where I feel a photo becomes different to a snapshot.
To me, a snapshot is just that – a quick photo that was taken to capture a record of a particular moment. You see a deer – you grab the camera and take a photo of it. The point of the photo is likely to go with a story about the deer you saw. You grab the camera to record the moment after the kill – the trophy or ‘brag’ shot.
While valid, the purpose of the image isn’t the photo itself – it’s about the contents and it’s relevance to other viewers.
“it becomes clear why outsiders have a lopsided view of what hunting is about.”
The Brag Photo
This style of photograph – ranging from nicely composed shots through to dead animals with blood and its tongue hanging lopsided out of its mouth is the mainstay of hunting magazines and pages. Like reality TV, it’s an easy form of content. People love to compare themselves to others. It’s human nature. However, it becomes clear why outsiders have a lopsided view of what hunting is about.
In fact, I believe it also contributes to the lopsided view many hunters have about hunting. For some, it seems to be a competition about ‘who has the biggest’. At least, that’s the public persona. I sometimes wonder if that is the limit for some people or if there is a deeper appreciation of nature and our place in it. Or is it just about antler size?
Comments on the photo’s my photos like, “bang bang bang” or”did yu shoot it bro?” lead me to think this is the single-minded purpose that leads to competitive aspects of hunting. Which in turn leads to buck fever and some of the stupid decisions that have lead to injury and death. Lining up on that trophy animal – are you already imaging the photo on Facebook that you could brag about? Has it overshadowed the fact you haven’t identified what you are shooting at? It seems incomprehensible for some, that you might simply be there to appreciate and observe. Not claim and kill.
“a good photo should tell it’s own story”
I am looking for something more – a moment, an expression. Something that takes it beyond yet another photo and into an image that stands on its own. I once read that a good photo should tell its own story – it shouldn’t require someone next to it to fill out the details. That is my goal when I am looking through the viewfinder.
For me, it is a balance between subject, composition and technical ability. Great shots are a combination of all of them. Being in the right place, getting the right angle, ensuring things like exposure and white balance are correct, understanding the fundamentals of shutter speed and aperture. We live in a digital world now – so utilising the post-production tools we have available to us is also important.
I got involved with hunting because I wanted to get closer to these animals to take photos of them. It should come as no surprise then, that for many of the trophy animals – I would prefer to take a photo and then leave them be. This enables me to come back at another time and take more photos. I still have to get as close, I still have to stalk and line them up just the same. It’s just when I press the button, there is still life behind the eyes.
Nature observation, which is what this style of photography becomes, also teaches more. I would encourage anyone going out seeking these animals to spend more time watching them. There often isn’t as much hurry as one might expect. If there is and you are back to snap-shooting at movement – maybe it is time to take a step back and evaluate the risks.
I have been lucky enough to have the opportunity to have access to a private hunting block within an hour of Auckland ((Balnagown Hunting – if you are in Auckland, go check it out!)). Spending time with Richard, the owner, is the reward in itself. Here is a man who loves observing the animals just as much as he does guiding people hunting them. He knows their behaviours and habits and is a great resource for anyone wanting to learn more about the creatures they are hunting. Be it for food, trophy or photography.
Being able to head out after work and spend a couple of hours stalking around the bush knowing that there are deer out there, is fantastic. This develops my skill set for public hunts and also makes getting out into the bush a reality for someone who spends most of the week at a desk in an office. It’s another article – but the value of private, managed hunting blocks is extremely undervalued in NZ.
Do you want to see some world class animals without having to head to the South Island? Contact Richard.
Watching animals being animals can be one of the most rewarding act’s once can do in the bush. Many an older hunter I have spoken to has decided to leave the rifle at home. They still head out, but now to observe these magnificent animals they have to spend so long chasing. Sometimes, the process is more rewarding than the end result. Not that I am saying a fridge full of food isn’t a good result.
Let’s not forget that the animals are not the only thing to take photos of out there. What we get to see in the bush, well, not everyone does. Bringing back some of the beauty to share can be as rewarding and a photo of a big set of antlers. For those not into hunting, sometimes more so. Learning the basics of landscape photography will help all your composition decisions. It’s also a great way to fill in the time between the optimal hunting hours.
In the future, I hope to put up some more technical articles about my photography. The equipment used, the process before, during and after the shoot. It is encouraging to see the standard of the photography (and also the video) that is coming out improving exponentially. More!