5 Tips for Taking the Perfect Trophy Picture

Ace Luciano with trophy Kudu

Every year, I reflect on what I have learned from the previous 12 months, looking at what was successful and what was not, determining where I can improve, and setting up a plan for doing more of what worked. Finally, 2013 is over, and we brave forward to 2014. Another year passed—another year of absolutely terrible outdoor pictures.

Ace Luciano with trophy Kudu
An errant shadow, photo bomb or improper exposure can ruin a photo. Photos are one of the best ways to relive a hunt. Spend the time and take lots of photos to ensure you get the perfect shot.

It never ceases to amaze me that someone would spend time, money, energy and ammunition but not take time to set up and take proper photos. Admittedly, I have been guilty of this on more than one occasion. On various hunts, time, weather, darkness and any number of other conditions dictate that you must hurry along your photography.

So, what is the successful outdoorsman to do to properly memorialize his or her trophy? Follow these tips, and the quality of your pictures will be vastly improved:

  1. Position the animal to its best advantage. If your trophy has horns or antlers, put its head up, silhouetted with similar colors behind it. For a fish, hold it upright so the full length and width of the fish are displayed. Remember to put trophy fish back in the water as quickly as possible so others may catch them.
  2. Use light to your advantage. If you have to take pictures in the dark, use vehicle or ATV headlights to assist in lighting the area. If no such methods are available, use whatever light source you may have, such as a lantern or flashlight. However, you will have a better photo about 30 minutes after the sun comes up the next morning. If at all possible, you should to wait for natural light. During daylight, always do your best to get the sun in your face and behind the camera when taking a photo, just like a camera’s flash. That may make it a bit difficult on the person being photographed, but a few seconds of squinting will yield a better picture and better memory.
  3. When possible, get low. I often lie down on the ground to take the best photographs. This position changes the perspective and silhouettes the entire animal more effectively than if you take the picture from above. Taking the picture from the same level is a bare minimum.
  4. Take a minimum of 10 to 15 photographs from each angle and position when possible, and aim for 20 to 30 if you can. Thanks to digital photography, pictures are so cheap now that it makes sense to take as many as possible. Cheaper Than Dirt!’s Dave Dolbee and I discussed his photo process. Back in the days of slide film, he would easily take 100 pictures (three rolls of 36). With digital film, he gets instant feedback about the photo quality but often shoots a minimum of 200 to 300 to get 2 or 3 perfect shots. I find that when I take a lot of pictures, one or two almost always truly stand out from the others.
Ace Luciano with trophy fish
Not every pose is for everyone. Some pictures will come out better than expected, and others will be scrapped. Either way, you will want to try multiple angles and poses and pick the best ones later.
  1. If necessary, and you are able, wait. You have worked hard for your trophy and deserve to have it shown in the best possible way. If the situation is not correct, wait until you can move the animal to a better location, or even for better light, the following day. Snap a quick picture if you want to show it where came to rest. Then, seek a better backdrop, perfect lighting and any other feature or condition that will perfect your attempt to immortalize your trophy moment.

It goes without saying that if the weather is not right, or in the case of some game animals, the degradation will be too great overnight, you should do the best you can. If conditions improve the next day, you can always shoot more photos. Properly posing and positioning your trophy in the best circumstances will ensure that you have not just a memory, but another true trophy that you can display, share and use to relive the event as often as you wish. That is the true “trophy” of any hunt—the experience.

Have you discovered any helpful tips for taking trophy photos? Leave your tricks or tips in the comment section.


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Comments (2)

  1. A nice trick I’ve learned from several professional hunters is to carry taxidermist glass eyes used in mounting wild game. This is especially useful if you must wait a few hours before taking your pictures since the eyes tend to fade rapidly after the kill. One of my worst, yet most treasured photos, is of my first bow killed Nevada Mule Deer buck. My son took the picture with a less than sterling camera, but the worst part was that I had my leg over the deer as if I had ridden it back to camp. We’ve had many good laughs over that one. Those are the ones that make you a better photographer. Great article!

  2. I learned some things years ago from Soc Clay, Charlie Farmer and Monte Burch.
    Most important is taking your time to set up the shot and check every corner and aspect of the scene. Really study it to make sure nothing distracts from the main focal point. Be especially cautious of any blood in the scene.
    It’s all about the light, so along with the things you mentioned, pay attention to the dynamic rage in the shot. Digital doesn’t do skies well, so especially if you get low, avoid filling the frame with washed-out skies. If that is unavoidable, I’ll underexpose the shot to darken the sky and then bring the shadows up in post (dodging).
    It was until I finally bought a good tripod that I discovered the value in this tool. Go to the extra effort to use one.
    Fill with flash. This is a trick I learned from someone who shot for Nat Geo. Flash not only will cut through distracting shadows, it makes colors more dramatic while darkening the background skies slightly (light fall off).
    Hunters, especially, want to look macho when posing with downed game. Problem is, most of the time they look like they’ve also just killed their grandmother. Looks more like a police mug shot than a record of fun. I get everything ready, place my finger on the shutter release, then say something to get a favorable response. Anything you can say to take the subject’s mind off the camera will work, but something off color works best, if there are no women or children present.

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