I have always had an interest in photographing Australia’s wild free roaming deer and have spent many hours stalking them with a camera.
What I like most about photographing deer in the wild is trying to outwit and outsmart these amazing animals with their acute sense of smell and hearing, and being part of the inspiring environment where they live.
Excellent photo’s can be produced by infra red or movement activated trail cameras set up on game trails or wallows but this is not the same as taking a photo of deer by stalking with a camera.
This involves patient hours of quietly walking through the bush or picking my way along steep rocky slopes with a tripod over the shoulder or carried beside me ready for setting up should an animal show itself. It only takes about five seconds to position the tripod, loosen the friction of the ball head, locate the animal in the viewfinder and lightly activate the remote shutter button for automatic focus, and if the deer is still there take a photo. However five seconds can be a long time. If the deer identifies you it will very likely run at first glance. If it is unsure of what has caused the noise and movement it may remain while you are ever so slowly trying to go through the motions of preparing for a photo.
My camera gear consisting of a Nikon body with telephoto lens mounted on a carbon fibre gitzo tripod roughly weighs approx. 4.5 Kg. With tripod legs extended it doesn’t make for easy walking . I try and keep the tripod legs extended so when I spot a deer the camera is at head height, or when stalking in the open or amongst low vegetation I shorten the legs to a couple of feet to comfortably look through the viewfinder in a kneeling position. I have found that the correct height is very important after having to freeze in whatever position I may be in at the time the deer is looking my way and remaining in that position for however long it takes. Sometimes the deer focuses on me when I’m not properly set up. At moments like this it is difficult to decide whether to freeze and hope the animal will resume feeding or very slowly make adjustments to the tripod to get the right height or move the lens out of the way of an interfering branch and hope the deer is still there to get a picture. Often I am in an awkward position and realize the risk of getting more comfortable would jeopardize my chances of further photo’s.
I have found that a tripod enables me to produce sharper images when using telephoto lenses particularly in sambar habitat where there is an often very low light beneath the canopy. It also increases the time I can take pictures at both ends of the day. I can successfully capture images at first light and towards sunset. The natural landscape and vegetation may not be as saturated in colour at this time of day but is important to be in the field then with your camera then as this is the time of the day when the animals are moving and are most active. Many of my pictures were taken at shutter speeds less that 1/20 second shutter speed. Using a 300 mm lens there is no way I could effectively hand hold a camera, even with an image stabiliser lens, and get a sharp picture. Without a tripod I would be limited to good light conditions with fast shutter speeds using low powered lens. The image stabilizer technology offered by Nikon, Canon and other leading brands does reduce camera shake but does not fully replace a need for a tripod when photographing forest deer. With slow shutter speeds I have to pass up moving deer . Recent camera technology has allowed me to increase shutter speed in low light conditions by increasing the ISO setting.
I find photographing these majestic animals extremely challenging, satisfying and rewarding.
Here are a few of the images of the different species that I have taken over the years.
Sambar (click to enlarge)
Red Deer (click to enlarge)
Hog Deer (click to enlarge)
Rusa Deer (click to enlarge)
Chital (click to enlarge)
Fallow (click to enlarge)