Every year, countless Kentuckians eagerly await the start of deer season or the countless other times for population reduction or consumption. It's a time where Facebook news feeds are flooded with graphic photos of a hunter's proud conquest. For photographers, we hunt wildlife in a different way. Although there is a number of photographers who are hunters, most view nature with an appreciation and respect for preservation. We see the beauty in even the simple fuzzy details of moss on coating a fallen tree or the shiny drops of water gracing the veins of a newly fallen leaf. Rather than focusing on the conquest aspects of a hunt, we admire nature from afar with no intentions of alteration while hunting for the perfect shot. Sometimes hunters question why their deer got away or how they see a photographer post photos of a deer so close and seemingly tame. The simple truth is that if you know how to hunt for the shot with no intention of harm, then nature somehow knows. Or just call it photographic luck with a telephoto lens. Either way, this season it's time to hunt for the perfect shot.
As a photographer, I'm always saddened at the start of the season despite the logic in reducing their population. Despite being in a wreck involving a deer many years ago, I've never quite gotten over the guilt or been able to drive faster at night. So I made a promise to myself then, that I would began a personal project to focus more on my nature photography in an effort to raise awareness on conservation and hopefully help others see the beauty in nature as I see it. The hardest part for some photographers is determining what to capture and how. Many see a gorgeous photo in a magazine or on a website and wish to duplicate it. Such as a photograph of a misty sunrise with a majestic buck proudly displaying his antlers in the morning fog, but hunting for these subjects can be time consuming and frustrating. That doesn't mean you should give up, but instead the contemplation should be that nature is free. To attempt to force it into a pose will result in disappointment and frustration. The more time you spend in nature, the better you will understand it and the more subjects your camera will be allowed to capture and preserve. Without first getting to know your subject, you would only be a tourist taking a photo rather than a photographer preserving a moment or capturing a soul.
When in nature, always consider your personal safety. However amazing a shot could be, don't make the mistake of thinking you are safe in the woods. If you don't know the owner and have their permission, then the photo is definitely not worth your life or legal ramifications from being caught trespassing by a harsh land owner. Always wear a bright colored vest and hat so that you will be better protected from an accidental shooting. While shooting nature, photographers tend to move slowly and stay low - this could result in mistaken identity. The safest choice, especially for beginners is to choose a location such as a national park where animals are protected. For Kentuckians, Mammoth Cave National Park is a perfect paradise. Not only is it much safer to hunt for the perfect shot, you also have animals who have seen no real threat from humans and tend to be more docile and some even unexpectedly friendly. Despite this, please don't feed them as you will risk being punished with hefty fines. Also don't forget to gather the essentials that you will need in case you are lost or injured. Some examples are simple non-perishable foods such as peanut butter, granola bars and lots of water. Comfortable, water resistant shoes and layers for your body will help keep you comfortable. Don't forget a warm, furry hat and fingertip-less gloves for when you're taking photos. Bring waterproof matches, magnifying glass, and other essentials such as a compass, knife (in case of attack or to build shelter), first aid kit, small tarp (for shelter or keeping dry photographing while prone) solar charger for your phone and of course additional batteries and memory cards for your equipment. Cold weather quickly drains batteries and moisture can damage your equipment so always carry a dry cloth and bring plastic bags in case of rain. Be aware of your surroundings at all times. You may accidently wander into the hunting territory of a predator or a protective mate. Remember to tell someone you trust where you are going and where you will be. If you plan to wander off the common trail, leave clues to your location in case of injury or you mistakenly become lost. Regularly check the weather and leave extra early so you're not trapped deep in the woods during bad weather. These tips apply year round. If you're not typically a nature person, it's best to photograph in groups. Not only for added protection from the wildlife, but because of the variety of skills a group will possess not only in the knowledge of nature, but also in photographing it.
Once you've determined your location and gathered the essentials, then begin your hunt. Deer and other wildlife are commonly active at dawn and dusk. Be willing to get dirty or uncomfortable. A tripod and long lens will be your friend. Not only is it easier to get a shot from a distance, it's also much safer for you and less stressful for the animal. They are less likely to notice the photographer allowing you to capture the animal 'un-posed' in its natural environment. It's a good idea to invest in multiple lenses for trips into nature or at least a good lens that zooms across multiple focal lengths. Of course, the longer the lens, the more a tripod will be required to help prevent camera shake from blurring your amazing shot. Longer lenses tend to be more prone to camera shake due to their construction and to their size and weight. Not all locations will be ideal for faster shutter speeds, so you will need the stability that only a tripod can offer. A wide angle lens will enable you to capture more of the entire scene rather than only a smaller section. If you don't have a DSLR or the budget for a wide angle or other lenses, use a tripod and capture multiple photos of a landscape and merge them in Photoshop or walk closer or farther to change your distance.
Lastly, if you've been hunting for the perfect shot with no luck you may feel discouraged and like packing up and going home. The issue isn't with your luck, but is instead with your perception of nature. Sometimes the best portrait of nature's unique beauty is in the simplest of details not typically seen. Instead of focusing on the larger animals and searching endlessly for deer or other creatures, consider the beauty closer to you. There is unique flora present in the woods. Especially the protected woods within national parks. There are countless species of plans, insects and smaller subjects. If you have a macro lens you can get even closer to the details. Pause for a moment and listen to the wind. Follow it. Watch the descent of a single leaf from the canopy and discover the beauty that is hidden, but so unimaginably abundant.