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Trophy Pic

“Great picture!”
“Wow! It looks like a postcard.”
“What camera did you use?”

These are some of the comments I receive about the above picture. No one chooses to ask how they themselves could duplicate it. It’s as if many hunters and fishermen believe great photos only happen by accident. I just got lucky, they suppose. Though many folks are surprised to learn, I took the above photo myself. Usually when I tell them I had a tripod and a time delay on the camera I get an “uh huh” and that is as far as the questions go.

The above photo is a result of much planning. It required a lot of thought and preparation. There were several photos taken of the same scene. This is the best one. The rest are what I consider learning experiences. They reside on my hard drive and reviewing them occasionally helps reinforce the learning. Will this prevent me from making mistakes in the future? Probably not, but it should help me prevent repeating a few of them.

The most common mistake folks make in taking pictures of their harvest is leaving the camera at home or in the truck. The, “let’s get home and take a picture”, mentality rarely results in the best photo. No animal looks it’s best after tumbling around in a pickup bed, stiffening up and being relentlessly wind blown. You can’t possibly show your good fortune first hand to everyone. So, take the pictures first then get on the road if you must.

Promise yourself right now, if you want the best picture possible of your success, that you will bring the camera with you from now on; every time you hunt. Don’t leave it in the truck! Yes, it is more to carry but it is minimal. A small camera fits in your daypack easily; there is always room. If you are gonna be alone, having a tripod and knowing how to use the time delay function on your camera is a must. Nowadays, it’s not uncommon at all for digital cameras to have a “Multi-Shot” timed feature. That means the camera will take several photos after one timer setting. Once you frame the shot and get the focus right on the tripod, get in the frame and let the camera take a few shots of you in different poses. The camera always gives you a clue when it's done. Practice with this feature and take some self-photos. It’s worth it. Until I learned how to do this the best pictures I had were mostly ones I took of other people. Depending on someone else to take the photo you want rarely works out. Aluminum tripods are cheap and very light weight. There really isn’t an excuse not to have one when you need it. A small desktop tripod is about the same size as three standard pens. These mini tripods really aren’t too small for good field photos. So, always take at least one of those with you. Sometimes the low upward angle these little tripods set up produce the most dramatic photos imaginable. So, believe it or not, I always have the mini with me at the very least and often have the full size one as well.

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Go digital. Many of the mistakes in photographs people take can be resolved by excellent photo software. Cropping, light enhancement and other effects can really save an otherwise mediocre photo. You are the editor. Experiment; save your progress. Some things you can’t save or change, but you will learn in the future to avoid them. Most digital camera’s allow you to review photos at the site as soon as you take them. Review your photos before you dismantle your setup. If you’re not happy with the results, taking more photos is easy. Digital media stores your pictures for free, so don’t be stingy. Take lots of photos of the same thing. Different angles, poses and distances can dramatically change the quality of the photo. A quality inkjet print and glossy photo paper can make an excellent hard copy worth framing and saving. Printing out extra copies to share is cheap. Make your own photo CDs, Slide Shows or DVDs. Digital makes all of this much easier. Don’t forget to always take extra batteries and memory cards.

Don’t use digital zoom for subject photos. If you can’t frame the picture right in the display or viewfinder you should move closer. Digital zoom reduces the resolution of the photo and degrades the photo’s quality. Digital zoom often results in a grainy, blurred picture. This is because digital zooming is accomplished by sharing pixels. The higher the digital zoom, the more pixels are shared resulting in lower photo quality. In effect, you are reducing the megapixel quality of the photo. You can shoot a 1 megapixel quality photo with a 6 megapixel camera using digital zoom. Optical zoom does not affect picture quality the same way. This is accomplished mechanically outside of the camera electronics. Cheap lenses are cheap lenses though and zooming makes this very apparent. Be aware that many cameras will transition from optical to digital zoom. Learn where the transition point is or don’t zoom.

Always take your photos with the quality setting at it’s highest. Resizing photos and reducing detail is better done on your computer. Learn how to do it yourself. Running to the nearest photo shop to get them to print the photos for you robs you of the flexibility that digital photography has to offer. Plus, there will be plenty you won’t want to print and the photo shop will print them all. If you want photo shop print quality, burn the photos you want onto a CD and take that to the photo shop. Standing at a Kiosk picking photos and trying to edit them at the shop doesn’t save your efforts. So if someone wants a copy you end up having to do it all over again. You can not add detail and clarity to a low quality photo. You can, however, do numerous things to these photos yourself; expect to be amazed. Use the card reader on your computer or purchase one if it is not already so equipped. Hooking up your camera directly to the computer needlessly uses battery life. Get copies of the images onto your hard drive first. Then make copies to edit. Do not delete pictures from your card using your computer. It’s best to let the camera do that unless you really understand what you are doing. Microsoft Windows® leaves unrecognizable fragments for your camera and will, in effect, shrink your card’s storage size. The only way to resolve this is to completely reformat your card. If this happens to you, consult your camera’s user manual to determine if it needs FAT or FAT32 format. The wrong format could make the card unreadable to the camera. If this happens, you can reformat the card in the other format using your computer. However, if you don’t know exactly what you are doing you could inadvertently erase your entire hard drive. So, to be safe, just copy images from your card and let the camera delete photos and format cards.

The Setup

Where is the sun? Ask yourself this question first. This determines how the shadows will fall in the photo. Where can I take the picture that requires me to move the animal the least? 

This was my set up for the opening picture of this article.


As you can see, the distance from harvest site to picture site was not very far at all. The picture site is on the left and my blind is on the right. As you can see in this photo, the sun may have been a problem for this site if I hadn’t taken my pictures earlier. Notice that the tripod is close to the subjects and set low so that it was at eye level with me in a low position. You should try to center your targets and have them use up the maximum amount of space in the frame. Don’t try to take in all the surroundings in one frame, this distracts from the subjects and makes a mediocre picture. The above photo really has too much going on.


Look, no hands.

Using Props

Wings spread and fan deployed is much more than simply plopping the turkey on the ground in front of the camera. There needs to be something going on that is not visible in this view to accomplish this; and there is. Notice there is room for a person left between the birds. Let’s concentrate on the front view first.

Front View

Front View

  1. Head/Neck position: Choose the turkeys best profile side. Since the head is the target in hunting turkeys, one side is usually better than the other. Extend the neck so it is parallel to the wing on that side. Put a rock, pine cone or stick under the head to facilitate pointing it’s eye towards the camera.
  2. Beard display area: This is the first trophy measurement folks ask about. Lot’s of turkey pictures I have seen, have the bird on top of the beard so you can’t see it. Pull it out from under the bird and clear the area around it from excess debris to help it stand out. It should be laid at an angle perpendicular to the neck.
  3. Wing height: The back of the wing should just hide the bottom tail feather of the fan. Besides assuring the angle of the wing is right this is important for another reason when you see the back of the bird.
  4. Focal distance: For this photo where there is no human subject the bird takes up the majority of the frame. This maximizes the viewers attention on the subject bird. If you are going to get in the picture, establish the focal distance that just barely gets you in the photo as well.

Back View

Back View

  1. Give it a lift: A natural rise or object, in this case a stump, helps elevate the back of the bird so it is at a more appealing angle to the camera.
  2. Fan Spreader: Find a stick or reed that can be broken of to be about the same width as the fan fully spread.
  3. Binder Clips: Toss a few of these in your day pack as they come in handy. In this case, use them to clip the fan spreader stick to the bottom feathers of the fan on each side. These clips should be hidden behind the wings if they are spread properly.
  4. Fan Prop: Size another stick to be used to prop the fan up. Experiment with the length and angle until you get it right.
  5. Wing Stake: Push a couple short sticks in the ground to spread the wings. The “elbow” of the wing should rest against the stake. This establishes the spread of the wings for the photo.

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This is just one example of posing. Be creative and make use of objects in your environment. Always bring the right equipment and props. Have a plan. Take lots of photos of the same thing. Try different angles and distances. Try different poses. Review all photos on site. Take some more. The first shot isn’t always the best. Don’t settle for what you think is good enough. You can take a picture you will be proud of. A good photo can be your most satisfying trophy. Take enough of them and you can make a slide show CD you will be proud to share. Some you will make 8X10s of and frame for display.

Here is another example using the same techniques but different surroundings and angles.

Alternate Photo

Try using computer software to add a frame.


Or make a collage


Some photos of the hunt itself may be particularly memorable. This photo was taken of a friend’s dog when the ducks had stopped flying. It captured the moment perfectly.

Duck Dog

You don’t have to go home empty handed if you bring the camera along. My friend got a framed copy of this photo for Christmas.

About the Author: Leo has been fishing ever since he can remember and hunting since 1980. He has hunted and fished for several different species in many different places over the years. Leo graduated with a B.A. in Mechanical Engineering from Auburn University. He understands the mechanics of equipment and the processes it takes to manufacture it. Leo has been happily married since 1995, he and his wife have no children. Besides hunting and fishing Leo likes to take pictures, read and play guitar. You can contact Leo via the Hunting Resource Forums.

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