The blind: an excellent method to photograph red deer
In wildlife photography luck is a major factor
During a photo workshop devoted to the bellowing of the red deer in France, I accompanied a trainee in the field to explain how to use a blind. I expected to see the first animals after one hour. We were very lucky. Ten minutes after settling, a herd of stags and does red deer arrived. The meadow was covered with fog. All the natural elements came together to create beautiful photos. But the impatience of a photographer almost makes us return empty-handed.
A herd a red deer in the fog during the bellowing in France. The noise of our cameras alerted the leading stag and the watching doe.
That day, the blind was the best choice
That famous day of September, I chose to leave very early to accompany the student on the field. The weather of the day before was foggy. We had to leave before the sun rises to put in place the blind. When we arrived at destination, it was still dark and the fog hid us in part. I opted for a natural blind in the ferns around us.
Usually I do not take my camera when I am with a trainee on the field but when we use a blind, I'm also equipped. This time I chose a 500mm lens and a tripod.
The day before during recognition, I spotted a small dirty path between two woods. The tracks were numerous and feces clearly showed that a herd of red deer came to graze. I also spotted a possible placement for a blind just at the limit of a wood.
Choosing the right place for a blind is never easy. First, it has to make us invisible to animals we are going to photograph. Only the front of the lens should be visible. It is already an incongruous element in a natural environment. Then, the noise made by the mirror when triggering the camera will also affect the sound environment of the stags and the does. It is better not to add human presence.
Then, the blind should be place to create an interesting photograph. The photographer must take care of the background, the light, and many other parameters. Being invisible to the sight of animals is a necessary but not sufficient condition to create a good photo.
After explaining and repeated the main features of the setup of a good natural blind, we posted five meters (15 feet) from each other. Just our two lenses were visible and above the vegetation. We were sitting on our stools. We heard bellowing in the distance. I was sure that we were going to wait several hours. As always in these cases, nothing happened as thought. We were lucky. A herd leading by a big stag and two young does and a fawn of the year just came within 50 meters (150 feet) in front of us.
Impatience is a failure of photographers
I told my partner that it is important not to start to take photos as soon as the animals arrive. Indeed, we must give them time to get used to the environment. Usually, they begin by looking if no danger threatens, and then they start to graze. If the leader stag is accompanied by a herd, it is especially important to find the watcher doe which as its name suggests made watch. In case of danger, she barks to alert the herd. Then the leader doe (the older of the group and the most experimented) gives the start to run away. She also chooses the direction to take.
Generally, we let 2 to 3 minutes before making the first photo. But when a photographer takes for the first time a picture of a stag bellowing, excitement is such that the photographer can not resist. Fear not to bring a nice picture is stronger than anything. This sentiment prevails over common sense that recommends being patient. We all went through this stage. Experience teaches us that patience, even in situation is one of the strengths of a good wildlife photographer in Europe.
I'm watching the scene in the viewfinder waiting that the stag and the does become relaxed when I hear a burst of 5 photographs from my right. Just taking one picture makes noise, but the burst is like a thunderclap in the quiet morning when silence is absolute.
Too bad it's too late. The doe watcher barked. The five animals raise their heads and look in our direction. Our big lenses are abnormal elements for them. This is the first phase of distrust.
I hear another burst. This time, the question is no longer permitted. We represent an incongruous phenomenon in the woods covered with ferns. I am also taking one picture. I feel that the herd will run away quickly. I am not mistaken. The doe leader gives the start. The rest of the herd follows.
I look to my right. The trainee is sorry. He realized his mistake. He knows he took good shots but if he had waited a little bit more, they would have been even better.
Learning about wildlife photography requires time and patience
The moral of this story is that every wildlife photo beginner is impatient. We all went through this phase. It was a shame because having a leader red deer stag accompanied by a herd with a fan of the year is a rare scene. In addition we had the fog giving a supernatural aspect to the scene. But when I saw the photographs by the student, I was really happy because they were beautiful. The compositions were excellent.
But I think it has retained the most important: patience is an asset of a European wildlife photographer. I am sure that from now on, he will think about it every time.