Each year, I spend two to three weeks on the field to photograph the rut of the deer in France. I gained experience in photographing red deer and attempting creative and unique photographs.
Often to create my animal photographs of deer, I rely on a ground blind for shelter from their gaze. Using a tent, a net, or a lens, I lie patiently, hiding in the photo blind. I wait for an animal to pass in my field of vision to photograph it. This is an interesting technique because the animal cannot see me, I would not dare to bother him. From this close view, I can take photographs that beautifully freeze their natural behaviors.
The downside to the ground blind is that I can never choose the shooting distance. The site can be randomly chosen, and the deer may be too close to capture withing the desired frame, or they may be too far to capture the tiny details of the fur.
In addition to the blind technique, I use the photographic stalking technique, which I learned from a bow hunter. It consists in locating a deer with a pair of binoculars and then crawling closer on all fours through the undergrowth or meadows until you reach the desired distance.
The approach technique is exhausting. Sometimes it takes me one to two hours to travel 300 meters (984 feet). I must crawl on the prairies with my tripod in one hand, my camera in the other hand, and a net overhead to hide myself. I must not make any noise. I must avoid breaking twigs or small branches, otherwise the deer’s fine sense of hearing will immediately detect my presence. I use the natural slopes of the ground and surrounding woods to my advantage to progress while remaining invisible to the eyes of the animals.
The advantage of this very difficult technique is that I can get very close to the deer to achieve tight framing. The most crucial step is the installation of the tripod. When I think that I have arrived at the right distance, I must install my equipment in slow motion. From this moment, my camera with my long lens will be visible to the eyes of the deer. This is where the success of the photo comes into play. It is always the movement of the tripod that alerts a deer to potential danger. However, the mounting of my telephoto lens onto my gimbal may take several minutes. I must quickly and efficiently assemble and shoot before the deer flees.
Finally, I take my photos. Deer have excellent hearing. The first camera triggers are noisy. If the deer is not already staring me down, he often will as soon as he hears the click of the trigger. He scrutinizes me, for I am a strange creature dressed in my camouflage clothing with a hood shadowing my face. I am still hidden under my net. Deer have excellent visual memory therefore he is probably wondering what this little khaki mound emitting strange noises could represent. Generally, there is one precious minute where he stands completely still before deciding to flee for shelter away from this strange shape generates so much peculiar noise.
For me, this form of photography is the noblest form that exists. If we can speak of photography as being a noble practice, of course! I must be patient and selfless to achieve my goals. Fortunately, the result of being so close is always extraordinary.
Few photographers practice this discipline because it is exhausting. In addition, the result is never guaranteed. However, I have found that the adrenaline rush is incomparable. Being able to create interesting animal photographs in such a way is a priceless experience.
For me, it is in these situations that I truly feel as if I am a hunter, that is, a hunter of photography.
When looking at these artistic photographs, you will no doubt understand why I chose the title "Hide and Seek with Red Deer Stags". It is truly a game between the animal and me. Freezing the surprised looks upon their faces and staring back into their questioning gaze is the most beautiful reward in this majestic game of hide and seek.
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