Why and How: Photographing Red Deer Stags in Silhouette

If you like to photograph deer, you probably will enjoy photographing red deer stag. Perhaps you will appreciate the opportunity of capturing creative photos of these magnificent mammals to honor their elegance and strength.

Silhouetted photographs of animal scenes evoke mystery and the unknown.

In this article, I will share with you a creative technique that I use in the field: silhouette photography.

Silhouette of a red deer stag on the top of a hill. Photograph taken in low-angle. Photograph by Amar Guillen, photographer artist
Silhouette of a red deer stag on the top of a hill. Photograph taken in low-angle.

The Little Story Behind this Article

When my passion for red deer and roe deer photography was born, I was crisscrossing the forests of La Coubre and Saint Genis de Saintonge in Charente-Maritime in France. I spent hours looking for traces of the animals so that I would know where to place my blinds. I waited hours, even days to take the pictures that evoked an adrenaline rush.

After several months of research and tracking, I had managed to make some interesting pictures. At that time, I had not yet made the leap to artistic photography. I was working in the field of illustrative photography for magazines and stock photo websites.

Charente-Maritime in the western region of France is a geographically flat region. The territories seem to span straight out for miles and miles. All of my photos had the same perspective: I was photographing deer at eye level.

By chance, not far from Clérac, in the south of Charente-Maritime, I was doing a walk with my camera when suddenly I saw a young deer walking on a hill during the sunset. I was flabbergasted. How beautiful it was. Its silhouette was cut out against a sky colored with warm tones as only the Charente-Maritime can offer. I had just enough time to take a few pictures before the deer spotted me and moved to the other side.

This first experience of a silhouetted deer is engraved forever in my memory. Since then, I often try to shoot close to the ground to gain a unique perspective of deer in silhouette.

I admit that it is not easy. I often return empty-handed.

But the fact remains that the silhouette technique is creative. It gives results that leave no viewer feeling indifferent.

I will now give you some tips to help you to master your own deer pictures.

The Origin of The Silhouette Technique

The silhouette as a creative artistic form, was invented by Monsieur Silhouette, Minister of Finance for King Louis XV in France when he drew people in backlight to capture only the contours of their profile on the walls of his castle of Bry-Sur-Marne. This made it impossible to identify the people.

At the time, the silhouette included naughty or amusing drawings, much different from its use today. I can only direct you to conduct some research on the internet to learn more about its origins.

Application to Photography

Silhouette or backlight photography consists of showing the shape of a subject or a strong photographic element.

The subject must be backlit, meaning that the light source must face you.

Some Pictures Of Silhouettes of Red Deer Stags

Click on a thumbnail to enlarge it.

Application to Red Deer Stag Photography

The red deer stag is a robust animal with a characteristic shape. If you photograph him in silhouette, his shape will be recognizable among a thousand. The viewer of your photo will not mistake its silhouette when compared to other species. This is much different than with other animals, for example, with silhouettes of different bird species.

Why: Photographing Red Deer Stag in Silhouette

Several reasons can be given for answering the question, “Why should I invest time in photographing red deer stag in silhouette?”

First of all, red deer stag silhouette photography is a creative wildlife photography technique. You will amaze your spectators. I guarantee that you will have many comments and likes when you share your deer pictures.

Indeed, silhouette photos are often dramatic, graphic, and very spectacular. They are very aesthetic. The eye is always attracted by strong graphic forms.

Photographs of silhouettes have a strong visual impact.

On the other hand, the animal silhouettes, and in particular those of deer, are for me very symbolic forms. They can evoke departure, flight, and freedom. They can suggest emotions and feelings. The only limits lie within the imagination of the viewer.

The eyes of animals are not visible in a silhouette photograph. This fact accentuates even more the mysterious aspect of the scene. The gaze is implied but not visible. Only the shape of the body is important, as it becomes a suggestive form, which evokes the movement and the animal’s attitude.

Finally, they are simple photos to make from a technical perspective. They do not require a vast array of knowledge.

You must know that silhouette photography is a unique way to transcend the animal world by showing suggestive shapes that no other technique can replicate.

How to Photograph Red Deer Stag in Silhouette

First of all, you need to know the terrain on which you are going to working. The ideal is to find a place from down below to take a photo from a low angle tilted upwards. This method will allow you to showcase the deer as a dominant figure.

If you want to take a picture of a silhouette with a deer at eye level, look for a place where the sky will form the background. This is not easy to find.

Indeed, to take a picture of the silhouette of an animal and a deer in particular, you must obtain a particularly important difference between the subject and the background. Ideally, the sun should be behind your deer. Your camera should not be able to properly expose both shots. You will have to choose either the background or foreground as the focus from which to measure the light.

Ideally, sunset and sunrise are the best settings to take a silhouette photo. It is in these conditions that you will get the most dramatic shots. Your subject will be either very dark or even black. The background will be illuminated.

I advise you to properly isolate the deer from its negative space. For example, leave some space under his chest otherwise you will simply have a black mass that lacks aestheticism. Do not forget that the more visible and well defined the shape is, the more impact your photo will have.

I also recommend that you hide the sun behind your deer (the subject). Indeed, with rare exceptions, if you leave the sun visible in your photo, it is the sun that will attract the viewer's attention. Do not forget that it is a light source, thus it is always the spot which attracts the eye most.

Incorporate an open space. I consider silhouette photography to be a minimalist technique. You want to focus the viewer's attention on the deer.

Personally, I avoid including trees in my photographs of silhouettes. They often introduce a mass imbalance in the photos because they are just as dark as the deer. Instead, choose minimalist scenes that will highlight those graphics related to the deer.

Another trick I often use is to turn the camera to get a horizon that is straight. Skewed horizons are distracting. With a straight horizon, you receive a nice balance of shapes and a harmonious composition.

Keep a close eye on the size of your foreground. It should not take up a lot of space in the picture. If it does, your photo will be difficult to read because the viewer will struggle to interpret your photograph.

Once in the field, your blind can be a good solution for hiding and waiting for the right time to shoot. Once you have spotted an area of high passage and once you know the time of sunset, all that is left is to wait for the right moment when a deer comes into focus.

Walking with your camera is also an excellent way to make animal photographs in silhouettes. If you are mobile, you can easily adapt to the terrain. You will be able to spot the best point of view to photograph deer.

The Measurement of Light

You must take special care when measuring the light.

The ideal is to set your camera in spot mode.

Measure the light in the sky. The measurement will be made on an area of 3 to 5% in the center of the image. Once you have made this measurement, you must memorize it and recompose your image so that your composition is as harmonious as possible.

As you photograph with the sun in front, make sure that the sensitivity of your camera is minimal. If you are shooting in auto ISO mode, make sure that you do not reach the lowest setting. If this is the case, you will not know if it is the right value for the sensitivity of the scene or if your camera is capable of shooting below that point.

The Focus

You need to focus on the deer's silhouette. As the scene is very contrasted, you will see that the camera focuses beautifully.

I recommend that you first focus on your subject. Once the sharpness plane has been defined, you then perform the light measurement.

Finally, you recompose and trigger your camera.

The Development of Your Photos in Silhouettes

The best advice I can give you is to take great care in developing your photos of deer in silhouettes.

But first of all, as always, I recommend that you photograph in RAW rather than JPEG. You will have much more latitude to correct a possible exposure error in the shot with the FAW format.

On the one hand you will be able to better define your subject if it is not dark enough.

You can then crop the foreground as needed.

Finally, you will be able to use gradient tools to darken your sky or add vignetting to focus the viewer's attention on your subject.

Claim your free guide to make your photo impactful and meaningful

Claim Your Free Guide '50 Pages of Tips to Give Impact and Meaning to Your Photos'.

If your subject lacks sharpness even though the contrast was high at the time of shooting, you can improve it during this crucial stage. This is often the case with zoom lenses used at infinity (more than 100 meters or 300 feet).

As you have integrated a lot of sky in your photo, remember to remove any possible stains from your sensor for a clear view.


If you want to create deer pictures that are different and interesting for your audience, do not hesitate for a second to try out the silhouette technique.

The silhouette sprinkles a bit of mystery into photos that are already evocative, thus creating a magical image and unforgettable scene.

In my opinion, the most difficult point is not the technique, but when and where to use the spot mode of your camera. The main difficulty will come from finding an area to photograph deer in silhouette.

For this reason, you will have to do some scouting to get to know your terrain before snapping the trigger.


Add comment

I Want to Help You to Create Interesting Photos