Why and How: Photographing Red Deer in the Fog

If one of your passions is wildlife photography, you may impatiently await the arrival of autumn so that you can photograph the rut of the deer.

Perhaps you want to photograph this astounding event of nature in a new and creative way.

Fog is a natural phenomenon that can help you achieve your goal.

But it is not as easy as it sounds. In this article, I share with you some tips to accomplish the terrain and capture breathtaking pictures of deer in the fog.

The elegance of a red deer stag walking in the fog during the rut. Photograph by Amar Guillen, photographer artist
The elegance of a red deer stag walking in the fog during the rut.

The Little Story Behind This Article

My passion for the photography of big mammals, specifically deer, began in the forest of La Coubre in Charente-Maritime in France. It is a huge state-owned forest that extends over nearly 8000 hectares (nearly 20,000 acres) on the peninsula of Arvert.

It was in this forest where I experienced overwhelming unexplainable emotions upon first hearing the regal bugling of the deer and where I had the chance to photograph deer, does, and wild boars.

The forest is huge. I used to start my days beneath a cloth photo blind before walking in search of animals.

I will always remember this day in September. The morning was cold. I had parked my car along a country road. It was 6 o'clock in the morning. The night was very dark. In spite of the unfavorable conditions for walking, I decided to venture into the forest. For the first 500 meters (1640 feet), I opted for using a headlamp. I had decided to walk the last 200 meters (650 feet) in absolute darkness to avoid being spotted.

For several days, I had been waiting in a small clearing where I had spotted tracks and deer droppings. Not far from this clearing, I had photographed deer and wild boar. But the scenery and the plunging views prevented me from creating interesting pictures. The clearing was perfect, but each time proved unsuccessful in capturing images of the animals. I hoped that luck would smile on me on this cold morning.

While waiting under my cloth photo blind, I had chosen a huge fir tree to lean against, dressed in my camouflage clothing. The trunk allowed me to break my silhouette.

Once I arrived, I settled in quietly. I could see absolutely nothing. Not the tiniest noise disturbed the dark stillness of that magical morning.

Around 8 o'clock, the night began to disappear. The day rose timidly. My surprise was immense because the fog completely enveloped the clearing. I did not expect this at all.

Suddenly, without any warning signs, I heard a deer bugling on my right. The sound was impressive. The clear ringing was like a sound box. And yet, I could see nothing.

The worst thing is even if I could have seen something, I would have been unable to take a picture because I had chosen a different angle that looked out over the track that led to the other side of the clearing. Impossible to move without making noise. I decided to be still and wait. Besides, the fog was too thick.

The deer bugled for 30 minutes. At that time, my Nikon D200 could not record the sounds.

I fully enjoyed the auditory show. What else could I do but soak up this glorious experience! He must also have been pretty angry because I could smell him.

I was making a movie in my mind by imagining my deer emerging from the fog with its head held high and bugling. I had all the images in my head. Luck could not fail me, especially in such conditions.

When the fog cleared, the deer had disappeared. The clearing remained desperately empty all morning.

It was on this very day that my interest for the autumn season sparked, and so began my deep passion for shooting photographs in the fog. During the years that followed, I understood that I had been incredibly lucky and that it is already a challenge to come across fog, but then to have the right conditions to photograph it is yet another challenge.

It is from this moment on that I began to look for specific areas that correspond to my creative research.

In the rest of this article, I will explain what I have learned.

Definition of "Fog" and "Mist"

Before going any further in this article, it seems important to me to define the words “fog” and “mist” because very often people are mistaken about these.

Fog and mist are the same phenomenon.

On land, we talk about fog when the visibility is between 1 and 5 kilometers (0.6 and 3.1 miles), and we may even refer to fog having a visibility of less than 1 kilometer (0.6 mile).

I specified that it was on land because on the sea we mainly talk about fog for visibilities of less than 1 kilometer (0.6 miles).

In this article, I will only use the word fog because in wildlife photography, we are on earth. Fog is a visible phenomenon that is of great interest to those of us who are animal photographers.

The Fog Phenomenon

Fog is a meteorological phenomenon induced by the suspension of small water droplets in the air due to turbulent air movements.

In fact, fog is a cloud that gently touches the ground.

Several conditions must be met to have fog.

On the one hand, for fog to form, the humidity level in the air must be high enough. In addition, wind must be present. It must not be too strong, otherwise the fog will disperse. However, it must not be too weak, otherwise water droplets cannot be suspended in the air. This balance between the two is difficult to find. That is why fog is quite rare in areas where you may photograph deer.

In addition to a noticeably light wind, the air must have condensation or freezing nuclei. These are microparticles that will allow water droplets to settle and remain in suspension. In nature, without the phenomenon of pollution, these microparticles are transported by the wind as dust. They can also be induced by plants. The phenomena are quite complex and are beyond the scope of this article on wildlife photography. But just remember that without these microparticles, fog cannot be created. Again, this is a special condition that is not easy to create.

Finally, and this is the last condition, the air must be saturated with water. This is why fog is more likely to be present in humid areas or in areas with ponds. When the ground is humid and warmer than the ambient air, it only takes a drop in temperature during the night to create fog. This is called evaporation fog.

There are other types of fog such as radiative fog, advection fog or precipitation fog but what interests me most for this article is evaporation fog.

To have foggy conditions perfect for photographing deer, you must look for a wet area, wait for a day with weather that will warm the ground, wait until the next night to cool the air, have enough microparticles in the atmosphere, and ultimately have the right wind conditions. You must understand that it is not so simple as showing up and snapping photos. Not all regions are conducive to fog, and it may take a bit of trial and error to scope out the locations with the best foggy conditions.

The Best Time of the Year to Photograph Deer in the Fog

The best time for fog is certainly autumn.

Showers generate moisture in the soil. Winds are frequent. Vegetation, even if it starts to die off, can generate microparticles that will fix the water droplets. Mornings can be cold. The atmosphere cools down. You can also have beautiful sunny days that will warm the soil. Evaporation mists may appear after very cool nights.

When the deer are bugling, you can easily orient yourself in their direction to take your pictures. Moreover, the woods are often dry in this season with the falling leaves, thus producing microparticles.

Winter is not really a good time because deer antlers fall in February. It is necessary to wait for the summer for them to grow back completely, but during that time it is rare for fog to occur.

Personally, I always wait until the middle of autumn to choose the places where I will go to photograph the deer.

Some Pictures Of Red Deer Stags in the Fog

Click on a thumbnail to enlarge it.

Why Should You Photograph Deer in the Fog?

Everyone has their reasons for photographing deer in the fog.

Personally, fog allows me to create creative wildlife photography. For me, the deer's bugle is above all a question of atmosphere. In the collective imagination, the fog evokes autumn and the first frosts which mark the approaching winter. The atmospheres with the fog are always a guarantee to make interesting and evocative photos.

If you are anything like me, then you surely enjoy creating photos that symbolize quietness, dreams, and serenity. Fog is your best ally.

Fog reduces vision and muffles sound. It is always difficult to orient oneself and move around in the fog. Fog symbolizes the confusion of the mind.

But the fog also makes it possible to conceal oneself and to escape from the gaze of others. It is associated with protection.

Finally, the fog hides known places and increases the mystery. It reveals a new world hidden within the old.

For me, fog is a symbolic way in which I fulfilled my search for new horizons where peace and tranquility reign. By sinking into the depths of the fog, I can venture into unknown lands in search of serenity. I do not know where I am going but I know what I am looking for. It will take me time to reach my goal, but my pugnacity will eventually reap great rewards.

As for deer, they represent elegance, power, and virility. Photographing them in a foggy landscape allows me to highlight them in minimalist scenes. It is a juxtaposition of the powerful and bold with the ethereal and mysterious.

It is up to you to find symbolic reasons to photograph deer in the fog you encounter.

How to Photograph Deer in the Fog

Photographing deer in the fog is not an easy thing. You must first find areas where fog can create itself. The conditions I mentioned earlier must all be met.

Then you must look for deer. The deer slab is an interesting time in which you can locate them more easily.

Finally, you must find the right stage to showcase the animal power and natural elegance of the deer.

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Personally, I invest time in stakeouts where I can photograph deer in the mist. I always evolve my skills in regions that are familiar. I know where to place myself.

But I do not neglect the photography walk on the day of the shoot. This technique is interesting because if you cannot see the deer, they cannot see you either. The photo walk will offer you many creative possibilities.

Nevertheless, knowledge of weather conditions and animals is not enough. Knowledge of your equipment is especially important. For example, you must be able to disengage your lens in manual focus. Deer silhouettes are often fleeting in the fog. Even with a central collimator, you will not be able to perform auto-focus. The lens will skate. Disengaging it in manual mode will be the only way to focus accurately. I recommend that you practice this before embarking upon your fall sessions.

The Choice of Focal Lengths and Framing

Personally, I use a long focal length to photograph deer in the mist. You will not have any chance to approach deer with a short focal length.

In addition, I find it interesting to recreate the fall atmosphere. Your scenes should be airy and wide. The deer should be photographed from a distance.

In my opinion, the best framing for a scene with fog is definitely the horizontal format. You need to make your scene breathe and give it a lot of space always to evoke the atmosphere. 3:2, 16:9 or 2:1 ratios are perfectly suitable.

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