A week-long wildlife photography workshop dedicated to photographing bellowing deer - October 2015

October always brings good weather conditions

For this second wildlife photography workshop in 2015 dedicated to photographing bellowing deer, we once again chose the region of Charente-Maritime, France. In the north of France, the rutting season takes place mainly in September. In Charente-Maritime, however, it easily extends to the beginning of November. October is definitely the high point of this exceptional time. Also, October’s cool nights and sunny days are ideal weather conditions for photography. Morning mists are frequent and usually slow to dissipate. The area that we chose has many ponds, and they help to create the mists which produce conditions that highlight the remarkable behavior of the deer.

The participants of the wildlife photo workshop (from left to right): Patricia, Daniel, Stan, Elizabeth and et Christian

The participants: Patricia, Daniel, Stan, Elizabeth and Christian.

A workshop organized around using photos to transmit messages

In this course, all the participants were experienced photographers who had come with us for other courses in previous years. Only one participant, Yves, did not know us. So we decided to organize the workshop’s educational progression around using photos to transmit messages, with the theme “wildlife in the fall”. The goal was to produce meaningful images that convey messages, using all the natural elements available at the time. We proposed this challenging photographic approach in addition to the technical education we provided throughout the workshop. The students were excited by this innovative approach and took photos that met their expectations.

5 photographers gathered for a workshop with a single theme

The rutting season of red deer is definitely one of the major events in the fall in France. In early autumn, red deer stags organize herds of females to mate with them. The stags use unusual calls, or bellows, to attract a greater number of does. There are several types of calls, including challenges, bellows of the winner, and bellows of anger.

Does want to breed with the most vigorous males. A doe will change herds if she believes that the leader of another herd is more powerful than the stag that currently protects her.

During the rutting season, stags fight each other with rare intensity and violence. Only the strongest stags become masters of herds.

Even though the rutting season provides very interesting material for photographs, it needs the beautiful color of Nature in the autumn to highlight it. Glowing ferns and orange leaves are indispensable elements for a beautiful scene.

The entire photography workshop was dedicated to photographing rutting deer during the autumn.

Using both blinds and approach techniques to photograph bellowing deer

Each morning, the participants went to strategic locations to set up blinds. They arrived at the various sites when it was still dark outside. It was very important to arrive early, because even though we could hear the stags bellowing, they could not see us. To move in the dark, we used red lamps that are imperceptible to deer. With these lamps, it is possible to set up a blind near woods or in the ferns despite the darkness.

Then the waiting began. It could be about an hour before the day broke. This could be a long wait in the cool morning, but it often ended with an extraordinary sight: a bellowing stag surrounded by his herd of does.

For the less fortunate photographers, it could be the opportunity to take a picture of a doe with her fawn.

It is impossible to control nature. The woods and forests of Charente-Maritime do not obey any law. It's a bit of a lottery. Sometimes the photographers win and sometimes they lose. But, even if one morning does not measure up to their expectations, with persistence, they will get the photos they want. In wildlife photography, each day is totally different. Everything is completely unpredictable.

However, each participant was overwhelmed by the beauty of the region. When they left, they were all completely enchanted by the extraordinary landscapes that had surrounded us during the trip. Wildlife photography also includes feasting our eyes on the beautiful landscapes which we use to create the backgrounds for our photos.

Fall colors create dreamlike photos

The background is an essential component in wildlife photography. In creating photos of bellowing deer, fall colors are the ingredients of choice. The orange of the leaves gives warm tones to the photographs, which help enhance the beauty of the animals. The green of spring leaves produces a very different effect. The colder tones create more contrast with the animals’ coats.

The warmer tones of autumn produce photographs that look smoother, with gentle, smooth color gradients.

Charente-Maritime, and especially the region of Haute-Saintonge, offer wildlife photographers an extremely wide color pallet. The photographers have to learn how to use it to enhance their photographs. This is not always easy. It takes a bit of time and experience to master using the colors, but a photographer must do this to highlight the wonders of nature well.

A workshop which reached a rarely achieved level of creative intensity

This photography workshop dedicated to photographing bellowing deer reached a level of creative intensity which is rarely achieved. We cannot explain, because we do not understand, what it was that made the course great. It could have been the atmosphere of the workshop, the weather conditions, the amazing encounters with animals, or the desire the participants had to share with each other. In any case, during our week together, sharing, conviviality, and the joy of living were the keywords of each passing day. When we left, we all wanted to come back the next year and enjoy the workshop again. We were all willing to bet that we would.

Testimonials of the participants

Yves Stan.

This wildlife photography workshop was something new to me. In this field of photography, I was starting completely from scratch. When I came to the workshop, I was afraid of meeting specialists who would keep to themselves. I found passionate photographers who were eager to share their knowledge and enthusiasm. All the other students were available to answer my questions.

As for you, Amar, you were more than available. You inspired the group with a dynamic that is extraordinary. I am not just saying that because you are in front of me. It was really extraordinary. When you commented on our pictures during the photo reviews, you always gave us encouraging constructive criticism that allowed us to leave for the next session with new insight. Your actions were always constructive.

This week was a total success. It exceeded my expectations. When I came to the course, I already knew how to use my camera. I knew photography. The great revelation for me was how to correctly frame and compose a picture. Your classes on how to make a photograph tell a story were completely new to me. For me photography was a question of technique. Now I see photography in a very different way. I know I will take a totally different approach when I create photographs. I have begun to look for nice scenes and think about how to place the different elements. For example, today, I did not trigger my camera, and I am sure that before the workshop I would have. Now I think of all that you taught us and I take the time to compose my photos.

There will clearly be a "before" and "after" the photography trip for me. The region of Charente-Maritime is a fabulous place for wildlife photography. The lighting is beautiful; the scenery is amazing. This course was really a success.

I found this workshop by chance on the Internet. But it was really better than what I hoped for. The guest house and its owners were just delightful.

If I had to keep one favorite memory from this workshop it would undoubtedly be the conversations that we had throughout the week, as well as everyone’s availability. You had to explain the same things to me several times, but you were never reluctant to explain something again. Everyone was happy to show his photos to others and explain how he had taken them, not to brag, but just to share them.

This photography workshop was a real discovery, and no doubt I will come back.

Yves Patricia.

I had already taken a wildlife photography workshop with you. It was devoted to photographing young fawns in the spring. This workshop was very different. Basically, we saw does and herds of deer. The workshop was focused on photographing bellowing deer. Fall is a wonderful season with all its colors.

I used color to create pictures that are very different from the ones I used to take. The morning lights that bathed the ferns and trees were beautiful. We were also blessed with frost. This allowed me to compose great photos. We also had fog. Frost and fog helped me create ethereal photos. These are atmospheres that I love. They allowed me to properly highlight the bellow, which is a very unusual sound event. I was really impressed by the bellows of the deer.

This week, you had prepared a special educational progression with the theme “conveying messages through photos”. I know a lot about the techniques of photography. But your lectures motivated me to continue wildlife photography. I was a little apprehensive about always taking the same photos of bellowing deer. With your classes each day was totally different. I enjoyed this very artistic workshop.

It was a very creative workshop, where I tried to convey what I felt through the photos I took. Finally, I realized that I was trying to use bellowing deer to highlight the colors of the fall season. Photographing bellowing deer was no longer my focus. It became a pretext for focusing on the warm colors of autumn with their orange, red, yellow, and golden tones. However, I regret not having encountered wild boars as I did in July.

Throughout the week, the atmosphere in the group was excellent. There was a lot of sharing. Everyone shared the feelings of their photos. Your advice helped us a lot.

I knew some of the students, whom I had met in other classes about other disciplines. Then I met them again while learning about this new way to make pictures. It was interesting and rewarding. The atmosphere of the course was very friendly.

Another positive point is that I was with my husband, Jean-Jacques. Usually I am alone, but this time we shared the same experience. I am glad that we share the same passion, especially around the theme of nature. We were completely disconnected from our daily life.

If I had to pick one great thing from this week to remember, it would undoubtedly be the atmospheres we experienced in the field. I would have loved to take a picture of the mist-covered pond with a bellowing deer. I photographed the pond with mist, but not the deer. It will happen another time. I will remember that magical morning we experienced, but where we had no subject to photograph.

Elizabeth Elizabeth.

This workshop dedicated to photographing bellowing deer represents something extraordinary for me. This year I felt the bellows much more than last year. I felt the vibrations deep within me. It was an incredible experience. It's amazing, when waiting in a blind in the early morning, to see deer passing near us.

We experienced an exceptional morning with frost and fog. We could see the silhouettes of deer slowly advancing through the fog. It was extraordinary. For me the fall season is primarily the color: the warm and shimmering tones. This year I was able to approach deer that were standing in red and orange colored ferns. It was beautiful.

This year, you chose "transmitting messages through photos" as the theme for the workshop. Since you lent me a professional camera, I was able to make very good pictures that were very crisp, but it was a full format. It felt totally different, because I have an APS-C format. So I kept more space around my subjects so that I could render the very special moods that we saw. I created more dreamlike pictures. It's quite different from what I used to do with tighter framing. It was a very interesting exercise.

Now I think more about how to create my pictures using the lessons you taught us. This is especially true during the sessions in blinds where the animals come close to me. Now that I have mastered the technique and my camera, I pay more attention to composition. Now I have the scene in my eye before shooting. Now I know how to make a good photo. Before, I was judging my pictures more instinctively. Now I am able to choose a picture before triggering the camera. Before the workshop I was doing the selection on my computer. This is still the case, but I have fewer photographs to sort.

It's a pleasure to know that I have a good picture because I prepared it. Now I'm really "in" the act of creating a photo. Now I no longer need to check my photos in the rear window as I did before. I know they are good. It is very satisfying. It is difficult to choose a picture on the computer because I have a lot that are well realized.

This is big progress compared to the rutting season last year, because then I had just 10 that were done very well. After this workshop, the technique has become an extension of me. I do not ask myself questions anymore. I really reached a significant milestone. I am really happy. The atmosphere in the group was excellent. All the photographers exchanged ideas. This brings a lot to everyone. It is an advantage to look at what others are doing. The whole course had an air of good humor. We laughed a lot. Our hosts were amazing.

If I had to keep one memory from this week, it would certainly be the morning yesterday, when it was very cold and there was mist. The lighting was extraordinary. The oranges were beautiful. They put the elements in relief and gave them an amazing color. It was like a watercolor. You could really tell a story in pictures.

Thank you for everything.

Christian Christian.

I came last year for a photography workshop dedicated to photographing young fawns. For me this course during the rutting season allowed me to be in closer contact with wild animals. But the real highlight was definitely the progress I made in technique.

Photographing wild animals is not as easy as it looks. In addition, I have learned to think about the background. Physically, this course has been great. The mood of the team throughout the course was nice. The team spirit we shared throughout the course was nice. One does not often find this kind of attitude. We shared a lot and we had many discussions about topics of interest. Much was shared concerning the wonders of nature. I learned a lot this week.

I used the fall colors to highlight the deer in my photos. The woods in which we learned were beautiful, with the ferns and leaves changing color. The skies were beautiful. I tried to combine all these elements with the movement or attitude of animals.

This week I reached a real milestone in the creation of my photos. It was even better than the last workshop we attended in La Dombes. I feel more comfortable with composing pictures, but I still have more to learn about controlling my camera and using the settings. In wildlife photography, scenes change very quickly. We must react quickly. It is not always easy to adjust the camera settings to fit the light. But I will continue to take photos regularly to acquire the proficiency that you explained.

If I had to keep one memory from this week, it would be the animals and flowers that surrounded me and the grandeur of the landscape, water, sky, and all the elements of nature around me.

I appreciate the progress I've made with you. But I have progressed not only technically, but also from a philosophical and artistic point of view. Now I see my subjects differently. I put more space around them, avoiding framing that is too tight. I give them more life. Now I try to make my photo convey a message. It's difficult, but at least now I try.

I knew the area during the summer. Now, during the fall, the colors make it totally different. The bonus of this workshop was that I shared this experience with my wife Patricia. We helped each other. When we return home, we will certainly review this workshop. From now on, I am going to develop my pictures. This is something that I am not used to doing, but now I realize the importance of this step. I still have to practice.

Yves Daniel.

I already came with you last year to photograph bellowing deer, but this year was very different. Last year I wanted to create portraits of bellowing deer. I wanted to make classic pictures.

This year I came with a specific goal: I wanted to take pictures that were wildlife and landscape photographs at the same time. I'm thrilled because I did. This week was a fantastic time for exchanges between participants. It was wonderful. We showed others our photos and explained why we took them. The comments we received did not include value judgements. They were always positive. This allowed each of us to move forward regardless of our skill level.

From a purely photographic perspective, the rutting season is interesting, but it was the environment that allowed me to create the pictures I wanted. The advantage of the rutting season is that we can get a little closer to the deer to photograph them against the landscapes that we choose. Fall, with its colors, is the most beautiful season for me. The colors that I saw in the forests of Charente-Maritime allowed me to create beautiful pictures. The yellow, orange and green color schemes were important elements in photographing the bellowing deer. The icing on the cake was the early morning frost. Waiting inside a blind in the early morning frost is a great experience. It was cold but it was beautiful.

Throughout the week, the atmosphere in the group was fantastic. There was a kind of incredible friendliness. There was real camaraderie among the participants. Your comments and suggestions were encouraging to everyone. The group effect allowed us to progress much faster than we would have if we were alone.

If I had to pick one thing from this workshop to remember, it would be my happiness for having come. Every day was pleasant and tranquil for me. I completely emptied my mind during the workshop. Nothing else existed. I was just fine. The accommodation was great. Our hosts were very welcoming.

It has been a long time since I got to know you. If I come back to your classes, it is because there is a good reason. Now you are a friend.

A gallery of the participants' photos