Written By:  Justin Nelson

Strengthen the Grip and Grin

I’m sure you’ve heard of the saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” It’s a saying that we can all relate to. Pictures have a way of helping us relive memories that may otherwise have been forgotten. They are a constant reminder of what we’ve done and experienced in our lifetime. A picture can be simple or it can be complex. It can bring us to tears or even make us laugh. Images are the main media for marketing and representation of a product or a person. Pictures surround us, they capture life and create history, they are powerful, and if there’s one thing we regret as we get older, it’s that we didn’t take enough of them.

In today’s social media craziness, hunters are harshly judged by their photos, not only by the non-hunting community, but by other hunters as well. It doesn’t take long to start an outrage or a social media war. It’s our job as hunters to respectfully show our successes in a way that promotes good ethics and shows respect for the animals that we harvest. The last thing you want to do is have your hard earned trophy be the center of an avoidable controversy. Regardless, there will continue to be negative backlash in today’s society, but we should do our best to take the high road and present a good quality, respectable image. By taking simple steps we can strengthen our “grip and grin” image and help teach the non-hunting community about our lifestyle.

It’s our job as hunters to respectfully show our successes in a way that promotes good ethics and shows respect for the animals that we harvest.

After you’ve harvested your animal the next steps you take are crucial. At no point does an animal deserve less respect or neglect after it has expired. Judge the time of death, recovery and weather to figure out how long you have to take your photos. Having a plan of how you want the animal positioned and cleaned will increase your photo productivity. The biggest mistake is simply not taking enough photos, so first and foremost, do not forget to pack a camera of some sort. Take full advantage of your time because there are no re-creates. It’s crucial to avoid the photo of just the head in the back of your truck, not only to avoid hate comments, but because your pictures will be more meaningful in the environment that you harvested. Be mindful of time, taking too long can increase the chance of spoiling meat and no photo is worth losing the meat.

It’s All About the Prep

Not every animal expires in the best place to take a photo. Often it’s steep, thick, or the area offers terrible lighting. If you have help, drag the animal to a better location. If you are by yourself you’ll have to improvise and make due with what you have. You can still get quality photos, it just might take a little bit more effort. If you are able to move the animal, look for areas with the consistent lighting. Partially shaded areas may result in an overexposed or underexposed image. Take time to clear small twigs and branches that might linger into the photo. A little prep work goes along ways. Once you have the animal to your desired spot, don’t forget to brush the hide clean wiping away pine needles, leaves, and dirt.

Avoid gruesome photos. Regardless of how big an animal is, or how hard a hunt was, take the time to do your best to prep the animal for photos. A little bit of water can easily wipe down the blood. If the wound is too large take photos from the not so bloody side. If the ground itself is covered in blood, bring in new dirt and simply lay it on top of the saturated dirt. The same goes for snow, which can look quite gruesome when blood stained.

Avoid gruesome photos. Regardless of how big an animal is, or how hard a hunt was, take the time to do your best to prep the animal for photos.

One mistake that often gets made is leaving an animals mouth open resulting in blood running out of the mouth or the tongue hanging out. An animal’s face is initially the center of focus. Push in the tongue and wipe the animals nose clear. A lot of time you can hold the chin of the animal up in the air and this will close the mouth, creating a clean picture. You can also use sticks, logs, or rocks to hold the animals head up. The key is to make the animal look comfortable. It might seem silly but folding the legs under the animal and not having the body all twisted up will really make a big difference. Posture is everything.

The animal’s posture isn’t the only important posture. The hunter’s placement is important too. We have all seen the photos where the hunter is six feet behind the animal, trying to make the animal look bigger than it actually is. The fact of the matter is, you will get more respect by sitting beside your animal and taking a good quality photo. It’s important to remember why we hunt and that size is an exciting part of the harvest, but meat in the freezer is the ultimate goal. Be proud of your harvest, hunting is hard work. Make sure to get a good “grip and grin”. Then push yourself to try some different angles, and take some non-posed shots. Don’t forget to add your buddies. You will want to remember the people that helped make the harvest happen.

The Art of Photography

Treating your field photos like a piece of art creates photos you want to share and photos people want to see.

Treating your field photos like a piece of art creates photos you want to share and photos people want to see.

Understanding your camera equipment will greatly improve your photos. The more comfortable you are with your setup, the more dynamic they will be. Running a DSLR camera will give you the best results for a very artistic, and clean look. However, you can still achieve great photos with today’s hand held cameras and cell phones. Knowing you equipment and understanding a few components about photography will help you achieve your desired look. Be creative, some of the best images are very detailed, not even necessarily showing the full body of the animal. As the photographer you are the artist. You decide what people get to see, through focal length, lighting, and image composition.

  • Focus is Critical

Focus is the one factor that can not be easily fixed. Check your photos regularly. If you move locations, change depths or have a faulty auto focus system your images can easily be ruined. Unfortunately, adding sharpness in post rarely helps. An image out of focus might as well be deleted. Understanding different focal depths and how focus works gives you the ability to choose what you want in focus. You decide the depth of field by setting the aperture. “Wide” aperture gives you bokeh. Choose a larger aperture number if you are wanting more of your photo in focus.

  • Lighting is Key

Without light, there is no photography. Proper exposure creates a balance between shadows and highlights. If the image is too bright you loose highlights and if it’s too dark you’ll lose all of the shadows. Finding areas with consistent light helps manage exposure levels and aids in a well balanced photograph. If you have the option, move the animal into evenly lit areas to combat harsh lighting.

  • Composition is Everything

You are in control. You decide what elements make it into your photograph. You choose how they are arranged and positioned to create your own core idea. By composing an image you get to pick and choose where you want your audience’s eyes to go. Try composition techniques like the rule of thirds, framing, and using leading lines to direct your viewer’s eyes to parts of your image.

The Good, Bad, and Ugly

As an avid hunter, capturing my hunts and especially my successes means a lot to me. There are few people that will ever get to experience what I’ve seen on any given day while in the field. Photographing my hunts ensures that I’ll be able to share my experiences with my family and friends.

Below is a series of photos with critiques that may help you with your next kill photo or grip and grin.


#1 Shooting at a higher F-stop such as F8 will give you more in focus. Notice how the hunter is soft but the elk is crisp.

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#2 Great example of a product being displayed in the field by using good composition and making sure the product is the focus point.

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#3 Unposed pictures that capture raw emotion are a great addition to the “grip and grin”

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#4 Crisp, clean and well composed. The gun is a little distracting and his paws are missing

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#5 Notice how there is no blood, his mouth is closed, his head propped up and he looks natural.

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#6 This is a great unposed follow up shot to #5

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#7 This is a more traditional “grip and grin”. The lines of the canyon lead to the animal. It’s shot in the environment animal was harvested.

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#8 The closeness of the hunter and the placement of the two subjects, shows respect and gratitude from the hunter towards the animal.

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#9 The elk is twisted, there’s blood showing, the sagebrush is obstructing the bull, and there is random stuff in the background

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#10 This is a great example.

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#11 This image is great, but the twig in the foreground is distracting

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#12 The blood is a little gruesome in this photograph and it’s a very soft focus

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#13 This is a great example of holding the head up and mouth closed, but the other side of the pronghorn would have been a better side to show

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#14 This is a bad example. Don’t be like this.  Mouth open and blood all over.

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#15 Pay attention to harsh lighting. It looks like this buck is missing his body.

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#16 This is a good example and it was taken in extremely harsh conditions

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Good luck this fall and take field photos you can be proud of, others will enjoy, and master that grip and grin!

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