Red Deer Photography 2019

October 27, 2019  •  Leave a Comment

There's no doubt about it; autumn is the best time of year to photograph deer in the UK. The crisp mornings and misty sunrises coincide perfectly with the red deer rut; a time when the deer are more bold, and most active. I missed some of this season; taking the opportunity to see autumn elsewhere in Europe, but I had two very good mornings in particular, when some obliging deer were kind enough to stand in the right place at the right time. As with previous years, I've collected this season's deer photos into a blog post here to share as a set.

 

Silhouettes

I like silhouettes for their graphical simplicity. I think simplicity and removal of distractions are a theme that underpins most of my nature photography, and it's never more apparent or easier to achieve than when working with a silhouette.

A female red deer standing beneath the rising sun, on a misty autumn morningMisty Sunrise DeerA female red deer standing beneath the rising sun, on a misty autumn morning. The sun filters though the mist and the trees to leave a soft silhouette. One of my favourite sunrise photos from a fantastic morning out. It's always worth an early start to witness a good sunrise.
Woburn Abbey Deer Park.
Fine Art Nature Photography, Woburn, Bedfordshire, UK.

I love these two photos. It's very hard to get close to the more skittish female deer, so to encounter one so close, in mist and light like this was quite a rarity. I had to swivel the camera quickly, without disturbing her, to get both a landscape and a portrait orientation option before she moved off. These two photos have both made it onto my Deer Gallery, where they're available in print.

Misty Deer PortraitMisty Deer PortraitPortrait version of the previous photo, of a female red deer standing beneath the rising sun, on a misty autumn morning.
Woburn Abbey Deer Park.
Fine Art Nature Photography, Woburn, Bedfordshire, UK.

 

These mornings, for me, sum up the addictive quality of nature photography. You can go out many times, walking for miles on end, and come back with nothing. But then another time, you get the light, the deer, and the photos, and it all feels worth it. It reminds you why you do it, and convinces you that things will come good if you persevere. But that can be a trap. It's really a classic gambler's mentality. So if you're not careful that approach can drag you in as badly as any other gambler. In reality, photos-aside, I love being outdoors on a cold morning, when everyone else is tucked up in bed. It's like a secret world that I get to enjoy. So that's what I focus on. On the days when I don't take any worthwhile images, it's still a win to be out spending time with nature.

 

A young deer standing beneath the trees to leave a soft silhouette against the morning skySunrise SilhouetteA young deer standing beneath the trees to leave a soft silhouette against the morning sky.
Woburn Abbey Deer Park.
Fine Art Nature Photography, Woburn, Bedfordshire, UK.

The photo above came about as I stood watching a squirrel on the hillside, busily caching food for the winter. I was there for a few minutes before this young deer fawn appeared over the horizon, and paused perfectly for a photo. More often than not nature rewards you for taking an interest.

 

Below, another of this year's young stops to investigate, as I waited between these two large trees to frame the subject. I couldn't have asked for better cooperation.

Fawn at DawnFawn at DawnA young deer fawn in the trees and ferns, at Woburn Deer Park.
Fine Art Nature Photography, Woburn, Bedfordshire, UK.

 

OK, let's step back to a more subtle light, just after dawn. I think there are six deer in this photo. A mixture of adult females and their young from this year. How many can you spot?

Red deer in thick fog, early one morning.Deer in the MistRed deer in thick fog, early one morning.
I think there are six deer here. A mix of females and their young.
Woburn Abbey Deer Park.
Fine Art Nature Photography, Woburn, Bedfordshire, UK.

 

And a few minutes before the amber light of sunrise, the light is still very blue...

A large red deer stag shelters under a tree, during the autumn deer rutMisty Blue Hour SilhouetteA large red deer stag shelters under a tree, during the autumn deer rut. Taken shortly before sunrise, on a cold mist morning.
Woburn Abbey Deer Park.
Fine Art Nature Photography, Woburn, Bedfordshire, UK.

 

From a morning without mist, I took an ultra-simple approach; just blue and black as this red deer stag passed by on the ridgeline.

A red deer on a ridge, on a cloudy pre-sunrise morning.Red Deer - Blue Hour SilhouetteA red deer on a ridge, on a cloudy pre-sunrise morning.
Woburn Abbey Deer Park.
Fine Art Nature Photography, Woburn, Bedfordshire, UK.

 

And from that to a wash of colour; pre-sunrise on my first trip out this autumn, what a welcome to the season.

Pre-Sunrise SilhouettePre-Sunrise SilhouetteA red deer, at dawn.
Fine Art Nature Photography, Woburn, Bedfordshire, UK.

If I'm being critical, and I usually am, I don't like the back legs on this photo above. That's my top tip for silhouettes and portraits in nature; watch those legs, and make sure they're nicely balanced. Compare the photo above to the previous one on blue. That's an altogether more satisfying stance. But hey; pink sky, so it makes the cut.

 

Portraits

You can't always get close to deer. Each individual has it's own comfort distance, and I'm usually restricted to shooting wider scenes like the silhouettes above. But when you find the right subject - who's a little more bold, it's possible to get some enjoyable close-up opportunities.

Starting further out, this is a younger red deer stag. He's not old enough to compete with the larger stags yet, but he has a fine set of headwear growing.

Stag Portrait (B&W)Stag Portrait (B&W)A stag, posing nicely, stands to investigate me.
Woburn Abbey Deer Park.
Fine Art Nature Photography, Woburn, Bedfordshire, UK.

 

The rest of these portraits are all of the same stag, who patiently allowed me to kneel in the mud beside him for half an hour or so.

Portrait of a large red deer stag (Cervus elaphus), head on.Large Stag PortraitThis how it feels to be crouched down as a large red deer stag approaches you. The size and weight of those antlers are incredible. They have huge neck muscles to support them.
Woburn Abbey Deer Park.
Fine Art Nature Photography, Woburn, Bedfordshire, UK.
What a handsome chap. And a nice curvy set of antlers.

 

But I know what you're thinking: They need some grass dangling from them.

Head-short portrait of a large red deer stag, in black and whiteRed Deer Stag Close-UpHead-short portrait of a large red deer stag, in black and white.
Woburn Abbey Deer Park.
Fine Art Nature Photography, Woburn, Bedfordshire, UK.
Red deer will scrape their antlers into the ground, raking up mud, ferns, and grass to adorn their antlers. I guess it does make them look a little more rugged.

 

But now it's business time, and this stag put a lot of effort into bellowing, in his attempts to woo a lady.

A large red deer stag calling during the autumn rut, in black and whiteRed Deer CallingA large red deer stag calling during the autumn rut, in black and white.
I think this is most effective in black and white as it simplifies the image to it's most graphical elements; form, texture, and light.
Woburn Abbey Deer Park.
Low-key Fine Art Nature Photography, Woburn, Bedfordshire, UK.
Red deer calls are clearly recognisable, and carry for some distance. Last month I spent a few nights camping in Italy, and from our tents one night we were surrounded by the calls of red deer in the forest around us. It was really incredible; one of my favourite memories of the trip. Back home I was able to witness the behaviour close-up, thanks to this beast.

 

And last but not least, this turned out to be a rare opportunity to capture a large red deer stag face-to-face, as he roared in my general direction. Reminds me of the New Zealand haka, and it's equally a battle cry; intended to intimidate the competition from nearby red deer stags.

A large red deer stag 'bellowing' during the autumn rut, in black and whiteBellowing RedA large red deer stag 'bellowing' during the autumn rut, in black and white.
It's an intimidating sight to be this close to a large mammal, who is effectively boasting about his aggression, fitness and condition. Of course I was using a long lens, for both our sake, but it's still a privilege to meet his gaze at this point in time.
Woburn Abbey Deer Park.
Low-key Fine Art Nature Photography, Woburn, Bedfordshire, UK.
These last two have also made it to the hall of fame that is my Deer Gallery, so they're also available in print.

 

I think we can all agree that autumn is the best. The light, the mist, the colours in the trees, the apple crumbles, the cold mornings and cosy evenings. And in recent years I've begun to associate it with deer time too. Despite only a few visits out this year, I really enjoyed the deer rut season, and I'm pleased with this collection of photos from it. To get four portfolio-quality shots in just five or six trips out is very rare, but I think my experience with the deer helps increase my success-rate compared to other species and subjects I photograph. Now as the leaves really begin to turn, I'll be looking for some autumnal landscapes. It's the season that keeps on giving! Until it stops - then it's winter.

-

Post by George Wheelhouse, 2019.

 


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