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Black & White Deer Photography 2023

This is the second half of this year's deer rut photos, from my local patch at Woburn, Bedfordshire, in autumn 2023. I was trying to decide how to divide the photos into two blog posts, when I realised that I had ten colour photos and ten black & white photos, so these are all the black and whites. I don't always know what makes me decide that a photo is best presented in black and white, but I'll try to explain that decision for some of these. Generally, I like the more 'graphic' aesthetic of black & white, and the subtle abstraction. They can also work very well for wall art too, as they make a statement without introducing unwanted colour to a room. They also lend themselves well to high-key and low-key portrait styles, which I enjoy.

High-Key Portraits

This is my favourite photo from this year's deer rut, and it's gone straight into my website print gallery.

A red deer with large antlers, photographed on the crest of a hill, in high-key style black and white
Red Deer Stag On The Hill

He's a handsome devil, with a nice curve to his antlers, and a unique ear-damage likely suffered in battles with rivals. I love to catch these stags on the crest of a hill like this to achieve the same thing I always strive for (all together now)... simplicity! I don't like complex backgrounds (unless that's the point of the image). Otherwise, I like them to provide a contrast to the subject (either light or darker), and let the subject take all the focus.

Because my telephoto lens is a fixed focal-length, I can't zoom in or out, but one option available is to rotate the lens portrait/landscape. In this case I felt that the extra vertical space made the portrait-orientated version a better fit. However, I've also included the landscape version here, as I think that's also a nice photo - it's just a bit of a squeeze.

A large red deer from Woburn, Bedfordshire, photographed in high-key black and white style
Red Deer Stag On The Hill (Landscape)

In these situations, the best solution is often just to move my feet, but in this case moving back would have meant that I lost his legs to the hilltop. Also - these moments are fleeting. He stood and looked at me here for less than a minute before he went on his way, and I didn't want to miss the opportunity (or spook him) as I shuffled back.

Another deer on the hill here. I think any time I'm shooting a subject against a plain grey sky, it's better to shoot high-key and black and white. Colours can often look washed out and unnatural in high-key photos.

A bellowing red deer, in black and white, from Woburn, Bedfordshire.
Red Deer Holler

This photo looked fine in colour, but I had a feeling it would look better in black and white because of the high contrast between the back-lit foliage and the in-shadow trees. I took a few photos of this deer here, and this one has the best balance; keeping the deer and his antlers within the framing of the two trees.

A large red deer shelters from the sun under the woodland trees, in Woburn, Bedfordshire.
Red Deer In The Shade

Low-Key Deer Photos

On one of my final trips out to the deer this autumn, I managed to capture this 'close-up' portrait using my long focal-length lens. I'm really pleased with it, as it's often not possible to capture deer in such detail. In addition to that, I like the grass he has dangling from this antlers, and the strong directional light which renders him, but leaves the in-shadow background appearing black. Half shaded by a nearby tree, he looks like he's got his own personal spotlight.

A large red deer with extensive antlers, photographed low-key on a black shadow background, at Woburn, Bedfordshire.
Low-Key Red Deer

In fact, he posed long enough for me to capture this full-body portrait too. But not all is what it seems here. As mentioned earlier, I'm not able to zoom out for shots like this. So the solution this time was a three-shot panorama; three landscape photos vertically stacked on top of each other, and stitched together in post, to create one giant image. Only possible if I'm able to take all three photos before he moves. Not only does that give me a wider perspective than I could otherwise capture in the moment, but it also results is a very high-resolution image, suitable for very large prints. So it's a win-win!

portrait of a large red deer, in low light, against a dark background in shadow, at Woburn, Bedfordshire.
Low-Key Red Deer (Portrait)

Another side-lit portrait here, from an autumn sunrise. This felt like a good candidate for black and white as the light was a little more harsh than you see at dawn - with soft warm colours. By this time the light was strong enough to create specular highlights, and a less colourful illumination of the scene. Rather than bump up the saturation slider or try to improve the colours, I prefer to switch to black and white, where the higher-contrast lighting becomes an advantage rather than a shortcoming.

Low-light photo of a red deer, lit by the sun, against a dark background, at Woburn, Bedfordshire.
Low-Key Red Deer Profile

What I like most about this photo is that even though the light is strong, it's highly directional, and the deer is facing in just the right angle so that the light covers his face, and catches the fur of his neck in a way which illustrates the texture of the fur as it slowly fades to shadow. It also features another favourite trope of mine; in that you can't see the whole animal, as the non-essential parts fade into the shadow.

Next is the most recent in a series of photos I've taken of deer in this posture and lighting. You can see previous versions in this Low-Key Deer Photography blog post. In this case the deer is a younger individual with less grand antlers, but I like the eye-contact.

a large red deer grazing in low light, with large antlers, at Woburn, Bedfordshire
Red Deer on Black IV

In years gone by, I would have under-exposed the background of most of these low-key photos to a greater degree than I have in these photos. I used to insists on an all-black background, so that only the subject was visible, with nothing visible behind them. These days I seem to prefer to retain a little texture in the background. This is for two reasons; It adds some additional texture to the negative/blank space in the images, and also adds a little more context - with a hint to the foliage and surroundings of the subject. I don't know if that's something I'll continue with or not, but for now it's a subtle change that interests me.

A red deer stag lit by the sun, against a dark background, at Woburn, Bedfordshire.
Red Deer B&W

This last photo is of the same deer that started the previous blog post; "The Brute".

black and white photo of a large red deer bellowing during the rutting season at Woburn, Bedfordshire.
Red Deer Brute (B&W)

This photo is less contrasty than the others in this post, but I still felt it would be a good candidate for black and white for two reasons. Firstly, I already had two colour photos of this deer from the same encounter, so it's good to mix things up and present one differently. Secondly, I think losing the colour of the background means that it attracts less attention (as it's less brightly-lit), and so helps draw the eye naturally to the (brighter) subject. When colour is involved, tonality is less prominent, but in black and white our eyes are more keenly lead to the brightest parts of the image. The effect also increases the drama of the photo, which conveys the atmosphere at the time I took it.

Cheers to Autumn

All-in-all, it was a good year for deer photos. I'm happy with what I have both here and in my previous post (part 1). I'm particularly pleased with the first photo in this post because it's hard to get a good full-body portrait of a deer in a strong pose against a clean background, and I love how those high-key photos come out in print.

If you'd like to see more deer photos, I have tons on my blog, and I have a print gallery on my website.



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