In nature photography, environmental portraits are wider views of an animal, to show their surroundings, habitat, and behaviour. Though I love close-up portraits, I don't take enough of these wider scenes. One reason for that is that it takes a lot more to come together. You need a subject in complimentary surroundings, which add to the narrative of the photo, rather than detract from the subject. The scene needs to be contributing; adding context, drama, tension, relaxation. In the case of these photos, most of them are deer in woodland. As you might know, woodland and forests are one of my favourite environments, so to be able to combine the landscapes with deer is a natural choice for me.
I also employed another trick usually reserved for landscape photos: There are some panoramas in here; two, three, and four-shot series' of photos, stitched together in software, to capture one wide scene. I think it works really well, and it's one of those techniques I wish I had the awareness in the moment to use more often for wildlife. It's always rewarding to be able to bring a technique from one genre of photography, and use it in another.
2021 Deer Rut
This first photo is a red deer bellowing on a misty morning.
His bellowing attracted some attention from this rival (left), who entered the scene and replied with his own call, as the original deer (right) watches on.
With the way that deer have adapted to our treeless highlands and moorlands in the UK, it's easy to forget that they were once a woodland species. They evolved in the forest, and I think they look at their best within the trees.
At this point, the tension was rising, and the two stags were sizing each other up.
It's rare to witness a fight, and they will often be over in seconds. I would describe this one as an early season sparring match, but it ebbed and flowed, varying in aggression throughout. They were grappling for five minutes or so, which gave me plenty of time to capture it without feeling rushed.
This one is a three-shot panorama. I think this one is my favourite of the bunch. I like the shape of the 3:1 aspect ratio, the central subject, and the hazy morning light.
You might wonder why shoot several shots and stitch them together, instead of just zooming out, or moving back?
Well first of all, my big lens doesn't have a zoom on it, so that's not an option for me. But also, zooming out and moving back both affect the perspective of the image, and the shape. Zooming out would include a lot more above and below the trees, which would only detract from the subject. I really like wide-aspect images. I think they're more immersive, and they can look amazing on the wall too. They're also super-high resolution.
In the end a victor emerges, and he gets to stand his ground and bellow in victory.
In fact, we know this deer. We've seen him before. Examine those antlers more closely; it's the beast from my previous post of low-key deer portraits. The star of my Red Deer On Black III portrait, amongst others. He was one of the older deer around, but despite lower energy levels, he was a force to be reckoned with, with a headset like that.
Time for a change of scene. A hillside, just as the sun is setting. I love this kind of situation. A nice clean background, yet scenic at the same time.
I can't tell you how many hours I've spent on a hillside in the last decade, wishing for light or wildlife to show up. Or to have one but not the other. This combination is very rare, so I'm thrilled with these photos.
This is another misty morning, later in the rut, when the mornings start to get pretty chilly. Here we see this stag's breath as he bellows. He had a harem of admiring females just out of shot, so I think the rut went well for him.
From The Portfolio
As with previous posts, I'm going to add a few older photos which also fit the theme. In this case three photos which show deer in their environment.
This one is a female deer, photographed in 2019...
Back to 2013 now, for this stag in truly wintery surroundings. I spend every winter hoping for snow like this again, but we're now 9 years and counting...
I'll finish with a real blast-from-the-past. Taken in 2010, this was my first real success with a camera, as I first started stalking deer. Nowadays I'd certainly favour a wider shot than this, but you still get a good sense of the surroundings of these deer, and their hardy, inquisitive nature.
For more deer photos, check out my Deer gallery; my longest-running project, and one which I add to every year.