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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
And a few minutes before the amber light of sunrise, the light is still very blue...
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.
And from that to a wash of colour; pre-sunrise on my first trip out this autumn, what a welcome to the season.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.