For the first time since 2013, we had snow in Bedfordshire this winter. So I took the opportunity to get out in it, and take some photos of the deer at my local deer park at Woburn Abbey.
When deer roam between the various areas of the park, they’re usually led by a ‘captain’ of that group. The more submissive individuals will follow that lead deer, trusting their judgement. It’s clear from this photo which deer is the captain, as he assesses my potential threat from distance. The rest of the herd are looking around aimlessly, waiting for a decision from him on which direction to take.
The photo was actually one of the last I took that morning, but as a rare opportunity to take in a whole group, it stood out as a candidate to share first.
In fact, I found a small group of three or four deer earlier on, and was concentrating on getting those classic portraits that appeal to me.
I’m slightly obsessive about clean backgrounds, so it was great to be able to get enough distance between subject and background here. I had to move to the side slightly though, to line up his antlers with the dip in the treeline behind, which helps a lot. But there’s also another secret to this image…
The closer you are to your subject, and the longer your focal length (zoom), the more blurred the background will be (this is called ‘depth-of-field‘). The problem is that if you get too close, you can’t fit the whole subject in the frame. Fortunately, deer have a habit of standing completely still. So on this occasion, I was able to zoom right in, and take three landscape-oriented photos, and stitch them together digitally, to create one vertical panorama image.
This panorama technique, more common in landscapes, has another advantage too; The file is enormous. I have ended up with an image almost three times the resolution that I would have in one shot, meaning that it can be printed very large.
It’s not a technique I’ve seen used for wildlife before, but wanted to try it with deer, since they can sometimes stand motionless for a few seconds. I’ll certainly be trying it again though, for the depth-of-field trick, and for the added image resolution.
One difficulty with getting close-ups of deer is how to frame (or crop in post-processing) the subject. The deer’s antlers are so huge, that if you zoom in tight on the face, you’ve lost that spectacular feature from the image.
In the past I have cropped out some of the antlers in order to get a more intimate close-up of the stag’s head. But on this occasion, I wasn’t as close as that, and I didn’t want to lose the snowy surroundings.
So having decided to include the antlers, it also means that I need to include some of the body. Should I do that portait (taking in the subject’s legs)? Or landscape (taking in more of the body)? I don’t like the landscape option, as the body then appears to hang across the bottom of the frame in a rather unattractive way. Portrait is better, but can still feel rather unbalanced – like just the front end of a pantomime horse. I ended up avoiding both of those issues by opting for a square crop here.
I don’t tend to like square crops, as they often represent indecision on behalf of the photographer – or at least ducking the decision at the time of shooting, and deferring to post-processing, which is essentially what I did here. And I find that lack of decisiveness quite transparent in many square-cropped wildlife photos. But I still think the square crop works best in this situation. The end result is still a striking portrait, and I like the symmetry of the antlers pointing towards each of the top corners.
If you like my deer photos, you might want to check out my deer gallery, which contains my favourite deer photos so far, or my Flickr album which contains a wider selection of images from Woburn Deer Park.