African Trophy Photography
You've Got One Chance, Don't Blow It
Once your animal is down, there is only this one chance to take some great photographs of yourself and others, with the whole animal. It might be a good idea to do some 'trophy photography' practice before the hunt (get your dog to help) if you have a new camera. You may have a limited time in the field to take the pictures and you don't want to be fiddling too much with camera settings.
Look at lots of other African trophy photographs to see what angles and poses you like and don't like.
With more and more African hunters not going to the expense of having their trophies taxidermied and shipped, they need to make sure all their trophy photographs are of the best quality possible.
So if you feel that you are not a natural born photographer, just following the basic tips here will improve your trophy photos immensely. These photography tips are only for African trophy photography, not for general safari or game-viewing photography.
"I rather distrust the camera as a true interpreter of nature" F.C.Selous
African Trophy Photography Equipment
In the digital world of photography and with the wonders of Photoshop, you can almost work magic on your images.
- A digital SLR camera will be ideal for taking good trophy photos with its interchangeable lenses. A compact digital camera with a fixed lens will also do the job but there will be a clear visible difference when you take a photo with a digital SLR. Cameras gets cheaper by the day so try to stick to good brand names like Nikon, Canon, Sony, Pentax etc.
- The wider (35mm) the angle of the lens, the better the trophy photograph. The wide angle facility will allow you to get really close to your trophy and still get the whole trophy with the hunter inside the frame. A wide angle lens also captures a lot of additional detail that telephoto lenses will not do. This is because a wide angle lens allows a lot more additional light through. This also makes it ideal for taking photos under poor light conditions.
Positioning Your Trophy Animal
- After your animal is down, you will need to get the animal into the preferred position for your pictures as soon as you can. By doing this the animal will still be in its natural form - it does not look so nice in pictures if your trophy animal is already stiff and bloated. The position you set your trophy in depends on your personal preference.
- Sometimes the area and position in which the animal has gone down can make the setup for your photographs very difficult. If it is a small animal you can move it to a better spot, but when it comes to buffalo, elephant or something that weighty, you are pretty much stuck and just have to do the best with what you have.
- Position your trophy so that the sun is shining on it. In other words, the sun will be at the photographer's back when taking the pictures. After that, clear the area around your trophy animal carefully and make sure that there is no grass in front of your animal or in front of your camera lens. Back in the old days of film cameras, that would be a very expensive mistake. With modern digital cameras and the aid of Photoshop you can eliminate this mistake easily, but you will be surprised to see how many trophy hunters still make this error.
- After finally positioning the animal, wipe away any traces of blood and make sure the tongue remains in the mouth, rather than hanging out.
- If possible try to get the horns of your trophy animal in blue or clear sky. That will bring out the size and shape of your trophy. When you are in the photo, don't sit behind the horns of the animal unless it makes a really good picture. It can look messy with the horns not showing up very well against you.
- Get as low as possible when taking a trophy photograph even if you have to lie flat on your stomach. You won't regret it. By doing this it will put your whole picture into perspective. A lot of PHs or trophy hunters when taking a picture, place the hunter far behind the animal to make it look bigger. It's up to you whether you like this kind of trophy picture.
- Touch or put your hand on the trophy animal so that you can see it on the photo. This will give the scale of the picture as well as being a nice personal touch.
- By using the above mentioned tips your photograph will look great and as Jack O'Connor said "the big ones look big" even if it is in a picture.
Fill-In Flash For African Trophy Photography
- The time of day will determine the quality of your African trophy photographs. This is where a flash comes in handy. Early morning and late afternoon are the best times for taking photographs as the light is softer then.
- In the harsh sunlight of midday, flash would not normally be necessary. When taking trophy photos at this time, there are a few things you can do to take a better picture. Use the flash to get rid of dark areas and shadows like under a hat. Don't go too close to the trophy because the power of the flash will cause the picture to appear white or greyish. Test the distance you need to be from the animal by taking a couple of pictures at different distances with the flash on. This will only take a minute to do and will be well worth spending the time on. When you are happy with the distance and flash quality you can use a zoom lens to bring the picture closer so that it fills the frame. By doing this you will get brilliant pictures even in midday conditions.
Other African Trophy Photography Tips
- When taking the picture make sure that everything fits in the frame. Make sure you don't cut off horns or heads, tails or feet - or anything else.
- Remember, once that animal gets put in the truck or skinned in the field, it's over and you will not have the opportunity to take further traditional trophy photographs. Of course, you can take continue taking all kinds of record shots of the animal being loaded and in the skinning shed etc.
- Don't rush - take photos from lots of different angles. With a digital camera you can take a lot of pictures, so just do it.
- The pictures from your safari and your trophies in the field will be all you have besides your memories, so take the best photographs you can.
Examples Of Good And Bad African Trophy Photography
- Everything fits inside the picture frame.
- The area around the trophy animal is clean.
- The camera could have been lower to the ground.
- The fill in flash is doing an amazing job.
- There is a slight interference with the horns.
- Trophy size & scale is clear because the hunter is touching the animal.
- This is an amazing trophy photo!
- Everything fits well into the picture frame. No heads, horns or rifles are cut off.
- The area is clean around the trophy animal.
- The camera is very low to the ground.
- Blue sky background behind the horns. No obstacles behind the horns.
- Flash was used to take out shadows around the human eyes but it reflects on the eye of the animal - correct with Photoshop.
- This is a poor trophy photo!
- Shadow covers the animal and the hunters - flash could have improved the image.
- The hunter is sitting behind the trophy so you can really see the size of this crocodile
- The angle of this photo makes it difficult to determine the length of the trophy.
- Blue sky behind the mouth of this crocodile would have given a better effect.
- The area around the trophy animal is clean and the camera is low to the ground.
- This is an average picture.
- Flash makes it bright and lots of detail can be seen.
- The camera could have been lower.
- Background is not ideal but it gives a feel of the surroundings and where this croc was shot.
- Hunter behind the trophy animal gives good scale to this picture.
- Even though the animal 'is cut in half' in this photograph you can still get a feeling of it's size.
- Area is clean around animal.
- This is a great example of how not to take a trophy photo.
- The background is messy.
- The camera was too high when this picture was taken.
- Flash would have taken out the shadows under the hunters' caps.
- The hunter is right behind the horns which makes it difficult to see the trophy.
- The area around this animal could have been cleaner.
- This animal should have been moved to a better spot to take pictures.
- This is an average picture.
- Everything fits well into the frame.
- The angle of this picture makes it unusual.
- Notice the nice blue sky behind the horns.
- The hunter is not sitting behind the horns.
- The hunter is holding the rifle in front of the animal, giving a true scale of the picture.
- The area around the animal is clean.
- Fill-in flash would make this photo great.
- This is a great photo!
- The hunter is sitting behind the horns but it actually adds value to the picture.
- Everything is perfect inside the frame.
- The background in this picture is great and makes this subject truly visible and clear.
- The fill-in flash eliminates all shadows.
- The hunter is sitting exactly in the right spot and is holding the impala's head exactly right, pushing the ears up with his thumbs.
- There is great scale to the picture.
All photographs by PH Wikus Groenewald
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African Trophy Photography
Page Updated: Aug 2020