The Art of the Shot

April 1, 2013

Idaho photographer and outdoorswoman Megan Johnson envisioned this shot and set everything up with her self-timer to get it. After about ten tries, focusing on a stick that she placed where she would stand, she got it. Image courtesy Megan Johnson.

Lights, camera…action! Getting a great photo when enjoying the outdoors while fishing, hunting, or hiking isn’t just icing on the cake, a great photo is something we share with family and friends. It engages our memory of a special day for years to come—sometimes a lifetime.

Think about that favorite photo you have: the sunrise that glistens on the water as you head out for a day of fishing with your dad, or the vista with snow-capped peaks at the end of a perfect hike. Maybe it is the biggest bass of the week or your first elk, ever.

The right photo is a prized possession on your desk at work or becomes your cover photo or profile pic on Facebook. Great photos have stories behind them, and through their stories they keep the outdoor moment alive.

Meet Megan Johnson, a photographer from Idaho and an all-around outdoors girl. She captured the amazing shot show above with her compound bow and her Canon 5D Mark II camera on a tripod with a 10-second timer.

“It took about ten tries to get the focus and framing just right,” shared Megan, who has been shooting professional photos for about three years. “But I had an idea in my head of the shot. Getting the focus and perspective I envisioned was the biggest challenge.” Megan believes the right photo can give a moment justice, whether that moment is time at the range for archery practice or with game or fish afield. “All the hard work for a few seconds, having quality photos or video is the only way to memorialize the experience.”

Fellow professional photographer Randy Hoepner of Minnesota is also skilled at getting just the right shot outdoors. “I find as most people are leaving due to losing light or bad weather, I’m heading outdoors for the shot.” Randy dons his hunting gear—not just camo but rattling antlers and scent control—with camera. “I love getting out there and having the chance to maybe see something,” shared Randy. “Probably three-quarters of the time you don’t. And it is fleeting when you do. But I love to capture the shot.”

Randy Hoepner was at Yellowstone National Park’s Washburn Peak looking for bears when he watched some cows come in just as the snow started falling. Soon a bull elk showed up and gave Randy this shot. Good thing he got it when he did, as the Park Rangers closed the road shortly thereafter due to the snowy conditions. Image courtesy Randy Hoepner.

Randy’s passion comes full circle in a few of his wildlife photos shown here and on his website: the Elk in a snowstorm at Yellowstone National Park, the Trumpeter Swan on a -14 degrees Fahrenheit morning, and other stunning outdoor images (see more at

Megan and Randy have a few pointers for those of us that want to improve our outdoor photos.

  • Avoid harsh, bright sunlight. Try early morning or just before dusk for softer, warmer light.
  • If it can’t be helped to take the shot in the middle of the day during bright sun, use shade if at all possible and add flash or reflective light on the face.
  • Get low—down at the same angle—on the water or down on the ground. Or try unique angles. Place the shot looking through or around something—a branch or a leaf—for depth and perspective.
  • Be ready. When the shot is there you have to take it quickly. Have your camera with you. If all else fails, use the camera on your phone.
  • Weather elements—especially snow—can magnify the artistry of your shot.

It was -14 degrees Fahrenheit in the early morning when Randy captured this Trumpeter Swan in motion. It was so cold Randy couldn’t stand it. The dramatic light with steam off the water and capturing the action with a super-fast shutter speed was quite the reward. Image courtesy Randy Hoepner.

The biggest key is being there, having the right equipment with you and taking a moment to prepare.

“Spend three minutes rather than thirty seconds and you will see a big difference in your outdoor photography,” shared Randy. “Even spending a little more time organizing or planning your shot with your cell phone camera is better than nothing. Be mindful of what is in the background. Move it or adjust your angle. And when taking shots with dead animals, be sure to wipe away any blood and put the tongue back in. You won’t be happy with anything else later on.”

With no fancy camera nearby, Megan used her iPhone for capturing this largemouth bass. There is little else in the background to distract from Megan and her bass and the diagonal composition adds a little pizzazz. Image courtesy Megan Johnson.

When it comes to gear, Randy and Megan both believe the camera’s lens makes all the difference.

“Buy the most expensive lens that you can afford,” advised Randy. His lens runs about $1,500-1,600 price range. There are some good ones for $300 to $400. Of course, you could drop several thousand dollars, too.

Most importantly, take a little time and plan your shots carefully. We can’t all be professional photographers, but we can take better outdoor photos, ones we will treasure for a lifetime and enjoy sharing. Let’s see if you don’t start seeing a few more Facebook likes from your family and friends for the photos you post with these great photography tips. And speaking of likes, how about a few for Megan and Randy’s art.

K.J. Houtman is author of the award-winning Fish On Kids Books series, chapter books for 8-12 year olds with adventures based around fishing, camping, and hunting. Her work is available at Amazon and local bookstores. Find out more at

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Mastering “the Trophy Shot”

January 7, 2013

The Trophy Shot

After a successful hunt every person likes to show off what they have harvested, and most of the time this is done with pictures. I believe that if a person is going to take a picture of an animal they harvested and show it to other people, they should take care in how they do it. I am not saying that all the pictures I take are perfect, because they are not, and I will critique them later, but I do my best to show respect to the animal.

There are lots of ways to take a good trophy shot, but there are a few definite ways to ruin them as well:

  • Do not stand over the top of the animal. If possible get the animal (and its antlers if present) level with or above yourself.
  • Lots of blood. Do your best to remove blood from the animal and from the ground around it if it is going to be in the shot. If you have access to water and a some sort of rag it is easy to clean off blood. Even a handful of grass or something can clean off blood, if it isn’t dry. Sometimes one side of the animal has more blood than the other, so take pictures of the clean side. Also, if the arrow is still in the animal make sure to remove it so it is not sticking out in the picture.
  • Put the tongue back in. Sometimes it takes holding the bottom jaw to hold the mouth shut, I have even heard of people sewing the jaws shut to achieve this. If the animal is in rigor by the time pictures are taken, it can be hard to get the tongue back in, but cut it off if you have to.

Here is a picture of an antelope that I really like. One thing I like is how it is positioned. The body is facing the camera with the head turned. This shows off not only the horns, but also the markings on the antelope’s neck which I like. You can tell this buck had some blood around his mouth, which I mostly got washed off.

Here is another pronghorn picture, just taken from a different angle. One thing some people may say that would make this picture better is if I had used a fill flash when taking the picture. This would have removed the shadow from my face. I generally don’t like using a flash, and won’t if I don’t have to. The reason I don’t is because I don’t mind if my face is shadowed, and I don’t like how the flash makes an animal’s eye one big bright spot. I like a natural look. Another thing to note in this picture is the bloody mouth, I could have done better to clean that up. One other thing I did in this photo was to strategically place my bow. I like having it in the picture so usually I use it to cover things I don’t want to see. In this case the antelope was quartering away when I shot and the entrance is at the back of the rib cage. This dirty spot was pretty noticeable, but with the bow there it can hardly be seen.

The top picture of this doe is one of my favorites. I think it might be the black and white that I like, but also how the deer is set up and that the picture shows what it needs to show, and not any more. Compared to the first picture the second shows more of the doe, and is in color obviously. As with some of the others I have cleaned up the exit hole and placed my bow over it to make it less noticeable. One other thing about these two pictures is the background. Notice that it is way out of focus. This makes the subject stand out more, and makes for a better picture. This easiest way to do this is have the camera a ways away from the subject and then zoom in and focus on the animal, this will make the animal in focus and the background blurry.

The top picture of this elk shows how it died. This created a problem since I was by myself and could not move it around how I would have liked for better pictures. I did my best to roll him around and get him somewhat upright. You can also see on the trees to the right side of the picture that I trimmed some branches. Since I couldn’t move the elk I had to take the pictures right where he laid, and that meant clearing some branches so the elk was not blocked out.

These are two of my favorite turkey pictures. They show a couple different poses that I think work well for turkeys. The fan is usually the main focal point in these pictures so that is what I try to show off. In the top picture I am actually holding several tail feathers in place since they fell out when the turkey flopped around after getting shot. It wouldn’t have been a terrible thing to have some feathers missing in the picture, but I think it looks better this way. One thing that has always bothered me about the bottom picture is the couple of blades of grass right by the head of the turkey. I know that is getting pretty picky, but it would have been really easy to get rid of the grass and this is something that often needs to be done in trophy shots, especially for smaller animals.

These pictures show how if the animal does have some blood on it that the photo can be turned to a black and white and the blood becomes less noticeable. These also show why I don’t like using a flash, but I had to since it was dark out when I took those. I will just have to live with the deer’s eye being washed out.

A trophy shot does not have to be one with the hunter in the picture. Here are some “as it lay” and support photos that I like.

My best advice to take a good picture of your next trophy is to look at other people’s pictures, and when you see ones that you like take note of them and try to take pictures like them. This can’t always be done since every situation is different, but at least you will have some ideas on what you want to try. Also, take the time to take these pictures. I am not saying take and hour to do it, 15-30 minutes should be plenty. Take plenty of pictures and from several different angles and positions. You and others will look at these pictures for years to come hopefully, so do your best.

More tips on hunting photography can be found at

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Basics of Photographing Your Trophy

November 28, 2012

Basics of Photographing Your Trophy

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Call for Entries in Vermont’s 2012 Youth Hunting Memories Contest

November 19, 2012

Call for Entries in Vermont’s 2012 Youth Hunting Memories Contest

The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department is seeking submissions for the sixth annual Youth Hunting Memories Contest.

Young hunters need only to submit a short essay or artwork describing his or her time in the field on a hunt. Bagged game is not a requirement.

The essay or art should describe why hunting is important to the young hunter and must include a description of one of their hunting experiences. Criteria will be judged according to creativity, ethics, landowner relations, appreciation of wildlife, respect for our hunting heritage, hunting skills, and family. Entrants are encouraged to send in hunting photos with their story.

Entries will be categorized by age — 9 years of age and under, 10-12 years of age and 13-16 years of age. One selected entry from each category will win a set of special prizes from the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department.

Winners will be announced on Saturday, April 20, at the inaugural Youth Hunting Awareness Day held at Kehoe Conservation Camp in Castleton.

Submissions are property of the department and cannot be returned. The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department reserves the right to publish photos and essays. Submissions must include the hunter’s first and last names, address, age, telephone number, and location of hunt.

The contest is open to Vermont hunters 16 and younger. Submissions must be received by January 4th, 2013 by 4:30 pm.

Email submissions to or mail to:

2012 Youth Hunting Memories Contest

Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department

103 South Main Street

Waterbury, VT 05671-0501

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Wisconsin Offers New Opportunities with New Regulations for 2012 Deer Hunt

November 13, 2012

Wisconsin Offers New Opportunities with New Regulations for 2012 Deer Hunt

Wisconsin’s conservation wardens say hunters preparing for the upcoming 9-day gun-deer season should make note of some new laws designed to make the season more enjoyable while also protecting the deer herd.

Here’s what’s new and different in the rule book for 2012 and some clarifications wardens hope will be helpful:

Trail cameras now can be left overnight on DNR-owned public hunting lands provided the owner of the camera who leaves it on state lands overnight has their customer ID legibly displayed on the exterior of the camera. Cameras are left at the owner’s risk.

Tree stands and ground blinds, other than blinds used for waterfowl hunting, must be removed from DNR-owned lands at the close of hunting hours each day. This regulation has not changed.

Any hunter now can use a crossbow during any gun deer season, including muzzleloader, under the authority of their gun deer license and gun deer carcass tags. This change applies to gun seasons only.

An archery license still allows hunting only with a bow and arrow, except that a person age 65 or older and certain qualified disabled hunters may use a crossbow to fill their archery deer carcass tags. Under a 2011 rule change, archers can hunt with bow and arrow during the nine-day gun deer season as long as they comply with the same blaze orange clothing requirements that apply to gun hunters.

The crossbow cannot be used in group hunting, which is limited to the gun deer season and to hunters with a gun license using firearms. In group hunting, one hunter can shoot a deer and another can tag it as long as both have gun deer licenses and the gun deer tag is valid for that unit. The two hunters must be within voice contact without the use of electronic devices such as cell phones or walkie talkies.

Coyotes now can be hunted statewide during the gun deer season. The hunting hours for coyote during the 9-day gun-deer season are the same as the hunting hours for deer. Those hunting coyotes will need a license that authorizes hunting small game unless they are hunting on land they own or reside.

Since Wisconsin’s first wolf hunt in modern times will also be open during the gun-deer hunt, it is important that all hunters ensure they are correctly identifying their targets.

Most hunters are not allowed to hunt antlerless deer in 6 regular buck-only deer management units. Archery and gun antlerless deer carcass tags are not valid in units 7, 29B, 34, 35, 36, and 39, all located in far northern Wisconsin. No bonus antlerless tags will be available in these units. There are exceptions for Armed Forces members, youth ages 10-17 and certain disabled-hunting permit holders. Details can be found in the printed or online versions of the 2112 hunting regulations.

Due to the discovery of chronic wasting disease in Washburn County, baiting and feeding deer is now prohibited in in Burnett, Barron, Washburn and Polk counties in northwestern Wisconsin.

Just prior to deer season last year, the regulations changed regarding the transportation of firearms and bows. Highlights follow:

  • Firearms no longer need to be cased while in a vehicle, regardless of whether the vehicle is stationary or moving.
  • All long guns must be unloaded when in any vehicle, and in or on a moving vehicle.
  • Handguns can be uncased and loaded in a vehicle, but cannot be concealed unless the person is authorized to possess a concealed weapon.
  • It is illegal to shoot a firearm or bow and arrow from a vehicle, unless disabled and complying with conditions of a disabled hunting permit.

DNR conservation wardens are encouraging hunters to review the 2012 hunting regulations pamphlet available at any DNR office or license vendor and also available online at Just type “deer” into the search box and scroll down for the regulations link. Reviewing the regulations will help ensure a fun, safe and successful hunt.

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Wisconsin Deer Hunters Asked to Participate in Wildlife Survey

November 13, 2012

Wisconsin Deer Hunters Asked to Participate in Wildlife Survey

With the opening of Wisconsin’s nine-day gun deer hunting season on Saturday Nov. 17, state wildlife officials are encouraging hunters to record their wildlife observations to help better track population changes and improve management decisions.

The Deer Hunter Wildlife Survey is a great opportunity for hunters to let the Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologists know what they are or are not seeing while deer hunting. The easy-to-do survey has hunters recording their deer and other wildlife observations while in the field and then reporting those observations later through an online form.

In the first two months of the survey, deer hunters have recorded more than 1,809 observations. Hunters have recorded 840 bucks, 1,517 does, 1,136 fawns, and 412 unknowns. Deer seen per hour varies widely by region, with the high being the Eastern Farmland (0.85 deer per hour) and the low being the Northern Forest (0.42 deer per hour). Turkeys, raccoons, and ruffed grouse are the next most commonly seen animals while hunting.

To access the survey webpage, search for “deer hunter survey” on the DNR website Hunters can print a tally sheet to keep track of their observations and then enter them online through January 2013. Individuals that provide their email address – which must be provided at the bottom of every form submitted – will receive a personalized summary of their 2012 deer hunting season. Hunters can also view results of previous years on the deer hunt survey page.

Hunters can also send in trail camera photos and access a trail camera gallery through the deer hunter wildlife survey page. Take a moment to view some of the photos or watch a video. Check back often, the site is updated as soon as new photos are sent in.

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Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division Announces Facebook Photo Contest

November 7, 2012

Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division Announces Facebook Photo Contest

Hunting season is here and the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) invites hunters to enter its Facebook photo contest!  The contest features three subject matter categories: Youth, photos depicting youth under age 16 with their harvested doe or buck; Ladies, photos depicting women age 16 and older with their harvested doe or buck; and Big Bucks, photos depicting hunters of any age or gender with their harvested buck (no point minimum). In each of the categories, the photo can be taken by anyone, but the person in the photo must be the person who harvested the deer.

Honorable mentions will be assigned on a bimonthly basis to photos with the most Facebook likes. When hunting season ends on January 31, 2013, photos with the most likes in each category will be showcased on the WFF Facebook page. The winning photos in each category will also be printed in the 2013-2014 Alabama Hunting and Fishing Digest.

The WFF Facebook page can be found by searching “Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division” in Facebook.

To enter the contest, email your hunting photos to with the subject “Facebook Photo Contest”. Photos posted directly to the WFF Facebook page will not be considered as contest entries. Please include your name, address, phone number and where the photo was taken.  If there is a story associated with the photo, please share it in the email; it may better your chances of earning more likes.

Depending on the subject matter, some photos might not be used in the contest. Here are some criteria to consider when submitting your images:

  • Keep it clean! Limit or hide graphic images such as blood and wounds.
  • Submit photos only from the current hunting season.
  • Photos must be from deer harvested in Alabama.
  • Photos may be submitted throughout deer season. Deadline for entries is January 31, 2013.
  • By entering your photo in the contest you grant WFF permission to post the photo, name, location and story associated with the photo.

Join WFF in celebrating your hunting experience and start submitting your hunting photos today!

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Don’t Let Your Perfect Outdoor Moment End in a Bad Photo

November 2, 2012

Don’t Let Your Perfect Outdoor Moment End in a Bad Photo

Your son just shot his first buck and you want to capture the moment. You whip out your digital camera to snap the photograph of your son—rifle in hand, grinning proudly with the brilliant buck displayed in front of him. “Hang on, son,” you say, as you fidget with the camera’s zoom button before taking what you are sure is a great shot.

When you arrive home, you immediately upload the photo to the computer, anxious to relive the moment and share it with family and friends. You can’t believe your eyes. The amazing shot you took is out of focus. Your once-in-a-lifetime moment is a blurred mess.

You console yourself with the knowledge that the moment will be etched in your mind’s memory bank forever. Of course you’ll still tell the story of your son taking his first buck; you just won’t have the photo to put it in proper perspective. You’ll still use that fancy engraved hunting picture frame you had personalized to read Pete’s First Deer. The picture will just be a little fuzzy.

If you’re like me, you bought a digital camera, threw the instructions in the trash, and can’t figure out why the camera doesn’t take stunning photographs. After several picture making mishaps, I did a little digging to figure out how I could take first-rate photographs.

Here are 10 simple strategies I found:

  1. Make sure the camera has plenty of memory. No memory means you have nowhere to store the images.
  2. Shoot lots of photos at various angles and distances.
  3. Avoid camera movement by steadying your body during exposure by leaning against a railing, tree, or other structure.
  4. Zoom in on your subject. More subject and less landscape is better.
  5. Place your subject to the left or to the right of center. Asymmetrical photos are generally more appealing than symmetrical ones. This will also help you capture the landscape in your photo while allowing you to zoom in on the subject.
  6. Pay attention to where the sun is or is not. Putting the sun behind your subject creates glare behind the subject and makes for an awful shot. Likewise, putting your subject in the shadows when there is sunlight all around will make your subject hard to see.
  7. If you have the option, take your photos in the early morning or early evening. Dusk and dawn make for nice light and interesting shadows.
  8. Lose the hat. The shadow it creates hides the subject’s eyes.
  9. Make sure the camera’s batteries are charged and have extra batteries on-hand.
  10. Read the instructions that came with the camera to at least get a basic understanding of the camera settings and features (I know you probably won’t do it, but it just wouldn’t be right for me to leave this one out).

I can’t promise you that you’ll win any awards, but incorporating these strategies will help you take better photographs and prevent photography catastrophes like the one described above. Go ahead–buy that fancy picture frame. You’re going to need it.

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Wisconsin Deer Hunters Can Help Manage Wildlife by Participating in Wildlife Survey

October 23, 2012

Wisconsin Deer Hunters Can Help Manage Wildlife by Participating in Wildlife Survey

Hunters have submitted more than 1,100 deer observations for the 2012 Wisconsin Deer Hunter Wildlife Survey since the survey began in September, which state wildlife officials say will be added to previous year’s data to better track population changes and improve management decisions.

“Deer season is a treasured time of year for many Wisconsinites,” says Brian Dhuey, a wildlife research scientists with the Department of Natural Resources. “It’s a time to get back into the outdoors and relieve the stresses of everyday life. But now we’re asking hunters to take those traditions one step further and become involved with deer management.”

Since 2009, DNR researchers have encouraged Wisconsin’s deer hunters to record deer and other wildlife seen while deer hunting via the Deer Hunter Wildlife Survey, which is designed to provide information on long-term trends for the 17 selected wildlife species.

The 2012 data will be added to the previous three years, and as data accumulates, Dhuey says, DNR staff will be able to better track population changes and improve management decisions. This survey can also gather information on animals that are very hard to monitor thus saving the DNR time and money.

Since the survey began in September, the more than 1,100 observations reported included 448 bucks, 1,040 does, 710 fawns, and 202 unknowns. Deer seen per hour varies widely by region, with the high being the Eastern Farmland (0.79 deer per hour) and the low being the Southern Farmland (0.53 deer per hour). Turkeys, raccoons, and ruffed grouse are the next most commonly seen animals while hunting.

The survey period continues into January 2013. Keyword search “deer hunter wildlife” on the Wisconsin DNR homepage [] for more information, print the tally sheet, and view results of previous years. Keep track of your observations on the tally sheet and then enter them online through January 2013. Individuals that provide their email address – which must be provided at the bottom of every form submitted – will receive a personalized summary of their 2012 deer hunting season.

Even with thousands of Wisconsin hunters in the woods this fall, the ‘eyes’ hunters often rely on are trail cameras. Trail cameras have captured hundreds of interesting or rare animals across the state, even documenting range expansion of some species.

“Many of the photographs we’ve received have been posted to our trail camera gallery,” Dhuey says. “We ask that you please continue to send in these photos!”

The trail camera gallery can be accessed through the Deer Hunter Wildlife Survey webpage. Take a moment to view some of the photos or watch a video. Check back often, the site is updated as soon as new photos are received.

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Send Your Hunting Photos to

October 9, 2012

Send Your Hunting Photos to is inviting hunters to submit photos from their hunts this fall for posting on the site’s trophy gallery. Hunters of all ages are welcome to send in their photos, and what constitutes a trophy is completely up to you!

Simply e-mail your photo to and put “Trophy Gallery” in the subject line. All photos should be sharp, tasteful, and display safe gun handling practices.

Include the following information with your submission:

  • Your name and hometown
  • Date and location of the hunt
  • Firearm or bow used
  • Species
  • Any special details about the hunt

To view photos other hunters have already submitted, as well as your own trophies, visit and click on the “Trophy Gallery” tab at the top of the page. The gallery will be updated all season, so stop back often to see the latest photos—not to mention the latest news that impacts your right to hunt.

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