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A Story by Itself Cannot Stand

By Mike Handley

-- An outfitter friend e-mailed a well written story last month about a client’s hunt for a world-class black bear. Along with it, he attached several gorgeous images of the man and his trophy.

Six e-mails, a visit to a photo-sharing website and a CD-rom later, I reluctantly was forced to discard the story. The bear was a keeper and the story better than average, but the photographs – or jpegs – were simply too small.

Unfortunately, the lack of a publishable photograph is frustratingly common.

The poor or distasteful quality of the image is usually why it’s rejected. But its size is equally important. Without decent photo support, a busy editor isn’t going to waste time reading what could be the best written story or the most interesting tale ever committed to paper.

For magazine purposes, we need jpegs close to or larger than 1 Mb in size (that’s 1,000 Kb). The little ones look great on a computer monitor and even on photographic paper. But they will not work when resized for a magazine.

To ensure you’ll get usable images, set your camera so that it will take big photos. In many cases, you’ll have three options: small, medium and large, or small, better and best. Choose the "large" or "best" options. You might also be asked to choose when downloading and saving an image from your camera to your computer. Always choose the largest/best possible. You can always save smaller copies to be e-mailed, while retaining the larger ones for persnickety magazine editors.

The following tips will help you with quality.

Field Photos

In this age of superb, user-friendly and affordable digital cameras, getting a field shot of you and your freshly harvested deer should be a piece of cake. All that’s required is to think about all the great photos you’ve seen in magazines, and then try to duplicate them.

That’s easier said than done, however, when you realize that all your skill with a camera doesn’t mean squat if you’re the person to be photographed. This is one chore for which you’ll have to rely on a buddy who might not know one end of the camera from the other.

With that in mind, don’t just hand your camera to someone and say, "Push this button." Go ahead and create the scene and tell them exactly what you want. For example …

1. Photograph the deer on the ground, not in the back of a truck. And because it’s on the ground, ask the photographer to get down there as well. Photographing an animal like this from above makes it look smaller than it is.

2. Tuck in or cut off the deer’s tongue, and wipe off any traces of blood. Most TV crews carry a bottle of Windex and paper towels in their bags for the express purpose of removing blood.

3. When determining the best angle of the photo, either turn the deer’s head or have the photographer move to where he can see the most points on the rack. Some bucks look great from a straight-on angle; others don’t.

4. Remember, too, that magazine pages are vertically oriented. So tilt the camera up sideways to get that kind of shot. And let the deer and hunter fill the frame without cutting off any of the rack’s points. (If there’s any extra background at all, let it be at the top of the photo, which will bolster the image’s chances of being considered for a magazine cover.) Also, just to play it safe, take a bunch of photos from as many different angles as possible.

5. Mr. Hunter, please sit or squat behind the deer. Do not sit on it. And if you want your gun in the photo, consider where the muzzle is pointing. I can’t tell you how many photos we’ve rejected because a shotgun or rifle is leaning against a deer, pointing directly at the hunter’s head or shoulder. It doesn’t matter if it’s unloaded. And please don’t lay it across the rack; it cheapens your accomplishment.

6. Pay attention to what’s in the background. Avoid signs of civilization, if possible.

Mount Shots

While we all should consider cameras as a necessity in our gear bags, even conscientious hunters can find themselves without one. After all, the human brain, batteries and memory cards can fail.

No need to panic. Even if circumstances prevent you from taking in-the-field shots, you can still photograph the mount. Here are some tips that’ll help you do it …

1. Take the mount outside and hang it in a natural setting (such as on the side of an unpainted barn, on a fence post or tree), preferably in the morning or late afternoon. The sunlight is just too severe at midday.

2. Get as close to the mount as possible, allowing the head and antlers to fill the window in your camera’s viewfinder. And be sure everything is in focus.

3. As with taking first-class field photos, experiment by standing at different angles, and find the one that best shows ALL of the deer’s points. Stand so that the camera’s focal point is slightly below the level of the deer’s nose.

4. Make sure that no shadows, including your own, are falling across any part of the mount. And avoid settings in which antlers become indistinguishable from tree branches.

6. Take several pictures with AND without a flash. Take some with and some without the hunter.

7. When sending your photos to a magazine, DO NOT SEND digital prints. If your images are digital, please burn them (unedited) onto a CD-rom and mail that to us. While today’s digital prints look fantastic to the naked eye, they are useless for reproduction in a magazine.

8. Consider taking the mount to a portrait studio and share these tips with the professional photographer. The only difference should be in background. Instead of an outside shot, tell the photographer to use a solid color (NOT white). Three or four regular-sized (35mm) prints or a CD-rom will suffice. The thought of lugging a mounted deer head into one of these places might sound hokey, but you’ll be thrilled with the results. Also, we’d be happy to give credit to the photographer.

Mike Handley, editor / RACK Magazine

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