This photo of a deer is taken from ground level with a nice skyline background. The deer is clean, with all blood wiped away. Credit: Courtesy of Chris Sargent

Us hook and bullet folk love to pose with our quarry.

These days, snapping photos of ourselves or others with animals we’ve taken is such a common part of the experience that it would be uncommon not to do so. Cell phones and digital cameras have made it a breeze to take a few pics. We can’t get enough of them.

While there is no official right or wrong way to take them, a little effort can go a long way to ensure quality photos. I am by no means a professional photographer, nor do I profess to be any sort of expert in the field, but over the years I’ve adopted an unofficial process that seems to work well by focusing on three key factors: setting, lighting and presentation.

Setting and background are crucial. Truck beds, ATV racks and garages rarely provide the best scene. The field is always better if available. It pays to take the time to find a suitable spot free of litter, extra gear or other unnatural items.

When choosing the spot, take note of the background, which can make or break a picture. If at all possible, the background should be visually appealing, natural and void of vehicles, buildings or anything else undesirable. A buck looks far more handsome on the side of the oak ridge he came sneaking down than shoved in the bed of a pickup truck between returnable cans and spare tires.

Chris Sargent holds a striper at night, showing good contrast to the dark background. The photo is taken from ground level, utilizing some additional lighting from a headlamp set behind and next to the person taking the photo. Credit: Courtesy of Chris Sargent

Setting can be difficult for fishing photos. Not every fish is caught from the bank of a pristine river at sunset. Usually, the setting is a boat, with a row of camps or homes in the background. This is often unavoidable but these elements can be appropriate for the situation and suitably included.      

Lighting poses an interesting challenge for photos. Both day and night offer their own unique variables.

On bright days, the biggest battle will be with shadows. Do your best to really look before you take the photo to determine if there are any unwanted shadows present. A shadow covering a face, an antler or half of a fish can detract from an otherwise great photo. I find cloudy or overcast days are far better.

Night photos can be tough as all lighting is artificial. Shadows plague night scenes but again, a little attention before hitting that button will really help. Flashes work well but other light sources — such as a properly positioned flashlight, headlamp or even headlight behind the camera — can shed the perfect amount of light on the subject.

If you can’t get it just right at night, you may have the option, if possible, to try it again in daylight the next day.

The final and most important factor to consider, in my opinion, is the presentation and appearance of the animal or fish — and you. Efforts should be made to clean the animal or fish, wiping away any unnecessary blood and debris.

Dipping a fish back into the water briefly not only cleans but also adds a more natural looking shine. In the case of big game animal, try to tuck the tongue back into the mouth and position it tastefully, as if it were bedded.

Human subjects in the photo should also have a clean appearance. Most often, this isn’t the time for tobacco products or alcohol consumption. Stow those away for the celebration afterward. People should be positioned appropriately, typically directly behind a big game animal, holding the head up or holding a fish out in front.

As a rule, I try to position a close distance to the animal. Some choose to position several feet behind an animal or hold a fish far out in front to exaggerate size. To each their own.

As far as positioning the camera, the best photos are often taken from near ground level, looking slightly upward and even better if you can get the animal’s head or antlers to contrast with a background, such as a skyline.

Emily Goode poses with her first Tom. Both Goode and the bird are well presented and positioned well. Credit: Courtesy of Chris Sargent

Long after the hunting or fishing trip is over, we turn to photos as the best way to recall our memories. The one that didn’t get away. The biggest or smallest. An emotional first or even more emotional last. These photos are recorded moments for us to hold onto, to pass down and share with those we choose.

More importantly — and especially true now in this digital and social media world — they represent not only ourselves as sportsmen and sportswomen but are reflective of the group as a whole. With this in mind, next time you land a trophy fish or down that buck you’ve been after, take a few minutes to make sure the photo is one for the books.  

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Chris Sargent, Outdoors Contributor

Chris Sargent is an avid outdoorsman, a former Maine Game Warden and lover of anything wild and tasty. Chris’ passion and appreciation for hunting, processing and preparing wild game has become more...