5 :30am. Alarm, roll out of bed, put on water proof clothes, get in car, head to Richmond park, remember gloves (inner high five).
The weather has been very good to me so far and thankfully this morning was no different. A decent layer of fog blankets the streets and “Baggy Trousers” by Madness is blaring out of my radio at a volume totally unacceptable for this time in the morning, my spirits are high.
Autumn in Richmond Park heralds the beginning of rutting season. The Stags and Bucks compete for the attention of females in the only way us males know how, showing off. For the deer this means fighting. I’ve witnessed many a spectacular morning battle and hope to see more this winter.
If you’ve read my other articles then hopefully I’ve conveyed my feelings toward safety. The deer of Richmond Park are actually very tame, as I imagine many are whom often come into contact with people. That being said they are still wild and are not as accustomed to seeing people at 6am.
Here are some quick tips which will help you to stay safe:
Observe your surroundings
You may be very excited to see two large stags rutting 100m ahead but in your haste may have missed a group of fawns and be, to a deer’s eye, aggressively bounding toward them. Not only that but the best shot is not always the one directly in front of you.
Closely connected with point 1. Moving slowly allows you to more easily observe your surroundings and appear as less of a threat to a potentially twitchy deer.
Don’t look directly at them
The whole point is to look less threatening. Looking directly at a person and walking straight at them is pretty threatening behaviour. Especially if that person is carrying an odd object and raising it up to their face, pointing it at you.
Walk at an angle
How am I supposed to get close if I cannot walk toward them? Walking at an angle is a fantastic way to get around this but it does require a bit of forethought. You not only need to know where you want to be for your shot but you need to envision how to get there.
Occasionally stop and sit down
This is a brilliant tip that I read somewhere online a long time ago. It is the ultimate in non-threatening behaviour. When you sense that your presence is becoming a disturbance, sit down, stop taking pictures and just observe. After a couple of minutes they’ll have stopped perceiving you as a threat and you can carry on. I’ve used this technique to get within 5 metres of a group of stags and I did not feel in danger for one moment, or as though I was threatening them. Believe me when you get too close you know it.
It’s difficult to see here but this Stag had really had enough of me. I was keeping a close eye but his body language was clearly signalling that I should make a sharp exit
Granted this is heavily determined by the environment you are in and the gear you own but if possible this is one of the best techniques. I shoot the majority of my images with a 5D mark II and 70-200mm lens. This means I’ve had to learn a lot of techniques which allow me to get within a decent shooting distance. I think if you were shooting truly wild deer that distance would not be achievable and longer lenses would be necessary.
If you can keep those things in mind then you will find you can get far closer than you were expecting and capture some fantastic imagery. The whole experience often feels like a miniature game of cat and mouse. Me trying my utmost not to look or walk in their direction, occasionally squatting down etc. while they throw me subtle glances trying to ascertain what my intentions are.
I recently saw a great video on the topic of safety which you can find here.
Back to this morning’s attempt. I arrive at the park gates and am greeted by a small group of photographers waiting outside. Not thinking too much of it, this is after all a very popular destination, I don my frustratingly heavy camera bag (am constantly looking at mirrorless bodies these days like the Sony A7) and head into the park.
Hoping that the deer’s positioning will be as favourable as the weather I walk toward “the spot”. Alas today will not be the day.
Once again the conditions were excellent but not a Deer in sight.
Not one to be defeated, I continue on despite the lack of deer to be seen. There’s always something to be photographed and I never like to waste a good misty morning. Following on from last weeks experimentation with slightly un-conventional framing
While the fog remained very heavy I thought I’d experiment with some unconventional framing
I decided to continue the trend and took this.
My framing choice emphasizes the trees and creates a minimalist look. The negative space adds a sense of isolation.
I love the simplicity of this image in black and white. The negative space created by this framing choice adds to the minimalist nature of the image further highlighting my subject (the trees). I also took the following shot which conforms more so to the widely used rule of thirds. To me this shot isn’t bad but doesn’t have the same impact as the other.
I still like this image but I feel it lacks something.
If you didn’t get a chance to watch “Beyond the rule of thirds” with David Brommer I really advise you to do so. There’s some great aspects that will make you think about framing in far more detail than simply the rule of thirds.
During the taking of these two photos I noticed quite a few cars driving about the park. Not uncommon when the gates are open to cars but usually I have the place to myself this early. I shrugged it off and continued on the long walk to my next favourite shooting spot.
With the mist still very heavy I reach the top of the hill and am confronted with every nature photographers dream scenario. A beautiful sunrise with wonderful dramatic clouds. Soft light evenly illuminating the scene, using the mist as a giant softbox, and to top it all off a group of deer ranging from fawns to stags. Oh and the stags are rutting in the perfect position.
This is when I ignored my own advice and did not observe my surroundings. I saw the stags, the sunrise etc. and went for it. To be totally fair visibility was very low. However, little did I know that roughly 8 photographers lurked off in the distance clearly excited to photograph the same scene. They must have been why the cars were driving around the park.
I tried my best but unfortunately I was not able to take advantage of the amazing scene that lay before me. The large group of photographers were using very long lenses and hence were able to adhere to point six more so than myself. Keep hidden. Not only that but for me to get my shot I would have had to be standing right in front of them. Even though I walked and they drove, I’m not that mean.
As I continued around the park it seemed as though everywhere I turned I was bumping into another photographer. I would even go so far as to say that there were more photographers that morning than deer. Lesson learned. During rutting season do not go to the park at the weekend.
I did my best and am quite happy with what I captured but I must admit this trip will always feel like another addition to the long list of “ones that got away”.