The Top Issue with Photographing Deer

Wildlife photography has its challenges, from the long lenses and tripods to the trees and grass between you and your subject. But deer, it turns out, have one unique issue, that will affect many of the images you hope might be a winner. The problem, in simple terms, is that deer are made of rubber.


Yes,  you read that correctly. Exhibit A, above, shows the most common rubber deer issue: they chew side to side, and they chew most of the time. So unless you catch them exactly as their lower jaw passes under their upper jaw, you will get images like the one above. Note the one-eyed squint that tends to accompany the chewing motion. No danger of this image making the cover of Outdoor Photography.


Our next rubber deer pose has to do with their amazingly supple necks. While having this doe look over her shoulder would not necessarily be a problem, having it appear that she caught her neck in a door would. Telephoto lenses amplify this problem. Another image hits the reject pile.


The next shot is of her fawn. While he may be as cute as Bambi, having his eyes closed, and his hoof in his face does not add up to a professional image. The only solution, is to keep shooting, and shooting, and hope that eventually everyone will have their eyes open at the same time. That should sounds familiar to wedding and event photographers.


And finally, success! Here we have no squints, no spasms, and everyone is in a good position. Hundreds of frames of this wild doe and her three fawns, and this is the only usable image to result from the encounter.

C. David Tobie

The Challenges of Selective Focus

It is difficult to overemphasize the importance of focus in an image. Today, the only images a photographer is likely to trash from a session are those that are out of focus, or focused in the wrong plane. Selective focus, using a specialty lens or software effects, can produce very powerful images. But the intent of the image must align with the focus of the image, or the intent will be significantly weakened.


In the image above, if the goal is to move the eye up the spire, then that is working nicely. If it is to stop at the top of the spire, perhaps with a “which way the wind blows” reference, then the image has a real problem: the clouds above the weathervane are significantly sharper than the weathervane itself. However, if the image is intended to point to heaven, or to the blue sky breaking though, or some similar intent where the sky and clouds, not the spire, are the final goal, then it will succeed. For stock use, producing multiple focal point images of such a shot, would be wise; as the designer, not the photographer, gets to decide where the emphasis needs to lie.

C. David Tobie

Layered Images, Poetic Imagery

The goal for writing prose is to produce a single, clear, meaning. With poetry, on the other hand, multiple layers of meaning, often only perceived over time, are the intent. Photo journalism can be related to prose; fine art photography, to poetry. One way to add layers to a shot, and extend the possible meanings of the resulting image, is through reflections.


The image above was shot on the street in London, through a curved corner window, further enhancing the range of reflected imagery superimposed on the main image. The very feminine content and colors of the Valentine’s window decor inside contracts nicely to the very stark architecture and armored car clearly seen in the reflection. This imitates the type of interior/exterior, day/night, public/private nature of adjacent scenes in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliette. Keep this technique in mind, if you would like to be able to relate your work to that of The Bard.

C. David Tobie

The Search for Balance, Not Symmetry

The easy thing to do, especially when confronted with a shot of a symmetrical piece of architecture, is to shoot a symmetrical image. And in many cases that will create the strongest image. Not necessarily the most compelling one, however. It is often more inviting to include a wing, a tree, or some other element so that the image becomes balanced, but not rigidly symmetrical.

In this image, that concept has been brought down to a smaller scale. The obvious choice would have been to include the entire entry canopy. And yet, the image is also about the two doormen chatting, as they hold the door. So the balanced solution was to include the entire store name, but to crop evenly around the name, the top and far edge of the canopy, and below the doormen’s feet, producing a balance between the canopy, and the doormen in the composition. This allows the viewer’s attention to focus more naturally on the doormen.

C. David Tobie

Chasing the High Contrast Image

High contrast images are found not made. That is to say, the best of them are not high contrast due to heavy handed image editing, but rather because the content was high contrast when shot. While Ansel Adam’s Zone System may insist that we need components in our images at each of the ten zones between black and white, that should not be construed to mean that all ten zones need to be heavily represented.

The image above is a clear example of a high contrast image, and the drama that such a shot can produce. The only light source in the image was the marquis lighting at the front of the hotel, with the rest of the building’s facade in total darkness, but for a tiny gleam through the curtain above, that shows that the hotel is indeed there. And the backlit black London Cab is entirely dark, but for the narrow reflections of the marquis lighting defining its hood, windscreen, and roof.

The one last element adding to the story this image tells is the pose of the cab driver; the frame where his head is bowing towards his up-stretched hand provided the most dramatic image of the lot. The result is a mysterious Noir image, that sticks in the viewer’s mind. And making a lasting impression on the viewer is the effect a photographer most wants.

Creating Puzzles to Capture the Eye

One way of drawing the viewer into an image is to have a puzzle, or a fill-in-the-blank, that requires solving. This is particularly effective at stopping the eye when used in advertisements or other locations where there is competition and capturing the viewer’s interest is important.

The image below contains a bit of British architecture, a bit of British weather, and the familiar London Underground logo; but partially occluded by raindrops and mist, forcing the viewer to work, just a bit, at reading the text. How much work is too much? That will depend on how familiar the viewer is with London, and the Underground. For the British, the image could be adjusted to make the logo much more obscure. For others, including Americans, it is important the nearly the entire word is visible, or there is a risk that the viewer won’t succeed in assembling the puzzle.

C. David Tobie

Working the Vertical Panorama

VerticalPanoNYC-1There are photo experts who claim that the only ratio you should be working in is full frame; at the ratio of your camera. The even more extreme view is that you need to do this always in landscape mode, as we have two eyes, and see is some type of landscape mode rectangle. While I can appreciate the work that proponents of these views produce, my own view is that the strongest crop for a given image is the right crop; and that consistency and convenience for those matting and framing the images is not a top concern.

There is another reason for producing a wide range of image formats, especially for stock photos: graphic designers are always looking for the right image to fill a header, a banner, or a narrow column at the side of a screen or page. If you offer dynamic images in a wide range of shapes, you are far more likely to sell images for graphic and web design.

To illustrate this concept, I searched my library for the most extreme of forms: the vertical panorama, a form I use quite frequently. I then sorted through a number of these shots to find my “most vertical pano”… the image with the most extreme aspect ratio that continued to work well as an image, and to effectively tell its story. Its not surprising that a vertical city of New York provided my extreme vertical pano winner.

Here you can see that this image works based on a single sided streetscape, with low key features well grounded at the bottom, and high key features filling the higher sections of the image. It is an effective story-teller, and could certainly be printed as a fine art image, but its real strength would be in adding the needed vertical element to a web page or printed page.

C. David Tobie