This is a short guide for photographing deer at the stunning Bradgate Park – Leicestershire. Although all the below shots were taken at Bradgate Park, the tips work for any deer park.
Location: Bradgate Park & Swithland Wood. Newtown Linford, Leicestershire LE6 0HE
SAT NAV: LE6 0HB This takes you to the car park at Newtown Linford – car parking charges apply. The Park is only 5 minutes from junction 22 of the M1.
Best time to visit: The annual deer rut is in October, an ideal time for autumnal colours and to capture the impressive stags looking their best. The light is usually best an hour after sunrise and an hour before sunset – the ‘golden hour’.
What to take: Camera gear – a 400mm or 500mm lens will get you close to the action, but it’s worth going whatever camera/lens you have. A tripod is a must for long lenses, you’ll get sharper shots and it saves you carrying a heavy lens around all day. Don’t forget a rain cover for your camera. A pair of binoculars is also handy as there is lots of other wildlife to see in the park.
Clothes – sturdy walking boots/shoes are a good idea, as are waterproofs. Don’t forget your gloves! You’ll be doing a lot of standing around and it’s easy to get cold when you’re not moving about. Taking a flask of something hot is worth thinking about too.
1. Composition and posture. Odd numbers tend to look more interesting. Dividing your picture into thirds horizontally and vertical and placing the deer where the lines cross is a simple and affective rule to follow. Keep an eye on the deer’s ears, they move around like little radars, it looks better when they are both in the same direction, unless you want to show that it’s alert and listening for something. Also keep an eye on the legs, a good stance is important, sometimes they can look a bit awkward.
2. Shoot landscape and portrait. Sometimes it’s just a quick twist of the camera to get two shots, instead of one.
3. Lie down for a different perspective. Camera bags make great supports. You might get some funny looks, but it’s worth it.
4. Look at the bigger picture. Include some of the surrounding habitat.
5. Shoot through something. Grass or bushes are great for foreground interest.
6. Keep it natural. There are lots of paths, fences and people in the park, try to avoid getting any of them in your shot. Visiting on a weekday will improve your chances.
7. Eye contact adds impact.
8. Rain adds atmosphere. Take a cover for your camera.
9. Go minimal. Less is more.
10. Chase the light, not the deer. Be patient; let the deer come to you.
11. It’s about the quality of the light, not the size of the deer.
12. Cold, still mornings are great for visible breath and steam rising from the deers’ backs. Remember to take gloves with you!
13. Go it alone. You can get good shots all over the park. Don’t feel you have to stand where other photographers have congregated, although a good chat about photography is always fun. I’ve managed to get, and stay, quite close to stags when I’ve been by myself, I’m not sure it would be as easy if you are in a group.
14. Mist is great, but even thick fog can give great results. Never let the weather forecast put you off going.
15. A stag breaths out after he’s finished bellowing – get ready!
16. Watch for interesting behaviour. Here a jackdaw grooms a deer for ticks.
17. Stags dress their antlers. Most do it so they can still see where they’re going!
18. Have a walk. Bradgate Park is a great place to visit even without a camera. If you can’t find a deer to photograph, have a walk, you never know what might be around the corner.
19. Get lucky! OK, that’s not quite a tip, but luck plays a big part in wildlife photography. Although as someone once said, “The more you practice, the luckier you’ll get”.
20. Shoot some video. I’m pretty new to filming, but as just about every camera has the function now, why not give it a go. If it’s worth photographing, then it’s probably worth filming too.