Strike A Pose

Western Bear Hunter

With the fall bear season quickly wrapping up, it’s time to embrace the off-season and start making plans for next spring. Hopefully, it was a good season overall and you experienced lots of encounters. If not, “there’s always next spring” as I have had to say many times before because western bear hunting is tough. Bears are unlike any other big game animal out west, and there are often steep learning curves, missed opportunities, and a little bad luck when it’s time to seal the deal. 


That said, when success is finally achieved you want to make the best of it by capturing the moment with quality photos that tell your story. With todays digital equipment literally in our pockets every day, its pretty easy if youre willing to take the time and effort. Im certainly a little biased on this topic after nearly 25 years of telling stories for various hunting and fishing publications.


Out of all the big game animals we hunt, bears are arguable the hardest to capture with a trophy photo. They seem to shrink the moment they hit the ground, and without horns, they can all look the same. From my experience, the first mistake hunters often make when taking trophy photos is rushing through the process. Regardless of whether you hunt with a bow or rifle, these hunts are rarely easy and chances are youve worked extremely hard for that trophy. Its always exciting when you first walk upon your trophy, and sometimes in that excitement, we forget about this step in the experience and only snap a few quick photos. Granted, it can be time-consuming getting the right shot, but youll appreciate the experience more when you have the photos to look back on. I often spend at least an hour taking trophy photos, and sometimes I need more time than that to capture the handful of images Im looking for. 


That being said, taking good photos is more than just ensuring the camera is focused. Be mindful of where youre shooting and consider utilizing a more neutral background to get the best results with your trophy. Deep blue skies add pop” to a photo so finding a location with a rise in elevation so you can grab some ski is a great location. Ideally, think about the background contrast when picking the right spot. A busy background detracts from the image so try to separate your subject with the idea of directing the attention to the subject, not away from it.


Camera position is also important to ensure the viewers have a proper perspective of your trophy. Make sure the camera is at least level with the animals head or slightly lower. Plus, a lower camera angle can make the bear look larger and the hunter smaller, which is really what your wanting. Your subject is ultimately the bear.


Composing the shot is also critical. Dont be afraid to take photos from several different angles. Obviously removing unsightly blood and the exposed tongue is important in this process, but just as important is how the animal is set up. You want to make the bear look as natural as possible with the front paws exposed and body propped upright. If you have too, us a large rock or log behind his shoulder to help prop him up. Also, make sure the animals eyes are open, and if thats not possible consider using glass or acrylic eyes that taxidermists use to achieve a natural look. This will often give the trophy a more alive look and will add to the overall photo.


The biggest issue for many hunters is having even lighting. If its cloudy, great, you can take photos all day, but generally speaking, the sun is overhead after a morning hunt, which casts shadows on your subject, or the light is fading in the evening. When possible try to take photos either early or late in the day to achieve more even lighting and don't be afraid to use a fill flash. If its dark, use the headlights of a vehicle to cast good light on your subject in conjunction with the flash, and consider moving the vehicle to different angles and depths to achieve the look you want. Although most of the time you want the available light pointing at your subjects face, take some photos with your subject backlit as well. Backlighting is often overlooked, but when used with a flash a backlit subject can look exceptionally well.


Also, dont be afraid to see what others are doing to help you in your photographic efforts. All good photographers have a level of uniqueness, and although uniqueness has a lot to do with having a natural photographic eye, it can also be learned. I feel one of the best ways to develop a good photographic eye is to see what others are doing. Flip through magazines and visit websites to see the style of images you prefer. I have even created an image file on my smartphone that I can use to help me in the field when taking photos.


Lastly, remember that youre telling a story, not just taking a photo of your trophy. Theres more to a hunt than just the trophy at the end, and with todays digital equipment you dont have to be shy with the shutter. Take photos of the whole experience and be mindful that a good story has both a beginning and ending, as well as elements of conflict in the middle. Maybe its man versus wild, man versus man or man versus the elements; regardless, theres always a photographic story if youre willing to take the time and effort to develop it. In the end, you will find just as much satisfaction in documenting your hunt digitally as you did punching your tag.