Photo by Bill Peterson, USFWS.

November 1, 2022

Ethical Photographs of Your Harvest; It’s Worth the Time

The excitement of the harvest remains fresh in your mind, and you are anxious to have a photographic memory of the hunt to help you recount the experience for years to come. Smartphones and tablets make quick work of taking photos of your harvest. But are those photos suitable for sharing with friends, family or even a wider audience on social media? We’ve all seen cringe-worthy photographs that raise instant questions, from both hunters and non-hunters, about ones respect for the animals harvested.

A young hunter in blaze orange gear holds up a shotgun while sitting next to a mentor also in blaze orange. The mentor is pointing out something in the distance to the young hunter. Both are sitting up in a tree stand. In the background are leaves against a blue sky.
Photo courtesy of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

The widespread and increased use of social media in just the last decade has changed things in many ways, including the amount of negative reaction that can result from a photo that does not show hunting in the best light. In these modern times of social media, it is more important than ever that we take a few moments to prepare for the photo to show the utmost respect for the animal that we have been fortunate to harvest, as well as for our fellow hunters and the tradition of hunting alike.

The great conservationist Aldo Leopold once said, “ethical behavior is doing the right thing when no one else is watching….” Our photos of harvested game are a display of hunting ethics and, in this case, folks are watching more than ever when we post images on social media. Being a responsible and ethical hunter is of such critical importance that an entire chapter is devoted to it in hunter safety education courses where we are taught as new hunters not to share graphic photos, vividly describe the kill to non-hunters, or parade around town with a deer strapped to a vehicle. Nationally, about 5 percent of the population hunts and roughly the same percentage actively opposes hunting. The rest of the population is predominately neutral. Hunters need to work to maintain a good relationship with the non-hunting public. We should not provoke more people to become anti-hunters and create more challenges for the rest of us to protect hunting as a tradition and critically important instrument of conservation. Hunting annually provides millions of dollars to fund wildlife conservation through the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act. We have a lot to lose!

It only takes a few moments to compose a tasteful photograph of your harvest, be it a trophy buck or your first wild turkey, a day’s limit of mallards or ring-necked pheasants, or the young hunter you mentored for their first successful squirrel hunt. Much of the same holds true for your catch from a day’s fishing as well. Here are a few tips for not only taking professional quality photos, but also showing your respect of the animal and avoiding negative reaction from those who may view the photo, even if unintentionally.

A hunter rests his arms on a cart handle and looks down at a harvested adult male white-tailed deer with a large set of antlers resting in the cart. In the background is a grassy area along the edge of a forest against a cloudy sky.
Photo courtesy of Dan Stephens.
  • Photos taken in the field—in the animal’s natural environment—provide lasting memories of your experience and are much preferred over images showing your harvest in the back of a vehicle or in a garage. Look at your surroundings to determine what angle will decrease the background clutter. Be mindful of shadow cast on your subject. Consider how you could use the horizon/skyline to accentuate the animal, such as the details of deer antlers.
  • Show respect for the animal. Face any exit wounds, or the body cavity, away from the camera. Don’t pose your harvest in an abnormal body position. Tuck a deer’s legs under its body or position the deer on its stomach with its legs straight out. Place the animal’s tongue out of sight in its mouth or remove if needed.
  • Use a wet paper towel, or grass or leaves, to remove visible blood or saliva from your harvest. Also remove any dirt and vegetation (leaves, cornstalks, duckweed, etc.) from the body of the animal. Take a moment to clean yourself, too.
  • The best compositions have the human subject looking at the camera or admiring their harvest.
  • Show respect for the animal by sitting or kneeling beside or behind it and provide a realistic pose and photographic perspective.
  • Using deer antlers as a rack for your gun or bow is often viewed as a sign of disrespect for the animal.
  • Photograph your wild turkey harvest with its tail fanned out and spurs and beard showing. Holding your turkey by its legs also makes an interesting photo composition.
  • Keep your photographs realistic. Avoid taking any harvest photo from far behind the animal to try and accentuate the size of the animal.
  • Enhance your memories of the day by including your hunting buddies or guide with you in a photo.
  • Show your respect for wildlife laws. Wear your blaze orange if it was required by law for that hunt. Photograph your animal with any required hunting tags.
  • Practice safety. Don’t take photos where a person is pointing a weapon at another person. Unload your firearm after your game has been harvested and always treat a firearm as if it’s loaded.
  • Setup your photos to tell the story about your hunt, not just the result.
A father and son in camouflage gear kneel in a harvested agricultural field. The two hunters kneel next to successfully harvested gray, black, and white Canada geese. In the background are gray, black, and white Canada geese decoys.
Photo courtesy of Randy Smith.

Nathan Grider is an avid hunter, angler and conservationist with a Master’s in Biology from the University of Illinois, Springfield. He has been employed at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources for 12 years where he currently serves as the Wildlife Programs Section Manager in the Division of Wildlife Resources. He was raised in Montgomery County and currently lives in Springfield.

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Submit a question for the author

Question: Good article, Nathan, with an important message. I totally agree. Thanks for writing this.

Question: Not a question, just a comment on your article. Your article was an excellent discussion of what needs to be done with “harvest” photography. While on Safari in Africa, we learned all about these techniques from the PH’s (professional hunters). After the “kill” I was amazed at the preparation done to present the harvested animal in a natural, authentic, setting in a dignified manner. Sometimes they took as much time as an hour to be sure that the photos taken were well presented, not only for ethical reasons, but also because they knew that their livelyhood depended upon excellent photography. Good job!