For the first time I can recall in almost 48 years, a picture accompanying one of these columns has drawn a disapproving letter to the editor.
Dale Latam of Red Deer writes: “I do not feel that I should be subjected to viewing a picture of the dead animal that (a hunter) killed when I open your newspaper … it upsets me every time this happens. … You do not post photographs of dead people killed by people, so please do not post photographs of dead animals killed by people.”
The complaint is regarding the Oct. 3 column, a story about a remarkable hunt of a mule deer buck by a fine and principled hunter, and a quality picture that shows honour and respect to a magnificent animal.
One of the reasons this column has endured as long as it has is because of its coverage of many different outdoors topics.
Hunters are entitled to a column occasionally, and some of them are probably upset when they see a column of mine accompanied by pictures of mushrooms … or garlic.
I submit few pictures of dead animals with my columns each year. If you spend much time driving in Alberta for the next couple of months, you will see more deer corpses “killed by people” in vehicles and dumped in the roadside ditches than you will in a year of these columns.
There are far more columns with fish pictures, but I have never received a complaint, possibly because people do not care about cold-blooded creatures, and many suspect the fish is alive and about to be released, anyway.
This paper tries to avoid publishing pictures of “dead people killed by people,” yet other media are full of real or fictional violence producing dead people and interviewers who know just what buttons to push to make survivors sob and wail.
That “journalism” upsets me more than any good picture I’ve ever seen of a hunter with a dead animal.
I am grateful to Mr. Latam for giving me occasion to hold forth on a subject that has been bothering me for some time: poor “grip ‘n’ grin” photography of both fish and game.
Each year I receive dozens of pictures ranging from a few great, through poor, to downright disgusting images of hunters with dead big game: cluttered foreground and background, blood to the armpits, drooping cigarettes, so awful that I can’t use them to illustrate my points on how to do better in the coming hunting seasons, so I’ll resort to mainly fish shots.
What we must strive for is a good image that respects and honours a special creature, dead or alive.
For practical starters, forget the cellphone and carry a real camera that has the features needed for quality outdoors images: shirt pocket size for instant availability, a sharp zoom lens, and a strong flash, including soft or fill-flash.
I still favour my Pentax Optio W80, which is no longer available, but the WG3 and WG10 models are allegedly even better, and they are all waterproof, adding a new dimension to fish photography.
With dead creatures, take the pictures immediately, but clean any blood away and bag the used paper towels. Arrange the animal for an uncluttered foreground and background.
Blue sky is a great background and so is one that shows the country that grew the deer.
Big game animals are often taken when the light is poor, so turn on the flash.
The hunter (also cleaned up), beside the deer, with a big smile is the cliché classic shot, but taking a few of him looking admiringly at his animal often produces the best image.
Some bright colour livens a picture, and hunters often wear blaze orange or red caps.
But in sunny conditions the shade under the bill or brim can erase facial features; turn on the soft flash and shed some light on the subject.
Many fish “grip ‘n’ grins” today are for an angler to prove to others that he really did catch that special fish that had to be released.
For a successful live release, the fish must be handled carefully and be kept out of the water as little as possible.
The instantly-ready shirt-pocket camera shortens the down time.
Many anglers today pose their fish never totally out of the water with rod, net, etc., in the picture.
I know several anglers who photograph their catches totally underwater, using those same Pentax Optio’s in their underwater mode.
Holding big, strong, slippery fish without injuring them is hard.
Years ago I learned from angling artist Jack Cowin that holding a big fish briefly upside-down in the water calms it down enough for a couple of quick pictures before a careful release.
Sometimes nothing works, but then you might get a great shot of a big fish taking matters out of its “holders” hands.
Bob Scammell is an award-winning columnist who lives in Red Deer. He can be reached at email@example.com