Grip & Grin Photography
By: Joe Mannino, Director of First Impressions/Resident Photographer
The proverbial “grip and grin” is a time-honored tradition that we hunters take a lot of pride in. It is our attempt to capture in a single moment something that often takes weeks of immense mental and physical strain to accomplish. For most, it is our best chance at communicating to friends and family why we choose to wander off into the wilderness each year and sacrifice the comforts of home. These pictures used to exist as prints in the family album, or on your desk at work. In our house, my dad would frame his and hang them up next to the animals on the walls of our living room.
Today, these photos exist in a much different realm; the internet. With Facebook and Instagram being as popular as they are, the right trophy photo can end up going viral and reach a wider audience than just our friends and family. With that being said, I thought I would share some thoughts, tips, and suggestions to keep in mind when taking your next grip and grin photo.
As I mentioned in my last post, Making a Photo, one of the most important details of these photos is to make sure you and your buck of a lifetime are clearly visible and prominent in the frame. You also want to try to remove any distracting elements in the background. Personally, I like to set my animals up, and background is certainly something I consider when doing so. If I can, I make sure there’s a decent amount of distance between me and any bushes, or timber so that the animal and I don’t blend into the background. That distance also allows for the background to be slightly out of focus, which in turn, makes me and the animal stand out more. If possible, setting up against a nice vantage point can make for an outstanding photograph.
Now that you’ve squared away your background the next thing to think about is camera angle. I find trophy shots look a lot better when the camera is at eye level with you. Essentially, this allows for a more balanced composition, especially when using a smartphone.
When it comes to your position behind your animal, here are some things you want to watch out for:
- Don’t obscure yourself with the animal – This photograph is a memory you’ll cherish for years to come, make sure you’re not hiding behind your buck.
- Don’t sit directly behind the antlers – No matter if you shot a spike or a 200” muley, make sure the headgear stands and is not blending into your camo shirt.
- Make sure each point is visible – Again, be proud of the animal you shot, show him off in all his glory.
- Don’t play the perspective game – You shot the animal for a reason, be proud of what you got, don’t try to hide behind camera angles.
- Finally, be conscious of your grip on the antlers. A full grip can hide mass so try to minimize contact with the antler.
There’s a bit of controversy surrounding trophy photos these days, both inside and outside the hunting community. It really all stems from how these photos are perceived among the non-hunting public. As hunters, the grip and grin symbolizes the accomplishment of succeeding on a hunt. When we lay our hands on the animal and take that picture smiling behind it, it’s representative of all that work we put in to get that animal down; the miles hiked, hours spent shooting, scouting, and time away from our families. It’s more than just antlers; it’s the meat on our tables and memories made with friends and family. Non-hunters and anti-hunters don’t see all that. They only see someone smiling behind a dead animal.
As a photographer, and someone who is concerned with how my images are perceived, I have a different perspective than most on this issue. The way I see it, when you post a grip and grin on social media, you end up representing all hunters. In most cases that photo will only reach those in your personal circle, however, these days, any image can go viral and reach a wider audience. I think it’s important to be aware of that when you take that grip and grin. Personally, I don’t like the idea of pandering to the anti’s, however, I know how images can be perceived and when I put my photographs out there, I want to make sure they represent hunting in a way that is consistent with how I feel and talk about hunting.
When I make my trophy photos, I try to find a balance between reality and respect. I make sure, again, to pose the animal. I don’t like the “as he lay” shot because posing simply makes the photo look better. I also make sure to tuck the tongue back or cut it out if need be so it’s not hanging out of the animal’s mouth. Otherwise, I really don’t like to try to wipe blood away or anything like that. If there’s excessive blood, I may try to minimize it purely for aesthetic reasons, but I’m not hiding the fact that I killed the animal. I also don’t like to take the contrived, “somber” pose with my animal. I’m not sorry I killed this buck. Do I feel the weight of taking a life? Sure, but I am not apologizing for it.
Many hunters think that a trophy photo won’t change the mind of an anti, and they’re probably right. That photo, however, can change the mind of someone who is indifferent or not well informed about hunting. I think it’s important to be aware of this. Know what your photograph is saying and own it.
If you haven't already, check out the first post of the series, Taking Photos in the Field.