Bird Hunting Photography – Part 4 Camera Management in the Field

Managing a camera while on the hunt can be a bit of a challenge. There can be a lot going on – like handling your dog(s), safely carrying a shotgun, excellent wing shooting, not tumbling down the side of a hill, screwing around with your GPS, and executing outstanding photography. With so many things to deal with, you want your camera management to be as efficient and non-intrusive as possible. Camera management is how you safely carry it and bring it into action while hunting. Safety is number one because nothing ruins the joyous mood of the hunt, like putting a load of 6s in the side of your pal’s face. (insert Dick Cheney joke here).

Carrying the Camera in the Field

In my opinion, the very best way to carry your DSLR or Mirrorless camera is to use the Peak Design Slide camera strap. The design is about perfect and they are well made, you can see it here. If you are right-handed, the strap is on your right shoulder and crosses your body, so the camera hangs, with the lens down, on your left side. This allows the camera to hang out of the way, pretty much hidden, until you need it. If you carry your gun with your right hand, then the camera will not be near your expensive shotgun. This is very comfortable, and I often forget the camera is there, even though my Nikon D850 and 70-200 lens are pretty heavy. If you plan on taking pictures with a point & shoot or your phone, then this does not apply to you (along with about 90% of these articles!).

Here are some tips on carrying your camera in the field:

  • Check all your settings before you are in the field. It is a bummer to waste a great photo opportunity on a camera with a shutter speed set to 5 seconds to capture the fireworks from the other night.
  • Be sure you have fresh batteries. This applies to your GPS as well.
  • Carry your camera turned off and turn it on when you bring it into play. Otherwise, later you will be deleting a bunch of blurry pictures of the ground.
  • Go ahead and take your lens cap and toss it in the garbage. You won’t have time to mess with taking it on and off, and this will save you the anguish of losing it. Be sure to put on a good UV lens filter to protect the glass.
  • Do not hang the camera around your neck where it rests on your chest or belly. It will be in the way, and you will for sure bang it on your gun. . . all the time.
  • If you have a wonderful, expensive camera that you love, fret over, or maybe even worship, then leave it at home. You will be using this camera (as it was intended), and it will get beat up. If your $5,000 camera outfit has button labels worn off, corners are worn bright, and the faux leather body covering is torn in places, then you are a hunter/photographer after my own heart. Great tools worn from honest use are cool.

Using the Camera in the Field

Using a DSLR or a mirrorless camera usually requires two hands. The right hand to hold the camera, focus, and take the picture. The left hand to steady the camera and change focal length on a zoom lens. So, where is the shotgun? This is the important part. That gun is broken open, unable to fire, and resting in the crook of your right arm. You can squeeze the stock against your torso to secure it. The barrels are pointed pretty much away, and with the action broken open, it is 100% safe. The big risk is losing rounds in the field, because with the gun open, shells can and will fall out. You usually will notice and pick them up, but I could see missing a shot or two because the gun was unexpectedly empty; no big deal. Always be sure your gun is open when you are messing with your camera. People drop things, and if you drop your gun when screwing around with the camera, you do not want any chance that it might go off! Make this a rule.

This technique assumes you are using a gun that breaks open like a side-by-side or over/under shotgun. These can be draped over your arm when they are open, as you see in the pictures above. If you are hunting with your new Benelli autoloader or grandpa’s Model 12 pump, then the challenge is how to manage that type of gun when taking pictures. I have hunted birds only with side-by-side shotguns for the last 20 years, so I have not crossed this bridge. My first thought would be to go out and buy a nice double gun and leave the autoloader at home. You deserve it and could rationalize the expenditure in the name of safety! The other option would be putting a sling on the gun and to sling it on safe when you take pictures. This seems reasonable, but never try to operate your camera while also holding onto a loaded gun whether the safety is on or not. I think you are asking for trouble and taking a risk you should not take.

Here are some tips on using your camera in the field:

  • If you are approaching a dog on point with your gun at the ready, then leave the camera alone. Or make the gun safe, get the camera ready and forget about making a shot. Do one or the other.
  • Never let your gun point at or “sweep” your hunting buddies or dogs as you take pictures. Even though it is open and safe, it makes folks uncomfortable. Always be aware of your muzzles, always think about safety.
  • Enjoy the hunt, the dog work, and do some great shooting. Don’t be overzealous about taking pictures. Try not to irritate your fellow hunters by incessantly snapping pictures. Be discrete – usually, no one notices or cares about the photography. One thing for sure, they will enjoy and appreciate the pictures after the hunt!

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