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SITKA Gear | 11.27.2018

Behind The Shot with #DIVERGE7 Judges

  • Pursuit: Big Game, Whitetail, Waterfowl
  • Environment: Elevated II, Subalpine, Open Country, Marsh, Timber

Seven years ago, we set out to change the way hunting was portrayed. At that time, nearly all images from a hunt were trophy photos. To us, this did the hunt, animal, and hunter a disservice. We wanted to highlight the depth of the experience, not just the kill. To spur this shift, we started working with a group of talented photographers. People whose passion for visual storytelling matched their passion for the hunt itself. This small rebellion snowballed into a widespread movement called DIVERGE.

As this year’s contest nears its close, we’re grateful for each unique perspective the Tribe has captured. The shift is more evident every year given the quality and quantity of imagery produced. If you’ve participated, we can’t thank you enough.

To take us through to the finish, here are a few tips and tactics from this year’s Judges. All of whom have helped to advance hunting photography to where it is today.

**The submission period for the DIVERGE7 Photo Contest end on November 30th at midnight. Submit as many photos as you like by using #DIVERGE7 in your caption on Instagram or upload at**

Steven Drake

Photo Tip #1: Capture the Conditions
Hunters get blasted by snow and wind on a late-season sheep hunt.

I go into every photo assignment with a list of shot themes to focus on. One of those themes is weather. I love shooting images showcasing the extremes we go through in the pursuit of game. Being able to see someone's face during these moments helps viewers connect and feel the emotion that’s taking place. Pictured is Athlete and Guide Dustin Roe (left) and Athlete Kiviok Hight (right) getting blasted by snow and wind on a late-season Bighorn sheep hunt in Alberta.

Equipment: Canon 6D 16-35mm F/4
Settings: 1/640 at F/10 ISO 400

Photo Tip #2: Compose with Intent
A beautiful landscape shot of hunters in the mountains.

Another shot theme I focus on is showing the enormity of the landscape. I took this image with a Sony 70-200 G series lens shot at 115mm on F4.5. This lens, especially when zoomed in, allows you to compress the background. I intentionally framed this image so the Hunting Guides Dustin Roe and Roberto Aguilar were in the bottom right corner, following the rule of thirds. I also chose to frame it so the tops of the mountain weren’t showing because it emphasizes the magnitude of the terrain and also leaves the viewer questioning just how big those mountains are.

Equipment: Sony a7riii, Sony 70-200mm G Series
Settings: 1/2000 at f/4.5 ISO 400

Photo Tip #3: Be Ready Hunters pass a moose on horseback.

The number one comment I get on this photo is ‘photoshopped.’ Well, this rutting bull moose actually walked right between Athlete Kiviok Hight and Guide Warren Lees. Authentic images that leave you questioning their reality are some of my favorites. These are the rarest moments and without proof, people wouldn't believe they actually happened. They aren't planned or foreseen, they just happen and it takes a quick trigger finger and a camera at the ready to capture them.

Equipment: Canon 6D, EF 70-200mm f/2.8 IS ll USM
Settings: 1/200 sec at f/5.6, ISO 500

Jay Beyer

Photo Tip #1: Use Your Foreground & Depth-of-Field
Whitetail hunters share stories with a buck on the ground.

In my opinion, unique whitetail imagery is one of the hardest things to capture. It’s a fairly static activity that has been shot by many. This was a moment after Kiviok, Dayne and I found Kiviok's buck and drug it back to the truck. We were all having beers and then I saw this shot. I wanted to keep the buck focused as the foreground but wanted the joy of a completed hunt happening in the background framed by his antlers. I shot it at a depth of field that kept the focus on the buck but still allows viewer to notice the excitement in the background.

Equipment: Canon 5D Mark IV
Settings: 16mm, 1/500 sec, f/8

Photo Tip #2: Document the Process
Setting up for a waterfowl hunt in the early morning.

The clouds parted and the full moon was in full effect for about 5 minutes before disappearing into the clouds. I circled around the guys setting up the spread and lined this up. I shot it at a high ISO and a high aperture to star out the lights on the truck and let just enough light in to expose the subjects. I always feel guilty shooting while everybody else is busting their ass getting set up but that comes with the job and they are wonderful people who understand and are stoked with the imagery in the end.

Equipment: Canon 1D X Mark II
Settings: 65mm, 1/2 sec, f/5

Photo Tip #3: Punch-in Despite Widespread Beauty A hunter washes his hands after a successful hunt.

To me, big game hunting easiest to capture as a photographer. You're often in an epic location with unique animals and great people. That being said, to pare down the big scene and focus on a single moment can be tough when you're in large, photogenic country. This shot of Kendall Card washing his hands happened after we quartered his buck and we were packing it back to camp. We crossed this stream and Kendall started washing his hands and that’s when my light bulb turned on. I hadn’t seen a shot like this happening right before me. I dumped my pack, surveyed the scene and found my shot with just the right amount of backlighting and foreground.

Equipment: Canon 5D Mark IV,
Settings: 146mm, 1/500 sec, f/5.6

Brad Christian

Photo Tip #1: Move Away from the Action
A duck dog springs into action in Mississippi.

I was in Belden, Mississippi working on the SITKA film, “Say When.” As Barton Ramsey sent his dog “Red” into the pond, I was tempted to shoot it medium to really see this animal’s power. Instead, I shot it wide from the other side of the pond to enable the viewer to experience the ecosystem. A medium shot of a dog jumping is fun, and I captured a few, but it’s not particularly unique. By moving away from the action, I created an image that if you wanted to duplicate, you’d need to be in that location, in that weather with that subject. So whether you’re using an iPhone or a DSLR, go be remarkable you in your location with your crew.

Photo Tip #2: Be Comfortable Being Uncomfortable
A bull elk in all its glory.

Wildlife and weather cannot be controlled. If you're there when these two unknowns come together, the photo can be special. If you have limited time to shoot, don't be afraid to plan some time around unique weather conditions. Many people avoid it, but if you have the gear and the guts to stick it out, get after it. I stood shin deep in icy water to get this one.

Photo Tip #3: Be a Noticer
A bow hunter rapidly packs out his elk.

I'm always looking ahead for the shot. While photographing Tyler Pierce pack his bull out, I noticed a unique tree that bent over our trail. I ran ahead of him, climbed the tree and hung over his path. I slowed the shutter, and when he walked by I swung my camera at the rate he was walking to achieve the blurred background. The unique perspective combined with the blur makes this shot stand out from the typical packout we've all seen. So keep your eyes out. Be a "noticer."

Brett Seng

Photo Tip #1: Trust Your Equipment, Minimize Variables
A hunter moves quickly to close the distance.

During the fastest light transitions of the day, I've come to love the auto ISO feature that narrows my attention on shutter speed and aperture to achieve tack-sharp images that speak louder than any image noise. With today's post-edit noise-reduction tools and the high demand for social content on a mobile screen, it's not worth missing a moment of glory for a buttery image, especially if the context of the visual is captivating. We cannot control timing or light when trying to shoot compelling images, so channel your focus on your Tv/Av and let your camera's auto ISO do its best calculations until the light is even enough to feel comfortable locking it. Tack sharpness trumps image noise. An image needs sharpness; we'd prefer to have less noise. Since what we need and what we want can be like oil and water, I suggest following a simple rule.

To achieve a hand-held, tack-sharp image, our shutter speed must be double or greater than our focal length. So, at 200mm, we have to be at minimum 1/400th of a sec to achieve adequate sharpness; at 50mm we need to be 1/100th of a sec.; get my drift here? This rule may vary when it comes to the subjects your shooting, such as a flaring mallard or flushed pheasant, compared to a bugling bull or stiff-legged, posturing whitetail buck. This is where I like to put my trust in the auto ISO setting, click into manual settings with the tack-sharp rule in the front of my mind, and adjust accordingly. Noise is something we can work with, but we cannot polish fuzzy edges nearly as well. Run your auto ISO when the light is pretty and changing every second so you can focus on getting tack-sharp images that have fantastic noise reduction capabilities in post. As a safe rule of thumb, keep in mind that if you double your shutter speed at your present focal length, you will achieve a tack-sharp image. Running auto ISO can get you the exposure that you need, help you learn more about your camera's exposure capabilities, and allow you to focus on staying creative instead of technical. Hope this helps everyone!

Equipment: Sony Alpha 9
Settings: 1/250 at f/2.8, ISO

Photo Tip #2: Watch Your Corners
Whitetail hunters forge their way through water via a Polaris Ranger.

This shot is all about watching your corners. Cool things can happen in corner of the lens. On the contrary, distracting and obstructive elements can pop up. This brings me to the conclusion that it’s always important to watch your entire field of view. This image is from Florida's first whitetail season as we tested early season prototypes. Conditions were muggy, hot and sticky, wet and buggy. We got the UTV stuck constantly, to the point where all we could do is laugh if off - which is exactly what I was aiming to capture here. Massive dragon flies were buzzing all around us, with one particular fly running a line between myself and the UTV. I hit the shutter when I could hear it getting close. What came out of it was a blurred dragonfly proportional to a Blackhawk Helicopter in the top right corner of the image. I trusted that my focus lock captured the fellas in belly laughter while I got to work scanning for a peripheral element that could give some context to our surroundings. This is all in an effort to add deeper meaning to the experience for viewers.

Equipment: Sony Alpha 9
Settings: 12mm, 1/320 sec, f/8

Photo Tip #3: Room for Interpretation
A proud bull in nature.

When I show this image to those who’ve never hunted elk, they usually see it as a proudly-positioned bull in autumn. When I show it to my hunting buddies, they say, "Busted!" This illustrates the different layers that an image communicates during a first impression versus a core audience. What I'd need to do for the uninitiated in this case, is explain the tension in this moment just before this massive animal explodes from the scene. Not all images have to be relatable, nor do they have to be cryptic, but sometimes it's intriguing to tell a deeper story that’s not immediately noticeable to viewers.

Equipment: Canon 1D X
Settings: 600mm, 1/640 sec, f/6.3

Jeff Simpson

Photo Tip #1: Panoramic Imagery
A pano forest image.

Panoramic images are mostly used to show wide shots, but with a tighter focal length. Mountain images and forest images like the one above are notorious scenes for pano shooters. As you start to explore with panoramic photography, the best tip I can give you is to use a focal length of 100mm and shoot vertical images to stitch together. This will yield image results that you just can not achieve with standard 1 shot images. Post-production is not near as intimidating as it once was. Lightroom has a simple ‘Photo Merge’ option that will allow you to select all your frames that you want to combine and merge them together with ease. Don't forget to use lens corrections, and you will have a great starting point on your pano image.

Equipment: Canon 1DX mk II
Settings: 4 vertical images, 50mm, 1/100 sec, f/4.0
Photo Tip #2: Trigger an Emotion
Late season bow hunter.

This is more of a personal preference than it is a tip, but here we are. I love to find moments that are conveyed as driven, lonely or isolated for the simple reason of emotion. We want to take images of scenes that have emotion and have that emotion spill through in the imagery. In the image above, Ally was getting absolutely pounded by horizontal snow after watching a herd of elk not do what we wanted them to do all day. We were cold, tired and in the middle of a blizzard. This image shows her turning her head into the short side of the frame symbolizing the lack of visibility and success, while the distant trees are barely visible and fading. It was the perfect illustration of our day. Snow is a great friend to outdoor photographers.

Equipment: Canon 1DX mk II
Settings: 1/60 sec, f/2.8, ISO 320
Photo Tip #3: Communication of Scale
Whitetail hunter attempts to stay warm while waiting on a deer to walk by.

The lens doesn't always do the scene justice. A lot of that can do with the scale of what you are seeing and the lack of it in the frame. The rule of thirds can particularly get you in a bind when it comes to showing a bigger scale, while maintaining a focal length that still effectively shows your subject. Rules are meant to be broken sometimes and in this image I am using the bottom of the frame to illustrate a bigger scale above my subject. Putting him in the middle with a straight forward posture vs the trees all growing at angles forces the eye to see what I want you to see. The tops of trees, illustrating his height in the tree without the need for a vertical image showing the lower portion of the tree.

Equipment: Canon 1DX mk II
Settings: 1/320 sec, f/2.8, 200mm, ISO 1250

Matt McCormick

Photo Tip #1: Use Your Surroundings & Adjust Your Angles
A unique perspective on a waterfowl spread.

Whether it’s laying on the ground or bringing a ladder into the field, adjust your angles to create a unique perspective. For this particular shot, I clamped my tripod to a ladder and placed the ladder on a round bale. To lengthen the light trails, I set the camera on BULB and used a remote shutter to remove any chance of vibration.

Camera: Canon 6D
Lens: Canon 16-35 f/2.8
Camera Settings: 896sec at f/8.0 ISO:160

Photo Tip #2: Be Selective
737 awaits ducks.

It’s easy to turn your camera on High Speed Continuous and fire away. Try changing your settings to ‘single shot’ and picking each frame deliberately. Oftentimes you’ll find that less is more. On last year’s assignment to 737 Duck Club, I was tasked to capture one thing: Define a day in the life of Dustin Jones and Kyle Sanders.

Seems simple enough. The day to day shooting is pretty simple, tag along with them and photograph their every move. But in my opinion, the most important and most challenging shot is the portrait. A properly executed portrait requires perfect framing & precision focus.

Next time you’re out hunting with a buddy, here’s my advice for grabbing a solid portrait:

  1. Widen your aperture to make your subject stand out. (f/1.4 - 5.6)
  2. The eye needs to be tack sharp and above the center-line. Speed up your shutter, turn on your Image stabilization, switch to single point AF and nail your focus.
  3. Be creative with your composition & incorporate subject defining props such as a dog, gun or hat.
Equipment: Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 16-35 f/2.8 shot at 24mm
Settings: 1/800sec @f/2.8 ISO 640

Photo Tip #3: Be Different, Not Better
Geese feet down in the decoys in the snow.

It’s important to find inspiration but comparing your work to other photographers is a waste of time. Focus your energy on capturing the moments in front of you, realtime, through your own eye and use your skills as a hunter, to anticipate your subjects next move.

On this particular late season hunt, my goal was to capture the fact that we had a killer natural hide and no need for blinds. I started by sitting with the hunters with a wide angle which got the point across but didn’t depict how well the geese were finishing. So I moved to the side, still using the wide angle, and captured geese landing but the hunters were so small but it just didn’t do the hunt justice. I noticed the field’s pivot just so happen to be aligned perfectly with our hide so we made a small decoy adjustment to center the birds up and I climbed the pivot tower to grab this shot which I believe, perfectly defines that hunt.

Equipment: Canon 7D MKII, Canon 70-200 f/2.8 shot at 168mm
Settings: 1/800sec @ f/8.0 ISO 320