Scottish Deer Centre Photoessay

Although humans damage the natural world, there is evidence of companionship between mankind and the animals we endanger. In a TED talk (2011), photographer Paul Nicklen described how a leopard seal repeatedly attempted to feed him penguins. This inspired me to research other examples of this behaviour.

Gregory Colbert’s film Ashes and Snow (2002) contradicts everything we believe about wild animals. Elephants and cheetahs become tranquil beings that share their world with humans. I wanted to replicate this unique take on wildlife photography.

I photographed Sika deer – “introduced to Britain… 100 years ago” (Ratcliffe, 1987) – and Fallow deer at the Scottish Deer Centre (SDC), a site of “environmental education and research” (Scottish Deer Centre, 2011). Visitors could hand-feed the deer, so my story is based on this mutual trust.


Establishing shot – Large depth of field


This shot introduces the main subject. The large f-stop meant both deer and the background were in focus. I crouched for a low angle shot. This emphasised the stag’s dominance but he was backlit – the bright sky darkened his features. In response, I dimmed the sky and lightened his head in post-production.  


Detail shot – Shallow depth of field


A large aperture eliminated distraction from the background and accentuated texture to avoid a dull, two-dimensional shot. With a small f-stop, the shutter speed needed to be slower for correct exposure. A tripod eliminated camera shake, producing a crisp image.


Filler shot – Slow depth of field


This is the beginning of the interaction. I wanted to portray movement using a slow shutter speed, without over-distorting the subjects. I captured a stationary deer in the foreground, forming contrast between clear and blurred individuals. My shutter speed should have been slightly faster – the stationary deer is still hazy.  


Closing shot – Fast shutter speed


The feed was the story’s conclusion. I used a fast shutter speed to catch when the deer took the food from the visitor’s hand, and emotion in the subject’s expression. I would choose better composition for this shot – it appears imbalanced with the human subject positioned too far to the left.

Some of my ideas for this project were altered. During winter, the talks I planned to attend at the SDC weren’t running. For the small aperture image, I wanted to photograph visitors watching the tour guide, for intricate detail. However, a close-up of the food seems more fitting to the story, as food was what encouraged the interaction between the deer and the public.

I like the theme I chose, exploring the relationships between animals and humans. I want to find more cases of this interaction being photographed but from a negative viewpoint, such as the damaging relationship African farmers have with leopards killing their livestock. This would develop my research so I can appreciate both sides of the story instead of just the positive argument, which is what I wanted to see.

To capture people interacting with shy animals, it was necessary to use captive individuals, as wild ones wouldn’t usually approach humans. I want to photograph contact with wild animals, to see how the story might unfold differently. After seeing Gregory Colbert’s work I’ve learned that, with trust, a relationship can be formed with any animal.



Deer Walking

In the nineteen years that I have lived in Hertfordshire, a thirty-minute train ride from London, I have never been to Richmond Park. This realisation dawned on me last week when I was home for Christmas. I was due to return to Carlisle that Sunday, so I seized my last opportunity and invited my friend from Wildlife Media, who lives in East London, on a trip to the park to see if we could see any deer.

I wasn’t quite aware how fiddly the tube journey to Richmond was – the District line is what my grandfather would undoubtedly describe as a ‘tricky customer’. But, after only getting on one wrong train, I found where I needed to be.

Finding the park was another challenge, but eventually we arrived, just as the rain started. I wasn’t sure how easy it would be finding any deer but within twenty minutes we’d stumbled across a herd of Fallow deer (Dama dama) about sixty strong. Not quite believing our luck, we set up and sat hunched in the rain for over two hours, barely noticing the time fly by.




We were positioned by a group of very relaxed bucks, who would occasionally butt heads almost lazily, as if inconvenienced by some extremely important responsibility. Often they wouldn’t even bother standing up, and instead opted to fight awkwardly whilst laid out on the grass.



We were sat by what we thought was Head Honcho, Buck No.1, judging by the size of his antlers. Therefore we were surprised when a buck further away began bellowing and chasing the does around. Buck No.1 did stand up at the commotion but didn’t respond, so led us to believe that although he was a very impressive looking individual, he wasn’t the dominant male in the herd.


When our legs were finally dead and a group of tourists had started to approach brandishing selfie sticks, we moved on. After walking about quarter of a mile, we saw two Green Woodpeckers (Picus viridis) and a whole group of chattering Ring-Necked Parakeets (Psittacula krameri). I’d heard about captive Parakeets escaping and colonising in the wild, but I’d never had the opportunity to see any.


A little further on we asked some dog walkers if they’d seen any Red deer (Cervus elaphus). Just after they told us they hadn’t and went on their way, they called us back and pointed over the hill to a large group of Red stags lounging in the sun.


There my friend and I were, trying not to jump up and down and shriek. Instead, we set up again and began capturing some shots. I was a little more intimidated this time because those stags were big old brutes. Luckily, they seemed to be in their golden years as they weren’t nearly as active as the Fallow bucks.


After a time we settled down for some food, and were joined by a pair of Egyptian geese (Alopochen aegyptiaca), which I’d never seen before. At the time I had no idea what they were, but I was astonished that a goose could look so beautiful.


By then it was mid afternoon and we were both cold and tired, so took the long route out of the park (unintentionally) and back to the station. A good day had by all.