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.