Photographing the Rut at Richmond Park- BCC Nature SIG by Pippa McHale

It was wonderful on Saturday 30 September to go to Richmond Park to photograph the rut.  This provided me with the opportunity to tick off the majestic, noble red deer stag from my bucket list of photographic wildlife subjects.  For me this meant that in a year I have managed to photograph both the UK’s smallest mammal (a harvest mouse) and her largest. Their portraits join those of the African Big Five in my wildlife archive.  For this event I visited Richmond Park along with fellow members of the BCC Nature SIG.

An Early Start

We left Binfield at 6.00am and entered the park through its impressive Victorian gates.  It was just before sun rise.  Straight away we spotted a lone female red deer near the road.  After Paul had parked the car and changed into his waterproof suit, we hoiked our camera bags onto our backs and set off at a fast pace towards the rising sun.
Since this was my first ever trip to this royal park, I soon fell behind Gladys and Paul. As the sun rose, painting the sky a delicate ripple pink, I stopped to click a few early morning landscape images.

Signs of the Rut

Suddenly we heard a deep and resonant bellow which is the precursor to the rut. Male stags try to avoid physical contact by scaring each other off with a loud bellow.    The loudest longest and gruffest can determine the winner without the stags having to lock horns. The hinds are triggered to come into season by the bellowing and the stags sense this when they sniff the air. For us photographers, this aspect of the rut allowed us to track down a harem of deer and a fine looking stag.
A more quirky pearl of wisdom about the stag, which you may not know, is that just before the rutting season the living tissue dies on their antlers. Stags can be seen rubbing their antlers against vegetation to scratch off the velvet otherwise they can attracts unwanted parasites. This provided us with the  potential for some amusing and surprising photos, as the stags end up with crowns of bracken tangled in their antlers! Nature’s own milliners.
Very soon the numbers of the BCC members had grown to nine. We were joined by many other photographers from all over the world armed with impressively long zoom lenses. Photographers crouched in bracken as they tried to photograph the rut whilst observing the  50m boundary in place to protect the stag and his harem.

The Golden Hour

There are three different ways we can use the golden hour light to capture the perfect stag image: front, side and back.  Back lighting can either be used to create a halo effect around the deer, emphasising the hairs around the body, or can be used to silhouette the deer if the light is not directly shining on their backs. This brings out the sharp shape of the deer’s silhouette, and is especially effective for the stags’ antlers. Side lighting can be used to bring out a more sinister appearance to the deer and front lighting reveals the deer’s features in all their glory including misty breath. Stag have no fear about pulling tongues at you.

Being Mindful

When stalking deer for photography, it is useful to walk parallel to the stag.  It is crucial that you remember to always prioritise the welfare of the animal over simply getting the shot. Truth be told, it is really challenging to capture that perfect image without the shot being littered with photographers, runners, cyclists or dog walkers.
It is said that when a Great Stag emerges from its dark arboreal shelter, great deeds are at hand.  These are reflected in the images below, captured by members of the BCC Nature SIG.
There is a lovely cafe to retire to for mid-morning coffee and cake after having easily notched up your 10000 steps for the day.
There was a stag did in the forest lie,
Whose neck was long, whose horns were branched up high.
His haunch was broad, sides large, and back was long;
His legs were nervous, and his joints were strong.
His hair lay sleek and smooth; he was so fair,…” by Margaret Cavendish.
by David Watkins
by Deborah Collins
by Andy Myatt
by Gladys Perrier
by Paul Hendley
by Mark Perkins
by Pippa McHale

Gladys Perrier

Joined BCC in Sept 2018. Gained my LRPS in March 2022. Qualified as a Level 2 Judge for the SCPF. Current Co-Chair of BCC.