Updated: Nov 8, 2019
Photographing completely wild Deer in the UK is quite a challenging prospect for any wildlife photographer so I have made a list of the five things that I think will help you out most when setting out to achieve this.
I must point out that location can play a large part in photographing wild deer. Some deer are quite used to humans even though they are wild and others are under a lot of pressure from hunters so I will focus on these, the hardest subjects to photograph.
-Tip 1- DRESS TO IMPRESS!
Camouflage serves a variety of purposes when photographing deer. The main purpose for myself other than to avoid being seen is to break up my human form and shape. Deer are not stupid and the human form is very distinctive in the animal kingdom - no other animal walks in quite the same way that we do so the deer will see you coming a mile off!
Good 3D camouflage clothing will help to break up your shape much better than standard military issue style clothes although this will of course help. Camouflage is also useful in that even if you are spotted by a deer they will hopefully not recognise you as human and will possibly even investigate to find out what exactly you are. I can't tell you how many times this has happened to me but its a lot! If you can't use camouflage (or don't want to) you can also wear drab or dark coloured clothing and keep yourself hidden as much as possible. Use available cover such as grass, trees, mounds, shadows and keep low. Try to avoid wearing blue as that is what colour deer see best! Deer can also see greens, yellows and UV light, but they can't differentiate colour shades to the extent that humans can.
-Tip 2- WATCH THAT WIND!
Deer have an amazing sense of smell and you will probably give away your presence from that more than anything else. I have observed deer smell the air and flee afterwards even though they never actually saw or heard me. Staying downwind isn't always practical so minimising non natural smells such as deodorant or freshly washed clothes will certainly help to avoid detection but in my experience if I am approaching with the wind behind my back the encounter is rarely a positive one, firstly for my photography but secondly and more importantly for the sake of the animal.
-Tip 3- STOP MAKING SO MUCH NOISE!
Okay so this one is a bit common sense but like their sense of smell, deer have very good hearing much better than our own and will move their ears and pinpoint your location. This is why following the two tips above can help swing the balance in your favour. If the deer cannot see you and cannot smell you then how will it know what you are? You could be a falling branch or a squirrel collecting nuts. It's not always possible to remain completely silent but do the best you can. If you have someone with you whisper and keep your noise down. A human voice to a deer is as scary as seeing you!
-Tip 4- WATCH WHERE YOU WALK!
This relates back to noise but there are a few things you can do to help minimise the sound you make. A good tip is to use the tracks the deer have been using. This serves a dual purpose because as creatures of habit not only can this help lead you straight to the deer themselves but usually the paths will be clear of debris such as leaves and twigs that could give you away and will usually be muddy and softer than the surrounding land which will make it a lot easier to remain silent. You can also use trees, rocks, grass, hills as a method of concealing yourself.
-Tip 5- TRAVEL LIGHT!
Depending on the area you are photographing in you may need to cover long distances on foot and no one likes lugging around huge heavy tripods and gimbal heads for the day as well as how much it makes you stand out! This is why I rarely use anything other than my Panasonic Lumix G9 and 100-400 telephoto lens and perhaps a small bag with some food and drink for the day. The longer you are out and the more comfortable you are the greater your chances of success!
Please be aware these tips are not exhaustive or definitive in any way. I could focus much more greatly on the topic but I feel if you follow these basic tips it will possibly give you the edge and enable you to get out there, have more success and give you breathing space to help refine your own techniques which can only come from getting out there and doing it! Most importantly have fun! I can't even begin to tell you how great a thrill it is to be sat watching a completely wild deer, undetected and unobtrusive to its environment - its a huge privilege and one you wont forget!