Fallow Deer and Scots Pine tree at dusk, New Forest, England

pic Photographed using a Nikon FE2 camera with Nikkor 80-200mm zoom lens mounted on a Benbo tripod at ground-level; taken at 1/8th second at f4 on Fujichrome Velvia film rated at ISO 50 and processed normally; no filters used.

Dusk light about one hour after sunset, February.

New Forest, Hampshire, England.
This image was Runner-Up in the 'From Dusk to Dawn' Category of the prestigious international Competition BG/BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year 1994.

The story behind the picture....

"The New Forest, a wonderful area of mixed woodlands, heathlands and bogs, is only a 20-minute drive from where I live and I frequently visit this particular part of the Forest where Fallow Deer are often to be found grazing out on an open plain in the evening. At certain times of the year, the sun sets in just the right place and can be aligned with particular trees such as this beautiful Scots Pine.

"On this occasion, a lovely clear and sunny day in mid-February, not only were many deer out grazing but the wind direction was just right, being from the west (that is, from the direction of the setting sun). Arriving about an hour and a half before sunset I carefully approached the pine tree and grazing deer from well downwind and moved into position, eventually secreting myself amongst bracken about 60 metres away from the pine tree and grazing deer.

"There were about 30-40 Fallow Deer, right on the skyline next to the tree, as the sun finally began sinking to the horizon, rapidly losing its intensity. The position was perfect and as I lay in the bracken I looked forward to getting some great shots, especially of the bucks with full antlers. Just then, I heard dogs barking away to the left. At that, every deer lifted its head in alert and then they all bolted away beyond the horizon. The dogs were being walked by their owners who, of course, were oblivious to what they had done.

"Cursing this bad luck, I remained where I was and watched the sun as it sank below the skyline, taking a few consolatory pictures. I didn't expect to see the deer again but I decided to wait a little longer and at least take some shots of the pine tree against the developing dusk colours. About half an hour after sunset, the dusk colours seemed to be at their best and, as the temperature was beginning to plummet, I set about taking photographs.

"Suddenly, through the camera viewfinder, I noticed a little head appear at the skyline, then another... and another, and I realised that some of the deer were slowly returning. Resuming a prone position I began composing some pictures but, to my great frustration, most of the deer were not quite on the skyline and so looked like short-legged deer! By this time, about an hour after sunset, the glorious dusk colours were past their peak and beginning to fade. Also, the temperature was falling dramatically to just a few degrees above freezing and, having lain motionless in the bracken for over two hours, I began to feel really cold, even with thermal underwear and an extra jumper! Soon I was shivering, and this combined with the slow shutter speeds that I now had to use, had me reaching for a cable release for the camera.

"I had a few pictures in the can but nothing special (except some stumpy-legged deer!), I was shivering and very cold, the dusk colours were fading, I was losing shutter speed, when finally a group of Fallow Deer does 'arranged' themselves on the skyline with the potential for a good composition. All my shivering stopped and I no longer felt the cold, intent on the photograph. Unfortunately, the deer were all so busy grazing that they just looked like a group of cows! Looking through the viewfinder I noticed that the light was fading fast and I was down to just 1/8th second shutter speed. In sheer frustration and desperation I mentally shouted out "For God's sake will one of you put your head up!" when suddenly one did! Without hesitation I pressed the shutter release.

"In what seemed like the space of one second, the image was captured, the deer put its head down again, the dusk colours seemed to suddenly fade away completely - and I began to shiver again. With no further photography possible (or desirable!), I gradually began to pack away my equipment, noticing that my camera film-counter registered 35! I fired off what turned out to be the last two frames and rewound the film.

"I now felt colder than I ever have in my life, shivering almost uncontrollably. Looking forward to the warming effect of walking the two-miles back to the car, I took up my pack and tripod and set off. Walking past the pine tree I could see the ghostly shapes of the deer in the half-light. Now that they felt at an advantage they permitted me to walk past them just 20 metres away, watching me keenly but without fear, seemingly knowing that now they could see me far better than I could see them. I thanked them and bid them goodnight - until the next time."

Geoff Doré

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