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I currently live in suburbia and there's a large field behind my house. Since yesterday I've noticed 3-4 deer grazing there. I've approached them three times at varying times of day and haven't been able to get closer than 15-20 feet. The only zoom lens I have is Sony's E 55-210mm F4.5-6.3 OSS. I haven't yet successfully used it to reach my goal of a sharp picture with a deer as the subject. This is the closest I've gotten with f/8, iso 100, and 1/125":

enter image description here (raw file: https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B7ZsyhVjBC94QTM2R0FfeS1rRk0) I'd rather the deer be a bit larger in the frame. Also, because I had to zoom in all the way to get the deer to appear this close, it turned out low-resolution.

An article I found elsewhere recommends picking at the stuff they're grazing on to make them more comfortable, but when I tried this I found that it either scares them or doesn't seem to do much of anything. Equally unuseful (and probably peculiar to onlookers) is squat-walking toward them in a broad zigzag pattern. Could it just be that I'm not patient enough? I've spent what felt like ten minutes slowly inching up to them, and they still either naturally wander off or hop and run away whenever I get within about 20 feet.

My neighbor's allegedly been able to see them drinking out of his bird feeder from inside his house. They've likewise seemed pretty calm when I've peered at them from behind my fence, but the most recent time I climbed over it to get closer they grew scared and bolted. Simply investing in a better lens isn't an option; I need to know how to get closer.

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    Unrelated to the question, but whatever you decide to do, be careful. This looks like a whitetail fawn. Fawns usually lose their spots between 3 and 4 months after birth and stay with their mother for 5-6 months. This means that a protective mother doe may be nearby waiting to give you a hoof to the chin if you get much closer. – That1Guy Jul 31 '17 at 18:23
  • You might get better answers on The Great Outdoors. – feetwet Aug 4 '17 at 3:01
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    Carefully. They're touchy about signing releases. – Caleb Sep 18 '17 at 17:03
  • The entire premise of the question is flawed. You do not approach deer without scaring them away. You put yourself in their habitat in camouflage very still and unscented or ln a blind and you wait for them to come closer to you. Scouting is the key to find out where they gather and or feed to determine the best place to place yourself. – Alaska man Nov 10 '18 at 9:23

11 Answers 11

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The only ethical ways to get closer is to either use a lens with a longer focal length ("more reach"), or to view them in captivity, such as in a zoo.

Trying to get closer to wildlife will only stress them (which you have observed their reaction — to run away).

Without stalking the deer, you can use the approach favored by hunters: be in places they are likely to be before they're there, and wait. Usually that means sitting in wooded and grass/wooded border areas, starting an hour or so before sunrise, and applying lots of patience. Move slowly, stay quiet, and enjoy the time with nature.

Baiting and feeding, even if not directly intentionally "baiting" them (such as your neighbor's bird feeder) is training the wrong behavior into wildlife. While docile animals such as deer don't present much direct danger to humans, the exact same inadvertent feeding behavior also attracts larger animals such as elk, moose, and bears (if they are indigenous to your area). All of those animals can be dangerous to humans, and at best require relocation once they become accustomed to human-provided food sources. At worst, they have to be put down (conservationists use the phrase, "a fed bear is a dead bear").

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    In some parts of the US, deer are often considered closer to pests than a strongly protected resource. Practically speaking, the bright line for deer can tend to be hunting rather than scaring. By hunting I mean out of season. The game warden is more likely to crack a joke when someone spooks a deer taking photographs than write a citation. People spend all year putting corn bait down in front of the blind they plan to use come November because Bambi is mostly just venison. – user50888 Jul 31 '17 at 4:48
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    @benrudgers - The point about "training the wrong behaviors into wildlife" still applies, whether "pest" or "strongly protected resource"... – junkyardsparkle Jul 31 '17 at 6:10
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    Hah, some people might disagree that viewing them in a zoo is ethical! Anyway, besides laws regarding baiting deer for purpose of hunting, it is indeed probably inadvisable to bait deer in a suburban environment, where there are few hunters or proper predators but many automobiles and dogs. – can-ned_food Jul 31 '17 at 13:34
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    @can-ned_food Nice catch. I suppose my statement was from a moral relativism standpoint, that is, assuming the zoo already existed, or perhaps assuming the zoo (or preserve, etc.) houses already compromised / socialized animals, then it's more ethical than approaching wild animals. – scottbb Jul 31 '17 at 14:16
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    For what it's worth, "docile" deer can mess you up badly. Yes, their flight instinct normally prevails, but you do not want to be on the receiving end if it chooses to fight instead, or if it feels like it is cornered and cannot flee. – GalacticCowboy Jul 31 '17 at 16:40
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Short version : you need more shutter speed. Crank up ISO, use widest aperture and trade both for shutter speed.

they still either naturally wander off or hop and run away whenever I get within about 20 feet

Well I'd consider 20 feet good enough. Actually pretty good. And if you spook them, even a young deer is a pretty big animal if it decides to run at you, rather than away.

The only zoom lens I have is Sony's E 55-210mm F4.5-6.3 OSS. I haven't yet successfully used it to reach my goal of a sharp picture with a deer as the subject. This is the closest I've gotten with f/8, iso 100, and 1/125

The lack of sharpness is not an issue with how close your are, it's that this image (and presumably others) have visible shake. I checked your RAW file in RawTherapee.

So I'd suggest the issue here is shutter speed.

Yes, I know the lens has image stabilization, but it's either not working or not good enough (EXIF data does confirm it was "on"), or you're pixel peeping, which I suspect is the real issue.

That shot was at 200mm and on an APS-C the rule of thumb to avoid shake would be a shutter speed of the inverse of 1.5 times the focal length.

That's about 1/300th, not the 1/125th you have.

But note that that rule of thumb relates to an 8x10 print. The modern tendency to zoom in to the max on screen means you need a much higher shutter speed to get what you want. You can think of it like this : doing that zoom in on screen means you're effectively at a much higher focal length.

So all that image stabilization is being soaked up by wanting pixel level sharpness, and that's why you need more shutter speed even with image stabilization.

I'd suggest cranking up ISO to 400 or 800 so you can get a shutter speed of 1/500th or 1/1000th.

Also crank open aperture to the max. f8 isn't any benefit to you here, but the extra light will get you more shutter speed and/or lower ISO. It's won't make any difference to resolution on that lens.

You might also consider using a monopod or tripod (really tricky in this scenario I know) to gain stability. Practice you shooting technique as well - this will get you better shots generally. Do not rely on image stabilization.

Now your lens may not be an ultra sharp pro lens, but it's perfectly capable of getting a good shot. Don't blame the lens.

  • I'm not sure I see much shake, to be honest. Maybe a bit, but that Sony lens isn't very sharp at all, especially when zoomed to 210mm. A lot of the softness is halo and lens related. At 210mm that lens is materially sharper at f/8 than at f/6.3 - not sure it's worth 2/3 of a stop to open up to max, to be honest. From the same spot, in the same light, with the same camera and lens, I don't think you'd get a terribly better shot with whatever settings. Soft lenses are soft - you can shoot all day with them and they won't get any better. – J... Jul 31 '17 at 11:17
  • The lens can deliver better shots if the technique is better. If you examine the RAW file you will see shake. Photozone.de tested the 55-210 and while it hardly has the best resolution at 210mm, it's not been used to full effect in the OP's example. Photozone.de tests show it has about the same resolution at f6.3 as f8. I also searched for images takes at f8 on Flickr with this lens and it's capable of better than the OP is getting. I think that technique is the way forward here. The OP is using RAW, which is good as Sony's in-camera JPEGs do horrendous things to images. – StephenG Jul 31 '17 at 11:45
  • I can see the defects in the image plainly - I don't doubt that there is shake, but the shake isn't the worst of the problems with the image. Most obviously the subject is actually out of focus (the grass in the foreground seems to be sharper). In any case, we clearly have a different definition of "about the same resolution". It's better at f/8. I'm not sure you looked at the right charts in that review. Anyway, the problems with this image are more to do with composition and lighting than they are technical. The shot is mostly OK, technically. The lens can do better, but not much. – J... Jul 31 '17 at 11:57
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As other people have noted, a longer lens helps...throwing money at photography problems often does. But in the end, a longer better lens will only provide different photos and there will always be photos you want that you can't get...at least directly. If the goal is to fill more of the frame with the subject cropping is always an option:

enter image description here

Shooting with higher shutter speeds will reduce motion blur and potentially increase crispness by freezing motion. With a subject tens of yards away, an aperture wider than f8 will probably provide adequate depth of field at 200mm. An ISO higher a couple of stops higher than 100 will probably not introduce unacceptable noise. Picking up two or three stops of shutter speed is probably worth the tradeoff when shooting wildlife because it increases the odds of getting an acceptable shot and producing better results when cropped.

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Using a hide or a ghillie suit is probably another option, but may not be the kind of trouble you plan to go to. And yes, ten minutes is far too impatient. And quite honestly, you'd be better off, safer, and would put less stress on the animals by simply using a longer lens--even a 70-300mm lens would give you more of a fighting chance. Or cropping. Fieldcraft is not something everyone can learn or do well. And we all know that guy.

Hours (or even days) is not uncommon for the really dedicated wildlife photographers. Go watch a behind-the-scenes episode of Planet Earth II sometime, and get to the bit where the photographer mentions living in a hide for over 100 hours to get one shot. Do the math.

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I often photograph wild deer in our Royal Parks in the UK, the trick is keep your distance, much better to have a good photograph of a deer at distance than one close up where you may be on the receiving end of the antlers or interfere with their natural behaviour. Try to buy the best lens you can afford and then crop the photograph down, I use a 200-600mm lens which allows me to take photos from about 75 metres away and then crop if needed and get pretty good results. enter image description here

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Keep in mind that you can rent better lenses for not very much money. (For example, at the time of this writing, rentlenses.com has the Canon EF 100-400 f/4.5-5.6L for $100 for 7 days.) You may be able to find local places that will rent for fewer days for less money. And if you have any friends who are photographers, perhaps you could borrow a longer lens? If not, check out local meet-ups or photography groups. There may be people willing to lend you stuff if you do the same in return.

If you know the deer graze in a certain area at certain times of the day, you could rent or borrow a 300, 400, or 600mm lens for a day and go out to that spot when the time is right. I've had good luck capturing deer with a 300mm lens from 100ft. (30m) away.

Another thing you can do is go to where deer are less afraid of humans. I was in Springfield Utah, just outside the entrance to Zion Nation Park last month, and a deer walked right up to me and sniffed my bag of Mexican take-out. He had no fear of humans at all, and I didn't do anything to attract him. I was just walking down the street and he was there. Keep in mind, though, that deer are very powerful and can hurt you, and that they may also carry parasites like fleas and ticks. So use extreme caution when approaching them or approached by them. (In my case, I set the food down and backed up several feet.)

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If you can persuade them (with food?) to come closer to a window or glass door of your house, they often will not notice you through the glass if you move slowly. I used to work at a place where the deer were often just a few feet away from a window and was able to snap some pretty close pictures (only a cell phone at the time).

enter image description here enter image description here

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One option that wasn't mentioned here (albeit a risky one) is to leave the camera in the field with a remote (wireless) trigger, or wired if you have one long enough. Perhaps leave a large pile of "bait" in a particular area so you know where to point the lens, then wait for the deer to pass by, hopefully within the appropriate "zone" to get a good shot.

If you can get as close as 15 feet, I'd say you should be able to get a wireless trigger work at that range, depending on the hardware.

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    Legal caution: the legality of baiting is very jurisdiction dependent, and often situational. Some jurisdictions distinguish between baiting for hunting and for trail cams, and oddly enough, sometimes hunting baiting is legal when trail cam baiting is not. And when it baiting is legal, it is often season-dependent. – scottbb Jul 31 '17 at 19:29
  • I was using the term "baiting" loosely... should have elaborated. Something more like "Near that big tall grass", or any other area where they would seem likely to congregate for feeding. Good point though... – Tim S. Jul 31 '17 at 19:54
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If you can try approaching nude. Clothing carries perfume and other smells from laundry detergent and stand out to their vision. I forum talked about it many years ago: http://www.nudist-resorts.org/talk/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=2527

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My experience with wild deer is limited to the ones that walk around the UCSC campus, which are much less wild than average (they tend to cross at marked crosswalks, and I've heard tales of students literally bumping into them at night and the deer just looking at them as if to say, "Are you blind or something?"), so take this with a grain of salt.

Depending on how comfortable the deer are around people, there's a halfway decent chance that you could walk right up to one if you do it correctly. However, I think that climbing a fence would startle just about anything, including domesticated animals. Better to go around.

What has worked for me (again, with borderline domesticated deer) is:

  • Walk in their general direction at a slant, not directly towards them.
  • Pay as little attention to them as possible when I'm not shooting.
  • Talk to myself a bit so that the animals know that I'm not trying to be stealthy.
  • Walk at a typical deer walking speed (neither a slow, stalking speed nor a fast, chasing speed).

With that approach, I've gotten within probably five feet or so before even the youngest, most twitchy deer even bother to look up, and even they tend to go right back to eating. Again, though, the deer I'm used to seeing are very used to people, so your mileage may vary considerably. It probably also helps that there's not much hunting around here.

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I would have thought 15' with a 210mm lens was more than adequate; in fact I would expect to have to zoom out a little. I also don't understand when you say that to zoom all the way in results in a low resolution shot Focal length shouldn't make the slightest difference to the resolution. However using the lens a full zoom at 125th of a second is a BIG no-no unless your camera is on a tripod. Handheld your speed needs to be the same as the focal length of your lens or better to avoid camera shake; i.e if you are shooting at 210mm, then your speed need to be at least 250th of a second.

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