05.08.16: Eye contact

Deer with new antlers covered with velvet looks at camera, Prairie Oaks Metro Park, West Jefferson, Ohio.


Technical information

May 24, 2009,
10:02 a.m.

39°59’21” N,
83°14'58" W
(Show in Google Maps)

Canon EOS 40D

Canon EF 600mm f/4L, Canon 1.4x teleconverter (840mm)


1/400th second


This looks like a posed portrait of a deer with its gaze focused directly on the camera. Its smile needs a bit of work and, because I don’t do portraits, I didn’t think to remove that fly resting between the eyes before I grabbed the shot. 

This is a deer I encountered in a field west of Columbus, Ohio. It was curious about what I was doing and kept its eyes on me for a couple of minutes before bounding off into the woods.

Capturing a photo of a deer is a happy accident for me. 

I don’t set out to photograph deer when I’m on my wildlife photo-hikes. I’m looking for small birds. I have a very long telephoto lens on the camera to bring those birds up close.

But I do encounter enough deer to have a somewhat sizable collection of photos.

Most of my deer encounters follow the same pattern: The deer spots me, assumes its alert posture, stares at me to determine if I’m a threat, then walks (or runs, depending on the perceived threat level) out of sight.

So I have to be quick to get the photo.

I have had some less-cordial encounters, though. The deer, usually a male but occasionally a female with fawns nearby, shows threatening behavior - stomping a forefoot, shaking its head somewhat violently and occasionally taking a step or two in my direction. I slowly back away when that happens.

One memorable less-than-cordial encounter happened on a trail through the woods in a local park. I saw four or five female deer to the right of the trail and stopped to get some photos before they left.

But they didn’t leave. Instead, they all looked right at me.

As I was grabbing some photos, I realized the deer weren’t looking at me. They were looking past me.

A glance over my shoulder explained why. A large male, with a large rack of antlers, had stepped from behind a fallen tree that had blocked my view. He was about 10 yards away and wasn’t pleased that I was between him and the others. He made a loud snorting sound, reared up on his hind legs and stomped both forefeet, then shook his head in a threatening manner.

I moved about 20 yards up the trail, keeping my eye on the deer at all times. He immediately crossed the trail, rejoining the others, and they moved deeper into the woods.

Each week I will post a photo from my collection with an explanation of how I got the shot. Previous photos of the week are in the archives.