Staggered by a stag – the story behind THAT photo | Benvironment

Firstly, I want to point out that I don’t make a habit of analysing how people respond to what I post but in this case I’m happy to make an exception, because the response itself was exceptional. Last week I posted a photo of a typically Scottish scene – a loch, a snowy mountain and a majestic stag. When I took it I knew it was going to be popular but even I was taken aback by the response it got on social media. I was…..with no apology for the pun…..staggered! I posted it on all my ‘channels’ – Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram, and without exception on all four of those, it has become the most popular photo I’ve ever posted. And by some margin!  But why? Well, people like Scotland for starters, but especially highland Scotland and the romantic image it projects around the world. Whether or not that shortbread tin romanticism is truly representative of the modern nation we undoubtedly are is open to debate, but it’s undeniable that highland scenes stir an emotional response in people that many other landscapes fail to do. Overlooking for a moment that much of highland Scotland has been deforested, denuded, and what we now see is now far removed from the wooded uplands that developed after the last ice age……a scene of a loch and a glen has a timeless quality. It speaks of a landscape unchanged in millennia. Of a deep connection to the land. Add a stag and you get that primeval element, plonking nature and notions of the wild front & centre. Take the photo in winter and you get that beautiful low light, moody and austere, the snow-capped summits adding a sense of scale to what might otherwise be, on global terms at least, a relatively modest hill.  Time of day can be a factor too. This is that same view first thing in the morning. Would the pic have had the same impact if you plonked a stag on the ground, in blazing sunshine? Probably not. It looks a bit too friendly, a bit too warm and comfortable. And of course, there’s no human reference in the photo – no roads, pylons, wind turbines, buildings. It is wild. Wilderness. But I’ve taken plenty of photos that tick all those boxes, and none of them received as enthusiastic response as this one. To be honest I’m not sure why that’s the case, but for me personally there was something about the light the angle the stag was stood at, the gradient of the looming presence of Ben Stack towering high above the loch, and the way the stag is silhouetted against a white patch on the loch. I really liked it. Normally when I come back from a day out I don’t really know what photo I’ll post on my blog that evening. I’ll have a flick through the camera to see what might work well, what might be of interest to people. But on this occasion, as soon as I took it I knew that was the one to share. I’d been on a walk up Arkle, a scree-covered hill in Sutherland, and had got plenty of good snowy pics of lofty ridges and frigid whiteouts. The walk was the headline news that day and I fully expected to share a photo either from the top of that frozen mountain, or at the stunning mirror-like lochs nearby. How funny therefore, that when I was biking back to the car at the very end of the day, the best photo opportunity of the day should present itself. The nice folk at Scotland Outdoors shared my pic on Facebook and summed up many of the responses I got thereafter by adding: “Not a set up. Just right place, right time.” And that’s exactly it. It wasn’t planned, the stag wasn’t stalked, and I didn’t sit there for hours hoping that a deer would come trotting in front of me. It was just blind luck that while I was biking out, staring out at Ben Stack’s shapely ridges, a stag came into view. I quickly came to a stop, very slowly put my bike down so as not to alarm the stag, and then took a photo. I took it without much attention to composition as I was convinced the stag would belt. When it didn’t, I looked at the photo I’d just taken and realised that the stag was set against the dark side of the loch, and was barely visible. So I deleted that one, and then walked 20m or so to my left so that the stag was now highlighted against the light side of the loch. That’s this pic here: As you can see, its antlers are shown up nicely but its legs aren’t. It looks like it could be sitting down. So I walked very slowly towards the stag, slightly downhill so as to get a view of its legs too. That’s this photo: I was happy with it, but still wanted to get a better overall shape from the stag. Its front legs were still quite hidden and it would be good to get them free of the ground a bit more. But I was hesitant to get any closer for fear of scaring it off. I made do, but didn’t want the stag looking at me. I thought it would like more natural if it

Source: Staggered by a stag – the story behind THAT photo | Benvironment

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