Red Deer Sunrise Silhouette


This is one of my favorite images I have taken of a Red Deer at Woburn Deer Park. The deer park is within the walls of the Woburn Abbey estate. The park set in 3000 acres with a seven mile wall surrounding the deer park.  There are 9 species of deer in the park, ranging from the iconic Red deer, fallow and Sika deer to Pere David’s and Rusa deer.

Woburn Deer Park is only a 15 minute drive from my home and it’s somewhere I visit very often.  I find visiting a location several times and exploring the area is the best way to learn the geographical layout, how the light changes throughout the day and how the sunrise and sunsets differ with the time of year.  The deer are as near to wild animals as they can be, the like different areas of the park during different times of the day and year.  

Sunrise is probably the best time of day to visit the deer park, especially during the winter months when the sun rises between gaps in the tree line.   Before you visit you have to do a little research on what time the sunrise is and where the sun will rise.   I personally use the twilight calculator by JeKoPhoto, I find the additional golden hour and blue hour information very helpful.   The map shows the angle of the sunrise which can be helpful when trying to work out the best time of year to visit. 

This particular morning twilight started at 07:23 with sunrise at 08:02, so an early start was needed to arrive with time get into position and set up before the sun rose.  It was quite a cold morning (about -5⁰C) with a hard frost on the ground and very few clouds in the sky.   Rather than walk about trying to find the deer I visit the areas of the park that give the best opportunity of getting the best photo I can get.  Large numbers of Red deer usually gather in the north east area of the park with the sun rising behind them.  

Public access is only allowed on the public footpaths that cross the estate.  Due to the huge size of the deer park the deer can behind the trees in areas you can’t get to.  During these times it’s a case of quietly waiting, enjoying the views and hoping the deer will come closer.  At this point I was glad of having several layers of warm clothing, gloves and a hat.



The usual noise of the wolves and lions waking up in the nearby safari park was broken by the sound of a quad bike engine, and the deer started to slowly walk towards us. The estate rangers bring feed out for the deer at about the same time each morning, and the deer know the sound of the engine means the feed it on its way.

Luckily the deer slowly started to move into range as the sun started to rise. I had already framed the sun rise between the trees, all I needed to do was to wait until a deer walked into frame, turn and look up at me. The image was taken at 08:24 with the sun still low in the sky, giving those golden colours we all strive for at sunrise. The original image was taken in a landscape orientation which I later cropped to portrait to isolate the single Red Deer stag in the centre of the frame.






The great golden light was slowly disappearing and I looked around for any more deer. I spotted another Red Deer stag on the brow of the hill with a golden sky behind it. I slowly and quietly moved into position.







The sun was slowly burning the low mist on the hills beyond the deer park. The golden light had now all but disappeared. To my left a Red Deer had slowly made its way towards me whilst it was eating the feed on the ground. The deer moved into a small patch of side-lit sunlight, giving the deer’s brown hair a nice golden glow.





By now the sun had risen higher in the sky, and the soft diffused light had now disappeared. I find the first 2 hours of the morning give the best light so I decided it was time to pack and leave the deer alone. The afternoon can give nice soft front lighting especially as it sets. In the north east of the park the sun disappears behind the hill before it has fully set so you lose the light slightly early than actual sunset time.

Being able to visit a location regularly does give you more of a chance to visit when the conditions are just right, allowing you to get the perfect photo. Woburn deer park does not only have deer, rabbits and grey squirrels can be seen throughout the park. If you are lucky you may see one of the resident black squirrels or a visiting Red Kite looking for meat scraps in the safari park enclosures.