It's possibly the sound that is most thrilling, the deep low, almost Jurassic moaning of the Red stags, the guttural barking of the Fallow bucks or the weird and eerie whistling of the male Sika deer cutting through the damp dawn is simply awesome. Then of course a pitched battle between Britain’s largest land mammals is quite something to behold too, all the raw, primal urges powering these well armed giants into a violent bout of pushing and shoving, antlers locking and crashing, it's real nature! And it is also a popular photographic subject so you should give it a go. Now, I know what you are thinking . . . the Scottish Highlands, in late September/October, stalking miles up the glens in search of timid and scaredy monarchs in the freezing rain for hours . . . well I’m not! No thanks, how about all the action, visible from a car just minutes from a warm, comfy tea room – that’s more like it!
Deer Parks are not common but very much part of the UK landscape so there is bound to be one relatively near to you. The British Deer Society website has all the details but here are a few; Ashton Court near Bristol, Richmond and Bushy Parks in London, Tatton, Chatsworth and Bradgate Parks in central England, Petworth and Knole in the south east, Woburn Abbey, Raby Castle also have herds as does Gosford Forest Park in Northern Ireland. Some are pretty manicured, all are enclosed but this doesn’t stop the hormones from kick starting the same behaviour as the wild animals display and the benefit is that these captive herds are used to people, cars, sometimes dogs and push-chairs so you can settle straight down to taking photos without any of the pain and palaver of stalking them. You will still need to get up early though because the peak of activity always occurs around first light. Sometimes the car can be a useful hide but you will be restricted to the roads so if the deer allow it roaming on foot will allow you to follow them about which can be necessary as Red Deer in particular move about quite a lot. Try to look to position yourself where you are shooting against a naturalistic background, no walls, fences, lorries, etc and remember to get down to the animals level, which in this case means kneeling.
This brings me to the season's gadget; tripods are great, often essential, but they are not quick to set up and adjust so invest in a monopod. These lightweight rods are ideal rests for your camera which save on arm ache and substantially steady your kit allowing you to use slower shutter speeds, a benefit in the murky autumn dawns.
One word of warning, animals that have no fear of man are the most dangerous of all, and male deer are well armed and at this time of year they are pumped up and very hot headed. Use common sense and judgement about just how close you get. Accidents are very rare but have happened.