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Animal Photography

Updated on May 07, 2010

Photographing native wild animals in their haunts is very much more difficult than, for instance, photographing birds at their nests. Birds have their eggs or young to form an irresistible bait, but animals as a rule keep their young well out of sight. And whereas most birds rely on their eyes and ears to warn them of the presence of the photographer, animals have keen noses which can often detect a watcher a hundred yards away.

Many of the very small creatures, like mice, voles, and shrews, remain hidden in the thick foliage that conceals their haunts. These are almost impossible to photograph in the wild state and must be captured and taken indoors.

Then again, many animals that do come out into the open do so only at night. These have to be photographed by flashlight.

There are, however, other animals that show themselves outside their lairs in daylight, particularly in the early morning and just before sunset. These may be photographed from a specially constructed hide erected down wind from the animals so that the photographer's scent is carried away.

Deer may pick up human scent at a hundred yards, so it is very difficult to get near enough to them to get a reasonable picture.

Photo by Benjamin Earwicker
Photo by Benjamin Earwicker

Bait

Foxes, badgers and rabbits can usually be induced to leave their lairs in daylight by tempting them with a suitable bait. This should be laid several days in advance near the entrance to the lair, and renewed regularly. At the same time as the first bait is laid, the hide should be set up so that the animals will become accustomed to it.

Foxes will come out of their holes for a bait of meat, or bread and milk; badgers like honey, jam or anything sweet; rabbits can be tempted with chopped parsley, and stoats and weasels will come out for fresh meat, particularly when they are feeding a litter.

The otter is a creature of regular habits, and it is possible to pick up his accustomed track and set the camera to cover it. Otters prefer to kill their food for themselves so they cannot be attracted by a bait, but as they show themselves on the bank and in the water by daylight, they can be photographed by waiting.

Equipment

The camera, tripod, and hide are similar to those used for bird photography. But because animals are more difficult to approach, the hide is generally farther away than for bird photography, and a long focus, or telephoto lens, should be used.

Photographs can, however, be made with a normal angle lens if the camera is concealed near the lair and operated by some form of remote control.

Remote Exposure Control

Some photographers prefer to use remote control shutter release for dealing with wild subjects. This technique dispenses with the hide and calls for only a small amount of camouflage for the camera and its support.

Once the camera has been set up and focused on the bait, nest, or the entrance to the lair, the photographer settles down some distance away to wait for the subject to make its appearance. If necessary he may use field glasses to tell him when the best picture offers itself. When that time comes, he simply fires the shutter by remote electrical or mechanical control.

The disadvantage of this method is that the photographer has to visit the camera after every exposure and also whenever changes in the light call for adjustment of the camera controls. Some cameras are designed to wind on the film and tension the shutter automatically after each exposure, but the noise of the camera mechanism is inclined to frighten the subjects, necessitating a waiting period, until they return to the scene. In a hide the photographer need not disburb the subject.

There are several ways of making the subject take its own photograph while the photographer is away. One method of automatic shutter release is to get the animal to complete an electric circuit either by standing on a particular spot, breaking a thread stretched across its path, or seizing a bait.

This technique is uncertain in its results because it carries no guarantee that the subject will be in a suitable pose when the shutter clicks. And, as with remote exposure, the camera must be visited after every exposure.

But automatic exposure coupled with flash is very useful for securing pictures of nocturnal creatures which could not in any case be observed from a hide. In this way many striking photographs have been taken of subjects ranging from big game at a water hole to a fox robbing a hen run. The photographer can always be sure of getting a correctly exposed negative with the standardized light of the flash, but the success of exposures in daylight photographs depends upon the state of the lighting when the shutter clicks.

The most successful method of getting flying birds, flying mammals and insects, such as bats and butterflies, to "take their own photographs" is to fix up an electric photo-ceJl trip in conjunction with electronic flash. This fires the flash and releases the shutter of the camera at the moment the subject passes through the pre-arranged beam. This cuts out the human element that makes hand release of the shutter so uncertain. Such electrical equipment should be used in the open with the greatest care under the advice of an experienced electrician, for the high voltages obtained can be fatal if carelessly used.

Animals in Captivity

Large animals in captivity have to be photographed in their existing surroundings.

The smaller mammals are easy to keep under control and photograph in a glass-sided box. This should measure about 18 ins. wide by 12 ins. high and 6 ins. deep from front to back. The front must be made of good polished plate glass to give an undistorted picture, but the top and sides may be of ordinary glass. Normally the back of the box is painted a neutral grey or brown and suitable scenery is built up in front of it. Sometimes the case has a glass back to it and the scenery is continued behind. However, because the camera is only a few feet away and the depth of field is small, the scenery behind the case is well out of focus.

If the camera is set up in front of the glass case, its reflection is almost certain to appear in the finished photograph. The best method is to set the camera slightly higher than the case and pointing down on it. A sheet of dull olack paper is then fixed to the tripod, opposite the glass front and reaching up to the bottom of the lens. If the size or distance of the animal permits, an alternative way of avoiding reflections is to bring the lens against the glass.

Any form of visual focusing camera may be used for this type of subject, even an ordinary hand camera, so long as its focusing scale extends down to 4 feet. 35 mm. miniature camera users will find a lens of about 90 mm. very convenient at 4 feet from the subject.

This small studio set-up may be used out doors in a good diffused light, but never in direct sunlight. Indoors, it should be stood on a table close to a north window with a flood-light of about 500 watts to light up the shadow side, fixed about 2 feet above the level of the camera.

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    • mulberry1 profile image

      mulberry1 6 years ago

      This is great, useful advice for taking photos of animals. It's not something I've even attempted before, but it sounds like an interesting challenge. I'm writing an article right now on Best Reviewer about nature photography tips and I'm going to include (link to) your hub within that write up.

    • Destrier profile image
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      Destrier 6 years ago from Rural Australia

      Thank you Mulberry :)

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