Wildlife photographer Paul Hobson shows three AP readers how to photograph small British mammals up close using a macro lens. Oliver Atwell picks up some tips

Photo by David Morton

Producing strong images of small British mammals in the wild can be tricky. Some photographers would even go so far as to say that, with certain species, it’s almost impossible. That’s why Paul Hobson took three readers to the Westcountry Wildlife Photography Centre in Lifton, Devon. The centre provides an opportunity to photograph a range of captive mammals, such as brown rats, otters and voles. Importantly, the site offers the opportunity to photograph these small mammals in constructed sets, allowing for shots that, in the wild, would be a time-consuming and headache-inducing endeavour.

Paul explains that producing strong images of small mammals can be difficult because they are seldom seen in their natural environment.

‘These animals can be difficult to track down because they are so small and secretive,’ says Paul. ‘Unlike photographing humans, animals can be frustrating to work with as they don’t follow verbal commands. They’re incredibly active, so the photographer has to be able to call upon his or her skills and work quickly to maximise the opportunities as they occur. Specific sets will allow us to explore the basics of creating good images and to consider different approaches. There will also be an opportunity to look at some of the larger animals they have here, such as the European beaver and wild boar, and we’ll see that the same rules apply.

‘Strong mammal portraits produce powerful images that are always in demand,’ Paul continues. ‘Working at the Westcountry Wildlife Photography Centre gives us an excellent opportunity to practise techniques that will increase the ability to capture successful wildlife images.’

Each AP reader was asked to bring along their own cameras, lenses and tripods. Paul asked the readers to bring a lens that allowed close focusing, such as a macro or a lens with a macro feature. Alternatively, they could bring a mid-sized lens such as a 200-300mm with extension tubes.

Paul is passionate about wildlife photography and feels strongly that British wildlife is a subject that is being sorely neglected in contemporary photography.

‘From a conservation point of view, I think there’s a danger that we’ve become transfixed by big foreign animals,’ says Paul. ‘So many British wildlife photographers seem to have lost touch with their immediate environment. They’re zooming all over the world just to capture the same few images of the same tigers and zebras. But that neglects the kind of wildlife that could easily be found in their back garden. There’s no reason that creatures such as bank voles and harvest mice can’t be interesting.’

Westfield Wildlife Photography Centre

  • Location
    Westcountry Wildlife Photography Centre, Upcott Grange Farm, Broadwoodwidger, Lifton, Devon PL16 0JS. Tel: 01409 211 578. Website: www.wcwpc.co.uk. Email: derekjgow@aol.com. The facility has a wide range of established indoor and outdoor sets in place that house various species. All sets are fully enclosed with specially designed portals to allow unimpeded vision of the animals inside. They are planted to mimic a range of natural habitats with fully mature vegetation, rocks, logs and established landscaping. The centre can be reached by following the A388 and coming off towards Virginstow or by following the A30 and coming off towards Cross Green.
  • Admission charges
    Day rates: Minimum of four individuals with animal handler and photographer £179. Weekend group photography courses: Arrive Friday and depart Sunday night with accommodation, breakfast and a packed lunch included, and animal handler and photographer in attendance (minimum of four individuals) £330. All bookings must clarify which species you wish to photograph in advance.

Your AP Master…

Paul Hobson
Paul studied environmental science at Sheffield University and has worked as an environmental sciences lecturer for 25 years. With more than 20 years’ photography experience behind him, Paul was specially commended in the 2008 Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition and two of his images were exhibition finalists in the British Wildlife Photography Awards 2009. Paul regularly lectures on wildlife photography and also runs workshops. Visit www.paulhobson.co.uk

The AP readers

David Morton
David is from Somerset and is a sales person for an outdoor clothing brand. His photographic interests include portraiture, mountain photography, wildlife and landscapes. He uses a Nikon D700 with 180mm macro lens. ‘To be able to photograph these small mammals in these sets has been fantastic,’ says David. ‘It’s hard work trying to photograph small animals in the wild, but it’s a great set-up here.’

Pam Sherron
Pam is from Devon. She is retired and uses a Canon EOS 500D and Tamron 80-270mm lens to shoot wildlife. It has been a really enjoyable day,’ says Pam. ‘It’s a great photographic opportunity. I learned how important it can be to get the background out of focus to accentuate your subject.

Di Wilkins
Di is retired and lives in Devon. She has a love of shooting macro photography and uses a Canon EOS 5D Mark II with 100-400mm and 100mm macro lenses. ‘The location is brilliant,’ says Di. ‘I’ve learned a lot from Paul, not only about photography but also about the animals. It’s made me realise how at risk our small mammals are. Photography days like this can help to raise awareness.’

Would you like to take part?

Every month we invite three to five AP readers to join one of our experts on an assignment over the course of a day. The experts are Paul Hobson (wildlife), Tom Mackie (landscapes) and Cathal McNaughton (street photography). Paul next workshops will be in July and October and Cathal will be holding sessions in June and September, and Tom in May August and November.

If you would like to take part, visit www.amateurphotographer.co.uk/masterclass for details of how to apply. Please remember to state which Masterclass you would like to attend and make sure you include your name, address, email address, daytime telephone number and two or three examples of your work in your application. Each participant will be able to use his or her own camera, lenses and other equipment

  1. 1. Would you like to take part?
  2. 2. Page 2
  3. 3. The Background
  4. 4. Framing and Composition
  5. 5. Using natural light, fill-flash
  6. 6. Page 6
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