Readers join wildlife photographer Luke Massey at the UK Wolf Conservation Trust

Photo by Luke Massey

Three AP readers join wildlife photographer Luke Massey at

the UK Wolf Conservation Trust’s centre in leafy Berkshire to learn the secrets

of capturing these beautiful, enigmatic and oft-misunderstood creatures. Gill

Mullins reports

British wolves were hunted to extinction in the 1760s after

centuries of persecution, their reputations unfairly tarnished with myths of

savagery and man eating. The last wolf on these islands may have died hundreds

of years ago, yet their sharp intelligence, sheer physical strength and beauty

still fascinate us. And, of course, their presence is woven inextricably into

folklore and fairy tales.

It was to dispel such myths and support wolf conservation

throughout the world that the UK Wolf Conservation Trust was established by the

late Roger Palmer and his wife Tsa in 1995, after many years spent keeping

wolves privately. Today, the 50-acre site in Beenham, Berkshire, is home to eight

North American and European wolves, and three young Arctic wolves.

It’s a first for Masterclass leader Luke Massey, too, as he

has not yet managed to capture wolves in the wild. ‘The closest I got was on a

trip to photograph eagles in Estonia, when I was told of a good place to spot

wolves, but I only found their tracks,’ he recalls. ‘They’re really clever and

their senses of smell and hearing are so acute that they’ll know you’re there

and will do everything in their power to evade you.’ Therefore, Luke says,

captive wolves are by far the best bet for decent photo opportunities. ‘They’re

right in front of you and, as they’re used to humans, you’ll see their natural


Massey suggests shooting both documentary-style pictures –

the wolves being fed and interacting with their keepers, shots that include

enclosure fencing and signage to show they are captive – as well as

‘wild-looking’ images. A close-up of the wolf’s eye with the wire fencing

visible but defocused in the foreground would be a perfect documentary shot,

and behaviour such as howling is always good to capture, he explains.

Wrapped up against the chill November air, we leave the

warmth of the on-site café to enjoy our encounter. The wolves have been

hand-reared, making them especially sociable and accepting of people, including

(thank goodness) photographers

Your AP Expert…

Luke Massey
Luke Massey’s childhood obsession with wildlife has

developed into a career as a wildlife photographer and cameraman. His passion

to show people the natural world and the problems nature faces has driven him

forward in his work. Luke has recently been part of the 2020Vision project and

has worked for the world-renowned BBC Natural History Unit. He is available for

talks around the country and is starting to run workshops in the UK and abroad.

To see more of his images, visit

The AP Readers…

Emily Kearns
Emily is an all-round photographer, trying her hand at many

genres, including portraiture and wildlife. She shoots using a Nikon D90 with

17-50mm and 55-200mm lenses. ‘It was a great day and a lot of fun,’ she says.

Michael Kiely
Michael enjoys all forms of photography, but has a

particular passion for wildlife subjects. He shoots using a Canon EOS 60D with

a 70-200mm lens. ‘Luke is a clear and patient teacher,’ he says. ‘It was a very

informative experience.’

Tony Mearman
Tony is the chairman of Wokingham & East Berkshire

Camera Club. He uses a Canon EOS 7D with 15-85mm, 70-200mm and 100-400mm

lenses. ‘I enjoyed the day so much and received a lot of helpful tips,’ he


UK Wolf Conservation Trust

  • Location UK Wolf Centre, Butlers Farm, Beenham, Reading, Berkshire RG7 5NT Tel: 0118 971 3330. Website:
  • Aim of the Trust – The Trust works for the protection and conservation of wild

    wolves and their habitats, with a strong emphasis on education, awareness and

    fundraising for wolf-conservation projects around the world
  • How to visit – Visits are for members only and by appointment, with the

    exception of three annual open days, plus wolf ‘encounter experiences’ and

    autumn/winter photographic days, when the itinerary includes a two-hour ‘wolf

    walk’ through the beautiful Berkshire countryside with some of the Trust’s

    ‘ambassador’ wolves and their keepers, plus the opportunity to photograph all

    the wolves in the centre. On any type of visit, dogs are not allowed, and

    neither are umbrellas, tripods/monopods (which frighten the wolves) or fur or

    fur-trimmed clothing, real or fake
  • Admission charges – Photographic days are £100 per person, Arctic wolf

    encounters are £120, and membership of the Trust costs £100 per year

Would you like to take part?

Every month we invite three to five AP readers to join one of our

four experts on a free assignment over the course of a day. If you

would like to take part please email for more details. Please include your name, address,

email address, daytime telephone number, some words about your work and

three or four of your images.

Photo by Tony Mearman – This image show how spending time studying your subjects will
allow you to previsualise your images and capture moments that could otherwise be los

Understanding Behaviour

Whether you’re a professional or an amateur, one of the most

important things you can do before any animal shoot is your research. ‘It helps

you understand different behaviours, so you can anticipate what the animals are

going to do and therefore you don’t miss the action,’ says Massey. When one

wolf howls, for example, it won’t be too long before they’re all joining in, so

a first distant howl is your cue to frame your shot.

Massey also strongly recommends taking time to observe your

subjects and their surroundings before you even train your lens on them. ‘It’s

what I always do,’ he says, ‘and it’s so important when it’s new to you.

Captive animals have a real routine, and expected behaviours you can start to

recognise. Taking in your surroundings is very important, too, as it gives you

the chance to scope out what shots you want. There is a hill in the Beenham

pack’s enclosure opposite the viewing platform, which gives us the opportunity

to shoot at the animals’ level with no fences to get in the way and with a good

background of trees.

‘Also, if you were tracking a wolf through your lens for a

naturalistic shot and it suddenly moved against a fence background, you’d be

stuck. However, if you’ve already done a recce and have an idea of the

backgrounds, you’d know when the last point would come at which you could get a

good picture. So take stock – otherwise you’re just taking snaps.’


Photo by Michael Kiely – As the eyes are the focal point, they must be pin-sharp. Michael’s
shot is a great example of how to get it right

Framing and Composition

With wildlife imagery, the general principle is to shoot

from the animal’s eye level. This gives you access to their world and creates a

more intimate feel. Wolves have amazingly emotive eyes, so a close-up portrait

will make a compelling picture – in any case, eyes will be a natural point of

focus, and must be as sharp as possible for the best results. If you can get

the nose in focus, too, even better. Given a wolf’s long face and powerful

jaws, portrait format works well for close-ups.

Photo by Emily Kearns – They eyes are in focus in Kemily’s images, producing a strong, emotive photograph

One trick that succeeds on the day is to hold the wolves’

lunch – pieces of raw chicken – high against the fence so they have to stand on

their hind legs to reach it, giving us the perfect opportunity to photograph

them face-to-face. It must be said, these hand-reared animals take the meat so

carefully, almost gracefully, from their keeper’s hands.

Photo by Gill Mullins – While the wolf’s profile is strong, the shot is lost as the eyes are not in focus

‘Compose your shot according to the Rule of Thirds by

imagining a noughts-and-crosses grid in the viewfinder, and place your

subject(s) at one of the four intersecting points on the grid,’ says Massey.

‘This will give space for them to “look” into the rest of the frame, generally

creating a far more inviting image for the viewer than one with your subject

dead centre.’

Lens Choice

 Photo by Emily Kearns

For this type of work, a zoom is a better choice than a

prime lens, as it gives more shooting flexibility. Massey uses his 70-200mm all day, and a 100-400mm like the lens reader Tony Mearman is using is a great

option for captive animals. However, a focal length capability of 400mm or

500mm would probably be necessary in the wild, when you would be much further

away from your subjects. A wideangle setting is great for portraits, close-ups

and contextual scene setting, while telephoto lengths are ideal for defocused

backgrounds and longer distance shots – such as those we take from the viewing

platform over the Beenham pack’s enclosure.

Photo by Tony Mearman – Each lens can offer its own virtues. Here we see that Tony

used a 100-400mm zoom lens

to keep his distance and create a strong profile of the wolf

You can also use a telephoto for panning shots, capturing a

moving subject sharply against a blurred background (the darker the better,

with trees being ideal), to create a feeling of speed. With your feet still and

swivelling your upper body from the hips, track the wolf as it approaches, then

depress the shutter and continue to track it as it runs past, using a slow

shutter speed, such as 1/60sec, to keep the eye and head sharp throughout, but

blurring movement in the legs and creating a stylistically streaked background.

However, this proves difficult to manage when shooting through the fencing, and

on the day we can’t quite get the angles right from the viewing platform.

However, static shots on the ground are easier to manage and

we wait for the wolves to move into the frame to get successful images of


Camera Settings

Photo by Michael Kearns – It’s possible to attract a wolf to the fence by asking a handler
to tempt it with a small piece of meat

For this type of work, it’s better to use manual focus rather

than auto, as complete control over your shutter speed and aperture will allow

you to experiment more. ‘Getting to grips with manual mode may seem daunting to

begin with, but once you have mastered it, it can be a brilliant tool,’ says

Massey. Plus, he adds, when you’re shooting through fencing as we are at the

Trust, you don’t want AF locking onto the fence or locking onto the background.

Photo by Emily Kearns – By including the defocused wire in the shot Emily makes it clear
that we are seeing a captive wolf

As for aperture, Massey suggests trying around f/2.8 so the

background is nicely defocused. If you have a depth of field preview button,

use it before taking the shot to ensure you are happy with the effect. The wire

fencing enclosing the wolves has small holes cut into it for shooting through,

but it’s also possible to shoot through the regular small gaps in the fencing

by getting right up to them with your lens. Conversely, you might want to

retain the wire, defocused, in the foreground to establish that you are

photographing a captive animal.

To maximise their shooting chances, Massey suggests the

readers try auto ISO. ‘I started using it recently after missing a couple of

shots because my ISO was on the wrong setting. It’s one less thing to worry

about,’ he says. ‘Set it within limits your camera is happy with – I choose a

minimum of ISO 250 and a maximum of 1600 – and then you can dial in your

shutter speed knowing the ISO will change automatically.’

Photo by Michael Kiely – Using auto ISO means that no matter what shutter speed you
use to capture the action, your ISO will change automatically

Whatever you want to do, Massey advises trying out

techniques in your back garden or local park, with readily available subjects

such as pets or pigeons, so you are used to your camera’s capabilities and

settings before you concentrate on more esoteric subjects such as wolves. ‘With

captive animals, you can afford to be a bit more experimental, but even so, if

you’re going somewhere for the first time, keep to standard shots. Then, when

you’re more sure of what you’re doing and of the animal’s behavioural patterns,

you can try something different, whether that’s using slower shutter speeds,

wider angles or panning shots.’