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
Tripod and Lenses
Photo by Di Wilkins
most obvious advantage of tripods is that they give you more control
over how you compose your shots,’ says Paul. ‘You have the ability to
fine-tune your shot, which is a tricky thing to do if you’re shooting
handheld. The weight of the camera in your hands can often make you rush
your shot because you want to get it done. A tripod allows you to
meditate on your shot and recompose if you feel the need to.’
so many lenses on the market, it can be overwhelming knowing which lens
to use to capture your subject. However, shooting small mammals has its
ideal lens in the form of macro.
‘I’ve always used a 180mm macro
lens for shooting small mammals,’ says Paul. ‘If you’re using a 100mm
lens, you have to get twice as close to the subject as you would using a
180mm for the same size image. The 180mm gives you a little more
distance and that makes a big difference when shooting subjects like
this. However, 180mm lenses from the major manufacturers can be quite
expensive. If you want something a little cheaper it could be worth
looking at third-party or second-hand lenses. They may still be pricey,
but it’s worth the investment.’
Using natural light, fill-flash
Every photographer shooting on location hopes for good light on the day, but is bright sunlight always ideal?
you’re working in a natural environment, many people will tell you that
the best light occurs in the first and last hour of daylight,’ says
Paul. ‘This is because the light is lower and as a result the shadows
are pushed underneath the animals, which makes the image appear a lot
more dramatic. Working with bright sunlight and small mammals can cause
Photo by David Morton
you have bright sunlight the animals are likely to stay in the shade
and under cover. Also, with direct light you’ll cast shadows, which can
be a serious issue if you’re working within a quite tight environment
like a set.
‘I find that a bright overcast sky is the ideal.
Dull light can actually be used to your advantage. If you are faced with
this kind of light, I recommend setting your white balance to cloudy.
It allows you to bring out the details of the environment when there are
‘I have some serious
reservations about using fill-flash with small animals,’ says Paul. ‘I
believe that it can be harmful to them. If you’re shooting dormice, for
example, you have to consider how big they are compared to that bright
flash, which is likely to be within a few feet of them. People forget
how intrusive flash can be.
Photo by Di Wilkins
you put yourself in a dark room with two or three flashes and have them
going off one after the other, it takes you a little while to get your
vision back. Now put yourself in the dormouse’s position and imagine the
same thing. I’ve seen many wildlife photographers relentlessly firing
off a flashgun at a small mammal and it makes me really angry.’