Nature photography at home: Mammals
Often more secretive than birds, mammals can present a greater challenge, but with the right approach it’s possible to photograph a wide range of species
What’s the approach?
Mammals are surprisingly regular visitors to gardens, and as with birds it’s often food that encourages them to visit.
By putting out a regular supply of nuts and seeds, as well as meat scraps, you’re likely to attract a variety of mammals.
Other species will visit to feeds on worms, slugs and insects, and can be of great benefit in controlling pests, in addition to becoming photographic subjects!
Many mammals rely on scent and hearing much more than sight, so you’ll need to remain still and try to keep downwind of your subject to avoid spooking them.
An alternative approach to sitting behind the camera is to use a remote shutter release that you can fire from inside the house.
Regular contact will also help accustom many species to your presence, and over time they will learn that you are no threat and behave naturally when you’re around.
When’s the best time of day?
The period from dusk to dawn is usually the best time to shoot a lot of mammal species, but others, such as squirrels and foxes, are also active during the day.
What gear do I need?
The gear for photographing mammals often depends on the size of the species, but a telephoto zoom in the 100-400mm range will give you plenty of options and also help with composition.
Many mammals are most active when light levels are very low, which may mean you need to use flash or another artificial light source.
A built-in flash will be okay when shooting close to your subject, but you may want to consider a more powerful flash unit to light more distant subjects.
What’s the best lighting?
When shooting at the ends of the day the light levels will be low, so you may need to use flash to supplement natural light, but if possible try to capture your subject bathed in the warm light of sunset or sunrise to add extra appeal to your shots.
What settings should I use?
When light is at a premium always shoot with the widest aperture setting possible to help generate the fastest shutter speed.
You can often obtain sharp pictures of mammals at shutter speeds as slow as 1/30 second, but you’ll need a sturdy tripod, or failing that a monopod, to prevent any camera shake.
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