How to capture stunning winter wildlife – Part 3: intimate wildlife portraits

A mountain hare, encrusted in ice, forms into a spherical shape as she begins to groom (Image credit: Andy Parkinson)
Meet the pro: Andrew Parkinson

Andy Parkinson

(Image credit: Andy Parkinson)

Andy Parkinson is an award-winning wildlife photographer, regular National Geographic contributor and a recent Nikon ambassador. Working with wild animals only, he often speaks about conservation, animal rights and photo ethics.

Animals portraits are our way of trying to convey the character, personality and even the soul of the animal whose life we’ve set out to document. They are an invaluable tool in creating a connection between our species and theirs.

The main image here is as much about the conditions that day as it is about my relationship with this individual animal. I have known this particular hare now for three years, so when the perfect conditions were forecast – high winds, freezing temperatures and a big load of snow – it was the pleasure of her company that I sought out, high on her mountain plateau home. 

The ferocity of the conditions that day represent the very upper limit of what I’m physically able to endure. In doing so, however, I was able to produce one of my most intimately compelling images, rich in detail and character.

I shoot every aperture between f/2.8 and f/22. Keep your mind open to creative possibilities, and decide in situ what part of the frame you’d like in or out of focus.


I had spent many weeks learning the movement patterns of some local hares, so rather than crawling towards this one I simply got into position and waited

I had spent many weeks learning the movement patterns of some local hares, so rather than crawling towards this one I simply got into position and waited (Image credit: Andrew Parkinson)

Andy’s top tips for better wildlife portraits

(Image credit: Andrew Parkinson)

1. Shoot at eye level
This is the best way to create a feeling of intimacy with your subject. It will also likely push the backdrop further away, thereby focusing the viewer’s attention on the only aspect of the image that is in sharp focus – the subject itself.

(Image credit: Andrew Parkinson)

2. Use your aperture creatively
Don’t assume that the only technique for portraits is to use your widest aperture, such as f/2.8 or f/4. In this portrait I was shooting at f/10 to try to bring as much of the hare’s face and paws into sharp focus as I could.

(Image credit: Andrew Parkinson)

3. Give your subject room to breathe
Portraits don’t always have to fill the entire frame. Sometimes including some of the habitat, or the conditions, gives the portrait some extra context and interest. Remember that it’s the personality/character of the subject that’s most important.

(Image credit: Andrew Parkinson)

4. Shoot flexibly
Just because your subject is static doesn’t mean that it will remain so. I often have a minimum shutter speed of 1/500sec, even for a stationary subject, in anticipation that something like this might happen.

Read more: 

Take your outdoor photography to the next level with The Photography Show
The best camera for wildlife photography in 2021
The best trail cameras in 2021

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

Digital Photographer

Digital Photographer is the ultimate monthly photography magazine for enthusiasts and pros in today’s digital marketplace.

Every issue readers are treated to interviews with leading expert photographers, cutting-edge imagery, practical shooting advice and the very latest high-end digital news and equipment reviews. The team includes seasoned journalists and passionate photographers such as the Editor Peter Fenech, who are well positioned to bring you authoritative reviews and tutorials on cameras, lenses, lighting, gimbals and more.

Whether you’re a part-time amateur or a full-time pro, Digital Photographer aims to challenge, motivate and inspire you to take your best shot and get the most out of your kit, whether you’re a hobbyist or a seasoned shooter.