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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. (opens in new tab)
@andyparkinsonphoto (opens in new tab)

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)
More in this five-part series

Part 1: Kit and clothing (opens in new tab)
Part 2: Subjects close to home (opens in new tab)
Part 4: Wildlife in the landscape (opens in new tab)
Part 5: Boost your creativity (opens in new tab)

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: 

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Lauren Scott
Lauren Scott

Lauren is the Managing Editor of Digital Camera World, having previously served as Editor of Digital Photographer (opens in new tab) magazine, a practical-focused publication that inspires hobbyists and seasoned pros alike to take truly phenomenal shots and get the best results from their kit. 

An experienced photography journalist who has been covering the industry for over eight years, she has also served as technique editor for both PhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine (opens in new tab)PhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine and DCW's sister publication, Digital Camera Magazine (opens in new tab)

In addition to techniques and tutorials that enable you to achieve great results from your cameras, lenses, tripods and other photography equipment, Lauren can regularly be found interviewing some of the biggest names in the industry, sharing tips and guides on subjects like landscape and wildlife photography, and raising awareness for subjects such as mental health and women in photography.