When you are not relaxing in your alluring hot tub cabin another of the most thrilling parts of exploring our forests is the chance to see our woodland animals. From squirrels, hedgehogs and mice through to badgers, foxes and deer, forest animals are notoriously shy, which makes seeing them that much more exciting. Paul Hobson gives his tips for how to capture those elusive moments on camera.
A fallow deer in the forest
Never put any animal under stress. It’s not wise to try to photograph a bird at its nest or mammals, such as badgers or foxes, with their young unless you have a lot of experience. Remember the Wildlife Photographer’s Code – ‘The welfare of your subject is more important than your images.’
Stalk or wait? Forest animals are often shy. You have to decide if you are going to stalk them or wait for them to show up in one place. Some animals, such as deer in forest parks, are used to people so will allow a closer approach. It’s often better to practise with animals that are used to seeing humans so you can build up your skills.
Badgers in the forest
Study up on your animal. Reading about your subject is always a good idea. There are lots of good books and websites to help. Learn when it’s most active, what’s the best time of day and, during the year, what behaviour you can expect and how good its senses are. For example badgers have poor eyesight but have brilliant hearing and a strong sense of smell.
Keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities. There may be a fairly tame fox or squirrel that is used to humans or there may be a bird feeder with tame birds. Always ask around. It’s amazing what you could learn or find out.
Choose your clothes wisely. Wear clothing that is quiet, like ventile or cotton. You don’t want to scare away the bird or mammal every time you move your arm. You don’t need full camo gear – plain, natural dark greens/greys or browns are ideal. Be comfy in your clothing, you may have to sit for hours. It’s also a good idea to keep downwind of mammals so they don’t smell you. It’s not so important for birds.
A red squirrel in the forest
Take treats. Many animals like a few treats, especially in winter when food is scarce. Learn which foods are good for your chosen subject, such as hazelnuts for squirrels. Try to keep the food natural looking or use natural food like acorns. Never feed animals on sugary foods like biscuits - if they eat too many they can develop painful, rotten teeth. Don’t let your subject become totally dependant on your handouts either.
A fox spotted in the forest
Get up and out early. Most mammals and birds are most active just after dawn, during the early morning and towards sunset. The light is always better at these times generally. Check out the location you want to photograph a few times before actually taking your camera to work out where you want to aim the lens. A few days watching and learning can make all the difference to your success rate before that first early morning with your camera.
A hedgehog spotted in the forest
Use a tripod. If you are going to wait for your subject, such as birds coming to food you have put out, use a tripod. It means you don’t have to keep holding the camera for hours. A comfy chair or seat also helps. In some situations you may also need a hide but in others such as a fox walking down a well used path you can snuggle down and wait.
Get the settings right. Make sure you have your ISO, F number and speed all firmly sorted before the bird or animal approaches. You may only get one shot and you don’t want to mess it up because you hadn’t set the functions correctly. Decide what F number you want to create the right depth of field then adjust your ISO to get the right speed you need.