How to photograph... Brown hares
In the first of a new series focusing on improving your skills capturing wildlife on camera, we share some invaluable tips from an expert
Words and pictures by Damian Waters
There can be few more exhilarating sights in the British countryside than seeing a hare racing away at top speed across a hillside. Unfortunately, for a wildlife photographer an animal running away is usually a bad thing. There are more myths and legends in Britain about the hare than any other mammal and we have all heard the expressions “mad asc a March hare” and “harebrained”, but the hare is also a wonderful subject for wildlife photography.
Despite significant population decline, they are still widespread across the UK and with a little planning and investigation work, you could make Britain’s fastest mammal your next photography project.
Hares are most closely associated with open grassland and arable farmland; unlike rabbits they do not burrow, and instead create a shallow depression in the grass for cover from predators. They are known for standing their ground when approached and will often sit stock still hoping not to be spotted, but then use their amazing speed to get away if they need to.
Patience is the key to success when photographing hares. Once you have found a likely site, you will probably need to make a number of visits to be sure that there are hares about and then decide the best way of approaching. I have used a variety of methods including my car, a bag hide, hedges and even a tractor as a way of closing the gap between me and the hare. It is not a technical solution, but good old trial and error is sometimes a photographer’s best friend.
Hares are creatures of habit and I have seen some you could almost set your watch by, a great help if you are planning where to position yourself. Hares also have a routine when settling down for a sleep, whereby they backtrack on themselves a couple of times, probably to disguise their scent trail, and offer you a second or third chance to take the images you want.You will almost certainly need a long lens on your camera, 300mm or more, so unfortunately a pocket point and shoot probably isn’t going to get you a National Geographic cover.
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Fortunately, hares don’t present too many technical challenges; they are a uniform colour, so there are no light or dark patches to worry about for exposure purposes and as relatively large animals it is easy to ‘fill the frame.’
You will probably see two types of hare – sitting still or running! If the hare is still you can let your shutter speed fall to relatively low speeds and not worry too much about blur. Do make sure that your camera is well supported by using a tripod, monopod or beanbag to cut down on camera shake.
If the hare is running, however, you’ll need a fast shutter speed to freeze the action and I’d aim for at least 1/500s. Your aperture will depend on lighting conditions, but I aim for f/8; I want a nice depth of field covering the hare’s eye, head and body, without having distracting background clutter in focus.
The most important thing you’ll need is patience. Wild animals don’t perform for the camera when you want, so if you want images like mine you need to stick at it. Most of all, have fun, and even if you don’t get the images, you will have spent time watching one of our most exciting animals.