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Steve Parish tips for taking mammal photos

Published 04 Jun 2019 by Steve Parish (Wildlife Photographer)

Steve Parish OAM is an award-winning Australian photographer with more than 57 years’ experience photographing Australian people, places and wildlife. Visit the Steve Parish website to view more of his work, and to see event dates for his 2019 workshops.

Mammals are the most alert of all the wild animals and therefore pose a great challenge to nature photographers.

Like humans, other mammals learn about their surroundings using their senses: eyes to see, ears to hear, noses to smell, tongues to taste and skin and whiskers to feel. The mammalian brain processes information and the animal reacts, either to meet its needs or to avoid danger.

If a mammal such as a kangaroo sees, smells or hears danger, it immediately hops away. Instinctive behaviour is automatic and is displayed by all animals when faced with a threatening situation, so approaching with stillness and solitude will always yield the best results.

  • For mammal photography, a DSLR camera is best. For daylight work on macropods and marine mammals, use lenses between 200 mm and 600 mm. For night work, I use the 100–499 mm Canon zoom with its capability of focusing when close to mammals like possums or microbats. Marry it with a powerful electronic flash, or sometimes two, depending on the subject, and you have the perfect kit.
  • Apart from kangaroos, wallabies and the marine mammals, most mammals are very shy and are rarely seen outside of wild areas where they rarely encounter humans.
Many smaller mammals are photographed either in captivity or in areas where they've developed a tolerance of or curiosity about humans — both usually associated with the likelihood of food being available.
  • Small mammals (dasyurids, bandicoots, possums, bats and rodents) are nocturnally active, so a head torch and a focus lantern are essential accessories.
  • While autofocus does work at night, I prefer to focus manually — when working close, I move my whole body backward or forward to make minor adjustments to focus.
  • Watch your backgrounds. Often they will be black, since mammals are nocturnal, but aesthetic elements like fruit or flowers will enhance your images.
Juvenile Eastern Ringtail Possums Juvenile Eastern Ringtail Possums
DSLR, 80 mm, f/16, ISO 320, 1/60s twin Speedlight unit
Bandicoot mother and young Bandicoot mother and young
DSLR, 80 mm, f/16, ISO 320, 1/60s, twin flash units
Black-gloved Wallaby Black-gloved Wallaby
DSLR, 400 mm, f/5.6, ISO 320, 1/350, etched and background blur increased at post-production in Photoshop.

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