Skip to content

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.

Recent stories

Orange bellied Parrot. Photo Bruce Thomson.

07/09/2023 07/09/2023

The threatened species we don’t talk about

Every year on Threatened Species Day, a certain group of animals get a lot of attention. We’re shifting the focus to the lesser knowns. Just as intriguing, but rarely in the headlines.

Read More
Wattle blossoms.

01/09/2023 01/09/2023

National Wattle Day

Wattle is Australia’s national floral emblem and the common name for the genus Acacia. Acacia forest covers a total of 9.8 million hectares and there are over 1200 species of wattles!

Read More
Pilungah Reserve aerial view

22/08/2023 22/08/2023

ABC News: special wildlife reserve application

In a bid to stop mining projects, Wangkamadla traditional owners and Bush Heritage are lodging a special wildlife reserve application with the QLD government.

Read More
Seedlings for revegetation work.

16/08/2023 16/08/2023

An update on Eurardy's 1 million tree project

On Eurardy Reserve, Nanda Country, Western Australia, a project began four years ago to plant one million trees and shrubs. In 2019 we partnered with Carbon Positive Australia, a WA-based charity, to create the largest revegetation project in Bush Heritage's history.

Read More
Stephen Kearney

15/08/2023 15/08/2023

Applying science for conservation

This year’s Science Week theme is ‘Innovation: Powering Future Industries’. We’ve spoken with three early-career scientists and interns at Bush Heritage who are helping to create a better future by applying their scientific knowledge to conservation.

Read More
Ferns and rock orchids

19/07/2023 19/07/2023

First time on Brogo

Brogo Reserve is on Yuin Country – so every visit is an opportunity to get to know the lands and waters that my Ancestors knew like the backs of their hands. I'm based in Sydney - it's hard for me to live so far away from Yuin Country. This is something that Aboriginal people feel deep in their spirit and blood, like something tugging you back in that direction, back where you belong.

Read More
Aunty Lynette Nixon

06/07/2023 06/07/2023

NAIDOC Week 2023: For our Elders

This NAIDOC Week, we were lucky enough to hear directly from Elders themselves, as well as Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander people who sent in powerful words from their ancestral homelands. Their wise reflections spoke to this year’s theme ‘For our Elders’, touching on the importance of listening, keeping language alive and how traditional cultural practices and knowledge can help address environmental challenges.

Read More
{{itemsInCart}} Items - {{formatCurrency(grandTotal)}}