Photographing One of Scotland's Hardiest - The Mountain Hare - by Peter Lewis

Photographing One of Scotland's Hardiest - The Mountain Hare - by Peter Lewis

December 26, 2018 , BoostCommerce Collaborator

As the daylight starts to shorten in the coming Winter months, it’s an ideal time to photograph one of Scotland's hardiest animals, the Mountain Hare (Lepus Timidus).

Over the last few years I have followed what is my favourite wildlife subject in Scotland. Why? Maybe it is the bond or respect for this animal that I have developed over time that has made the Hare my favourite subject, just edging out the Badgers which I have also followed for many years.

There is something about these animals that I never tire of. The early morning, a 6 hour round trip from my home in Peterhead to the Cairngorms National Park, not forgetting the climb to be able to see these animals!

In the Autumn and Winter, the Hares start to change into their winter coats which are not always as white as they look, and which offer a chance to get some contrasting shots against the browns and purples of the heather


Undecided on winter – this winter coat was not what I expected to come across and first time I had seen one that was half and half. It stayed like this throughout the winter season.


The Surveyor - This Hare seemed to be as interested in me as I was in photographing it. They soon settle down again if they don’t feel threatened. (Tip: approach low and slow)


Now you see me - This Hare has good camouflage whilst the snow is barely covering the Heather. It will stay this silvery/grey/white throughout the winter.


Running into winter – Hare in the midst of changing into its white winter coat.

Kit

My current kit is a Canon 80D; Canon 50mm f1.8 prime (nifty fifty); Canon 200mm f2.8 prime lens; Canon 70-200mm f2.8 L is USM lens; Canon 24-105 f4 lens and a Canon 2 x converter. I also a use a Vanguard tripod along with my Alta Sky 53 bag.

Techniques 

Before I got into photography, I watched wildlife through a scope and binoculars, this has taught me to learn about the subjects that I aim to photograph. For example, Hares shelter in a "Form" which is a simple depression in the ground and the Heather on the Scottish uplands and can be hard to spot. Knowing this allows me to scan for likely hiding places and reduces the chance of stumbling across them and just seeing them disappear as their powerful hind legs power them across the snow at speeds of up to 45mph.


Example of hare in a “Form” in the snow

Being low and slow is key too, as this is not as intimidating or obvious as standing up, which can be a bit tricky at times in the snow, so prepare to get cold and wet at times and dress accordingly.

Patience is the key as these animals can sit for very long periods without flinching. I start by looking for a Hare which I may be able to get close to, as many just take off once they see you. I love nothing more than being laid down beside the Hare and using my 50mm lens without any disturbance to these animals, waiting for the perfect shot.


General Grump – This Hare just sat and sat whilst we photographed it, we named it the General.

Be prepared for them to do the unexpected at times as you need to be able to adjust your settings fast as the “hare” off without warning while you were preparing for a still shot, and you can capture some unusual behaviour.


And Stretch – Just a Hare having a stretch and a yawn. They can do this before running off sometimes so be prepared.


Dashing through the snow - Capturing a hare at speed requires good panning technique (always be focused on the animal’s head). I usually have my shutter speed round 1/1000th when I know they are on the move.

Camera setting tips – When shooting wildlife in snow; remember to set you exposure up by 2 stops to get the snow white rather than the grey/dark snow.  Use auto ISO to start with as here in Scotland the light can be very challenging at times. Do not be scared to up the ISO to get a sharp shot with noise rather than an image which will not be sharp. A lot of photographers use Aperture mode, but i prefer Manual mode as I play about with settings a lot of the time.  I do like F5.6 – F8 at times but also go from F1.8 onwards at times as i try and find my own style. Settings shown on my Flickr page of my images.

 


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Peter Lewis is a Scottish photographer based in Peterhead, Aberdeenshire who got into photography after a car accident. Peter has a particular passion for wildlife photography, especially hares and badgers.  He can often be found in the Highlands seeking out that perfect shot.

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