How to : Photograph Brown Hares

So here goes with my first piece for GBWildlife. If you like it then email and let me know, if you don’t then keep your opinions to yourself and I’ll carry on, blissfully happy!

I’m starting with what I think is probably my favourite British mammal, the Brown Hare. I’ve spent quite some considerable time watching and photographing these wonderful creatures and never tire of it.

First the bit about the creature:

© Damian Waters: Brown Hare.

© Damian Waters: Brown Hare.

Brown Hare numbers in the UK have declined by about 80% over the past 100 years and that appears to be an ongoing trend. In some parts of the UK they are believed to be locally extinct and so you may have to do some travelling if you are to capture some great images. Having said that, I have seen Brown Hares in virtually every part of the country I have visited and even see them in fields alongside the M62 motorway!

They prefer open grassland and arable farmland; often the best time to see them is shortly after harvest time when they can be easily spotted on stubble fields.

Brown Hares don’t make burrows in the same way that Rabbits do, instead they create shallow depressions in the grass, called forms, and lie low. This is an advantage to us photographers as it means they are always above ground. However, they rely on two forms of defence to evade predators. Firstly they sit tight and hope they aren’t spotted; I have almost stood on a male Brown Hare that was sitting tight. Secondly they have an amazing turn of speed (they are the UK’s fastest land animal) and can shoot out from under your feet at 45mph.

Both of these habits are good from a photography point of view. If an animal sits still and allows you to fill a 4GB memory card then that’s a bonus! If it heads across your field of view at full tilt it can allow for some great action shots. Win win situation!

What you need to get the image you want:

© Damian Waters: Brown Hare.

© Damian Waters: Brown Hare.

The first thing is patience. The best way to spot Brown Hares, when you are in an area where they are present, is to find a nice open field and wait and watch. With a bit of patience you might find that one or two of those brown lumps you thought where mud or clumps of grass get up and start walking around.
Once you have found your Brown Hares you’ll need to find a way of getting close. Personally I have used a variety of devices, a bag hide, a hedge, a car and even a tractor as a way of closing the gap between the Hare and me. But you’ll probably need your longest lens attached to your camera, either that or lie down, make a noise like a carrot and hope they come to you!

Their habit of sitting tight can make some individuals very approachable, but some have more of a “hare trigger” (sorry for the awful pun) and tear off much more readily than others. It is not a technical solution, but good old trial and error sometimes is the best option.

One habit that they possess, which really is to our advantage, is that they will often backtrack on themselves, especially when settling down for a sleep, and so can pass in front of our field of vision a number of times in a short space of time. So if a Hare passes by, don’t immediately think that it is gone, it could well come back in a few minutes. It is thought that they do this to confuse the scent trail and put off predators. I’ve had Hares pass within touching distance when they have been doing this – amazingly I heard them making a soft “mewing” sound as they passed by. A truly wonderful experience.

The technical bit:

If I’m honest, photographing Brown Hares, once you have found them and got close, isn’t the most technically demanding of things to do. They are uniformly one colour, so there are no bright or dark patches to worry about for exposure purposes. They’re also quite large animals, so as long as you are reasonably close you don’t have to worry about getting within touching distance.

© Damian Waters: Brown Hare.

© Damian Waters: Brown Hare.

You will probably see two “types” of Hare – one sitting still and one running! If the Hare is still while feeding or resting, then you can let your shutter speed fall to relatively low speeds and not worry too much about blur. Do make sure, however, that if you have low shutters speeds that your camera is well supported with 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. You may find, like me, that if you are shooting running Hares that you need to shoot hand held to pan the lens with the running target. You can try slower shutter speeds to get some nice blurred background to really convey the sense of movement; a lens with image stabilisation helps in the scenario. Be careful about the background scenery – a great image of a Hare in full flight can be ruined by a distracting building, fence or whatever in the background of the shot.

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. But I have experimented a lot and will use f/5.6 for head shots where depth of field isn’t an issue.

I would recommend focusing on one Hare and stick with it. It may not do anything for a long while, allowing you to get some good images of the Hare resting or eating, but whenever I watch a Hare feeding it usually rises from a sitting position after a while, stretches (offering the chance of some good images) and then wanders about for a while.

The “million dollar” shot is of Hares boxing. Hares box all year round, but it reaches a peak in March (mad March Hares) when the hormones are really surging. It used to be thought that the boxing took place between males fighting for dominance, but is in fact usually a female fighting of the advances of a lusting male! Boxing is usually preceded by “mate guarding” whereby a male will sit in close attention near a female waiting for her to become reception to his advances. So if you see some mate guarding going on – be prepared. I have observed boxing on very many occasions, but have not yet got any images I felt were good enough. In March 2009 I watch a bout of boxing go on for over 5 minutes, but there was a large bush between the Hares and me. Literally a DOH! moment.

Conclusion

So, for what it is worth, that is my advice. I hope you have found it useful and that you have learnt something.

Essentially if you want quality Hare images you need to find a good location, conceal yourself, use a long lens and be patient.

I’m always happy to answer questions by email or on twitter.

If you have any species that you are interested in and you’d like me to write a “how to” (and I have images of it) let me know and I’ll do my best to oblige.

Damian Waters
damian.waters@drumimages.co.uk
http://www.drumimages.co.uk