A reader’s super shots of mountain hares
Wildlife lover Louise Gibbon shares her mountain hare photographs after falling in love with the animals in the Highlands
Following a visit to a nature reserve in 2009 I took up wildlife photography and have enjoyed it ever since. Each year, in January, my husband and I take a trip to the Scottish Highlands, the main aim being to spend time with mountain hares. These are hardy animals, surviving in sub-zero temperatures during winter. They have brown coats in summer that turn white during winter, acting as perfect camouflage in snow from predators like golden eagles.
The conditions for our trip this year, however, were very different. When we arrived there was no snow and temperatures were mild. This isn’t good news for the hares because their white fur is conspicuous against the darker ground, increasing the risk of predation. The milder temperatures also made the hares very active, making it difficult to find a confiding animal.
Over the following few days, after much walking and searching in the area, we did find some more trustful hares, which we stayed with for a while. Spending time with wildlife gives you the opportunity to observe
behaviour and capture special moments, so patience is key. It’s best to approach a hare slowly, so as not to cause alarm. If it appears alert as you move closer then stop and observe until it becomes relaxed again. Staying down low until you are at closer range helps prevent the hare from running away. One hare was so relaxed with us being there that it fell asleep! It is a true privilege spending time with the hares, and I feel more appreciative of their struggle for survival in harsh conditions.
These are some lovely shots here, Louise. As you pointed out, it’s clear to see how easy a mountain hare could be spotted in the winter without snow on the ground, but that’s good for predators and for photographers alike as it makes it easier to find them.
Your first image  creates a great sense of intimacy. The foreground and background are both blurred, with only the hare in focus in between. The focusing is spot-on; you’ve managed to get the eyes and face sharp while letting the back of the hare fall out of focus. Even though you’re using an aperture of f/6.3, it’s the long focal length of 350mm that emphasizes this shallow depth of field. Using a D500 has helped with the feeling of intimacy because its crop (DX) sensor multiplies the perceived magnification of the focal length by 1.5x due to the sensor covering a smaller area of the frame. This extends the 350mm reach of the lens to an effective focal length of 525mm – a significant increase that doesn’t require spending a small fortune on a massive lens.
The hare’s expression tells us that it must have been very cold out during this day; the animal is hunched over and curled up into a tight ball, presumably trying to keep warm. Its body is low to the ground and ears slicked back to reduce surface area; perhaps it’s spotted a predator that it’s trying to hide from?
Your second shot  is similar to the first, but the hare’s more alert posture makes it different enough to include in the portfolio. Getting a sharp shot is one of the big challenges of wildlife photography. You’ve used a shutter speed of 1/1000 sec here, which is fast enough to freeze most movement, but to do this you’ve had to increase the ISO dramatically to 3200. This isn’t a problem though, as there is next to no noise, thanks to the D500’s advanced sensor and the well-balanced exposure.
Your final image  shows the inclement weather coming in as the precipitation falls all around the hare. The wider composition, and inclusion of negative space on the right of the frame, draws attention to the weather. The hare, now with ears pricked, seems to be very aware of impending danger. This creates a sense of drama between viewer and subject, and although the hare’s eyes are almost completely laterally placed on its head, it feels as if it’s staring right at us.
Wonderful work, Louise. We hope that the weather improves for the hares in the Highlands to allow you to continue shooting these wonderful creatures for many more years.
The hare, now with ears pricked, seems to be very aware of impending danger. This creates a sense of drama between viewer and subject
2 Not a Hare in the World Nikon D500, 150600mm f/5-6.3, 1/1000 sec, f/6.3, ISO3200 1 Bad Hare Day Nikon D500, 150600mm f/5-6.3, 1/400 sec, f/6.3, ISO3200 2
3 Hare’s Looking at You Nikon D500, 150600mm f/5-6.3, 1/250 sec, f/6.3, ISO1000 3