There are certain advantages when you are a nature photographer with a home office that provides a 5-by-8 view of acreage landscaped for wildlife.
It is from this vantage point that I devised a plan to capture an image I’ve dreamed of adding to my portfolio for years: a cottontail rabbit on the run.
I watched from the comfort of my office throughout late December and early January as several cottontails made daily jaunts from the cover of thick brush and brush piles to feed on spilled bird seed under several feeders in my backyard. I saw that the bunnies were most active in the hour or so before sunset. They traveled along several well-beaten trails easily visible in the snow. The rabbits would dart from their daily hideouts across openings, daring not to loiter where they could be easy prey for predators — especially those of the winged variety.
I placed a tent blind along one of their trails. Within a few days the cottontails became accustomed to it. Eventually they ignored it. Then, I occupied the hideout and took a seat behind a tripod-mounted camera and telephoto lens.
The fateful day arrived one late afternoon in January. It was mild, about 20 degrees, and a weak winter sun was perched on the southwestern horizon. Soon the first rabbit appeared. I watched as the cottontail bided its time in thick brush, at first not daring to expose itself. The hungry rabbit occasionally nibbled on twigs, but mostly it just sat on the snow, perhaps calculating its chances of survival should it abandon its cover. I was ready, my lens trained on the bunny’s trail. Then it dashed across the opening.
I depressed the shutter button, taking several images as the rabbit darted past. Soon another cottontail appeared, and the performance was repeated. And then another. Before the sun disappeared and the light was too low for action photos, I had the chance to capture images of four different rabbits. Then, I packed up my gear and went home.
Later, I analyzed the images. Some of the photos were good, but none was great. I noted the aperture and shutter speed settings, and mentally noted what needed to change next time I occupied my blind.
Over the coming days, when the weather was right, I shot several hundred more images of the cottontails. Finally, through trial and error, I was able to get a few satisfactory images. One of them appears on this page.
My favorite image was taken with a 400-millimeter telephoto lens. My blind was about 20 feet from the rabbit’s trail. The camera settings were f7.1 at 1/1600 of a second. The ISO setting was 800. The settings are a good starting point for getting a similar photo.
To up my odds of getting a sharp photo, I placed my blind in a spot that was perpendicular to the rabbit trail. In other words, the rabbit would be running broadside rather than coming toward me or going away.
An important yet underutilized element to good action images is to relentlessly employ the delete key on your computer. If an image is not up to par, send it to the trash bin.
Move your blind or photo location to get various angles and backgrounds. Now that I have a backlit image of a cottontail on the run, I will move my blind to attempt to get a front-lit image and perhaps a different angle and background.
Bill Marchel is an outdoors writer and photographer. He lives near Brainerd.