Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Squirrel Tails

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In the Field

Squirrel Tails. Findlay Creek, BC, Canada. March 27, 2016.

When I'm testing and familiarizing myself with new cameras (in this case the Nikon D5) I commonly return to reliable and "tried and true" subject matter. For me, Red Squirrels definitely fit into this category. Interestingly, each time I go back and "make myself" work with squirrels I always go away thinking "I just love those guys...they have so much character - I should shoot them more". Such cool and fascinating little creatures...

This image was captured when I was evaluating two things on my D5 - its ISO performance (this shot is just an ISO 8000 shot) and how I liked various aspects of the new autofocus system. Working up tight and close with the squirrels (with my 400mm lens) gave me a real appreciation for something that has changed significantly between the D4s and the D5 but hasn't really attracted too many headlines - the size of the selectable focus points as seen through the viewfinder. In short, the focus points you see displayed through the D5 viewfinder are about 50% smaller (and that's a crude estimate, so don't quote me on it!) than those of the D4s. This means that you can be more precise on where you place the focus point on your subject. So in this case I could pick a spot halfway between nose and eye and - depending on my choice of aperture - ensure my DoF was distributed the way I wanted it distributed (because I was very confident of my exact focus point). In other situations the smaller focus point lets you pick out a small, distant object with more confidence that your AF system has "locked onto" the right object.

Back to the subject matter itself - squirrels! Most North American viewers will instantly recognize this as a Red Squirrel. While it's hard to find a tree squirrel that doesn't have an attractive and bushy tail, I find with Reds their unique tail colour pattern combines just so well with the bushiness to make it and attractive visual element. Interestingly, the tail (and how it's held and moved) is an important element in squirrel communication. And, when it comes to squirrel photos, I have to admit that MOST of my favourite Red Squirrel shots include a good look at their tail. In this shot I personally liked how the angle of the upright tail worked with the slope of the left side of the stump to produce a nice diagonal visual flow in the frame. And, of course, it doesn't hurt that the sharply focused nose, whiskers and eye are found along the strong diagonal line. ;-)

Here's a higher resolution (2400 pixel) version of this "just ISO 8000" shot for those wanting to see it a little better:

Squirrel Tails: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 1.6 MB)


1. This image - in all resolutions - is protected by copyright. I'm fine with personal uses of them (including use as desktop backgrounds or screensavers on your own computer), but unauthorized commercial use of the image is prohibited by law. Thanks in advance for respecting my copyright!

2. Like all wildlife images on this website, the subject(s) is/are fully wild and completely unconstrained. Besides the potential impact of my/our presence, nothing has been done to intentionally alter or affect the ongoing behavior of the subject and, of course, there has been no use of any form of bait or other form of wildlife attractants/luring devices (including vocalizations or other sounds).

Behind the Camera

Squirrel Tails. Findlay Creek, BC, Canada. March 27, 2016.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 8000.

Nikon D5 paired with Nikkor 400mm f2.8E VR. Tripod-mounted and supported on a Jobu Jr. 3 Deluxe gimbal head. VR on and in "Sport" mode.

1/5000s @ f11; No compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting. NOTE: Oddball settings? Yep, but I was testing ISO performance when I took this shot.

At the Computer

Squirrel Tails. Findlay Creek, BC, Canada. March 27, 2016.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF using Phase One's Capture One Pro 9. Four raw variants (different versions of a single raw capture) processed, with the variants differing in exposure settings (0.3 stop total difference between the variants), both shadow and highlight recovery settings, and noise reduction settings.

Further digital corrections on resulting 16-bit TIFF files using Adobe's Photoshop CC 2015 and Light Crafts Lightzone. Photoshop adjustments included compositing (blending) of the four output files from the raw converter, and final selective sharpening for web output. Final tone-tweaking performed using LightZone's "tonemapper" tool.


Squirrel Tails. Findlay Creek, BC, Canada. March 27, 2016.

Ten percent of the revenue generated by this image will be donated to Raincoast*.

IUCN Conservation Status**: Species of Least Concern.

The Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) is a medium-sized squirrel that occupies year-round exclusive territories from which they will aggressively repel intruding squirrels. They are widely distributed across much of North America almost everywhere conifers (and the cones the squirrels feed on) are found, except on portions of the west coast where they are replaced by Douglas Squirrels (AKA "Chickarees").

Red Squirrels have adapted well to the presence of humans and have the IUCN conservation status of a species of Least Concern. In many urban areas in North America the Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) have been introduced and ecologically replaced Red Squirrels. In North America this hasn't seemed to impact much on rural Red Squirrel populations, but in Britain the introduction of the Eastern Gray has had a major impact on the native Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris), with the invasive grays replacing the native reds over much of their historical range.

*The Raincoast Conservation Society (and Foundation) is an effective and efficient organization that has been fighting for protection of this unique habitat. If you are looking for a meaningful way to contribute to the conservation of this amazing ecosystem, Raincoast will provide maximal "bang" for your conservation dollars.

**as determined by the IUCN: The Internation Union for Conservation of Nature - see