Ever since encountering one of these delightful little creatures posing perfectly on a stalk at the edge of a wheat field, only some three feet away and with the light just right, at a moment when my camera was still in its bag back in the car, I had been determined to “get” them one day. There have been several attempts since to achieve this and a great many hours of effort have provided me with a number of world beating shots of a harvest mouse’s backside as it disappears into the corn. Most frustrating of all is when there is one posed perfectly at the top of a stalk, well within lens reach, but with at least 49 other stalks between you and him. It would almost be better not to see one at all than to see it smiling and waving at you, and not be able to get a good clear shot.
I know there are many out there who would say that photographing wildlife under what are euphemistically called “controlled conditions” is cheating, as if it is some sort of game governed by a rulebook, but to them I can only say “Get real”. If what you want from your photography is to be able to have the pleasure of looking through your images of various subjects for whatever reason, be it just for the sheer joy of seeing them or to provide cards, slideshows, or whatever for friends and relations, then you will have to accept that, for certain subjects, and in certain circumstances, your choice will be between working under those controlled conditions, and obtaining images which can provide immense pleasure for years to come, or having no images at all. As far as I’m concerned it’s a no-brainer. In the case of Harvest Mice they are such endearing and iconic subjects that it would be a crying shame to exclude them from your portfolio just on a half-assed principle. I’m sure there are many out there who have dropped lucky or even been skilful enough to encourage these creatures into suitable surroundings but they will mostly have been people who have just been lucky, or in a position to invest a disproportionate amount of time in getting their images. These people I applaud but not everyone can be so fortunate, especially those who do not have the good fortune to live close enough to a cereal field to be able to “just pop up the road” frequently enough to sensibly monitor a baited feeding spot.
I have frequently pointed out in my books and articles that, in the case of many truly wild subjects, it is simply not ethical to intrude on their “space” to the extent that you eventually force it into a “fight or flight” decision. Unfortunately for a subject as diminutive as a Harvest Mouse you will have to be very close, in relative terms, to capture a decent size image. It’s not like an elephant that you can probably get all the image you want from the distance of a football pitch away. For these little guys you are going to be virtually “in their face”. Fortunately, throughout the UK, there are now a number of photographic “workshop” opportunities offering the chance to work with subjects habituated to the species “Homo sapiens”. These workshops typically offer half day courses and give you the chance to get really close without causing stress for the subjects. We are lucky to have one such – “Windows on Wildlife” – down here in deepest, darkest, Dorset who, weather permitting, offers an outdoor setting which allows for very natural backgrounds. As a photographer and Wildlife lover himself he seems to know what both you and his animal allies are looking for and, whilst I am sure that if it came to a conflict of interest then his Mice would win hands down, he offers an experience virtually guaranteed to provide you with images the likes of which few, if any, could realistically be expected to obtain out in the middle of a field. His website is www.deanmasonwildlifephotography.co.uk and his contact no is Dean Mason on 07480 110772.