Photo by Luke Massey

Three AP readers join wildlife photographer Luke Massey at
the UK Wolf Conservation Trust’s centre in leafy Berkshire to learn the secrets
of capturing these beautiful, enigmatic and oft-misunderstood creatures. Gill
Mullins reports

British wolves were hunted to extinction in the 1760s after
centuries of persecution, their reputations unfairly tarnished with myths of
savagery and man eating. The last wolf on these islands may have died hundreds
of years ago, yet their sharp intelligence, sheer physical strength and beauty
still fascinate us. And, of course, their presence is woven inextricably into
folklore and fairy tales.

It was to dispel such myths and support wolf conservation
throughout the world that the UK Wolf Conservation Trust was established by the
late Roger Palmer and his wife Tsa in 1995, after many years spent keeping
wolves privately. Today, the 50-acre site in Beenham, Berkshire, is home to eight
North American and European wolves, and three young Arctic wolves.

It’s a first for Masterclass leader Luke Massey, too, as he
has not yet managed to capture wolves in the wild. ‘The closest I got was on a
trip to photograph eagles in Estonia, when I was told of a good place to spot
wolves, but I only found their tracks,’ he recalls. ‘They’re really clever and
their senses of smell and hearing are so acute that they’ll know you’re there
and will do everything in their power to evade you.’ Therefore, Luke says,
captive wolves are by far the best bet for decent photo opportunities. ‘They’re
right in front of you and, as they’re used to humans, you’ll see their natural

Massey suggests shooting both documentary-style pictures -
the wolves being fed and interacting with their keepers, shots that include
enclosure fencing and signage to show they are captive – as well as
‘wild-looking’ images. A close-up of the wolf’s eye with the wire fencing
visible but defocused in the foreground would be a perfect documentary shot,
and behaviour such as howling is always good to capture, he explains.

Wrapped up against the chill November air, we leave the
warmth of the on-site café to enjoy our encounter. The wolves have been
hand-reared, making them especially sociable and accepting of people, including
(thank goodness) photographers

Your AP Expert…

Luke Massey
Luke Massey’s childhood obsession with wildlife has
developed into a career as a wildlife photographer and cameraman. His passion
to show people the natural world and the problems nature faces has driven him
forward in his work. Luke has recently been part of the 2020Vision project and
has worked for the world-renowned BBC Natural History Unit. He is available for
talks around the country and is starting to run workshops in the UK and abroad.
To see more of his images, visit

The AP Readers…

Emily Kearns
Emily is an all-round photographer, trying her hand at many
genres, including portraiture and wildlife. She shoots using a Nikon D90 with
17-50mm and 55-200mm lenses. ‘It was a great day and a lot of fun,’ she says.

Michael Kiely
Michael enjoys all forms of photography, but has a
particular passion for wildlife subjects. He shoots using a Canon EOS 60D with
a 70-200mm lens. ‘Luke is a clear and patient teacher,’ he says. ‘It was a very
informative experience.’

Tony Mearman
Tony is the chairman of Wokingham & East Berkshire
Camera Club. He uses a Canon EOS 7D with 15-85mm, 70-200mm and 100-400mm
lenses. ‘I enjoyed the day so much and received a lot of helpful tips,’ he

UK Wolf Conservation Trust

  • Location UK Wolf Centre, Butlers Farm, Beenham, Reading, Berkshire RG7 5NT Tel: 0118 971 3330. Website:
  • Aim of the Trust – The Trust works for the protection and conservation of wild
    wolves and their habitats, with a strong emphasis on education, awareness and
    fundraising for wolf-conservation projects around the world
  • How to visit – Visits are for members only and by appointment, with the
    exception of three annual open days, plus wolf ‘encounter experiences’ and
    autumn/winter photographic days, when the itinerary includes a two-hour ‘wolf
    walk’ through the beautiful Berkshire countryside with some of the Trust’s
    ‘ambassador’ wolves and their keepers, plus the opportunity to photograph all
    the wolves in the centre. On any type of visit, dogs are not allowed, and
    neither are umbrellas, tripods/monopods (which frighten the wolves) or fur or
    fur-trimmed clothing, real or fake
  • Admission charges – Photographic days are £100 per person, Arctic wolf
    encounters are £120, and membership of the Trust costs £100 per year

Would you like to take part?

Every month we invite three to five AP readers to join one of our
four experts on a free assignment over the course of a day. If you
would like to take part please email for more details. Please include your name, address,
email address, daytime telephone number, some words about your work and
three or four of your images.

Photo by Tony Mearman – This image show how spending time studying your subjects will
allow you to previsualise your images and capture moments that could otherwise be los

Understanding Behaviour

Whether you’re a professional or an amateur, one of the most
important things you can do before any animal shoot is your research. ‘It helps
you understand different behaviours, so you can anticipate what the animals are
going to do and therefore you don’t miss the action,’ says Massey. When one
wolf howls, for example, it won’t be too long before they’re all joining in, so
a first distant howl is your cue to frame your shot.

Massey also strongly recommends taking time to observe your
subjects and their surroundings before you even train your lens on them. ‘It’s
what I always do,’ he says, ‘and it’s so important when it’s new to you.
Captive animals have a real routine, and expected behaviours you can start to
recognise. Taking in your surroundings is very important, too, as it gives you
the chance to scope out what shots you want. There is a hill in the Beenham
pack’s enclosure opposite the viewing platform, which gives us the opportunity
to shoot at the animals’ level with no fences to get in the way and with a good
background of trees.

‘Also, if you were tracking a wolf through your lens for a
naturalistic shot and it suddenly moved against a fence background, you’d be
stuck. However, if you’ve already done a recce and have an idea of the
backgrounds, you’d know when the last point would come at which you could get a
good picture. So take stock – otherwise you’re just taking snaps.’


Photo by Michael Kiely – As the eyes are the focal point, they must be pin-sharp. Michael’s
shot is a great example of how to get it right

Framing and Composition

With wildlife imagery, the general principle is to shoot
from the animal’s eye level. This gives you access to their world and creates a
more intimate feel. Wolves have amazingly emotive eyes, so a close-up portrait
will make a compelling picture – in any case, eyes will be a natural point of
focus, and must be as sharp as possible for the best results. If you can get
the nose in focus, too, even better. Given a wolf’s long face and powerful
jaws, portrait format works well for close-ups.

Photo by Emily Kearns – They eyes are in focus in Kemily’s images, producing a strong, emotive photograph

One trick that succeeds on the day is to hold the wolves’
lunch – pieces of raw chicken – high against the fence so they have to stand on
their hind legs to reach it, giving us the perfect opportunity to photograph
them face-to-face. It must be said, these hand-reared animals take the meat so
carefully, almost gracefully, from their keeper’s hands.

Photo by Gill Mullins – While the wolf’s profile is strong, the shot is lost as the eyes are not in focus

‘Compose your shot according to the Rule of Thirds by
imagining a noughts-and-crosses grid in the viewfinder, and place your
subject(s) at one of the four intersecting points on the grid,’ says Massey.
‘This will give space for them to “look” into the rest of the frame, generally
creating a far more inviting image for the viewer than one with your subject
dead centre.’

Lens Choice

 Photo by Emily Kearns

For this type of work, a zoom is a better choice than a
prime lens, as it gives more shooting flexibility. Massey uses his 70-200mm all day, and a 100-400mm like the lens reader Tony Mearman is using is a great
option for captive animals. However, a focal length capability of 400mm or
500mm would probably be necessary in the wild, when you would be much further
away from your subjects. A wideangle setting is great for portraits, close-ups
and contextual scene setting, while telephoto lengths are ideal for defocused
backgrounds and longer distance shots – such as those we take from the viewing
platform over the Beenham pack’s enclosure.

Photo by Tony Mearman – Each lens can offer its own virtues. Here we see that Tony
used a 100-400mm zoom lens
to keep his distance and create a strong profile of the wolf

You can also use a telephoto for panning shots, capturing a
moving subject sharply against a blurred background (the darker the better,
with trees being ideal), to create a feeling of speed. With your feet still and
swivelling your upper body from the hips, track the wolf as it approaches, then
depress the shutter and continue to track it as it runs past, using a slow
shutter speed, such as 1/60sec, to keep the eye and head sharp throughout, but
blurring movement in the legs and creating a stylistically streaked background.
However, this proves difficult to manage when shooting through the fencing, and
on the day we can’t quite get the angles right from the viewing platform.

However, static shots on the ground are easier to manage and
we wait for the wolves to move into the frame to get successful images of

Camera Settings

Photo by Michael Kearns – It’s possible to attract a wolf to the fence by asking a handler
to tempt it with a small piece of meat

For this type of work, it’s better to use manual focus rather
than auto, as complete control over your shutter speed and aperture will allow
you to experiment more. ‘Getting to grips with manual mode may seem daunting to
begin with, but once you have mastered it, it can be a brilliant tool,’ says
Massey. Plus, he adds, when you’re shooting through fencing as we are at the
Trust, you don’t want AF locking onto the fence or locking onto the background.

Photo by Emily Kearns – By including the defocused wire in the shot Emily makes it clear
that we are seeing a captive wolf

As for aperture, Massey suggests trying around f/2.8 so the
background is nicely defocused. If you have a depth of field preview button,
use it before taking the shot to ensure you are happy with the effect. The wire
fencing enclosing the wolves has small holes cut into it for shooting through,
but it’s also possible to shoot through the regular small gaps in the fencing
by getting right up to them with your lens. Conversely, you might want to
retain the wire, defocused, in the foreground to establish that you are
photographing a captive animal.

To maximise their shooting chances, Massey suggests the
readers try auto ISO. ‘I started using it recently after missing a couple of
shots because my ISO was on the wrong setting. It’s one less thing to worry
about,’ he says. ‘Set it within limits your camera is happy with – I choose a
minimum of ISO 250 and a maximum of 1600 – and then you can dial in your
shutter speed knowing the ISO will change automatically.’

Photo by Michael Kiely – Using auto ISO means that no matter what shutter speed you
use to capture the action, your ISO will change automatically

Whatever you want to do, Massey advises trying out
techniques in your back garden or local park, with readily available subjects
such as pets or pigeons, so you are used to your camera’s capabilities and
settings before you concentrate on more esoteric subjects such as wolves. ‘With
captive animals, you can afford to be a bit more experimental, but even so, if
you’re going somewhere for the first time, keep to standard shots. Then, when
you’re more sure of what you’re doing and of the animal’s behavioural patterns,
you can try something different, whether that’s using slower shutter speeds,
wider angles or panning shots.’