squirrel drinking in a puddle

Shooting Squirrels with the Sony α7R IV

Gustav Kiburg

As summer slowly fades into a distant memory, the colours of autumn provide the perfect backdrop for wildlife photographer, Gustav Kiburg. “I always think about colour,” he tells us. I think about where I should sit and what the background will be. I think about where a branch of a tree is and what colour the leaves are in the background. There is always a lot of to think about before I even take my first picture.”

gustav kiburg sony alpha 7r4 a squirrel stands with a bright red leaf © Gustav Kiburg | Sony α7R IV + FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS | 1/640s @ f/2.8, ISO 1000

For one of his first outings last autumn, Gustav ventured out in to the forest to photograph red squirrels with the Sony α7R IV. “They are funny animals. In autumn they are great to photograph.  During this season their fur gets thicker and they get hair around their ears to protect them in the cold temperatures over winter.”

With squirrels being small and quick, it is natural to think that a camera with faster performance, such as the Sony α9 II, would be better for photographing them, however, Gustav has many reasons why the α7R IV was the ideal camera for this project.

gustav kiburg sony alpha 7r4 a squirrel on a branch with moss © Gustav Kiburg | Sony α7R IV + FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS | 1/2000s @ f/2.8, ISO 1600

In autumn squirrels are very active, Gustav tells us, because they are busy burying food for the winter months. So how did the α7R IV help him to capture this? “Well, I found that it was a great camera for being able to capture their movements and activity,” he says. “There is just so much detail produced from the 61.2-million-pixel sensor, which gives me the flexibility to crop in to the image and still have enough detail to make large prints. I always say that when you are shooting wildlife images you can never have enough ‘reach’, by which I mean focal length. So having the ability to crop to perfect the composition is fantastic.”

gustav kiburg sony alpha 7r4 squirrel on a wet branch © Gustav Kiburg | Sony α7R IV + FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS | 1/320s @ f/2.8, ISO 2000

Lens focal length is obviously vital in wildlife photography, and like many other photographers, the Sony FE 400mm f/2.8 GM lens is one of Gustav’s favourites, and one he used for the red squirrel images. However, the FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS lens is another favourite of Gustav’s, and one he recommends to amateur photographers that may want to give wildlife photography a go. “For me, it’s the perfect wildlife lens,” he says. “It has a great focal length for wildlife; if I’m in the forest and I’m photographing a squirrel I can use a 300mm focal length, but then if I spot a small bird on a tree I can quickly zoom to 600mm. And it has 11 aperture blades which helps to make the background bokeh look great and make the subject really stand out.”

gustav kiburg sony alpha 7r4 a goshawk lands on a branch © Gustav Kiburg | Sony α7R IV + FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS | 1/1250s @ f/2.8, ISO 1000

Another surprise of the α7R IV is the speed of the autofocus. Gustav uses its tracking AF and finds that it is perfectly capable of keeping up with the wildlife. “When I was shooting, out of the corner of my eye I spotted a Goshawk that was coming in to land on a branch,” he explains. “They fly very fast, so you don’t have a lot of time to react or think about the image. I turned and within a fraction of a second the camera had locked on and a captured the shot – you have to react very fast, but the camera can keep up.”

gustav kiburg sony alpha 7r4 squirrel standing in front of a puddle with its paws joined © Gustav Kiburg | Sony α7R IV + FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS | 1/500s @ f/2.8, ISO 1000

One thing that Gustav is passionate about is colour, and is a champion of the bad weather. “Bad weather is colour weather,” he preaches, “I don’t like the sun. It gives you hard light, and when you get hard light you get hard shadows. I always go out in cloudy weather because that’s when the colours come out. With lens contrast you can see all of the rich natural colours, especially in the autumn. Sometimes I will also use a polariser to enrich to colours further, particularly in the wet woodland environment. All of these colours help to show off the squirrels natural habitat, and it acts as the perfect backdrop for their vivid red winter coats.”

gustav kiburg sony alpha 7r4 a squirrel at the end of a branch looking surprised © Gustav Kiburg | Sony α7R IV + FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS | 1/500s @ f/2.8, ISO 1000

After a long day shooting in the forest, capturing squirrels and birds, and any other animals he may come across, Gustav says he can easily take 1,000 images a day. But what happens to all of those photographs? With a 61-million-pixel sensor that is a lot of image data to be storing. “I keep the best 10 to 15, then I delete the other 985!” Gustav laughs. “I don’t understand those who worry about needing lots more storage space because of the higher resolution images. I want to share the best images with people, not the one that is the 100th best. I will never use any of those other photos, they will end up just staying on my hard drive and never being looked at, so I just delete them – problem solved!”

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Gustav Kiburg

Gustav Kiburg | Netherlands

"Bad weather is colour weather"

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