The picture shows a Steppe Lemming (Lagurus lagurus) sat in a natural looking grassy environment nibbling on something with a nice “tunnel” in the long grass behind him – exactly the kind of place that you would expect to find one of these little creatures.
The reality is a little different.
The grassland is a narrow band of (real) grass growing in a plastic garden tray, along with some (real) moss under a daylight growing bulb which has been carefully nurtured for the last year or so in a corner of the studio, all sat on a Really Useful Box in a Lemming proof enclosure. Lighting is three Elinchrom ELC 500 Pro HD lights, the front ones with soft-boxes and a simple reflector and grid on the rear one.
The Lemming is a second generation youngster who has been reared with daily human contact since birth, so he’s quite used to people moving around him and interacting with him. He was being bullied by his siblings and had to be removed from the family group which is how he ended up living on my desk beside me every day and getting thoroughly socialised to the point where he is quite comfortable with my presence. “Cliff”, as he has been named, has come to regard me as a minor inconvenience in his world, especially when it’s time to change his bedding and clean out his box. It’s taken weeks of sitting there patiently beside him, letting him sniff my hand (and bite it on many occasions) to get to a point where I’m happy to bring him into the studio with out him getting stressed. There are plenty of places for him to hide if he wants to, but on the day he was quite content just wandering around the board sniffing or nibbling everything – he also seems to have developed a bit of an appetite for the Millet seeds we hide in the moss.
In the past some people have said to me that photographing animals in a studio is too easy. So, for those that think that it’s just a matter of putting an animal in front of the lights and photographing it, think again. It’s taken weeks of time, effort and patience to build up his trust and confidence to a stage where he can be photographed as a relaxed happy little lemming doing what lemmings do.