Photography while solo spotlighting. Any tips?

A couple of people have asked over the past few weeks if I have any advice on how to photograph mammals – especially small ones – while spotlighting on your own.

My long lens is very heavy and I need to support it while taking a picture, so I don’t have a free hand to hold the spotlight. So I generally end up trying to balance the camera on the car window sill (if I am in a car), or hold the light flush to the lens with one hand when I am on foot.  Neither of these techniques works very well and it is often a struggle to get the autofocus to kick in.  Does anyone have any tips?




  • Frederico Morais


    Check this out:

    It’s from a guy I follow on youtube.


  • Peter Apps

    You can get an assortment of absurdly bright and small LED torches these days – tape one to the lens hood with a bit of padding to aim it at the lens’s field of view and when you see an animal with your handheld spot, switch the spotlight off and the small torch on. I use a Ledlenser P7.2 on a Nikon 200 – 400 mm zoom and the autofocus operates without problems.

  • Andy Murch

    Hi Jon,
    For solo spotlighting, I made a bracket from a piece of aluminum, a screw from an old monopod and an underwater light holder with a ball joint so that I could fine tune the angle depending on the distance of the subject. These were all things I had laying around.
    Also, I found a light with an adjustable beam. Initially, I scan on wide-angle, but if the subject is too far for the autofocus to lock onto, I can narrow the beam for a more concentrated burn. Of course, most animals are terrified of it but it works well when they’re too scared to move 🙂
    I have uploaded a couple of images here:

  • Jon Hall

    Thanks Andy – that looks pretty impressive. As are the pictures on your website. Wow!

  • Rohan Clarke

    Presumably you are using a 100-400 mm lens or something similar Jon? If on foot I use such a lens combined with two flashes, one on the hot shoe and a second handheld. For light I just use a headlamp that is moderately bright – ie a good one but not military grade. with a 100-400 lens if you force the shutter speed to 250 /sec or similar you wont need to rest it on much or anything to stop any blur from shake etc. the head lamp sometimes needs to be moved slightly on my head to ‘reach’ around the mounted flash but is rarely a problem. Second flash is held in my left hand – this same hand also holds/rests the end of the lens. Right hand is for holding the camera body, dials and shutter.

    Advantage with the above is that I’m reasonably nimble when moving through the bush (ie no extra gear) and no extra space is required when travelling.

    I’ve tried a few different brackets over the years, sometimes shoot with three flashes (the third then needs to be placed somewhere including sometimes on the ground) and have a 500 mm that I sometimes use with a tripod and flash brackets for walking where finding and observing mammals is the first priority and photographing a (close) second the simple system works the best for me.


    • Jon Hall

      Thanks Rohan – I was hoping you might comment! (Rohan is an exceptional wildlife photographer ). I’m using a fixed 300mm lens right now but I think I will switch to a more manageable 100-400mm when I am on foot. Must look into how to combine two flashes. Jon

    • geomalia

      Rohan – is there a high flash bracket you would recommend? Preferably, something mounted to the camera body to get more height?


      • Rohan Clarke

        Hi Ben,
        For my 100-400 mm I just use an on camera flash + another held in my hand. I have an E3 transmitter so if there is a real need (and the mammal sticks around) I can swap that for the on-camera flash and then have two off camera flashes. I’ve done that a few times when mammals have been moving around the campsite for example. In those cases I might end up with a flash on the ground and another on a camp chair whilst I sit between the two….I have tried home made brackets to get the flashes away from the camera whilst keeping my hands free but I found many of those designs reduced my movement and I was then less nimble when it came to finding and stalking and seeing mammals.

        The only bracket I use is a flash arm for a mongoose head on a tripod and then that’s usually with a 500 mm. It is far enough above the lens for most mammals but more distant things with bright eye shine (e.g. cats and, here and in Australia, Greater Gliders) it still isn’t enough. They are fairly expensive for what amounts to a bent bit of alloy (albeit a well engineered bent bit of alloy!).

  • Jon Hall

    There is also a thread running on the Australian Mammal Watching group on Facebook about this right now. I cannot work out how to link the whole thread but here is one response that was interesting … not sure if people who aren’t members of the group can see it though.

  • geomalia

    I’m planning to get a flash bracket, which would allow me to shine a headlamp between my camera and the flash. I’m not sure how well it will work, but I’ll post here when I find out.

  • Jono Dashper

    Similar to Rohan’s set up, for walking around I have a 100-400mm with a camera mounted flash and a head torch.
    Other times I use a 500mm mounted on a tripod and the same head torch.
    In either situations I am a big fan of using the cameras “Live View” (or similar) mode and manual focus to nail the focus on the animal.
    For the 100-400 set up, this required holding the camera out in front of my head to view the live image on the screen. This system does have draw back (i.e. exposure preview does not operate until flash has recycled, at least with my camera/flash) however I have found this system works best for me.
    I will be looking into multi flashes and high flash brackets for the 500mm/tripod setup in the future.

  • Chris Charles

    Several set-ups that I use fro LED lights are shown here

    EF300 on monopod, my preference for bush bashing at night.
    EF500 on monopod if firetrail or similar easy walking at night.
    EF500 on tripod for set-piece shooting.

    Also an older set-up for mounting a HID light on EF500 shown here:–accessories.html

  • Jon Hall

    Thanks Chris – that is some impressive kit … and some really impressive photos on your website too

    cheers Jon

  • Murray Lord

    Here are some photos of a setup that Chris (from post two above) made for me from a mixture of eBay and bespoke parts. It works well and allows you to use the torch for spotlighting then attach it to the camera in seconds. The only two minor downsides are that it requires the lumpy attachment to be affixed from the torch from the outset, and it lights up the side of the lens.

  • Chris Charles

    I have added a couple of new light bracket images to my web site which may give you some ideas.
    Many of the components are cheaply available on eBay.
    I am retired & dont run a business but am happy to help Mammal Watchers if I can.
    I am in Sydney.

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