Photographer Who Captured Squirrel Battling Wind With Tiny Umbrella Explains How He Did It

by : Emily Brown on : 28 Feb 2020 13:17
Photographer Who Captured Squirrel Battling Wind With Tiny Umbrella Explains How He Did ItMax Ellis Photographic

With the amount of editing software available these days, pretty much everyone who has access to a phone or computer can manipulate images.

We barely bat an eyelid now when we see the ‘distracted boyfriend’ have his head turned by a newly superimposed, meme-worthy distraction, or when we come across one of our friends looking 50 years older thanks to a filter.


So when photos of animals doing hilarious and unexpected things appear on our timeline, it’s all too easy to assume they’re probably fake.

Squirrel carving pumpkinMax Ellis Photographic

However, that’s not necessarily always the case, as photographer Max Ellis hopes to prove. The 47-year-old, from Teddington, UK, has made a career of taking pictures of animals, and after spending painstaking amounts of time trying to get the perfect shot he’s determined not to let Photoshop take all the credit.

One of Max’s most brilliant – in my opinion – photography projects is entitled ‘Squirrelisimo’, and is made up of pictures of squirrels getting up to all sorts of weird and wonderful things, like experimenting with test tubes, weightlifting and performing magic.

Squirrel lifting weightsMax Ellis Photographic

Don’t worry; the squirrels in Max’s photos aren’t beefy, well trained woodland creatures being exploited for their talents – rather, they’re just curious little creatures that Max had the pleasure of spotting in his back garden.

The photographer first started snapping pictures of squirrels about 10 years ago, when he noticed the bushy-tailed animals poking about among some of the objects, props and equipment he’d previously used while outdoors.

One early photo, for example, shows a nosy squirrel exploring the inside of a leftover paper cup, which was decorated with a human’s nose and mouth. Check it out below:

Squirrel in paper cupMax Ellis Photographic

Max decided to document the squirrels’ adventures with his photoseries, and rather than using editing software to make it appear as if the animals had taken up typically human pastimes, he decided to let the squirrels’ curiosity do much of the job for him.

Speaking to UNILAD, Max explained he uses fishing line or wire to get his props into place before sprinkling a few nuts in the area and allowing the squirrels to descend. It can take ‘days and days’ before the photographer captures one of the creatures interacting with props in the desired way, but the result is always worth the wait.

Squirrel playing JengaMax Ellis Photographic

One widely-shared image, titled ‘Windy Day’, shows a squirrel appearing to shield itself from a gust of wind with a purple umbrella. It’s a pose UK residents will likely be familiar with thanks to our common blustery weather, so seeing an animal adopt the same determined stance is particularly endearing.

Check it out here:

Squirrel battling wind with umbrellaMax Ellis Photographic

Speaking about how the image came to be, Max told UNILAD:


I often build a shelter for the squirrels on rainy days and I’d left the umbrella up. The squirrels are used to poking around looking for nuts in anything I leave out, and eventually one got into the right position.

I’d set up a platform with dead leaves on it next to the umbrella… to [add] a bit of context, as you can’t see wind.

Squirrel hiding under umbrellaMax Ellis Photographic

The photographer pointed out there’s a number of elements that go into capturing the perfect image, explaining ‘you’ve got to have the right weather and the right animals who are comfortable with the props’.

According to Max, the younger squirrels are typically a bit more apprehensive when it comes to interacting with the tiny props, whereas the older ones are ‘more willing to play along’.

Successfully capturing the photos is the biggest task for the 47-year-old; once that part’s out of the way there’s typically only a few minor touch ups to be made, though people are often convinced the photos are heavily edited.

Two squirrels pulling Christmas crackerMax Ellis Photographic

Max explained:

I edit very little. At most I get rid of any fishing line or wire as it’s distracting.

That’s one of the most annoying things, everyone thinks I simply Photoshop these images together – that would be a lot easier!

The photographer tends to find his tiny props on eBay, though some fans have also taken to sending in objects for him to use on the shoots. He then finds inspiration through the props he’s accumulated, and gets to work once he’s formed an idea of how the squirrels might interact with them.

After 10 years snapping squirrels, Max has created quite the impressive collection showing the woodland animals playing Jenga, practising musical instruments, carving pumpkins, reading, and even dabbling in photography for themselves.

Squirrel using a cameraMax Ellis Photographic

Max tends to keep his images straightforward in an attempt to make them more believable, as they have been met with skepticism in the past – most notably when Max gave himself the task of recreating the 1963 war film The Great Escape.

The photographer arranged tanks, motorbikes, toy soldiers and even little hats for the squirrels to interact with, but his efforts didn’t receive the appreciation they deserved as Max told UNILAD no one believed that particular photo was unedited.

'The Great Escape' recreated with squirrelsMax Ellis Photographic

On the other hand, some of Max’s images have proved so convincing that he has been accused in the past of ‘gluing the squirrels’ paws to the objects’.

Thankfully the photographer found inspiration from the criticism, and used the accusation to come up with a new photo in which one squirrel held a tube of glue while another appeared to be stuck to some binoculars.

Squirrel holding superglue and another squirrel looking in binocularsMax Ellis Photographic

The endearing photos provide a great insight into the ways wildlife can interact with objects from the human world, and Max has no intention of stopping any time soon.

He has used his images to write a book based around the adventures of Squirrelisimo, and with five squirrels still showing up to his garden every day he has plenty of opportunity to expand his brilliant collection.

The patience and detail that goes into creating the scenes must be appreciated, so it’s definitely worth giving all those animal photos on your Instagram feed a second look and figuring out whether it’s the work of a quick-add filter, or days’ worth of determination.

Hopefully we’ll see Max’s squirrels getting up to more mischief soon!

If you have a story you want to tell, send it to UNILAD via [email protected]

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Emily Brown

Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.

Topics: Animals, London, Nature, Photography


Max Ellis Photographic
  1. Max Ellis Photographic