Photographing a skunk… sort of

I sometimes wonder what it says about me, that when I see this-

A skunks tail waving like a flag above the grass

I do not turn my own tail and head the other direction. Instead, if it is not already in my hand, I grab my camera and set off in pursuit. Judging from my own case, there is a short circuit within a photographer’s brain, and the danger and self-preservation sections are bypassed. There are so many possible pictures out there, yet I am always convinced that by dangling from the safety railing that is meant to keep me out, by scaling things I shouldn’t unencumbered (yet attempt with thirty to forty pounds of camera gear strapped to various points of my body), by entering the cow pasture with the serious looking bull with large horns, weighing in at well over ten times my own weight, or, in this case following around a wild skunk that is not used to the presence of humans, that I can get a better photograph… And sometimes I’m right… and sometimes, not so much so.

Following the skunk through the grass I was able to get some images of the tell-tale stripes on the back

First off the Mandatory Disclaimer: I do not recommend that anyone try to photograph a wild skunk that is spotted out and about in the day time. Skunks are nocturnal, and if you see one during daylight hours, (especially around midday like this one) it is usually a bad sign, as it often means there is something wrong with the skunk… fun stuff like rabies or distemper. Also skunks can spray, and that spray, especially if it is a direct hit, can cause all sorts of bad reactions like blindness, vomiting, burning sensations, and not to mention you, your clothes, and all your gear will be coated in a stench that takes a lot of time (days or weeks) and effort to remove. That said, I will keep photographing skunks when the opportunity permits.

Luckily I was able to get one or two decent face shots, even with all the long grass

There are a couple of things going for the wildlife photographer that tries to photograph a skunk-

  • They don’t like to spray. They can, and they will, but they prefer not to.
  • They have poor eyesight, especially during the day. This means you can be standing fairly closely, and they won’t necessarily see you.
  • They are pretty confident in their defenses, so they won’t bolt away like some other animals will
  • If you find one to take photographs of, chances are you won’t be competing with other people also trying for pictures.

This particular skunk seemed healthy, in spite of the fact that it was out foraging during the day (the act of foraging actually helped it seem healthier, as unhealthy animals aren’t as interested in food). It wasn’t too easy photographing this skunk however. The grass was mostly taller than it was, so it was very difficult to ever see, much less photograph, its face. It found a small animal to eat for instance- I could hear it crunching and munching away from where I was several paces away, but I have no idea what the creature that it ate was… I could never see it for the long grass. I was mostly limited to photos of the tail and the back, which can be fun for a photograph or two, but get pretty old after a while… which means that while I got a few decent shots in, next time I see a skunk wandering around out there, I’ll foolishly grab my camera once more in the hopes of even better shots.

About Galen Leeds Photography

Nature and wildlife photographer, exploring the world on his feet and from his kayak. Among other genres, he is one of the leading kayak photographers in Northern California. To learn more about him, visit him on his website-
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9 Responses to Photographing a skunk… sort of

  1. Emily Heath says:

    Thanks for risking the skunk spray for us!

  2. I’ve never been lucky enough to catch a skunk out in the daylight. Their range when they spray is limited, so during the day, I could use a long lens and stay out of the danger zone. It’s at night when I see them, and have to use a flash, which then puts me closer than I want to be. Loved the photos!

  3. I loved your post and pictures. What an adventure! You are very brave for facing that skunk….it was cute though I’d have to say. :)

  4. Mark Goodwin says:

    Lovely photos Galen. Of course we don’t have skunks in the UK but we have this picture of them in our heads from the cartoons that we see. I knew that their spray was smelly of course, but I didn’t realise that it could also be quite dangerous with the blindness and vomiting thing.
    The pic where you caught the face is a cracker!

  5. janechese says:

    Cute face-my friends in the country get regular visits from a friendly skunk mom and her babies-come right up to the house and no spraying. My friend just warns me if i happen to be coming with a dog.

  6. Great pics! Would rather see your photos than the real thing! And the warning about rabies can’t be overlooked – already this spring there have been several rabid skunks found in our part of the country (Ozarks).

  7. mom says:

    That is one pretty darn cute skunk face! We used to have a skunk (when Galen was little) that would go into the chicken coop to eat the eggs…a number of times when getting home late from work and it was dark, I would go gather eggs and belated realize while my hand was feeling for eggs that I was feeling fur rather than feathers. It never sprayed me thank goodness, but I was always careful not to freak out or make any sudden moves! We seemed to have an agreement of sorts.

  8. Marcel says:

    Nice shots – hopefully you were using a long lens :-)

  9. You really hit the nail on the head, when a camera is in hand, danger seems non-existent. I was just in NC and was tromping through an area known for bear and copperheads, always looking for the next image and I am not even a pro like you. It is infectious. I did get a bear shot too, just it is not very clear since I did not have a telephoto lens on the camera. We were in NC to shoot flowers, not wildlife, and flowers did not perk my interest as much. I think I come to your site way too often. :smile:

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