The Quill Pig aka North American Porcupine

I spot a North American Porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum) and all I have is low light. So what do I do? I focus on the Porcupine and start clicking away thinking that maybe a few images will turn out sharp and desperately hoping that I don’t get stuck with just soft ones. At first I thought it was a skunk because of the light quills and dark fur.

North American Porcupine on the shore of the Great Salt LakeNorth American Porcupine on the shore of the Great Salt Lake – Nikon D300, handheld, f6.3, 1/50, ISO 640, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 200mm, natural light

Porcupine images have been elusive for me, I nearly cried one morning when I spotted one up on a rock out in the open and I couldn’t get to it fast enough to get the images of it I “saw” in my head.

When I saw this one a few days ago I hopped out of the truck with my camera and tried to handhold the 200-400mm VR to get sharp images of it at a shutter speed of 1/50. Only a very few of those turned out because the animal kept moving. Some were ruined by the Brine Flies flying past the Porcupine which caused odd, streaky blurs in front of its face.

I can’t figure out why a Porcupine was walking along the shoreline of the Great Salt Lake as there certainly wasn’t anything in its diet there.

Close up of a North American PorcupineClose up of a North American Porcupine – Nikon D300, f6.3, 1/50, ISO 640, -0.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 200mm, natural light

Then I got back into the truck and rested my lens on my Noodle to take some images that might be sharper because they weren’t handheld. I still only got a shutter speed of 1/50 but a little more of the images were sharp. The Porcupine was too close most of the time to do anything other than take portraits of it.

You can see some of the Brine Flies on the Porcupine’s fur in the upper left side of the frame.

The Quill Pig ~ North American PorcupineThe Quill Pig ~ North American Porcupine – Nikon D300, f6.3, 1/50, ISO 640, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 200mm, natural light

The Porcupine finally moved far enough away so that I could fit it and all of its quills into the frame. I’m not completely happy with these images because of the low light but they will do for now.

Some day I won’t get stuck with low light while photographing these amazing critters.


See what happens when a Moose kisses a Porcupine here.

PS: Their nickname “Quill Pig” came from Middle French porc d’épine which translates to “thorny pork”.

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About Mia McPherson

I am a nature lover, wildlife watcher and a bird photographer. I first become serious about bird photography when I moved to Florida in 2004 and it wasn’t long before I was hooked (addicted is more like it). My move to the Salt Lake area of Utah was a great opportunity to continue observing their behavior and to pursue my passion for photographing birds.


  1. My sentiments are somewhat similar to the first response you received, yet I tend to be of the type that might want to approach a porcupine a bit closer. I think that low light can have major advantages, as these pictures show, and a glare can be the consequence of too much light.

  2. Mia, they are so cute it is hard to resist wanting to hug one! Love the close-up of the face!

  3. Great job in a “sticky” situation, Mia!

  4. Nice color and detail. You did a great job with these images, Mia! And who else could make a porcupine look cuddly?

  5. Gorgeous shots Mia, looks like a tough one to photograph.

  6. Beautiful images of this Porcupine Mia! I would be thrilled to get shots like this in good light! It amazes me that you got that first shot hand held at 1/50 sec! You are my heroine :-)

    • Thank you Larry, I may have gotten one sharp shot for every 10 – 15 that I took, my lens is rather heavy to handhold for long periods of time. I guess I need to lift weights! I was just very determined to get a few sharp shots.

  7. Great Images Mia. I got sidetracked by the Noodle link which was very interesting. What is that covering each of your lenses? just for decoration or to keep them cool/clean?

  8. Mia these are the best images I’ve ever seen of a porcupine. I love the colors. I especially like the contrast with the rocks too. Carol

  9. They turned out well. I like the close-ups and then the whole view. Well, they’re saying the full frame bodies (in Canon the 5D Mark 3, Nikon must have an equivalent) do have much better high ISO performance to be able to handhold. I don’t like loosing the crop factor but eventually that higher ISO is a temptation just to be able to handhold in lower light conditions.

    • Thanks Maria. I could have cranked the ISO up higher than I had it set for more shutterspeed. I would not trade the crop factor I have with the D300 for a full frame body because I do bird and wildlife photography. My lens is heavy enough that I don’t handheld often but when I do it is usually in better light so I would have more shutterspeed.

    • I agree, the crop factor is necessary for Wildlife.

  10. Fabulous! I have never had the pleasure of seeing one of these prickly creatures before. I am surprised at how sweet its face looks. Very cool find!

  11. A sweet looking creature!!

  12. Wonderful images! I’ve never seen one before and I really think this is as close as I want to be! :)

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