Cute Raccoons Lead to Facebook Engagement

Photo of two baby raccoon faces in a tree.  © Keith Freeburn
Looks like the local raccoons had a recent litter of two little rascals. I love looking up at this nest and seeing curious little faces looking back at me. © Keith Freeburn

Interview with Keith Freeburn

Certain photos get tons of engagement on social media—likes, shares, comments. Others don’t. Why? What is it about these photographs that grabs viewers’ attention enough to comment or share? What can we learn from them? NANPA’s Facebook group has more than 20,000 members and dozens of posts each day. It’s an active community of nature photographers and people who enjoy great nature photography. This article is the first in a series in which we take a closer look at the most engaging photos from the group and see if we can tease out why they had such an impact.

Keith Freeburn posted his photo of two raccoons on September 13th and it was an immediate hit. To date, it’s garnered more than 1,300 likes, 109 comments and 191 shares. We asked Keith to tell us a little about himself and reflect on why this photo just took off.

What’s your nature photography story?

I have been shooting for a little over three years. I was a competitive Master’s runner and, when injured, would hike six to ten miles per day to maintain fitness. I’ve always enjoyed seeing wildlife on these hikes and wanted to be able to document the sightings through photography. My favorite subjects are raptors and we have a great variety of them here in Northern Virginia,. I currently do this as a hobby but would eventually like to make it a profession. I was very happy to place in the top 100 of the Audubon Photography Awards this year.

What’s the story behind this photo?

I found this spot about two years ago when I thought it would be an excellent nest for a great horned owl. I would check it about twice a week on my routine walks and, after several weeks of looking up at it, I saw a raccoon looking down at me. I kept looking up and sometimes I would see two of them in the nest. In September I saw them both looking at me with one resting its head on top of the other and I started clicking away using my Nikon D500 with a Nikkor 500mm PF lens on a tripod.

Why did this photo do so well?

I thought this was way too cute and had to capture it but I definitely had no idea that this shot would end up being so popular. I think the cute factor as well as the eye contact with the raccoons made people react so favorably to the photo. It also ended up becoming my highest liked photo on Instagram, which shocked me considering I had been posting photos of harpy eagles that I photographed in January/February of this year.

I do believe storytelling does help with eliciting shares and reactions. I’ve found that trying to describe the scene and the behaviors of the subjects gets people more excited about the photo and, therefore, more likely to comment or ask questions. I admit to being surprised by the sheer number of comments and really enjoyed reading about others’ encounters with these intelligent and sometimes mischievous critters. 

Have you had other images that got a lot of engagement?

I have had a few images with similar reactions including a yellow-crowned night heron performing its courtship dance and a few photos of a harpy eagle and her chick. I think each photo showed unique behaviors not often witnessed in the wild and each generated reactions from people who wanted to know more about these beautiful creatures.

Any advice for others?

I have definitely learned a lot in these three years and continue to learn every time I take a camera with me. I think of each nature walk as a mini nature documentary. My advice for those starting out is to make that jump from the “auto” button to the “manual” button. Learn from each mistake and have fun!

Two female members in the field looking at images