Wildlife Photography Tips 4 - Stalking Small Subjects

I have just returned from several days in the Salton Sea and surrounding environs. Since there is a quite a variety of micro habitats, I thought I would share one technique I use for locating inverts. Desert and high montane environments are often difficult to shoot wildlife. In the Fall, the weather can be unpredictable at best. When I was hiking around, the temperature ranged from a high of 96 to 57 degrees from day to day. I had to be ready for anything.

While exploring the creosote brush habitat just North of Lancaster, CA, I was able to locate the following species of butterfly. I still have to key it out, so any of you that might know what it is off hand and desire to share the info, it would be appreciated. It appears to be some kind of copper or hairsteak, but who knows.

I don't have a photo of the habitat, but it was very level terrain. Here is the technique I use for obtaining these shots.

After a brief slow walk of the area, I was able to make a plan for shooting. First of all, it was very windy, so I eliminated attempting captures from vegetation higher than a foot from the ground. I also grabbed my kneeling pad as part of the shooting equipment.

Second was locating the animal or plant I wanted to shoot. The desert is a very big place, so don't get into the "move quickly to cover ground" mode. Pick a spot, say 200 foot square, and move slowly through the pavement and creosote bush. Many of the organisms in the desert move quickly and for a short distance. You will not spot them if you move too fast.

I spotted a whiptail lizard, a couple of species of flies , a grasshopper, and the specimens you are now looking at. But it was not an easy capture as the butterflies wouldn't let me get within 15 foot of him. After ten minutes of stalking slowly through the vegetation I stood up and searched for an alternative method. Fall is "down time" for most everything in the desert, but all animals share a common thread - they have to eat. After performing a visual sweep of the area, I located one flowering plant about 150 yards away. There was another about 400 yards further, but I figured this closer one would be a gathering spot since it was "few an far between" each of these plants.

When I approached the bush, at about 20 foot away I noticed a couple of the same species of butterfly fluttering around. They had been alerted by my approach.

Now, how to attempt a capture a shot without scaring the little buggers away. I slowly approached from the sunny side of the plant. The butterflies quickly shifted to the back side which I had anticipated. This provided me with the opportunity to set up on the sunny side. Butterflies, like many cold-blooded organisms, enjoy the sunlight to keep the body juices moving and digestion going. So now all I had to do is wait.

After about 5 minutes of being still, the dancing inverts did indeed work their way to my side of the bush. Now I didn't have to move to get close as I was already there. It was just a matter of dealing with the gusting wind and shooting low to the ground.

I hope this provides you with some ideas for your next trip out into the outdoors to do your capturing. The equipment I used for this shot was a 105mm Micro lens on my camera, and the kneeling pad. I usually use a flash, but the diffuser setup is fairly large and would not allow me to approach these beauties for a shot. I believe the capture was made at approx. f11 @ 500sec. Using the available daylight, I wanted to keep the shutter speed up to help prevent blurring from the constant wind movement.

This was a bit long-winded in itself, but I wanted to let you know some of the things I consider when I am approaching a subject to shoot. I hope you can utilize this method in the future to capture some of these often difficult subjects.

Enjoy and happy shooting.

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