Wildlife Photography Tips 11 The Leaping Frog

The Leaping Frog

As I reviewed the title of this article, I had to chuckle a bit. It almost sounded like the name of a pub in a Harry Potter novel. But as I often do, I have already gone off on a tangent.

Now back on task. I am really hoping the video presentation produced by my friend Terry VanderHeiden of Image Light Photography, this article, along with the illustrations, enable you to work with confidence with faster moving wildlife subjects. Like all wildlife photography, there are three basic components - procuring and working with a subject, having the proper equipment and mechanics in place, and the actual technique administered for the capture to take place.

High-speed captures require many attempts before an actual image is captured that can be called "a keeper". This is because you are often dealing with an event in which the peak capture moment is "said and done" within a few milliseconds.

Capturing frogs in mid jump requires three essential components. The camera, a capable triggering device, and and knowledge of the subject. My subject examples were a bit more difficult than most frog captures due the size and speed of the subject. I would recommend some of the larger and more available species such as the bullfrog and the leopard frog. In the USA, these two species can be fairly abundant and easily acquired.

If you are not the "froggy capture specialist" you once were as a child, or for that matter, never were, you can probably locate children in the neighborhood or relatives that will acommodate you. Though with my experience in today's classrooms, I have found children more into video games than outdoor experiences than I desired as a child. But that is another story. Since I never grew up anyway, I can still catch the little critters. And, as a small note, some states require you to have a fishing license to catch frogs. So be sure to stay on the legal side of the game. Remember, If you are in California, if it's fun, it's taxed.

Most DSLR cameras will work as they have a reasonable response time after tripping the shutter. You should probably stay away from cameras with video displays as they require too much time after being triggered to actually take the exposure.

Now the next part is more critical. You will have to have a triggering device for the captures. Your capture success rate climbs astronomically when you incorporate a trigger, and don't use the "I can push the button as soon as the frog jumps" method. It is most painful to watch exposure after exposure with the most captivating blank frames to enjoy.

There are a few companies who manufacture triggers. The one I use is made by Cognisys Systems Inc. They have designed and fabricated three types of motion sensors - infra-red, laser, and the most recent utlizes a Lidar. It is kind of a light/radar thingy like the police use to ticket you. I use the laser setup, though you might want to put on your Halloween police officer outfit and make your captures with the Lidar instead.

Now as I just stated, I use the laser, so that is what the drawings and photos will refer to in this article. The main reason I have chosen the laser is that you can see the beam. That means you can precisely target the subject by prefocusing on the laser beam. Note (The Stopshot device I use can be set to turn off the laser as the triggering happens. This eliminates the light from the laser begin on the subject during exposure).

So here is the setup. In the illustration below, you can see that the laser is located below the subject, and the receiver is above. I have constructed a box with attached PVC pipe to hold the laser in position. The adjoining stage for the frogs comprizes a small adjustible enclosure for each specimen to travel through before leaping out the end that just so happens to have the laser beam awaiting them.

The basic reasoning for the chamber, if you haven't figured it out yet, is so the frog will jump in one direction. Set a frog on a table and you can run a raffle by selling tickets to individuals attempting to guess the direction it will jump. It also saves you from running about the studio in attempts to have the frog jump a second or third performance.

Once I have the frogs and the triggering chamber situated just so, it is time to run some test shots...Oops, not quite yet. I have three manual lights (Yongnuo 560 IV flashes) as my light source. They are quite powerful units, for their size, and can be wireless remotely released as well as slaved off of each other. This saves running about with wires like spaghetti. One flash is above-front, and centered to illuminate the jumping path. This one is diffused with a diffusion material. You can use anything white and translucent. This helps the light become softer on the frog. I have another set behind and above for a bit of rim lighting. The last light is set to illuminate the backdrop. This is great if you plan on stripping out and placing your own backdrop as most shots are done.

You are now about ready to shoot the frogs. I take a ruler with the numbers facing towards me and slide it through the chamber. This will set off the trigger and you will have an image of how far the frog has gone past the laser if you slide through at about the same estimated speed of the frog you are using. You will find that the frogs will jump fast on the first couple or so jumps, and then begin to slow down. I place them back in the tank to rest while I have another one jump.

As always, use judgment as to how many times you will be having your frog jump. I use them for a couple of rest sessions, and they go right back into my pond.

As a closing note, you can use this technique with other willing creatures. The real trick to capturing the animal in motion comes from observing the organism:

Take your time. They don't always do what you want, when you want them to.

Don't over-stress the subjects.

And above all, have fun enjoying your results of things we cannot see with the unaided eye. A good example of this in a capture is witnessing a frog pull its eyes into the head as they leap. This makes them more streamlined as well as saving their eyes from impacting objects upon landing - whether on land, or in the water. See if you can observe other things that happen when they launch.

Please take a few moments to view the video interview that photographer Terry VanderHeiden shot with me to help you out.

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