Outdoor Photography Tips 41 - Running in Circles - How to photograph quick critters.


Summer is just around the corner and I am already overwhelmed by the number of invertebrates to shoot this year. The small herps - lizards and frogs - are also in town showing off how well they enjoy the warming weather.

Some of these subjects are difficult to capture because they jump too far and fast, while others run off in another direction quicker than you can follow as you attempt to track them through your viewfinder. There are a host of small specimens - spiders, snails, beetles, etc - that make intriguing subjects, but are seldom just in the right spot and willing to let you with your "Giganticus enormousii" camera gear focus on the best moment.

What can you do? Well, while chasing around a jumping spider at one point in my outdoor shooting career, I felt like I was just going in circles. This was the instigation I needed to come up with a shooting strategy pointed directly at the subject whichever direction it wanted to go. I asked myself if I was enjoying going round and round with my photographic guest. Of course the immediate answer was, "Uh, NO!" Then the solution hit me. The subject needs to change direction without realizing it.

Here is where a lazy susan comes into play. I’m not talking about a person named Susan who is lazy, but the two disks separated by ball bearings, or “the spinny tray”.

Let me briefly describe the setup to you. I have a small tray in which I construct a diorama (much like a small scene from the animal's habitat), and then set that on the lazy susan. To prevent the subject from wandering off the diorama, I place the lazy susan in a small tray of water. The water acts as a deterrent for most of the subjects.

I did have a snake that thought the merry-go-round was fun, but eventually decided that going for a short dip in the pond would be better, and it slithered right into tray of water. Of course this began a whole new set of photographic strategies that will be covered in future blog tips.

Many active subjects can be shot by turning the lazy susan around when the subject decides you are not worth looking at any more and heads the other direction. This also makes it possible to set up a tripod in a single location and just rotate the diorama as the critter moves to investigate its surroundings.

I have included this illustration to better aid you in understanding my ramblings. I also like to use this technique inside of a softbox, which I will include with an illustration as well.

Remember, the next time to find yourself awkwardly running in circles in an attempt to capture a small moving subject, place them on the merry-go-round, and you can be in better control of the ride.

Alternately, my son suggested that you could build a room that rotates with a center that remains stationary, but I don't think it is as cost effective as the lazy susan, haha.

And as always, happy shooting.

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