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Archive for the ‘Tips and Techniques’ Category

Male American Toad (Bufo americanus) chorusing in pond at night.

Male American Toad (Bufo americanus) chorusing in pond at night.

I have been quite busy these last few weeks, with little time to get out for fresh images. This week with our night time temperatures being relatively warm I had to head out in search of some photos of chorusing toads, which I could hear far off in the distance. Since the ponds behind my home were destroyed a couple of seasons ago I now must travel further a field for images. I have located another productive pond about 15 minutes from my home, so I drove there a couple of nights ago. The toads were being most cooperative as song filled the air.

When I photograph frogs and toads at night I will use a head-lamp as well as two tiny flashlights attached to the flash head with elastics, these are used for focusing at night. Another useful way to use external lighting to assist with night-time focusing is to use a small clip-on flashlight and fastening it to sturdy elements within the pond such as that of a dried cattail stem. By doing so you can aim the light quite accurately to assist with the focusing. This is exactly what I did to photograph the toads in this blog post.

Small clip-on flashlight secured to dried cattail stem.

Small clip-on flashlight secured to dried cattail stem.

Often I have noticed that the toad’s colorations can vary greatly among each specimen that has arrived at the pond. I was delighted to find this specimen with it’s lovely golden yelow tones.

American Toad (Bufo americanus) in pond at night

American Toad (Bufo americanus) in pond at night

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A Waterfall Along the Nottawasaga River, Organgeville, Ontario

Secluded Woodland Waterfall on the Nottawasaga River near Orangeville, Ontario

The above artistic rendering of a small waterfall located along the Nottawasaga River near Orangeville, Ontario was created using the Photoshop plug-in Topaz Simplify, which is available from Topaz Labs. I visited this waterfall a few years ago and have had the image sitting on the back-burner ever since. This evening I decided it was time to optimize the image file and play around with creating a painterly-like version of it as well. Below you will see the original version of this lovely, secluded waterfall.

Secluded Woodland Waterfall on the Nottawasaga River. Orangeville, Ontario.

Secluded Woodland Waterfall on the Nottawasaga River near Orangeville, Ontario.

In other news: the May issue of the Creative Photography E-Mini-Magazine (The Mini-Mag) is now available on-line here. This wonderful, absolutely free, on-line creative photography magazine is published monthly by Denise Ippolito. Do check out this magazine that is full of useful and creative tips and to see the latest froggie article by yours truly click here.

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A Large Male Bullfrog on Horseshoe Lake, Parry Sound, Ontario

A Large Male Bullfrog on Horseshoe Lake, Parry Sound, Ontario

I created this bullfrog portrait last summer on Horseshoe Lake near Parry Sound, Ontario. The easiest way to create such images of bullfrogs is to do so from a canoe. Bullfrogs are generally quite approachable and will often tolerate you sliding up beside them in a canoe. By using the Live View mode on my Nikon D800 with a Nikon 105mm Micro lens attached I was able to hand-hold the rig just above the water’s surface for a low perspective – the lens hood was actually dipping into the water slightly. When you photograph frogs in the water from such low perspectives you will be able to get the accompanying reflection. To ensure that I am holding the camera square with the world I place a double-bubble level in the camera’s hot-shoe, alternately you could activate the virtual horizon feature while in the Live View mode. It is also advisable to use auto-focus while doing so as the last thing you need to worry about while leaning over the edge of your canoe is focusing the lens manually.

I am eagerly awaiting this season’s Bullfrog photography on Horseshoe Lake as I will be experimenting with the Sony RX100 in an underwater housing for a completely new perspective on froggies.

Please do click on the image to see the larger, sharper version.

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Johnstone's Whistling Frog with HighLight Warnings

Johnstone’s Whistling Frog with HighLight Warnings

Above you see a photo of a Johnstone’s Whistling Frog that I created in Port Antonio, Jamaica. This was the first image that I created of these lovely little frogs during my stay in Jamaica. Being excited at photographing a new species I forgot to check my camera settings before clicking the shutter. When I scrolled back through a couple of the frames to confirm my exposures were correct I realized my error and immediately dialed in the correct settings but the frog jumped away. I was left with this image, which on the camera’s LCD screen was showing what appeared to be blown-out highlights (note that in the above image I made adjustments in ACR to mimic what I was seeing on the camera’s LCD screen – the highlight warnings on the camera would have been black instead of red as shown above).

Directly below is the same image as it opened in ACR. You can see that the highlights are not too bad after all. The red highlight warnings seen here red here are the flash generated spectral highlights, which are indeed blown-out with no detail whatsoever.

Johnstone's Whistling Frog in ACR inter-face

Johnstone’s Whistling Frog in ACR inter-face

Now look at the optimized image file below. After making the required slider adjustments in ACR I was able to recover a great deal of detail in what the camera originally indicated was blown-out and lacking detail. I then opened the image in Photoshop and using a series of Quick Masks and Clone Stamp Tool applications addressing the flash generated highlights.

Johnstone's Whistling Frog, Port Antonio, Jamaica

Johnstone’s Whistling Frog, Port Antonio, Jamaica

This is why I do not delete photos, in the field, as seen on the camera’s LCD screen. I always wait until I am editing a trip’s images when back home at the computer.

Please click on the images to see the larger, sharper versions.

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Ghost Crab_5271

Ghost Crab on San San Beach, Port Antonio, Jamaica

Above is an optimized photo of a Ghost Crab captured on San San Beach in Port Antonio, Jamaica. These crabs are relatively easy to photograph but you do need to remain very still. Often they will disappear into their tunnels in the sand if they detect the slightest movement made by a ‘potential predator.’  In this case that was me, but by lying on the sand motionless this crab soon emerged again to forage on the beach for food. As the crab began moving further to my left I found it difficult to contort my position on the sand to suitably follow it and wound up creating the image below with the crab practically walking out of the frame. How did I fix this composition? I used a series of quick masks, layer masks, move tool, and some touch-up work with the clone stamp tool to create the optimized version. I learned how to perform such fixes to such images by reading Robert O’Toole’s APTATS 2. APTATS stands for Advanced Photoshop Tips and Techniques and for $30 is well worth the investment. Final tweaking to the image above was performed by using Nik Software’s (now Google) Viveza 2 and Color Efex Pro’s Detail Extractor filter.

Ghost Crab_5271_RAW Capture

Original RAW Capture of the Ghost Crab

Sigma Scholarship Contest Note:

Only one month left to enter Sigma’s Scholarship Contest. Please click on the link in the sidebar of the blog for more information on contest rules and how to enter. Best of luck to all entries!

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American Toads in amplexus

On Friday night after a significant rainfall I made my way out to the ponds in the abandoned cattle pasture behind my home, lured by the resonating trills of the male American Toads in full chorus. I found many pairs in amplexus (latin for embrace), which is where the male toad grasps the female toad during mating and egg laying. At one point during the night as I sat in the pond, I was surrounded by several pairs of toads that were in the process of laying eggs. It can be difficult to capture decent images of the pairs in amplexus as I find when you try to fit both toads in the frame too many distracting elements from the pond enter the composition. On this night, I decided to concentrate on fitting the males, or at least most of them, in the composition and let the female toad become clipped, but I still made sure that the female toad was a prominent part of the composition by making sure she was front and center within the frame. Above and below are two of my favorite amplexus images from the night.

American Toads in amplexus (note the eggs)

One of the biggest problems with photographing frogs and toads at night is a result caused by using flash to illuminate the subjects. The flash will always create undesirable spectral highlights. The skin of the frogs and toads is wet, as is the vegetation in the pond, and this creates the perfect conditions for the flash to cause such highlights. I spend a significant amount of time (sometimes up to an hour per image) removing these flash generated highlights. Often I will work on an image very large (600-800%) to successfully evict the highlights and quite often I will use the clone stamp tool and vary the opacity (0-50%) depending on where in the image I am cloning. I will be including a chapter that deals exclusively with how I optimize my frog and toad imagery in my forthcoming guide to photographing frogs and toads (I hope to have the book completed and ready to publish by the end of the summer). While some folks to tend shy away from such evictions, I see nothing wrong with performing this type of image clean-up during the optimization process of the photographs. I don’t believe that it changes the natural integrity of the image. Below you will see a before and after example of a male American Toad, with vocal sac inflated, while serenading for a mate. The two images above of the toads in amplexus have already been optimized with all flash generated highlights removed.

Before – unedited raw capture

After – the optimized image file

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Black-capped Chickadee

A Black-capped Chickadee recently photographed from inside my photo blind that is set up in the backyard for winter songbird photography. Below you will see an assortment of photo blind images. Please note while looking at the images of my photo blind that I do lack many architectural and interior design skills, but it seems to do the trick. On the inside of the blind you will notice a pail full of potential perches that I collect regularly. Since it is winter, I cannot use leafy or flowery perches, so I look for fallen branches that may have lots of lichen on them, mullein seed pods, sumac seed heads, or small sections of pine branches for some additional interest. The second pail contains some seeds for the feeder. You will also notice the small space heater on the floor of the blind that I use to stay warm and toasty while inside, and the walls have been insulated with 2 inches of styrofoam that was glued to the inside of the blind with sprayfoam insulation. This spray foam insulation was also used to fill in all the seams in the styrofoam. The framework for this blind was built using 2 X 2’s screwed into pre-made, galvanized corner pieces that I purchased from Home Depot. You will also see that the blind is sitting on a plastic skid to keep my feet about 6 inches above the frozen ground, and the old wooden chair has some foam duct taped to it for added comfort and warmth as well. The roof is covered with a piece of vapor barrier plastic to protect it from the elements. As I said, “it ain’t much to look at, but…”

Inside view of blind

Inside view of blind

The photos below show the outside of the blind and the feeder set-up. An old sweatshirt works perfect for the camera lens and a small hole above and off center holds a small Nikon SB400 flash for the days when I want to add a touch of fill flash. The long slit in the blind wall above the lens is for me to watch the action at the feeders. In the feeder image I have several perches, an old stump with suet cakes on the backside, and do note the burlap that I have fastened to the inside branches of the cedar tree background. This burlap is absolutely necessary to eliminate unwanted light from the field behind my home, to ensure a clean background to the resulting bird images. I have also included a photo that illustrates the surrounding are where I have set-up this blind. There is lots of cover nearby, which will help the success rate of the resulting images. The more cover that is present will often result in more activity at the feeding station. This cover is also helpful to the songbirds when they need to hide from our resident Sharp-shinned Hawks. Without this surrounding cover they are easy prey for such skilled birds of prey. I do make it a habit to only fill the feeder once or twice a week so that the birds are forced to forage for additional foods, however, when their is no snow present the birds are seldom seen at the feeder, as they are out foraging for other food sources.

These blind images were photographed yesterday. Note how little snow is on the ground. Normally, by this time we have a least two feet of snow on the ground.

Front view of blind

Feeder set-up with burlap draped inside the cedar trees

The backyard set-up

And the reason I am always on the lookout for new perches, is because some of them fall victim to my dog Koko. Koko is a five year old, female, black lab mix and she regularly mulches the branches that fall off the silver maple and ash trees on my property.

Koko mulching an old perch

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