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Posts Tagged ‘wetlands’

Lower Rosseau Falls with the Sigma 8-16mm lens at 8mm

During my last trip up to the Parry Sound region Gentec International the distributor for Sigma lenses in Canada was kind enough to loan me a Sigma 8-16mm f4.5-5.6 DC HSM lens for a special project that I am working on at the moment. Since this lens is designed for use with DSLRs that have the APS-C sized sensors, I had originally planned to use this lens with my old Nikon D200, but I had also just received a call that my Nikon D800 had arrived and was waiting to be picked up. A new lens to play with and a camera body that I was unfamiliar with – Yikes! Fortunately, the Nikon D800 automatically crops/adjusts to lenses designed for use with APS-C sensors and with the ‘Live View’ feature and high ISO capabilities I knew this lens and camera combination would be perfect for the images I envisioned photographing with it. When the lens arrived I was immediately impressed with the build quality and the zoom and focus rings just felt right. The lens is an autofocus lens with manual over-ride just like all my Nikon lenses have. I  primarily wanted to use the lens for wetland related imagery and to take the lens over to a picturesque waterfall that was nearby. Due to the design of the front lens element filters cannot be attached to this lens, but that is no reason to pass up this little beauty. With a lens that provides such a wide angle of view you don’t really want to add a polarizer anyway, as you will certainly have lots of blotchy blues throughout the sky. There were a couple of instances where I would have liked to add a graduated neutral density filter into the mix but could not, however, these scenes are easily captured as HDR images nowadays, allowing you to over-come such situations. Knowing that filters cannot be attached you simply need to pick the time of day you photograph certain subjects a little more carefully, as a result I made my way over to Lower Rosseau Falls at dusk when the light would be low enough to allow for long exposures to blur river’s flow. It was a blustery evening though and you will notice much movement in the trees and leaves of the surrounding forest. I found this lens to extremely useful at Lower Rosseau Falls as some of vantage points are not possible unless you are using a wide lens such as this one. Below are two additional images from Lower Rosseau Falls.

Lower Rosseau Falls with the Sigma 8-16mm lens at 9mm

Lower Rosseau Falls with the Sigma 8-16mm lens at 8mm

The images below are some of the photos I envisioned capturing and they would not have been possible without the Sigma 8-16mm lens. Whenever I test out a potential new lens to include in my gear bag I consider them to be merely tools to do a job. I am seldom concerned with the high-tech stuff that you can read about on the internet. The Sigma 8-16mm lens turned out to be the perfect tool for me to capture the wetland imagery I had hoped too. Without the lens’ close focusing capabilities of 9.4 inches throughout the entire zoom range I would have been unable to create the bullfrog and water lily images you see. In fact, with the lens stopped down to about f16 the depth-of-field will allow you to focus a little closer than the 9.4″ minimum. The photographs below were all created, handheld, in ‘Live View’ mode while extending my arms out from the canoe to hold the camera and lens just above the surface of the water, often my left hand was partially submerged while doing this. To make sure that I was square with the world a bubble level was placed in the hot-shoe of the camera. By using the ‘Live View’ feature I was easily able to tell if I was too close for the lens to focus or not. If so I would simply back off a little until the frog or blossom came into focus. I had to make a few tries with the bullfrog before he began to tolerate the lens being only a few inches away. One thing that I noticed with using such a wide angle lens in close like this was the lens’ shadow on the surface of the water. This happened most often when trying to hold the lens just above the subject, but once the lens was positioned for a ‘frog’s eye view’ the shadow problem was eliminated.

Bullfrog with the Sigma 8-16mm lens at 14mm

Bullfrog with the Sigma 8-16mm lens at 8mm

Bullfrog with the Sigma 8-16mm lens at 16mm

Horseshoe Lake Wetland with the Sigma 8-16mm lens at 8mm

Bullfrog habitat with the Sigma 8-16mm lens at 8mm

Water Lilies with the Sigma 8-16mm lens at 16mm

Water Lily on Horseshoe Lake with the Sigma 8-16mm lens at 8mm

In short, this is a fun lens that delivers superb quality and sharpness throughout the zoom range. You may notice in the Water Lily image above and in the second Bullfrog image that there is a touch of out of focus in the foreground, those are simply areas that are too close for the lens to focus on, but I do think the images are still successful images. During my week long visit to the Parry Sound region this lens spent much of the time affixed to my D800. I loved it and the images I created with it were fun to shoot too. I can’t wait to add this lens to my everyday gear bag. Photography is about having fun creating photographs and this lens certainly delivers tons of fun. I highly recommend this lens for the big wide world. It is available in mounts for Canon, Nikon, Sony, Pentax and Sigma cameras.

Please remember to click on each photo to see a much larger and sharper version of the images and send us a note letting us know which is your favorite.

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The photographs accompanying today’s post mark the some of the last photos taken with my Nikon D200 and the last post for a couple of weeks. After a very long wait my newly purchased Nikon D800 has finally arrived and I will be heading out the door to have some fun with the new camera. Why did I upgrade? Certainly not because the D200 was not taking great images but quite simply, I require a new tool to capture the images I want, and I believe that the Nikon D800 will allow me to do just that. In the coming weeks we will see :)  The two images in today’s post are from Tiny Marsh Provincial Wildlife Area located neat Elmvale, Ontario. Do note in the last image I should have captured this photo a few seconds earlier when the highest part of the cloud formation was directly above the tallest tree on the right side of the image.

I hope everybody has a safe, fun-filled Canada Day weekend and to my friends south of the border, all the best on July 4 :)

Please click on each image to view a much larger version of the photos.

See you soon!

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On a recent early morning trip to Ontario’s Tiny Marsh Provincial Wildlife Area for some sunrise photography (more on that shortly), I also made my way over to the boardwalk trail for some frog photography. I was hoping for lots of Leopard Frogs but none were to be found, however, there were many Green Frogs. The wetland surrounding the boardwalk at Tiny Marsh has lots of duckweed growing in the water now and this makes for some lovely images of frogs, as they poke their heads above the water’s surface.

The Green Frog in this post was located rather close to the edge of the boardwalk and very cooperative too. The problem here was that the light was too dark to handhold my Nikon 105mm Micro lens, at the desired aperture of f-16, for a decent image and using my trusty Nikon SB400 Speedlight was ruining this scene as it was creating numerous unpleasant highlights throughout the duckweed. The solution to photographing this frog was to use my tripod mounted Nikon 80-400mm VR lens, but the minimum focusing distance of this lens is roughly 7 feet and this frog was only about 2 inches in length – how would I do that? Well this is where I have to breakdown and admit that I was forced to make a switch to Canon :) A Canon 500D Close-up lens to be exact. This close-up lens, with 77mm threads, is essentially a double element filter that simply screws onto the front of the lens as any filter would normally do, but it reduces the focusing distance of the lens drastically, allowing the 80-400mm VR lens to be used as a macro lens whenever I need it to, at a fraction of the weight and price of carrying an additional lens into the field. A polarizing filter was also attached to the front of the Canon close-up filter to reduce much of the undesirable glare from the duckweed.

Alternately, as I sit here writing this blog post I am charging the battery for my newly purchased Nikon D800. If I had this camera in my hands last week when I visited Tiny Marsh, I most likely would have cranked up the ISO and fired away with the handheld 105mm micro lens. Ain’t technology grand :)

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While they may not be everybody’s cup of tea, Six-spotted Fishing Spiders are often found in frog ponds and they are very easy, and they are usually rather co-operative photographic subjects. While out in the ponds it is hard to pass up such interesting and cool looking critters that are easily photographed. In fact, last year several of the spider images I captured while photographing frogs and toads were featured in a children’s nature magazine, and one of the images was used as a double-page spread. Such ‘b-roll’ images also help to tell the story of life in the frog pond. A simple set-up of camera, macro lens, and a small flash on a user friendly flash bracket such as the Wimberley F-2 Macro Bracket to hold the flash out over the lens will do the trick every time. To read more about this set-up please refer to my earlier blog post regarding this set-up here.

Most often Six-spotted Fishing Spiders will rest on the water’s surface with their back legs hanging onto a cattail leaf or other vegetation on the surface of the pond. If my approach is to quick they will usually follow a cattail stem down to the bottom of the pond and rise to the surface again once they think the danger has passed. These very interesting spiders will frequently prey upon tadpoles and aquatic insect larvae. The first image below you will notice a small tadpole clinging to the cattail leaf beside one of the spider’s legs. In the above image note how the spider was positioned within the frame, so that the front legs are extending out into the two lower corners of the image to help create some symmetrical balance for the spider’s body being centered within the composition. Below you will see three additional images of Six-spotted Spiders including one carrying an egg sac.

Please click on each image to view a much larger version of these very interesting arachnids.

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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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The Breeding Pool


On Sunday afternoon I decided to change my routine at the frog ponds behind my home and take my four year old daughter out to investigate the ponds during daylight hours. The night-time temperatures are dipping just below the freezing mark and the frogs have stopped chorusing until the warmer weather arrives again. Above you will see a photo of the main pond in the abandoned cattle pasture behind my home. I love being able to look out over these empty fields everyday and watch the wild grasses waving in the summer breeze. This pond sure ain’t much to look at, but at night it comes alive with song. This is the pond where I photograph my Chorus Frog and Spring Peeper images and it is roughly two feet deep in the middle. The field where these ponds are located is cut and baled once per year, usually late summer, by a local farmer. In this field there are three significant ponds that are used each year by the resident frog and toad populations as breeding pools. These ponds are known as vernal ponds. Vernal ponds are often favored by many frog and toad species as there tends to be fewer predators due to the fact that vernal ponds dry-out towards the end of summer, however, there are still some predators (water beatles, turtles and snakes) that will feast on the eggs, tadpoles or frogs themselves. As it would turn out while I was wading through the pond while carrying my daughter we came upon a large Snapping Turtle, the same turtle I encounter year-after-year, that was busy eating Wood Frog eggs. This large turtle was already sporting a lovely new coat of algae on its shell. I walked my daughter back to the pond’s edge and walked back out for a couple of quick photos with my 12-24mm lens with a polarizing filter attached.

Snapping Turtle and Wood Frog eggs

 

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Male Spring Peeper calling at night

I have received numerous kind words about my collection of frog photos and several folks have been inquiring with me about how I go about photographing them at night. Night is often the best time to photograph frogs and toads when they are chorusing and the best way to photograph them is by pulling on a pair of chest waders and get in the water with them. I personally find Chorus Frogs and Spring Peepers to be the most difficult to photograph as they are tiny and quite wary of danger. My usual attire for pond walking are chest waders, heavy fleece sweater with pockets, toque, head-lamp and a small clip-on flashlight. Chest waders are better than hip waders as most often I find myself sitting down in the shallow ponds to get as low an angle as possible to photograph the frogs at their level. A fleece sweater to keep warm on cool nights with pockets to keep spare flashlight batteries, camera batteries and flash batteries. A toque for my bald head so that the head-lamp fits more comfortably and a small clip-on flashlight that is attached to my flash bracket. My camera set-up is simply a 105 macro lens  on my Nikon D200 with a Nikon Sb400 Speedlight attached to a flash bracket to hold the flash out above the lens. Once I am all set-up with my camera gear and clothing I head out into the field behind my home and enter the ponds. Most often I find I am using sound to locate the calling frogs. When one is located I will slowly move into a kneeling position and turn on the small clip-on flashlight that is attached to my flash bracket. This clip-on flashlight is what I use to provide light to focus on the frogs. The Chorus Frogs and Spring Peepers tend to stop calling when you approach, but if you sit absolutely still they will begin to sing again. Good things come to those who wait. Once they commence singing again you will soon hear that their songs have a steady rhythm to them, allowing you to time when to press the shutter to capture the vocal sac at its largest size. Often while in the kneeling position I will crouch forward putting my arms into the pond to hold the camera set-up right at the water’s surface for a very low angled perspective. This alone will most often yield a more pleasing photograph than if you shoot down on the frogs from a higher angle. As the grasses in the ponds grow up out of the water it becomes increasingly more difficult to capture images with pleasing backgrounds and many times I have tracked a Spring Peeper in the ponds only to find that it is completely hidden, out of sight, inside a clump of grass making photography of it near impossible…onto the next frog. I have been lucky this year as the temperatures warmed up very quickly, even set an all-time record, +25 Celsius, for this region in March ever. The rapid increase in temperatures brought numerous species of frogs and toads out of hibernation, a month early, allowing me to photograph the them with little distractions from unwanted grasses beginning to grow up and out of the water. The two images in this post are of the same frog. As you will see in the image below this little fella was right up against some old and new grasses making a poster-like background impossible, so I decided to make some very tight, close-ups to help render the background more out of focus. Let me know which is your favorite and why.

Male Spring Peeper calling at night

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Chorus Frog

Over the past week in south-central Ontario we have been experiencing some rather warm weather, with temperatures hovering around the +15 degrees Celsius mark. We have also had large numbers of Robins, Red-winged Blackbirds, Grackles and Killdeer arrive. With this warm weather I have been eagerly listening to the sounds from the abandoned cattle pasture behind my home. In this pasture there are several temporary ponds that frogs and toads use as breeding pools. On Tuesday, March 13th I heard the first Chorus Frog singing out in the ponds – the earliest I have ever heard them begin to chorus in my 15 years of living here. Last night I ventured out into the ponds with my chest waders and head-lamp to begin another season of frog photography. It was a lovely night, although the water was rather chilly (I really need to get a pair of insulated waders), but nonetheless enjoyable, especially since I was also being serenaded by the resident coyotes that were very vocal in another nearby field. While tracking the chorus frogs, which is usually done by following their vocalizations, I also discovered a lone, male Leopard Frog. Leopard Frogs don’t usually emerge for at least a couple of weeks after the first of the Chorus Frogs appear. Perhaps the relatively light winter we have just gone through, with very little snowfall and rather warm temperatures, has been very easy on the local frog population and now we are headed for a highly productive spring chorus. Nothing says spring more than the choruses of frogs and toads. Here are two of my favorites from last night’s excursion into the ponds.

Leopard Frog

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Male Bullfrog in wetland

Over the course of last weekend I photographed many Bullfrog images. I have had trouble locating the adults in the Horseshoe Lake wetland this year. Not because they are hard to find, but because their numbers have been decreasing over time. I remember when my parents first bought our cottage, 30 years ago, and how the Bullfrog’s calls would fill the night air, but now it seems that there are substantially less frogs singing. On another note, many bullfrog tadpoles have emerged from their watery home to begin their new life above the water’s surface. Hopefully many of these froglets will make it to adulthood and replenish some of the frog numbers here.

Many of these new Bullfrog images will round out the images I require for a project I will be beginning shortly that pertains to frogs. To photograph the ‘frogscape’ above I used my 12-24mm lens set to its closest focusing point, a polarizing filter, a 2-stop grad filter and a bubble level. While handholding the camera just above the water’s surface, I leveled the camera according to the bubble level and fired away.

Below is a collection of images of a large, rather plump male Bullfrog that was most cooperative while it was at rest on a floating section of waterlily roots. Aside from the usual assortment of predators (herons, snapping turtles & water snakes), the juvenile Bullfrogs are also preyed upon by the adult Bullfrogs that have voracious appetites. If they can stuff it in their mouths they will eat it.

Male Bullfrog

Male Bullfrog

Male Bullfrog

Male Bullfrog

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Beaver Pond and Fall Colour

Over the last few days I was up at Horseshoe Lake and took advantage of the over-cast, rainy conditions to shoot some backwoods beaver ponds that I frequently explore. As usual, there are always a few trees that go into peak autumn foliage several weeks early than the rest of the trees. I made my way to this pond by following along several older beaver ponds and streams that connect the ponds, making note of the bear tracks along the way. As I made my way around a large fallen log at the edge of one pond I heard a splash in the water. I looked down to see my Lowepro lens case that I keep my Nikon 12-24mm lens floating in the pond. I jumped in to fetch the lens, unzipped the case and drained out the small amount of water that had leaked in. After drying the lens off with my t-shirt I began to examine the lens and it appeared that no water had leaked into the lens and no water reached the lens contacts. I further dried the lens with some micro-fiber cleaning cloths and created the image above, mostly to test the lens for moisture. So far all looks well, but just to be sure the lens will spend the next few days in a bag of silica gel that will absorb any moisture that cannot be seen. Being prepared for mishaps, should they unfortunately arrive, may just save the day. I always take along several micro-fibre cleaning cloths, clear plastic bags (for rain), knife, bear spray, electrical tape and an assortment of other things including my asthma inhaler. Many of these items are never needed, but you never know when they will be required.

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