Archive for May, 2012

After photographing so many frogs and toads this year I have decided that I would like to live a simpler, amphibious sort of life-style….and I just found the perfect piece of real estate. What do ya think? 🙂

Seriously though…I processed this abandoned trailer with Nik Software’s photoshop plugin Color Efex Pro 4 and ran the image through the ‘tonal contrast’ filter twice for a quick, down and dirty grunge look.

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Wimberley Macro Flash Bracket – Single-Arm Set-up

For many years I have relied on a home-made flash bracket for photographing frogs and toads and butterflies. This bracket was constructed from aluminum strapping purchased at a local hardware store. The design was quite simple and the bracket was easily made. In fact, I simply followed John Shaw’s instructions on how to make such a bracket in “The Nature Photographer’s Complete Guide to Professional Field Techniques” that was first published in 1984. This home-made bracket has served me well over the years and certainly allowed me to capture many of my most cherished frog images, however, this bracket also had its share of issues. I often found it awkward to carry in the field as it would not store easily in my gear bag, the weight of the flash would cause the bracket to sway, and I disliked having to hold it during long hikes. Enter the Wimberley Macro Flash Bracket – Single-Arm Set-up, which is by far the best design and the most user friendly macro flash bracket on the market today. A couple of months ago Wimberley was kind enough to supply me with a Macro Flash Bracket – Single-Arm Set-up for my frog and toad photography this season. I have given this flash bracket a thorough workout and can honestly not find a single issue with it or its design. One of the things I like best about this bracket is that it will fold down to a small enough size that I can fit it into my back pocket or a jacket pocket for carrying convenience, I can position the flash in any direction I wish thanks to the multi-jointed design,  and once the locking knobs are tightened the bracket is rock solid.

What I like most of all about this flash bracket is the multi-jointed design that literally allows you to position the flash in any position desired to obtain optimal light on the subject. I find it particularly useful for capturing Gray’s Treefrogs chorusing from tree branches over-hanging the breeding pools or hiding under small over-hangs at the pond’s edge.. I can simply position the flash around any branches or up under the over-hang that may be in the way to get the flash where I need it to be for the image, with my home-made bracket and many other commercially available brackets this is not possible, and if your bracket should by chance bump the branch that the frog is sitting on you have just lost your shot. In the above image you will see the Wimberley Macro Flash Bracket – Single-Arm Set-up as I use it with the M-8 Perpendicular Plate attached. The M-8 Perpendicular Plate will allow you to position the flash bracket a little further out and make the bracket more user friendly than it already is and it will allow you to add a second Single-Arm Set-up for a dual macro flash system if you prefer to use two flashes for your macro work. Check out the pdf instructions for the Macro Flash Bracket here. If you are looking for a high quality macro flash bracket that is solid, offers superior functionality, user friendly, and folds easily for storage and carrying in the field I highly recommend that you take a close look at the Wimberley Macro Flash Bracket – Single-Arm Set-up…I think you will be glad that you did.

In the image below you will see how I use the system when it is attached to the camera. I have used an old Nikon D70 for illustration purposes. Do note that I will often change the position of the flash as each situation may require something a little different. The flash that I most often use is the Nikon SB400, although I will sometimes use a much heavier Nikon SB600. Even with the larger heavier flash attached this bracket is rock solid.

My typical set-up for photographing frogs & toads

And the next image is the home-made bracket that I used for a number of years, but will most likely never use again. The Wimberley Macro Flash Bracket – Single-Arm Set-up will now be my go to bracket for all of my macro flash photo needs. It is quite simply the best bracket to use for my macro photography needs.

Home-made Flash Bracket

Below you will see a few recent Gray Treefrog images that I photographed during the Canada’s Victoria Day weekend while I was up in the Parry Sound region of Ontario. The Wimberley Macro Flash Bracket – Single-Arm Set-up made shooting these images very easy, as I was able to position the flash around some small branches to illuminate the frog as it inflated it’s vocal sac while chorusing above the pond, and for the last image I was able to get the flash to light up the area under a small over-hang where this male was calling.

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Female Wild Turkey on nest

I have spent the last several days up in Ontario’s Muskoka region opening up the family cottage. Aside from the regular chores of opening weekend, I made time for visits to my favorite frog pond in the forest to photograph chorusing Grays Treefrogs, take my daughter in the canoe to a nearby wetland to see what was new in there this spring, my daughter also decided that it was a perfect day for swimming, jumping off the dock, and practicing her doggy paddle in the frigid water, and of course take my dog for several long walks. It was during one of these walks on Friday afternoon that something caught my eye at the base of a massive, rocky outcrop near the entrance to our cottage lot. Something looked different, not quite right, and certainly out-of-place as I remembered it. And then as my eyes adjusted to what I was seeing before me, I made out a female Wild Turkey sitting among the leaf litter. She was not at all alarmed to see me and my dog walk past her at only a distance of about 15 feet. My dog was oblivious to her on the ground and I figured that the turkey was probably quite comfortable with how well concealed she was on the forest floor. I concluded that she was probably sitting on a clutch of eggs. What surprised me most was that every time I passed by her over the course of several days, during the dog walks, she was always in the exact same position on the nest. I have explored the woodlands in this region for over 30 years and not once have I ever seen a Wild Turkey in the vicinity of the cottage and today there is one nesting right on our lot. Nature never ceases to amaze me, but I do wish this turkey had selected a more photogenic location for nesting :).

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Beamer Falls on the Niagara Escarpment, Grimsby, Ontario

For several weeks I have been very busy with little time to get out the door for some fresh landscape images, but I have been processing some image files from last season’s crop of photos. With the recent rainfall we have had and the trees greening-up with a lush crop of leaves I must have been inspired to optimize some waterfall imagery. For folks living in the Hamilton, Ontario area now is the perfect time to visit the great number of waterfalls that can be found along the Niagara Escarpment. But don’t stop there as there is a vast number of waterfalls worth exploring throughout the province. Some of my all time favorites are Brook’s Falls, Webster’s Falls and in Lake Superior Provincial Park many nice scenes await photographers along the Sand River. What I like best about these waterfalls is that they usually produce excellent opportunities regardless of the river’s flow. When river levels are low these waterfalls will often produce excellent imagery. To find out more about these favorite locations and many more please check out my eBook A Photographer’s Guide to the Ontario Landscape. Although this eBook does focus on many inspiring locations throughout the province of Ontario, it is also full of numerous, helpful tips that you will find quite valuable to creating the best possible images in the field. Below you will see some of my recently processed images from last season.

Webster’s Falls, Niagara Escarpment, Hamilton, Ontario

Beamer’s Falls details, Grimsby, Ontario

Brook’s Falls, Magnetawan River, Emsdale, Ontario

Sand River, Lake Superior Provincial Park, Ontario

Sand River details, Lake Superior Provincial Park, Ontario

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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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