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