Saturday, 17 March 2012

A chance encounter!

I spent the afternoon back up on Waldridge Fell today (for the record I do visit places other than the Fell!) and was presented with a fairly nice dusk- nothing dramatic but the light was soft. To be honest I just wanted to get out of the house. You see, we’re getting a new roof and so are boxed in by scaffolding, which I can cope with, but the continuous stream of choking dust and plaster floating into my room from the attic is a bit too much - the whole thing is like something out of a 'Carry On' film where I seem to be 'a little plastered..' No?...Oh well, the point is I wanted some fresh air, which I got because the wind was freezing! Naturally I had landscapes in mind because the other great thing about this location is  the heavy covering of heather, which provides an interesting foreground all year round, even if it’s bare twigs.

I decided on the 10-20mm lens to make the most of this element, whilst taking in the interesting and very threatening cloud formations in the sky. To avoid ‘losing’ some of the more distant elements in the scenes (which can so often happen when shooting out a wide focal length such as 10mm ) I set up my tripod without extending the legs too far, which gave me a low shooting angle. This allowed me to get up close to the heather and accentuate its size. For some reason I still haven’t found time to buy a 77mm adaptor ring so couldn’t easily use my ND grad - I would have had to hand-hold them in front of the lens which I hate doing, and so I bracketed my exposures for each image with 3 frames per photo at around 2 stops apart.

With some seemingly successful ‘scapes’ in the bag I moved on. During the return trip to the car I found something interesting on the path in front of me. At first I thought it might be something unspeakable that a random dog had left behind as a gift, but on closer inspection I could tell it was two toads1. I can’t recall seeing toads this close up in the wild before so quickly switched optics to the 70-200. I'm not entirely sure what the pair were doing but can only assume that they were mating - I’m no amphibian expert but that was the easy conclusion to draw! I didn’t know how timid they’d be and so kept my distance to start with, gradually moving closer firing bursts of images as I went. I suspect they must have been ‘playing dead’ or something similar because they allowed me I closer than I would have expected. Having managed to secure some ‘keepers’, I changed technique and re-fitted the wide-angle with the aim of capturing some environmental portraits. I didn’t want to push my luck by getting too close, as they could’ve easily leapt into the undergrowth by the side of the path and I’d have lost them. Nor did I want to stress them unnecessarily and therefore shot at the longest end of the lens, to fill the frame enough for a successful composition. Honestly, they seemed completely un-fazed by the experience of having a nosy photographer lie on the ground and stick an ultra-wide in their faces J  I spent about 20 minutes with the couple before leaving them to whatever it is they were doing. I was a bit disgruntled by the loud-mouthed guy and the dog with attention deficit syndrome that passed me a while later - since I’d been so careful not to disturb the animals, I had visions of the canine ‘making friends’ with them using his incisors.
I had to shoot all the way up at ISO2000 to keep these hand-held shots blur-free

Shooting down low with a wide-angle lens showed the toads in their environment

Anyway, it was an experience and I’m happy I stumbled across a fascinating event of nature. There’s nothing quite like your first amphibian porn shoot! Ehhemm…

Camera settings

My main priority was ensuring I got some sharp images, free of camera shake and so set my ISO to 800 as a starting point and an aperture of f/4. Once I was confident the toads weren’t going to flee, I began to play with settings as f/4 and at such a close focussing distance just wasn’t gonna cut it depth-of-field-wise. To keep both animals in focus I stopped down the lens in subtle increments all the way to f/11, bumping up the ISO accordingly; I needed an absolute minimum of 1/200sec shutter speed and that wasn’t taking the crop factor of my camera into account. In the end I used a max speed of ISO2000, which gave me a hand-hold-able speed of 1/400sec.

1 For those who care, the organisms here look to be Common Toads (species Bufo bufo) As I say, I’m no expert so if you think differently, please fill me in (with the info, not a blunt object…) J

Look out for some more shots from this trip coming soon on my flickr  x 

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