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Photographing frogs

Tips for photographing frogs.

I love photographing frogs because of their big eyes and also because they are very important for the ecosystem. However it can be frustrating to attempt photographing them because they often jump for the safety of the water before you even saw them ! In this article i will share with you what i’ve learned about photographing them so that you can try it out yourself and get good results.

Dress properly

The temptation is high during the warm summer months to head to your nearest pond wearing a T-shirt, shorts and a pair of sandals, but ………. MOSQUITOES and their friends are waiting for you and they can drive you crazy !!!!A hat is a good help to keep the insects away from your head, but this summer i will add gloves and also a net that i will put over my head to protect my face, ears and nose. I don’t use insect repellent because it’s not the friend of the plastic of my camera gear.

So my minimum kit is long sleeves shirt, long pants and a pair of knee high rubber boots. Then if needed when i’m shooting at a pond with muddy shores i will add a complete rain suit. Waders are also a very good option but i never needed them so far, but might add them to my kit eventually.

Here is a photo of me from some years ago at the same pond that i shot the video in this article, funny to see me with a mustache 🙂

I was getting ready to photograph the frogs with my full protection kit . This place is a Mosquito paradise during the summer months !!!

 

Camera gear

Just a short talk on useful camera gear, the majority of my photos are taken with only two lenses: a Macro lens in the 90mm to 105mm range and my 400mm lens that i use with or without extension tubes. I prefer a Macro lens in the 90 to 105mm range because they allow a good working distance but they are also easier to handhold than longer Macro lenses. I suggest to have one with Image stabilization or a camera with IBIS like the Pentax SR (shake reduction) since i mostly shoot handheld while photographing frogs.

My 400mm lens is nearly always used on a solid tripod but i can sometimes use it directly on the ground. A long lens comes handy when frogs are too nervous to photograph them with my Macro lens or when i can’t get physically close enough. When using my 400mm lens on my tripod i will submerged it in the water as deep as possible to get my camera as close to the water surface as possible to get that eye level position.

Over the years i also used different lenses, even my 14mm lens or a telephoto zoom like a 70-200mm or a 55-300mm can be used with good results.

A piece of gear that is very useful is a bubble level that you put in the hotshoe of your camera or you can use the electronic level when using the LV of your camera.

This is the model of bubble level that i sue in my cameras hotshoe. I like this model because you can use it for horizontal and vertical composition.

 

I took this photo last summer during our family vacation while we were canoeing on the lake at my parent’s summer cabin. It took a couple of times to find a cooperative bullfrog that would let me close enough to get it’s portrait with my 14mm lens. Unfortunately my Fuji X-E1 and it’s XF 14mm lens don’t have any IS, so a fast enough shutter speed was necessary to compensate for the movement of the canoe.

 

Composition

Most of the time you want to photograph the frogs at their eye level like you would do for any other wildlife subject.

Sometimes when my subject allow it and it’s surrounding is interesting i will try to photograph it directly from above like this Green frog shot above.

I always have at least one Macro lens with me, in this case it was my Pentax DA 35mm Macro Ltd. This photo of an adult American toad was taken along a trail while i was on vacation with my family. Again, i was handholding my camera low to the ground and used SR to help me get a sharp shot.

Don’t always try to get only frame filling shot of a frog head, backing off a little and show them in their environment is also important and bring variety to your portfolio. Here it’s a young Leopard frog surrounded by vegetation covered with water drops. I got very low to the ground and put some OOF foreground in the lower part of the frame to add some depth.

Usually the best way to photograph frogs is from the side are directly from the front but i also like to take them from various angles. For that photo i did put my camera and 400mm lens equipped with extension tubes directly on the ground and used a towel to level my camera with the help of a level in the hot shoe of my camera like i’m showing in the video in this article. When shooting directly face to face i will focus at midway between the front of it’s eyes and the top middle of them and stop my lens down to around f/8-11 if possible.

Tips on the technique

Now the part that you’ve been waiting for.

How do i get close to them on a regular basis ?

I do encounter a lot of frogs that quickly jumps into the water before i’m even close enough to them, but patience is the key element here. If you wait on the shore most of them will get back to the surface sooner than later and often nearly at the same place or not very far. Frogs can be easy to get close at a particular pond but nearly impossible to do so at another pond. Some species are more tolerant like the young Gray Tree frog and adult American Toad, while Wood frogs and Leopard frogs are quick to jump everywhere and are more difficult to photograph. When i’m photographing Green frog at my favorite pond there is some individual that are easier to get close with my Macro lens or even a wide angle lens, by going often during the same season i come to know and identify which one is the easiest to photograph.

The name of the game is to approach slowly and keep a low profile. I usually made the final approach on my stomach like in the army 😉

For better comprehension i made the following video, it’s better to show how i do it than trying to explain it with words (sorry about my bad english and the wind):

More info

Gray Tree frogs are usually found in trees or hiding in the vegetation, so i prefer to use my Macro lens handheld as it is easier than trying to position a tripod. On some occasion i will use a tripod if i can but it’s not the majority of the photos i take. The young Gray Tree frog are very small and hide in the vegetation, the background is often very busy, so you need a shallow DOF to blur it as much as possible to eliminate the distractions. I usually use an aperture of f/4.5 to 6.3 most of the time and it will also give me a faster shutter speed since i’m shooting handheld most of the time.

This young Gray Tree frog is the king of it’s world. Taken handheld with my Canon 7D and Tamron 90mm Macro VC. Having some kind of image stabilization is a must for photographing frogs.

 

Adult American Toad are easy to photograph because they are slow and they often don’t move. But they are young it’s another thing, they don’t jump very far but they usually don’t stay very long at the same place. This young American toad is very small, to take it’s portrait i positioned my camera directly on the ground and used a remote release to trigger the shutter.

I want to talk shortly about the settings, even if the frogs looks like they are very still in the water in reality they aren’t. Just by breathing they slightly move up and down when they are in the water, so you will need a shutter speed fast enough to stop that movement. Usually i try to have a shutter speed of at least 1/30 sec. but i can get away with 1/15 sec if the frog doesn’t move too much or if it’s hanging with it’s front paws on some vegetation.

This is it for this first article, will post other ones probably with videos of in the field footage when the season will begin. Hope it will help you get better photos of frogs.

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