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.
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 🙂
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.
Most of the time you want to photograph the frogs at their eye level like you would do for any other wildlife subject.
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):
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.
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.
I wanted to do some updates about that lens since i now have more “in the field experience” with it. In short, i’m now using it more often than my Tamron 90mm/2.8 Macro lens, which was supposed to be my main Macro lens ! There is 2 main reasons for that: more working distance and better looking Bokeh !
The more i use that lens the more i like it, sure it’s not the toughest lens in town but it’s certainly better than a full plastic kit lens. The Sharpness and Bokeh quality surprised me considering the age and price of that lens. Apart from W/O at f/5.6, this lens is quite sharp, i consider it as sharp as my Tamron 90mm/2.8 Model 72E.
One aspect that i was able to test in the field recently is the CA at f/5.6, i was shooting ice lately so i can now say that this lens is very well corrected, see the crop below.
As i said earlier, the Bokeh of this little Sigma is very pleasing, smooth and good looking.
I still don’t like the aperture ring but i’m getting used to it …. sort of. The lens is doing well with my Fuji X-E1 (all the photos posted here were taken on my X-E1) because of it’s size and weight. I just bought an adapter to use the lens on my Canon 7D, i didn’t had the time to try them together but i’m sure they will work well even if the 7D don’t have focus peaking like the X-E1. That Sigma 180mm/5.6 Macro is now part of my regular kit and it’s always in my camera bag, it makes a very good combo with my X-E1 and produces great images !
Why this old and slow Sigma 180mm/5.6 APO Macro lens ?
When i bought a Fuji X-E1 it was to have a smaller and lighter system, so i try to keep the lenses small and light as well without compromising the IQ. The Fuji short registration distance is an advantage when you want to adapt older lenses. I already own a Tamron 90mm/2.8 Macro (1:1 ratio), so i wanted a longer Macro lens for photographing frogs or subjects that are difficult to get close. Then i remembered that Sigma did produced a 180mm/5.6 APO Macro in the film days. I was lucky to find a MF version in Olympus OM mount in good condition but without the lens hood, so i bought a rubber hood for it. I paid around 170$ Canadian for it, a good price for a Macro lens that long.
Sigma didn’t produced many of these probably due to the slow maximum aperture which was not that useful in film days when slow films were the norm to obtain better IQ, the f/2.8 version was probably more popular. But now with digital sensors a slow lens is more manageable, especially for a 180mm Macro lens that will be stopped down anyway to gain some DOF.
At only 435 gr. and a filter size of 52mm it’s a surprisingly small lens, if you compare it to my Tamron 90mm/2.8 Macro (model 72E) which is a 1:1 repro ratio lens and weights 403 gr. with a filter size of 55mm.
Here is the specifications of both lenses:
Sigma 180mm/5.6 APO Macro:
Tamron 90mm/2.8 Macro model 72E:
Handling and built quality
It’s clear that in those years Sigma lenses were not the best made lenses, i’ve owned other Sigma lenses made in the same years as this one and they all felt like this one. Good but not as well made as Pentax, Fuji or Canon that i’ve used. The aperture ring is not smooth in operation, but i can live with it, if i drop that lens i think it would not survive unlike some of my older Pentax lenses especially the Takumar M42 lenses !
The positive thing is that the focusing ring is large, which i like to have on my lenses, i hate those tiny small focusing rings that some AF lenses have. On my lens the focusing ring is not constant, when i turn it it goes from smooth to some tension and then back to smooth, maybe it would need some tune-up of the focusing system inside. In general it’s easy to use with the OM adapter on my X-E1 because it’s a lightweight lens, if i would have bought the newer 180mm f/3.5 version the combo would have been bigger and heavier.
Usually Macro lenses are sharp and choosing from one or another one is a matter of functionality but also of focal length. This Sigma certainly can deliver images with very good details when stopped down. At f/5.6 i think it’s the weakest aperture of that lens, but from f/8 to f/16 the lens produce very good images. Being an older lens that was design before the digital era, the contrast is lower than modern Macro lenses but it’s easily corrected in PP.
Just for fun i decided to take some test shots with this Sigma 180mm and my Tamron 90mm/2.8 Macro (model 72E) to really see how good it really is. I found dead leaves in my backyard as my subject and started at f/5.6 then f/8, f/11 and finally f/16. I was not surprised to see that the Tamron was the winner at f/5.6 since it was already stopped down 2 stops and the Sigma was W/O, if needed the Sigma can be used at f/5.6 since it’s good but not as good as the Tamron here. From f/8 to f/16 the Sigma closed the gap but i think the Tamron can still produce a little more details, but the Tamron 90mm Macro is one of the best Macro lens, in any of it’s versions that was made. Even then i think that the Sigma is more than sharp enough from f/8 to f/16 to be used without any problem, you just need a little more PP to bring some contrast in the photos.
As for the color reproduction, the Sigma has a colder rendering than the Tamron but again now with PP it’s easily corrected to your preferences. The Sigma can produce images with beautiful rendering and the Bokeh is not too bad either probably due to it’s 8 blades diaphragm.
That’s it for now, they are my first impressions after some weeks of using it in the field, i will post more photos in future articles. So, if you need more reach in your Macro work but don’t want to break the Bank, give this lens a serious look. The Sigma 180mm/5.6 APO Macro might not be the best in any department but certainly can deliver sharp and beautiful images when you have learned how to use it at it’s best settings. Sure the newer f/3.5 and f/2.8 versions from Sigma would certainly get you sharper photos but at a big cost in size, weight and price (especially the new f/2.8 version). So if you’re on a tight budget or don’t want a heavy 180mm Macro lens this f/5.6 version can be a very good option.
Usually when we talk about close-up photography we think of using a Macro lens but a WA lens can give you a different perspective. Unfortunately there isn’t that many WA lenses that can focus very close. Sigma is making or have made a 24mm and a 28mm “Macro” lenses but i’ve never tried them, they can focus down to 0.18 Meter and 0.20 Meter respectively and giving a reproduction ration of 1:2.7 and 1:2.9.
The lenses that i have more experience with are two 14mm lenses that focus closer than other manufacturers 14mm lenses … the Pentax DA14mm and Fuji XF 14mm. The Pentax can focus down to 0.17 Meter (repro ratio of 1:5) and the Fuji to 0.18 Meter (repro ratio of 1:8), both are APS-C lenses only. From the official numbers the Fuji doesn’t have a magnification as high as the Pentax, that 1 cm closer focusing of the Pentax makes a big difference or it’s something in the lens design that results in a big loss of magnification. If someone know the answer don’t hesitate to post it below.
A last point, the Pentax have the advantage of having SR (Shake Reduction) in the cameras, i think that any kind of image stabilisation is useful even with a WA lens. Sometimes you’re shooting handheld at arms length and every help you can get is welcome. Sure you can boost the ISO but there is a limit when you want to maintain IQ.
Here is how close the Pentax DA14 is to the subject at it’s minimum focusing distance.
Enough of the technical talking, now in the field with those 2 WA lenses. They are both great lenses at their minimum focusing distance, i used them especially for photographing close-ups of frogs but also for flowers and mushrooms. When i’m using a 14mm lens for taking close-ups of frogs i don’t put the hood on the lens because it almost touches my subject and can scare it away. With some practice you get to know which frog will let you close enough to have a good shot.
This Green Frog was taken near the minimum focusing distance of the Fuji XF 14mm at f/8 on an X-E1.
One from the Pentax DA 14mm at f/7.1, sorry about the dead Red Squirrel but i like that photo because it shows that wild animals are always in danger even in our towns.
Mushroom in it’s habitat taken with the Pentax DA 14mm.
The photo of this Male Bullfrog was taken from a Canoe with the help of my wife and kids to get close enough. (Fuji XF14mm at f/6.4)
Mushrooms growing in a mossy forest close to a big river, taken handheld but braced on my camera bag at a shutter speed of 1/8 sec. at f/6.4. (Fuji XF 14mm)
This photo was taken at my parent’s summer cabin, they are wild young Black Ducks but peoples around the Lake gave them foods since they were very young when they came with their parents. I was able to get really close to them by getting down on my belly. Taken with my Fuji XF14mm at f/9.0, some even tried to eat my fingers or X-E1!
I prefer to use MF at close distances, especially with the Pentax K-01 and Fuji X-E1 because of the Focus Peaking which makes it easy to get perfect focus. It takes some practice to get good composition and don’t forget to get very close to the subject so your shot will have more impact. With a WA lenses you get a lot of things into the frame so you have to pay attention to the background and the corners, because you will see things in your photo later that you didn’t saw when you took your photo, so look carefully in the field to be sure you can remove or recompose to get the distracting objects or plants out of your frame.
So get close and down to the level of your subject and have fun while getting interesting perspectives!
I recently bought a National Geographic “Earth Explorer series” Holster bag 2342, it’s a small shoulder bag when i want to carry only my Fuji X-E1 + XF 27mm, see my post here:
But i wanted a bigger bag to carry everyday in which i could fit my X-E1+27mm and accessories and sometimes with an additional lens like my XF 14mm or my Vivitar 100mm/3.5 Macro lens. Also it would be large enough (but not too big) to carry some personal items like my wallet, keys, Cell phone, medications …
Since i liked my National Geographic bag (2342) i looked at other models from this brand as well as other brands. After some research i decided to pull the trigger on the National Geographic A2540 Midi Satchel ” Africa Series ” bag.
In the photo above you can see the size of the bag compared with my Fuji X-E1 + XF27mm.
On this Tag you can write your name, address and phone number in case you loose your bag somewhere.
For photos and dimension of the bag take a look at the link to the official site of National Geographic bags:
The prices on the site or in Canadian dollar but you can select another country. I didn’t pay that price, i found a store here in Canada that was selling them for 50$ (in sale), so i didn’t hesitated very long. I also bought the shoulder pad to go with the bag, … it’s stiff , i tried to bend it and form it to my shoulder but i still don’t find it comfortable .
The bag is made of very tough material and it feels like it can survive anything you can throw at it, so it should be with me for many years to come. The bag is not rated as waterproof but i used it in light rain without any problems, if you need it to be fully waterproof there is a waterproof cover available.
What i like about this bag is that all the pockets and the main compartment are closed with a zipper which is great to protect the equipment from rain and dust, some bags have just the big flap with 2 buckles to close the main compartment. As you can see in the link of National Geographic there is a removable insert bag which contain the camera and lenses and can be removed from the bag to make it a regular bag. I can fit my Fuji X-E1+XF 27mm and my XF14mm (or 18-55mm) as well as some SD cards in a Ziplock bag and a dust blower. Even with the insert in position in the main compartment of the bag i can also fit my Vivitar 100mm/3.5 Macro in the remaining space. Inside the bag there is another compartment to fit an Ipad or a small Laptop. I don’t use it for this but i fit my Extension tubes, cable release and quick release plate just in case i would need one of them.
In the photo above is my X-E1 + XF27mm, in the second compartment it’s my XF14mm, both in the removable padded bag. You can see that there is a place on the far right for another lens, i sometimes put my Vivitar 100mm/3.5 Macro (in Pentax K-Mount).
I’ve been using it as my everyday bag for some weeks now and i really appreciate it, feel solid and for my needs it’s a good size without being too big and heavy. I’m now used to get my camera quickly out of the bag, the zippers feel solid and are easy to operate. When i choosed that bag my goal was also to have a bag that didn’t looks like a camera bag so peoples wouldn’t know i’m carrying a camera with me. So on some occasions i went to the Bank and stores and peoples said to me ” so you just finished working” when they saw that i had my bag they probably thought it was a Laptop inside with papers from my work.
So if you’re looking for a well made, tough and practical bag that don’t look like a camera bag you should take a serious look at the Africa series from National Geographic!
I was waiting for that moment with excitement, it’s the first time of the year that i went to the pond where there is a lot of Gray Tree Frogs, they are my favorite Frog that live here in my corner of the country (Canada). At this time of the year i’m looking for the young ones that just got out of the water, some still have a small tail. I have a favorite pond where i go every summer, it’s a Beaver’s pond, many species turns from tadpoles to juvenile Frogs at the same time (American Toad, Gray Tree Frog, Spring Peeper Frog and Leopard Frog).
Those little fellows are quite small, about the size of my thumbnail, so a Macro lens is the best way to go and i would add that a lens with IS, VC, VR or a camera with IBIS is a bonus that help a lot since i often handheld my gear. They are often hiding on plants where it’s difficult to get a good view and a tripod is not always practical.
Just to give you an idea of how many Gray tree Frogs there is on the shore of that pond, i was standing among the vegetation and i was counting at least 30 Frogs around me hiding on the plants, i even saw 13 of them on a single plant. Sure i have a lot of subjects to choose from but often the background is busy so i have to find a Frog where the background is more interesting or less busy. With the combination of early morning, handholding the camera, wind and the need to blur the background i often end-up shooting from f/4.5 to f/5.6.
All the photos i posted here were taken on the same morning, when i arrived at the pond it was raining, a perfect situation for photographing Frogs. I used my Canon 7D and Tamron 90mm Macro VC either handheld or on a tripod. Hope you like them 🙂
Now that i talked about the gear and how to use it, i will talk more about the artistic part and how to record and compose shots. The good thing about Macro/Close-up photography is that you can do it everywhere, you don’t need to live in a wild area, you can get some great shots even in your backyard. When i’m walking in the forest most of the time i’m looking on the ground to find an interesting subject. Once you found something interesting you will need to look for the best angle from which to photograph it, walk around (if possible) and get down on your knees if necessary.
I like this photo of a young Leopard Frog that i took early one morning on the shore of a small pond because it shows the animal in it’s habitat. There is enough DOF on the frog but not too much that the background would become distracting, the Bokeh of the lens also helps here. The low point of view and the dew covered grass adds to appreciate that little fellow.
Pentax K-01 with DFA 100mm Macro WR, ISO 1600, 1/60 sec. at f/5.6, handheld.
Background and DOF control
When shooting Macro photos you need to be aware of the background and always position your camera and also choosing the appropriate aperture to blurr the background so it will not distract the viewer from the main subject. You might need to move some weeds or branches in the background to have a cleaner composition. Color of the background can affect the final look of your shots and give different feelings when looking at the result.
Sometimes the background can add to your subject especially if the subject is smaller in the frame and it’s part of the habitat (like the photo above of a Leopard Frog).
Pentax K-01 with DFA 100mm Macro WR
You might need to control the light hitting your subject, you can use a flash, but personally i prefer natural light (i don’t own any flash). I often use myself, camera bag or even took off my shirt to shade my subject from direct sunlight when necessary. If i need to fill-in some light i use my DSLR book (which is always in my bag) to do that or you can have a small reflector.
I was looking for photographing frogs at one of my favorite pond and saw this Crab spider with her prey on a flower. Since they were underneath the petals the light was not so good so i used my DSLR user guide to fill-in some light, even then the white petals were blown-out but i can live with that. So always keep your eyes open, you never know what you can find.
Pentax K-01 with DFA 100mm Macro WR, tripod.
Often the most difficult part is finding an interesting subject, taking time to look around, taking time to relax will open your mind and be more productive than walking too much in hope of finding a better place. Usually the longer i stay at the same place the best shots i get. When i’m shooting frogs it’s the same thing, i try to find the frog that is in a better surrounding and let me get close enough to make a good photograph. After that i work around it and try different lenses if possible.
This was taken after a rainy day followed by a cold night, the water drops just frozed on the leaves. The difficult part was finding a subject with a beautiful surrounding. The technical part was easy, just stopped down the lens to have enough DOF to render everything in sharp focus.
Sony NEX-3 with SMC Macro-Takumar 50mm/4, tripod.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with shutter speed, DOF, lenses or even WB and ISO. Modern cameras give you a lot of choices and you’re only limited by your imagination. Don’t forget to bring your camera with you as often as you can since a Macro lens and a camera don’t take that much space and you never know when a small subject will cross your road.
Pentax K-01 with DFA 100mm Macro WR, Tripod.