Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Getting Down and Dirty

Greetings to all,

Often times the best perspective to photograph wildlife is from the same height as their eye level. For a lot of critters this isn't much of a problem. Deer, elephants, bison etc. often times are at the same or a even higher level than we are. So for those types of critters getting to eye level isn't difficult. Besides these are just guidelines anyway which are meant to be broken once in awhile to be creative in the image making process. However, for today we are going to stick to the guidelines and discuss the job of taking the portraits of shorebirds. For this it means getting down and dirty. Smaller creatures like ground squirrels, lizards and shorebirds have an eye level of well let's just say it is below the knees. Please note that a lot of the things being covered here about shorebirds apply to many small ground dwelling creatures especially the perspective.

So how do you approach this kind of photography? Well if you are physically able enough from your belly. You have got to get down and slither and crawl. Put on some old clothes or some waterproof gear and get down on your belly and crawl. This can lead to some interesting locations and situations. Shorebirds inhabit a diverse range of habitats from grasslands and beaches to mudflats. Grasslands aren't so bad but mudflats. So how do you photograph in these less than desirable locations?

I guess it depends upon your dedication to the art of photography as well as your technique and the proper equipment to be used. Many photographers set aside clothing to be worn in the mudflats or on the beach. When they arrive at the scene they change into chest waders or rain gear or just plain old clothing they don't care much for anymore At the end of their photographic session they change back into the clothing they came in and stow their soiled clothing in a plastic bag or container to be washed off and dried later at home. There are many choices in clothing check with most any outdoor supply store or sporting goods store to see what is available in. There is also the Thrift Store if you decide upon wearing clothes that you don't care too much about.My personal preference is stocking foot neoprene chest waders and an old army jacket from a garage sale.

So what techniques are used? There are two main ones used along with a combination of them both. The first is progressive approximation. This involves finding a subject to be photographed and slowly crawling towards your intended subject very slowly. ( in mudflats this can be a grimy, smelly experience) Stopping frequently to allow your subject to adjust to your being close by. Every animal has its personal space and it will tend to move further away from you when that space is violated. With careful observation you can often observe an animals behavior to see when they are feeling comfortable or being stressed. Shorebirds for example will stop feeding, stand erect, turn their bodies away from you in preparation to fly. The second method is find your intended subject and observe its possible direction of travel . The goal here is to seek out a location ahead of it and wait to photograph your subject when it passes by.

While you are crawling along one of the key things of importance here is to keep your hands and equipment clean . Many photographers carry along a towel or two for that very purpose.So where is your camera during all this crawling about? In keeping your equipment clean one technique often used is to push your camera and tripod or ground pod along on the ground,mud or sand ahead of you. Using it as a brace to keep your hands and camera up out of the muck. Commercially there are many types of ground pods available. The best types for mud and sand are those that resemble frying pans. They work well because you can push them along the mud and keep your equipment clean and dry.

A back pack or fanny pack is a useful item to have along as well. You can store your dry towels and other needed equipment sealed up in a dry bag or other sealed container ready for your use. though some shooters keep things to a minimum and only bring a few needed items which they store in the pan of the ground pod.

So get out there and get down dirty and create some beautiful images in the process. Oh and don't foget you can use a low perspective for a lot of other things besides wildlife.

God's light and love to all,


Because the ground pods above resemble frying pans it is relatively easy to make one using a frying pan from the thrift store and mounting a tripod head inside of it for your camera to sit on. First off I would suggest doing a search for camera ground pods to get an idea of what size pan might work for you. After that I would hit the thrift stores and find one that is similar in size to one you are interested in. Also, hit the hardware store for either a 3/8" or 5/8' bolt of the same size and length that is on the top of your tripod legs. You do have a tripod don't you? The next step is to drill a hole in the bottom center of the pan. Check your tripod head to see if it is either 3/8'' or 5/8' as these are the most common sizes.

After drilling the hole slide the bolt into the hole and mount your tripod head on it and you are ready to go. If the tripod head is too low you may have to add a wooden spacer between the tripod and the pan. A spacer can be easily cut out of exterior plywood of varying thicknesses or out of some other type of lumber. As a final step you may or may not want to spray paint your new Mud Scooter to give it a more polished look. go out and have some fun with it.

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