How to Point-and-Shoot: Amphibians and Reptiles

The nights are getting louder in the Northern Hemisphere. Whether it is near a wetland or in the trees, there is a choir of clicks and croaks and ribbits all around. As these little chorus singers try to impress their counterparts, there are large, armoured, slithering creatures lurking in the waters or under the leaf litter, silently looking for their future partner. It is summer and the hearts of the cold-blooded are getting warmer in search of love. Welcome to the world of amphibians and reptiles.
Common Indian Tree Frog
Exif: 1/800sec F8.0 ISO80 at 11.60mm
We naturalists admire these warm nights as much as we love the daylight. Not for any other reason, but to walk miles in search of these love-ridden animals of the dark – the amphibians, as well as their distant relatives – reptiles, to study, photograph, or just admire them. Let’s focus on how to photograph them in the middle of a day or dark rainy nights using a point-and-shoot camera.

I have been focusing on how to photograph using point-and-shoot cameras for the past four months. If you’ve been following them, you might begin to notice some similarities in types of cameras as well as techniques used to photograph various animals. The same apply to photographing herptiles, especially in the night, too. In order to be able to photograph herptiles, any ordinary cameras with a macro range of at least 10 cm, with at least 5 or more megapixels and optical zoom of 5x or more, can be used to capture good details. Point-and-shoots are good, if not excellent, while photographing objects at a close range during nights. They are light weight, therefore easy to carry. You don’t have to change lenses as in dSLRs, and they are cheap. Unfortunately, they are also fragile, hence protecting them against rain and mud is important. I usually hang the camera around my neck and wrap a plastic bag over it to avoid any splashing during treks in rainy season. They possess a strong flash, hence a diffuser is recommended, and they possess auto-focus which is not ideal for the skittish frogs and lizards.

Although the disadvantages outweigh the advantages of a point-and-shoot (like always!), these can be overcome to achieve excellent photographs of these tiny, shiny animals. Let’s take a detailed look at what all to do:

P Firstly, avoid handling amphibians as much as possible. Some might be toxic (such as some salamanders), and the toxins are likely to be absorbed through your skin or if you accidentally eat without washing your hands. While this is least likely, it is probable. Most importantly, avoid touching amphibians because they are more likely than you to absorb any chemicals (hand sanitizers, lotions, insect repellants, etc.) from your hand, which may be toxic to them. If your hands are clean, you may touch the amphibians, but do not change their location. Amphibians are very selective of their habitat, and if you replace a Salamander which was nicely hiding under a log to an open area, it might be exposed to predators.
Painted Turtles basking on the other side of the stream
Exif: 1/400sec F5 ISO100 at 78.00mm
P Amphibians and reptiles are shy animals – any slight movement and they will dash for cover and will not reveal themselves again so easily. When approaching one, photograph from as far as possible at first, and then approach as quietly as possible.

P While photographing in the night, an external source of light on the subject (a frog, for example) is important so that your camera can focus on it. Once your camera has locked in, photograph with flash turned on. If you keep the flash off, the external light (yellow or white) will get reflected off its skin, thereby lacking in true colours. Another trick to minimize this effect is focusing on the subject under external source of light, and then turning it off. This is easy to do, because as long as you or the subject doesn’t move, the focus will be locked in at that distance, and then photograph the subject with only the light from the camera’s flash.
Ramanella sp.
Exif: 1/125sec F3.2 ISO80 at 10.00mm
P A flash diffuser works exceptionally well for photographing such subjects. I’ll talk about it in a few months, but in brief, anything that is uniformly opaque – such as a butter paper or a white piece of cloth works well to uniformly light the subject. It also helps diffuse the flash on subjects – say amphibians or reptiles that are in water. A trick to avoid a strongly reflected flash, as in this picture of Ramanella sp. is to tilt the camera a bit so that the flash’s reflection in the water doesn’t enter the frame.

P Reptiles, mainly lizards and terrapins, may have shiny scales, which sometimes can yield great colours under natural or artificial light, but often the light only reflects off their scales. This mostly happens during harsh sunlight, as in the case of the photograph below.
Painted Turtle crossing the road
Exif: 1/640sec F5.6 ISO80 at 71.70mm
It was photographed around 11 AM last summer, when the sky was clear and sunlight too bright that reflected off the Painted Turtle’s carapace, casting a strong contrast in the shadow region. It is helpful to photograph such subjects in early or late afternoon and with enough cloud cover to diffuse the midday sunlight.

P As always, try different compositions. Photographing frogs peeping out of water from an eye-level perspective is slightly challenging, but it is well worth it. For such a perspective, you will have to stay pretty still to avoid any ripples in the water. It can be achieved by photographing from about a distance of 10 feet more or less, and then zooming onto the eyes. Similar photographs can be taken for reptiles as they peep out of water, or are walking on the forest floor/trees. I photographed the above Painted Turtle in the same way. Such photographs can achieve good subtle fore- and backgrounds. I had already discussed this in How to Point-and-Shoot Snakes and Birds articles. Also try to photograph frogs, especially males, as they call out for their mates.
Common Indian Toad flexing his vocal sac
Exif: 1/250sec F3.2 ISO400 at 11.90mm
This male Common Indian Toad was one of the many males flaunting a nice golden colour in a small pond. After failing to photograph them from far, I had to approach this one carefully. Fortunately, he did not run for cover, but he stopped calling. After patiently sitting beside him, he resumed his singing, and I managed this photograph. While it might not be possible to get close to all frog species, given their dense habitats and shyness, it’s easy to obtain a photograph from a close range with the help of zoom.
Green Frog
Exif: 10/800sec F5.0 ISO200 at 5.50mm
P Photographing a subject in its habitat also makes for a great composition. This not only adds an artistic edge to a photograph, but also some visual information about the animal’s home. I tried photographing this Green Frog near Bridal Veil Falls on Manitoulin Island with the waterfall in the background, but there were so many people around that it was hard to get all of them out of the frame. Yet, I feel the greens in the background and this frog’s preferred perch on the boulder definitely add some details about the frog’s whereabouts, and perhaps a perspective on its point of view.
Calotes rouxii
Exif: 1/100sec F4.5 ISO80 at 78.00mm
These are a few ways in which you can photograph amphibians and reptiles. Many new species are still being discovered, and, unfortunately, many are also fast vanishing from the face of our planet. It is our responsibility as naturalists to spread awareness about these delicate, ancient creatures to our friends and relatives. Photography is the key, probably one of the most important keys, when it comes to informing the general public about the fascinating world of herptiles, about their unique way of life, and their plight in today’s changing times. Without visuals, it is hard to relate the natural world to the one’s disconnected with it, hence I recommend everyone to go out and observe, and if possible, shoot!

Have a great monsoon if you’re in India and a great summer if you’re in North America!

4 comments:

  1. Thank you for the wonderful tips on photography. I am not good at it but I enjoy the memories the pictures provide. The pictures you shared today are just stunning.

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  2. I have enjoyed my visit and reading the tips you give. I agree with Emma. Stunning photography.

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  3. Stunning shot of Indian toad.

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  4. Another great expedition Aniruddha! Your images are very stunning and informative.

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