The whole project is still at the experimental stage and, I know it sounds silly,
but it’s still in the training stage as well. Training? Well, the wireless control
system has around a one second delay so it is necessary to predict behaviour if you
want to catch it. It can be done, but it takes practice and as always I am finding
that the more I practice, the luckier I get.
Without buying a load more technology which I am not ready to do, I have to get my
subjects in exactly the right, pre-focused-upon spot and I am learning a lot of tricks
in that respect too. But, the biggest discovery of all is that a portrait lens of
100-300 mm in this situation, mounted right down on the ground (inside the box) gives
my images a new and refreshing feel. All of a sudden the images are more involved
with the subjects and to my mind feel like they might have been taken by other squirrels.
Using f5.6-f11 apertures at these lengths allows more detail but keeps it out of
focus and the subjects filling a larger area within the frame give the impression
of being taken from very close up (which they are) without having acres of space
and small subjects.
The biggest problem of all though is focusing. The camranger allows me to focus either
manually or by tapping on the spot that I want sharp. Once more, the delay is a problem
with moving subjects, but nowhere near as hard to cope with as the shallow depth
of field with the longer focal lengths. Anyway, progress is being made. For a first
effort, these will do. Some more refinement among the squirrels and jays, and it
will be time to get some more hide boxes and some new locations to put them. Ducks
next maybe. And/or partridges?
In an effort to get a more personal view of my local wildlife, I have been trying
a variety of approaches. Initially it seemed to me that using the longest possible
lens to bring the subjects as close as possible would be the answer. I have 600 mm
available and it does do just that, or rather it can. In reality it ends up being
used to photograph things that are even further away. It flattens the image and washes
the background away as well. That is the way that most wildlife photographers seem
to like it, but I would rather have something more going on in my pictures.
The lenses that tell the biggest stories are short and wide. I have taken some very
nice pictures using them, and I very much like the way that it is possible to paint
a picture with them. I have spent an inordinate amount of time refining my technique
with wide angle lenses and have recently found that getting the images is much easier
if I can leave out a fixed camera hide that the equipment can be simply dropped into
when I arrive. The hide (a black plastic storage box) appears unchanged. My personal
hide can remain zipped up and the wildlife is untroubled by my presence. I can work
the camera remotely using my camranger device and app from my iPad.
There are problems with very short lenses. It is very hard to find an interesting
background that doesn’t introduce a lot of in-focus clutter that confuses the subject
and the background; and that subject has to be super close to the lens. 18” is as
far away as something the size of a squirrel needs to be. Even a badger has to be
just a couple of feet away if it isn’t to appear too small and insignificant in the
frame. But the biggest drawback for me is that when everything eventually comes together,
the result just looks so remote. I am back where I started with a distant view of
something observed from the outside. In fact the resulting images are landscapes
with wildlife in them, which I like, but not what I am looking for at the moment.
Portrait photographers tend to use mid range lenses in the 75-200 mm bracket a lot.
These are long enough to lift the subject from the background whilst still retaining
enough of their surroundings to make an impact on the result. I have begun using
my 100-400 mm lens now inside my camera hide and I am pleased with the results. These
shots were taken at around 300 mm which is still quite long, but having the camera
right down on the ground seems to pull the viewer into the shot.
That little extra distance between subject and camera reduces the startling effects
of mirror slap which means that the wildlife stays longer. Most importantly it is
still short enough to bring the surroundings in and long enough to just separate
the back and fore grounds. That extra distance also allows other wildlife into the
frame, so I can get in this instance a nice sharp image over the shoulder of a second
squirrel, which also adds to the feeling of being right down on the forest floor