Wildlife photography with a macro lens

Sometimes I get lucky with the little critters and they stay still enough for me to capture their portraits. I know that the big animals get all the glory and the oohs and ahhs, but there’s something about these wee ones that is just as magnificent. They all have their roles to play and each time I photograph one I feel honored that it let me and happy that I got to spend some time with them.

This first one is a common land snail. There are lots of them around in the northern Wisconsin woods, but you do have to keep your eyes peeled. Like many other animals’ eyes, ours are attuned to movement and we quickly notice it even in our peripheral vision. Snails though, well, you have to look for patterns or more precisely, pattern disruption. That’s how I saw this one on a stump by the side of the trail. Even though they don’t move fast, they are usually heading somewhere important and so I usually will crank up the ISO a bit so those eyes and that gorgeous foot stay in relatively crisp focus. And speaking of focus, it’s normal to center on the eyes of an animal, but with these guys it’s tough so I sometimes go for the middle or base of the eyes. With this one I aimed for the far left eye and I think it worked out.

Fancy meeting you

On to the exact opposite of a snail. Northern leopard frogs are really fast, really springy and really panicky. This one was in the lawn and was such an intense green I nearly stepped on it before I saw it. If I stayed in its field of vision it sat pretty still, but if I got behind it – zoom! And boy do they jump far! After some not so great shots of it in the grass it sprang onto the walk and voila – a minimalist frog portrait!

Stay where I can see you

Equally springy although even less than 1/8th the frog’s size is this tiny toad. I found it on the same trail as the snail and I was really surprised it sat so still for me. Usually come the end of August the woods are bouncing with baby toads and you have to be really careful where you put your feet. They whiz by a few centimeters at a time and are so delicate and adorable. But this one sat for a long time and even let me clean up the scene somewhat. Truly amazing and the first time I’ve ever photographed such a young toad. It was about 1/2 an inch long and look at that lovely color. I don’t know if it will stay such a nice reddish brown, but I hope so.

Newly tailless

Back in the slow lane for this one. Not that salamanders don’t move or can’t move quickly, but this one seemed in a trance. I found it by sheer luck. I wanted to hit a couple of trails and so I parked on the corner of a dead end street and a main road. After walking down the dead end road a bit to see where the trail picked up, I noticed a shady parking area and decided to get the car. On my way back I spotted this little beauty squarely on the tire tracks. I’d missed it the first time I went by it. If I’d just driven down there I’d have killed it for sure. I probably wouldn’t have known, but I would have been the lesser for it. After looking in my Audubon guide I’ve identified it as a blue-spotted salamander.

This is my good side

They’re native to the Great Lakes area and the northeastern part of the US. While trying to figure it out, I learned that part of how you ID salamanders is by counting the costal grooves on their sides. Luckily I had some photos where I could see all of them and because it has 12 it definitely makes it a blue-spotted. Not green striped you say? Nah, I think that’s algae! After a while I wondered if it was hurt or dead so I gently picked it up and it suddenly came to life, walking over my hands and arms until I put it safely into the woods. Wonderful!

As you might have guessed, all these shots were done with the legacy Olympus f2 macro. Wildlife photography is a privilege and a skill that takes a lot of practice, but with these little cuties, I’m happy to have the opportunity.

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