With World Frog Day coming up this March 20th, it’s a fantastic time to celebrate these adorable pond-dwelling creatures and a great excuse to get closer with some macro photography.
It’s a fabulous time of year for frog spotting, and an exciting month in their calendar, too, as frogspawn should start to appear around February and March. If you don’t have a wildlife pond at home check your local nature reserves in ponds and streams – particularly close to the water’s edge and around any foliage and reeds for this weird and wonderful jelly-like phenomenon. In case you were wondering, frogspawn appears as clumps of caviar-like jelly and toadspawn in long ribbons. You can use sites like Record Pool, a collaborative project between the ARGUK and Amphibian and Reptile Conservation groups to record any sightings and gain access to recorded sightings. This weird and wobbly subject makes for superb abstract macro shots, so try getting in low and close, and watch for interesting reflections in the water.
After around two to three weeks, the dots in frogspawn will grow into little commas, before transforming into tadpoles, and breaking free from the jelly-mass to start their life before eventually becoming fully-fledged – but very teeny and cute – froglets, about fourteen weeks later. Amazingly, tadpoles can actually control the rate of their transformation – or metamorphosis – and speed it up to overcome challenges in their environment like predators, or even slow it down if there’s plenty to eat, and space to chill, or if the weather is too cold. Fascinating!
Take your time
Moving on from the brief biology lesson, how can we best capture these little green guys? I’m lucky enough to have a pond at home, and thanks to a little TLC last year, relining the leaky pond, adding plenty of oxygenating plants and restructuring some rocks for lots of good hiding places, my pond is absolutely thriving this year and has been jam-packed with common frogs. I’ve got masses of traffic, and plenty of girls (which are often more red in colour), so certainly no shortage of subject matter, however, they are known to be incredibly shy so it takes some real patience to capture a shot. My advice – which is key in most wildlife photography – is to take your time observing your subjects first, without worrying about your camera for the moment. I’ve been taking note to learn the busiest times in my pond, and how the behaviour of the frogs changes depending on the weather or time of day, meaning I’m better prepared to know where the best shots might be for the taking.
Get comfy, go quietly
I found that early mornings were best for my resident frogs, as they were so busy crashing about with each other that they didn’t notice me as quickly. Typically, I could see (and hear!) them as I carefully approached the pond, but they’d often dip under the water when I’d get within a few feet, no matter how softly I approached, so instead I’d set myself up on a garden kneeler, with a cup of tea and wait it out. Using the OM-D E-M1 Mark II meant I could shoot with a completely silent shutter, too, which is beyond helpful. For most of my pictures of frogs, I’ve used the M.Zuiko 60mm F2.8 Macro lens, as it’s easy to switch the focus dial to change the range from 0.19m-0.4m, 0.19-infinity, or 0.4-infinity, in a 1:1 scale. It’s like having two lenses in one, which is ideal when you don’t want the disturbance of changing lenses, and have the unpredictability of your subject changing distances around you while you try to stay as static as possible.
Frogs have such beautiful patterns and colours, so photographing them up close is a total macro dream. As ever with any living creature, try and focus on the eyes for your pond-life portraits, but look for colours and details like this green water weed, which makes such a cute covering as the frogs pop their heads out from under the water. I had to be quick here, and used a fast shutter speed to make sure I didn’t miss the moment.
Capture the environment
I’ve found it’s much more rare to find a frog hanging around on the land, but have managed to capture them a couple of times when this has happened. Incorporating the environment into your pictures helps give narrative, as well as provide an interesting backdrop. If your background isn’t pleasing you however, opt for a wide aperture to blur it out, and concentrate all that focus on the frog. Amazingly, when I was prepping for a shot, and left my OM-D E-M10 Mark III next to the pond to fetch my OM-D E-M1 Mark II, I returned to find a female straddling the top of my camera! I was very grateful for the impromptu modelling session, but was mindful to be very respectful of her space. I learnt she had probably just laid a lot of frogspawn and was trying to take a rest. It goes without saying to leave wildlife alone from touching and to give them their space, and for this reason, those with the stunning M.Zuiko 40-150mm F2.8 PRO would find this a wonderful lens for getting close, without getting close!
Reflect on your shot
As frogs are commonly to be found in the water (alot!) it’s worth trying to capture some shots as they go about their business just below the surface. It can be tricky to get a clear shot when dealing with the water level and reflections, but switching to manual focus can be really helpful here to combat any lens hunting. To minimise unwanted reflections be mindful of the direction the sun is casting over the water, and use your body to block the bulk of the light source. Getting low and close will help this. And finally, a still pond and a frog helpful enough to hang around for a little while can make a beautiful shot, with glass-like water frozen around it’s sweet little face.
If you’re keen to follow my frog watch updates, join me over on Instagram, where I cannot wait for the next stage, tadpoles!