Saturday, August 20, 2011

Loaded for...Chipmunk

On a recent hike into the backcountry looking to photograph elk, I decided to carry the Boomstick - a Nikon 400mm f/2.8 AF-S VR lens. When I say "carry" I don't mean in a backpack or harness, I mean freehand.

With camera and grip attached, this rig weighs in around 13 pounds. I often carry this lens without a pack, and shoot it hand held. Mature bull elk in areas where hunting is prevalent are a cagey bunch, and opportunities can last only seconds.

In this case, however, I hiked over an area roughly the size of the Louisiana Purchase and didn't catch a single glimpse of elk hide.

As I was making the steep descent back to the vehicle, I came across a common Least Chipmunk, neotamias minimus.

A few things jumped out at me when I spotted this little guy.
  • He was facing towards the sun, allowing for the all-important catch light to be reflected in his eye. This is a small detail that is always on my mind when photographing animals.
  • The chipmunk was positioned on a log that would give the foreground some texture, as well as a little elevation from the grasses on the forest floor.
  • Most interesting was the pattern of pine needles and leaves in the foliage beyond the perch. I immediately knew this would make for a soft, dappled, pleasing background.
When looking to capture an image of a relatively common subject, consider ways you can make the rest of the frame uncommon. Foreground, background, texture, and details like catch light are great ways create engagement with the viewer.

The final step involved compositional fundamentals.
  • It is key in wildlife portraits to shoot at eye level. I had to get very close to the ground to accomplish this, but it's important because downward angles in photography weaken the subject's presence in the image.
  • The chipmunk's eye is located 1/3 of the frame from the top edge, which is a foundational element of the Rule of Thirds as it applies to portraits.
  • Lastly, I chose a position that allowed the chipmunk's tail to enter at the corner, creating a natural leading line for the eye to easily follow into the photo.
When getting outfoxed by the day's primary objective - improvise and look elsewhere. The practice pays off when the main event suddenly shows up, and all these fundamentals need to be more instinctive and less deliberate.

Snacking Chipmunk

Nikon D300
Nikon 400mm f/2.8 AF-S VR (hand held) - f/5.6, 1/250
LensCoat Camoflauge
Equivalent Optical Magnification: 8x
Sitka Gear Open Country Camo
Distance to Subject: 20 feet

No comments:

Post a Comment