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PHOTOGRAPHING POND LIFE - THE SURFACE

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Not all the species that inhabit the pond live in it. Some literally live on the pond and its surface offers a great scope for photographs. The trouble is that its low down and I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not lie flat on my belly in the damp, getting my elbows wet or risk dropping my camera into the water. The simple solution comes in the form of trays. 

A few years ago I wanted to photograph frogs, toads and pond skaters on perfectly clean, simple minimising backgrounds - something that my pond didn’t offer. Overhanging trees cast reflections, pond plants protruded from the surface and the creatures, well, they all had other ideas ‘escape’, ‘flee’ and ‘hide’ top of their agendas! So I went to a garden centre and bought square and  long thin plastic gravel trays, sanded their inside surfaces and painted them both matt black. I set them on a chest height bench and filled them with three of four centimetres of water. When the light is low in the sky and you are close to the surface it becomes a mirror reflecting that sky, whether blue or blustery and this makes a wonderful background to isolate any subject upon. Often your subject will be reflected too so the scope for abstract mirror image reflections is frequent and entertaining. Pond Skaters, raft spiders, grass snakes, frogs, toads, and resting adult dragonflies all make great subjects, and of course, in terms of other props, the sky is your limit as well as your backdrop. By using trays you also make a pond portable and by gluing or taping strips of flower arranging foam to the base before filling you can add vegetation and renaturalise your pond as required. For both the animals and your own well being its always best to work with an assistant. Things have a horrible habit of hopping out and away and if you have to keep moving from behind the camera life becomes pretty difficult. If you’re photographing frogs and toads then place a generous amount of padding, carpets or old blankets either side of the tray table as they will unpredictably leap off and the sound of a frog flopping onto a concrete patio is sickening as well as inexcusable. 

The water surface offers equally rewarding opportunities from underneath, the problem is that if you look up through a conventional tank with your camera the distortion caused by the glass becomes extreme and any pictures unusable. A special tank is required and I believe that in the mid 1980’s I was its inventor! the Third Reich  have the V1, Honda has the V-tech, but I came up with the V tank, more creative and less expensive than the latter pair, but perhaps not so popular as Churchill’s V sign!

The V tank is less complex than the two tank arrangement but allows you to shoot up at the surface of the water where if any subject is lit correctly some interesting total internal reflections appear. Placing the necessary neutral background is tricky so you’ll  have to experiment and work equally hard to keep the surface free of dust and hairs – a small paint brush and patience your only real allies. Again, size of tank is dependent on the size of your subject. 

The V tank is best placed high up as a crick in the neck is seriously on the cards. I always put mine on a stout plank supported between the top two rings of step ladders and use a third to gain access to the surface and its suspended creatures. My favourite subjects have been water beetles and boatmen, whose backside breathing technique means that they will inevitably hang still enough for a shot and the great raft spider, which frequently pops under to avoid predators or probing paint brushes! I’m sure you could do more but I must warn that this setup requires the  patience, not only of one, but of a veritable team of saints!

 

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