Tips for shooting Amphibians

Tips for Amphibians

It is truly the rare moment that you can get a behaviour shot for an amphibian or reptile for that matter, and so one must usually make do with just compositional poses.

Male poison arrow frogs carry their tadpoles to a water source where they will deposit them. In some species the vigilance over their brood extends until the tadpoles metamorphosize into froglets. Poison arrow frog (Amreega sp.), Bilsa reserve, Ecuador coastal rainforest.

The most important thing is to look at the behaviour, if you can, spend several minutes observing the amphibian before you take the shot. Look at how it moves, is it slow or fast, erratic or deliberate, flexible or inflexible, these will all help you to compose your shot (provided you have enough time).

Treefrogs usually have very flexible limbs because they regularly stretch from one tree branch to another. They don’t hop so much in the forest canopy, they walk. How do you cover greater distances, you have longer limbs. The best shots I see of these usually have them at full stretch and if not show an unusual pose like limbs bent upon each other to show this flexibility.

Reinwardt’s treefrog (Rhacophorus Reinwardtii). Maliau basin, Borneo.
Monkey treefrog (Phyllomedusa tomopterna). Jatun Sacha, Tena, Ecuadorian lowland Amazon.

Have them looking into the camera for the front on portrait. In my experience this gives a more interesting shot than a side profile which comes across as too documentary, scientific style.

File-eared frog (Polypedates otilophus)
Harlequin treefrog (Rhacophorus pardalis) Danum Valley, Borneo.

With most insects but amphibians and reptiles in particular, there is the temptation to get the whole animal squeezed into the frame. Break this habit! If you focus on a particular part of the animal like the webbed feet, or the eyes or the skin it can be a much more interesting photo.

Here the rugosity of the skin is shown to greatest benefit by the closeup of the head. Manu national park, Peru.

Focus on that part of the animal which is unusual. Display it to best advantage based on the angle you have chosen.

Polk-a-dot treefrog (Hypsiboas punctatus). Here the focus is on the imperfectness of nature, and one can clearly see the deformation in the pupil of the left eye. However, I chose the front on portrait style rather than an angle that only took in the deformed eye, so that you could clearly see the comparison between the two eyes, making the visual impact a lot stronger. Manu national park, Peru.

Combine these points when you can, don’t just be satisfied with a behaviour shot, if you can do more!

Reinwardt’s treefrogs in amplexus (Rhacophorus reinwardtii). This is one of my early photos before I really got into photography, but it shows the amplexus, mating behaviour. But also displays the prominent webbed feet of these beautiful amphibians which splay outwards when they jump, allowing them to glide between trees in the forest canopy. Maliau basin, Borneo.

Males are generally preferable to females! Why? Because they call a lot more frequently. This makes it a) more likely to find b) more likely to get a picture with their vocal sacs inflated which really improves the photo significantly! So if you haven’t gotten a shot of a vocalizing frog, go out and get one, because it is extremely rewarding!

Male vocalizing poison arrow frog (Dendrobates macero). Pantiacolla lodge, Manu national park, Peru.

Try to get low viewing angles looking upwards. This is especially key for ground dwelling species. Why? Creates dynamism. Frogs on the ground are almost always shot from above, this means that 99% of shots of that frog will be shot from a bird’s eye view, or at a strong overhead angle, and look similar and disinteresting. Get down on the jungle floor and point upwards!

This frog isn’t particularly special. Doesn’t have any beautiful colouration, etc. but I like this shot from a compositional perspective. Manu national park, Peru.
Histrionic poison arrow frog (Oophaga sylvaticus). The low perspective of this shot makes it much more intimate. The colours show how bright the frog is and yet how it is also able to blend in. Bilsa reserve, Ecuadorian coastal rainforest.

Get an unusual angle! Play with your depth of fields, try new things, who knows what you will come up with.

Polk-a-dot treefrog (Hypsiboas punctatus). Manu national park, Peru.

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