Some things in life just fall into your lap… Recently I purchased a trail camera, so I could leave it strapped to a post in the Barn Owl field, to save me guessing their routines, this would give me a better idea. It does get a little hard sitting in a field and getting nothing, knowing that they are tucked up warm, cosy and fast asleep. I tried it and it did everything I wanted, cool to see them out and about at night. Not very helpful for photography purposes, but it has given me a few ideas about getting some shoots, especially with the amount of lighting I have stashed away.
I do not know whether you have ever wondered what goes on in you own back garden, but this gave me an idea. Also I could see what fat Hollie (our cat) gets up to over night before she comes in and warms her cold paws on our backs. Sure that cat has an evil streak.
Using one of my spikes, available on the site, I set the camera to aim down the garden. Hoping to catch the odd mouse or even a hedgehog, but thought it may be mainly Hollie catching bugs. The next morning, I retrieved the camera and grabbed a coffee while downloading the footage. It was great quality, even in the darkest night it had picked up some great video. The first three were of Hollie strutting her stuff, killing insect prey before spitting them out, bit of rolling around and several mad running up and down the garden spurts. The fourth video was amazing, a Fox, wow..
That is the last thing I expected, there was another two videos with two different foxes, both in great condition. I have had foxes on my list to photograph for a while, but finding time and obviously finding a fox was going to be difficult.
Perfect for a project… For the next few nights the trail camera was set up with a few tit bits scattered around the patio area. With them being scattered this would make them have to search, giving me longer videos. From the videos I was able to work out their routine when visiting the garden, aswell as how they were entering and their way around the garden. Last year we had made the bottom of the garden into a wild flower patch, with a few bulbs planted here and there just so we had a bit of colour most of the year. The patch has one flattened grass path running through it, luckily for me this is what the foxes were using. Edged both sides with blooms, this would make a cracking shot…
So the plan, the first thing was to keep the little tit bits out with the trail camera so I could keep an eye on their routine and timings, well I didn’t want to sit out all night if they were only coming early morning. Lucky for me they were coming in around 11.30p.m., 1.30a.m. and finally 4.00a.m. My next step was to introduce a LED lamp, aimed at the bottom of the path where they would first enter. This was so the camera could get a focus on the fox, as my first plan was to use my pop up tent while using my 70-200 to gain a head on shot as the fox came down the path. Watching the video the next morning the fox had paid no attention to the new light.
The next step was to leave the pop up tent out, I did this for a couple of nights, again no notice was paid. The food was far more important. The following evening I set up two Pixapro Citi 600’s and a Pika 200, one to the left & one to the right, both set slightly in front of the area I had picked to take the shot. With the Pika 200 covering the patio if the first flash didn’t scare them, I could use this to get some head shots. Armed with my Canon 1DX Mk3 and the 70-200mm f2.8, I got myself comfy, laying on my belly, this would give me a ground level shot, always one I prefer with all nature. I was photographing everything set on manual, this gives me accuracy with the lighting, allowing me to makes very small adjustments. The way I get my shot set, is by using a soft toy to get my settings, luckily Alex for some reason has a large orangutan, even a similar colour, perfect. So with this set in the area I am hoping to capture the fox, I was able to take a series of shots until I was happy with the results. Wanting to keep some of the environment and the blooms in the shot I opted for the camera settings of 1/250, f9.0. This left me to adjust the lighting, finally setting both at 1/16th power.
With everything, coffee and sweets in the tent, it was time to settle down and wait. Spot on time the fox entered, this time she entered differently, slower and with nose in the air sniffing, she knew I was there. The first night was always going to be getting the shot away and seeing how she reacted to the flash. She took a few steps onto the path, head down and looking straight at me, but looked like she was going to dart to the left, I took the decision to take the shot even though she was a little further from the lighting area then I would have liked. I took the shot and then she vanished. I was so excited, did I get it, was it focused, would it be blurred, shooting at 1/250th. I realised then it would be a long project, one shot a night at best. I left it there as I didn’t want to scare her off, so allowed her to feed. The next morning the video showed she soon returned and fed for the rest of the night. I was pretty happy with the result.
The next evening I did the same, I had planned to wait & let her get further down the path, but she did a great pose I couldn’t resist. With her tucked slightly into the daffodils, head slightly up and slightly turned. I couldn’t resist. A flash and she was gone. I am leaving a night or two between the shoots, hoping that I do not scare her off and that in time she will get used to the flash.
I had notice that each time I am there, she seems to notice that someone is there, she’s sniffing the air, she must be picking up my scent. So I came up with a different plan, something I do like to use with nature are short lenses. Also this would make it a little more comfy, my plan was to use the 1DX and a Sigma 12-24, placed half way down the path and using a wireless trigger to fire the shutter. I placed the camera to the right of the path, on the ground using a brick to slightly aim the camera up. The lighting was slightly rearranged, with a Citi 600 on the opposite side of the path in front of the fox. The other Citi 600 placed the same side of the path but behind, this would give me my standard sandwich lighting. Finally the Pika 200 was placed a metre or so behind the camera just to fill the middle section. Again the stuffed Orangutan was used to gain the settings. For this shot I would have the comfort of sitting in our back bedroom where I could view the whole garden, giving me plenty of time to see her enter and be ready. With coffee and sweets position, I took my seat in the bedroom, it is very exciting, I love watching nature and to think I might even get a decent shot makes it even better. I had put the food out in the normal place with one tit bit placed where Is was going to take the shot, hoping the tit bit would give me an extra second or so to grab the shot.
She entered the garden as normal, but this time seemed a little nervous, she had noticed the lighting had been moved. To soften the light a little I had been putting white covers over the standard reflectors, wildlife always like to see white circles floating in the air, lol.. Having moved it this had made her nervous, she entered and kept backing off a bit into the daffs. Finally she slowly made her move, towards the first tit bit. Again I made the decision to get a shot in the bag so I could the check the next day whether the settings were correct. Just as she took the tit bit I took the shot, she move so quick, but didn’t totally disappear, just hid in the daffodils, then decided it was best to go. I did learn a lot from that evening watching her, for the next two evening I have left the white circles out there so she gets used to it. I have also left her for the last couple of nights just leaving the trail camera running so I can see how she is reacting. So far so good, I will return soon to this, but looking at the first results from the short lens I am happy, just want a little more of a strolling past shot.
Next I want to find the den and the cubs as she seems to be gathering and taking some of the food away, so not to disturb I will be planning to use long lens without lighting for these shots… Keep an eye on my site for updates…