Some projects are easier than others. While in Norway, I had an idea about photographing red squirrels differently. I was still enjoying photographing squirrels on a nice mossy stump but I wanted to take it further. This time I had to do something different and quite unique in Europe…
Yes, leaping squirrels have been done before but leaping straight into your lens is something else. I already had some ideas in my head and as soon as I came home it all fell into place, so I quickly put on my Bob the Builder helmet and started to build the new setup (a Norwegian troll I had bought for my wife, was my model). While building the new setup I had some more idea’s and just before sunset, it was ready. All built and ready to go…. the rest should be easy!!!
Well, I was wrong, very wrong. Building a setup is one thing but dealing with red squirrels is another. They all have great personalities but the main problem was, they all have different personalities. I blocked all the possible entrys for the squirrel to force them to approach my setup from just one direction. Now, there’s the first problem. As you know, squirrels can fly, jump, leap, run, roll and climb upside down. So the first day was a day of agony, frustration and bouncing veins in my neck area. I had been in and out of my hide no less than 20 times to solve a new problem. My setup was starting to look like a prison but I had to go on…. I just had to.
The next day all was ready to go and my hopes were rising again. The weather was good and I saw the first red squirrel high up in a pine tree, just waiting to come down for breakfast. Just a quick look through the lens to see if everything was ready. I took an extra risk using the 500 lens but the idea was a red squirrel leaping towards me and the squirrel should be large in the frame to create more impact. ISO was set to 3200 to give me at least a shutter speed of 1/800 sec.
The first squirrel came down and all looked good, running over the log and coming my way. Focus locked and there was the first jump!! Crikey…that was quick. Luckily the squirrel took a nut and jumped back onto the log to eat his trophy, and in just a matter of minutes he should do it again.
And he did, more than 10 jumps but not a single one in focus. 1/800 sec. should be enough? So the problem must be the AF which was not just quick enough to lock on a leaping squirrel coming towards me. So my next idea was to lock the AF somewhere between the point of leaping and landing. I was lucky to have seven different squirrels hanging around which would give me plenty of opportunity to try different camera settings.
The idea of locking the AF turned out to be a good one. I could write a whole book about my attempt to shoot leaping squirrels but it all comes down to one thing – keep on trying and never ever give up. Once you have an idea and it’s do-able, just keep on trying. It can be very frustrating at times but also very rewarding in the end. My favourite settings turned out to be a shutter speed somewhere between 1/800 sec. and 1/1200 sec. and the aperture from f/4 and f/6.3
Below are some images from my latest attempt, all shot with the Nikon D3s and Nikon 500/4 VR. All images are full frame.