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Wildlife Photography and Video with the Platypod Ultra

Spring is a busy time for wildlife photographers, chock full of photo opportunities. I’m lucky to live in an area that is on a major migratory flyway for birds and butterflies, as well as a year-round home to loads of other feathered, furry, and scaly friends. In the few short weeks I have had my Platypod Ultra, I’ve put it through a workout on a variety of my many spring nature photo ops. These are some of the ways in which I am using it, along with tips and techniques for you to do your own set ups.

Wildlife in the Woods

Recently, I had an opportunity to capture photos and video of a red-shouldered hawk pair with their two newly hatched chicks. Hidden high in a cypress tree in the midst of a wetland area, the nest was difficult to view, posing a challenge to capture images of the family. Low light inside the wetlands made stable support for the camera a necessity, especially for the video, since I didn’t want to make viewers seasick with shaky footage.

Using a tripod was difficult, as it was unable to provide the height necessary to see through the few open areas in the tree top canopy that afforded a view of the nest. Using the Platypod Ultra proved to be a good solution for a stable platform which I could put up high where a tripod was not possible or practical. Spring is also part of our dry season, which for a wetland means instead of standing water, we have standing mud; deep, dark, and smelly. Carrying extra gear equals extra weight, which can result in a sudden sinking sensation. Being able to leave the big heavy tripod behind meant less times sinking up to my knees, and fighting to set up a tripod in the muck, which would likely also sink.

Results

 

Set Up

I had numerous shooting locations scouted at a respectful distance from the nest, with Platypods in place at each. These were secured to a tree trunk or branch via a large web strap, at varying heights and angles. As light or opportunity changed, I would carefully move to the next spot, attach my ballhead and camera, and started shooting. Since each location had already been scouted, setup was fast and I got back to shooting in moments, without disturbing the hawk family.

Tips

  • If working with a species typically active during the day, scout the area at night to be ready for daybreak. You can put up the Platypod Ultra very quietly, and leave it in place for seamless, repeatable, results each day. This is a great way to capture footage from the same vantage point over time as the chicks grow.
  • If you are strapping the Platypod Ultra to live trees, ensure you do not damage the bark, which may allow in pests or disease. Use the rubber side of the pegs, instead of the spikes, against the tree’s bark to level and tension the Platypod Ultra into place.
  • I also recommend against using ratcheting cargo straps on trees. Not only do they make a lot of noise, but the metal on some ratchets can gouge the bark. The straps used for lashing down kayaks are a good alternative for large diameter tree trunks. They stay put well, and the clasp is usually covered in rubber to prevent any gouging.
  • In the midst of nesting season, there are chances all around to see birds raising their young. However, the desire to photograph or capture video of nesting families must be offset with ensuring you don’t disturb birds that are hard at work incubating eggs, protecting their young, or hunting for food for those hungry chicks.

Equipment

Remote Photo Traps

For many years, I have followed the “Gardening for Wildlife” guidelines from the National Wildlife Federation for putting in sustainable gardens around our home that provide food and habitat for resident and migratory wildlife. A fortunate side effect of this is having loads of backyard photo opportunities for birds, butterflies, and other animals! While many of the species that visit are accustomed to people, some are very wary. Using a Photo Trap is a way to capture images of these animals remotely, using a trigger to fire your camera and flashes, usually when motion is sensed or an IR beam is crossed.

Results

As of the time I am writing this, the photo trap is in place, and working well. The Platypod Ultra makes adjusting the composition easy, and keeps the camera solidly in place.

At the moment it is only capturing photos of squirrels, who think I have put out a nice buffet just for them and their million or so cousins. On one hand, these guys are great for testing the set up. However, it may be working a little too well; so far I have 1500 pictures of them…in an hour.

So, when you have that many squirrel shots, there is only one thing to do…SQUIRREL-LAPSE!!!

Set Up

For this setup, I used a fallen tree limb that was a popular dining spot for all manner of birds and other critters. Already full of bugs, this log has become a natural feeder for my backyard wildlife.

Tips

  • You have no control of the image when it is actually being made. Setting up and getting great images from a photo trap completely relies on previsualization, prior preparation, and learning from your mistakes. Take many test shots, pay attention to the little details, and get your set and settings dialed in. This is very much like setting up a studio photo session, just with more squirrels involved.
  • Instead of using a beam trigger, you can use a remote control, and manually fire from a distance. This may give even better results, and fewer random squirrel images, especially in the daytime.

Equipment

HGLC (Hard to Get to Little Creatures)

Macro photography usually means you need to get very close with your camera to something very tiny, where your every little movement can throw your subject right out of your lens’s depth of field. Add in a couple of cups of coffee that day, and hoping for a handheld, sharp shot of a macro subject becomes near impossible!

A tripod or other stable support is a necessity for good macro photos, but using a tripod at ground level or other hard to get to places can be clumsy at best. Most recently, I had a number of monarch butterfly caterpillars on milkweed plants in my gardens, however these plants were all very short, requiring I shoot from just inches off the ground. While my tripod can get pretty low, I could not get it to a low enough angle to have a good background in the shot. Plus, it was very easy to bump the plants with the legs of the tripod when setting up, potentially damaging the plant or harming the caterpillar. Using the Platypod Ultra worked well as it got the camera to ground level, and was easy to move and adjust to get the right light and background.

Results

Set Up

Located right next to my driveway, this Milkweed plant was in a tough spot to shoot.Using the Platypod Ultra, I was able to get down to a low enough angle to use the shadowed underside of my truck as a background for the images above. We don’t often get to pick where mother nature provides our next photo-op, so you have to get really creative with how you handle these opportunities!

Tips

  • Think about the ground surface you are on, and use the right side of the spikes for it.Here I used the rubber tips to keep the Platypod Ultra from sliding on the concrete.If you are on plain ground, use the spike side, and press down slightly on the Platypod Ultra to set the spikes into the ground, securing it in place. Either way, if you bump your camera, it won’t move the setup off kilter.
  • I use a ballhead with a slider rail attached to it to allow for more flexibility in adjusting my focus and composition. While this isn’t a necessity for macro, it does make it a lot easier to fine tune your shots.
  • Ideally, use a remote control, this will eliminate any movement caused by pressing the shutter button.

Equipment

 

These were just a few of the ways I have been using my Platypod Ultra, I would love to hear your ideas or plans for using one!

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