Vallarta Living | Art Talk | September 2009
|Photo Tip of the Week: Photographing Banderas Bay's Sea Turtles - Part 2|
Larry and Linda Bennett - PVNN
September 08, 2009
Okay, let’s get back to discussing some tips for photographing these beautiful creatures.
Photographing the turtles while laying their eggs is usually a night thing, but there are times you might be lucky and get to see this during the day. Photographing the turtles during the day is a piece of cake and anyone with a point and shoot, as well as the professionals, can have some fun. Please remember, just keep your distance and give them their space. If they are disturbed in any way before they actually start to lay their eggs, they will not lay.
Nighttime is when I like to shoot. Can you imagine how many people are on the beach during the early hours? Not only do I lose the crowds but I can have some intimate time to just watch, enjoy, and observe nature and wildlife.
When a turtle first comes ashore she will walk or scoot along until she finds the special spot. They will crawl over rocks and logs; I have even assisted in turning a turtle around as she was on the third step of a stairway off of the beach heading away from the sand. Once she finds that special spot, she will know and then start digging.
This is a fun process to watch; she will dig a hole up to 16” deep for her nest and then dig herself in and begin the process of laying. After a few minutes the turtle will put herself into a hypnotic state or a trance, and become very still with her eyes closed. This is the time to shoot images. I like to use my tripod, which makes total sense in this type of situation.
It’s going to be pitch dark usually so a flash is a necessity. I use a flash diffuser and in this case will use TTL monitoring or through the lens monitoring meaning what you see through the lens will adjust your flash automatically. I will set my flash so it will have the assist mode (the laser detector that detects your image and will measure the distance and will automatically adjust your flash.) I use a walk-around lens usually an 18-55mm or even 18-105mm 2.8f or 3.5f works the best for me. Your distance will be 15 to 20 feet
There are a few different settings a photographer can use for shooting turtles at night. My favorite is just plain oh “P”, Program mode. I have shot in most every situation and program on my Canon cameras and have found the “P”, Program mode to be the most constant.
The “P” stands for Program AE. The “AE” stands for auto exposure. In this setting your camera will automatically set your shutter speed and aperture for the lighting conditions. I have also found the Canon speedlite flashes to synchronize well in this mode and have turned out some nice images over the years.
I always carry a small flashlight and after I’m pretty well set up and ready to take a few images, I will put a small amount of light on the turtle’s shell (NEVER shine the flashlight on the turtle’s head or eyes) and push my shutter button half way to focus. I use in this case center spot focus and will aim for right above the neck as this will give you some added details in the neck area that broad focus will not.
There are many times I will click off AF or auto focus and focus manually while the flashlight is still on the turtle’s shell. The turtle at this point is not moving so you will not have any problems with manual focus. I can sometimes get just a little more detail from manual, especially in low or no light conditions. Okay we should be all set, so let’s turn off those flashlights and shoot some images.
If you are lucky enough to be with one of the many certified and accredited Biologists that work with the sea turtles, there is a way to remove the sand from behind the laying turtle so you can watch and photograph the laying of the eggs.
You would photograph this pretty much the same way but you will have to loose the tripod and get down on your knees and shoot from a distance of 5-7 feet. A flash diffuser is a must here since you need lots of flash to get into that little nest but not to much as you don’t want to whitewash the eggs. Keep your ISO at 100 while shooting the turtle laying eggs. If you need to increase your ISO, do so gradually as the scene requires. ISO is a wonderful tool during low and no light photography.
NEVER try this on your own because it is very dangerous to the turtles and to you. You could end up in Mexican jail! ONLY certified volunteers and biologists can legally handle the sea turtles.
Photo Tips of the week are written by Larry Bennett, a professional photographer living in Puerto Vallarta. These tips are to be just tips, refer to your cameras owner's manual for specifics on your camera. Readers are welcome to enjoy Larry's website at LarryBennettPhotography.com.
Click HERE for more Photo Tips from Larry Bennett.