Photographing Flying Squirrels with High Speed Flash

Nov 4, 2016

Steve Gettle

We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

Photographing Flying Squirrels with High Speed Flash

Nov 4, 2016

Steve Gettle

We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

Join the Discussion

Share on:

d4s8649

Flying Squirrels are fairly common, although seldom seen members of the rodent family. The Southern Flying Squirrel is found throughout the Eastern half of the United States. The Northern version is only found in the Northern most tier of states and in Canada.

One of the biggest challenges of this project was attracting, and training the squirrels to do what I needed them to do, so I could photograph them. I started off by simply mounting a tray to the side of a large oak tree. Each night at sunset, I would place a handful of nuts on the tray. It took a few weeks but eventually the Flying Squirrels found this new food source.

This allowed me to do pretty standard shots of the Squirrels on the trunk of the tree. Of course that is just a tiny part of the story of flying squirrels.

d504080

My real goal was to photograph them in action. In order to do that, I would need them to follow a predictable flight path. So I created a feeding tray that I could move around. I started off with this new tray right next to the old one on the side of the tree. I also attached a photogenic log as a landing spot for the squirrels just above this new tray. Slowly over the course of a week, I gradually moved it farther and farther away, which now forced the squirrels to fly back and forth to their new dining room in a very predictable flight path.

The photography part of this project was actually pretty straightforward. I used three lights, one main, one fill light, and a hair light from behind the Squirrel. The hair light provides a little rim lighting to help separate the Squirrel from the background. I used Nikon SB-600s dialed down to 1/16th power, giving me a 1/15,000th of a second burst of light to freeze the action. The Sabre was the perfect trigger for this shoot. I used it on auto for the bulk of the images, having it trigger the camera, which then fired the flashes. I could vary the distance of the Sabre from the perch to get different in flight poses, further away for flat out gliding, or I could move the Sabre in closer to the perch to show how they parachute in for a nice soft landing.

My camera is up on “PVC stilts” in this shot enabling me to get an eye-to-eye perspective.
My camera is up on “PVC stilts” in this shot enabling me to get an eye-to-eye perspective.

Probably, the most technically challenging image I created in this shoot is the shot of the squirrel flying directly at the camera. The challenge here is dealing with shutter lag. Shutter lag is the slight delay between when the Sabre sends the signal to fire the camera and when the camera actually gets around to opening the shutter and making the picture. This delay can be anywhere from a 100 milliseconds to as much as 300 milliseconds. Not a problem when your subject is moving parallel to the camera. But when your subject is moving directly at you, this delay makes it very hard to know exactly where the squirrel will be when the shutter actually opens and therefore, very hard to know where to focus.

d4s9110

The Sabre actually makes this shot, simple. Since I was working in the dark, I was able to leave the camera’s shutter open on bulb and then have the Sabre fire the flashes, eliminating shutter lag. Once I get a trip, I simply need to reset the camera’s shutter to prepare for the next trigger. If that all sounds complicated, you don’t need to worry, the Sabre actually manages all of this for you. When the Sabre is tripped, it fires the flashes and then resets your shutter, to get ready for the next shot. In addition, if there is not a trip in 60 seconds (you can set whatever time you want) the Sabre will automatically reset your shutter, in order to avoid noise.

Good Luck and Good Light!

About the Author

Steve Gettle is a wildlife photographer based in Michigan. He was chosen as Great Lakes Wildlife Photographer of the Year and is a multiple award winner in the BBC’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest. Steve also provides wildlife photography workshops and tours around the world.

You can find out more about Steve on his website, follow his work on Instagram and Facebook, or reach out to him through Twitter. This article was also published here and shared with permission.

Find this interesting? Share it with your friends!

DIPY Icon

We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

Join the Discussion

DIYP Comment Policy
Be nice, be on-topic, no personal information or flames.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

4 responses to “Photographing Flying Squirrels with High Speed Flash”

  1. Gvido Mūrnieks Avatar
    Gvido Mūrnieks

    Beautiful shots with cute little creatures!
    Love the setup too. Simple, and effective with a lot of dedication.

  2. John Layman Avatar
    John Layman

    !…. with a bird feeder

    https://flic.kr/p/idi8en

  3. Michael Lombardi Avatar
    Michael Lombardi

    I’m sure they love that!

  4. Robin Avatar
    Robin

    Flyers are so cute! Had one in my house the other night.He/she eventually ran out my front door. Great photos.