We’re only two months into 2023, and I’ve already had many “firsts” in my photography life. For the first time, I traveled to the Amazon for the unique wildlife opportunities, used the OM-1 (the best Micro Four Thirds camera today), took my Panasonic G9 underwater at my favorite spring, and more. I’ve also been developing a new lighting setup for my reptile and amphibian photos. So, here’s a bit of catching up for you!
It starts with the Amazon rainforest, specifically the Peruvian Amazon. Since my main focus in photography are reptiles and amphibians, it was a paradise. By the end I got to see 68 species of reptiles and amphibians, more than half of which were frogs. And I still haven’t even scratched the surface of what the Amazon has to offer.
Frogs, especially tropical species of fascinating colors and shapes, have always been some of my favorite animals to photograph. This trip, I got to see such an amazing diversity that I became even more obsessed with them.
Although my go-to lens with frogs is my trusty Olympus M.zuiko 60mm f/2.8 macro, I challenged myself to use my Panasonic Leica 9mm f/1.7 for some wide-angle close-ups. With a working distance under an inch, I had to get creative with my lighting. I used the Laowa Twin Lite KX-800 with flexible arms and a homemade diffuser to light my subjects.
Of course, my main muse, snakes, took the spotlight frequently as well. A dream species of mine was the emerald tree boa, an iconic species I’ve longed to observe in the wild since I first learned of its existence. I was ecstatic one night when I looked up towards the canopy and spotted the unmistakable green coils in the tree above me.
Another boa species native to the Amazon is the Amazon Tree Boa, I saw many of different colors, but the “Halloween phase” I’ve shown below was my favorite. With his bright yellow eyes and intricate dorsal pattern, he made for a great subject for some dramatic, angled lighting.
Another snakey highlight was the Aquatic Coral Snake shown below. This snake was a bit challenging to photograph because the scales were so reflective. By getting my large diffuser close enough, I was able to create relatively soft light, though.
This venomous snake shows us clearly why the old rhyme, “red touches black, friend of jack” or whatever version, is not a viable method of determining if a snake is venomous or not outside of the U.S. (and shouldn’t be used anywhere really).
Snakes and frogs weren’t the only animals I photographed. Monkeys were plentiful in the rainforest, and these glow worms beside a creek made for a unique photo opportunity.
Leaving the Amazon was tough, but it was made easier when I was greeted by a copy of the new OM System 90mm f/3.5 and the OM-1 that had been sent to me for testing. Now back in the U.S., there were no longer frogs and bizarre bugs around every corner, but I still managed to find some critters to shoot 2X macro.
I even tried out 4X macro with these weevils by using a 2x teleconverter in conjunction with the 90mm f/3.5 Such a setup holds promise for focus stacking, but it’s certainly a challenge to shoot handheld. Not impossible though!
When I went back to Florida, I couldn’t be kept from the water any longer! I got to work again on my underwater photography. With my Panasonic Lumix G9 safe in an Ikelite DL 200 housing, I photographed some iconic native Florida wildlife in crystal-clear spring water.
This manatee made a close pass, and seemed intrigued by my dome port. The Panasonic Lecia 9mm f/1.7 makes it appear further away, but this 1000-pound marine mammal was right near my camera!
I also enjoyed working with this dragon-like common snapping turtle and morning sunrays to create an ethereal scene. Sun rays are quickly becoming one of my favorite subjects to add to underwater photos, and I’d like to explore the possibilities further in the upcoming months.
Later that day, this mother manatee and her calf graced me with their presence. Shooting against the light underwater can cast some typically undesirable shadows, but in this case I really like the high-contrast and textured appearance created by the water surface and sand. The water is so clear it feels like the image is taken in another world where beasts float through thin air – which is similar to how it felt in person, too.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this small montage of my recent endeavors! Already I feel I have a year’s worth of new experiences in 2023, and I’m seeing some improvement in my techniques. Here’s hoping the rest of the year goes as well. I’m always happy to answer questions regarding my work in the comments.
Wonderful work Nicholas. Superb images and I too would be grateful for a run down on your lighting set-up as it has worked extremely well. The lighting you have produced is very subtle and strong at the same time.
Good luck with the degree(s)!
The 2X macro shot of the rattlesnake eye is insane. Makes it look like the eye of a much larger reptile, like an alligator or crocodile.
I also love how you use the water surface, with or without the sun, to add context and beauty to your underwater shots.
Wonderful photos Nicholas. One of the most challenging aspects of macro photography that I have found is lighting, especially for animals with reflective surfaces. I would like to suggest a future article that focusses on your lighting sources and diffusion techniques. From what I see in your article here, you are a master.
Very enjoyable story and beautiful pictures, Nicholas! As a fellow G9 owner I particularly enjoyed the underwater shots, and of course the UWA emerald tree boa shot was pretty special as well.
Great pictures of fantastic subjects! Sounds like an awesome trip too. I really miss my m4/3 kit for macro, the 60 2.8 is such a bargain of a macro lens. Also amazed at how close you must have been with the 9mm. Thanks for a great read!