Macro Leopard Frog In Duckweed At Hopeland Gardens In Aiken, SC

Fountain Leopard


I’ve previously written and posted about the inoperative fountain system in Hopeland Gardens as well as being an opportunistic wildlife photographer.  All of the compositions in this post come from the upper fountain area and feature the same subject – a leopard frog that apparently wanted me to create works of it.  I was amazed that the frog let me get so close to it because normally they are very cautious and jump before you even get to see them.  I did move as slow as I could and continued to work my way up to these poses, but it almost felt like the frog simply wasn’t scared of me (for some unknown reason) and had no intention of fleeing no matter where I placed my tripod.  I did have a similar encounter with a young alligator once down at Magnolia Springs State Park near Millen, GA, but it has been my experience that sessions like that are extremely rare.



Macro directly above Leopard Frog in Duckweed at Hopeland Gardens in Aiken, South Carolina

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I was able to maneuver the tripod into a position where I was directly above the leopard frog for my Primed piece.  If it knew how nervous I was that it would jump, it very well may have.  I felt that this was a unique opportunity (if for no other reason than you just can’t ordinarily get this pose with a live subject without having used some type of unethical technique).  I was also thinking that its leg muscles must be locked and loaded and ready to fire in the blink of an eye.  I loved the green, elliptical patches mixed in with the rest of its body camouflage, and the duckweed roots draped across its body.  Due to the vertical orientation, I made the aesthetic choice of placing it very near the center of the frame horizontally.  The high level of detail allows textures to be seen.



Macro Leopard Frog in Duckweed at Hopeland Gardens in Aiken, South Carolina
Lounging Leopard

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By the time I had composed Lounging Leopard I was feeling pretty confident that this frog was going to let me create anything I wanted.  I had been deliberate and was careful when lifting and setting the legs of my tripod down both on the cement walls of the fountain and especially in the water near the frog.  One thing I did that may have helped was to pull the tripod up and away from the area when major leg adjustments were needed.  I had to use my experience and estimate the angles, height, and required leg positions for the next composition.  Having a ball head makes that a little bit easier because if you don’t quite get the legs into a good configuration you have some additional movement available by changing the orientation of your camera.  Aesthetically, I got as close to the water as I could so that I was nearly at eye-level to the frog.  Putting the perspective at your subject’s level helps bring them into a more intimate setting.  Keeping in mind that it is also important to give your subject some space to look into within the boundaries of the frame, I placed the eye so that it was nearly bisected by the leftmost one third line, using the rule of thirds.  And vertically, the eye is just below the upper, leftmost crossing line.  As with any wildlife subject, the focal point was put on the eye, which has a reflection off from its surface consisting of a little bit of sky and some trees that surround the fountain.  Once again, the high level of detail allows textures to be seen.



Macro head of Leopard Frog in Duckweed at Hopeland Gardens in Aiken, South Carolina
Leopard Head

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I got in as close as I could for my Leopard Head piece.  Having a longer lens certainly helps in a situation like this because you can create a full frame image without cropping or chasing your subject off due to the proximity of the lens.  At this distance, tiny details in the eye and on the skin are revealed.  For example, I love how the pigment in the skin has a type of sparkle in some areas.  Texture can be seen here as well (e.g., bumps on the outside of the eye socket and raised areas just behind the eyes) thanks to the high level of captured detail.



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Macro Dew Covered Carolina Anole At Hopeland Gardens In Aiken, SC

Wet Hunter


Macro dew covered Carolina Anole at Hopeland Gardens in Aiken, South Carolina
Wet Hunter

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Prior to creating my Wet Hunter piece, I was exploring the swampy area in Hopeland Gardens where a couple of my favorite leaf compositions have come from looking for another leaf that had turned the right color and would be backlit by the rising sun.  I didn’t find any cool leaves, but while I was searching, I looked up and this anole caught my eye.


Though I’ve posted previously about being an opportunistic wildlife shooter, the scene was simply too good to ignore.  I created more than 240 images in an effort to get the best pose that I possibly could.  I really had to work to get this.  Multiple perspectives were needed because the rising sun occasionally brought too much light into the background which forced me to find an angle that looked into an area with better balance.  Additionally, I used decreasing camera to subject distances as I worked my way closer by carefully repositioning the tripod.  It likely would have taken fewer images under better conditions, but the wind was blowing the cattail around (which by extension was moving the anole), and my subject would not sit still for very long.  It was frequently moving its head, and, when the head was still, the eye was moving all over the place.


I loved the dew drops all over its body, the position it was in, how the tail was wrapped behind the cattail leaf, the cattail head, the angle of the cattail leaf (diagonally up through the frame), and the nice colors.  I love artistic nature pieces – especially work from the late Ronnie Gaubert (one of my luminaries).  Ronnie had an ability to present nature as both documentary and beautifully artistic, and I think I may have been tapping into some of his influence that morning.  This was my favorite of the several images I kept, and the others that made the cut are available as stock only.  The high level of detail allows surface textures and individual dew drops to be seen.


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Macro Box Turtle At Aiken County Historical Museum In Aiken, SC

Red Eye


Macro male Box turtle at Aiken County Historical Museum in Aiken, South Carolina
Red Eye

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As I was headed towards the south wall at the Aiken County Historical Museum, I came across the box turtle in my Red Eye piece.  He was just sitting there in the grass not moving.  I’ve posted before about being an opportunistic wildlife shooter and this was a great opportunity.  He appeared to be fine with me being around him and only got a little concerned one time when I pushed down a blade of grass (using a stick) that was leaning on his back.  I started creating images from about six to eight feet away and then gradually kept working closer to him.  I was using a knee pad and had the tripod as low as it would go (it basically sets on the ground as I don’t use a center post).  I felt like I needed to be laying on the ground, but it was wet from rain we had the previous night, and I didn’t have anything to lay on.  I seriously considered it, but the thought of wet clothes and being bitten or stung by fire ants caused me to try something else.  I got down as far as I could while still being able to see the viewfinder and then used Live Preview to focus the lens.  I had tried that on one other occasion and didn’t care for the results, but this time it worked great.


I placed his eye on the left most crossing line, using the rule of thirds, and used it as my focal point.  I loved the reds in his eye and the oranges and yellows on his body.  Being at eye level really makes a difference in a nature composition.  I would have preferred a clean foreground, but this is a natural environment so I can live with the grass.


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Box Turtle At Hopeland Gardens In Aiken, SC

Private Pond


Duckweed covered Box turtle at Hopeland Gardens in Aiken, South Carolina
Private Pond

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If you’re a regular reader of my blog posts, you may remember a post where I described the no longer operational fountain in Hopeland Gardens.  I discovered the female box turtle in my Private Pond piece in the catch basin portion of the fountain system.  When the fountain was functioning, water from the canal would flow into the basin where it would, presumably, be pumped back up to the starting point.  With no water streaming down the canal, only surface runoff, rain, etc. can get into the catch basin.  I’m not sure how she got into the basin, but, because the cement walls are pretty high, she was essentially trapped until it fills with enough water (or perhaps something else she could utilize) for her to climb out.  I didn’t see any other turtles so she has the whole area to herself.  I had been checking on her during previous trips, but wasn’t happy with the background or her position.  Being completely surrounded by duckweed presented the best opportunity I had been given.  While she remained perfectly still, her throat was moving in and out (which I liked because it shows movement and implies breathing).


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Water Moccasin At Hopeland Gardens In Aiken, SC

Hopeland Water Moccasin


Water Moccasin at Hopeland Gardens in Aiken, South Carolina

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I felt like I needed to go down by the water near the swamp’s edge in Hopeland Gardens the morning I composed First.  That area, just before the wooden bridge closest to Whisky Road, is not some place I usually go, but something told me that I should (even if it was for nothing more than to see if there was anything worthy of pointing a lens at).  On my way down the hill I scared a snake, but it didn’t go far and was trying to be still even though most of its body was exposed.  Since it was going away from me, I couldn’t see its eyes, and I didn’t feel like there was a composition worth pursuing.  It looked like it could be a water moccasin, but I figured it was probably a water snake.  After never even seeing a snake the entire time I’ve created there, I couldn’t convince myself that it was a venomous one.  I didn’t even think about it the rest of the time I was exploring other areas, but on my way back from the Rye Patch, coming around from the other side, I wondered if it was still there.  When I reached the area I was in earlier in the morning, I looked down and saw the snake once again.  It had moved up away from the water and was laying partially in the sun with about half of its body in shade.  I decided to see if I could tell what it was so I snuck down the hill a little closer to it and used the lens to magnify its eye.  It was a water moccasin!  A fat one (obviously it has been eating well).



Macro Water Moccasin at Hopeland Gardens in Aiken, South Carolina
Mug Shot

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I continued to carefully get closer and closer to the snake trying not to scare it as well as being VERY cautious.  I moved slowly and always kept on eye on it.  I was close enough to turn the lens horizontally for my Mug Shot composition.


I have some stock images of it that are within three to four feet from it, but without snake boots I was starting to get a bit nervous.  If I could have easily escaped, I might have been a little braver and possibly got even closer.  BUT, I had a HUGE disadvantage with the tree knees all over the place and the fact that I would have to go backwards up a fairly steep hill covered in slippery pine needles.  I had made up my mind that if it came at me, I was going to abandon the tripod and camera and come back for it later.  Trying to pick that up and get away from an angry water moccasin at the same time would have only made matters worse.


So if anyone was curious about the accuracy of the warning posters in the information areas, I can present proof that there are indeed venomous snakes in Hopeland Gardens.  I will now need to be MUCH more aware of what’s on the ground especially while exploring near the swampy areas.  Either that, or start wearing my snake boots.


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Macro Green Tree Frogs At Hopeland Gardens In Aiken, SC


Macro Green Tree Frogs at Hopeland Gardens in Aiken, South Carolina

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While wandering the grounds in Hopeland Gardens, I was just east of the reflecting pools when I noticed a bunch of things falling out of the bushes.  I was too far away from them to tell what they were, but dozens of objects were suddenly falling.  At first I thought maybe they were blooms that had served their purpose and were being discarded, but it was strange so I stopped, listened, and watched a bit more intently.  It was green tree frogs – hundreds of them!  Obviously, they’ve really made a comeback.  I haven’t ever seen that many at Hopeland Gardens, and I can’t recall ever seeing a concentration of them like that (even at the swamp where I could count on seeing lots of these little guys).  That area was literally crawling with so many of them that they were crowded.  I think that the frogs in my Froglets piece haven’t been out of the water that long.  Their heads and backs are rounder and softer looking, they were small, and, if you look closely, you can still see a partial tail.


They apparently climb up onto the leaves, vines, and branches, and then when something scares them, they just jump down into the bigger leaves and ground cover below.  I lightly walked around and found a few that decided they liked their perch and were going to stay put.  I had to move real slow (you could say that I needed to sneak up on them) to get in place.  Of course, I estimated where the height of the tripod should be and already had it set so it was a matter of being very careful with both approaching them and positioning the tripod.  Making the setup more challenging was the fact that the frogs were in the shade while the rising sun was starting to really light up some of the nearby flora as it began to filter through the trees.  In order to avoid taking too much light away from the frogs (or blowing out portions of the background), I had to find a perspective that let me shoot into leaves and bushes not yet too brightly lit.  I think that’s one of the things that I love about photography – you constantly have to determine solutions that solve little problems (most of which have aesthetic consequences).



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Tiny Frog Uses Caladium As Camouflage At Rye Patch In Aiken, SC

Colorful Camouflage

Macro Frog at Rye Patch in Aiken, South Carolina
Colorful Camouflage

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I’ve written about Caladium at the Rye Patch that I used for abstract compositions in an earlier post here.  While checking them this particular summer morning, I discovered a little surprise.  There was a tiny frog sitting in the trough of one of the leaves.  I don’t know what kind of a frog it was, and I’ve never seen one like it prior to or after that.  As I’ve previously mentioned, I’m an opportunistic wildlife shooter, and since it let me create a couple of compositions before it hid, I felt obliged to do so.  This piece also has another one of the serendipitous captures that you don’t know you are getting while composing.  You can see the reflection of the Rye Patch in the frog’s eye.  How cool is that?


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Anole At Rye Patch Rose Gardens In Aiken, SC

Gazebo Anole

Macro Anole at Rye Patch Rose Garden in Aiken, South Carolina
Gazebo Anole

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I really liked the background that the subject in Gazebo Anole was on.  Primarily because it isn’t too often you find wildlife against a solid colored background – especially one that is white.  I found this little Anole on one of the gazebo posts at the Rye Patch Rose Garden.  The area where the gazebo sits is between different sections of the Rose Garden and is known as Patsy’s Garden.  I love how the warmer tones are reflecting up from the white and providing some additional color to the Anole’s lower side.


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Rat Snake At Cuddo East Unit Of Santee NWR In Summerton, SC

Rat Ring

Rat snake at Alligator Alley in Cuddo East NWR in Summerton, South Carolina
Rat Ring

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On the last full day of my SC AIR trip, I spent the afternoon back in Cuddo East.  As I walked along the driving trail through Alligator Alley, I noticed a circular pattern that broke up the normal lines in a tall tree trunk at the top of an embankment above a swampy channel.  After getting a closer look, I was excited to learn that it was a rat snake in an unusual position.  Perhaps it was simply timing or the right part of the season, but I only saw three snakes the entire week, and every one of them were good sized rat snakes.  Rat Ring was the only composition I was able to create that included the snake’s head.  Though I was a significant distance away, I may have scared it because it quickly disappeared.  I like how the snake is nonchalantly, almost lazily, resting its head on the thickest part of its body.  The snake’s pose creates a calm tone and brings a peaceful sense to the piece.



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Rat Snake At Hickory Top WMA Near Pinewood, SC

Rat Snake

Macro Rat Snake at Hickory Top WMA near Pinewood, South Carolina
Rat Snake

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I came upon the subject in Rat Snake while hiking on a trail in the Hickory Top WMA on the next to last full day of my SC AIR trip.  I was thrilled to find such a large snake (at least four feet long) just hanging out almost waiting for a photographer to come along and feature it in a composition.  While it appears to be staring intently, perhaps measuring every movement being made and assessing risk factors, the arc of its mouth seems to give it a smirk.  The high level of detail allows tiny pieces of a decaying tree (similar to saw dust) to be seen on the snake’s head, face, and eye.  After allowing several compositions to be created, the snake retreated back into the tree where it presumably came from and likely picked up the aforementioned particles.


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