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Thread: Any tips for photographing bats?

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    Default Any tips for photographing bats?

    I love bats and we see them every night at dusk flying back and forth around our house. They get pretty close to the back deck and don't seem at all bothered by us. I've been trying to take pictures without much luck (or strategy, so it's not a surprise really).

    Does anyone have any tips for taking pictures of bats?

    • It's dusk, so I need to use a high ISO.
    • I want to "freeze" the bat in flight, so I need a fast-ish shutter speed (right?).
    • I have the FL-36 flash, but am not sure of the best way to use it in photographing fast-moving objects. I have also never used anything but "auto" setting on the flash.
    • I have a tripod.

    So far all my shots have been too dark and blurry to even decipher that the flying object is a bat, although I have not tried using the FL-36 yet....

    Tips welcome!
    kerry
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    Default I can answer this!

    Kerry, I think by far the best setup for shooting bats is to put your camera on a tripod, set the dial to "Icky Nocturnal Creatures Mode," hand your husband the camera's remote control, go inside to prepare yourself a stiff drink, and don't come outside again until morning!

    Sorry, that wasn't very helpful. I guess I'm just not a bat person. I much prefer frogs, earthworms and snakes (really).

    But I'm sure you will get your bats and have some very cool pictures to show us soon.

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    Cool Re: Any tips for photographing bats?

    Quote Originally Posted by blueridgegirl
    I love bats and we see them every night at dusk flying back and forth around our house. They get pretty close to the back deck and don't seem at all bothered by us. I've been trying to take pictures without much luck (or strategy, so it's not a surprise really).

    Does anyone have any tips for taking pictures of bats?
    • It's dusk, so I need to use a high ISO.
    • I want to "freeze" the bat in flight, so I need a fast-ish shutter speed (right?).
    • I have the FL-36 flash, but am not sure of the best way to use it in photographing fast-moving objects. I have also never used anything but "auto" setting on the flash.
    • I have a tripod.
    So far all my shots have been too dark and blurry to even decipher that the flying object is a bat, although I have not tried using the FL-36 yet....

    Tips welcome!
    Now this is all theory mind you, so it may or may not work. If for instance you don't have any strong light sources in you backyard, lets say you could put the camera on a tripod and take an ISO 100 picture at 5 seconds and get a decent exposure with a small aperture like f/5.6 or f/8, and that where you are aiming the flash has no wall to reflect light off of. Thus if you use the flash, the only thing that it will contribute to the lighting is if you catch a bat. Set your camera on the tripod, flash on slow synchoronization, put on the flash. Use manual focus and focus on where a bat is likely to be. Use either wired shutter release, infrared shutter release, or if you have neither use anti-shock (aka mirror lockup) to prevent camera shake. You will likely have to play with the ISO and aperture to get the right combination. This techinique is a varient of dragging the shutter that wedding shooters use to get the background to show up, but to use the flash to highlight the foreground subject.

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    Default Re: Any tips for photographing bats?

    Hi Kerry,

    You should have seen me a couple of years ago trying to shoot fireflies (or were they lightning bugs?). It was hilarious. It was too dark for AF and the viewfinder was too dark for MF. Plus they wouldn't hold still!!!

    I like bats, too, and we have a lot of them around my woods. I've wanted to get shots of them but I haven't figured out how yet. They would be far more difficult than shooting fireflies---it's usually darker when they come out. But the biggest problem is they move so fast that any kind of long exposure will not work. You have to use a flash or strobe. How do you do that with a small fast-moving critter that flies along an erratic path and that you can't see in your viewfinder because it is so dark?!

    Here is some "batty" advice:
    1. Set your camera on MF and configure your focus distance and DOF so that you won't have to worry about focusing in the dark. Master the hyperfocal distance for this.
    2. Set your ISO as high as it will go and enable the noise filter if you are shooting jpegs.
    3. Set your flash manually to cover a wide area at maximum output (don't try to use the TTL modes).
    4. Set your exposure manually with the help of some test shots of something similar in size, reflectivity and distance. You'll have to balance DOF with a fast enough shutter speed to "catch" them.
    5. Get a friend to climb up on your roof with a fishing pole and toy bat and practice shooting it as your friends flings it erratically around in the air.
    Best regards, FL

    Pursuing excellence...

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    Default Re: Any tips for photographing bats?

    You could try having someone toss a little stone, or acorn, etc. in the air when the bats are flying. Sometimes their radar registers it as a flying insect and a bat will dive bomb after it for a second.

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    Default Re: Any tips for photographing bats?

    I have never tried shooting bats. I don't hardly ever see bats where I live-darn it. Do bats eventually tire down after feeding and return to "nest" like birds do? If so I would set up the tripod and aim it there. This way you can get them entering and leaving with a better idea of where they will fly. You must use flash. Probably on full power manual. It is very unlikely you will over expose since you are using flash at a good distance.
    I wonder if you could bait them? Maybe try tying a bug to a thread and attach the tread to a long pole. Hang the pole out like a fishing rod. focus on the bug with a flashlight and wait for the bat. You also might call your state conservation dept and ask them for tips. Let us know how this works out. This maybe one of the hardest things I have heard of to photograph. I had to try to figure out a way to photograph a firewalker at night without flash once. It was very hard.
    thanks
    barondla

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    Default Re: Any tips for photographing bats?

    You definitely need your flash to freeze the subject. A couple of thoughts from someone whose never tried it:
    1. As previously mentioned, there's no point trying to focus and compose each shot, so set up a tripod for a likely flight path. Spend some time observing their behaviour to identify aspects that they repeat, since you're more likely to be able to capture those.
    2. If it's otherwise very dark, you can always try keeping the shutter open and just fire the flash when you want to capture the subject. Investigate electronic control gear; you can get systems for triggering a flash using sensors (eg, breaking an infrared beam or sensing a sound), and for repeated firing for getting multiple images in the same frame.
    The latter point is one I'm particularly interested in - if anyone has any experience of remote sensor photography, I'd be keen to hear about it.

    David

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    Default Re: Any tips for photographing bats?

    I think your best bet would be to set the camera up on the tripod with exposure set manually and pre-focus manually at a point which you think the bats might fly through (get someone to hold anobject at that point so you can focus on it).Then it's a matter of trying to press the shutter at the right time.
    Best wishes

    Paul

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    Default Re: Any tips for photographing bats?

    Wow, thanks, you guys! I have a lot of good tips here that I will try out. You guys are the best!

    Luckily the bats do fly back and forth in a fairly predictable pattern (right in front us, actually - usually diving to capture bugs right below our deck). So I think that focusing manually on a specific spot would work best, and make sure that I catch a bat when it flies through there. I tried manual focusing the other night, but talk about a "dim" viewfinder. E-500 and darkness...ha! I think perhaps FL's hyperfocal tip would work best here.

    I am cracking up at the idea of my husband climbing on the roof with a practice "bat" for me to shoot at. Maybe the "bug bait" would work, though...I can see this may be a "summer project" to get all the factors right.

    I do think they return to the nest - or at least I can't see them anymore when it gets really dark - but I'm not too sure of where the nest is. Another thing I will investigate!

    These are just the coolest things ever to see - although, it's a little disconcerting when they swoosh a couple of inches from your head like they do sometimes. (That's when I need the stiff drink, windsprite!). I will keep experimenting and report back on my progress. Project Bat Photo, here I come! Heh.
    kerry
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    Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. --Margaret Mead

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    Cool Re: Any tips for photographing bats?

    Quote Originally Posted by blueridgegirl
    Wow, thanks, you guys! I have a lot of good tips here that I will try out. You guys are the best!

    Luckily the bats do fly back and forth in a fairly predictable pattern (right in front us, actually - usually diving to capture bugs right below our deck). So I think that focusing manually on a specific spot would work best, and make sure that I catch a bat when it flies through there. I tried manual focusing the other night, but talk about a "dim" viewfinder. E-500 and darkness...ha! I think perhaps FL's hyperfocal tip would work best here.

    I am cracking up at the idea of my husband climbing on the roof with a practice "bat" for me to shoot at. Maybe the "bug bait" would work, though...I can see this may be a "summer project" to get all the factors right.

    I do think they return to the nest - or at least I can't see them anymore when it gets really dark - but I'm not too sure of where the nest is. Another thing I will investigate!

    These are just the coolest things ever to see - although, it's a little disconcerting when they swoosh a couple of inches from your head like they do sometimes. (That's when I need the stiff drink, windsprite!). I will keep experimenting and report back on my progress. Project Bat Photo, here I come! Heh.
    Or you could move to Austin Texas where there is a bat swarm that comes out every night for 1/2 the year. I caught this with my C-2100UZ handheld (this was early in the evening, f/3.2, ISO 400, 1/500 sec, 26.2mm, auto mode, SHQ, cloudy, matrix metering, bias -1.0) I meant to take the E-1 down to the lake the last time I was down there with the tripod, but I didn't make it:


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    Default Re: Any tips for photographing bats?

    Oh, wow! Very cool shot. Now I know what to do next time I am in Texas....
    kerry
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    Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. --Margaret Mead

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    Default Re: Any tips for photographing bats?

    PS. Here is one of the "before" shots - shows how far I have to go! Maybe I should look at it as how much room for improvement I have.... Will check back in a while after trying the tips mentioned in this thread.

    kerry
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    Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. --Margaret Mead

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    Default Re: Any tips for photographing bats?

    There's only one bat flying around my house, and it's wielded by my wife every time I spend money on camera equipment.

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    Default Re: Any tips for photographing bats?

    We have a similar situtation with bats flying at dusk back and forth catching insects. Now this will sound strange but one night my son and I were sitting on the deck and he had a metal measuering tape, you know the kind that they use for construction. Anyway he pulled the tape out about 6 feet and pointed it up into the air and pinged the tape with his thumb and forefinger and dared if a bat didn't hit the end of the tape, he did it again with the same result. We repeated the process several time and after a ping or two a bat would hit the end of the tape. We were having great fun until Mom came out and saw our new bat trick, it ended in a hurry. It may be worth a try, if the do approch the end of the tape you would have a fixed point to shot at.

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    Default Re: Any tips for photographing bats?

    Hi!
    Another idea might be to try to get hold of some kind och continous infrared light source (perhaps it will work with UV as well?) that you mount on the camera, that way you will have autofocus if you want to (given that it is not too slow for the bats) and easier to expose better. Altough the picture result might not be what youre looking for. Just a thought.

    P.S. If you try this, tell me how it went and what you used, Im looking for some way to photograph owls in the night d.s.

    /Kristofer

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