How I got the Shot – Jumping Squirrels

Argaty Red Kites is a brilliant place for wildlife –     It is most well known for the Red Kites

Argaty is a working farm just north of Stirling, they run Central Scotland’s only red kite feeding station where visitors can watch these exciting birds and their spectacular flying.

The farm lies on the Braes of Doune in the area of Central Scotland where the RSPB and Scottish Natural Heritage have reintroduced the red kite. It is with their help that they are providing a facility for enjoying the birds in comfort but without the risk of disturbing what is still a fragile population.

Also on the farm Argaty have 2 hides for Red Squirrels and woodland birds. I have used both. The larger woodland hide is great for general shots of the squirrels and birds. But I wanted to try and get jumping shots.

This is what the Argaty Website says about the Studio Hide

The 1-person Studio Woodland Hide

“The Studio Hide offers an opportunity to photograph red squirrels at their acrobatic best as leap between our specially designed raised perches, searching for food.

As well as the main viewing window there is a floor level hatch and a side hatch with an eye level perch right beside the hide giving the chance for intimate portraits of squirrels and woodland birds.

A short focal length lens is definitely to be included in your kit for this hide”

I booked to go on a Sunday morning at the end of October. I arrived at the meeting point and decided that I would take all of my camera gear with me to the hide – 3 camera bodies, 5 lenses including a 600mm. It was a short walk across some fields to get to the hide. As I got in to the hide it started to get very overcast and then started to pour with rain. I knew that it was going to be tough to get any jumping shots as the light was terrible.

I managed to get some shots of the squirrels jumping sideways but all were captured at high ISO.

A selection are below.

Flying Squirrels Flying Squirrels Flying Squirrels Flying Squirrels

Image 1 – 5,600 ISO. D850. F2.8 1/800. 70-200 lens               

Image 2 – 20,000 ISO. D4s. F5.6 1/1250. 80-400 lens         

Image 3 – 5,000 ISO. D850. F2.8 1/800. 70-200 lens       

Image 4 – 16,000 ISO. D4s. F2.8 1/800. 70-200 lens

I had to go high on the ISO to be able to get shutter speeds of 800 or above.

As you would expect the images were extremely noisy but I used Topaz de Noise software to process them in. Topaz software for me is a game changer. You often have to shoot at high ISO with wildlife as the light is not always as you want it to be. But the Topaz Software enables you to save images that would otherwise be no use.

The front on jumping shots were the ones that I really wanted but I had several failed attempts. I just could not get the camera to maintain focus tracking as the squirrel jumped towards me, whether this was due to the low light, rain or just my poor technique I am not sure.

Some of the fails are below:

I realised that I needed to try something different. When I photographed diving kingfishers at the beginning of the year I focused on the water where I though the bird would dive and then clicked away as it dived. It was very hit and miss but when it did dive where I predicted I got some sharp shots. I decided to try something similar for the squirrels. I left the hide during a quiet period with no squirrels around and found a stick behind the hide. I then went and placed the stick in the ground between where the squirrel took off and landed. This then enabled me to focus on the stick and take a few frames as the squirrel passed the stick. This ensured a much higher success rate and I got some useable shots.

Flying Squirrels Flying Squirrels Flying Squirrels

Image 1 – 4,500 ISO. D850. F2.8 1/800. 70-200 lens      

Image 2 –  4,000 ISO. D850. F2.8 1/800. 70-200 lens           

Image 3 – 4,000 ISO. D850. F2.8 1/800. 70-200 lens

My favourite image that I took on the day is this one:

Flying Squirrels

4,500 ISO. D850. F2.8 1/800. 70-200 lens

I like it because the squirrels front legs are out towards the camera and it really looks like it is flying. Technically this image can be improved. A smaller aperture would have ensured more depth of field.

Depth of field is the zone within a photo that appears sharp and in focus. In every picture, there is a point of focus (where you actually focus your lens). But there is also an area both in front of, and behind, your point of focus that also appears sharp – and that area corresponds to the depth of field.

If you look closely at this image you will see that the legs are in focus and the face is slightly out of focus. Had I have been able to shoot on for example F8 then more of the squirrel would likely have been in focus making a better image. However to have done this would have meant a very high ISO and a lot more noise.

I am pleased with the results that I got from the Argaty Studio hide and it was a great few hours spent with the squirrels. I know I can improve on the images and will definitely go back, hopefully when the weather and light conditions are more favourable.

To read more on Argaty and to book a hide.

Click on the link below:

Argaty Red Kites

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