Shore skink photos

Photos of another species of lizard, the shore skink, from the Mokohinau Islands have been added to my web gallery. Shore skinks are a relatively common lizard in the right places, particularly predator free islands in the North of New Zealand. They favour bouldery beaches where they can find sunny basking spots, and deep crevises to dart into at any sign of danger. This means that there are a few important little tricks to getting photos like the one below.

1. Approach with care

They are very wary. Cast a shadow rapidly over them, or bang rocks together with clumsy footsteps and the first you’ll see of them is a little black shape vanishing under a rock. A better aproach is to move slowely and carefully and try to spot one from further away, then stalk. Low and slow is a good general rule with wary wildlife. Don’t give up imediately if it runs away, but wait and you might be surprised at how quickly they return to a good basking spot.

2. Long lenses can help

A long macro lens helps keep a more comfortable working distance. I had a 180 mm macro with me, but longer is even better, so I used my 300 mm prime lens with extension tubes (25 mm and 12 mm together) and a teleconverter. Extension tubes reduce the minimum focus distance of a lens, and slightly increase the lens focal length (by the length of the tube. A valuable addition to any nature photographers kit, and not just for macro. A teleconverter is basically a magnifing lens. The 1.4x increases the focal length of the lens it is attached to by 1.4 (so a 300 mm lens becomes a 420 mm lens) and reduces the maximum aperture of the lens by one stop (so a f/2.8 lens becomes a f/4.0 lens). Because teleconverters add more glass elements to the lens (unlike extension tubes), they reduce image quality to some degree. However, very good teleconverters on very good lenses can still produce very good results. Placing the extension tube between the lens and teleconverter produces the most magnification. Configured this way, the focal length multiplication effect of the teleconverter is applied to the lens and extension tube combination. In this case I effectively end up with a (300+(25+12))x1.4 = 472 mm lens that can focus to less than 1.5 m!

3. Choose your light

Shore skink
A shore skink eating creeping out onto a lichen covered boulder on a Burgess Island beach. Taken with a Canon 1D Mark IV, EF300mm f/2.8L IS USM + 37 mm of extension + 1.4x extender, 1/250 s at f9, ISO 800.

Shore skinks can be very dark, or even shiny black, and the bright sun they love to bask in is the worst possible light to photograph them in. Reflections off their glossy bodies can be very distracting, and the extreme contrast means avoiding overexposing surrounding rocks, lichen etc. is likely to result in very little detail in the skinks themselves. You need to soft, diffused light to reduce contrast so your camera can capture more data from the. On a clear day I once managed to use a white shirt to cast a gentle soft shadow, but it wasn’t easy. Patchy clouds are far better. The skinks come out to bask in the sun but will often stay while clouds pass. This is the time to release the shutter.