• Sony A1, Sony 600mm f/4 lens. 1/1600s @ f5, ISO 1600.
    Sony A1, Sony 600mm f/4 lens. 1/1600s @ f5, ISO 1600.

Behind the lens: High speed belly dip

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There is a group of animals in our society who have called Australia home for over two million years.

As we sleep, each night they head out to pollinate and disperse the seeds of our native trees.

As they do, they help our forests flourish. Some travel over 2,000km in a single year, and with night vision better than cats, and a sense of smell equal to dogs, they are a marvel of evolution.

Sadly, most people never get to see these night gardeners, but if they do, it’s probably as a dark shadow passing in the night sky. I am of course talking about Australia’s own Grey-headed Flying-fox.

Often under-appreciated and misunderstood, over the last seven years I’ve been working on a series of Grey-headed Flying-fox (GHFF) images to try to tell their full life story. My hope being that if people can see them more closely and in daylight, they might just appreciate how incredible they are.

One key image I’ve always wanted to capture is a high-speed belly-dip. It’s an important behaviour related to coping with heat and climate change, as they do this to cool off and get a drink. But, it’s also because it’s simply spectacular to watch and makes for a cracking photo.

To catch an image like this, you need one very hot day or a series of very warm days in succession. But the real challenge is to find a place where you can get eye level with the water; for as with most wildlife photography, being eye level when something happens usually makes the best photo.

Having scoped out a few frequent ‘dipping’ spots, I had two options to get eye level. Get a boat with low sides and lay down, lens hanging over the edge, or find somewhere that I could safely stand chest high in water. I chose the ‘stand in water’ option.

Firstly, I could do it easily on my own, standing gave me more manoeuvrability, and secondly, standing allowed me to have my lens closer to the water line.

Even though I’d only be standing in still water at chest depth, I chose to wear a life jacket. If you slip, the last thing you want to be thinking about is trying not to drown whilst you struggle to keep a $24,000, 3kg lens above your head.

Knowing that for the shot I wanted the GHFFs flying towards me but from some distance, it then simply became a matter of waiting for the right weather, standing chest height in water, and hoping that they would belly-dip, my autofocus would be quick enough, my settings would be correct, and that I wouldn’t dunk my lens.

This image took me about five attempts of three hours each. Technically, it achieved what I wanted; a close up of a GHFF doing a high-speed belly-dip.

But does it really achieve what I wanted? Will those who see it appreciate how incredible Grey-headed Flying-foxes are? Well, I’ll leave that to you to answer.

Sony A1, Sony 600mm f/4 lens. 1/1600s @ f5, ISO 1600.
Sony A1, Sony 600mm f/4 lens. 1/1600s @ f5, ISO 1600.
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