Yesterday morning, while fulfilling my minimum daily requirement of caffeine, my father spotted a minuscule turtle scurrying past the door. We went out for a closer look, and of course she (I’m calling her a she, because I don’t like calling animals “it”, and I didn’t look up her shell to check, so I choose “she”) pulled herself into her shell and played possum. Or whatever it’s called when turtles play dead.

I figured I’d wait and watch her poke her head out, and Instagram something cute while I finished my morning coffee. Being the naturalist that I am, I moved her to a more organic location. I mean, she didn’t really want to be on the cement patio, right? That’s no place to hide from predators. And besides, it made for a bad photo. Like I said… animal lover. So I put her on a little moss-flanked flat rock by the bench, and sat to wait her out.

I did share this Instagram photo in the early part of the wait.

After maybe 30 or 45 minutes of waiting, I figured if I was going to put this much time into it, I’d better get something more than an iPhone photo. So I grabbed some camera gear, and moved her again. Yeah yeah, I know, PETA’s gonna be on my ass for this one. I was gentle, I assure you.

This was an early shot, with lighting in place. Click it to open the larger view, and you can see her little nose in the shadows. Awww!!

Peek-a-boo, I see you!Peek-a-boo, I see you! @ June 2011 | Canon EOS 5D Mk II & 100mm ƒ/2.8 Macro @ ISO 160, ƒ/7.1, 1/200

Here’s the lighting I set up. Just one light, using a Honl grid and a Justin clamp. The Rogue FlashBender made for a good bounce card, and I did end up using that in later shots instead of the grid. 

Anyway I waited and waited and waited. Then I waited some more. I grabbed my laptop, and got some work done on that. And tweeted my impatience. 

I ran out of stuff to do on my laptop, and really needed to sit down at my desk. I thought if I could find a way to keep an eye on the turtle from inside, that’d be ideal. So I thought about it a bit, and finally realized the simplest solution was in my hand—I could place a FaceTime call from my iPhone to the laptop, leave the phone outside and monitor him from my desk! How cool would that be! Plus, I have a wireless trigger, so I could rig that up and just shoot from far away! Cool!

So I placed the call, positioned the iPhone, and went inside to get the trigger. And not a minute after I left, she started to move!

I saw her moving in the FaceTime window on the laptop screen and ran out to catch her. She pulled back in when she saw me, but quickly came back out again. I guess she got used to all the gear piled up around her.

You know the story of the tortoise and the hare? And how that silly rabbit lost the race because he took a nap under the tree? I got news for you. That’s not why he lost. He lost because turtles are damn faster than you think they are. This guys was a rock on speed. I immediately had to grab my light (love, love, LOVE the Justin clamp… just squeeze and go. Awesome.) and reposition.

Then the darnedest thing happened. She started crawling towards the light! By then I had switched to the FlashBender to get some more coverage, and it was laying on it’s side in the grass. My little turtle friend went straight for it! I didn’t want to grab the light and scare her back into her shell, so I turned off the wireless trigger, flipped out of manual mode and into aperture priority, and kept on shooting.

I was on stomach, belly-crawling through the grass, trying to keep in front of her to get shots from the front. At one point she paused in the long grass, and started periscoping her head up looking around. Looking for… me.

She spotted me. And, I swear I’m not making this up, she dropped into second gear and bolted STRAIGHT TOWARDS ME! Right into the lens! I’m there on my belly, shimmying backwards now, trying to keep enough distance so I can focus with the 100mm macro! That last shot above? She was just a hair too close to focus, and that is NOT a cropped photo. She’s coming in for the kill.

It was only later when looking at the photos that I realized she was missing her left eye. Poor thing.

I had to reposition after she tried to ram my front element, and so grabbed the light again and went back to strobe shooting. These last few shots are very soft lighting, with the FlashBender on the speedlite hovering over her like an alien spacecraft ready for abduction and a little turtle probing. She kept ducking under the tall grass, popping her head up high, back down and up and down again.

She pauses on the runway, holds her head high, turns and exitsShe pauses on the runway, holds her head high, turns and exits @ June 2011 | Canon EOS 5D Mk II & 100mm ƒ/2.8 Macro @ ISO 400, ƒ/11, 1/60

Finally, we’d both had enough. She looked at me with her one good eye, with a look that said “we’re done here”, and I agreed. I’d blown three hours that I didn’t have to spare, but that’s what photography is all about sometimes, isn’t it. We do this because we love it, and this was a hell of a lot more fun than sitting at my desk.

So there you have it. The story of how I FaceTimed with one-eyed Jackie the Turtle, and lived to tell the tale. You can click on the two large photos above to see them bigger. The rest are just small, sorry. Too much HTML to deal do all of ‘em.

All the gear mentioned above is listed over in my page, with personal notes on each piece, if you’re interested. A couple of light modifiers and an TTL cable (check the ones from Syl Arena) are the cheapest way to improve your flash photography exponentially. I’ve used a lot of gear, and the Honl Grid and the Rogue FlashBender are the two I can’t live without.