They say that if you want to take better pictures, you need to stand in front of more interesting stuff. This certainly has some truth to it, and is one of the reasons why investment in a photo expedition can be so much more useful than allocating tons of money on new cameras and lenses. But a trip to an exotic far-flung locale does not really fit in with the Cheapskate Tuesday philosophy, so how about a photo safari closer to home?
Shooting Norway Rats (Rattus norvegicus) provides an opportunity to shoot an interesting, seldom-photographed subject in the heart of a city. Because they are nocturnal, they pose some unique challenges, namely lighting them properly! For these shots, I used 2 radio-controlled manual speedlights,which were set up to light a small area baited with common dog food. One could also use TTL triggers, such as the new YongNuo 622‘s and set the metering to spot to meter the subject, but I did not have these available. Instead, after guesstimating lighting ratios, I just played with the ISO and f-stop to get decent exposures.
Starting shortly after nightfall on a summer night in July, I chose an area with lots of foot traffic adjacent to a rail line. This ensured that the rats were used to human proximity and conditioned to search for littered food. An alleyway near some dumpsters would also work well. I shot these using a 70-300 zoom, and of course the faster the lens, the easier focusing will be, but choosing an area with some artificial light helps.
Because rats are neophobic (afraid of new things in their environment), I was worried that the speedlights would scare them off, but these rats that are habituated to a rapidly-changing litter landscape did not pay too much heed to some more crap lying around.
There is much more I would like to do with rats, such as triggering a camera with a wide angle remotely, and providing more natural foods, like pizza. Just imagine, a rat in front of a graffiti covered wall, dragging a massive slice of pizza! This is my art, this is my dream.
Anyway, I urge anyone to go try a rat safari, and wonder at the most urban of urban wildlife.