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Look through the lenses of the National Geographic's photographers and learn how they master the technical--and sometimes, logistical--difficulties of their assignments.

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Photographer George Grall describes his fascinating adventures with frogs.

A Frog Is Born
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Fast Food
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The Fragile World of Frogs
Frogs have been thriving in their watery worlds for nearly 200 million years, but now many species of the highly adaptable amphibians are in rapid decline. Habitat loss is one reason, but scientists believe there’s more. Climate change, pollution, and disease are all working together to deform and kill frogs, creatures that strike the alarm when the environment is in trouble.

Photographer George Grall takes an intimate look at the world of frogs, documenting the unusual births and fast reflexes exhibited by some species.

George Grall’s got a thing for critters. A confessed snake catcher, the photographer made his National Geographic debut in 1992 with “Pillar of Life,” a look at the various creatures thriving on and around wharf pilings of the Chesapeake Bay. He followed that success with articles on seahorses, Mexico’s Cuatro Ciénegas, snapping turtles, and vernal pools. “The Fragile World of Frogs” is his sixth assignment. When he’s not chasing down poisonous snakes or scouring the woods for small animal skeletons (another hobby), the full-time photographer for the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Maryland, can be found on a quest for the region’s best steamed crabs.

On Assignment
George Grall and author Virginia Morell share their experiences in the field.

Zoom In
See more images by George Grall.

An early walker, a newly hatched froglet in Papua New Guinea skips the tadpole stage and enters the world looking for someplace to go (above, right). Going for a juicy meal (above, left), a toad puts a new spin on fast food with a quick flick of its tongue.

Photographer George Grall

Even though he came in late on the assignment, photographer George Grall got a lot of mileage out of shooting frogs, covering Panama, Peru, Brazil, Australia, Papua New Guinea, and parts of the United States. Extensive traveling can become routine after a while, but photographing frogs in different environments meant he had to keep his creativity charged.

He called upon his ingenuity when he came upon a male Oreophryne frog protecting its egg mass on a branch in Papua, New Guinea’s Wara Sera Nature Reserve. “I wanted to photograph this species because it completely skips the tadpole stage,” he said. “But the eggs were on the underside of a leaf and out of my reach. So I very carefully pulled the branch down and duct-taped the end to another branch.”

Grall began to shoot using a 60mm macro lens with a long extension tube. Then he noticed one of the egg capsules on the verge of rupturing. “My flash may have been the trigger,” he said, “but in about two seconds the egg popped and out stepped a tiny frog about an eighth of an inch long (above, top).”

Besides creativity, getting the shot of Bufo woodhousii in a Northern Arizona University lab took a large measure of patience. “It took me two days to get the picture,” Grall said.

Working with researchers doing video studies of frog tongue protraction, he used still cameras with lasers and a high-speed strobe light set at 1/50,000 of a second. “That’s almost enough to visually stop the action of a hummingbird’s wings,” he added.

“It takes a lot of time to set up, do calculations and calibrations, and work out the bugs,” Grall continued. “If one thing is off you can’t get the picture. And then there were the toads.”

Making a toad comfortable on soft mulchy flooring, Grall placed a worm in front of it. Then he began shooting. “The toad seemed to get tired of worms after about the third one, so we had to bring out another toad and more worms,” he said. After going through six or seven toads—and a good handful of worms—Grall got the published shot (above). “When this toad went after the worm, its tongue hit the laser beam, which triggered the camera shutter,” he said. “And I had more opportunities with this one. It was the smallest toad, but it had the biggest appetite.”

Photograph by George Grall Oreophryne sp., top.
Photograph by George Grall Bufo woodhousii, right.

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