Behind the trail of bats

Summer of 2012 ran when I found myself immersed in a passionate photographic project for the ‘Generalitat Valenciana’ about bats, by then I had already been applying and perfecting the “high speed” technique developed by the master Ricardo Vila for almost a decade, which consisted in introducing artificial light of flashes at very high speeds of the order of 1/20,000 per second, together with many hours of observation and patient waiting to obtain a satisfactory result. This technique allowed me to immerse myself into the universe of these creatures that, for the collective imagination and thanks to the novel and the cinematography, is part of the world of darkness and shadows. My intention was to catch them while they fluttered in total darkness in the depths of the night, freezing in an instant their rapid, unpredictable and zigzagging movements, almost imperceptible to the human eye. Images of great documentary value, where our protagonists, bats, appear to us in the frame, with their aerodynamic bodies, in multiple forms, positions and facial expressions that are characteristic of them while they emit ultrasounds during their vertiginous flights and in order to locate themselves spatially.

Grey Long-eared Bat. Plecotus austriacus

In one of those summer nights and preparing the photographic sessions, destiny wanted to play a “trick” on me, because a series of coincidences and setbacks took place, but which paradoxically meant the beginning of a new technique that over time I was perfecting. The fact is that I was trying to capture the flights of some specimens of the common bat Pipistrellus pipistrellus, which hovered around a lamppost in search of their usual insect food. The strong artificial light that the lamppost emanated, together with my camera settings -which I forgot to change the night before while I was doing a night session looking for the trails of passing vehicles at the entrance of a city-, it led me by chance to discover an interesting effect: bats crossing a continuous source of light left a trail behind them that gave the image a new dynamism and the photographs obtained that night were the beginning of a new path in terms of the photographic concept of bats, now the objective was not only to try to record the movement of the bat in the last moment with the help of artificial lighting from the flashes, but also to record its flight path in the form of a trail of light that was provided to us by the continuous light. In the previous case, that continuous light was provided by a powerful light from a street, which excessively overexposed the image, so I had to go looking for solutions.

Serotine bat. Eptesicus serotinus

The trail technique was known from far back, through which the flash fires on the second curtain of the camera’s shutter during a more or less long exposure. In the case of cars who incorporate a light there is no problem, but how to do it with bats? That was my challenge. The only solution was to bring that light ourselves with which I began to do tests with different bulbs, to end up with some flashlights in which I could not only control the intensity of the beam, but also its diameter. 

Long-fingered Bat. Myotis capaccinii

Now, when the time has come, after so many years in search of that impressive photograph, experimenting with light and with time, I have found a technique in which by combining two different light sources, the ultra-fast flashes with the continuous flashlights, it gave me images of enormous aesthetic appeal, in which in the same frame we had a timeline, the trail that represents where the bat comes from (the past) and the precise moment when the flashes freeze the final image (the present). 

Without a doubt, cinematics and the world of dreams have come together in my last work.

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