The Baby Gator Project: Part 1

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Phocal
Phocal Veteran Member • Posts: 3,374
The Baby Gator Project: Part 1
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After a year of photographing baby American Alligators (Alligator Mississippiensis) I became completely obsessed with them and started The Baby Gator Project. The projects mission was to seek out and explore ways to photograph these amazing animals to show off their beauty and grace. You have to admit, baby gators are just so cute you want to pick em up and pet em.

Photographing baby gators is not the easiest thing to accomplish. To start with they are rather small and low to the ground. This makes them very difficult to locate and even once spotted getting a clear view can be almost impossible. On the day I found this pile of cuteness there were over 50 babies spread out in the area.

So many times you have to settle for photographs with partially obscured baby gators, there are times it is just unavoidable. The second and biggest obstacle is they are also guarded by a very protective mother. People talk about how protective mama bears are and I am here to tell you that mama gators are just as protective. That pile of cuteness above belongs to the same mama gator that a year earlier tried to kiss me while photographing her babies. I documented that scary encounter in my story Kissed by a Gator - The Dangers of Alligator Photography. Needless to say, I was very careful and hyper aware while trying to find some clear views of her new babies. Yes! I made sure I knew exactly where she was before getting on the ground to photograph them. After some careful maneuvering and field craft I was able to capture a clear view of a different cuteness pile.

I divide baby gators into two basic categories. The first being the ones who are under a year old and still under the very watchful eye and close monitoring of mama, like those photographed above. These are the ones that are the most dangerous and hardest to photograph because they tend to not wander very far away. The second category are those older than one year and up to about three years old that still have the baby gator coloring. Like most wildlife, baby gators have a different coloring and pattern than adults. This coloring allows them to blend in and hide from predators, apparent in the photograph above of them on the log. The photograph below is of a two to three year old gator and you can still see that baby gator coloring in him.

As mama has her new babies she lets the previous years stay close but not necessarily under her watchful eye. They are still small enough to be eaten by large birds like the Great Blue Heron (Ardea Herodias) and even other larger gators. So this color allows them to blend in and have a chance to survive until large enough to not worry about predators, other than other larger gators that is. A mama gator will have 75-100 eggs but only 1-3% of them will live until adult hood, so that coloring plays an important roll in their survival. While trying to maneuver into a better shooting position a group of kids were walking down the nearby trail and spotted my baby gator. They starting yelling and screaming about seeing a baby gator, which caused him to slip into the water. Him slipping into the water gave me the opportunity to capture this obstruction free photograph as he swam by.

If you scroll back up and look at the photographs you will notice that they were taken at eye level of my subject. I have always photographed wildlife from their eye level because it makes for a more compelling image. When looking at a photograph taken at eye level it puts you into the subjects world. Like you are one of its kind looking back at it as an equal, or as the prey it is getting ready to eat. This perspective makes for a more powerful image and why it is my preferred perspective.

But wait a minute, you said part one was about getting close using the lay down technique. You then go on to talk about shooting from eye level for more powerful images. Baby gators are small, low to the ground and the only way to photograph them from eye level is to lay down. So is that what you are talking about when you say “getting close using the lay down method”?

Taking photographs from eye level of your subject is a perspective choice and one that I strongly recommend if you want powerful photographs. While gators are low to the ground you don’t necessarily have to lay down to get an eye level perspective, you can squat and hold the camera at eye level. I have used this method when I felt it wasn’t safe for me to lay on the ground around a particular gator. But that isn’t what I mean when I talk about the lay down method for getting close to baby gators.

So what do I mean? Well, let’s get into that topic and find out exactly what it is.

Phocal

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Olympus Zuiko Digital ED 150mm 1:2.0 Olympus M.Zuiko 300mm F4 IS Pro Olympus OM-D E-M5 Olympus E-M1 Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 17mm 1:2.8 Pancake +6 more
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