How to Photograph Baby Gators

Discussion in 'Nature' started by Phocal, Nov 13, 2017.

  1. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    I have a lot of people ask me how I get so close to baby gators and today I will reveal one of my tricks.

    I was driving down this road at Anahuac NWR and like always was looking at any open water for signs of wildlife.

    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    When at the very back of this little niche at the spot marked "O" I spotted a baby gator.

    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    G = gator (if you look close you will see them). The bottom G is the gator that I document in this post. The numbers correspond to the photos of the gator I document.

    Yes, I really did spot a 1 1/2 to 2 foot baby gator all the way back there while driving somewhere between 5 and 10 mph. It's the shape of the head that gives them away among all the other stuff in the water.

    In this next photo you can see the gator I spotted first. Now, when I spotted him he was floating on top of the water but when I approached on foot he sank down so only his head is visible. You can also spot another gator in the back and to the right.

    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr


    If I were to just stand there they would stay at the back of that niche if not move deeper into the reeds. As you can see from the above photo, they are to far away for good photographs and there is to much vegetation obscuring them.

    So how do we get closer?

    That's just it, we don't. With all that vegetation around the edge of the water you would never get close enough for good photographs. So I stood there for a few minutes looking around and all I was able to spot were the two gators photographed above. My real concern was where mama gator was. These guys are 2 years old and should still be under the watchful eye of mama. Right now she should have her new babies with her (if her nest survived the flooding from Harvey, which most did not) but she will still let last years hatch hangout close for protection. It is around age 3 that she makes them leave because they can and will eat her newest babies if given the chance. She will even still protect them, so I was very cautious and looked everywhere for her. Since I have never seen babies in this location previously (gators tend to build their nest in the same general if not exact same spot every year) I am pretty sure they ended up here after the flooding and may not have mama around.


    I have learned to never trust anything and always always always find mama if possible because it could be a new sexually mature gator whos babies I am looking at. I was unable to locate an adult gator, but decided to give my trick a try anyways.


    I haven't told you how we get closer. We actually don't get closer, we get them to come to us. Now you will really start to understand why I was looking for mama gator.

    You gators are very curious..............just like our young. They have learned to stay away from humans, but they almost always see humans standing.


    If you lay down, they will overcome their fear and move closer out of curiosity. FYI, this same trick works for adult gators in the water but that is for another story on another day.

    So I laid down at the edge of the water and it didn't take long. This gator appears from location 1 and begins a slow but steady journey towards me.

    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    He was not the only gator to come out of hiding and move towards me. I counted a total of 12-15 babies, they were moving around and in/out of the reeds so an exact count wasn't possible.

    Here is a photograph of him when he reached location 2

    EM1 w/ 300mm f4.0 IS Pro + MC-14 - ISO 400, 1/250 @ f5.6, handheld
    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    He got to location 3 when I snapped this shot.

    EM1 w/ 300mm f4.0 IS Pro + MC-14 - ISO 400, 1/250 @ f5.6, handheld
    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    After the above photograph I lost all the light as the clouds obscured the sky, evident in the first 2 photographs I posted (which were taken after I was done because the idea of this thread occurred to me as I stood up from shooting). In that 2nd photograph the baby at the bottom G is the one photographed above. He got much closer but all the shots looked terrible because there was no light, so I deleted them.

    This last photograph shows 3 gators (the most I could get into frame) and they were hanging out in the area between location G on the left side of the photograph and location 2. Really need to start bringing the wide-angle with me when I am laying down there to capture better photos to use for explaining/sharing/teaching.

    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    While I haven't been able to get birds to come to me when I lay down I do sort of use the same trick. When I see a bird working a shoreline hunting I will get ahead of it, laydown and wait. Much higher success rate when you let the subject come towards you rather than you trying to get closer.

    I will also mention that while laying there I was constantly looking and watching for mama gator. My dad taught me to shoot a rifle with both eyes open and it's something I continue to do in photography. It allows me to watch for things like a mama gator approaching while still framing and taking photos. So while laying there I am scanning for any sign of movement under the water or weeds parting as a gator swims thru them. I am so hyper vigilant while laying at the edge of the water, but I have to be because things can go wrong quickly when dealing with the apex predator of the swamp.

    All photographs are taken with my new Olympus 300mm f4.0 IS Pro and MC-14. I was really happy to find the babies because I bought this lens mostly for photographing baby gators because it has a great macro ability. I will also be able to use my cameras focus bracketing feature with this lens, something I can't do with my other lens. I have only had the lens for about a month and this was the first time finding baby gators since getting it. I really wish the light had kept around when the one gator got close. Would have given me a great chance to test out this lens for the purpose I bought it. Oh well, I am going to my favorite baby gator nest this Saturday and can't wait.

    Based on the last photograph of the baby gator I am very happy with the results from this lens for macro type photography. I can't wait to get some baby gators close and in good light to really see what it can do. Especially looking forward to focus bracketing some shots so I can stack them for a deeper DoF. I am also really curious about how much of the frame a baby gator will fill at the minimum focusing distance.

    Hope everyone enjoys the little bit of insight I have provided in how I approach photographing a wildlife subject.


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  2. AllanG

    AllanG Mu-43 Veteran

    Aug 26, 2014
    Brisbane, Australia
    Excellent post Ronnie and a promise of great images
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  3. pake

    pake Mu-43 All-Pro Subscribing Member

    Oct 14, 2010
    Thanks for the nice write-up and great pictures. :)
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  4. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    Thanks looking forward to this weekend and the prospect of some good baby gator photographs. Just glad my favorite gator nest to photograph survived the floods.
  5. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    Thanks and I am glad you like the write-up.
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  6. fader

    fader Mu-43 Veteran

    Aug 20, 2016
    Brest, France
    Not sure I could’ve done that without seeing where mama was :-o

    Ever been to Cancun? Gator city in the Nichupte lagoon. BIG ones! Edit: crocs not gators ...
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  7. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    Will not lie, I was nervous..............................I would be worried if I wasn't nervous about what I was doing.

    Have never been there and crocs are a very different animal from gators. Not sure I would do what I do around them, but I would learn about them and know what I could do if I had them around me.
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  8. fader

    fader Mu-43 Veteran

    Aug 20, 2016
    Brest, France
    For sure, a tourist gets tangled up with one every few years or so. One of the restaurants on the lagoon side liked to make a spectacle out of feeding a regular visitor. They’d throw a 5lb chunk of meat at it from an upper balcony. Croc wouldn’t move his head or flex a muscle until it was maybe 6” away from smacking him in the face, and then *snap* and down the hatch!
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  9. mcrosa

    mcrosa Mu-43 Regular Subscribing Member

    Jun 26, 2013
    Miami, Florida
    Mike Crosa
    Fascinating story and photos. Thanks for posting. Don't think I would be wiling to lay down at the waters edge. Too old to move fast enough if mama comes a callin.
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  10. fader

    fader Mu-43 Veteran

    Aug 20, 2016
    Brest, France
    On a more serious note - the quality of your photographs is a testament to scouting, disciplined technique for the subject, patience, and good fieldcraft. It’s a great post explaining the risk, time, and effort involved in taking home these kinds of frames.
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  11. Hypilein

    Hypilein Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Mar 18, 2015
    So happy that you are posting these here again. I learn something every time, although here in northern Germany knowledge about stalking gators is probably fairly useless.
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  12. Mountain

    Mountain Mu-43 Veteran

    Aug 2, 2013
    How did Brazos Bend fare
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  13. Jeffp3456

    Jeffp3456 Mu-43 Regular

    Apr 2, 2013
    South Florida
    Global warming will soon fix all that for you :)
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  14. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    Lets just say I have a problem with the feeding of wild animals and leave it at that.....................

    Thanks and wildlife photography takes a lot more work than most people realize. Sure there those that walk around and get lucky with a shot or two, but to consistently go out and take great wildlife photographs takes work and dedication. I always come away with at least one photograph that is post worthy (which means it meets my ridiculously high standards) from every trip, even to completely new places because I know my animals, how to find them, how to approach them and how to photograph them.
  15. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    Thanks and glad you enjoyed both. LOL...........even a young guy is not going to get up and away from a mama gator..........they are surprisingly very fast.
  16. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    Thanks, glad you enjoy my post and learn something. Actually laying down can be applied to all wildlife. While I have never laid down and had a bird approach because it was curious, I do use the tactic of laying down all the time (more explanation below). But, baby birds like ducks and geese at the local duck pond will come up when they see you lay down................I am pretty sure that just about any young will be curious enough to approach closer when a human lays down.

    I was at my favorite park one rainy day and when it started to come down in a torrential downpour, so I went back to the Jeep. When I got to the Jeep it had let up so I drove to the other side of the park and when I parked I noticed this Little blue Heron hunting in the flooded grass. He was running around catching and eating all kinds of things and since the rain had stopped I decided to try to photograph this guy. I used a tree to hide behind as I approached and then just laid down and crawled about 25 or 30 yards into the flooded grass. Here is a photo that gives a good idea of the flooded grass, the water was 1-3 inches deep depending on where you were.

    This photo has no crop to it
    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    That Little Blue walked all around me and often got closer than the minimum focus distance of my ZD 150mm f2.0 + EC-14. It was so much fun watching him run around and hunt. Here are a few more photos that have no crop from that day. Well the 2nd one is cropped to 3:2 because I liked that aspect ratio for the photograph but its full size along the long edge (just chopped off part of the top/bottom in 3:2).

    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    I See
    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    I have a lot of great photos from that day that I halfway edited (no, not all are super close.............lots of full body shots and of him catching grubs). I started using Flickr a bit after taking these photos so other than those three (which I uploaded just for this post) none have been uploaded. I really need to make a pass thru my library and upload some of my older stuff as well as other stuff I just haven't uploaded yet.

    Another example is a Tri-Colored Heron I saw working his way down the edge of a lake hunting. I laid down along the edge of the lake ahead of his progress and waited. He walked within a few feet of me and I got these shots, no crop on either of them

    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    In either of those situation the bird would not have approached that close if I was standing or even sitting. There is something about laying on the ground that works very well. I should mention that I do wear full camo and sit very still, which does help.
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2017
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  17. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    Not great......................

    It actually just opened on the 11th, so last weekend was the first weekend. I had been out of town all week so haven't been able to get over there but will be going Saturday. From reports the wildlife activity seems to be about normal, which is good. From a video a month or so ago from a ranger I know that only 2 gator nest survived the flood. One of them is my favorite mama gator by the observatory, so she is who I will be visiting. The other nest is in an area not accessible to the public, now that was a bit ago so they could have found more. This is the 3rd year in a row it has flooded during nest/hatching season and all three years it has devastated the nest. In that video the ranger talks about it and here in a few years a noticeable gator length gap will be visible. Right now the population is not in any jeopardy, but if get another year or two of floods at the wrong time things could change.
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  18. macro

    macro Mu-43 Veteran Subscribing Member

    Jan 22, 2012
    New Zealand
    Heck those gators are small Ron. Nice work in spotting them and getting the shots, nicely done. Also love those Herons. Great colours and details, also a great read thanks.

    All the best Ron and as always, fine work.

  19. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    Thanks Danny, appreciate the comments.
  20. pondball

    pondball Mu-43 Top Veteran Subscribing Member

    Respect, reverance, photographic skills and a willingness to share... all in one package. Priceless! :bowdown:

    It's a pleasure and a learning experience when viewing your posts and I look forward to each and every one. I am always in awe of your 'gator shots but your Herons are simply dazzling!

    Thanks @Phocal@Phocal
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