The Baby Gator Project

Discussion in 'Nature' started by Phocal, Sep 5, 2016.

  1. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    EM1 w/ ZD 150mm ƒ2.0 + EC-20 - ISO 200, 1/400 @ ƒ5.6, handheld
    Vicious by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    Over the last year or so I have become increasingly obsessed with photographing baby gators, this is not something that is done easily or without dangers. First you have to locate baby gators in an area that you can safely photograph them from. Once that is accomplished you have to contend with a very large and protective mother who is also the apex predator of the swamps. I documented here - Kissed by a Gator a very good example of how a mother gator can surprise even a seasoned gator hunter.

    There are two types of baby gators that I am after to photograph. The first type is shown in the above photograph, still under the protective watch of its mother. One of the things that I really like about the little ones is their coloring that disappears as they grow into adults. It helps them hide from predators, especially after they leave the care of mom. Which brings up the second type, those that are no longer under the watch of mother, are about 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 years of age, and still have some or all of the baby gator color pattern.

    I started this thread to document my journey on The Baby Gator Project.
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  2. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    A couple of weeks ago I happened to find a group of 6 young gators hanging out in an area that was easy to access. I knew from their size (about 20-24 inches) that they were old enough to be away from mom, but that is not a reason to let your guard down. Gators will build their nest in roughly (if not the exact same spot) the same area every year. These gators probably recently got the boot because mom's new babies are about to or have already hatched. So, while not under her watchful eye was probably still close by, but most likely guarding her new babies (they hatch late August or early September) and I did not want to provoke her.

    As I walked close to the water they all submerged and popped up near the weed line that was a good distance away. I had the ZD 150mm ƒ2.0 + EC-20 mounted so I laid down at the edge of the water to try and get some shots. Well, those little guys were curious once I laid down and swam to within 3 feet of me. They got so close that I took the TC off and was shooting with just the bare lens. It's rare I get close enough to shoot without a TC, especially baby gators so I was super stoked. This is one of the first shots without a TC and I would like it a lot more if there was no grass in the way. The grass is so high along the bank that getting the low perspective I like is next to impossible (looking forward to Fall, will be better for photographing them)

    EM1 w/ ZD 150mm ƒ2.0 - ISO 200, 1/1250 @ ƒ2.0, Handheld
    150 @ ƒ2.0 by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    At one point I had all 6 of them within 5 feet of me, while it was so awesome to experience it was a little nerve wracking. I was not sure if they would come up the bank or not and with them spread out in an arc in front of me I could not keep an eye on all of them at once. While it would not kill me, I did not want to get baby gator bit and have to deal with any resulting infection. I could move around all I wanted and they were fine with that, if I stood up they would take off. But.....they would return as soon as I laid down again.

    I noticed this gator off in the weeds and saw a great environmental shot. This turned out to be one of my favorite shots to date and I documented why in this thread - The Power of the Little Tuna FYI, it looks amazing printed at 16x20, so much so that I want to do a 40x30 print of it.

    EM1 w/ ZD 150mm ƒ2.0 - ISO 200, 1/2000 @ ƒ2.0, Handheld
    Zoned In by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    The last shot of the day was when this little guy swam up to my minimum focus distance. Only crop (as in the other full head shot above) is taking it to 3:2 which I prefer for my gator shots.

    EM1 w/ ZD 150mm ƒ2.0 - ISO 200, 1/1600 @ ƒ2.0, Handheld
    150 @ ƒ2.0 by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr
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  3. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    After getting home I got this idea of getting a full baby gator head shot using my fisheye lens, so I returned the following Saturday. This time I discovered that spread out in the area was actually somewhere between 12 and 15 babies. I tried getting some early morning shots with the Little Tuna but nothing really spectacular came of it. That's when I set in motion my plan for the fisheye lens.

    In this photo you can see my EM1 with the Bower Fisheye on my tripod, well you can see my small ball head just above the water (the tripod is actually my old aluminum Manfrotto that I have had for years, big...heavy....but so sturdy and wonderful if you don't have to carry it far). I really wanted the camera sitting just on the surface of the water (well just above to be safe), but that proved more difficult then I imagined it would be. The water in the area to the right (where the grass is) is about 1.5 feet deep and just pass the grass line it drops off very fast and my guess is about 12 foot deep or deeper. The rear legs are full collapsed, while the front leg is fully extended and I pushed all the legs down into the mud 6 inches or so. The problem was I almost slipped into the water several times while trying to get it deeper. The bottom appears to be really muddy and I did not want to go into it because getting out would have been difficult. Not to mention the danger of my thrashing around attracting a big gator looking for an easy meal. So I gave up getting it lower but next time I will bring my harness and park the Jeep near so I can tie off to it and have an easy out if needed.

    EM1 w/ Bower 7.5mm Fisheye by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    I had the focus set for about 1 foot away so they were going to have to get close to be in focus. I was not really interested in anything but a good closeup of the gators. They seem spooked by the camera and never really got close enough for the photo I was after. Here is one shot from the fisheye and after looking at it, I really need to get it lower to get the shot I am after. It was a first attempt and I learned a lot, next time I hope to be much more productive.

    EM1 w/ Bower 7.5mm Fisheye by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    While the EM1 was occupied with the fisheye I decided to put the 50-200 SWD on the EM5. I went with the 50-200 because it has the mechanically linked focus and the Little Tuna does not. Needless to say I am glad I went with the 50-200 because the focusing speed was just terrible. There is no way I could use this lens on anything but an EM1 for any length of time. It also front focused every single time, would get the area just in front of the eye in focus so I just switched to manual focus while using it. Here is one shot I got with this combo and I am actually really pleased with how it came out.

    EM5 w/ ZD 50-200 SWD - ISO 200, 1/500 @ ƒ3.5, Handheld
    Death Watches by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    I have tried a number of times on adult gators to get the nose to eye in focus and have found it basically impossible. Well, I have only tried going to ƒ8 or so and even that is not enough to get the entire head in focus when looking down the length of it. While I had a baby close, I decided to give it a go. While their head is smaller, you are a lot closer to fill the frame so even then it is almost impossible to get the entire head in focus because the DoF is so small. As you see from this shot I went to ƒ22 to get the photo. Between the ISO 3200 and being well into the diffraction territory, most of the sharpness has been lost. This is one of those cases where I would love to have a lens capable of focus bracketing. I am actually starting to think that I could put that feature to really good use on some of more stationary wildlife subjects like gators and frogs.

    EM1 w/ ZD 150mm ƒ2.0 - ISO 3200, 1/250 @ ƒ22, Handheld
    150 @ ƒ22 by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    I honestly think that having the whole head in focus distracts from the shot. It could be the head on that makes it distracting, maybe a little angle would improve it but not sure. I will have to explore this a bit more the next time I have one at a better angle. But, it is hard to tell in this shot, need a better and cleaner photo to look at.

    Stay tuned for the next episode of The Baby Gator Project.
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  4. Hypilein

    Hypilein Mu-43 Veteran

    Mar 18, 2015
    Always love seeing your gator posts. I'm looking forward to when you get the fisheye shot working.
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  5. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    Thank you and I hope to post a lot more over the coming months. I look forward to finally getting the shot I am after also.
  6. hazwing

    hazwing Mu-43 All-Pro

    Nov 25, 2012
    Doesn't your em1 do focus bracketing? Just doesn't do focus stacking if you don't use one of the approved lenses.
  7. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    Focus bracketing only works with µ4/3 lenses. I basically use 3 lenses - ZD 150mm ƒ2.0, MZ 17mm ƒ2.8 and Bower 7.5mm Fisheye.
  8. hazwing

    hazwing Mu-43 All-Pro

    Nov 25, 2012
    I see... Didn't realise it didn't work with the 4/3rds lenses. I know your not keen, but maybe an excuse to get 40-150 f2.8 :p
  9. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    If I stay with µ4/3 (all depends on the mk2) I will get it, but mostly for sports. The 300 Pro will become my closeup and stacking lens, that thing will actually be awesome for frogs and baby gators.
  10. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    Got out to my favorite state park Saturday and decided on a location for sunrise. There is an area where the gators have been hunting fish at sunrise and I wanted to be there for some calm water gator shots. Well..........:mad: that area was completely overrun with weeds, I had not been to that spot in about a month so did not know the condition. With my sunrise plans busted I started walking along the edge of the lake to see what I could find and I ended up getting lucky. In an area that I have never seen any little gators I happen to spot what I thought at first was a frog. He was facing away from me I spotted the eyes sticking up above the water, but as I got a closer I realized it was a young gator. He was about 2 foot long, so around 2 years old and still young enough to have the beautiful baby gator coloring. It was still about 10 minutes before sunrise and at least 30 minutes before the sun got above the tree line to shine on the gator.

    I moved away from the edge of the lake (out of the gators view) and slowly moved pass him so I could crawl into position from the correct angle. He was positioned almost perfectly, about a 30-45 degree angle from the rising sun, and I wanted to make sure to not spook him. I dropped my pack and got the camera on the skimmer pod. I also made sure to grab my some spare batteries, the EC-14, and the caps for the EC-20 which was currently mounted on the 150/2. After getting everything situated as well as double checking the camera settings I started my 30 or so foot crawl. Well, he ended up being a very cooperative little gator and I got close enough to shoot with just the 150/2. So I laid there watching him for about 30 minutes and taking a few shots incase he took off before the sun hit him. When the sun finally got above the trees and was shining on him I got this capture.

    EM1 w/ ZD 150mm ƒ2.0 - ISO 200, 1/320 @ ƒ2.0, skimmer pod used
    Morning Light by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    After taking a large number of shots I put the EC-20 so I could get a nice closeup shot. I only took a few and that was a mistake because I did not get any really sharp photos. But I got one that is decent so I decided to share it.

    EM1 w/ ZD 150mm ƒ2.0 - ISO 400, 1/400 @ ƒ4.0, skimmer pod used
    Good Morning by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    I decided I had enough photographs and moved away (leaving the camera in place) to retrieve my EM5 to get a on location shot.

    EM5 w/ Olympus 17mm ƒ2.8 - ISO 200, 1/500 @ ƒ2.8, handheld
    Morning Gator Shoot by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    The ease I was able to move away and come back I decided to go back for the fisheye lens. It was really hard laying there with arms out stretched just above the water and trying to manual focus my fisheye lens (could have really used the 8mm Pro lens for this). I was able to get this shot before he took off, with autofocus I could have gotten a much closer shot (glasses were fogging up and had a hard time seeing if I was in focus).

    EM4 w/ Bower 7.5mm Fisheye - ISO 1000, 1/1000 @ ƒ5.6, handheld
    Fisheye Gator by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    Because I spooked him I walked down the lake but found nothing of interest to shoot. When I returned to his location I captured this shot, which happens to be my favorite of the set.

    EM1 w/ ZD 150mm ƒ2.0 - ISO 200, 1/5000 @ ƒ2.0, skimmer pod used
    Golden Thoughts by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    I was getting hungry and thirsty (was really hot and humid) so I went back to my pack to grab something to eat and drink. While sitting there he changed locations so I got up and moved forward to get this environmental shot.

    EM1 w/ ZD 150mm ƒ2.0 - ISO 200, 1/4000 @ ƒ2.0, handheld
    Camo Gator by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    Then I attached the EC-14 and moved closer to get some more shots.

    EM1 w/ ZD 150mm ƒ2.0 + EC-14 - ISO 200, 1/1250 @ ƒ4.0, skimmer pod used
    Hidden by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    He was chasing around dragonflies and other small insects but I never saw him catch anything. Was really hoping for a baby gator eating a dragonfly photograph, maybe next time. I got this shot when he was close to the shore and used the Velvia 50 preset in VSCO, I really like the saturated look I get from it. I guess I should say I use a very modified version of the preset.

    EM1 w/ ZD 150mm ƒ2.0 - ISO 200, 1/5000 @ ƒ2.0, skimmer pod used
    Nat Geo by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    Here is my last shot of him, about 2 hours after I took my first photograph. I did watch him for another hour after this shot, just didn't get anything that I liked.

    EM1 w/ ZD 150mm ƒ2.0 - ISO 200, 1/4000 @ ƒ2.0, skimmer pod used
    Golden View by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    I now have 4 locations that I can regularly find young gators at. This is really going to help me get some great shots this winter when the vegetation dies down and I can get some better views. I also know of three areas where mother gators have nest, so hopefully I can get some good baby gator photographs this winter also. I recently started using the 3:2 ratio for my gator photographs because they are so long and thin. Now I have switched to 16:9 and find it really fits them well, trying to decide if I am going to go back and re-crop some of my older gator shots.

    That is all for now. May be a bit before I get anymore baby gator shots. Thinking about hitting the beach for a few weeks of shore bird photography while I wait for some of the vegetation to die off.
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  11. Hypilein

    Hypilein Mu-43 Veteran

    Mar 18, 2015
    Love the golden light and the fisheye shot. Maybe should invest into that Olympus Fisheye. It's certainly something I'm lusting after...
  12. tonyturley

    tonyturley Mu-43 Veteran

    Nov 19, 2014
    Those are stunning. The color and clarity are excellent.
  13. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    Thanks. They fisheye shot came out pretty well, it also shows how tough it is to get a clear view from a low perspective with all the stuff in the water. Hopefully I will be able to buy the 8mm, it is at the top of my list of lenses to buy. Just waiting for some reviews of the EM1mk2 to come out to see how well it stands up to the hype.
  14. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    Thank you, I appreciate the comments.
  15. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    Time for the latest episode of The Baby Gator Project.........

    I returned to Brazos Bend State Park to once again photograph the gator from the previous post at sunrise. Last time was the first time seeing this young gator so I was not sure he would be in the same location and I got there while it was still dark so I would have time to get to a different location if needed. Well, he was not only there but was in the perfect location to get a good fisheye lens shot. He was very close to the shore line and I was confident I could get close enough for the fisheye shot I was after. After dumping my FrankinPack on the ground I got everything set up so I would be ready for sunrise. I crawled up with my camera on the skimmer and got it into position as well as having the EM5 with the fisheye lens sitting in the skimmer pod.

    It takes about 30 minutes after sunrise for the rays to make it over the trees to shine on the lake. Before the sun was shinning on the gator I took a few shots, but the lack of directional light made for a really dull looking photograph. So I tried a B&W edit on one of the photos to see how I like it. It is not the best but there is something about it that I like, sure wish the area behind and to the right would have been clean like the left side, but you can't control everything in wildlife photography.

    EM1 w/ ZD 150mm ƒ2.0 - ISO 200, 1/1000 @ ƒ2.0, Skimmer Pod used
    1 by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    Unfortunately the sun comes up in a bit different location and takes over an hour before it shines on my little gator (this is going to become a sunset spot until the sun swings back in the spring). I did not get anything I liked because of the late sun and before I could get into position for the fisheye lens some park rangers came by in one of those John Deere Gators (kind of ironic) and the vibrations caused him to swim a bit farther out. So I ended up losing the chance for my fisheye lens photograph as well.

    While still waiting for the sun I happened to notice a Cottonmouth crawling out of the swamp behind me and towards the lake. While not baby gator photos I figured it would not hurt to throw them up here to help tell the story of the day. When I grabbed the camera and went to shoot the snake he turned around and headed back into the swamp, which happen to be down a small bank. I quickly worked my way in front of him and waited for a shot, he noticed me laying in the brush and stopped. I was able to get this shot of him when he stopped, being lower them him helped with the perspective I was able to get.

    EM1 w/ ZD 150mm ƒ2.0 - ISO 1000, 1/320 @ ƒ2.0, Skimmer Pod used
    5 by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    He seemed content to stay where he was, so I slowly moved out so I could retrieve my EC-20. This next shot is from the same position as the first, just with the EC-20, he also to look more towards me when I was getting into location.

    EM1 w/ ZD 150mm ƒ2.0 + EC-20 - ISO 3200, 1/160 @ ƒ4.0, Skimmer Pod used
    6 by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    It is a little soft because of the high ISO and the slow shutter speed. I mostly use the skimmer pod to assist with framing and to help steady me a bit (hard to hold camera free hand at that low of a level), the ball is always very lose so I have to be careful at lower shutter speeds and this show how good the IBIS is in the EM1. I really wanted a tongue out photograph of him, but he would only stick it out when I would move aka not at camera and ready to shoot. When he decided to move and head back into the swamp and I was able to get this tongue out photograph of him.

    EM1 w/ ZD 150mm ƒ2.0 + EC-20 - ISO 1250, 1/320 @ ƒ4.0, Handheld
    8 by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    It's not as sharp as I would like but I was sliding down the hill while trying to match the speed of the snake while also avoiding trees and bushes and keeping an eye on him to make sure he did not change directions and head towards me. Given the difficult shooting conditions and the slow shutter speed for an effective 600mm of reach I am pretty happy with the shot.

    After all of that I headed out to see what else I could find in the park. I didn't find anything of interest and returned to my little gator where I was able to capture this shot that I really like. This shot has shown me that I really need to pick up a flash, it could have been so much better with a little fill light (hurry up mk2 reviews so I can decide on what I am doing).

    EM1 w/ ZD 150mm ƒ2.0 - ISO 200, 1/4000 @ ƒ2.0, Skimmer Pod used
    2 by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    I ended up eating lunch while watching this gator for about an 1 1/2 hours. He was out there hunting and I watched him catch something underwater and eat it, never saw what he caught or ate. After that he moved into the position where the above photograph was taken, I think he moved there because dragonflies were landing on the little weeds sticking up from the water. When nothing exciting happened after an hour I decided it was time to head home, but I found another young gator along the way. This one was hanging out in a large swampy area about 100 yards from where I park.

    EM1 w/ ZD 150mm + EC-20 - ISO 800, 1/640 @ ƒ4.0, Handheld
    3 by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    He was at the bottom of a pretty steep bank when I took the above photograph. While trying to move into a better location he got spooked by some kids on the nearby trail screaming about seeing a baby gator. He swam out into a large open area but was still close enough for me to get a shot. I got into position and had the entire skimmer pod and ball head under water, wanted to get it a bit lower but the ground was solid and I had no mud to sink it into (really wanted the camera just on the water surface). I was able to get this final shot of the day and probably my favorite shot also.

    EM1 w/ ZD 150mm + EC-20 - ISO 500, 1/1000 @ ƒ4.0, Skimmer Pod used 29773318820_7a7edd92fd_h.jpg
    4 by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    Not the best day photographically but interesting and was also one of the nicest weekends we have had in awhile.

    Until next time...............
    Last edited: Oct 5, 2016
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  16. faithblinded

    faithblinded Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Nov 25, 2014
    Cleveland, OH
    Awesome work as always. That last one is worth the day, and I actually like the high key edit on the first one quite a bit.
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  17. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    Thanks and I agree about the last shot. I still need to do a little PP on it before putting on my website but I am really happy with it. Will swing by that location every time I am at the park because the water is very clear and smooth because it is protected from the wind.

    The only thing I don't like about the first one is that stuff in the background. Going to have to mess around in PS and see if I can fix that, but will take a bit of time and I have some other stuff that needs done this weekend.
  18. faithblinded

    faithblinded Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Nov 25, 2014
    Cleveland, OH
    I like to use the post crop vignette slider to cheat a bit, when doing high key processing. Maybe you could try that to ease the impact of those bgrnd elements in the corner.
  19. nstelemark

    nstelemark Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    May 28, 2013
    Halifax, Nova Scotia Canada
    Exactly. I reported this to Olympus and they were surprised. They felt that it was going to be slow but accurate. Unfortunately it is slow and inaccurate. The only solution is MF.
  20. Clicka

    Clicka Mu-43 Regular

    Jan 28, 2014
    Peter Campbell
    Well then, here's hoping that the M1/#2 is all you're wishing for because I'd sure miss your amazing photos and contributions here, as I'm sure many others would.