Tag Archives: how

The Secret Behind Red-Faced Lizard

Our Red-Faced Lizard friend is actually a Caiman lizard from South America. Sitting quietly in a tree, this lizard watches the world pass by with little interest. These gorgeous reptiles also go by the name tegu or more scientifically,  Dracaena guianensis.

The name Caiman stems from the fact that they have a similar appearance to the caiman crocodile and so borrowed their name. The Dracaena is from the Latin word for female dragon. Overall it’s a very prestigious name for a large colorful lizard.

This particular lizard was in a large public enclosure at a place they wouldn’t let me name in this article due to strange legalities and the personal wishes of their public relations department.

The Caiman lizard spends most of the time either in the water or up in low-lying trees sunning itself on the branches. They eat a diet mostly of snails and clams but have been known to eat a tasty rodent or insect now and then.   Usually, they capture the snail or clam with their mouth, tilt their head back and crush the shell with their back teeth. The meal is quickly swallowed and any remaining shell is conveniently spit out.

Being in an enclosure with a large glass window caused some major headaches when trying to get his picture. Red Faced LizardThe enclosure was kept dark and only a single heating lamp above the cage provided light.   The other issue was the large glass window.

The window was very good at providing an excellent reflection of any flash or light source that was behind me. This is definitely not what we wanted. So, I spent a great deal of time  finding a suitable angle that provided for the is particular shot, while minimizing the risk of bothering the lizard, not using a flash or tripod and still getting the shot without any background reflections in the window.

Surprisingly, it only took about 20 shots in these low light conditions to get the picture I wanted. I had to stand with a foot resting on a concrete window sill under the enclosure so I could prop my elbow to give some stability. I then opened my aperture setting  to about an  f/6 and held my breath as I clicked the shutter.   Perseverance and the lack of coffee served me well that day. I hope you enjoy it.

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For more information:

“Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens.” Jacksonville Zoo. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Nov. 2014. <http://www.jacksonvillezoo.org/animals/reptiles/caiman_lizard/

What’s Really Happening With Animal Photography? Part 1

There is little doubt that animal photography is one of the most celebrated forms of photography found in the world today. The sheer number of photographs of pets and other animals is astounding. Most people don’t think too much of taking a picture of their pet, but for the photographic artist however, taking pictures of the animals leads to some unique challenges.

The biggest challenge the artist faces is giving their personal vision to their work. The basic problem is the science involved with taking a picture means that I as the photographer must use the light that is available to me. While a painter or sketch artist can change the color and lines of their subject to suit their whim, a photographer must change his equipment to suit the conditions.

Pink Feathers
I had to set my camera settings correctly to get just the right amount of light for these feathers.

While I can change the amount of the type and angle and intensity of light using a studio and various filters and equipment, the result is still a picture that can only accurately represents the lighting conditions that existed at that moment you release the shutter. That is the unavoidable science behind every picture.

So, let’s take a moment to deal with the inherent challenges of the aesthetic aspect.   Why is this so much more of a challenge in particular to the natural photographer? Well, often times our subjects are living animals. These animals tend to have a will and conscience of their own and we often cannot control their actions.

For instance, if I take a picture of a dog in my studio looking at me, it is because the dog show an interest in me. I’m human and the dog wants to play or petted or given a treat.  However, as cat owners would generally agree, if I were to take a picture of a cat, the cat might look at me, or not at all.  Because,  while the dog wants your attention, the cat could care less.  After all, there is a reason the famous behaviorist Pavlov chose to use dogs and not cats.  It’s up to the individual animal and their temperament.

Socksy the Chiuahua
By looking to the side, the dog is showing action. She sees something we can’t.

So, you might think that taking a picture of that same dog is easy. Or, at least easier than the cat.  In a controlled environment like a studio with a friendly dog and maybe a handler I would agree. But, let’s spice it up a little. To get an artistic vision of your dog, we have to create something unique. A different angle, a new slant on how we can look at your dog.  Do we want to show her teeth? Are we looking for action? Do we want to see how high she can jump? How regal she behaves? Just standing up, putting the camera to my face and clicking away is not going to cut it. The photograph will look bland and unexciting and that is not what we want. We want art.

Ok, so now we’ve made the dog portrait a little more challenging by wanting to add an artistic side to it. Not impossible, mind you but a little more challenging. In the second part of this entry, I’ll explore the hidden challenges that seem to make it only get harder.

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The 3 Factors of a Cockatiel Portrait

Photographically speaking, these Cockatiels are bright and colorful but very hard to photograph. They only sit still when they are sleeping. This causes all sorts of issue for getting a good clear photograph. With their constant movement most of the pictures will come out as blurry fuzzy streaks of undefined feathers. Definitely not what most people are looking for!

To compound the problem, if your far enough away and have your shutter speed set to the action sports environment setting you will tend to come away with a picture of a very small bird and a lot of unnecessary distracting background. Therefore, the trick is to get close.

But how can you do this if the movements of the bird will produce fuzzy pictures? There are three factors to consider when taking such a tricky shot. The first is your shutter speed, the second is the depth of field, and the third is how close the bird will let you get.

If you are working in a studio you will have complete control over two of these factors. By setting your shutter speed to a setting of a fractions of a second, like 1/32, you’ll be able to capture the detail of the bird no matter what it does.

However, by setting your camera for a fast shutter speed, you will limit the amount of light that you allow into the sensor of the camera. It’s possible to compensate for this by increasing your ISO setting.  The ISO setting will allow the sensor to become more sensitive and thus increase the amount of light. The danger is that the larger your ISO setting, the greater amount of artificial noise and graininess you’ll find in your picture.

Another way to let light in is by your aperture setting. This setting tells the camera how wide the lens will open to allow light in. Obviously, the wider the opening, the more light will hit the sensor. However, aperture settings will also affect your depth of field. The higher the aperture on you camera, the more out of focus your background behind your subject will be. While making a portrait, you generally want to have your subject the main center of attention without anything distracting appearing behind them. So, in this particular case, a wide aperture would be a decent solution.

Inside a studio you will have complete control over the intensity and positioning of the light, and you can set your aperture, lighting and distance to your subject as you please. But working outside you will often find yourself at the mercy of the elements, time of day, and sun’s intensity.

The third issue you will have is the bird itself.   Animals have a mind of their own and you must have a great Red Dotdeal of patience when trying to photograph them. Animals do not always tend to follow the mental script you have set for them. They like to do their own thing, at their own time and for their own reasons. The singularly best thing you can do to get that shot is to have your camera setup and ready and just wait until the animal does what you want it to.

So, by combining these three elements and having a cooperating subject, you will start producing better quality animal portraits. Or, you could just order one from the gallery, enjoy the art, and leave the technical stuff to us!

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