This post is a continuation of last week’s post: Gatorland – Kissimmee, Florida – Part 1. Last week I focused on the birds that I photographed at the rookery and around the park. Ironically, everyone seems to like the “hot dog bird” the best. I have it out for him the next time I’m going to visit. This week as promised, I’m going to focus on the other critters that I ran into. Most of these are alligators as designated by the name of the park. They have a few…hundred, maybe even thousand lying around for your viewing enjoyment. This post will be photo heavy, as I couldn’t stop myself, so I hope you enjoy these as much as I did taking them. Here we go…
While I was out on the boardwalk at the rookery, I saw the light falling on these lazy gators and wanted to get their photograph. As I mentioned last week, I used my auto bracketing function to capture all of the light values of the scene. I bracketed photos, aligned them in Photoshop and masked back in the best parts, this is the original HDR. In the photo above, I masked back in parts of the alligators mouth and teeth. This way I was able to bring back the detail that otherwise would have been lost in the harsh mid day sun.
My friend dared me to get in the water and get a macro shot of an alligator’s eye. Most boys that I know won’t back down from a dare, so in the water I went to get this photo. Ugh, right…let’s try this again. I used my 80mm-400mm lens for this trip. This allowed me to have quite a vast focal range to reach out and touch these critters. There was an alligator that was close to the boardwalk so I zoomed in and got a close up of his eye. I never knew alligators had a slit in their eyes like cats until I saw this photo.
Usually when I see any type of stinging insect, I like to run the other way. Probably has something to do with the fact that I’m allergic to bees. However, in this case I had room to retreat if necessary. These guys were in the shade and the background was in broad sunlight. Rather than trying to do the bracket trick, I used fill flash on them. I was able to get within five feet of the nest and that was close enough for my flash to be effective. I exposed for the background and filled them in with flash. I would rather do it this way as this photo is “in the can” or it’s pretty close in the camera. No messing around with Photoshop, just a slight contrast adjustment and sharpen.
Since I had already cheated fate once with some stinging wasps, why not go all the way and try and photograph a bumble bee? I think of this guy as the B-17 of bees, he’s big, loud and can carry a lot of pollen. I was watching, as he was going from flower to flower doing his thing. He didn’t seem to mind me as he was busy collecting pollen. The minimum focusing distance on the lens that I was using is eight feet. It looked a little strange that I was photographing him from the other side of the boardwalk. I got some strange looks from people passing by, but that is normal for me, maybe I’m just strange!
I have lived in Florida longer that I would like to admit, but this was a first time that I had ever seen an albino alligator. These fellows were placed in an enclosed, roofed structure. I have a feeling that the sun would burn their skin. In this case I had to shoot through a piece of acrylic, which can always be a challenge. The fist couple of shots that I took I thought were OK, until I noticed a halo of a reflection of a person standing behind me. It was time for Plan B, or what I should have done in the first place, put the lens on the acrylic. After I did this, the result was better, but I still saw a reflection of Aunt Bertha with her five screaming children in the reflection. Now it was time to get creative. I cupped my hand around the end of the lens to act as an adjustable rubber lens hood. This technique made all of the reflections disappear and I was able to get a clean portrait of the albino alligator.
We happened to be walking by an alligator show and there was a handler that was getting ready to show off to the tourists. The handler had a young boy come out of the stands and had him pick an alligator out of the enclosure. After the boy made his selection, they escorted him off back to his parents and the handler went in to get the one that was selected. It didn’t take him long to grab the gator by the tail and get on top of it. This alone was quite impressive; this is one of those things that I can see NOT making my bucket list. To help stir up the crowd, he held the mouth of the alligator shut with is head. I wonder if this was on his resume? I love his facial expression and the sweat running off his face.
If the above photo didn’t do it for you, then maybe this one will. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. The expression from the handler looks as if he’s enjoying entertaining the crowd or he just crapped his pants! This was the second take because the first time he was facing away from my position so the folks sitting on the other side were yelling that they couldn’t see what was going on so he spun the gator around and did it again. The arena where the handler was working had a pipe enclosure around it like what you might see used as a cattle pen. I was standing next to the bleachers to make sure that I wasn’t blocking anyone’s view. Then I found a sliver of space between the rows of pipe and that is what I aimed for. I was able to get a clean shot of the action from this angle. As the lighting goes, I really lucked out. Above the arena was a transparent tarp that they used as a make shift roof. The tarp also created soft light and acting as a huge photographers diffuser.
At first this looks like one of those reality shows where the person says, “Hey, check this out!” and it goes downhill from there. Usually the person ends up in some bodily harm for doing something that is not recommended for the human race. This was the alligator feeding show. They started out by doing a skit of a couple of hillbillies that were put in charge of feeding the alligators and they turned it into a contest. It was as if Larry the Cable Guy had stopped over to feed the family pet. These were of course trained staff putting on a show. Towards the end of the show to get the gators going they hand fed them. If you see the size of the alligators in the above photo versus the size of the hand that is feeding the alligator, you do the math. They were fed without incident, at least this time.
During the gator show, the staff affixed raw chicken to cables that went over the lagoon. They wheeled the cable and chicken over the alligator infested pond and it didn’t take long for the chicken to start disappearing. The gators had to jump out of the water and snatch the chicken. This is where a long lens saved my butt, and not for reasons that you might be thinking. If you have ever been to one of these types of events then you know it’s every man for himself. Hordes of people run to the edge to see what is happening and the folks in the back are out of luck. Since I’m 6’4” This usually isn’t such a big deal. I found a space between two folks and I put my lens between their heads. This was kind of hilarious as they looked towards each other here was this huge Nikon lens next to their face. What can I say; you have to do what you have to do to get the shot. At one point I forgot how close the quarters were and I bumped one guy in the shoulder. Whoops. With the 80mm-400mm lens attached to the camera, I was able to get right in the middle of the action even though I was one of the furthest people back.
This was one of the new attractions that they added since I was there last. This is a zip line that you can take over an alligator infested pond. OK, let’s think about this for a minute, people are paying extra to go over a pond that has hungry alligators in it. This is starting to sound like the “Hey, check this out!” kind of moment! If you are wondering, some folks didn’t make all the way to the other side. There were a couple of folks who got stuck half way and one of the staff harnessed up and had to go get them. On the flip side, there are a couple of these towers that over look the rookery. This makes it possible to shoot down on the birds as they come in. This sounds better than getting stuck on a wire with a wedgie, waiting to be rescued….I’m just sayin’!
While I was at the flamingo pool I noticed this funny sound coming from the water. There were hundreds of fish that were all huddled together and slapping their lips together. This is one of the strangest things I have ever seen. I shot a couple of photos of the whole school of fish; this was OK but didn’t have the look that I was going for. I zoomed in on one fish to see his red lip. Someone said that these are Tilapia, but I’m not sure what they are, except hungry.
We were on our way out of the park when I happen to notice how the light was falling on this one gator. Since this was a harsh lighting condition, I used the bracketing trick as explained above. I shot nine frames and masked back in the parts that I wanted. He held still for me so lining up the frames was quite easy.
So there it is, Gatorland in Kissimmee, Florida. It was a great trip and worth every penny. There is much to see and photograph. I would recommend taking the longest lens that you own and maybe a mid range zoom for anything else. In the rookery season, they have photographer’s hours, which allow you to go in early and late. This helps as the light is much softer and makes the photographer’s job much easier. If you’re in the area or you are going to visit the area, this would make a great stop.
Until next time…
Keep Your Glass Clean