Sometimes I like to shoot things other than glamorous models, blushing and not-so-blushing brides, tragic news events and celebrities pitching their latest projects.
Sometimes, I want to shoot things I can sink my teeth into.
Sometimes, I want to shoot things that can sink their teeth into me.
The Hillsborough River, just north of Tampa, is a wonderland of nature. It’s a clear, vibrant river and when you’re on it you have no idea you’re so close to a metropolis like Tampa. It’s more like being transported back to a time before human beings became the dominant forces in nature here.
Yesterday, I was the only person on it.
I’ve been there before, but always with other people. When you’re alone, you really understand how isolated and scary it can feel. There are no other kayakers making noise in the boats ahead of you and as a result, when you come upon an alligator sunning itself on the banks or on logs you become the initial disturbance that spooks them.
I didn’t see the first alligator that I happened upon, but he saw me. Imagine the peace of floating down the river with nothing but the sounds of birds calling each other being broken by the splash of a spooked, 200-pound alligator diving from his sunning spot into the safe zone of the river. It’s a huge, disturbing noise and it made me realize that I was in their territory. I know the hairs on the back of my head were called to attention as were the rest of my senses.
The river is primarily only a few feet deep and I started feeling the fright of being in a kayak, alone and basically sitting at sea level with these creatures. I also started making more noise with my paddle as I pushed through the water. I didn’t want to spook another gator. I wanted them to know I was there.
I went on the river to photograph alligators from my kayak. I was using my Nikon D200 with an 80-200mm lens. I didn’t wish to shoot the glorious scenery with a wide lens. I wanted tight shots of the gators.
I didn’t have a lot of time. Sergeant’s Park, where I launched from closed at 7pm and I didn’t get there till 5pm.
The alligator that I spooked happened to be the only gator I saw until I was heading back to the launch site and decided to go slightly north of the site since I had another 10 minutes till closing time.
That’s when I saw this glorious creature on a log. He must have been comfortable with me because he laid there while I shot about 45 frames of him. I was within about 20 feet of him during that time. I wasn’t the first kayaker he had laid eyes upon. He was apparently comfortable with my presence.
He wasn’t a huge alligator. Probably about seven feet from nose to tail tip. We sat in a mutual admiration for about 10 minutes before he slithered away.
I love the Hillsborough River. If you’ve never been on it, try it. Take water, a camera, a friend and a spare pair of pants.
Technical info: Nikon D200. 80-200 f2.8 lens. Spot metered due to the high contrast between the shading of the river and the alligator being in the direct sun. F4.5, 1/640th of a second.