Portrait Session with Teeth


Hillsborough River Alligator

Hillsborough River Alligator

  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.

Hillsborough River Alligator

Hillsborough River Alligator

    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.


Unspooked Hillsborough River Alligator

Unspooked Hillsborough River Alligator

  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.

Hillsborough River Alligator

Hillsborough River Alligator

    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.


2 responses to “Portrait Session with Teeth

  1. Hi Tim. You’re my new hero!

    I live in North Alabama. We’ve got rumors of Alligators in a big wildlife reserve and I’ve been hunting them for the summer. And by hunting, I mean trying to photograph.

    I use a kayak to explore the creeks and swamps in the area they are supposed to be, and the one thing I’ve learned is my crappy waterproof camera isn’t really up to this task. Okay, the camera isn’t crappy, it’s a nice point and shoot, but it isn’t up to this task.

    But the idea of getting a nice DSLR and lenses and taking them out in my kayak scares me to death! So I’ve got two questions.

    #1: How do you keep your spiffy D200 safe in your kayak?

    #2: I’m not a new photographer, but I’m not an overly experienced one. I’ve been leaning toward a D5000. Rugged enough for the kayak? Just the wrong camera? Will I be happy with it for use other than nature shots?

    I ask, cause like I said, after these photos, you’re my hero!

  2. Hi Runwolf:
    Thank you for the note.
    To answer your questions: I keep my camera in a dry bag, a specially-designed clear, heavy duty container that is supposed to keep your camera and other valuables safe in case you dump your kayak. It should keep the water out and keep it afloat as well.
    This river does have rapids, but I wasn’t in that part of the river, so I wasn’t too concerned about getting it wet or tipping over. It’s a very slow moving river.
    The downside of this set up is that you cannot quick-fire if you see something happening. It takes a few seconds to dig it out of the bag and set up to shoot. But, I am more concerned with keeping the camera dry and safe than I am missing a shot.
    2. I’ve heard that there are some technical problems with the D5000 and that they’re either being recalled or being asked to be brought in for service, so personally, I’d stay away from the D5000.
    I’ve been a Nikon shooter for many years and would recommend getting something other than that. I love the D200, but I think that a lower end SLR would suffice for what you wish to do.
    I’d invest my money in the lens. This 80-200 2.8 that I used here is a workhorse lens that I use on just about every shoot I do. It runs about $1,000.
    With that size lens, you can pull in tight shots of your game without getting too dangerously close to the gators or whatever else you have lurking in your Alabama swamps.
    I applaud your initiative and thank you again for your note.

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