We are always on the lookout for original, technically challenging projects. Last year we photographed caiman at night with star trails above. When we returned to the Pantanal earlier this year, one of our harebrained schemes was to photograph caiman by the light of the full moon. There were a few fundamental difficulties that we had to overcome to do this… firstly we had to approach to within a couple of meters of a wild caiman, then set up a camera & tripod beside the reptile, compose the shot in the dark, stay totally still for at least 5 minutes and hope the caiman didn’t move. It was going to be a challenge! Below you can see some of the resulting shots. At first glance the images almost look like they were taken during the day but there are subtle signs that the shots aren’t normal; the stars in the sky, the smooth ethereal water, the eerie lighting…
Last year we visited the Pantanal in Brazil – one of our favourite wildlife photography destinations. We returned with some fantastic images and couldn’t wait to revisit this unique wetland paradise. Earlier in the year we set off on a follow-up trip, visiting three new locations that provided opportunities to photograph a wide range of species.
Matthew and I took this photograph last year in the Pantanal, Brazil. It shows two Jabiru Storks sleeping in their nest while the stars rotate overhead. The camera was positioned so that the southern celestial pole was behind the nest and an exposure time of 40 minutes was used to capture the star trails. The tree was illuminated by a single lamp placed about 100m away.
The southern celestial pole can be located by identifying the Southern Cross constellation and following it down about four and a half cross-lengths. In the Northern Hemisphere, you can find the north celestial pole by pointing your camera at the North Star. You can find out more about locating the celestial poles here.
This is photograph is one of our all-time favourites – it looks fantastic when printed large. If you are interested in buying a print then please get in touch.
Our Caiman Under Stars set of photos was shot over the course of three nights last summer. We were in the Pantanal – a massive wetland region of Brazil, over 10 times the size of the Florida Everglades.
Usually we aren’t content with just taking photos during the day so we often go out in search of nocturnal wildlife. On one of our night walks we came across a swampy area where caimans were lying in a channel waiting for fish to swim past. It was a very dark night with no moon but plenty of stars overhead. I’m not sure where the inspiration came from but we decided to try and photograph a caiman with star trails in the sky above.
It would have been easy to get the shot by first photographing the caiman and then compositing a second shot of the stars. However, we wanted to achieve the effect in a single exposure (so that it would be eligible for competitions amongst other things).
Composing the shot by the light of a headtorch was the first challenge. We were using a 16mm lens on a full-frame Canon 1Ds Mk III so the second challenge was getting close enough to the caiman!
We knew from experience that we could get a suitable star trail image using a shutter speed of 40 minutes, aperture of f/4.5 and ISO of 200. Based on these settings, we manually controlled the output of an off-camera speedlite flash to correctly expose the caiman in the foreground. This produced a single flash at the start of the exposure which froze the caiman’s initial position on the sensor. For the remainder of the exposure the caiman could thrash around chasing fish as much as it liked without ghosting the image (of course this only worked because the foreground was completely dark – if there had been a moon or stray torch beams then there would have been ghosting).
One last detail – at f/4.5 it would have been impossible to have both the stars and the foreground in focus. To get over this we first focused on the head of the caiman, started the exposure, triggered the flash and then shifted the focus to infinity as quickly as possible!
Once we set the camera off we had to wait for 40 minutes with our flash-lights dimmed, swatting mosquitos and keeping an eye out for jaguars before we could move on to the next shot. We would take around 4 or 5 shots before midnight then flop into our beds with our alarms set for pre-sunrise so that we could enjoy the good morning light. Needless to say, we left the Pantanal exhausted!
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