The Alligator Picture

I’ve said before that once a person gets a camera in their hands, they will do some crazy things to “get the shot” that they would never do if the camera was not there.

I am no exception to that rule.

Clyde Butcher is a photographer who is mostly known for his nature photography of the Sunshine State. He’s a nice guy and a Florida treasure. Back in the innocent days of 2010, I took a trip to go camping in the Everglades. On my way down I stopped at Clyde’s Big Cypress Gallery.

As I pulled into the parking area I saw a gator sunning himself by the entrance, just chilling out, so of course I walked over there with my camera. He wasn’t a big guy. I’d guess between six and eight feet in length.

Gator story, pt 1

Gators are common in Florida. We joke (with some basis in reality) that any pool of water large enough to contain an alligator will, at some point, contain an alligator. Usually what we see is just the nose and eyes sticking up out of the water. To see a gator sunning himself (herself?) is not strange, but it’s not quite as common if you live in a suburban area like I do.

So I was moving around the gator and trying to get a better angle for a picture. He saw me, and he wasn’t showing any signs of aggression such as opening his mouth or hissing. I moved in front of the alligator.

Gator story, pt 2

Don’t try this at home. From this point on I will freely admit that I was being an idiot. As awkward as gators look on land, they are fast. As kids in school they teach you to zig-zag away from gators because they can outrun you in a straight line but they don’t corner very well. Chill as this guy looks, I was now taking a risk. Most people reading this will think that I’m crazy or that I have a deathwish.

And yet, I know that some photographer out there is thinking “c’mon, you can do better than that!” Hell, it’s what I was thinking, so I wanted to find a better angle. Like I said, without the camera I would never have been in that position, six feet in front of an alligator’s toothy grin.

I wanted to get lower, but there was an obstacle in my way. In the first picture you can see a guardrail reflected in the water. That guardrail is on the side of US-41, a.k.a. Tamiami Trail. The second picture was taken while holding the camera on top of the guardrail. The only way I could get a lower angle and stay out of arm’s reach was to shoot UNDER the guardrail. After a few attempts at putting the camera on the ground, it was apparent that the only way I could properly frame the picture was to get down there with the camera. This shows you where I was, on the small piece of dry land between the parking area and the water.

I waited for a break in the traffic, took a step out onto the highway, and I got down on my stomach to get a quick picture. I was trying to look left and right down the highway to make sure I didn’t get flattened by a truck, all while keeping an eye on the gator to make sure he stayed put, and trying to frame a picture and operate the camera at the same time.

I was probably on the ground for less than 20 seconds. During that time, no traffic snuck up on me and the gator stayed put. I checked the camera, decided I’d had enough adventure for the time being and went to tour the gallery.

On my way into the gallery, a lady got out of her car with her young daughter and I told her there was a gator over by the entrance sign if she was interested. We were probably a hundred feet from it at this point, and the lady rushed her daughter inside the gallery and away from the gator before I could draw my next breath, as if the gator would rocket across the parking lot.

Ten years ago when I bought my camera, camera displays weren’t as bright as they are now. When I checked the picture I could see that it was crooked but the gator was in the frame, and I didn’t bother to go peeking at individual pixels.

Maybe I should have. I didn’t really see the picture until I got home a few days later. I don’t think I’ve ever posted this before, but here is the shot where I risked getting pancaked by a truck and/or eaten by an alligator so that I could get a picture that is focused on some nice grass that is next to an out-of-focus alligator.

Gator story, pt 3

Sometimes you just don’t get the shot. I occasionally wonder, if I’d known at the time that the picture was out-of-focus, if I’d have gotten down on my stomach and tried again.

We’ll never know.

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