Wildlife and Nature Photography Tips 23 - Gold Found in the Sandwich Islands


I just returned from a recent visit to the Sandwich islands. For those of you who have no knowledge of this name, no bells going off in the head, these are the Hawaiian Islands. Named by Captain James Cook for a collegue of his at the time.

This blog, will be targeting a very specific subject - the Gold Dust Gecko (Phelsuma laticauda) (GDG). While this lizard is not the fancifull insurance sales rep you might want it to be, They provide a wonderful and beautiful subject in front of the camera lens.

The GDG is now a common resident of the Islands. Like many of us, it is not a native species, but was introduced from Madagascar many moons ago. Many, and I would venture to say, most geckos, are nocturnal. That means, they prefer to be most active after the sun disappears each day to recharge for the following morning's light.

You are probably asking why I would spend a blog on techniques for shooting this subject? Well, once you view a couple of the images, you will probably want to plan your next trip to Hawaii with the sole intent to capture images of this outstanding and beautiful creature.

If you have spent any time shooting wildlife, you have figured out that researching the animal plays a major role in locating and setting up for shooting a specific species. The GDG is diurnal. It is out and about in the daylight hours. But how do you know if they are in the area you are shooting?

GDG, like many geckos, have the habit of hanging around outdoor lights at night - just like many of the other nocturnal species. This provides you with the opportunity to locate lizards during the day as well. Instead of sitting in front of the TV screen in the condo or hotel you are visiting, dusk will be the time for you to do your scouting. Yes, this does mean you may miss your favorite sitcom, ball game, etc. but you only live once, right? I say, "watch the re-runs".

Anyway, you will want to find places where the lights illuminate the side of a wall. This attracts insects, which in turn are the food for your lizard photo friends. If you wander, stay out until it is very dark as some of the lizards have realized they don't survive predator attacks if it is still light outside - it is a sharp learning curve here .

If you don't locate any lizards, make sure there are plants around as well as a wall with a light. They require a place to hide, and the foliage is a perfect one for them. If you spot one or two you are on your way to the next step. The following morning, when it is light, grab your camera and tripod and head back down to the location of the previous night's sighting. These subjects are bright green, so your next step is to find them in the bushes nearby the place you located them the previous night.

DON'T "Beat the bushes", in an attempt to flush them out. This is why I said bring a tripod. I was able to locate the lizards after waiting approximately 20-30 minutes. If you are still, you will notice them moving from one leaf to another. If you are moving around searching for them, chances are they will spot you first, and the game is over - that is until you decide to use your most useful tool...knowing that lizards have short memories. This means if you are motionless for a while, they forget that you were close by.

When choosing plants to stand near, or alongside, flowering trees such as plumeria or palms with blossoms are a good choice, You will notice in one of my captures (see below), the gecko was taking nectar from the blossoms. Yes, these species feed on nectar, just like hummingbirds, and bees. So you should find the nearby trees that are providing this energy source for your lizard shooting.

Now, for the equipment you will need to make your captures. If you are the stealthful, patient type of individual, you will not need a lens longer than 200mm. Athough I was using the Nikkor 80-400mm lens, it was not a "have to have" deal. It enabled me to shoot sooner than if I had used the shorter lens.

Noise is not an issue with these critters, though when you are up closer with the shorter lens, movement will be. Remember, these lizards are eating small insects hidden among the foliage, they can, for certain, spot you if you can't keep still.

When you locate one, just stop and watch it for a while. If it moves behind a leaf, you can shift a bit closer. Try to anticipate where the lizard is heading - are there some blossoms on the next branch over, or an insect twitching its wings or cleaning its appendages that has caught the eye of the lizard? This is how you set up the ambush.

If you are using a long lens or zoom, the tripod will help a lot. I try to use a faster shutter speed, so sometimes the ISO is pretty high. I think some of these shots were at ISO 1000 or higher. If you have an abundant light source, you can choose to lower the ISO.

Camera gear is not super important, though the better gear can sometimes capture better shots. I have seen some images of this animal captured on cell phones. The important ingredient here is stealth and patience.

Now the next time you travel to the islands that captain Cook named after his buddy, you will want to hang out near the shrubbery and "give the geckos a go".

And by the way...Happy shooting until next time.

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