Photographing Reptiles Eyes GUSTAVO GALLEGOS Field Report NOV. 2011

Photographing Reptiles

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FLAAR Reports visited Guatemala's Aurora National Zoo.

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Photographing Reptiles Eyes


NOV. 2011

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Don’t miss our photography field trip to the South Pacific of Guatemala

Read here

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Photos: Gustavo Gallegos

Photographing Reptiles eyes

Serpents are central icons in most cosmologies. They are central in Pre-columbian Maya mythology; its patterns are very common in diverse representa-tions. Serpents symbolize the re-birth and the connection with the spiritual world .

The Aurora Zoo in Guatemala City has a collection of endemic animals and plants. It is located in a safe environ-ment, which is perfect for our photog-raphy sessions.

On Monday mornings the zoo closes its doors to the public for maintenance. We enjoyed a sunny Monday morning in the zoo documenting endemic rep-tiles for iconographic and epigraphic research .

In collaboration with the Aurora

National Zoo of Guatemala.

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Our mission was to photograph and record reptile eyes at Parque Zoologi-co Nacional La Aurora. We were looking to work only with endemic species, since they were part of the Maya ecosystem. Carlos Patzán the zoo’s Herpetolo-gist, was very helpful in handling the reptiles for us,he also taught us a lot about the animals that he loves the most, the reptiles.

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Photographing Reptiles Eyes

Baby Moreletti crocodile. Carlos Patzan, Herpetologist, and Gustavo Gallegos

Photos: Gustavo Gallegos and Camila Morales

Our team consisted in Priscila Sandoval, Biologist, Camila Morales, Photogra-pher and FLAAR Production Assistant, and me recording and photographing.


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Photo: Gustavo Gallegos

The day was nice for taking photographs outdoors, so we used at first the sun light, which was not too strong on our subjects, and then we used a Westcott lamp on each side, far enough for separating the subject from the background. To accomplish this we set our lights slightly pointing

to the background and our subject a bit closer to the camera, near the front of the lamps. Our lighting set up was crucial, considering that we were shooting baby reptiles, we put together a light box using two West-cott lamps and a white screen as the ceiling. The sun did the rest.


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Photographing Reptiles Eyes

Photos: Camila Morales

As we were happy with the images, we did not have a need to use any macro flash.

I was filming HD video with the GH2 and taking photographs at the same time while Camila was photographing the shoot and also doing macro photography.

Since the begging we were eager to experiment with this light-ing set up, we used the diffuser of the lamps sticked with the Velcro to diffuse the sun light and accentuate the textures of the characters with a light in each side. Whit this light we could have short exposure times for photographing fast movements.


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Photos: Camila Morales

Photos: Gustavo Gallegos

Before we started the ses-sion Mr. Patzán gave us safety in-structions on how to avoid snake-bite and crocodile bite while shooting.

A very helpful advice was that snakes’ strike up to a distance of 2/3 its size so we had to be po-sitioned accordingly with our equipment if we did not want to end up in a hospital.

Photographing Reptiles Eyes

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In regards with the baby crocodile Mr. Patzán only said that we should not try to touch it, and if we needed to change its position, he would move it for us.

Camila and I were not afraid of it, on the contrary the baby crocodile was so cute we almost forgot it was dan-gerous. And after talking to Mr. Patzán it turned out that our emotional set in regards to the crocodile helped us take better pictures of it.

We learned then that croco-diles have many sensor, for pressure, for vibrations and specially they for sensing fear. One can say that thanks to our amazement and ap-preciation the crocodile was at ease and very relaxed when we photographed it.

Photos: Camila Morales

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Photos: Camila Morales

An important lesson that I learned is that crocodile’s skin dry up very quickly, and it looks very dull on the screen. A quick fix was to have a water bottle near us, and show-er it once every ten minutes or so. The crocodile cooled down and calmed, and the pictures turned out much better too.

Another lesson that we learned is that reptiles charged themselves with solar power. Mr. Patzán said that they are like batteries. Once they are fully charged nothing can stop them.

First cool down, then shoot

Photo: Gustavo Gallegos

Photographing Reptiles Eyes

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Crocodylus moreletiiPhoto: Camila Morales

They move very fast and try to es-cape, no matter if they are high up in a table, heights don’t matter for them. So obviously, after an hour or so our crocodile had to go back to its cage after attempting to fly out from our table a couple of times.


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Our next subject was a tiny, chame-leon looking fellow. It was a Coritofa-mus percarinatus, native to Guatema-la. We learned that his skin changes color depending on its mood and sur-roundings, like the chameleons.

He was a very funny character, for cooling him down Mr. Patzán fed him with worms. He would hold the worm in his mouth and wait sometime be-fore eating it. It looked as if it was smoking a cigar.

Photos: Gustavo Gallegos


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We were lucky with the “cutete” -as it’s known all over Guatemala- because he also collaborated with us during the session. He was very photogenic and seemed very interested in the worms.

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Photos: Gustavo Gallegos

After he charged up with the sun and lights, he was trying to climb out of our set, so after some shots we decided to give it back to Mr. Patzán, and let him cool down for a possible later session.

Photographing Reptiles Eyes


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Photographing Reptiles Eyes

This photo was taken with a Lumix GH2 by Panasonic , and a 100 mm macro lenses by Canon, on a Manfrotto video head.

The versatility of brands of lenses that Gustavo can use with this camera is one of the main reasons why we acquired it.

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“Cutete”Coritofamus Percarinatus Photo: Gustavo Gallegos

Photo P. 14: Persea scheideana By Camila Morales


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Photographing Reptiles Eyes

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Fuerte and the strongest seedling

Our last subject was a baby rattlesnake, Persea scheideana. This was a beautiful animal to say the least. We were extra careful with this speci-men even though it was a baby it wasn’t that small. His estimated age was six months but Mr. Patzán said he wasn’t quite sure about it since it was a new addition to the zoo’s snake collection. The police rescued it when some people try to smuggle and sell it illegally. So being new to the collection it was hard to state its age accurately.

This specimen was harder to work with because being a baby it charged up quite fast and he just could not stay in one place without trying to escape. There was a couple of times when we thought it was going to come after us, but Mr. Patzán handled the situation in a very profession-al manner, he realized that only with a meal our snake friend could stay steady for sometime. And it did, well at least for a little bit while devour-ing a small rat.


Photo: Camila Morales

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Top Photo: Gustavo Gallegos Photo: Camila Morales

Around four o’clock we had to pack up our equipment and get going because the zoo was closing at that time. We wished we could stay and shoot more and plan to go back in the near future to photograph and video more species of reptiles.

This project is part of a series of photographs and videos on reptile eyes of Me-soamerica. Whit a database of the animals, the iconographic dissertation can

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Photographing Reptiles Eyes

be more complete.

In the Photo above we can see a diamond pattern, this, as many other identify specific serpents in Maya iconography.

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Photographing Reptiles Eyes

Zoologico La AuroraCiudad de GuatemalaGuatemala

Carlos Patzán Herpetologist