Photographing Komodo Dragons

Photographing Komodo Dragons

I recently travelled to the remote Indonesian islands of Komodo and Rinca in order to photograph one of the most prehistoric animals on Earth – the Komodo dragon.

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These are the world’s largest lizards growing up to 3m-long and sometimes weighing upwards 70kg! They are relics from an era when these huge reptiles roamed over much of Indonesia and Australia.

As usual, I set myself the challenge of photographing the animals from a different perspective; I wanted to show how intimidating these giant lizards are by getting my camera close and using a wide-angle lens.

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However, Komodo dragons are notoriously dangerous, opportunistic predators, so one might go for me if I were to get too close.

Getting bitten was not high on my agenda as they are powerful animals with sharp, serrated teeth and saliva that is a deadly cocktail of virulent bacteria!

To overcome this challenge I devised a plan that involved mounting my camera on top of two wheels (that I pillaged from my computer chair) and then using a long monopod to push the rig around. This would give me a bit more room to work with when approaching the dragons.

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I named the new contraption “KomodoCam” and packed it into my luggage.

Komodo Island was even more primordial than I had imagined… unwelcoming jagged peaks rose from the interior of the island and it was oppressively hot.

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As my boat approached, dark storm clouds were gathering overhead, turning the sea black. It felt very wild.

Shortly after stepping off the boat, I came across my first dragon. It was slumbering in the shade. As it raised its head lazily, a string of putrid saliva dangled from the corner of its mouth.

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It flicked its long, forked tongue in and out as it tasted the air.

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Using this incredible sense, dragons are able to detect a dead or dying animal up to 9km away! Despite the size of the animal, it was surprisingly well camouflaged. Komodo dragons rely on their camouflage to ambush their prey; as an animal passes by, they will launch and explosive attack.

If they inflict a wound that does not immediately kill the animal, they will follow it for days until it dies from the inevitable infection. I spent a lot of time looking for a suitable dragon to use KomodoCam on.

It was a frustrating as often, either the terrain wasn’t suitable, or there were several dragons in the area, making it too dangerous to approach closely. It wasn’t until the end of my second day that an opportunity to use KomodoCam finally presented itself. I found a large, solitary dragon in a nice, flat clearing.

I set up the rig and cautiously approached, being careful not to make any sudden movements that might awaken its predatory instincts! As the camera started clicking, the dragon eyed it menacingly and flicked its tongue out to investigate.

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To my relief, the dragon deemed that my camera wasn’t edible and I came away with the shots I had hoped for.

This project highlights the importance of planning, preparation and perseverance in wildlife photography. For me this process started several weeks before my trip, as I envisaged the photographs I hoped to get and then worked out how I could realise them.

Once I was out in Indonesia there was little more I could do if KomodoCam proved ineffective, but through perseverance I was eventually able to find a suitable dragon and get the shots I wanted.

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Free Desktop Background – To thank you for your support, I have made one of my favourite images taken with KomodoCam available as a free high-resolution desktop background! You can download it from our facebook page. To see more of my Komodo dragon images please checkout the Komodo Dragon post on my website.

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William Burrard-Lucas is a professional wildlife photographer from the UK and founder of Camtraptions. Camtraptions provides a range of products for remote and camera trap photography, including a PIR Motion Sensor and Camera Housing. Will has also created a comprehensive training resource with a free downloadable guide and video series, which can be found here: Camera Trap Photography Guide.

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