Photographing Komodo Dragons

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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.

dragon.jpg

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.

komodo_dragon.jpg

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.

komodocam.jpg

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.

approaching_komodo.jpg

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.

drooling_dragon.jpg

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

curious_dragon.jpg

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.

komodocam-in-action.jpg

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.

slumbering_dragon.jpg

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.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

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.

  • Amazing how just a little planning and good thinking can give you the idea for the komodocam and how that planning and good thinking securd you some awesoome photos!

  • Hi

    Wow – what a great adventure and I like the custom gear to avois danger while still allowing one to get “close enough” to shoot these incredible creatures. The use of a wide angle lens really accentuates the size the the Dragon and allows for some interesting foreground! Excellent work!

    Erik Kerstenbeck
    Kerstenbeck Photographic Art
    http://www.kerstenbeck.com

  • Dragons are always great!

    This is a Eastern Water Dragon close-up – almost as fun as a Komodo but more widely available (at least in Australia):

    http://www.focx.de/2010/11/18/eastern-water-dragon/

    I really love the colorful scales!

  • Madison Raine

    Those creatures are evil!! Well that’s what I think. Theses pictures are very well done though. 🙂
    My Nikon is ready for pickup!!!!! Yay!

  • Amazing! Absolutely amazing. Compelling story. I read it through and through.

    I do car photography for my website http://CustomPinoyRides.com

    However, I’ve always dreamed of doing wildlife photography the way they do it at Discovery or National Geographic. This gives me a new perspective in wildlife photography. Thanks!

  • Brid O’Neill

    Great pics. Came across one of these guys over 19 years ago by accident but unfortunately didn’t have camera to hand!

  • Andrew Matteson

    awesome!

  • dok

    Thanks Will for this article. A question : with your KomodoCam what distance where you from these dragons ?

  • Great effort and very skillfully created setup for shooitng the dragon.

  • Amazing pictures! Even using your KomodoCam would have been far too close for me.

  • scottc

    Great article and amazing photos, thanks for sharing your plan, technique, and experience.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/

  • wow amazing photos, great plan!!!

  • Teach us how to make the kommodocam.

  • Hailey

    I cannot believe I close you were to that dragon!! I thought the KomodoCam was going to give you a relatively safe distance, but no… You do know that they can run?

    Incidentally, a great book written by Ernest Hemingway’s younger brother Leicester, or actually written from the audio tape Leicester left behind after his own suicide, his daughter Hilary actually wrote the book from that – has the yarn in it where he and Ernest go Komodo hunting, and how he almost got killed by one. As I said, they run. (Name of book is “Hunting with Hemingway.”)

    Thanks for sharing these great, great shots with us. You are very brave!

  • Those are some incredible shots. Amazing job!!!

  • Tiono

    Glad you enjoy your adventure in Indonesia. Komodo Island is one of nominees for new 7 wonders of nature. If you guys love it maybe could help to vote for it.

  • wow nice planning and great pics… *grab his gear and run to the backyard to look for wandering Komodo Dragons 🙂

  • Sigit W.Wijayanto

    ..thanks for visiting my country, Will. Anyhow, this picture was taken at Safari Park in West Java…[eimg link=’http://www.flickr.com/photos/89966509@N00/5233636947/’ title=’7 wonder of the nature world’ url=’http://farm6.static.flickr.com/5127/5233636947_502e516ae4.jpg’]

  • Excellent resourcefulness in finding a way to get the different type of photographs you wanted. It still looks like you got pretty darn close to the dragons though!

  • Amazing! Thanks for sharing of your experience from Komodo Island. I’m from Indonesia and very proud of this.

    This is another picture of Komodo which I taken at one of the zoo:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/baraqatax/4910644470/in/photostream

  • Terrific post Will! I had no idea they could get so large.. definitely as close to prehistoric as you can get. We look forward to future wildlife postings! Keep up the great work.

  • Killian

    What a cool article, and a great idea! thank you for sharing this with us. Made my whole day.

  • Nicely done 🙂

  • First – Catch a Komodo Dragon 🙂

  • Jeff

    What an ingenious solution! Great shots, looks like your setup worked well. Looks like you could have used bigger wheels to get through the sand, though. Was that a problem? Did you have any problems with the flash mounted so close to the camera but to the side? Did it cause the contralateral side of the image to have a shadow from the lens? Best, Jeff

  • Selena

    Very refreshing article! What were you shooting with and what was the main setting/s you used?
    And who was taking the picture of you taking the picture?
    thanks for sharing!

  • Lensmen

    I got to salute you.

    When I was in Komodo, I had to max zoom in for my shots and forcefully accept whatever lighting conditions.

    Your close up are really fantastic.

    Made my day. Ole !

  • kevin

    Hi Darren,

    Congratulations on the arrival of your baby. I have been receiving DPS updates from you for some time now, but never had any comments from me and so i thought i should thank you and i must say its great receiving all that info on photography. It has given me the insights of so much learning and thanks to all those on DPS, its a learning pleasure. And Will that’s a wonderful piece of creation you done with the komodocam. I love the shots you have take and no way better to do it. Congrats!

    Kevin from Sri Lanka

  • we also have some awesome large lizards in Australia
    This Goanna in the link below is one I photo’ed in Appin, a bit south of Sydney.
    They have excellent tree climbing abilities

    http://www.sydneystormcity.com/DSCF3009.JPG

    cheers
    Dave

  • I cant wait to get there!!! Love the shots and the set up, very well thought out! Though I do have to say you are much more game than I am putting that set up so close to that dinosaur!!! What insurance company were you using 🙂

Some Older Comments

  • Blue Sky Photography July 19, 2011 06:42 pm

    I cant wait to get there!!! Love the shots and the set up, very well thought out! Though I do have to say you are much more game than I am putting that set up so close to that dinosaur!!! What insurance company were you using :)

  • Dave Nelson July 18, 2011 07:40 am

    we also have some awesome large lizards in Australia
    This Goanna in the link below is one I photo'ed in Appin, a bit south of Sydney.
    They have excellent tree climbing abilities

    http://www.sydneystormcity.com/DSCF3009.JPG

    cheers
    Dave

  • kevin July 15, 2011 03:17 pm

    Hi Darren,

    Congratulations on the arrival of your baby. I have been receiving DPS updates from you for some time now, but never had any comments from me and so i thought i should thank you and i must say its great receiving all that info on photography. It has given me the insights of so much learning and thanks to all those on DPS, its a learning pleasure. And Will that's a wonderful piece of creation you done with the komodocam. I love the shots you have take and no way better to do it. Congrats!

    Kevin from Sri Lanka

  • Lensmen July 15, 2011 10:03 am

    I got to salute you.

    When I was in Komodo, I had to max zoom in for my shots and forcefully accept whatever lighting conditions.

    Your close up are really fantastic.

    Made my day. Ole !

  • Selena July 15, 2011 05:49 am

    Very refreshing article! What were you shooting with and what was the main setting/s you used?
    And who was taking the picture of you taking the picture?
    thanks for sharing!

  • Jeff July 15, 2011 04:03 am

    What an ingenious solution! Great shots, looks like your setup worked well. Looks like you could have used bigger wheels to get through the sand, though. Was that a problem? Did you have any problems with the flash mounted so close to the camera but to the side? Did it cause the contralateral side of the image to have a shadow from the lens? Best, Jeff

  • Bill Szatkowski July 15, 2011 01:41 am

    First - Catch a Komodo Dragon :)

  • Matt Dutile July 13, 2011 05:50 am

    Nicely done :)

  • Killian July 13, 2011 01:35 am

    What a cool article, and a great idea! thank you for sharing this with us. Made my whole day.

  • Bumblejax Photo Mounting July 13, 2011 01:15 am

    Terrific post Will! I had no idea they could get so large.. definitely as close to prehistoric as you can get. We look forward to future wildlife postings! Keep up the great work.

  • tanoto July 13, 2011 12:59 am

    Amazing! Thanks for sharing of your experience from Komodo Island. I'm from Indonesia and very proud of this.

    This is another picture of Komodo which I taken at one of the zoo:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/baraqatax/4910644470/in/photostream

  • Jason St. Petersburg Photographer July 13, 2011 12:39 am

    Excellent resourcefulness in finding a way to get the different type of photographs you wanted. It still looks like you got pretty darn close to the dragons though!

  • Sigit W.Wijayanto July 12, 2011 08:04 pm

    ..thanks for visiting my country, Will. Anyhow, this picture was taken at Safari Park in West Java...[eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/89966509@N00/5233636947/' title='7 wonder of the nature world' url='http://farm6.static.flickr.com/5127/5233636947_502e516ae4.jpg']

  • Ryan July 12, 2011 04:31 pm

    wow nice planning and great pics... *grab his gear and run to the backyard to look for wandering Komodo Dragons :)

  • Tiono July 12, 2011 12:19 pm

    Glad you enjoy your adventure in Indonesia. Komodo Island is one of nominees for new 7 wonders of nature. If you guys love it maybe could help to vote for it.

  • Carlos July 12, 2011 11:26 am

    Those are some incredible shots. Amazing job!!!

  • Hailey July 12, 2011 11:16 am

    I cannot believe I close you were to that dragon!! I thought the KomodoCam was going to give you a relatively safe distance, but no... You do know that they can run?

    Incidentally, a great book written by Ernest Hemingway's younger brother Leicester, or actually written from the audio tape Leicester left behind after his own suicide, his daughter Hilary actually wrote the book from that - has the yarn in it where he and Ernest go Komodo hunting, and how he almost got killed by one. As I said, they run. (Name of book is "Hunting with Hemingway.")

    Thanks for sharing these great, great shots with us. You are very brave!

  • Joe Miller July 12, 2011 10:35 am

    Teach us how to make the kommodocam.

  • diaha July 12, 2011 09:54 am

    wow amazing photos, great plan!!!

  • scottc July 12, 2011 07:19 am

    Great article and amazing photos, thanks for sharing your plan, technique, and experience.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/

  • Heather July 12, 2011 06:36 am

    Amazing pictures! Even using your KomodoCam would have been far too close for me.

  • Shobhit July 12, 2011 06:31 am

    Great effort and very skillfully created setup for shooitng the dragon.

  • dok July 12, 2011 05:02 am

    Thanks Will for this article. A question : with your KomodoCam what distance where you from these dragons ?

  • Andrew Matteson July 12, 2011 05:01 am

    awesome!

  • Brid O'Neill July 12, 2011 04:21 am

    Great pics. Came across one of these guys over 19 years ago by accident but unfortunately didn't have camera to hand!

  • THE aSTIG @ CustomPinoyRides.com July 12, 2011 02:47 am

    Amazing! Absolutely amazing. Compelling story. I read it through and through.

    I do car photography for my website http://CustomPinoyRides.com

    However, I've always dreamed of doing wildlife photography the way they do it at Discovery or National Geographic. This gives me a new perspective in wildlife photography. Thanks!

  • Madison Raine July 12, 2011 02:16 am

    Those creatures are evil!! Well that's what I think. Theses pictures are very well done though. :)
    My Nikon is ready for pickup!!!!! Yay!

  • Focx Photography July 12, 2011 01:47 am

    Dragons are always great!

    This is a Eastern Water Dragon close-up - almost as fun as a Komodo but more widely available (at least in Australia):

    http://www.focx.de/2010/11/18/eastern-water-dragon/

    I really love the colorful scales!

  • Erik Kerstenbeck July 12, 2011 01:28 am

    Hi

    Wow - what a great adventure and I like the custom gear to avois danger while still allowing one to get "close enough" to shoot these incredible creatures. The use of a wide angle lens really accentuates the size the the Dragon and allows for some interesting foreground! Excellent work!

    Erik Kerstenbeck
    Kerstenbeck Photographic Art
    www.kerstenbeck.com

  • andreas July 12, 2011 01:26 am

    Amazing how just a little planning and good thinking can give you the idea for the komodocam and how that planning and good thinking securd you some awesoome photos!

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