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Hyla rosenbergi
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Not-so-candid Camera

I've taken thousands of pictures of hundreds of herps over the past several years. My modus operandi has always been to photograph the animals where found, or in some cases handle them just enough to get them in the open where a photo is possible. However, many (I think most, or perhaps nearly all) herp photographs are done differently: the animals are caught when found and transported elsewhere at a later time for the photo session.

This has many obvious advantages over photographing the animal where found. It's easier to capture a quick-moving critter than to get a photograph of it before it scurries away. You can later find an escape-proof place to set up the animal, and take as many pictures as you want. You can calm the animal down by handling it or just letting it rest so it will sit still for pictures. You can prepare an uncluttered background and set up your camera at your leisure before placing the animal. You can take pictures of nocturnal animals by daylight. You have plenty of opportunity to carefully identify the animal, which sometimes involves counting scales or examining obscure body parts. And so on.

There are also at least a couple of practical disadvantages (I won't bother discussing philosophical disadvantages here). The captured animal may not pose naturally, either because it's frightened or because it's in an unnatural setting (for example, a highly arboreal snake posed on a flat surface). And by removing the animal from its habitat, you've lost the chance to capture relevant environmental information in the photograph.

I had mixed feelings about the capture-photograph-release style, which I was not used to, but I certainly appreciated its advantages. In our case, another big advantage was having Bill Lamar as our herp wrangler and photography instructor. Bill has been doing this for a long time, and is an expert on all aspects of the process, from capturing herps to getting them to sit still in a photo-worthy pose to choosing films, lenses, camera settings, and angles. And he is completely free about sharing his expertise. I learned many useful tips about herp photography in these sessions with Bill.

Here are some photos I took of herps that we had captured earlier. (Some of the other photos in this story are also of pre-captured animals.)

Sibon nebulata Mastigodryas melanomus
We caught this Sibon nebulata on the road at night, and this Mastigodryas melanolomus in the forest by day. It's highly unlikely that I could have gotten this close to either of these snakes in the wild.
Terciopelo in glass Terciopelo in glass
Bothrops asper is a widely feared common venomous snake in Central America. It is perhaps best known as "Fer-de-lance", but that name is also applied to many related species. Alejandro caught this little one hunting at night on the grounds of Esquinas Lodge. It was in a frisky mood when we wanted to photograph it the next day, so Bill ended up putting it under an overturned drinking glass to get it to coil and calm down, which worked like a charm.
Dendrobates auratus
Alejandro caught this gorgeous poison frog by day near a stream. I had seen one on an earlier trip to Costa Rica, but since I didn't catch it I ended up with only one very poor photograph. This one kept trying to walk or hop away from the leaves on which we wanted it to pose, but eventually Bill convinced it to sit still for long enough to get some photos.
Agalychnis callidryas
Agalychnis callidryas is probably the most photographed amphibian in the world, due to its striking colors, relative abundance, angular body and legs, reasonably large size, and general cooperativeness. We found one high up on a leaf, and a pair in amplexus on the road, all at night. By day, when they're not being photographed, they fold in their legs, close their eyes, and generally try to be small and inconspicuous.
Corytophanes cristatus Corytophanes cristatus
Corytophanes cristatus was my favorite species from this trip. They are so very odd-looking, and they have the marvelous property of sitting completely still for hours at a time. I found the first one by flashlight at night, then later other people found two more. In Belize they call these guys "old man lizards" because they move so infrequently.
Next: The Adventures of Bill and Alejandro

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