ARTICLE

Fergus Kennedy on the challenge of photographing Komodo dragons

Photographing Komodo dragons in a natural environment, with the right light, was a challenge for photographer Fergus Kennedy. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens. © Fergus Kennedy

Only a handful of islands in the world are home to the impressively large lizard species Varanus komodoensis – better known as the Komodo dragon. Commercial photographer and videographer Fergus Kennedy spent a few challenging days seeking out the perfect shot of them on the island of Rinca in the Komodo National Park, Indonesia.

When Fergus arrived at the island of Rinca, he was astonished to soon find some of the giant lizards – which can grow up to three metres in length and weigh up to 70kg – by the ranger station. "I was surprised at how many tourists go to visit them – it's a bit like a zoo," Fergus says. "The dragons get fed and pick up scraps, so they end up hanging around near where the rangers are."

However, Fergus' mission was to capture the Komodo dragons' behaviour in their natural habitat, which would be much more difficult, but more interesting. "Being a biologist I'm interested in animal behaviour – it was one of the things I studied at university," he says.

Christian Ziegler’s

Join the newsletter

Click here to get inspiring stories and exciting news from Canon Europe Pro

"We had discussions with the ranger about what they would be doing at particular times of day – they come out in the morning and lie in the sun to warm up because [being cold-blooded] they need to get warm enough to become active. After that, they're active for a short while, and then it gets too hot in the middle of the day, so they lie in the shade again."

This research helped him to form an idea of how he could execute the shoot. "You always go out with your pre-conceived ideas about how you're going to find them or shoot them, but usually it ends up being completely different once you're out there – there was no exception with this."

A man pushes a wooden cart laden with large water containers down a path, a Komodo dragon walking ahead of him.
Near the ranger station on Rinca, Komodo dragons come close to humans, who feed them scraps. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens. © Fergus Kennedy

Komodos bite you and then you die of toxic infections, which sounds very unpleasant.

He went out trekking with a ranger to try to locate the dragons in their natural setting, and admits: "It was definitely challenging. It took us a while to find them." They had to walk for hours in intense 35°C heat and humidity up hills, into forests and down valleys. "The rangers are a great help because they know the animals pretty well," Fergus says. "And they regularly warn you about not getting ambushed or bitten by one. Komodos bite you and then you die of toxic infections, which sounds very unpleasant."

Two Komodo dragons lie together, with one's head on top of the other's.
Komodo dragons lie still for large portions of the day to warm up and cool off, so capturing them on the move required lots of patience. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens. © Fergus Kennedy

For his dragon photos, Fergus took his Canon EOS 5D Mark IV and mainly relied on a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM zoom lens. "I kept the 100-400mm lens on the camera pretty much all of the time, apart from one shot in the video where we put the 11-24mm lens on and put the camera down in the path of a Komodo dragon. It walked right over the top of it, which created a great shot. I wanted to do that with stills, too, but in the end we didn't get another chance."

The footage in the video was possible because Komodo dragons are creatures of habit – they often follow a particular path, so it was possible to anticipate the direction they'd walk in, just not what they'd do along the route, or when they came to a halt. "Once we put the camera, with a wide lens on it, as near to a dragon as we dared to go," laughs Fergus. "We hoped the dragon would move, but it just didn't – it was having a snooze and wanted to stay put."

A Komodo dragon pauses by a tree, sticking its tongue out.
The forest environment was shady in places, but the camera and image stabilised lens tackled the difficult lighting with ease. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens. © Fergus Kennedy

He was glad to have the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM zoom lens to rely on, to produce close crops of the dragons from a safe distance away. "The lens has really good image stabilisation – it was pretty shady in the forest so the shutter speeds were getting lower than you would want to shoot with if you didn't have IS. It's also really sharp throughout the zoom range."

As well as having a reliable telezoom, Fergus prized working with the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV. "The bump up in resolution from the Canon EOS 5D Mark III (30 megapixels from 22.3) is really nice – there's noticeably more detail there, so that's great. You get really clean images out of it at high ISOs.

"There's still that familiar form factor because I've been using the 5D series ever since the first one. Being able to pick it up and just shoot with it without having to adjust your style is great. As with the previous 5Ds, the weather sealing is very useful – when we were with the Komodo dragons it was pretty dusty, so it's always good to know you don't have to be too precious with the camera."

Fergus almost exclusively shoots RAW, which he then adjusts and saves as two versions: smaller JPEGs for web use, and high resolution JPEGs for magazines and print clients.

A close up shows a Komodo dragon's head, neck and front leg, as it walks past the camera and glances over.
For this characterful close-up crop, Fergus shot at 400mm, 1/125 sec, f/5.6 and ISO 2500. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens. © Fergus Kennedy

Fergus captures huge volumes of wildlife images, telling us that on a recent project he shot 4,000 images in one morning. His Komodo dragon shoot was not dissimilar. "Once we had a dragon in the right place I tended to put the camera onto continuous shooting at a high burst rate of about seven frames per second, and in AI Servo focus mode to track the Komodo dragons as they moved towards me. So I shot a lot of photos in a short period of time.

"We didn't have that long once we found dragons in their natural habitat – we were only with them for 10-15 minutes a couple of times, followed by lots of frustration trying to find other ones."

The shoot was difficult, but well worth it. "Finding a dragon in an authentic setting (not by the ranger hut), in good light, was a big challenge. I would love to have captured more images in really low evening light, but it was still fun – a real adventure."


To find out more about the latest in the Canon 5D series, visit the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV product page.

Írta: Steve Fairclough


Fergus Kennedy's kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs

Camera

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

This full-frame 30.4MP DSLR captures incredible detail, even in extreme contrast. Continuous 7fps shooting helps when chasing the perfect moment, while 4K video delivers new levels of performance.

Lens

Video camera

Related articles

View All

Canon Professional Services

A tagok hozzáférést kapnak a CPS-támogatáshoz, mind helyben, mind pedig nagyobb eseményeken; elsőbbségi szervizt és – a tagságuk szintjétől függően – ingyenes cserekészüléket kapnak.

Csatlakozás

További információk

Canon Professional Services

Get the newsletter

Click here to get inspiring stories and exciting news from Canon Europe Pro

Sign up now