Photographing Chameleon's in "Naturalistic" Settings

If you want a place in the Forum Calendar or a shiny medal next to your avatar there are some basic things you will have to do. First understand what the contest is looking for pictures that will ultimately go into the calendar. Nobody wants to be distracted by your fingernails, dirty or painted, when they want to enjoy a chameleon. This is how to go for the win.

Use Good Equipment

Beg, borrow or steal (don't steal, stealing is bad) a decent camera or phone with a decent camera. You will need images of a minimum pixel size to qualify.
Calendar requirements - "Anything less than 2300x1800 will not be considered. Larger images preferred."
Photo contest requirements -"Width: Large photos are preferred. Entries must be at least 1000 pixels wide. Ratio: [smaller side / larger side] Minimum Ratio: >= .56 Accepted image extensions: gif, jpg, png"
This is what I borrow. There are many good alternatives many may already be on your phone.
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You need to get the aspect ratio right you want to shoot your images landscape orientation and not portrait.
Like so:
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So you want wide pictures not tall pictures so they will fit on a wall calendar. Keep your phone or camera in the level position don't go all Zoolander.
I won't go into the technical details as they would fill a book. To keep things simple if your camera/phone has a close up setting use it and get in as physically close to your subject as your chameleon will allow. Avoid using any artificial zoom settings as they tend to degrade the image. If you are technically gifted by all means use your favorite f-stop, exposure etc.


Set the Stage

The clutter in your bedroom maybe your natural environment but chameleons look better without your sock drawer in the background. Create a simple back ground. One very successful medal winner used nothing but a white background for all of their pictures. Those white tri-folds that the schools love to have as project boards work well. Putting a plant and some branches in front of a white board is a great way to make a chameleons colors pop. A dark background can also produce nice contrast for lighter colored animals.

I personally prefer to do my photos outdoors. I have access to a full lighting kit but the chameleons like the outdoors better and just look better outside. I try to get early morning or early evening light. Full sun seems to overexpose them or they just turn dark to bask so quickly you don't get them at their best. I make a revolving platform so I don't have to chase them around to get the angle I want. I cover it in fresh cut leafy branches and flowers and use florist wire or zip ties to hold things in place. This is my most recent stage with a dark green tree as a background. I used podocarpus and variegated ginger for this arrangement.
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If you back out a little you can see how I make it rotate.
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It is just a rotating patio chair. I can slowly rotate them into the background and lighting I want without harassing them.
I use some white board wrapped in foil to reflect light up and prevent harsh under shadows.

If you don't have a nice leafy tree for a backdrop but want something more plant like there are aquarium plants that come in square mats that can be tacked up to form a nice background. You just need to use a low depth of field so the plastic isn't obvious.
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Be Patient and Kind to your Model

Have everything ready to go before you get your chameleon out. Do everything in your power to keep things stressless, no other pets or chaos. I also don't use mirrors or other chameleons to get them to flair. I let them settle in and explore a little and when they seem relaxed slowly photograph them. Take lots of pictures from a variety of angles. I try to shoot at their eye level or below for the majority of my pictures. I keep the session short, 15 minutes maximum, then they get to bask for a while and then go directly home. Pamper them like the little divas they are.

Editing Less is More

I use Photoshop but only to crop my photos, adjust contrast and over all light levels. I occasionally blur out some background items for the calendar contest. If you use the toucan setting on your camera or tweak the colors or saturation it will show in the rest of the photo. I personally will not vote for a photo where the branches or background are artificially blue or red. The most important thing I do is crop the photo to draw the eye to the subject. Any photo editing software will allow you to crop images. Try a few different crop sizes to see what looks best just maintain the aspect ratio and sufficient pixels.

Use a good camera, set a nice stage, pamper your model and don't go nuts editing and I'll see you in the next photo contest.

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