Behind the Frame (Macro Photography): Cape Thick-toed Gecko portrait

Shivan Parusnath Macro, Shivan, Uncategorized 1 Comment

Happy #macromonday!

As an aside to Instagram, I often upload my favourite photos (macro and otherwise) to One of the features of is that it produces a “pulse” rating, based on the number of views and likes a photo receives over a 24 hour period. While this number is also dependent on the number of followers you have, the time of day you post etc, and should be taken with a pinch of salt, it can be an interesting experience to see how other photographers rate your images. For today’s behind the frame article I decided to discuss the photo that has received the highest “pulse” over my two years on 500px, a portrait of a Cape Thick-toed Gecko (Pachydactylus capensis). Top Rated photos. – my top rated photos.

Last June I accompanied a colleague to the Ezemvelo Nature Reserve in Gauteng for a meeting, giving me some time to go herping and do some macro photography. Being the middle winter, reptile activity was minimal, but after an hour or two of searching, I found a baby Cape Thick-toed Gecko (Pachydactylus capensis). Here is a photo of this tiny gecko on a 6cm long leaf for scale:


Cape Thick-toed Gecko on a leaf, for scale.


Pachydactylus capensis is a fairly common species in Gauteng, and many homes and gardens in Johannesburg will have these small geckos sharing a house with them. Given that this was likely to be my only subject for the day, I decided to spend some time with it. Many commonly found species are also commonly photographed, and so capturing the species of interest from a different viewpoint, angle or style is important to differentiate your image from a sea of similar images.

Since this neonatal gecko was almost the same colour as the rock it was on, including the flecks of orange, I did not want to frame it on this background as it would easily get lost (which is the purpose of its colouration and pattern, after all). Some of the rocks in the vicinity were covered in bright green lichen, and I decided to place the gecko on this surface to create a contrast between the luminous green of the lichen and the reddish brown skin of the gecko.

Once the gecko was released onto the rock, I got into position, low on the ground, and waited for the small lizard to stop moving. I chose the MP-E 65mm 1-5x macro lens for this photo, since this lens would allow me to produce a close portrait of the lizard, and emphasise the details of the eye and head. Besides just making an attractive foreground, the lichen was also a great background, and I used a relatively large aperture for macro of f/7.1 so that the lichen would remain blurry and out of focus. I used a diffused MT-24ex twin flash to illuminate this shot, and as per usual when shooting with a flash, shot at 1/200th of a second. I used an ISO speed of 160 to minimise noise. This is the final shot:


The hero shot.

Besides being my photo with the highest 500px pulse, it is also one of my personal favourite images. One of the reasons I love it is that it celebrates a common species, and reminds me that any animal can make for a stunning image, it just takes a unique perspective to do so.

Important note: This was a wild gecko, and much care was taken while handling it. Being aware of its small size, I took care to not let it overheat, and released it in exactly the same spot I found it in. A future article is planned on the ethics of macro photography so that potential macro photographers are aware of do’s and don’t’s when working up close with small animals.

Hope you enjoyed this behind the frame post, and look forward to more macro articles soon!

About the Author

Shivan Parusnath


I am currently doing my PhD research on the conservation of the Sungazer (Smaug giganteus), a threatened South African lizard species, at Wits University in JHB. Working with reptiles over the past 6 years has fueled my obsession with macro photography. My aim with photography is always to portray a subject on its own level, whether a lion, a lizard or an ant. I am also excited by in-habitat shots, where the subject is shown in the context of its natural habitat. This is great specifically for rare or threatened species, so people who might not readily get an opportunity to see these animals can gain a greater appreciation for where the species fits into the bigger picture.

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  1. Pingback: Behind the Frame (Macro Photography): Cape Thick-toed Gecko portrait - Africa Freak

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