MIAMI (CBSMiami) - Whether it's feeding wild animals at the Everglades Alligator Farm or taking pictures, Mario Aldecoa is the kind guy who really gets into his work. Cruise his website and you'll find plenty of pictures featuring huge gators up close.
"My style photography, I want the viewer right there. I want that animal. I want the viewer to think they are in the gators mouth." Aldecoa explained to CBS4's David Sutta.
In February he was going for another awesome shot, but this time at night.
"The camera was on a tripod. I was much closer to the water." he said.
The reason to get so close? He's using a wide-angle lens. There are approximately 200 gators in the pond. Big boys, you know, 10-feet-long, 500 pounds. More than 1000 pounds per square inch in their bite.
Aldecoa tells the story. "A flash went off and an alligator just grabbed the camera. It was just a split second lunged forward."
Aldecoa was startled at that moment. After years of working with the wild animals he had become perhaps a little too comfortable.
"I was able to grab the tripod leg as the alligator grabbed the camera. So I'm holding on to the leg and he was pulling me in the water. I was pulling back as hard as I can and with one swipe of his head he just took it out of my hand completely," said Aldecoa.
He backed out of the pond, trying to understand what had happened.
"I was actually quite shaken up after the incident because I realized how close I was to the camera and I realized that if that alligator would have grabbed my arm or my leg it was not going to let go." Aldecoa said.
As it turns out, maybe the night shoot wasn't such a great idea.
"They can see at night, first of all, excellent vision, and they hunt at night. They rely on stealth and that's exactly this alligator did." he said.
The young photographer wrote off the camera and saved for a new one. Friends all joked with him.
"Everyone said it's a great story. And I'm like the image was going to be a great story." Aldecoa said.
As luck would have it, the camera surfaced.
"Eight months later they are doing an alligator feeding show and alligator walks out of the pond and the camera strap is attached to its leg and it brings the camera on land," he said.
The camera lens had bite marks and the body had chew marks as well. Holes punctured some button and the LCD was cracked. Somehow, volumes of sand flooded the camera as well.
"Let's just say the camera is not going to be repaired anytime soon." Aldecoa joked.
With the help of some pliers he managed to bust out the memory card. He wiped off rust and dirt of the card with rubbing alcohol and let it sit out to dry. A day later, he popped it in his computer. To his surprise one shot came out.
It's a shot of the night sky. Dozens of gators, near and far, are staring at him.
"In the image you see in the distance lots of alligators. Little orbs of red from their eyes and the front portion you see three or four really big gators. And I'm pretty sure one of those is the one that grabbed the camera." Aldecoa said.
Mario plans to display the camera and the picture at the Everglades Alligator Farm, a sort of addition to the tourist attraction.
He said Thursday he wants to return at night to the pond to perfect his shot.
"I want people to appreciate the animals I'm taking pictures of. Alligators and reptiles and crocodiles they are portrayed as always the bad guys, this story doesn't help, but they are much more than that," Aldecoa said.
To see more of photographer Mario Aldecoa's work visit his website here: http://marioaldecoa.smugmug.com/
Also, you can check out the photo slideshow from this story, including a couple of Aldecoa's one photo taken by CBS4's David Sutta.
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