Friday, 8 May 2009

Photographing Snakes

I am a self confessed scaredy cat of snakes, yet they fascinate me (and many others) and a great photograph of a snake is a prize in any wildlife photographer’s portfolio.

Getting a good, or great image of these slithering reptiles is not easy and I must stress here can be potentially lethal.
First Rule is: knowing your subject! Snakes don’t like the cold, they react to movement, they move silently, many are nocturnal and all will strike if they feel threatened or are harassed.

Most snake photography you see in books has been done under controlled and carefully planned conditions.

Tips for Snake Photography
Never, ever compromise your or anyone else’s safety. Better to leave alone than entice a situation that may become life threatening. A general rule of thumb is a snake’s striking range is 1/3rd of its total body length – impossible to guess when they are coiled up.If confronted by a snake stay perfectly still.

While out in the bush wear closed in sturdy boots and long pants. Carry a first aid kit – they make great ones that clip onto your belt or at least carry a compression bandage and a mobile phone or emergency beacon. Remember just because a snake is not venomous does not mean it’s OK to be bitten – they have bacteria on their fangs and in their mouths which can cause a nasty infection.

It is illegal to capture and transport a snake without a specific permit in all states of Australia.
Do not make sudden movements in front of the snake. They will get nervous and may strike and bite. Keep your movement very, very slow and never ever take your eye off the snake.
Snakes always look in best condition just after they have shed their old skin.
Snakes are more active during the heat of the day as the temperature rises – this is when they move faster!

DO NOT place a snake in a fridge or freezer to ‘slow it down’. This is a cruel practise and above all different snakes can tolerate different cool temperatures and you may kill the snake with exposure to cold.
Using a tripod is often out of the question – if you can that’s great but......
If photographing snakes behind glass use a polariser filter.

An image of the head (better with the tongue flickering) will have a much greater impact then a snake totally stretched out because a stretched out snake takes up only a small thin part of your image. A snake coiled makes a pleasing symmetrical image.

Pre focus if possible. We often use a cable release to limit the movement of our hand to and from the camera.

Equipment & Technique:
We use a digital SLR and a range of lenses including 105mm macro (keeps us a little further from the subject – the 180 and 200mm are also great) and a 70-300mm.
Use flash sparingly and if need be diffuse it or bounce it to make it softer.
ISO’s are kept as low as possible.
Modes – Aperture priority or manual.
Always be kind to them – they are an animal of our planet, have a place in the ecosystem and deserve our respect.
Remember when working in the outdoors to keep your camera bag zipped up. Snakes move silently, your bag is warm and it may just provide them a perfect place to coil up for a rest.

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