Photographing Snakes

Michele Wanke
snake with fangs

Photographing snakes is a risky business if you are not properly prepared for the task.

Why Photograph Snakes?

Snakes are fascinating and extremely unpredictable creatures, which makes taking photos of them very enticing to some photographers. The elusive reptile is the prize of many wildlife photographers.

Snakes are also considered "pets" in some circles. As such, photographers aim to shoot them in much the same way they would any other family pet. However, snakes are not like dogs, cats or other domesticated animals. They are forces to be reckoned with and not all snakes make ideal photo subjects. Still, the danger that surrounds capturing these serpents with cameras is thrilling to some photographers. Often, the chance to photograph snakes is too much for shutterbugs to pass up.

Tips for Photographing Snakes

Photographing snakes is a challenge. If you don't treat your subjects with care, your photo shoot may turn deadly. The following tips will help you stay safe while trying to document different types of snakes:

Safety First

Prior to photographing snakes, you must conduct some research in order to preserve your safety. A good photographer knows his subjects very well, so that he can shoot them in the best light possible. Read up on snakes before trying to take pictures of them. Some fast facts on snakes include:

  • Snakes don't like the cold.
  • Snakes react to movement.
  • Snakes move silently and attack quickly.
  • Most snakes are nocturnal and will strike if they feel threatened or are harassed.
  • Snakes are more active and move the fastest during the middle of the day, as the temperature rises.
  • A snake's striking range is roughly one-third of its total body length, which is impossible to estimate when it is coiled up.

Most of the snake photos featured in books have been taken under controlled and carefully planned conditions. If you are photographing snakes in the wild, you need to be extra careful. Wear sturdy boots and long pants. You should also carry a first aid kit, a compression bandage and a cell phone. Also, it's important to remember that just because a snake is not venomous it does not mean it's safe to be bitten. Snakes harbor bacteria on their fangs and in their mouths, which can cause a serious infection.

Equipment

Snakes move without warning, so you need a camera that will shoot on command. Standard point-and-shoot cameras often feature too long of a shutter lag to capture a snake on the move. You're better off using a digital SLR and a range of lenses, such as 105mm macro, 180 and 200mm or a 70-300mm. Also, set your shutter speed at about 1/125th, so the snake doesn't appear as a fuzzy line on your photo.

Also, using a tripod is often not a good choice when photographing snakes, as their behavior is too unpredictable. However, if you insist on using a tripod, then invest in a cable release to limit your interaction with the shutter and reduce camera shake.

Lighting

To prevent lighting from ruining your snake photos, avoid using your camera's flash. If you must use a flash, be sure it doesn't reflect directly off the serpent's eyes. If you are working behind glass, use a polarizing filter. If you are shooting outdoors, avoid direct sunlight to reduce glare.

Composition

Aim for the head and try to shoot when their tongue is flickering. The composition will have a much greater impact than a stretched out snake, which takes up only a small portion of your frame. If possible, try to take your photos from the snake's level, but use your camera's zoom to avoid having to get too close to the serpent. A coiled snake makes for an eye-catching symmetrical shot, but don't risk injury to capture the shot.

Poses

Photographing snakes, even pet snakes, can be tricky, especially if you can't find someone to hold them in decent poses. Pet snakes are a bit easier to work with than those found in the wild; however, not all snakes are cooperative. If you are photographing a stubborn snake, get creative. Get a close-up shot of your pet snake's fangs or eyes, or place him on a table and shoot him from different angles. You can also place your reptile in different environments, such as a tank, on tile, in the grass or on a satin pillow.

Final Tips

Never make sudden movements when photographing snakes. They might get nervous and strike out at you. Remember to keep your movements very slow and don't take your eyes off the snake. With a little practice and patience, you will be able to shoot a memorable picture of a serpent without compromising your safety in the process.

Photographing Snakes