Photographing snakes isn’t easy, unfortunately – especially in the wild.
For one, they typically reside on the ground, far from our relative height. Another reason is their long, narrow bodies, which can make it difficult to capture detailed photographs of snakes when their bodies are fully extended. The list goes on.
But there are techniques to capturing better photographs of snakes, from simply understanding their behavioral patterns to choosing the right lens for the job.
So if you plan on photographing snakes or want to improve your wildlife photography skills in general, this photography guide will lend you all the right pointers you need to know about how to photograph snakes.
Do Your Research First
If you’re setting out to specifically take photographs of snakes, then it’s well worth doing your research first.
This can help you to find out local species in your area, including their behavioral patterns, where you might find them, and how best to interact with them.
Some species of snake are nocturnal, for example, while others species won’t take kindly to you getting too close to them.
As a result, it’s best to go in prepared, especially if you want to stand the best chance of locating wild snakes, as well as capturing the best photos of them.
Use A Telephoto Lens
Telephoto lenses are especially ideal for capturing snakes because you won’t have to get too close. This isn’t just for safety, but to ensure the snake doesn’t get startled and scared off.
On top of that, the shallow depth of field of a telephoto lens will also help you to isolate the snake in the frame, as well as soften any uninteresting background imagery to bring the snake into focus.
You can use anything from a 100mm to 300mm lens. 200mm will be your safest bet, as this will provide a decent middle ground that will allow you to photograph the snake from relatively far.
At the least, try to avoid using normal or wide-angle lenses, since these will require you to get close to the snake – especially in cases where you want its entire body to fill the frame.
Shoot From A Lower Shooting Angle
Since snakes typically stay on the ground, it’s best to photograph snakes from a lower shooting angle. And the lower you can go, the better. This is simply because photographs of snakes from above are not always that interesting.
Even snake photographs captured from waist level can be unappealing, as these photographs can often feature a lot of uninteresting, unused space in the background.
For these reasons, you want to level your camera with the snake you’re photographing as best as possible. It should go without saying that you also want to capture the snake from an angle where its eyes are in view.
This is the best angle for snake photography, as it will allow you to capture more close-up detail.
Use A Tripod
Leading on from the last tip, a sturdy tripod will help you to capture photographs of snakes in low-lying environments. In this case, a tripod with legs that can spread out almost flat on the ground will be the best choice.
Needless to say, using a tripod will also help you to capture sharper images due to the added stability. You can do without a tripod if the snake is moving, but note that you will have to bring yourself close to the ground to find the best angle.
A camera bean bag placed on the ground can also be useful for photographing snakes without sacrificing a lower shooting angle.
Capture Them In Natural Light
When it comes to wildlife photography, in general, photographing in natural light should always be the objective. This is the same as nature photography, where natural light can help to create a more authentic, vibrant photograph.
So if your plan is to capture a photograph of a snake out in the wild, aim to find species that are more prone to being out during the day.
You’ll shoot much better photos of them, as a result, and will also find that any background imagery you capture will appear more natural and interesting, with greater visual depth.
You Can Use Flash If You Need To
While flash can reduce the naturalness and emotion of wildlife photography, it’s worth knowing that you can use flash to photograph snakes – if you need to.
This is because while some snakes will get startled, the majority of snakes won’t react or get stressed. In fact, like many other animals, snakes will realize, after the first few flashes, that they are not in any danger.
Despite that, be aware of shadows, which can quickly ruin photographs of snakes – especially in low light. For this reason, an off-camera flash is generally a better choice than an on-camera flash.
Snakes are uniquely fascinating, and this makes them great photography subjects. Their bodies can take a variety of shapes, and the patterns and colors of their skin make them especially great for close-up shots.
As a result, always remain patient. You might be able to capture a shot of the snake coiling up, or even mid-hiss with its tongue extended.
Another good reason to be patient is capturing the perfect backdrop.
In general, you want the color of the snake to be contrasted with its background, so holding out for the perfect shot, and even tailing the snake to capture it with different backdrops, is a great way to instantly improve the shots you take home.
Don’t forget that using the best techniques to photograph snakes isn’t just to capture attractive photographs, but to do justice to the snake.
Snakes are as behaviorally fascinating as they are visually attractive, so always try to capture them in unique, interesting ways.
And that brings us to our conclusion: be patient, be respectful, and do some light research first so you know where to locate snakes, as well as how to interact with the snake while you’re photographing them.