How To Articles
My how to articles section is written as a guide only. Using my techniques will not guarantee one quality pictures or personal safety. Use at your own risk.
Photographing venomous snakes
Before I give my tips on doing this I want preface this with; only try this if you are very experienced. If a photographer gets bitten by an animal while they are photographing it, it's the photographers fault. Most of these tips will generally concern pit vipers, rattlesnakes, cotton mouths and copperheads. They are all potentially dangerous animals, give them plenty of respect.
I have been photographing snakes for many years and had lots of practice before I began photographing venomous snakes. I suggest all new photographers begin with harmless reptiles before they work with the venomous ones.
When one locates the venomous reptile never assume it will react the way your field guides suggests. Some species may have tendencies to be more docile or more aggressive, but any animal can act either way at any given time. Always take the time to understand that specific animals behavior.
Always give the snake time to acclimate to your presence before beginning any close up photography. Maneuver the snake as little as possible, when necessary use a metal snake hook. One may be tempted to grab the snake by the tail, don't! Not only is this dangerous to you and could potentially harm the snake, but it will disturb the animal more than the hook. Pit vipers see with heat vision as well as normal vision, the hook won't give a heat signal, so the animal doesn't respond to it nearly as much as a human body part. On that same note, keep in mind pit vipers will not just strike at the closest object such as the lens, it will likely aim at your finger pushing the shutter button. As that will be the hot spot on the camera.
I typically use a 105mm f2.8 macro lens for my reptile shots. Occasionally I'll start with a 180mm macro, but I always end up using the 105mm. The 105mm is light enough to get sharp images even handheld. If possible I may use a bean bag or my flash case as a support, being eye level really makes the image stand out. I often use on camera fill flash. If possible I try to bounce it off another object or a reflector. Be careful when using a flash as it can agitate a pit viper due to it's heat signature.
It is often easiest to photograph snakes early in the morning after a cool night, chilled snakes are calmer. Do not however think a chilled snake won't bite, it's cool, not frozen! When ever possible have an assistant with you, for obvious safety reasons. When photographing an animal we often become too engrossed in the image and need somebody to remind us what we're doing. Keep in mind as well that what we see in the viewfinder is not the entire animal and it's easy to miss body language that might indicate a strike is coming.
All things considered, just be careful and don't harm the animals or their habitat!