Why Do I Photograph Snakes?

It’s a question I hear all the time: “Why in the world do you photograph snakes? ”

The answer is very simple: I love pictures, I love snakes, and I believe snakes deserve more positive attention than they currently receive.

My name is Nicholas Hess, and I love wildlife photography, especially when it involves snakes. “Aren’t they dangerous? ” “But they are so unattractive! ” and “I detest snakes! ” are all common responses I receive, and could very well be what you are thinking right now! It is not surprising most people react this way given how badly misunderstood snakes are usually. The truth is that snakes are more beautiful, peaceful, and fascinating than how they are usually viewed in the public vision.

I’m nineteen now, and for the past ten years of my life, I have been changing people’s perception of snakes through my photography.

eyelash viper is very beautiful snakes are misunderstood
DC-G9 + OLYMPUS M. 60mm F2. almost eight Macro @ 60mm, ISO 200, 1/200, f/11. 0

Table of Items

Why Snakes

When I was little, I had been always catching animals and sometimes keeping them as house animals. Lizards and frogs were always my favorites. Finding animals came naturally to me. You could put four-year old me in a stream and I’d quickly have a frog in my hand, probably asking merely can keep it. One day, throughout the time I was eight, while i came home from school my dad surprised me with a little infant gopher snake he available on our street. I instantly fell in love with the tiny snake and named this Hissy. Not long after, I was heartbroken to discover my beloved new pet had escaped! Hissy was never to be observed again.

In spite of our limited time collectively, my experience with this child snake was the most influential thing to ever occur to me. Hissy sparked my passion for “herping, ” which is the activity of looking for lizards and amphibians in the outrageous. Think birding, except for reptiles and amphibians instead of parrots.

Since then, using the incredible support of my father, I have observed hundreds of species of reptiles and amphibians (and a plethora of other wildlife) throughout California, surrounding states, and many recently Costa Ricand the Galapagos Islands.

How I Began Taking Pictures

Soon after I lost Hissy, I found ancient 2-megapixel Canon PowerShot camera lying around the house. It had been supposedly broken, but I actually bonked it against the coffee table, and I remember it turned on after that.

I adopted the camerand thoroughly appreciated using it. My first topics were lizards, frogs, pigeons, and sea birds. Mother and father, seeing that the camera introduced me such joy, bought me a basic Fujifilm digital camera which had enough macro and zoom capabilities for me to take my photography to another level. Before long, I had photographed every flower, lizard, plus bug in my neighborhood. My skills, gear, composition and tastes have evolved over the years shaping the photographer I am today.

The Beauty of Snakes

The beauty of snakes can be lost on most people, so my goal when communicating with people afraid of snakes is to help them appreciate their elegance. I have spent well over fifty percent my life now finding plus photographing wild snakes. I am fascinated by their ability to endure in all types of harsh environments and their incredible diversity.

I also find them to be one of the most beautiful categories of animals, often displaying vibrant colors and intricate patterns. Even the less colorful snakes make it up by having incredible textures, details, and distinctive adaptations. All of these traits get them to an incredible subject. Their undeniable elegance is lost of all people, so I’ve used it upon myself to introduce the world to the beauty of snakes through my pictures.

Introduction to Snake Photography

My work is really a mixture of art and technology. I consider my pictures to be pieces of art, like most photographers, even though Mother Nature is often one doing much of the work. In other words, I try to capture nature’s artwork in the most pleasing way possible.

Several photos of mine, especially older ones, can be considered “textbook photographs” where the sole purpose is to display the snake accurately and nothing a lot more. From a scientific perspective, this particular style is useful. From a lot more artistic point of view, these types of photos can be boring.

My goal when photographing snakes nowadays is to not only capture their characteristics, but to generate an art piece out of the entire frame as opposed to only focusing on properly showcasing the snake. What this involves is spending close attention to the snake’s position, background, bokeh, supporting articles, lighting, and of course, structure.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
E-M1 + Laowa 15mm ISO 800, 1/200, f/11. 0

There are countless ways to photograph the same snake and have drastically different outcomes. The three styles I go for the most are close-up macro, full-body portrait, and environment photos. Different styles work best in different situations.

In the case below, when I discovered a Great Basin Gopher Snake in the incredible desert scenery of Utah, an environment shot with a sweeping, stunning backdrop obviously made for a more powerful photo than a closeup of the snake’s head. Of course , having such a landscape at my disposal is rare, and am is often forced to work with a macro lens instead of a broader lens. Every situation provides the challenge of capturing the snake’s essence in the most effective way possible.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
E-M1 + OLYMPUS M. 9-18mm F4-5. 6 @ 9mm, ISO 1250, 1/500, f/11. 0

Full-Body Portraits

The goal of the full-body portrait is to display the snake’s complete appearance. Usually, the snake floods the frame, and I like to include other secondary elements that complement the snake well. As snakes are usually most active in springtime, flowers are always a favorite associated with mine. It’s important to have the head in focus, enough of the body sharp, and soft lighting, while the structure needs to be framed from an interesting angle.

The go-to composition is to capture from a low angle that will captures the side of the snake’s face, but not too low, to ensure that I can keep the dorsal design visible. That’s the type of full-body composition I employed for the photo below of a Positive Boa. You can see the side from the head and the full pattern of the snake. Although We focused on the snake’s go to draw attention, the rest of the snake’s body is not so blurred the fact that pattern is lost.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
E-M1 + OLYMPUS M. 60mm F2. 6 Macro @ 60mm, INTERNATIONALE ORGANISATION FÜR STANDARDISIERUNG 320, 1/1600, f/5. 6

Close-up Photographs

Often , the most incredible feature of a snake is definitely its head, and it’s not always necessary to photograph a snake’s entire body in order to get a good photo. In the case below with a California Mountain Kingsnake, I haven’t even included the entire head of the snake, but enough of the face and pattern is captured to still do the snake proper rights in an interesting way. I actually aimed to get the eye plus front coil in focus, as those are the most significant parts of the image. The outlines and contours of the coils in the background are supporting to each other, flowing from corner to corner, bringing focus on the face.

profile of california mountain kingsnake a macro shot of the face
DC-G9 + OLYMPUS M. 60mm F2. 8 Macro @ 60mm, ISO 160, 1/250, f/7. 1

Habitat Pictures

Just as much as I like taking full-body and close-up snake shots, my personal favorite type of photo is the home shot. This type of photo consists of the snake in the downroad and a significant amount of home in the background.

To ensure my subject occupies a significant portion of the frame, I often use Laowa’s 15mm 1: 1 macro lens. This unique lens blows up the subject in the framework like a macro lens, but still includes lots of background like a wide-angle. Because of the wide position, I need to get very near to the subject.

One difficulty with this type of habitat shot is lighting. We often use a flash for my snake photography, but with such a wide-angle lens, it’s easy for the lens to cast a shadow in the composition. I need to find a good position to fire my flash whilst still balancing the lighting between the foreground and history to make everything look organic.

It’s a technical challenge to take these types of photos, but it’s  both educational and aesthetically pleasing to see the snakes in their often spectacular surroundings. The power behind environment shots comes from the synergy of both the snake as well as the landscape.

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Whenever up close with a venomous varieties like this Red Diamond Rattlesnake, it is not safe to have my hand so close, so I photo this photo by setting up the shot and pushing the shutter with a stay. Another challenge that comes with taking habitat shots with such a wide lens!

Behavior Pictures

Snakes are solitary animals that only eat a couple instances per month, which makes it rare to observe certain types of interesting behaviour. Despite having spent hundreds or even thousands of hours in their habitat, I have just witnessed feeding events, interactions between snakes, or nesting a handful of times. Being at the ideal place at the right time can result in extraordinary captures, though, so I always try to continue the search.

In the case below, I happened upon a Snail-Eating Snake doing just what its title suggests. This photo displays how the snake sucks the snail’s body right away from its shell. What a fantastic ability!

snail eating snake eating a snail
DC-G9 + OLYMPUS M. 60mm F2. 8 Macro @ 60mm, ISO 200, 1/250, f/11. 0

Snakes and the Public

Snakes in the public vision have a bad reputation. Snakes are extremely misunderstood creatures generally known as killers, gross, and terrifying, when in reality they are beautiful, gentle, and important biological controllers of the ecosystem.

It is demoralizing every time I am told that someone saw a snake and killed it. I frequently feel like a broken report telling friends, relatives, and people on the internet that they should not destroy snakes. People often feel the need to kill snakes on their properties, but it is also very common for people to defeat snakes to death upon hiking trails (even upon protected lands) or swerve out of their lane to run them over on streets.

That’s not really mentioning the horrific rattlesnake roundups that take place every year in Sweetwater Texas, which kill tens of thousands of rattlesnakes, not just killing them unethically but turning their slaughter in to a carnival for families. Presently there, children will assist with the snake’s executions and be indoctrinated with all the idea that snakes are bad and must be destroyed.

Unfortunately, this type of indoctrination is not isolated to activities like roundups. The majority of people grow up with no exposure to the wonderful world of snakes. Whenever their only exposure to snakes are overly dramatized snake strikes on TV, movies vilifying snakes, and myths associated with snakes chasing or assaulting people, they are easily led to believe that snakes are scary and bad. Once someone has grown up with this assumption, it could be extremely difficult to convince them that they’ve been raised with a false impression of snakes.

Coexisting with Snakes

You don’t have to be enthusiastic about snakes like I am, but please don’t kill them. The biggest reason one should not kill snakes is because it is mindless killing, which is simply never right. The other reasons are that they are sentient beings which feel pain, play a significant role in the ecosystem, and stop the spread of illness by controlling the population associated with vectors like rats. There is absolutely no excuse to kill a snake in its habitat away in the wild.

Sometimes, people say they killed a snake to make a trail safer. Anybody entering a wilderness area must accept the potential risk that comes with existing in nature. This implies not killing its inhabitants so senselessly. Snakes create very little threat to people trekking, since they will always attempt to run away before trying to bite. The only way to get bitten is simply by stepping on one, or unintentionally placing your hand too near, which is why it is extremely important to always watch your step, stay on the particular trail, and never place both hands where you cannot see them.

It is a much more ethical approach to be aware of your surroundings, rather than killing anything you’re afraid of.

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E-M1 + OLYMPUS M. 60mm F2. 8 Macro @ 60mm, ISO two hundred, 1/200, f/10. 0

Other times when people kill snakes, it’s simply because they find them on their property. In these instances, their reasoning is some thing along the lines of “I don’t such as doing it, but I have a pet/children. ”

Well, by killing the snake they are doing themselves simply no favors. Aside from the issues above, all they did is usually open an environmental market for rodents to spread and the next snake to move into. Not to mention that there were probably multiple snakes living right now there already, and there will remain multiple snakes living generally there in the future. All they are actually doing is providing themselves having a false sense of protection at the expense of getting bloodstream on their hands.

Again, the best course of action would be to educate themselves and youngsters to be take precautions when playing outside. Because snakes tend to live around stone or wood piles, you are able to understand their habitat plus either remove those hemorrhoids from the property, or just pay much more attention around them. You may also minimize your risk by putting on shoes, not sticking your hands or feet into protected areas, and using a light whenever walking outside at night.   Rattlesnake avoidance training for dogs exists, works, and is also suggested.

To reiterate, no one will ever completely eliminate the risk of residing in snake country, so it is best to learn how to coexist with them, which is better for both the snakes as well as the people. Killing them will not lower your risk, while these other methods will.

Conclusion

The huge diversity of snakes, and the abundance of approaches to photographing them, makes for a world associated with unlimited photographic possibilities. For the past 10 years, I have been enthralled from the challenge of capturing their own beauty to share with the planet.

Snakes a few of Mother Nature’s the majority of exquisite fine art pieces, yet they receive undeserved dislike from most. The bulk of the society was only ever exposed to the inaccurate, undesirable depictions of snakes making them among the most misunderstood animals. I’ve had several people tell me they never realized just how pretty snakes could be just before seeing my photos. Actually extreme ophidiophobics (people with a fear of snakes) have accepted to me that snakes are more beautiful than they had believed.

Slowly modifying people’s perspectives of snakes has been extremely rewarding and it is a driving force of why I do photography. I seriously hope that if you had a negative perception of snakes if you began reading, you now have a better appreciation of them at this point. Again, you don’t need to be as obsessed with them when i is, but hopefully you observe a bit more of why they are so interesting!

Please be sure to leave the comment below if you have any kind of questions or comments. We are always willing and desperate to answer any snake or reptile photography questions you may have.

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