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Finding snakes to photograph


A snake's coloration often provides superb camouflage. Having an assistant along provides an extra pair of eyes in locating difficult-to-see snakes. Photo by Peter May.
A snake's coloration often provides superb camouflage. Having an assistant along provides an extra pair of eyes in locating difficult-to-see snakes. Photo by Peter May.

START WITH FINDING AN ASSISTANT

The most effective way to find snakes is to work with an assistant who is equipped with a snake-stick, a long pole with a metal hook at one end. (Some prefer an L-shaped end to the stick.) Walk softly as you physically search a typical snake habitat. The snake-stick is used to turn over logs or rocks and to move branches aside, and also provides a way to control a snake that may be dangerous. Turning over stones or logs after a rainfall can be particularly productive. Keep in mind that if you do move any part of the landscape in your search, make sure to put it back as you found it. You're disrupting habitat, homes and cover that animals have become accustomed to, and it is always best to leave things in nature as you found them.


Why have an assistant with you? Because you will be busy concentrating on your camera when you come across a suitable subject. Your assistant can concentrate on watching the snake and checking the surrounding area. The assistant can alert you if the snake heads towards you or if another hazard arises. Besides, two sets of eyes are better than one when looking for snakes in snake country, and it is always a good idea to avoid traveling alone in the wild. And an assistant is especially helpful in telling you when you are getting too close to the snake with your camera, something you may not realize when you are looking through the viewfinder, attempting to better frame your subject.

Note: Some photographers who purposefully approach closely to a large or venomous snake in order to use a normal or wide-angle lens will create a "shield" from a cardboard box or other lightweight, sturdy material. They cut a hole for their camera and shoot through it. This is risky business with many dangerous snakes. The shield may be inadequate for protection. The snake may strike the cardboard or the camera with such speed that the photographer is startled and drops the shield. Or the snake may unexpectedly move quickly under or around the shield, and strike at the photographer in an unprotected area. When photographing dangerous snakes, don't get in too close. Nature has a way of turning the tables on us just when we think we have her outsmarted.

Your assistant can keep an eye on the snake and on the surrounding area while you concentrate on taking its picture. Corn snake image photographed by Peter May.
Your assistant can keep an eye on the snake and on the surrounding area while you concentrate on taking its picture. Corn snake image photographed by Peter May.

It takes sharp eyes to spot a snake that is partially concealed by foliage. It's easy to overlook a snake that may be inches away.
It takes sharp eyes to spot a snake that is partially concealed by foliage. It's easy to overlook a snake that may be inches away.

YOU CAN SEE A SNAKE BEFORE IT SEES YOU (BUT NOT OFTEN)

A very helpful tool in snake-finding is a good pair of binoculars. Use them to scan outcroppings, flat areas, logs, ledges, bluffs, rocks and even roadsides for basking snakes.

Most folks just don't see things that aren't moving. And snakes are very good at remaining stock still. You need to develop an eye for detail when scanning large areas. And remember that snakes often conceal themselves under nothing more than a small collection of leaves or foliage that affords minimal cover. You have to look not at the leaves, but at what may be showing between them.


Experience is a big help in snake finding. You can learn a lot about locating snakes by venturing out with professional and amateur herpetologists. (Herpetologist: A zoologist dealing with reptiles and amphibians.) Amphibian and reptile societies and clubs, which often conduct field trips, can be found in most regions and may permit guests to go along. Many members are photographers themselves. Their experience and savvy can be a major time-saver for you.

Although many snakes scurry quickly away before you even know they are there, some will remain motionless when they detect your presence. You may see them, though, allowing you a few moments to choose a good shooting angle. Move slowly, for sudden movements may cause the creature to bolt for cover. Try to select a backdrop that not only contributes to the composition, but that looks to be a natural setting. If the snake's coloration blends into the background, look for a shooting angle that creates contrast between the tonality of the snake and its surroundings so that it will stand out more vividly.

Thanks to a darker, contrasting background, this rough green snake stands out sharply. Had the snake been photographed against green foliage, it would be difficult to see. Photo by Peter May.
Thanks to a darker, contrasting background, this rough green snake stands out sharply. Had the snake been photographed against green foliage, it would be difficult to see. Photo by Peter May.

Early spring mornings are an ideal time to search for snakes to photograph. This striped crayfish snake is on the prowl for both food and a snake of the opposite sex. Photo by Peter May.
Early spring mornings are an ideal time to search for snakes to photograph. This striped crayfish snake is on the prowl for both food and a snake of the opposite sex. Photo by Peter May.

CONSIDER THE SEASON AND THE TIME OF DAY

Dawn in spring or summer is often the best time to locate and photograph many snakes. They move more slowly in the cooler temperatures of early morning. As they warm up, they get more active. And if you alarm a snake early in the day so that it scurries back into its cover, it will probably soon come out again, something it likely won't do if it is later in the day. Patience in waiting in such circumstances is often rewarded. On the other hand, if the snake has more than one entrance to its home, you might not see it at all.

Spring is one of the best seasons to look for snakes because they are just surfacing from winter hibernation. They're hungry and usually quite active, looking for food and for mates.

In spring and summer, as the sun goes down, snakes will often come out when the ground begins to cool. They are seeking exposed rocks and even paved, blacktop road surfaces that retain the sun's heat. Walking or driving slowly along quiet, rarely-used, rural roads as dusk approaches and even later, after dark, may provide you with a good sampling of the snakes in the area. Drive slowly, no more than 25 miles an hour, and check your rearview mirror often. You may have to stop suddenly if you spot a snake and don't want another vehicle to pile into your rear end. You will find that many snakes "freeze" in the headlights of your car and, for some reason, headlights make them all seem to appear pale white from inside the car. You usually have to leave the car and approach the snake to identify its species. Have your camera handy, but use caution as you approach. That immobile, "frozen" snake will very likely become highly mobile as you get near.


ATTRACTING SNAKES

Mediterranean fishermen have found that an octopus will often hide in a container that is lowered to the sea bed and left overnight. Next morning, they simply reel in the container to capture the octopus. A similar technique can be used in attracting snakes for photography. Both creatures share the same need for concealment.

If you build a ground cover (for example, a three-foot square piece of plywood with strips of wood attached to raise it two to six inches above the ground) and leave it overnight in snake territory, you may find a snake concealed beneath it in the morning. Attach simple handles to the top, and you can lift the cover without having to place your fingers on its edges. You may have to check it for a number of days before you find that a snake has finally discovered it and moved in. Be in position to take pictures right away, though, because any snake whose cover has been removed will not hang around too long to pose for you.

Click here or on the link below to visit "Taking pictures of snakes."

When a snake's ground cover is removed, the snake will probably be in a coiled position. Shoot quickly, though, because it probably won't stay around for long. Photo by Peter May.
When a snake's ground cover is removed, the snake will probably be in a coiled position. Shoot quickly, though, because it probably won't stay around for long. Photo by Peter May.
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Taking pictures of snakes