Sneaking up on a Snake

garter with tongue outThis post is not going to be devotional in nature, but an informative little article about how I got the picture. This particular picture (or one of several others from this series) garners a lot of conversation when I display it. Most of the conversation ranges around “that’s gross” and “I can’t believe you got that close. ” For those who care, here are the juicy details of how I got these shots. I took pictures of this snake using two different lenses, the first one being a 70-300mm Tamron locked in its macro settings. (Meaning I can only shoot the 180-300mm range). The sun was constantly popping in and out of the clouds and the snake was in a slightly shaded spot of the trail, so I had to constantly adjust my shutter and aperture to get everything right. I knew I wanted to get as close as possible, so I stopped down my aperture a little bit giving me a bit larger depth of field. I also wanted to catch the tongue flicks, so I had to bump my shutter speed up some to try to stop the rapid motion of the tongue. In the end, I shot with shutter speeds between 1/200 and 1/320 and aperture between 7.1 and 11. Because of the intermittent cloud cover, my ISO was constantly changing, in the end most of the really good shots were take between ISO 400 and 800. I was able to position myself between the snake and the sun and capture a neat little catch light in the snake’s eyes, which I think adds to the picture.I almost literally stumbled across this picture as I was hiking, looking for good photos. I came across this garter snake stretched across the trail. I immediately switched to stalking mode, pulling my camera out of the bag as quickly and quietly as possible. I stepped off the trail to get in front of the snake- a very important piece of positioning if the goal is to get the eyes and not the tail- and crouched down about 12 feet away. I started shooting from that position, and then slowly worked my way prone. The process of lying down moved me several feet closer and from there I continued to shoot and inch my way forward until I got as close as I could and still focus at that focal length. The snake was being very cooperative, so I backed up and switched to my 60mm Nikkor macro lens. I then repeated the earlier process, this time I was able to get about a foot away from the snake. This close proximity seemed to disturb him, which allowed me more opportunities to catch the tongue flicking in and out. He continued to be displeased by my presence, and started to back away, showing me the really neat curve as well as the agitated tongue flicking. While he moved, flicked and was generally unhappy, I quite happily snapped away. Finally the snake decided he had enough of me and crawled away.

When it was all said and done I had spent about 30 minutes in the company of the snake and snapped off a couple hundred pictures. One of the reasons these pictures capture such interest because I was willing to get down on my belly in the dirt with the snake and then crawl in up close and personal. If you want to get great shots, you are going to have to be willing to be uncomfortable. Just go get the great shots, and if you get a couple fangs in the face it will be worth it when you can finally see again and get a chance to view your great images.

common garter snake- tongue outgarter head

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