Perils of Snake Photography

Time stood still, a flickering tongue from a brown speckled snout shrouded by two dark bands that appeared like eyebrows on a triangular head, was the only sign of life between Jonathan and the snake.

The snake’s sightless eyes ‘watched’ the intruder silently, its sausage shaped speckled brown body was coiled in a taut “S”,- ‘not a good sign’- Jonathan thought, - but the shots were too good...

Corn Snake on a cherry tree

It hissed, - making sound like escaping air from a punctured tyre. The first warning to Jonathan, a warning to tell him that he had moved in too close.

The Puff adder is short, sluggish,and earthy coloured, a master of camouflage, it prefers laying ambush for its victims. It is one of the few snake species that aggressively confronts a threat.

The hissing sound was a warning alert, a message to Jonathan saying,- “back off!” - Jonathan was alerted, but he wasn't backing off, - he had painstakingly planned for this moment.

The snake was finally in his viewfinder, he was damned if he didn’t get some good shots! - the raised head, the flickering tongue, the dangerous looking “S” shape, were a photographer’s dream.

It struck! So suddenly he didn’t see it coming, a powerful blow that dropped his camera, - An acute stinging pain, followed by crimson droplets of blood was all that he needed to know that this photo shoot had suddenly become an emergency!

The snake was back in it’s aggressive position,sightlessly ‘watching’ him, ready to deliver another stinging blow.

Preparing for a snake shoot

Calmly he ran through his checklist - he had prepared for this moment - except for the fact that his assistant was missing.

Puff adder

His preparation list had the following items:

* A First Aid Kit with polyvalent antivenom recommended for puff adder bites.

* Fully charged phone with the contact of the nearest hospital

* Snake handling equipment, tongs and hooks

* Ankle length safari boots, and protective clothing.

* An assistant to help manipulate the snake and to keep watch for danger.

Take time to research:

It was still early morning, a time when snakes are slow and sluggish. He had taken time - gone to the internet- and learnt all there was to know about the Puff adder’s; environment, habits, quirks, characteristics and temperaments.

The snake sensing that it had passed on the message lazily slithered into a craggy shrub, giving him time to open his first aid box and extract a syringe and the anti venom.

* Have emergency contact numbers:

Next he dialed the Doctor;s number , the hospital was 30 Kilometres away. his concern was that he had to drive by himself.

Choose your snake species

He had chosen the Puff adder for his snake shoot because of its slow and lazy approach to life, it would rather lay ambush for its food, sometimes staying still in the same spot for days.

* Know the snake’s habits and where to find it:

It was widely spread in Africa, and could be easily be tracked.

He had to take a gamble, unlike most snakes that slithered off into hiding when sensing an intruder, the Puff adder stayed put,- it’s favourite spot was to bask beside footpaths, - making It easy to find.

The downside was that it was highly venomous. - He had found the snake but had lost the gamble.

Puff adder

Assemble the right equipment

His equipment included:

* His faithful ‘fast writing’ Canon DSLR camera,

* a Macro lens,

* a ball head tripod,

* a basket with black inner black lining

* a dark cloth measuring about 2X2 Meters to cover the snake when changing lens, battery, and memory card.

He also had,

* a macro/ring flash,

* a 28-120mm lens for variable shots,

* a ball head monopod,

* a periscope Angle finder fitted on the viewfinder for low angle shots

* a beanbag to place the camera on.

* a cable release with a mirror lock function to help capture sharp images.

* He had a waterproof pouch with plenty of memory cards to last him a whole week, and an external hard disk just for good measure.

The Doctor picked his call on the first ring, “I have been bitten,” he reported after exchanging pleasantries,“where?” he doctor asked ,

“on my wrist right above the thumb,” he replied, he hesitated and decided to tell the doctor the truth, “I’m by myself,” he paused and continued, “I have to drive to the hospital by myself,”

The doctors voice was concerned “have you administered the anti venom?” “Yes” he responded.

”Drive carefully we'll be waiting for you,” said the Doctor.

Snake in water

Rules of a successful snake shoot

Fifteen minutes into his drive to the hospital he suddenly felt nauseous, the arm which he’d tried to keep low was tender and swollen, the sharp piercing pain had subsided probably due to the antivenom’s effect.

So far the signs were good he wasn’t sweating or feeling light headed. His photographic mind turned to the shots he had captured, especially those just before the snake bit him, “they must be good, “ he thought to himself.

He summarized the rules of a successful snake shoot as follows:

* Stake out the snakes habitat until you come across a subject.

* Early morning in spring or early summer is the best time to shoot snake photos.

* Like all wildlife, approach snake shooting carefully, once you have identified a subject, spend time in their environment let them get used to your presence.

* Snakes are temperature sensitive, and will try to keep out of harsh daylight heat,

* Carry your snake shoot in an area that has minimal interference from passersby and other wildlife.

* Have an assistant - he underlined this as being of most importance.

Composing your snake shoot

He was feeling lightheaded as they wheeled him into the emergency room, the Doctor was by his side shooting a series of questions, he suspected that the questions were to keep him alert and focused.

He was dressed in the blue dreary hospital garb and feeling extremely happy. His swollen arm was attached to a drip bobbing from a hook above his head.

Corn snake on a tree branch

He had time to reflect on snake shooting techniques that he had so far learnt:

* Shoot at ground level and try to get an interesting perspective of the snake. * Adjust depth of field use high aperture to achieve shallow depth of field which will make your subject to pop out.

* Incorporate other elements of the snake’s environment.

* Shoot a series of images of the subject that will tell an interesting story.

* Highlight every fascinating detail that show the snake’s unique features.

“You are lucky Jonathan,” the Doctor's voice drew him out of his reverie, “The snake's fangs were precariously close to piercing your radial artery”

He didn’t know a ‘radial artery’ or where it was, but he sensed from the Doctor’s grave tone, that it was an extremely delicate part of his body.

“You are very lucky Jonathan” the Doctor repeated in awe. Jonathan indeed felt lucky, lucky to have shot amazing photos of a snake about to strike.

"I hope you enjoyed reading this article, Thank you." - Augustine.

Photo credits: Amwu, Edgar Chavez, Jakedan, Matthijs Kuijpers.

Your article must be written in English

July 08, 2019


I'm humbled to be part of a wonderful creative community at Dreamstime! Thank you, William.! I suggest you link up the articles for easy reading. Thank you once more for your inspiration! 

July 05, 2019


Augustine, thanks to your inspiring writing, I just finished a snake photo shoot and uploaded a blog called "More Perils of Snake Photography." It should post soon and is a tribute to your creative writing. It's nice to have a community of photographers here at Dreamstime that can inspire and educate each other. Thanks again for your article! William 

July 03, 2019


Thank you all for reading, your comments are truly inspiring!

July 02, 2019


This article made me feel like am watching a movie...Interesting...Nice article

July 02, 2019


wow..Awesome article

July 02, 2019


I am always afraid of snakes but after reading this article i feel like i want to go have a snake photo shoot.

July 01, 2019


Nice piece 

July 01, 2019


Ecxellent article.

June 29, 2019


Thank you William for appreciating the article!. -  I should actually give you the credit...your deep knowledge and passion of wildlife especially an article you wrote about snakes inspired me to learn more about this misunderstood creatures...... Thank you for the Useful Vote!!!! 

June 28, 2019


What an awesome piece of nature journaling coupled with photography instruction. Although I'd like my articles to win the contest, I am compelled to giv you my "useful" vote! Great job!!! William 

Snakes related image searches