Posts Tagged ‘snake eye’

This past Monday as I was exploring Huntley Meadows Park with fellow photographer Walter Sanford, he spotted an Eastern Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis). We both like to photograph snakes, so we sprung into action. Following my normal instincts, I moved in close to the snake. How close did I get? At a certain point in time I actually had to back up a little to make sure I included the snake’s entire head in the image.

Some readers of this blog may recall that Walter and I use different camera systems and approach our shots in different ways, partly because he is using a zoom lens and I am often using a macro lens with a fixed focal length. If you shoot side by side with another photographer, you’ll often get the same shots, but that’s usually not the case for Walter and me. We normally choose different angles of view and frame our shots differently—I am usually the one sprawled on the ground.

Walter and I have shot together often enough that he knows the “tricks” that I employ when shooting. From my earliest days, my photography mentor Cindy Dyer emphasized to me the importance of using a tripod. Frequently I carry a tripod with me, but for low-angle shots, I prefer to use my camera bag as a kind of improvised tripod to help steady my camera. In the past month I have used this techniques with varying subjects including a jumping spider and a beaver. Special thanks to Walter for allowing me to use one of the photos he shot of me in action with my improvised tripod.

The snake was amazingly tolerant of our presence. Unbelievably it stayed in place when I moved a stalk of grass next to its head that was getting in the way of a clear shot. The first shot below was shot with my improvised tripod and was not cropped at all. The other two shots, I believe, were handheld and cropped slightly, because the snake had changed positions and I did not have the luxury of stabilizing my camera. In all cases I tried to focus on the snake’s eye and I really like the way that I managed to capture a reflection in the eye.

Walter will soon be posting a companion post that I will reblog, so that you can contrast the images that we captured when shooting the same subject together.

Eastern Garter Snake

alternative tripod

Using my camera bag as an improvised tripod (Photo by Walter Sanford)


Eastern Garter Snake

He’s got lips like Jagger

Eastern Garter Snake

Environmental portrait of a garter snake

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.


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It has often been said that the eyes are the windows to the soul. I’m not sure what I can say about the soul of this Northern Watersnake (Nerodia sipedon), but I recently had a chance to take a long, close look into one of its eyes.

As I was walking in my local marshland park last week, one of my fellow photographers pointed out the snake to me in the low vegetation. Most of the time that I see this species, it is in the water, where it is almost impossible for me to get a close-up shot. The snake started to move several times as I got closer and closer to it, but then it would stop, thinking perhaps that it would be invisible if it remained motionless.

Most of the time, my view to the snake was obscured by the vegetation, so I waited and tried to anticipate where it would move next, hoping that it would move to a more open area. Finally, I was able to get a relatively clear shot of its eye in a head-and-shoulders portrait, though, of course, snakes don’t really have shoulders.

Northern Watersnake

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Some days it seems like anything that catches my eye is a potentially viable subject. This was the case last Friday when I was walking in a marsh in a local park and came upon this snake. Much of his body was concealed, but the upper body was exposed enough for me to attempt a head-and-shoulders portrait. Oh, wait a minute, I guess a snake does not really have shoulders, so I guess I was attempting a head-and-neck portrait.

The snake was beautiful in his own way, with wonderfully textured skin and stunning gold accents around his eyes. I thought he was probably a garter snake, but after a bit of research I am now convinced he is an Eastern Ribbon snake (Thamnophis sauritus), not a Common Garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis). If you are at all interested in the differences, there is a wonderful article entitled “Telling Garter Snakes and Ribbon Snakes Apart” at http://www.gartersnake.info (yes, that’s the actual web address).

As I was admiring his beauty, he may have decided to remind me that he is a predator as suddenly he opened his mouth wide, really wide. I was looking through the lens at him and the effect was magnified because his head filled a good portion of the frame of the viewfinder. My first thought was that he was sizing me up as a potential snack. I had the presence of mind to snap a picture before his mouth snapped shut. A vine covers part of his mouth in the photo, but I decided to include it to show you how wide his mouth really is.

Now I understand how he is able to do things like swallow frogs whole. I’m glad I’m a lot bigger than a frog.

Eastern Ribbon Snake Posing for Portrait

Eastern Ribbon Snake Sizing Me Up

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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