Adders are a venomous snake that is commonly found in Europe. Adder is a word derived from an Old English term meaning serpent, and these stunning snakes are just as common as photography subjects! But capturing these snakes can be a bit more challenging than it appears.
Photographing adders and other types of reptiles requires the right equipment, mixed in with proper technique and understanding the characteristics of capturing wildlife photography. Here is our guide on photographing adders, with tips appropriate for other scaly reptiles!
Equipment for Photographing Adders
Considering adders tend to be photographed in the wild (unless you’re lucky enough to work with a zoological facility that has captive ones), there is some specific equipment you’ll want to look into. The right lens, camera, and lighting can tremendously ease your wildlife photography endeavors- especially for scaly creatures.
When choosing a lens for adder (and other scaly creature) photography, you really have to consider the situation you will be shooting in. With adders, you will be outdoors in nature. For the safety of yourself and the animal, being further away is your best bet. As such, having a lens that allows you to shoot from farther but appear to have the snake up close and personal is a great idea!
You’ll ideally want to look into standard zoom lenses or telephoto lenses.
Standard lenses go from 35mm all the way to 70mm, but you’ll want to look at the longer ones (closer to 70mm or ones that zoom to there. The 24mm – 70mm is a great choice) are amongst the easiest lenses to use because they feature no distortion (the glass is flat). Standard lenses are the closest to the human eye and what you see, which makes these millimeters popular choices for new photographers (much easier to photograph when you don’t need to account for perspective distortion problems).
Telephoto lenses are long lenses that can remind you a bit of a telescope. These lenses can zoom you very close to your subject! Used most by animal and sport photographers, telephoto lenses allow you sit far back and capture subjects as if you were right next to them.
However, these do not have close focusing distances and require you to sit a good distance away from your subject. These lenses are also quite large, so be prepared for an arm workout.
Technically telephoto lenses are distortion lenses, but not in the way you may think. They do not distort the proportions of your subject, the distortion is the fact that you can zoom in closer than your eye can actually see naturally.
With the camera, for the most part the only criteria are cameras that are good at low light (as you may be shooting in darker conditions than would be ideal), cameras that have a fast FPS (short for frames-per-second), and ideally cameras with a Silent Shooting Mode.
Cameras that are good at low light tend to have a mix of two things: ISO with minimal noise and a full frame sensor.
As a photographer, all you need to know about the ISO on a camera is that the lower the ISO number, the less ‘sensitive’ the camera is to the light. This means that images will generally turn out a bit darker. The higher the ISO number, the more sensitive the camera is to light. Images will look brighter. Higher ISO is prone to noise, or specks in your image that shouldn’t be there. Cameras with good low light ability have less noise at high ISO numbers than other cameras, so be sure to compare camera models before settling on the one you want to buy!
Next comes the sensor. Cameras feature two types of sensors, full frame or APS-C (crop) sensors. A full-frame camera uses a sensor that has more than 2.5 times the surface area of an APS-C sensor, which means it can capture a larger image. The primary benefit is that your scene will in no way be cropped or altered and you can capture as you see fit. What you see through the viewfinder is exactly what gets photographed! But an additional benefit that adds to the low light ability is that a larger sensor is able to take in a lot of light, so evening captures are made a lot more possible. You can shoot at lower ISO levels because noise is also reduced due to the sensor size.
Next, every camera has something called FPS, or Frames-Per-Second. What this discloses is how many pictures a camera can snap per second of shooting. You want a camera that has about 10 or more FPS, because snakes are fast and can quickly slither away (you want to capture them before they are out of your sight!). To access this feature to its maximum potential, you have to go to the menu of your camera and set it to either “Burst Mode” or “High Speed Continuous Shooting” (depending on your camera brand). Your camera will then fire off as many photographs as it is capable of taking per second.
Finally, a camera that can silence its sounds is another really important feature for photographing adders. You never want your photography to interfere with what is happening. Set the camera to Silent Shooting Mode so that your shutter sounds aren’t scaring or distracting the snake, and also doesn’t make for a dangerous biting situation!
Step 1: Find the Adder
First and foremost, you need to find the reptile you are wanting to shoot. In this case, because adders are more dangerous than your average lizard, you really should do your research ahead of time. Speak with snake experts, understand where these snakes may be hiding, and figure out the best time of day to go looking for them. Make sure to review safety precautions to keep yourself at ease.
Step 2: Settings (Silence the Camera)
Before even beginning on the exposure equation, make sure your camera is set to silent mode! Nearly all new digital and mirrorless cameras have a ‘silent mode’ option. This eliminates the ‘click’ you hear when a photograph is taken. The click will scare away wildlife if you love photographing snakes. This can also keep your situation a lot safer!
Next, adjust the exposure equation based on the available lighting in your scene. Exposure is a formula: ISO + shutter speed + aperture = exposure.
Like a mathematical formula, if one variable is changed, the rest are affected by the change.
Step 3: Get Low and Position Properly
Next comes achieving the proper vantage point. Vantage point is the perspective at which you see. For snakes and other animals, the eye level vantage point tends to be the one that creates the most dynamic image and makes the most sense! Eye level refers to the eye level of your subject, not necessarily your own. For adder photography, shooting at the reptile’s eye level is a very common and effective technique, often encouraging the viewer to form a bond with the animal in the image.
Step 4: Get Your Focus
Focus is the process of achieving sharpness in an image. When something in a photograph is in focus, it’s the sharpest and clearest part of your entire image. With snakes often hiding in the bushes or brambles, you want to make sure that the snake is perfectly in focus so that it doesn’t get lost in the scenery!
In order to get good focus on the snake, you have to set the camera to the proper focus mode. Cameras on average come in three modes: Continuous Focus, One-Shot, and a hybrid of both. Ignore the hybrid mode because it generally doesn’t work well! By default, your camera is set to One-Shot right out of the box. One-Shot achieves automatic focus on your subject for only one image, best used when capturing still life or product photography. Not going to work here. What you need is Continuous Focus.
Continuous Focus is when the camera’s focus keeps refocusing on the subject as it moves. This is great for animal photography as even slick adders can move quickly!
Next, use the autofocus points in your camera. These points tell you (and the camera) where to focus. Each point refers to an area the camera is able to focus on. By switching to a mode such as AF Selection, you can tell the camera exactly what points you need it to use to focus on your subject!
So go ahead and focus on the snake.
Step 5: Take the Shot!
Now that you’re ready, go ahead and click the shutter button!
In conclusion, the above guide should ease your adder-taking woes tremendously!