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Photographing Reptiles

Updated on August 30, 2013
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. | Source

OK I will be the first to say that reptiles are not the best of photogenic subjects and recording their images takes some nerves. However many a subject can be easily found at your local zoo and with the new techniques in enclosure construction most appear to be living in the wild. You will need a long lens because most are very wary of humans and many can pose a threat to us too.

There are several uses for reptile photography such as general photography publications, specialized nature and animal publications, even some educational purposes and there are some who enjoy seeing them in a calendar and just like any other nature subject there are some techniques to make their images stand out and look amazing.

Your subjects selections should be done after some research into their habits, feeding habits, habitats and other information which may prove to be useful. Even those specimens that you can find at your local zoo still retain most of their habits as if they were still in the wild.

For example many if not most reptiles will be slow and almost lethargic during the early morning hours or during a cold spell. If you can locate them at the zoo, this will be a good opportunity to photograph them if they are visible because they will tend to be almost motionless for long periods of time while they soak up the Sun's rays and get their blood to a normal temperature which in turn allows them to become active.

In the wild your long lens will allow you to get in close without them becoming wary of you and quickly seeking a refuge. Also in the wild you are likely to find specimens sunning themselves on a rock or other structure. During night hours most will become reclusive for the same blood temperatures reasons. If your research leads to to locate a food source then patience can pay up if you are able to record images of reptiles feeding.

The best photographs tend to be those that encompass the entire head with emphasis on the eyes. Most reptiles eyes are quite colorful and intriguing at the same time, Macro shots of the eyes are usually quite pleasant and interesting to any audience.These images should be complemented with entire body shots, shots that show their environment, interactions with others from their species, nesting behaviors and so on.

Make your shots at eye level or at an even plane as your subject. This gives the photograph a more natural look and feel to it and getting to the subject's level tends on some occasions to relax the subject more rather than looking at you from below where you will more than likely seem like a threat to them.

One main point to always keep in mind is the intention for the image. If your intention is to submit to general photographic publications, calendars and other non scientific sources, then you goal is to record images that are pleasing to look at and head shots certainly accomplish this.

If on the other hand your intention is to submit to scientific publications or for educational purposes the eyes become less of a factor and other elements such as behaviors, interactions, environment, habits and skin, scales or body types become much more important.

For smaller specimens, a home built enclosure is usually better than any found at a zoo since you will often see it full of artificial greens and food/water containers and you should aim for natural looking images.

If possible contact the staff and ask about the possibility or opportunities to photograph the subjects. Many will allow you to do so for a fee off course. Smaller zoo will often let you do private session for free with the promise of copies of your work, but these are rather few since it requires a handler to be present at all times and this cost them money.

There are some specialized pet stores that carry reptiles and also for a small fee will set up an enclosure that looks natural and that will let you take the photographs. I have found that some smaller independent shops will let you borrow the specimens if you give them copies of your work which they in turn turn into window advertising.

Off course it goes without saying that you should not handle any reptile or any animal with which you are not comfortable with as they will react to your discomfort in quite unpredictable ways.

Above all, always be alert for dangers to not only yourself but to your subjects. This is extremely important when dealing with such larger reptiles like alligators and poisonous snakes. Your safety and that of your subjects is worth more than any photograph.

This is one of the many photographic projects in which researching your subject can really pay off, nevertheless you should strive to be creative and capture the images from various angles, and in various formats, although as previously mentioned head shots work best.

Research will allow you to set food stations or bait to attract your subjects and feed insects such as crickets are always plentiful and not that costly at many pet shops. Even feed mice if photographing snakes, but this is better done in an controlled enclosure.

Do not use heavy lights in the wild other than a powerful flash if its reach is enough to cover the subject and it is equipped with some sort of a diffusing material. Although some reptiles will seek lights because they attract insects, this is not advisable since harsh shadows and other unnatural effects will show up on the final product.

In an enclosure flash will tend to bounce off the glass, so getting your lens as close to the enclosure face is best and so are longer shutter times. Be also aware of your own reflection, try to shoot at an angle to minimize the chances of this happening.

Everything depends on the subject, its locations, the available light and the activity that the subject is engaged in. Be ready for anything as sometimes you will have very little time to record an image once the subject is aware of your presence, especially in the wild.


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    • randomcreative profile image

      Rose Clearfield 6 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      I love taking photographs at the zoo but have never really focused on reptiles. Great information!

    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 6 years ago from Miami, Florida

      FloraBreenRobinson: thanks, a long lens make that possible.

    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 6 years ago from Miami, Florida

      michelemacwrites: thanks, glad that you enjoyed it

    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 6 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Lynn: Why do you think that I only use long lenses???

    • michelemacwrites profile image

      Michele McCallister 6 years ago from USA

      Well written and informative hub. Keep hubbing !!

    • profile image

      Lynn S. Murphy 6 years ago

      I'm comfy photographing them on the other side of the glass. lol!!! Great hub Luis!

    • FloraBreenRobison profile image

      FloraBreenRobison 6 years ago

      I'm surprised the chameleon was photographed because the whole idea is tat it is trying to hide.