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Photographing Reptiles: 8 Top Tips

It isn’t a big secret that a lot of people aren’t overly fond of the more scaly and slithery creatures we share our planet with.

It’s also no secret that I love reptiles and have spent a great deal of time trying to capture images of these fascinating animals in a way that both portrays their beauty and that might also change the way some people perceive them.

Chances are that if you clicked on this article you will be similarly fond of Reptiles, and hopefully, you’ll be joining me in capturing incredible shots of the amazing reptiles that live around us.

Here are my top 8 tips for photographing reptiles, which will hopefully help you in creating a breathtaking portfolio of images that includes a few of the cold-blooded creatures around us!


#1 Get Low

Reptiles aren’t renowned for their long legs and some reptiles don’t even have legs at all – which tends to mean that many of your subjects will be very close to the ground.

 

To achieve the best possible shots you’ll more than likely need to be on the ground yourself as well.

Shooting from your normal eye-level will not only capture an image that is similar to the sort of views people are used to seeing every day, it will also make it very difficult for you to make your subject stand out against the surrounding area and background.

Bringing your camera down to your subjects eye-level will help to show a unique and interesting new perspective of the world (just as your subject will see things!) and the change in level will also help to put more distance between the subject and the background.

To have more distance between your subject and the background is great thing, because it will help you to really accentuate the focus of your photograph.

A European Adder (Vipera berus) coiled amongst fallen leaves in Essex, United Kingdom


#2 High Aperture

You’ve already adjusted your perspective and helped your subject to stand out more against the background – now we are going to adjust our depth of field to add further impact to the images we’re capturing!

If you use a high aperture (that’s a low numerical value or ‘f stop’) you’ll create a shallow depth of field.

 

A shallow depth of field will help to make your subject really pop-out of the image, with crisp detail against a beatifully bokeh’d background.


#3 Include the Environment

It is all too easy when composing an image to think only of your subject, whilst neglecting other components of the photograph that could make the difference between a good photograph and an incredible photograph.

Include elements of the environment and habitat that you’re shooting in to give your subject context and draw your viewers in for a more complete picture.

Viewers will admire the subject and comment on its features if that’s all you have focused on, but making sure that there are other aspects to your image – even if only very minor – allow the people that see your photograph to look beyond just the subject and what you’ve literally captured in the frame.

Incorporating elements of the habitat and environment help to create a more complete image in their mind – it will give them more to think about, consider and imagine, and help to make your image far more impactful.

This is the Sri Lankan Green Pit Viper (Trimeresurus trigonocephalus) and is found nowhere else on the planet. The snake can inflict a very painful bite with localised symptoms, but no fatalities have been reported.


#4 Tell a Story

There are only so many portrait-style shots of a single animal or species that a photographer could include within their portfolio, without needing something new and exciting to keep audiences enthralled.

Capture reptile behaviour in your image to show your audience something new and exciting.

This can take time because many reptiles will either freeze or flee when you first approach – so remain patient, avoid sudden movements and only start to shoot once they become more comfortable with you in their space.

If you’re patient you’ll be able to capture a series of unique images that show more than just a beautiful creature, but that tell an interesting story of everything from feeding to breeding. Your images will help to capture a more comprehensive picture of the subject and it’s life, in the mind of your audience.

#5 Every Detail

 

Reptiles (and snakes especially) have an unfair reputation for being cold and slimy, and this couldn’t be further from the truth. Snakes and Lizards are cold-blooded and they rely on external heat sources to warm their bodies; and so being cold or wet is something most reptiles will actively try to avoid!

Instead of having wet, slimy skin you’ll probably already know that snakes and lizards are covered in intricate scales, that form incredible patterns and can vary in colour wildly even on just one individual. Snakes and Lizards also have some of the most intense and vibrant eyes you’re ever likely to see in the animal kingdom…

All of these intricacies make for fantastic imagery, and it’s a great exercise to focus on more than just the subject as a whole – but instead highlight every fascinating detail and show the incredible features of these animals; many of which have remained the same for hundreds of thousands (if not millions!) of years.

Focus on the details to show your audience a perspective they’ve never seen before and help them to learn a greater appreciation for these animals.

A Brown Patched Kangaroo Lizard (Otocryptis wiegmanni) clings motionless to an upright branch in the foothills of Sinharaja Forest Reserve, Sri Lanka.


#6 Use of Colour

 

Many reptiles are masters of camoflauge. It could be a golden gecko barely visible against the yellow sandstone it clings to or a delicate vine snake blending perfectly into it’s jungle surroundings… most reptiles are ambush predators and it is highly in their favour to remain unseen.

Capturing images that show animals camoflauged in their natural surroundings is a great way to create an interesting photograph that really engages with the viewer. It can take time for them to find the subject, which only makes it more impactful when the content of the image is finally realised.

However, if you want to shoot a camouflaged subject in a way that makes it stand-out a lot more from the background why not try black and white photography?

Creating a black and white image will remove all distractions of colour and help to create a more dramatic portrait that accentuates of the details and assist you in creating a stronger contrast between your subject and it’s environment.


#7 Research your Subject

We already know that many reptiles are masters of disguise and can prove extremely difficult to find in the wild; meaning the more information you can collect before heading out camera-in-hand the better…

 

Taking the time to research your subject before setting out can make all the difference between a day spent searching for your subject and a succesful day of shooting. 

Try to learn about the habitat your subject prefers and even within that habitat, which plants and vegetation they are most likely to reside on/under. If you can’t find the information written anywhere online, look at photographs and these will often help you to notice similarities in environment and surrounding habitat.

Many reptiles will bask during the morning to raise their body temperature, and until that happens they are slow and sluggish. Set out early and look for areas that are suitable for basking; you’ll not only be more likely to find your subject but may also find that they are far easier to photograph whilst slow moving!

A common green lizard (Calotes calotes) sits camoflauged in the vibrant foliage of Sinharaja Forest Reserve in Southern Sri Lanka.

 

#8 Patience

It can take time for any wild animal to be comfortable with you in their presence, and sometimes this can even mean visiting the same place and same individual over many different occasions until you’re able to capture the shot(s) you are after.

 

Take your time when photographing any wildlife, not only reptiles. It can be slow and tedious either looking or waiting for your subject, but always have your mind on the end result – that one spectacular image or portfolio.

 

Reptiles in particular can be very timid and though they aren’t the sort of animal you’d need to visit on multiple occasions to photograph, it will pay to take your time and move slowly. The initial response when you approach can be either to freeze or to flee, and if they flee you stand very little chance of finding them again!

Approach slowly, wait until the animal begins to accept that you are not a threat and allow it to resume normal behaviour before shooting. This will help to ensure you capture an image that displays the subject in it’s natural state.

A Common Green Forest Lizard (Calotes calotes) dazzles emerald, red and white amongst the leaf little in Sinharaja Forest Reserve, Sri Lanka.

We should all feel lucky to be sharing our planet with such fascinating creatures – from lizards and crocodiles to snakes and tortoises; reptiles are some of the most varied and photogenic animals you’re going to come across! Hopefully these Top Tips will help you to capture some incredible images.

Aaron NorthcottOther articles by author

A multi award-winning photographer, Aaron has a diverse portfolio of powerful, inspiring imagery and an impressive résumé of clients and commissions.

Specialising in Wildlife, Travel & Landscape photography, the work Aaron produces has been seen around the world and has been used for everything from Tourism and Conservation to Outdoor Living, Lifestyle and Adventure.

Aarons passion for photography, his subjects and the world around us is always evident through the images he captures - and pushes himself constantly to be one of the most versatile, creative and innovative visual artists working in the photography industry today.

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