How to Photograph Snakes at Night?

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Hans Breuer (twoton)
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How to Photograph Snakes at Night?

Post by Hans Breuer (twoton) » June 11th, 2010, 10:02 pm

Most snakes over here come out at night. Night photography is notoriously difficult, especially with snakes, as their long shape presents particular challenges to the depth of field. No matter whether you use a macro or a standard lens, it's really difficult to maintain the balance between sufficient DoF, sufficient light and sufficiently low ISO. My setup is a Pentax K10D with an external wireless flash which for macro photography I mostly hold directly above the subject, while the onboard pop-up flash adds a little extra light from the front (can't use the external flash without the pop-up). To make sure that apart from the head at least a little of the snake's body is in focus, I need to set the aperture to at least f/11 (f/13 is always better), but that requires amping up the ISO to 800, thus generating noise. Lowering the ISO is no option, as the shutter speed then needs to fall below 1/90, which is the absolute minimum for free-hand photography.

Short of bringing a 2000 watt studio spotlight, are there any tricks to shoot snakes in the dark in such a way that (1) the animal is illuminated sufficiently by the two flashes, (2) the animal is in focus throughout most of its entirety, and (3) the ISO can be kept to 400? My ideal settings would be f/13 and 1/125 at ISO 400, but that works only with shots flat from above.

Thanks in advance for all y'all's tips!

Hans

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Re: How to Photograph Snakes at Night?

Post by milmoejoe » June 12th, 2010, 3:05 am

Hans, it really depends on which shooting mode you are in - manual or aperture exposure- flash as main light or fill, respectively. I'm assuming if you are shooting in complete darkness, manual is your choice.

In manual mode, you should be able to keep whichever settings you prefer (e.g. f/13, 1/125th, any ISO) and let the flash compensate for you. My first thought is that your flashes are not powerful enough?

*On second thought, I really doubt it. 1- try firing the wireless flashes with their own manual exposure mode. Set to 1/1 or full power. Or shoot normally and try the range of flash exposure compensation.

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Re: How to Photograph Snakes at Night?

Post by bgorum » June 12th, 2010, 5:40 am

Hans,

I'm slightly confused, (par for the course really). If you are taking a picture at night and flash is your only light source then you can use any shutter speed you want, so long as it is no faster than the maximum flash synch speed of your camera. Also, if the flash is the only source of light and you do set a shutter speed slower than 1/90th second, (say 1/60 or 1/30) it really should not matter since the exposure is going to be made by the flash, which has a very short duration. Finally, I shoot with Nikon's SB600 flashes, which are the wimpy ones power-wise in the Nikon line and I have no trouble shooting at f11 or f16 @ ISO 100. Maybe you are holding the flash too far away from the subject. Have you considered a good bracket like Wimberly's? Getting the flash closer to the subject will also produce more open (less harsh) lighting.

Bill

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Jason Mintzer
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Re: How to Photograph Snakes at Night?

Post by Jason Mintzer » June 12th, 2010, 6:10 am

What Bill said. At night I often shoot 1/60th second and get sharp pictures. Here is one shot at 1/60th.

Image

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Hans Breuer (twoton)
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Re: How to Photograph Snakes at Night?

Post by Hans Breuer (twoton) » June 12th, 2010, 7:11 pm

Thanks a lot for all the tips, guys! I diddled around with the flash a bit and found that it wasn't set to full power. I'll try the manual setting on full power the next time and report back.

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Re: How to Photograph Snakes at Night?

Post by chrish » June 15th, 2010, 6:01 am

I shoot photos at night all the time with wireless handheld flash (powered by the popup flash). I don't generally have a problem and I don't manually tweak my flash at all. I leave it totally on Auto/Wireless fill-flash mode. At ISO 400 you should have plenty of light. In fact, I rarely need more than ISO 200 at night with my off camera flash.

I don't often shoot much beyond f/13 because of the tradeoff in sharpness vs. DOF. As long as enough of the animal is in focus, I think you can get a good photo.

I think modern flashes and electronic TTL exposure systems are smart enough that it is rarely necessary to manually adjust them. I never adjust the power of my flash (on my flash) except when doing weird things in a studio setting. I do sometimes set a little flash exposure compensation through the camera body, but my flash generally gets it right without my interference.

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Re: How to Photograph Snakes at Night?

Post by Hans Breuer (twoton) » June 15th, 2010, 7:09 pm

Thank you, Chris - food for thought!

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Re: How to Photograph Snakes at Night?

Post by urodacus_au » June 16th, 2010, 4:31 am

I shoot on 1/200, f22, ISO100 for geckos and small snakes. For larger snakes ill dial down to about f16 to get a bit more light on the animals but rarely have to go lower than that. Set at f16 i can get enough light on say a 5-6 foot Dugite without too many dramas. Ive got a top mounted Canon 580EX and a side mounted 430EX but i could still get enough light out of the 580 alone if need be. Like Chris, i dont often mess with the flash compensation when on full manual unless its dialing down 1/3 for shiny skinks and snakes (to reduce the glare a bit).

A lot of it will depend on your angle too, obviously the lower you get the less animal will be in focus. For 'field guide' style shots i shoot at about 45 degrees to the animal with reasonable results.

Cheers
Jordan

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Re: How to Photograph Snakes at Night?

Post by mikemike » June 16th, 2010, 12:20 pm

I usually shoot at ISO 200, at night but I ended up shooting at 400 the other night on accident.
These shots were all taken within the past couple moonless nights:


Chionactis occipitalis occipitalis - f20, 1/200 ISO 400
Image

Chionactis occipitalis annulata - f18, 1/100 ISO 400
Image

Crotalus scutulatus - f18, 1/160 ISO 400
Image

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