Michael Powell and I met for a long photowalk at Huntley Meadows Park on 11 April 2016. We spotted (and photographed) a Northern Black Racer (Coluber constrictor constrictor) during the morning and an Eastern Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) in the early afternoon.
The following photo shows Michael Powell shooting the snake, up close and personal, using a field-tested technique I refer to as “Sandbagging the Grinder.” Sometimes Mike uses his camera bag for support and stability in order to shoot tack-sharp photos with a Tamron 180mm macro lens. “The Grinder” is my nickname for Mike’s macro lens because you can hear the internal gears grinding when it’s autofocusing — it’s loud, but hey, it works well in the hands of a skilled photographer!
The preceding photo is the next shot I took after taking the photo of Mike. I was shooting with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 superzoom digital camera — my go-to camera for long walks in the field. I was sitting on my Coleman camp stool. The camp stool enables me to get closer to subjects either on- or near the ground, without belly-flopping like Mike. And I think it’s easier to hold my camera rock-steady when I’m sitting on the chair with my elbows resting on my knees.
Regular readers of the “Huntley Meadows Park Community” Facebook group know I recently commented on a post showing a young woman shooting photos of a Northern Black Racer by crouching on the ground about three feet in front of the snake’s face. I like to get as close as possible to the wildlife I photograph, but it’s important to do so safely. Snakes, especially Northern Black Racers, can move quickly and unexpectedly — when you position yourself in the line of fire in such a way that you can’t react and move just as quickly, you risk being bitten.
Both snakes that Mike and I photographed startled us when one minute we’re shooting photos and the next second the snakes slithered away like they were shot out of a canon! In this case, it’s possible I distracted the gartersnake enough to afford Mike the opportunity to get closer than he could have if he were alone. Only the snake knows what it was thinking at the time. But I know this: I would never do what Mike did. That being said, if one is going to risk being bitten by a snake in order to get some good close-up shots, then an Eastern Gartersnake is probably a lower risk than a Northern Black Racer.
Bottom line: Let’s be careful out there!
Copyright © 2016 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.