When my daughters were little I loved watching Sesame Street with them, and Sammy the Snake was one of my favorite characters (Did I type that out loud? I meant their favorite, their favorite). Sammy helped to teach the alphabet because he looked and sounded just like the letter S, oh yessssssss!
Over a recent weekend I met a few snaky friends of Sammy’s and discovered Sammy is not the only snake with teaching skills. When his friends saw my camera they slithered up and asked that I give you the following tips on how to enhance your compositions and how to keep your digital image files clean and manageable.
Meet Harriet the Hognose Snake. She may look more like Harriet the squished snake, but she is simply displaying one of her natural defense postures. When a predator approaches and there is no time to get away, hognose snakes roll over and play dead. Frequently, they will vomit the contents of their stomachs to add a bit more realism to their death act. Most predators prefer to eat live prey and so leave the apparently dead snake alone. The snake vomit is likely a bit gross for the predators, too. Harriet asked that I shoot the image above because it is a pretty good establishing shot for a visual story about hognose snakes. She then suggested I move around and check out her pose from several other angles. She said I should get closssssser to capture the image on the right. It better illustrates her defensive posture because of its ground level view. Thus, the first way to enhance your photo compositions is to get closer to your subject and get as close to your subject’s eye level as possible. By the way, you can see Harriet likes to ham it up for the camera. She even let her tongue dangle out for the second image.
While lying there, Harriet said to get closssssser still and concentrate on detail. What she really said was Take sum pidchers of my tongue (you can imagine how difficult it is to talk with your tongue hanging out of your mouth). Now you might think this image on the left is pretty darn cool. After all it shows her mouth open, tongue dangling, and even a few sharp ridges on her mouth. But Harriet suggests this composition is not as clean as it could be. One leaf partially blocks her head and eye. Several other leaves in the foreground are out of focus. There is a blade of grass flying in from the left edge. And, the background has several bright blades of dried grass. Before you say you could fix all this in post processing, Harriet suggests it is better to capture the best image possible in your camera so you can minimize the time you spend on post processing. She said to look for a better angle for her close-up. Harriet prefers the image on the right. It is a stronger composition because the view of her head is unobstructed; her eye is fully visible; the foreground elements tend to lead you to look at her head; and the rest of her body and the background are in soft focus which helps to focus attention on her head and open mouth. Harriet apologized that her tongue was getting a little dry and so had to pull it back inside her throat
[Okay, I have taken this talking snake thing about as far as I can go. I knew the hognose snake was playing possum, and I was not about to reach any closer to move the intruding weeds or blades of grass out of the way. I did not want to risk being nipped at; nor did I want the snake to reposition itself. Instead I physically moved around to find the best viewpoint and then composed the stronger, cleaner image. Hold on a moment. I believe Harriet is trying to say something again].
Harriet thanked me for being a good ssssssport and suggested her two friends would be willing to help with another key lesson on enhancing your images. First, we meet her old friend Wilma the Water Snake. When you are out and about photographing wildlife, you tend to start pressing the camera shutter as soon as you spot your first critter. That’ssss okay, says Wilma. Then she asks if you noticed the drab foreground and the distracting background. Thanks for pointing that out to us Wilma.
Harriet and Wilma both suggested it is better to look for another example of a Northern Water Snake in its natural environment. Wilma’s nephew Norb was just around the bend hunting for breakfast amid some rocks along the river bank, and he graciously posed for only a few seconds. By the way, Norb is wearing the coloration of a juvenile Northern Water Snake.
[One more time I will interrupt a moment to explain that neither the hognose snake nor the Northern water snake are lethal. However, the Northern water snake can be aggressive, and both snakes may bite if provoked or threatened].