Frequently Asked Questions

Question

Geoff, how would you recommend photographing reptiles? With the exception of shinglebacks, the odd brown snake, and bearded dragons, I find most reptiles streak off into the sunset before I have even seen them. I have encountered the occasional Jacky Lizard, but they skitter off before I can so much as think “camera”.

Answer

As with any photography, knowing your subject, sneaking up on prey, having a good camera with a reasonable lens, patience etc all help.

Learning about groups of species, and then how to distinguish species within a group, greatly helps. Knowing the species helps to know what to focus on when taking a photo. It has taken many years for me to learn what I know about local reptiles and of course I am still learning. With the aids that we have now, such as CNM, learning to distinguish species should be easier in future. As we develop the CMN section on reptiles, I hope to include tips on what to look for when identifying species. Learning about an animal’s preferred habitat also helps. Knowing about species and habitat helps both to find them and identify them. You seem to be well on the way.

I agree with you that often you just see them scurry off. However, there is often an opportunity to take good photos. When I first observe an animal I want to photograph, I take a photo when I first see it and then attempt to get closer and closer taking photos as I get closer. When I am out and about I am often ready with my camera and moving quietly to maximise opportunities. Also knowing a little about animal behaviour and habitat also helps to look in the right places.

I am a member of ACT Herpetological Association. Members have permission in the ACT to collect non venomous species, take them to meetings for education purposes, and return them to the wild. Many members are skilled at capturing reptiles. I only advise people to catch animals with a number of strong qualifications. However, once captured it is best to place the animal in a cool place, especially away from the sun, where they will cool down and become calmer and easier to photograph.

The purpose of the photo is also important. Many photographers are very concerned about the quality of the image, making it appear natural etc. However, I find that if I place an animal in a plastic dish so that it cannot escape I can get a good photo for ID and education purposes. I might then release it in a natural setting and while it is warming up, there is often a good opportunity to be a good photo.

I see the power of CNM as an educational and conservation tool. Hence reptile ID and mapping is our main aim. The quality of photography is secondary.

For ID purposes, it is good to have good quality multiple photos taken from different angles. However, it is amazing how helpful even a distant or poor photo is. From a poor photo it is often possible to identify those characteristics that distinguish one species from another.

Hence getting photos of reptiles for CNM this does not rule out using iPhones, ordinary cameras, etc.

I hope this helps.

Geoff

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