Personally I prefer photos of snakes on natural backgrounds but in suburbia, that can often be difficult. Especially when the snakes start putting on some size.
When natural backdrops aren’t available, I put them on a white background – it’s useful for comparing colours later on when they’re closer to adulthood and comparing snake with snake.
I use wrapping paper. Cheap, easy and lots of it. I buy rolls and then use the underside of them by weighting them down on my kitchen bench (it has the best light usually) opposite the kitchen window. I unroll the paper and then place the entire roll on top of a large box and weigh it down. (Please ignore the mess of my kitchen)
There is no sun coming through the window, just light- therefore the kitchen bench is usually cold. I use a container filled with hot water and sit it on the bench for a few minutes to heat up the benchtop because grabbing a snake from a warm hide and expecting it to sit still on cold paper is just asking too much. Hot water bottle or one of those heat packs would work well. It just needs to be not cold.
Obviously these photos would be much better with a second light source (a flash mounted on camera or a light off camera right) to remove the shadows on the paper. This method however, is practically free and most people with have the means to do it.
I use the hide from the snake’s enclosure and then feed the snake back into it.
Ignore the screwdriver.. it was the closest thing on the bench to use as a weight.
I let them settle for a couple of minutes and then i remove the hide. Providing their hide box and letting them settle usually makes for a calm, relatively still snake:
But dependent on the individual, sometimes not:
Remove the hide and hope for the best. This was a successful snake:
This was not:
However being wriggly doesn’t always mean a failed effort. You can snap closeups instead:
Keep in mind that not everyone is going to be willing to participate. It’s up to you to assess the mood of your snake and listen when they aren’t in a co-operative mood and photograph them another day. Obviously photographing hungry or sloughing snakes is a no-no. If you have a particularly ‘wriggly’ individual – feeding them a small prey item and attempting the photo straight afterward can work or if you would prefer not to move the snake around too much then a day or two after their normal meal. I never keep a snake on the paper for longer than a few minutes; it’s a quick snap and then back home they go. If they are wriggly or un-co-operative they get put back.
Patience is key. When you take the hide off, they’re not always in the position you’d like them to be (tip: using a round container always works better to get the snake to coil correctly, obviously)..
…but if you wait for them (granted they aren’t desperately trying to escape), they sometimes put themselves into very photogenic positions:
Others that have worked well:
In a bright room using natural light settings on my camera were:
Canon 6D paired with a Canon 50mm f/1.4
f/stop range between 2.8 – 5.6
I play with my white balance settings to get the most out of the white paper (so it actually looks white) – but if you’re using plenty of natural light, you should be ok on Auto.
I like to have the shutter above 100 to capture any movement but generally if the snake is comfortable, it is still. If you want to capture tongue movement, it will need to be higher. My camera manages well on high ISO without being grainy but if yours doesn’t, put the ISO down to 500 (if available) and shoot at 2.8 and 100 shutter speed. Shooting in aperture priority mode is useful – f/3.5 would be a good start… the smaller the number the shorter depth of field and the less of the snake that will be focused – but it lets more light in. If you’re working in really bright light or you’re using two light sources, f/9 will have everything in focus.