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A serpent comes into focus

Yesterday was a great day, with lots of field time. It all started with "Bobolinks at Byer's Woods" in Ashland County. This event is organized by Greater Mohican Audubon Society, and has been running for six or eight years. I've got some interesting photos from that and will share some later, along with the story of the festival.
Following the conclusion of Bobs at Byer's, it was off to do some fieldwork at Mohican State Forest and Brown's Lake Bog, where I had specific target animals and plants in mind. We saw lots of stuff, and I made many a photograph of course, including images of some of our rarer orchids. It was a HOT day, with temperatures soaring to 89 degrees and accompanied by high humidity. After a solid nine or ten hours out, it felt good to stay indoors today and catch up on myriad tasks.
As always happens when afield, other interesting species popped up. While exploring a trail along a small stream deep within Mohican State Forest, Marcia Rubin spotted a youngish Northern Watersnake, Nerodia sipedon, basking in a sapling while I was prostrate and photographing a Round-leaved Orchid, Platanthera orbiculatus, in full bloom.
Of course, I wanted to photograph the snake, too, and sprang to my feet to admire the animal. It was in a particularly nice backdrop, and was acting fairly tame, which allowed for some up close images. In addition to capturing some decent photos of an animal that is often found in more cluttered backdrops, I saw an opportunity to explore the camera's depth of field variances.
Note how I am giving you snake-dislikers plenty of time to escape :-) Snakes lend themselves well to exploiting depth of field comparisons with cameras, as we shall see. The following two photos should be instructive.
The watersnake was nice and cooperative in that it was posing about head high. That it was resting on a branch made for, I think, a more interesting pose than if it were on a rock in a stream or a muddy bank. Fortunately for me, I had my tripod along. I rarely use it when going afield for photos, because it is cumbersome and photography is normally only part of my goal - covering ground and locating as much interesting flora and fauna as possible is a big part of my forays. And normally, by using other stabilization methods and photography techniques, I can do fairly well sans tripod.

But the target of this trip was the Round-leaved Orchid, and I knew it would be growing in a situation with very poor light. Hence, the tripod was lugged along. So, when the snake came to light, I was able to set the camera rig up quickly a few feet out from the animal. This was in a heavily forested situation with poor light, and I wouldn't have been able to get decently crisp images of the snake - or orchid - by handholding the camera.

So, the above shot was taken with my Canon 5D Mark III with Canon's 430 Speedlite attached to the hotshoe. The Speedlite was muffled with a Lumiquest Softbox flash diffuser, which is a great aid in softening the flash's glare. Insofar as the snake's composition, I adjusted the camera's focus point so that it was towards the image field's bottom left corner. That way, the focal point was the animal's face, with the body extending into the background. The camera's settings were as follows:

1/8 sec. exposure
ISO 400

Since I had the stability of a tripod, very slow shutter speeds could be used, especially as there was no wind or movement of the subject. Even though the camera will deal well with much higher ISO settings, which allow for faster shutter speeds, I wanted to keep the ISO low for maximum image quality. Note how the snake's face is crisp ( as always, click on the photo to enlarge) but the animal's body quickly diffuses into blurriness.

This shot, in which the composition is identical, was taken with a radically different camera setting:

3.2 second exposure
ISO 400

Because of the much greater depth of field produced by the greatly stopped down aperture, we can now see the snake's body in far greater detail, and this shot, to me, is vastly improved over the first image. But without benefit of a tripod, there would have been no possible way to make the image at such a ridiculously slow shutter speed. Any movement of the subject would have ruined the shot as well.


Actually, I like the first shot better. :o) Having just the head in focus gives the photo more punch, IMO.

Each to his own! Still great images.

Now please explain to me what watersnakes (and baby garters, from a head-height snake photo I took a couple years ago) are doing hanging around in trees...?

jaredmizanin said…
I am a fan of narrow DOF shots, but I agree I like the second shot better. Since the background is not nearby, it is blurred anyway, so it is nice to have more DOF on the subject. Also in the first photograph, the horizontal twig is blurred making it "larger" and a bit more distracting.

I'm loving your photography tidbits you add in each blog.

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