Photographing wildlife in harsh lighting: an Eastern Fence Lizard

Below we have a photo of a small, harmless, and downright cute Eastern Fence Lizard.  A native reptile of New Jersey that is widespread within its habitat, but generally not familiar to residents of Northern New Jersey.

Sceloporus undulatus

A closeup photograph of a wild New Jersey reptile taken with a Tamron macro lens and a Canon DSLR.

Photo taken with the Tamron SP 90mm VC F/2.8 Macro Lens and the Canon EOS 7D.  Camera settings: Shutter at 1/100 Aperture at F/3.2 and an ISO speed of 200.  One Shot focus mode, camera handheld, VC On, RAW image format, manual exposure mode, auto white balance.

F/3.2 is not the punchiest aperture of my lens, but it does yield acceptable sharpness.  Shallow depth of field was very important to me in the making of this photo.  My “go to aperture” for macro of F/5.6 brought a lot more detail in the foreground AND the background.  The impact of this photo is in its simplicity and having prominent background shapes and textures strongly detracts from this type of “mid-day silhouette capture”.

Clearly with the sun high in the sky and without cloud cover, the natural illumination of the subject is going to be uneven with a large contrast between the shadows and the highlights.  Many established photographers would call this “bad light” or “problematic light”.  This is not necessarily the easiest condition to create impactful photos in but by manually exposing for the subject’s mid-tones and shooting into an uncluttered background I’ve created a minimalistic photo that evokes thoughts of desert climates.

On Snake photography…

I find it’s hard to take a great snake photo. One of the main issues is that there elongated body shape is not naturally conducive to the aspect ratio of a photograph, unless you are shooting panoramas. My personal opinion is that going in close for just a headshot of wildlife often yields great detail, but may also remove artistic longevity from the final image. Alternatively, it is very difficult to compose a compelling wideangle photograph of most wildlife for a variety of reasons. One being that their habitat is often simply too cluttered to create a compelling frame. Another reason is obviously that most wildlife is generally on the move, so you aren’t typically going to have the chance to to compose something grandiose.


Black Ratsnake; juvenile

I am fairly satisfied with this photo, because the snake coiled in a way (striking position) that allowed me to get close enough to eliminate a largely distracting background. At the same time, I was not only lucky enough to get a bit of its body in the frame, but I was also able to shoot a frame where the snake’s head was in profile. This was also difficult as this wary and aggravated snake really did not trust me to take its eyes off of me for very long.