How To Photograph Reptiles and Amphibians

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Wildlife photography offers so many subject opportunities. And reptiles and amphibians are an awesome subject!

This post will get you started with what you need to know before you head out. We’ll talk about how to set up your camera, how to find and approach your subject, the best settings for shooting in various light conditions and finally some handy tips for photographing reptiles and amphibians.

What Type of Camera To Use

There are pros and cons to using your smartphone camera, a compact camera (intermediate or dSLR) or a high-end professional camera. All will work, however the higher the megapixels the better. This will allow you to enlarge your image without it looking pixelated. We’re going to assume that its a dSLR or high-end compact being used for all examples as these are the two most common types of cameras used for wildlife photography, including for reptiles and amphibians.

What Lens To Use

A 100mm macro lens is great for shooting reptiles and amphibians (or any wildlife subject really). It allows you to get close up without risking scaring away your subject. You can also use it for video footage.

If you don’t have a macro lens, then a telephoto zoom lens is the next best thing. For photography purposes, the image won’t look as good, but if you are video recording it will offer a lot more flexibility.

How To Set Up Your Camera For Best Results

The majority of reptiles and amphibians are quite docile and won’t bother you, however there are some that can be dangerous (like snakes) so it is best to take care in choosing your settings. You don’t need any fancy optical adjustments or anything other than the plain old automatic settings on your camera that will do all the hard work for you automatically.

What To Look For In The Subject

The key to photographing reptiles and amphibians successfully is patience. They won’t sit still and wait on the edge of a rock for you to get the perfect shot. You’ll need to get close to them, put your camera there first. Then bring them into the shot.

This will mean that you’ll need to have already scouted the location and chosen the best angle for your shot. Before you start, consider:

If you are shooting video or stills photos? Will they be close up, mid range or far away shots? What is your background going to be like? How much light do you have on hand? If there is not much sun where are you located (shade etc.?)

These details will be vital to setting up your camera. We are going to consider shooting stills first.

Camera Settings For Shooting Still Images Of Reptiles And Amphibians

ISO (ISO Speeds) The ISO speed of the camera refers to how sensitive the image sensor is to light. In low light conditions you will need a higher ISO and therefore a lower ISO in bright light conditions Images from ISO 100-200 are very clean, while even at 1600 there is little noise present in the image. However, the higher you go the more likely you are to get noise in your image. (The appearance of random colored pixels) The ideal setting is ISO 100-200 for bright light conditions and ISO 400-800 for lower light.

Camera Settings For Shooting Video

If shooting video, you’ll need a lower ISO and a higher shutter speed. This is because video frames are produced at a faster rate than stills (30 or 24fps) as well as having motion blur caused by the shaking of your hand holding the camera. The higher shutter speed will help to compensate for any movement and stop the scene from blurring.

Autofocus Points Choose the center autofocus point so that your subject is in focus at all times.

White Balance (Wb) This is typically set to Auto White Balance. However, as reptiles and amphibians are cold-blooded, their coloration changes with the light source. For example they’ll look a lot darker when in the shade than when in bright sunlight. So choosing a custom white balance on your camera is advisable. This setting will need to be set in the same place and lighting conditions that you shoot in regularly for accuracy.

Shutter Speed 1/500 – 1/2000 sec are ideal. The higher the shutter speed, the more accurate it will be. If you are shooting video you will need at least 1/100 sec to stop motion blur from your hands shaking.
How To Get Close Up Shots Of Reptiles And Amphibians

Reptile and Amphibian Photography Tips

Getting close up shots of reptiles and amphibians can be tricky as they are fast moving creatures.

If you are using a regular compact or dSLR (basically any camera other than a smartphone) then your best bet is to shoot them from a distance, using a telephoto/zoom lens. Take your time with the settings and make sure your autofocus is on the central point. Using a telephoto helps to prevent any movement and will ensure that you are always in focus. You can then crop your pictures in post-production for much closer images.

If you are using a dSLR, then shoot in RAW (format that saves every image you take) or use one of the many free apps especially for this purpose.

People often ask, “should I get close up shots of my reptiles or amphibians?” The answer is yes, but it depends on what do you hope to achieve from your images. Generally, if you want to show their natural habitat or just the general idea of what they look like. You’ll get the best results from shooting them from a distance with either a telephoto/zoom lens or a wide angle lens. If you want close up pictures to sell them as photo-art prints then you will need to be more creative when taking those shots.

When You Shouldn’t Get Close Up Shots Of Reptiles And Amphibians

There are some instances where shooting up close is not ideal. You don’t want to get close up pictures of venomous snakes, big constrictors or anything else that may bite, attack or generally be a danger.

In other words, if you think they will be startled by a photo, don’t take the shot.

Conclusion

There you have it. Our comprehensive guide covering everything you need to know about getting great shots of reptiles and amphibians.

We hope this will help inspire you to take better images of these amazing animals.