For some reason I always seem to be drawn to the reptile displays when I visit zoos and similar facilities. Maybe it is their dinosaur-like appearance or some deep, primal fear I have that causes me to be intrigued. During a recent visit to Alligator Adventure in Myrtle Beach I spent some time photographing reptiles behind glass enclosures in one of the display buildings.
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.
Although I forgot to capture the diplay signs for all of the specimens I photographed, I did remember to get the names of quite a few more species, like the Green Basilisk above.
As you look at the EXIF data for the images you’ll notice that I used exposure compensation on some of the photographs and not others. This was really dependant on the lighting in each display case and the position of the specimen. In cases where the reptile had strong highlights, thus increasing the risk of blowing out details, I applied some exposure compensation.
Due to the darker conditions I shot the images in this article at between ISO-1000 and ISO-6400, with the majority not exceeding ISO-3200. Most of the time I used decent shutter speeds ranging from 1/30 to 1/60 with a few at slower shutter speeds, one at 1/8.
Some of the specimens were under very strong, red heat lamps. This caused the images I captured to have an overall reddish cast as well as have bright red highlight areas. This was the case with the image above and directly below. I went into the hue settings in CS6 and make some hue adjustments, especially with the red hue to try to make the images usable for this article.
During a previous visit to this same display building in 2015 I shot all my images with the 1 Nikon 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 lens. Since I added a 1 Nikon 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 to my kit I brought this lens with me during my recent visit. I found that it was actually a better lens choice for many of the image opportunities in this particular venue due to its shorter minimum focusing distance.
The 1 Nikon 10-100 f/4-5.6 allowed me to shoot much closer to the glass of the enclosures, sometimes with my lens right up against the surface. This helped improve image quality as the effects of soiled glass partitions could be reduced.
At you can see in the above image I still had to shoot at a distance away from the glass from time to time. As a result the dirt on the glass is still noticeable, even though I removed the worst of it with the spot removal tool in CS6.
Often when photographing display enclosures containing multiple specimens I look for opportunities to compose images to take advantage of natural body positions or use other individual specimens to create a ‘magic 7‘ as in the above image, corner exists or leading lines in the images.
While many photographers like to capture entire specimens I much prefer creating images focusing on the heads of lizards and snakes. I love the level of detail that can be captured, finding that it helps to make the images more visceral.
I find the texture of the skins of reptiles like lizards and snakes quite intriguing and I spend a bit more time in post trying to bring out this texture. It is always good to remember that edge acuity is one of the factors that our eyes use to judge ‘sharpness’. There are adjustments in post, other than sharpness, that can help enhance edge acuity.
Everyone has their own approach with post processing, and what one person chooses to do may not be what another person does.
I did not add any sharpness when processing my reptile images beyond what I normally do with my Nikon 1 files. Instead I tend to darken highlight areas, use contrast and micro-contrast adjustments, as well as utilize black and white sliders to try to enhance edge acuity. I’ve found it can also be helpful to use settings similar to the ‘clarity’ one found in CS6.
All of the images in this article were captured hand-held in available light. I used AF-S with single point auto-focus for all of the images.
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Article and all images Copyright Thomas Stirr. All rights reserved. No use, duplication of any kind, or adaptation is allowed without written consent.