Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Intrepid me

with 45 comments

Rattlesnake 0477A

Intrepid me, following a rattlesnake (Crotalus spp.) at the Doeskin Ranch in Burnet County on April 8. After I lived up to my reputation as a photographer by starting to take pictures, the snake lived up to its name by starting to rattle. Soon it moved off into the brush where I couldn’t take any more photographs of it, so the brief encounter ended in a draw: the rattlesnake didn’t bite me and I didn’t bite it.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 28, 2016 at 5:01 AM

45 Responses

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  1. A good outcome for both parties. I wonder if the snake has filed your picture away for future reference. Which makes me wonder what snakes make of us? A few possibilities here https://vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk/reptile-emotions


    April 28, 2016 at 5:22 AM

    • I’m pretty sure I didn’t endear myself to the rattlesnake in any of the ways that your linked article describes. If the snake stored my image at all, it would have been as that of something to be avoided.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 28, 2016 at 6:27 AM

  2. You gotta be kiddin!


    April 28, 2016 at 5:46 AM

  3. I’m not sure “intrepid” is the word I would use. Bahaha :).


    April 28, 2016 at 5:52 AM

    • You were thinking of a word like “foolhardy,” perhaps? I wasn’t actually as close as the picture makes it seem. For one thing, the 100mm lens (no time to change to a longer one) provided a magnification of about twice normal. For another, the full image included most of the snake, but I cropped in tight for the version you see here.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 28, 2016 at 6:35 AM

      • Ok, so you were just trying to make us believe you were brave (read as foolhardy). LOL! It is a cool shot though :).


        April 28, 2016 at 6:46 AM

        • I would’ve preferred a shot from a better angle to have a more-neutral background, but I’m not so foolhardy that I’d sit or lie down near a rattlesnake.

          You’ve made me think that camera manufacturers can tout another advantage of models that have a lot of megapixels: those cameras let photographers appear braver than they really are.

          Steve Schwartzman

          April 28, 2016 at 7:11 AM

    • If I’d been quicker on the uptake I could’ve claimed to be an escapee from the loony bin.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 28, 2016 at 7:18 AM

      • LOL – that would explain everything :).


        April 28, 2016 at 9:19 AM

        • We Americans are still stuck with $1 bills but you Canadians have your loonies. (Note to non-Canadians: the $1 Canadian coin is called a loonie because on the back it shows the bird known as a loon.)

          Steve Schwartzman

          April 28, 2016 at 9:47 AM

  4. You got the better end of that deal!


    April 28, 2016 at 5:53 AM

  5. Yikes.

    Pairodox Farm

    April 28, 2016 at 7:06 AM

    • If you check out my reply to photosfromtheloonybin, you’ll find the picture isn’t quite as yikesy as you might have thought.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 28, 2016 at 7:14 AM

  6. I’ll certainly leave following rattlesnakes to you! Even lookig at this picture gives me the shivers. Glad you got off without being bitten.
    Have a great and rattlesnake-free day,


    April 28, 2016 at 7:15 AM

    • I rarely get to see a rattlesnake. A couple of years ago I heard one but never saw it, so from my point of view as a photographer, this was a great opportunity. Still, I understand that a lot of people don’t like snakes, especially venomous ones.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 28, 2016 at 7:23 AM

  7. I really like your wildflower photographs, this snake not so much, but well done you for even standing still to take its picture.


    April 28, 2016 at 7:42 AM

    • As you’ve been seeing, the majority of pictures here do show wildflowers, so you won’t be disappointed. There have been only a few snakes. Some people are fond of them, and of spiders too, which I’ve shown from time to time. I’d enjoy seeing and portraying your bluebells, that’s for sure.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 28, 2016 at 7:55 AM

  8. Yikes! I’m glad you both escaped harm.


    April 28, 2016 at 7:44 AM

    • That’s the second yikes so far. You’ve reminded me of your song’s line: “Hey Jude, don’t be afraid.” Actually I was never in any danger from the snake, nor it from me.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 28, 2016 at 7:57 AM

  9. The colored patterns that give rattlesnake species like the western diamondback their names are obvious, but I’ve never before noticed the diamond-shaped patterns in the snake’s skin. I was admiring your capture of the ribbed texture of this one when I saw, in the first curve behind its head, those tiny diamond shapes. It’s certainly a detail I wouldn’t have paused long enough to admire if I’d met it in the field.

    Speaking more botanically, I was interested in Bob Kamper’s article on botanical photography this morning. Reading through the criteria made your Best of Show award last year even more impressive. And, it was a good reminder to me that, for purposes of identification, I need to focus on more than the pretty flowers. Stems, leaves, tendrils and bloom arrangement are important, too: which explains why those herbaria sheets contain the whole plant. (Sometimes, what should be obvious, isn’t — at least for me.)


    April 28, 2016 at 7:58 AM

    • When I took this picture and the few others I managed to get, I was paying no attention to details other than to keep the snake’s head focused while keeping myself at a prudent distance. One virtue of a photograph is that it fixes a moment in time so we can study the subject afterwards, free from the distractions of the moment. It’s commonplace now for me to notice things in a photograph that I was unaware of at the time I took the picture. Most of those details have been welcome surprises; in some cases I’d have composed or focused differently if I’d noticed the thing at the time.

      Being a photographer and not a botanist (the two aren’t mutually exclusive, of course), I go primarily for the esthetics of a picture. Some of the photographs that I consider my best aren’t representative of what someone is likely to see in the field. How many casual wanderers in nature, after all, are going to lie on the ground and look at plant from a strange angle? When I encounter a species I’m not familiar with, then I’ll take one or more “straightforward” pictures of leaves or a stalk to help with identification later. Even then that may not be enough, because sometimes the feature that distinguishes one species from a similar one is tiny, and not something a photographer would think of looking for. Sometimes the distinguishing feature appears only in a certain stage of a plant, and that stage may be months away from the encounter. For the most part I’ll stick to the esthetics.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 28, 2016 at 8:24 AM

      • Still, it seems clear your esthetic approach is informed by significant knowledge of your subjects: a knowledge that includes, but certainly isn’t limited to, botanical precision. Years of time in the field, and thousands of photos, help lead to “that certain something” that makes images memorable. Getting “down and dirty” doesn’t hurt.

        Last night, Robert Baldwin, the Music Director for the Salt Lake Symphony, said this in a post: “When the range of experience is wider, the possibility for depth in a single experience increases exponentially.” He was talking about the death of Prince, and the reasons a symphony director might listen to the blues, to pop, and so on, but the applicability of the principle to other fields — like nature photography — came to mind immediately. My range of experience is extraordinarily narrow. As it increases, I suspect my photos will improve.


        April 28, 2016 at 9:18 AM

        • I’ll still claim relative ignorance when it comes to botany. Whenever I’m out on a field trip with a real botanist, I see how little I know and I wonder what it must be like to see plants the way a botanist does. I have the same reaction when I’m at a performance of classical music: not being a musician, I can’t imagine all the things the musicians are aware of that I’m not. As for photography, there I’m better off.

          Your photographs have already improved and should indeed keep doing so.

          Steve Schwartzman

          April 28, 2016 at 9:39 AM

  10. How high were your feet off the ground when you pressed the shutter? Haha. Reminds me of sights when berry picking in Alabama a long time ago except that we had few stones in the Southern Coastal Plain.


    April 28, 2016 at 8:00 AM

    • The literal answer, Dianne, is that both feet were on the ground: there’s more stability that way for picture taking.

      Do you think the snakes you remember hung out near the berries because small animals would be attracted to the fruit?

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 28, 2016 at 8:26 AM

  11. Nice!! I would also prefer the ‘top-down’ approach to photographing venomous snakes, but there are those who prefer the ‘lie-down’ method like Jessie and Ray @ Texas Wild http://wp.me/p28k6D-2g3. I’d rather let them do the tough job and enjoy from the screen instead.

    I would love to see a rattlesnake up close, even from the top!! Alas, we only get the other three venomous variety in our yard (moccasin, copperhead, coral) but mostly the innocuous variety that even my kids can capture (http://wp.me/p28k6D-Z4).


    April 28, 2016 at 10:10 AM

    • Wow: you get moccasins, copperheads, and coral snakes in your yard. I hope your kids know how to distinguish those from the innocuous ones. I also hope you get to see a rattlesnake in nature someday.

      If I’d had my longer telephoto lens on the camera I’d have gone for a better angle because I could’ve gotten lower while keeping my distance. Unfortunately there wasn’t time to switch lenses because the rattlesnake was already beginning to move across the path in front of me when I saw it, so I had to make do with the 100mm macro lens that was on the camera. I mostly use it as a macro lens but it focuses out to infinity and therefore serves as a mild telephoto or portrait lens.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 28, 2016 at 10:40 AM

  12. But you shot it! Nice shot.
    Thank goodness we don’t have snakes here in New Zealand.

    Raewyn's Photos

    April 28, 2016 at 4:21 PM

    • That’s true, and it didn’t take a picture of me, so I’m ahead by one.

      It’s a rare place that doesn’t have any snakes. Ireland is said to be another one.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 28, 2016 at 4:24 PM

  13. Absorbing! You are a very brave man, Steve.

  14. Oh what a fantastic capture 😀 Love that distinctive head shape! Yeah, now I have to admit that I would have been the same as you. I’m far too curious for my own good!! I think my hubby is relieved that our wildlife in the UK is pretty harmless 😉

    • I usually prefer not to aim down toward a subject near the ground, but this time I had to. The fringe benefit is that I got a good view of the snake’s head shape, which I’d never noticed before. All in all, you’re probably fortunate indeed that your wildlife is pretty harmless. There are plenty of things in Texas that can do damage to a person, and some of them (cacti, for example) are quite common.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 28, 2016 at 10:32 PM

  15. so beautiful and deadly.


    April 29, 2016 at 2:59 AM

  16. Nice shot. There’s quite a debate going on around here about the state establishing a rattlesnake colony on an island in the Quabbin Reservoir. People are worried that the rattlers will leave the island and end up chasing their children around their backyard barbecues or attacking hikers in the watershed. As you mentioned, their first instinct is to leave an encounter rather than get aggressive. Unless you are mouse-sized they really are not interested in us and rattle to warn us to leave them alone. They don’t rattle to warn prey.

    Steve Gingold

    April 29, 2016 at 3:56 AM

    • That’s a good observation: rattlesnakes don’t rattle to warn prey. I imagine what people are afraid of in having these snakes around is that someone, especially a child, will accidentally step near one before the snake has a chance to rattle. A couple of decades ago I was walking on a trail in the Texas Panhandle and came close to stepping on a rattlesnake because my attention was on things other than the trail. In this latest encounter I was fairly close to the rattlesnake before I saw it, but I wasn’t ever in any danger.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 29, 2016 at 7:46 AM

  17. Gosh you are game ..


    April 29, 2016 at 11:59 PM

  18. Great photo, Steve! My father had a pet rattler as a child, but that was back in the Kentucky mountains, long, long ago. I was told my grandmother did not approve of Dad’s pet snake. In general, I like all snakes, but give them the respect they deserve.

    Lavinia Ross

    April 30, 2016 at 5:16 PM

    • Thanks, Lavinia. I understand why your grandmother didn’t approve of a pet rattlesnake and was all for giving that snake more respect, namely by not keeping it. Your father was fortunate he never had an accident.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 30, 2016 at 9:11 PM

  19. Sssssinuously ssssstriking. So glad you weren’t in striking distance, of course, nor the snake in the mood to attempt it. 🙂 What a beauty, and what a great opportunity! I’m way too slow on the draw to capture most of my favorite moving sightings. Glad you’re *not*!


    May 2, 2016 at 1:57 PM

    • That’s a ssssussurous sssstart to a comment. Better indeed for the picture to be striking than for the snake to be striking, especially if I’m at the receiving end.

      As for speed, I was walking along the path with my camera bag, so I didn’t need more than a few seconds to begin taking pictures. If you’d been walking there with a camera, I expect you’d have gotten pictures as well.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 2, 2016 at 2:06 PM

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