Each month, we ask one distinguished author or illustrator to write an original post that reveals insights about their process and craft. Enjoy!
“Those Beguiling and Beautiful Snakes“
by Nic Bishop
Photo courtesy of the author.
Snakes are tricky creatures, both to photograph and to handle. Their long, thin bodies and surface-hugging habits create challenges for photographers, and their nervous natures don’t permit easy interaction, especially for those of us carrying cameras. Even a medium-sized creature will win at wrestling. And many bite in self-defense—with alarming speed. One particularly quick animal that mistook my hand for food scored three bites before my brain had time to register what was happening.
This large brown tree snake left several of its teeth embedded in my hand.
Fortunately its venom is relatively mild.
But snakes are hard to ignore. These shy and silent legless predators are intrinsically mysterious and undeniably graceful. They are beguiling and beautiful creatures, and it was only a matter of time before I fell for their charms.
Early on, I decided to photograph mostly captive snakes. Apart from allowing me to work with animals that were a little more familiar with humans, it gave me time to observe my subjects and arrange for the best lighting and composition. I wanted to highlight the exquisite textural details of the serpents’ scales and the muscular curves of their coils. I wanted pictures that would take viewers into their strange, snaky world—eye-to-eye.
Attention to lighting renders the detailed beauty of snakes.
Over the subsequent months, my family and I shared our house with powerful constrictors, an array of colorful rat snakes, humble garter snakes, and tree-climbing parrot snakes. I waited up many nights for a snake to swallow an egg four times the size of its head. I watched as baby snakes hatched, then slithered out of their eggs.
But my family’s hospitality did not extend to venomous snakes. For these I tracked down enthusiasts whose menageries included rattlesnakes (in spare bedrooms) and spitting cobras (in garages). Sometimes it was hard to decide which were more interesting: the owners or their animals.
In the end, I wouldn’t say I grew fond of snakes. But certainly, I felt fascination, respect, and awe for them, and later, more than a little relief when my book, Nic Bishop Snakes (Scholastic 2012), was finished.
Swallowing an egg four times larger than one’s head take takes extraordinary effort and it is not something an egg-eating snakes will do often or readily, especially while being watched.
- An original article by Nic Bishop
This material may not be used without the express written consent of Nic Bishop. All images courtesy of Nic Bishop.
More online resources about Nic Bishop:
Hear Nic Bishop share the story of his name. Listen Now
Hear Nic Bishop share more about his work. Nic Bishop on Red-Eyed Tree Frog (Scholastic, 1999). Listen Now
See all online resources for Nic Bishop.