Copperhead! Adventure Day With the Girls

It was adventure day. Some new gear was in house, two of the girls were home and anxious to go somewhere, and a plan was quickly formulated.

Gear prep included mounting a Sony FE 16-35mm F2.8 GM Lens to the Sony Alpha 6700 and the Sony FE 70-200mm F4 Macro G OSS II Lens to a Sony Alpha 1. For fast access, both kits were put into Lowepro Photo Active TLZ AW Top-Loader Camera Bags, the 45 and 50 respectively. A CPL filter for each lens was stowed in the case's front pocket.

We picked up sandwiches and drove close to 2 hours to the boulder field at Hickory Run State Park. After hiking out onto the rocks beyond the other visitors, the a6700 was pulled out for the requisite rock and cloud photos. That's when I discovered that the Sony FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM II Lens was mounted instead of the 16-35. The lenses are similar in appearance, and both were on my desk for evaluating the a6700.

While the FE 24-70 II is an outstanding lens, the angle of view was not as wide as I wanted for an APS-C camera body at this location. Still, the 24-70mm APS-C angle of view range worked fine for the primary need, field use with the a6700.

Our next location involved a close to 2-mile hike to a river gorge vista. Again the 16-35 would have been ideal, but good use for the 24-70mm range was availed. When photographing a still subject while focal length limited on the wide end, a panorama technique is a great option, and I made that happen.

As we explored the relatively small rock outcropping, my middle daughter shouted "Copperhead!", referring to one of the three venomous snakes found in Pennsylvania. All of us watched parts of the snake move through the mountain laurel and rocks that prevented a view clear enough for a photo.

Soon, the snake went under a rock, and we went back out onto the rocks. A few minutes later, the same daughter and I simultaneously spotted a timber rattlesnake hiding in the shade of rock layers included in the landscape pictures already captured. The dark-phased snake was highly camouflaged by the shadow it was in. Within seconds, we had the rest of the area scanned, with the realization that we were hanging out with 8 copperheads and two timber rattlers, one of which was quite large.

With a heightened sense of awareness, we began observing this location's newly availed photo subjects. While the 70-200 still in the car would have been the ideal lens, it didn't make this hike's light packing list. However, the inadvertently included 24-70 got the job done much better than the 16-35 would have.

Snakes under light-colored rocks on a sunny day create a dynamic range challenge. To overcome that obstacle, a well-positioned daughter created shade.

Numerous compositions were captured, but none of them show the awkwardness of photographing these snakes in rock cracks. To get low enough to see the snake and get the desired eye-level view, the back of my hand was on the rock, supporting (and protecting) the camera along with some upper body weight. While the a6700's LCD rotates, the angle reflected the sun, making the display unusable, and looking through the viewfinder at this height added to the challenge. Scars heal, but memories aided by digital images last a lifetime.

The elevation angle was easy to discern, but the side-to-side position decision was not as easy. In this example, the shallow f/2.8 plane of sharp focus was aligned to include the visible eyes of both snakes.

To those who fear snakes and are feeling creeped out by this image, understand that we were not in danger. While they are venomous, copperheads and timber rattlesnakes are generally docile if not attacked. Fleeing is their first choice vs. biting, and these snakes didn't care that we were there.

We said goodbye to the vipers and moved on to the next stop on the adventure.

Processing this image involved a minor complication. Despite the daughter shade, the snakes under the rock were darker than the rock above and in front of it. A manually processed single-image HDR strategy evened the lighting.

Camera and Lens Settings
52mm  f/2.8  1/40s
ISO 100
6192 x 4128px
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