Busting Your Myth - SLR v/s non-SLR

September 4th, 2008

With the advent of digital technology, photographers have mushroomed many folds, who are novices and have no idea what equipment they actually need to buy for their photography, especially as beginners. Most of them think that to do good shots, one should just buy an SLR and one starts getting promoted as a great photographer overnight. I keep getting mails and phone calls, almost three to four a day on an average, to consult me while making a vital decision about which SLR they should buy. After a few questions, I find that the person has no idea about what is the difference between SLR and non-SLR camera, especially in the times of digital technology. Most of them end up making blunders and buy SLRs. Why I say blunders, because you do not need an SLR to learn basics of photography and by the time you grind your skills to reach a level of basic photography, your camera gets outdated, especially at a crucial time when you need an SLR but its has become outdated.

The SLR and non-SLR cameras have almost the same quality of output for a common man. Yes, in the film-era, there was a vast difference between the quality of film non-SLR and  SLR. We must be careful in assessing our requirements considering what kind of subjects I am going to handle. Also, we can not afford to replace cameras and lenses often.

Indian Rat Snake

I have posted this image to encourage you to reconsider your decisions about SLRs if you are a beginner. I have captured the fast flickering tongue and the image is sharp enough, it was shot with Canon Powershot G5.

Majestic Indian Cobra - a gentleman !!!

July 18th, 2008

Majestic Indian Cobra

© Capt Suresh Sharma. All Rights Reserved

A couple of days ago, I decided to have a bit longer night while working on some important issues. At about 0130 hours, I got a call from a young lady, asking if I am Capt Suresh Sharma from the Snake Cell. First, I was a bit skeptical, as it was worrisome to hear a young stranger girl on phone at unearthly hour. First, I thought it was the usual effect of the snake article of the day in the Times of India, where I was part of the article, usually its followed by few such phone calls. So, I reacted in usual manner and waited to hear her first, to know if there was a snake actually. She told me that there was a snake, I had to assess the situation i.e. the gravity of the emergency, type of snake, whether call is hoax or real, any security required, and made her comfortable on phone that she need not worry about the snake, it will not jump on her or chase her, just stand at about five feet and lest he goes off her sight. Finally, on my arrival on the scene, I caught a small common krait. You may refer this photo of Common Krait.

After delivering a sort of lecture about snakes and snakebite to the family, I got back home at about 0315 hours, by the time I washed my hands and face to get ready to sleep, it was 0340 hours. Thought, I should check my mails etc. before I go to sleep, as I would be getting up late in the morning. The moment I sat in my chair, my telephone rang up once again. Now, I got a bit jittery, suspecting the call from the girl who called me for snake rescue. As I know, this act of handling snakes mesmerizes young girls and they do get swayed. To my surprise, there was another call for ‘snake rescue’, I had to ask the gentleman that what was he doing at 0330 hours. He told me that while he was going to washroom in his house, he heard a loud hiss under the washbasin in veranda. He was quite shaky when he spoke to me. I asked for transport as I was too tired to drive my own. On my arrival at the sight where snake was hiding, I discovered it was a big healthy cobra hiding behind a flowerpot. I coaxed him to come out and he did oblige me like a gentleman. Now we both were face to face, me with tong and hook, cobra equipped with his well hidden lethal fangs inside his nice hood. Being a gentleman, he warned me enough to be left alone in peace. It was looking majestic, a handsome cobra indeed. I bagged the cobra and left at the same house under an iron pot, to pick up during the day.

Next day, I invited Gurbir Singh Brar a very spirited, passionate and enthusiastic Flickr friend. He loves photography as much as I like and love it. I like two things about him, he is passionate about photography, secondly he loves to work with good camera equipment. It’s a very good quality, which many people do not have, in spite of the fact that some have money and love photography, but no vision and heart to buy good equipment.

Early morning, we were out and had a nice session with our handsome Cobra model. It was challenging me with its loud and clear hiss, majestically erected hood. Suddenly, with heavy overcast, light had gone bad and had to use Speedlite flash. I treated him with water to drink, so he was ready to pose. After some time, cobra understood that we mean no harm to him and was quite calm and gentle. It’s a technique to communicate and assure them that you mean no harm.

It was the first photo session for Gurbir with any snake. He was quite excited. More you may ask him yourself http://flickr.com/photos/gurbirsinghbrar/

To most of you, it will look like a risky photo session. Most will say, I must have overlooked my own “safety book”. No, I will never overlook that.

I love this shot.


© Capt Suresh Sharma. All Rights Reserved

Photography Tips:

1. With my experience, I can say that cobra is one of the best Indian snakes for photography. I would like to mention here that its known as ‘Good Snake’ – in Tamil Nadu state of India its called `Nalla Pamboo’ `nalla’ means good, `pamboo’ means snake. Mainly, its posture, when its hood is erect, makes it a very handsome majestic snake and you are bound to make good photographs. I do not mean you do not get good photos with other snakes, they do have their own beauty and attractive features and postures.
2. Cobra raises its hood, basically, to warn you to stay away from him and requesting to give him way to escape. As, I have mentioned before as well, they are not interested in you, as you are not their food. They always like to avoid any such confrontation. Also, they are more scared of you, than what you are of them.
3. Since they perceive threat to their life, from your very presence itself and your movements alarm and scare them badly, so they need to have assurance from you that you will no harm them, before you deploy your `camera arsenal’. For this, you need to establish communication with them, which doesn’t mean a verbal dialogue, in any case they can not hear as they do not have ears. Your message can be conveyed silently, while being a gentleman with them that they are in safe hands.
4. Once you have done that then they are like your pets. But they are very strict about discipline, still no liberty, you can not cross the safety limits. Do not forget, the only permission or consent you got for being a gentleman is that you can photograph them within certain limits. Its like getting a beautiful model in bikini for a professional photo shoot, messing beyond that be seeking serious trouble!! That you all know well. So, let me reiterate, there will be moments of temptations while having photo session with your snake models too, as they too look pretty and attractive. As a photographer you would like to shoot all those great angles and get closer and closer or touch them even.
5. Do not expose them for too long under the Sun and on a hot surface, they are delicate and will die with such exposure. Do give them rest after every angle.
6. Do carry a five to six feet long stick, with a piece of hanging cloth at one end. So, your snake handler can draw snake’s attention and change his poses and postures, as you need compose.

How to Differentiate Between Venomous and Non-venomous Snakes?

April 24th, 2008

© Capt Suresh Sharma. All Rights Reserved

Common Krait Bungarus caeruleus

Often, during my lectures on `snakes and snakebite’, or on the street or by guests at home, I am confronted by this commonly asked question `how to identify a snake’ or `how to differentiate between a venomous or non-venomous snake’. I think most of them expect me to give them a `quick fix’ answer – snakes those are black or hissing are venomous etc. Its not true, there is no short cut to know about which one is venomous, other than learning by practice – seeing them time and again, all snakes of one particular species look alike. So, all cobras will look alike, when confronted by a human being’s sudden appearance, they raise their hood, all Russell’s Vipers have the same kind of markings and hiss loud, all common kraits are black with twin bands on their body, all rat-snakes are alike, etc. So, you can learn about how to identify a snake, under trained eyes of an expert who is good at handling snakes or anyone who knows about snakes well.

CAUTION: As a common man, you must not even try to identify a snake, it solves no purpose. Just follow one rule of thumb: maintain a safe distance from a snake and stay away from its striking range, which is approximately one third of the total body length of the snake in your proximity. For a common man, snake is a snake!

In the past, I have seen, with poor knowledge of snakes, many snake handlers have got into trouble – mistaken identity ! Often a Russell’s Viper is mistaken for python baby, saw-scaled viper as common cat snake, common krait as wolf snake, etc. This can be a seriously dangerous and fatal mistake. Such incidents have occurred but not recorded so far. Whenever there is a Russell’s Viper sighted in my town, people often call and say that they have spotted a python baby. And I know that its Russell’s Viper and caution them to stay away at a safe distance and keep an eye till I reach.

On the lighter side: the Indian politicians, who have red or blue beacons and flags on their cars as VIPs, are the most dangerous `animals’ and can be identified with those signs, they are the `venomous snakes’ (synonym to evil) in real terms, attack others unprovoked. Sadly, these two-legged animals are out of synch on this planet. No other animal lives outside the rules of our eco-system, to cause anykind of destruction. There is no other animal which is so arrogant, as humans. And not surprised, now humans have started paying the price, most of us are affected by disease. And may be on the brink of self-annihilation.

Common Krait Coiled After Bath for Photo Session

April 22nd, 2008

© Capt Suresh Sharma

This Common Krait Bungarus caeruleus (deadliest Indian snake, known to be 15 times more venomous than a cobra), was rescued from a house and rehabilitated in the wild, after modeling for a brief photo session. It had to be given bath during the photo session, as the dust particles were showing up with macro lens, so these droplets on the snake.

Usually, I do a photo session with rescued snakes, before their relocation in the wild. I use Canon 20D and 30D, Canon 180 mm L series macro, Canon 100 mm macro, etc. Always, I consider safety of paramount concern, I may miss my planned shots, but no fooling around with snakes beyond a limit. I respect and fear them as I did when I had not known them so well, rather I dread snakes much more now, for I know how complicated a snakebite can get. I have seen and heard about some of the snake handlers getting bitten and then leaving the world forever, foolish ! It happens, when one gets over-confident about snakes and starts handling them as if they are a machine under control.

Snakes are known for `making great escapes and giving surprises all the time’. So, be extra careful when you have snakes with you. Also, one should not trouble them beyond a certain point while doing photo session and respect them for their `right to live’ in peace.

Here, I was about 12-18 inches from this snake, while photographing. The snake, model for the photo session, was hanging on my snake hook for `pre-makeup’ wash for the shoot. After the wash, it was looking so beautiful that I did few shots while it was resting on the snake handling hook. The `catch’ is - no sudden movements next to snake which is modeling for you; they perceive threat from our movements and may bite, if well within the striking range. To know more about snakes, please click on the link The Snake Cell

The Snake Cell is to help people understand about snakes and snakebite, and their role in ecology of this planet and our environment. It has remained as a self-funded project for ten years now.

To know more about the author Capt Suresh Sharma

Saw Scaled Viper - a menacing beauty !!!

April 22nd, 2008

A small but extremely dangerous snake. It gets the name saw-scaled from rubbing the sides of its body together, producing a rasping sound. This ill-tempered snake will attack any intruder. Its venom is highly hemotoxic and quite potent. Many deaths are attributed to this species.

This is a macro lens shot! No zoom. Shot from 1 or 2 feet! The beauty of snakes is best explored through the lens of your cameras only, I think. I keep staring at the eyes of these snakes. It has very beautiful eyes.

I was helped by Mr Dharmendra Trivedi of Gandhinagar, who handles snakes with his magical hands so well that its a treat to see him handling snakes. He is a superb snake handler and asset for any photography session.

To know more about snakes and snakebite, please log on to The Snake Cell

Russell’s Viper

April 22nd, 2008

Photo by: Captain Suresh

Russell’s Viper is one of the most venomous snakes of India, but very photogenic. Also, I consider it one of the difficult ones for photography. To know more about snakes, please log on to www.snakecell.org

Recently, herpetologist/ scientist Dr Ranjan Maheshwari from Kota (Rajasthan) came to visit me and commented that he has never seen such a beautiful photo of Russell’s Viper. He said that, most probably, its the best Russell’s Viper photo in the world.

This photo was achieved with the equipment mentioned on the page Snake Photography and Photo Session. This particular individual was the most aggressive I have ever handled, made me shiver many times and had to sweat a lot, during the shoot. It could jump quite high off the ground, a superb gymnast! Never experienced this kind of jump in last 18 years.

© Capt Suresh Sharma. All Rights Reserved

Website of the Author, Capt Suresh Sharma

Flickering Beauty in Grass !!

April 22nd, 2008

There are different types of cat snakes - the Indian Gamma and the Ceylon cat snake.

The Indian Gamma (Boiga trigonata), which is also known as cat snake. It is a small snake. Its eyes are large with mustard yellow iris and vertical pupil. It is usually yellowish brown, sandy or fawn and is spotted with darker shades. Its belly is white and on its lateral side there are brown spots.

The Cat Snake is a nocturnal snake usually encountered on the move at night. Indian Gamma coils itself in bushes into a little heap and does not stretch out its body as other snakes do. It is very common in evergreen and deciduous forests. It is an excellent climber and can jump from heights to the ground. If it is caught by the tail, it climbs up its own body and bites. When caught by the neck, it ejects an evil smelling stream of yellow and white secretion from its anal gland. This snake has fangs in the back of the mouth. The secretion that comes from its parotid gland is toxic and fatal to lizards and highly toxic to mice. It’s a very brave snake and acts very offensively on the least provocation. Its striking posture is characteristic. The head and fore-body are erected well off the ground and the latter thrown into a figure of eight loop, the head being poised in the middle. Prior to striking, the erected part is swayed forwards and backwards the whole body inflated and deflated and the tail vibrates briskly.

This Snake feeds on almost anything it can capture but has a strong liking for lizards, in particular the garden lizards. It kills small birds, mammals and lizards by constriction.

Author’s Website  CAPT SURESH SHARMA