Photographing reptiles without disturbance

John Grundy News, Revealing Reptiles

Photographs play an important role in promoting the importance of wildlife and conservation. In this blog post, John Grundy, Durham Wildlife Trust’s Revealing Reptiles Project Officer, emphasises the importance of respect for wildlife when taking photographs. Whilst chasing that elusive ‘great shot’ we have to remember to respect the subject and its habitat at all times.

There is much concern about the increasing levels of disturbance and harassment endured by wildlife from people wanting to get that much sought after photograph. It begs the question – is the person more interested in the animal and its welfare or the photograph? In some cases, delicate habitats and flora are trampled and animals pushed ever closer to life-threatening stress levels by over-zealous, happy snappers.

By coming along to one of my Revealing Reptiles Survey Training events you will learn about the habits of our regions four native reptiles, where they can be found, how we can contribute to their conservation. With a better understanding of our reptiles you’ll find yourself critiquing staged photographs; images of adders in the open next to sloughed skins are almost certainly staged – adders are particularly vulnerable after shedding their skin and would not sit next to it in the open. Sloughed skins are almost always found woven into dense vegetation.

Photographers with the right equipment don’t need to go to these lengths and if they know their subject then they know that the trick is stealth, patience and above all being quiet and still.

A relaxed, basking adder in its natural setting, found and left undisturbed.

Images of lizards perched atop of branches, whilst quite striking, are likely to be staged –  small lizards don’t generally perch on top of branches for fear of being snapped up by passing predators.

Common lizards are so naturally photogenic there is absolutely no need to pose them for photographs.

Two relaxed common lizards, image taken with a 300 mm tele-lens (unstaged)

I use a Canon camera and Tamron 70-300 mm telephoto lens. This allows me to get good pictures from a couple of metres away. I also pay attention to where I am in relation to other wildlife such as nesting birds or wild flowers. This morning for example the site I was surveying was a mine field of northern marsh orchid, all of which I carefully avoided.

In summary, respect for the subject is key – I don’t wish to discourage people from going out and enjoying the countryside and its wildlife. It is easy to do this in a manner which does not stress, disturb or threaten the subject of your quest. So, please, go forth and pixilate but do it quietly and patiently.

Why not join me on one of my reptile training days and learn more about our native reptiles and how we can help in their conservation (click here for details).


John Grundy

John has spent more than thirty years honing his skills as a spotter of our region’s elusive and well-camouflaged reptiles. He can often be found wandering the moors of Durham looking for signs of life in the undergrowth. As the Revealing Reptiles Project Officer John frequently delivers reptile survey training to groups and individuals.

Report your reptile sightings here