Water Moccasin At Phinizy Swamp Nature Park Plays Dead

Thanatosis….Or Not

Water Moccasin At Phinizy Swamp Nature ParkTo purchase a print of Thanatosis….Or Not click here
To view a larger version of Thanatosis….Or Not click here

I’m an opportunistic wildlife shooter.  That is, if there is an opportunity, I’ll create a piece, but I don’t normally go out specifically looking for those types of shots.  On this particular morning I was making my way through one of the smaller swampy areas, across the road from the main campus, in the Phinizy Swamp Nature Park, when I came upon what looked like a decapitated Cottonmouth snake.  I thought that, because I couldn’t see a tail or a head.  Just the body of a completely motionless, at least three foot long, snake laying there.  The CSRA was in the middle of a drought that eventually completely dried up that section of the park, but at the time, with my snake boots on, I was standing in about four inches of water.  I figured an animal had killed and dropped it when I disturbed their breakfast while sloshing through the weeds.  I was also thinking it would be pretty cool to have a Water Moccasin skin.  I did consider picking it up, but luckily that insane thought was quickly replaced with determining if it had a head before physically touching it.  I examined it the best I was able to, but could not ascertain if it was dead or headless.  Since I had my tripod with me, I decided to poke it with one of the legs and see what reaction that would bring.  I gave it a thump, and there was absolutely no response.  After a couple of seconds, I gave it two pretty good back-to-back bumps, and it still appeared to be dead to the world.  While watching and waiting for any sign of life, I thought, “I’ll give this one last try and then it should be safe to lift it up out of the water.”  So I gave it two more ‘this time I mean it’ pops and POW, in the blink of an eye, out comes an unhappy, hissing, white-mouthed monster.  I was scared (but just for a second since this wasn’t my first run in with one of these – I’ve got an even better story about another encounter that I wasn’t able to capture), but I think I was more startled than anything because I was beginning to believe that it was actually dead.  At that point, the photographer in me took over and as fast as I could I put the tripod down, grabbed the camera, composed the piece, focused, and hit the button on the remote switch.  The entire incident took place so fast that it was the only chance I got.  Before I even knew what happened, the snake had moved off towards the shore where the cattails and weeds were much taller.

I had a macro rig on the camera, so this piece is essentially a head-shot with the snake’s body as the primary background.  That also allowed for lots of detail in the head and mouth areas.  I like the eye, the oily surface, and the wetness which brings out a more saturated look across the body.

So kids, don’t try this at home or in a swamp near you.  While they may be “playing dead”, the operative word here is playing.

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Author: Steven Dillon

Discover behind-the-scenes details, aesthetic decisions, artistic visions, and compositional choices for my pieces in The Artist’s Story posts.

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