Sorry, I have had little time for this beautiful site over the last few months – I’ve been pretty much heads-down in my work that supports my family and preparing my little boy for his first years of school. In fact I have been delving into a bunch of really boring, but all-encompassing and essential stuff that has kept me from posting. Additionally, what all of us go through from time to time is the deflating feeling of not succeeding. This came after a great sponsor that allowed me to run a competition giving away a $150 camera bag only to have no submissions. This made me question if the challenge and aim of this site I started a couple of years ago too hard? Maybe.
So let’s start up again with a trip to Taronga Western Plains Zoo whilst we were visiting one of my wife’s best friends in Dubbo. I thought the zoo would be a great location to practice in some very challenging conditions. These challenges are poor light with most pictures taken in the middle of the day with the bright Australian sun, additionally access to subjects with large distances to overcome and unnatural environments with fence and cages to contend with.
So in this visit I broke the golden rule for good photography by not planning ahead however it was a last minute decision and I had my 2 children in tow that took priority. So with no plans it was an opportunistic approach with three basic rules to create some nice pictures.
Rule 1 was to get in close and crop the scene to creating impact with a high level of detail. This is challenging as animals in zoos are either far away or within enclosures such as cages or glass compounds. Therefore, getting close will almost always require a longer focal length. Cropping in this manner will also remove the distracting zoo enclosures.
Rule 2 – treat animals like a portrait by getting down low and keeping the camera at the same level of the subject. Additionally, focus on the eyes as even animals have character. Like any great photo you must be ready for that perfect pose for a shot when you first see it and least expect it – but like children in many cases you’ll need to wait for it. As this was a family outing I could not spend extended periods of time in the enclosures I wanted to shoot. So my shoot was all about luck. However, if you are serious pick your enclosures and spend a lot of time in them to capture the animals in a variety of positions and with different expressions that will take your shots to the next level.
Rule 3 – shoot with consideration of composition and context. The beauty but also sadness of zoo photography is that you get relatively close to animals that is not possible in the wild without considerable danger and cost. This requires animals to be confined in an unnatural environment and my 4yo son said it all when he stated “Dad, the lions are in jail”.
The challenge for the photographer is to remove the distracting elements in the background or foreground. To do this consider the angles where natural looking elements such as vegetation is includes in the scene. Where there are distractions you cannot avoid you will need to use a very shallow depth of field (wide apertures – small F numbers) that will throw foreground and backgrounds out of focus. For the latter you will need a nice fast lens capable to do this.
That brings me to gear.
A long zoom lens that will have a range to at least a 300mm focal length is required as you will find yourself shooting within a focal length range of 200 – 300mm. I had my little Olympus 75-300mm II tele zoom lens on my Olympus E-M5. Therefore with a half crop sensor in the E-M5, this gave a focal range of 150mm – 600mm.
A monopod would have been great as it would allow much sharper images however more cumbersome to move around with family and amongst other visitors. So all shots have been taken hand held ensuring the shutter speed is at least double the focal length. This would mean a focal length of 200mm (100mm on the Olympus) would require a shutter speed of at least 1/400sec. As I had no monopod I was looking for more like a 1/1000sec shutter to keep the images sharp enough to use. This often required the ISO to be raised to 1000. However, you can judge on the images here on how well the E-M5 handles higher ISO.
All images simply processed in Ligfhtroom with SLR Lounge preset system.
Now there are many other blog post that regurgitate the rules for shooting zoos that I will not go into. However, the biggest rule many lose out on is to just enjoy the experience and ensure you listen, read and learn as the beautiful animals of this world need to be understood to be saved.