Sunday, April 1, 2012

A day at the zoo

Karen & I took a year's membership of Taronga Zoo last year, and we are about 8 or 9 months into it now.  Yesterday, we went and visited for probably the 4th or 5th time. It is so much nicer to be able to take your time walking around and actually observing the animals for a while, knowing that you can come back and see a different part of the zoo next time, rather than rushing around trying to do the whole zoo in one visit...  If you are interested in photographing animals, and have a zoo within a reasonable travel distance, this is something you may want to look into.  I've found it has presented me with some great opportunities (and I've fallen in love with the meerkats).

At Taronga, the meerkats have a great enclosure with lots of sand to dig in and tree stumps to climb around, and the whole thing is sunk about a metre below the observing crowd.  However, the wall must warm up in the sunshine, and one of their favourite places to be, is sitting up against the wall, right underneath those people watching.  Often people will come and look out into the enclosure and not see any meerkats, totally unaware, that they are quite literally under their noses.  With my 55-200, I can get some quite close shots, and the SB-800 flash is powerful enough to give some fill and lessen the harsh sunlight.

Taronga have had quite a few baby elephants recently, and I think there are currently 3 or 4 youngsters.  Here are a mother and her youngster, that I was lucky enough to get a clear shot of.  Because of the youngsters, this part of the zoo is always busy, and their enclosure is quite big, so the 200mm stretch of my lens isn't always good enough to reach the elephants, but today, I got lucky.

It was quite a bright sunny day,and I was having a lot of problems with lighting, as I often found myself either shooting into the sun and getting over-exposed shots with haze and flare, or shooting from the sun into deep shade, and getting very dark images.  To try and counter this,I was playing around with my settings a lot, and this compounded my woes, when I would forget to set things back again, and miss a shot :(  I lost count of the number of times this happened to me, and the shots I ended up having to discard when I got home and looked at them on the screen.

The chimpanzees have just got a new makeover in their enclosure, which again, is so big that I have to rely on cropping even my 200mm pictures, when the chimps are at the far side or up in some of the huge climbing frames they have.  In this shot, One of them was demonstrating a feature I hadn't noticed before, and also their grasp of technology, while a younger chimp looked on.  Inside the 'rock' is some form of food - I don't know if it was insects, or juice, or what, but the older chimp had a stick that he was pushing through a hole in the rock (you can see it just above his left wrist), down into whatever the food was, then pulling it out and eating it off the end of the stick.  The youngster sitting on top of the rock had an apple in his hand, and I could just imagine him saying "That's a lot of hard work for very little of a mouthful each time - here, have an apple - it's much easier..."

 The giraffes have a great spot, looking right out across the harbour to the Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge, and this can make a spectacular backdrop, but I prefer to try and eliminate anything man-made in the photos, so that the animals are portrayed in a natural setting - well, when I can, anyway.

Obviously, it isn't always possible.  In particular, I have been repeatedly frustrated trying to get good shots of the tigers and their cubs.  Firstly, it is always so busy; then there is the fact that you have to shoot through glass, which is far from clean, and quite severely scratched in places; and finally, the enclosure is quite shady, so the few shots I have got, have ended up blurred due to low shutter speed.  Their outclosure (it is the people that are enclosed in a little glass bubble) is also dominated by a large, very obviously man-made raised platform that the tigers love to lay on, so there is little chance of a 'natural' look.  How I would love the chance to get a clear shot either without the glass, or with time and space to figure out a way to shoot through the glass.  Anyway, back to the giraffes - in this shot, I liked the contrast of the colouring against the dark green background.  Wish I could have cropped the fence out a bit better though.

Finally, what trip to an Australian zoo would be complete without seeing a koala.  The enclosure at Taronga has a circular walkway that rises up from ground level through the trees, to an observation deck at the height of the sleeping koalas.  It offers an otherwise impossible view of koalas that you just couldn't get in the wild, as you would always be looking up into the tree from the ground.  It is a very privileged view of their habitat you get at Taronga.

So what valuable lessons did I learn at Taronga?  Take a lens hood - that's the first thing.  It makes shooting into the sun a lot easier, by cutting down haze and flare.  If you are moving away from auto settings and starting to use aperture or shutter priority, or even full manual - then you must remember to re-check your settings each time you move from one location to another.  Circumstances that are correct for one situation - like selecting f/22 in a sunny area, will fail miserably in another area - such as a shady area, because you'll suddenly find that you are taking pictures at 1/4 second with a 200mm focal length (not a good combination - no matter how steady your hands are).  Finally, choose your viewpoint carefully, to try and get more natural looking shots where you can - but accept that it isn't always possible.

Till next time - happy snappin'

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