Zoo Portraits Shooting and Processing (Podcast 826)

by | Oct 24, 2023 | Podcast, Tutorial, Videos | 3 comments

Visit Library for MBP Pro eBooks

A couple of weeks ago I took a visit to the Tama Zoo not far from where we live here in Tokyo, Japan. We’ve lived in this apartment for 13 years, and always wanted to visit this zoo, but never really made the time. I’m very happy that I did though, for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s simply an amazing zoo, but having said that, zoos are a difficult place for me.

One of the first animals we visited was the African Elephant. Apparently, an older elephant had died a few days before we visited, and there was just one other elephant, standing, looking out at a 45-degree angle down to the ground, and her eyes seemed to be glazed over. It could have been her mourning, or simply the sadness of being stuck in a zoo. I feel this most from larger animals, but having watched groups of 35 and 50 elephants walk to a waterhole in Namibia earlier this year, I can’t help but think how crappy it must feel to be stuck in a zoo compound.

Having said that, properly run zoos are helping to raise awareness of the animal kingdom and in many ways helping to preserve animals. For many people, the option to visit and observe these animals in the natural environment is simply not an option, so I am in no way against properly run zoos. I do draw the line at privately owned zoos that can, but not always, be simply about making money, or in some cases more about keeping the animal trophies, without making enough money to properly look after them.

The other reason I really enjoyed the Tama Zoo was because it’s in a very natural environment. Many zoos are in a flat area with one animal compound after the next and can be walked around relatively quickly and easily. Not the Tama Zoo. The area is very hilly, and there is a lot of space between each area. Expect to walk a lot if you want to visit every animal, and there is a lot of up and down as well. It was good exercise as well as a lot of fun.

I knew before I visited that I was going to process most of the images I came home with in black and white with a dark background. This is a technique I’ve been using for many years, but when it comes to zoo animals in this style, as I’ve mentioned in the past, my friend Christian Meermann does an amazing job. Actually, Christian does amazing work, period, but his black-and-white animal shots have generally kept me from publishing similar work, until now. I figured, what the hey, it’s a bit of fun, and Christian recently told me not to worry about it, so I didn’t.

So, on to the photos. I have created a gallery of my first eighteen shots from the Tama Zoo in my portfolios section, for anyone who simply wants to browse through the photos, but I’ve also created a video, that starts by displaying each image in black and white, except for two parrot shot and one snowy owl shot, which I couldn’t bring myself to dump the color from. I then cycle through each image once again, followed by its original unprocessed image.

I then finish the video with a section showing how I processed the images in Capture One Pro, but you can do this in Lightroom and probably most any photo editing software relatively easily. The most difficult part is deciding where to make the gradual move from dark to light in each image. The decision is pretty much down to each individual, and takes a bit of guts sometimes to commit to a composition you like.

Please excuse the lack of music for the slideshow, for now, as I simply couldn’t make the time to create something that fit this. If I do get a chance to create something later I’ll update the reupload the video with music.

Anyway, here is the video. It’s 4K so go full screen to enjoy the details. I hope you enjoy it.

How I Shot the Images

I’d also like to briefly touch on how I shot the images, as it does play a part in the results you’ll get. All images were shot with my Canon EOS R5 camera and an RF 100-500mm lens, some with a 1.4X Extender fitted. If you look at the EXIF data in the portfolio gallery I posted you can see the focal length for each image to get an idea of what I was using for each image. I generally used around ƒ/7.1 or ƒ/9 aperture. With this lens, ƒ/7.1 is the widest you can select when shooting at 500mm. When using the Extender at the full focal length of the lens you are forced down to an ƒ/10 aperture anyway, but that works for me, and gives me a nice chunk of the animal’s face with good sharpness, but quickly drops off to a smooth bokeh background.

You could shoot this sort of image with a wider focal length, but you will end up cropping in quite a lot if you shoot with something like a 70-200mm lens, especially without an Extender fitted, so you really want something like the 100-500 or the EF 100-400 mm lens, or similar, with Extenders for some shots.

Before we finish I’d like to mention that I do still have a few spaces left open on my January and February Japan landscape and wildlife tours, so if you’d like to join me, please check out our tours page, and maybe we’ll find ourselves out shooting real wildlife or beautiful landscapes together in three months time.

Show Notes

View the images in my portfolio: https://martinbaileyphotography.com/project/animal-portraits-from-tama-zoo/

Check out our tours page if you might like to join me in Japan this winter: https://mbp.ac/tours

Visit Christian Meermann’s website here: https://www.chm-photography.com/

Music by Martin Bailey


Subscribe in iTunes to get Podcasts delivered automatically to your computer.

Download this Podcast as an MP3 with Chapters.

Visit this page for help on how to view the images in MP3 files.

Get this post's short-link:

If you find this post useful, please consider supporting Martin Bailey Photography on Patreon!

There are multiple tiers with various benefits to help you become a better photographer.

Martin Bailey is proud to partner with the Journal of Wildlife Photography!

Subscribe and get Mastering Light: The Essence of Wildlife Photography eBook FREE! ($97 Value)

Gain access to 5 Years of back issues with a value of $485!

In addition to the amazing content already available, Martin will be writing for the Journal of Wildlife Photography in the coming months. Stay tuned!


  1. Christian Meermann

    Thanks for the shoutout here. I feel deeply humbled by so much praise and will try to live up to it.


    • Martin Bailey

      Ooh, very nicely done video Christian.

      You are very welcome, for the shoutout etc. I love what you do, and happy to be able to bat around techniques and ideas like this. I love what you did to the eyes of the lion in your video.



Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.