Snow Monkeys (The Japanese Macaque) (Podcast 187)

Snow Monkeys (The Japanese Macaque) (Podcast 187)

I’m adding an excursion to photography Snow Monkeys as an option to my 2010 Winter Wonderland Workshop. It will be a two day trip to Nagano, at the end of the week before we will leave for Hokkaido, with a Saturday night and Sunday to enjoy Tokyo between. I’ve been wanting to add this as an option for the last few years, and many people have requested it, but I had not yet visited myself, and so felt uncomfortable adding this option. Well, to remedy that, this year I went on a reconnaissance trip, and today we’re going to look at a selection of the images that I came back with.

I’ve mentioned before the importance of editing down images from a shoot to a very special few. After a few hours on the afternoon of day one, and a full second day’s shooting, I came back from Jigokudani in the Nagano prefecture, where the monkey’s live, with so many amazing images, that I simply could not edit down to just a handful. As I realized that I was not going to be able to get down to say 10 representative images, I set my sights on 30, and even that was just not possible. I toiled over my final cut for three days, after getting down to under a hundred, and finally whittled my selection down to 45 images that I uploaded to my Web site and my Photostream on Flickr. Luckily people also really seemed to like the images, and commented that they were glad that I didn’t leave any out, which made me feel better about my decision to not cut any further.

I think part of the problem in cutting images out of this set was because the snow monkeys, or Japanese Macaque, are so close to us humans that we feel a much closer connection than we might to other wildlife. There’s a sentience in those eyes, which although can be found in many animals, I just found it so human that I was moved by these monkeys. I didn’t want to make this a multi-episode series, so I tried hard to find just ten, but because there are three slight, but significant variations of the same subject that we’ll look at later, I ended up with 11 images to look at. We’ll try to skirt over some of the usual details on some of these though, so that we don’t spend too long.

Macaque #1

Macaque #1

Let’s jump in and look at the first image that I want to talk about though, which is image number 2245. If you are new to this Podcast, you can view the images in iTunes or on your iPhone, and if you subscribe to the Enhanced Podcast version, the images will automatically change for you as we progress. If you want to follow along on my Web site, go to martinbaileyphotography.com and click on the Podcasts link in the top menu, and locate this week’s episode in the list. You can also just type the episode number into a new field that I added in the Podcasts menu, and when you hit enter or click the button, you will be transported to that Episode, and will be able to see the show-notes and all the thumbnails to images that we are discussing. You can also just enter the number I call out to the field in the Podcasts menu, and jump directly to the image as well.

I took two camera bodies with me, so that I could switch quickly to use a different lens as opportunities arose, and I used four lenses for the shoot. One of the lenses I used a lot, and for this image, is the 135mm F2 lens. This is a wonderful portrait lens, so you can hopefully appreciate that from my initial planning of the shoot, I’d been conscious of the fact that I was going to be shooting portraits. I also knew that we would be able to get very close. I wasn’t sure just how close, but it turned out that much of the time we were so close that if we’d reached out our hands, we’d literally touch the monkeys. Here I used the 135mm F2 lens wide open, at F2, which gave me a beautiful dreamy feel, and the strands of hair from the monkey actually look like they’re radiating out into the white background. The depth-of-field is incredibly shallow here, so only the monkey’s right eye is in really sharp focus. With us having to stand on a wet step elevated a couple of meters up from the lower grounds around the hot spring pool in which the monkeys are bathing, there not really much room to maneuver back and forth. You’re actually also often reaching to your right or left a little more than you’d like to get a nice background, and so it’s easy to introduce a little camera shake if you don’t try to maintain relatively fast shutter speeds. When shooting at F2, I had a shutter speed of 1/500th of a second, at ISO 100 for this shot, but at some points, and when stopping down the aperture a little, the shutter speeds dropped significantly.

Macaque #5

Macaque #5

For the next image, number 2241, I was still using the 135mm F2 wide open, this time for 1/320th of a second. After you’ve been shooting for a while, and start to get used to the fact that you are standing next to a hot spring bath full of macaques, you start to try to capture little actions and expressions that make these wonderful monkeys seem a little more human or at least separate them from less dexterous animals. I caught this guy scratching his chin, and he also looked almost straight at me as I did so, which was nice. Notice how I included his reflection here, in the water of the bath, and gave a little room for the ripples, circling out from around him. As I was a little bit further away, we have slightly more depth-of-field as well, though still very shallow, how I like it.

Menacing Yawn - Macaque #14

Menacing Yawn – Macaque #14

In image number 2232, I was lucky enough to have my camera trained on this guy as he yawned. It looks more like a menacing show of aggression, but it really is just a yawn in the hot tub. The people around me didn’t get this. It’s really mostly luck, that I had my camera up to my face. Everyone that saw the yawn start then tried to capture it wasn’t quick enough. Well, I say luck, but I find it incredibly important to have the camera trained on something for as long as your shoulder and arm muscles will allow. Whenever possible, if I do have the camera up to my eye, just waiting, I also try to open my left eye, for two reasons. I find that when I’m shooting constantly with one eye closed, when I eventually open it, it seems to get a bit lazy, and I can’t focus with it properly. The other reason is to enable me to survey the surroundings, because you may not be trained on the animal that is going to perform for you. You will won’t see everything, but it gives you a better chance of seeing something else, and acting on it.

The last three images were shot in the couple of hours that I had at the hot springs in the monkey park on the first day. I’d concentrated on using the 135mm and I’d also used the 85mm F1.2 lens for closer shots. I got some nice shallow depth-of-field portraits, which was my plan, but using prime lenses, even on two cameras does have its drawbacks. I felt that I’d missed a few shots and so decided that on the second day, I’d keep my 70-200mm on one body, to give me some extra reach when needed, but also be able to zoom out as far as 70mm when necessary. Also, it was more overcast, and snowing lightly for most of the day, and so I was going to be happy of the Image Stabilization, which neither the 135mm F2 or the 85mm F1.2 has. I was switching between the 135mm F2 and the 24-70mmm F2.8 lens most of the day on my second body.

Mother & Child - Macaque #16

Mother & Child – Macaque #16

As I walked down the path towards the bath in the park, I noticed a mother monkey hugging a youngster to keep warm, and shot a series of images from which I selected three to upload, and I want to look at all three here. The first one is image number 2230. I crouched down to almost the same height as the monkeys to shoot these images. In this first one, I have a nice angle on the face of the mother, with her eyes closed, and also we can see quite a lot of the face of the young macaque. I raised the ISO to 400, because there was not a lot of light, and shot this with the 70-200mm at its full extent, 200mms. I closed the aperture down to F4 to give me a little bit of depth-of-field, because I wanted both faces sharp, but I didn’t want any more than this in focus. I wanted this dreamy feel to the edges of the fur too, and I’d have started to lose that had I stopped down to F5.6 or smaller. The aperture of F4 gave me a shutter speed of 1/500th of a second, which was nice to have, because I was a little unsteady and was shooting hand-held. I shoot with a tripod most of the time, but I didn’t want to start messing around just now, or I may have missed this moment. I actually shot the whole two days without a tripod here. It was just necessary to maintain the freedom that hand-holding affords you for this shoot, as fast paced wildlife shooting often does.

Mother & Child - Macaque #17

Mother & Child – Macaque #17

For image number 2229, I knew that I’d got a few shots from my initial position, so I used the wildlife photography trick of moving in a little at a time. If you try to move in to the optimal position in one go, you can often scare your subject, and I was still not sure how close I could get to these guys when they are not in the bath. I moved in closer, but then zoomed out to 160mm for this shot in which I basically now I’m shooting almost perfectly from the side of the mother’s face. I’ve cropped in just a little tighter on the head here too, and we lose the view of the youngster’s face a little, but this too is a touching shot in my opinion. The way the mother seems to be pulling the youngster, with her chin on its head, and the eyes closed, really seems to show the affection that she has for the child. Now, I’m sure that a part of this is just trying to warm herself up with the child, like a hot water bottle, but I know that there is some affection and an aspect of protection in there too. With the second face not so prominent now, I was not so worried about depth-of-field to get them both sharp, so I opened up the aperture by one click to F3.5. Luckily the second face is still pretty much in focus, but I wouldn’t have worried too much if it wasn’t.

 

Mother & Child - Macaque #18

Mother & Child – Macaque #18

In the last of this series of three, image number 2228, I zoomed out just a little to 150mm, and here we see the mother’s eyes open, giving us a slightly different atmosphere to the image. I haven’t cropped in quite so tightly on the head, which puts the now open eyes on the top right third intersection, and the youngster’s face is close to the bottom left third intersection, so a nicely composed image too. In all three images we have a relatively clean background, with a slight dark patch in the top left of this one, but overall the colour matches the monkeys, making for a pleasing colour palette for these images. For all of the images that we see in this set, I had reduced the red saturation to +25 in Lightroom. I generally apply +18 for Green and Blue and +50 for the Red channel when I import, but I a second preset that only applies +25 to the red channel, when there is something that is already quite red in the shots.

In image number 2227, I was again looking for those little actions that help us to connect with our cousins, and here I caught a youngster comparing his thumbnails. He had literally lined them up and was looking at them as if to say, “Wow! I have two of these, and they’re just the same!”. Many times I saw these macaques doing something that showed just how intelligent they are, and was pleased when I captured the moment like this. As I say, the second day was a little darker, and we can see the light snow falling in this image. I’d raised the ISO to 400, and with F4 on the 70-200mm lens I had the shutter speed set to 1/400th of a second here. Again I’ve given room for the reflection of the monkey in the water, and I also tried to include the larger ripple rings here, as well as that gold coloured stone in the background. Although I didn’t do this for that last three images, pretty much all of the others have a slight vignette added in Lightroom, which I think adds to the image and helps to draw us in to the subjects.

Two Thumbs? - Macaque #19

Two Thumbs? – Macaque #19

For image number 2222, I closed the aperture down a click to F4.5 for this much closer shot of a very pensive looking male. This guy was sitting right at the edge of the pool and I was literally at the closest focus distance for the 70-200mm F2.8 lens here. I just love the intelligence in those eyes. I can’t help also thinking though that he’s wishing there weren’t so many damned photographer’s sticking their cameras in his face. At any one time for the most part of the day there must be a good 15 to 20 photographer’s around this pool, and a handful or non-photographer tourists as well. With this in mind, the macaques are incredibly calm, rarely showing any signs of being annoyed with the humans around them, though there is the odd fight between the monkeys themselves.

Macaque #24

Macaque #24

Let’s look at image number 2215, to give you a little more context of the surroundings. More of a documentary photograph, here I used the 24-70mm F2.8 lens at 32mm, with an aperture of F8 for 1/60th of a second to show you the surroundings. As you can see there are a lot of monkeys in the hot springs bath, just hanging out and keeping warm. You can also see that there is a fair amount of steam coming off the hot water, which can and does get in the way of some shots. As cool air blows through, you lose some chances, because the scene totally whites-out. You have to time your captures to when the mist is lighter. Of course, it does add to the atmosphere sometimes, so there’s no need to wait for it to totally clear, but when it’s too heavy, you really have a problem to see what’s happening. If you are in the path of the mist too, to the right of the bath, and the right of this shot, it steams up the front element of your lens too, which is obviously another problem that you have to deal with.

Communal Bath - Macaque #31

Communal Bath – Macaque #31

There was a beautiful old lady monkey that we see to the left of image number 2203. I’d noticed here keeping on licking her chapped lips. They must have been playing up something rotten, because ever 10 seconds she’d lick them like this. I actually shot a number of portraits right up close from the edge of the pool, and stopped, thinking I’d gotten a sharp shot or two, but when I looked on the PC, they were not sharp. I’d gone very wide aperture and didn’t quite make the shot, I think because I was leaning out uncomfortably backwards to get far enough away to get her at my minimum focus distance, and so I was pretty annoyed with myself for this. Still, I did wait for that tongue to flick out and lick her lips here too, and I generally like this scene, with the younger females around the old matriarch, seeming to me at least to be showing respect in the way they are carrying themselves around her.

Dry Lips - Macaque #43

Dry Lips – Macaque #43

I want to finish with image number 2201, in which we can see a family, with I think daddy monkey grooming mummy monkey, and baby monkey sitting there between them. I love the expression on mummies face, as she is being pampered. It makes me think that we humans think we have it all figured out, and for sure, it is a tough life for these monkeys, living so far north in the cold mountains of Nagano, but when you think that these guys have a warm bath to soak in, a caring hubby to groom you, and a little one close by. They are surrounded by other members of their society all living in relative peace. In some ways these guys seem to have it all figured out much better than we do.

Family - Macaque #45

Family – Macaque #45

This is not only the last shot for today’s Podcast, but also the last one that I uploaded from this set. It was shortly before 3PM, and not long after this the monkeys tend to leave the hot spring bath. I guess they have to dry off before nightfall, when the temperature drops considerably out here in the mountains. So, shortly after I shot this I called it a day, and went back to the hotel I’d booked, and took a steady drive back to Tokyo the following day. Happy with my reconnaissance trip, as I say, I’ve decided to add this as an option to next year’s workshop. I think I should be able to make it so that if this was the only part of the trip that you wanted to join, you probably will be able to, but for anyone coming in from outside of Japan, I’m sure it will make more sense to join both this and at least the first leg of the Hokkaido trip. There will be a short break after the monkey shoot before we head up to Hokkaido. The monkeys are about a four hour drive from Tokyo, but not in the same direction as Hokkaido, so we will have to go back to the city then regroup to fly to Hokkaido. Right now I’m planning to get us back to Tokyo in the Saturday afternoon, and give you Saturday night to party or do whatever you want in Tokyo. You’ll then have Sunday to do a little sightseeing, and we’ll head off to Hokkaido bright and earlier on the Monday morning. I’m doing the monkey trip before Hokkaido so that people that want to concentrate on wildlife shooting don’t have to do the Landscape shooting part, at the end of the Hokkaido tour. Of course, I personally think that the entire trip will be amazing again, so would really like to see people sign up for all three legs, but I didn’t want to force wildlife shooters to go on the landscape portion, and I think the way I’m planning it will give people the most possible flexibility in their options.

I’m just working the last few details before I publish the dates and prices etc. on my Workshops web site at mbpworkshops.com, which I plan to do by the end of April. If you are interested and want me to keep you informed about these and any other workshops I do, please drop me a line at workshops at martinbaileyphotography.com, and I’ll add you to my distribution list. Of course, no one else will see your email address, and I will never pass this on to third parties for any reason.

So, I hope you enjoyed sharing my experience at the Jigokudani Monkey Park in February 2009. If you are interested, I’ll put a link in the show notes to a livecam where you can check out the monkeys in the bath. I’m not sure that they are in the bath all year round, so if you listen to this episode from the archives in other seasons, you may not see anything, but check it out in the winter months, and you’ll definitely see the monkeys all relaxing in the bath, and doing their thing. I took a look at the livecam today, towards the end of April, 2009, as I prepared for this episode and there were very few monkeys in the bath. Note that the web cam doesn’t run through the night, and because Japan is GMT + 9 hours, this means that you will need to check in your evening or early morning if you live in the US or Europe, depending on your time zone. The cool thing is though, that you have links to snapshots taken throughout the day on the left side of the screen, so you can check to see if there were any monkeys there at all, on that day, and the previous day.

One other thing to mention today is that if you use Twitter, please do follow me. I can be found at Twitter.com/MartinBailey, with no space between my names. Last week Scott Bourne was kind enough to include me in his list of the top 10 photography related twitterers to follow, that he posted on photofocus.com, which was great. Thanks so much for that Scott, if you’re listening. I’ll put a link to Scott’s list in the show notes as well, in case you want to check out who else you should be following.

If you’ve just found this podcast because of that, then welcome aboard. If you like what you see and hear here, then do tell your friends and spread the word. We have a great community on our Photography forum at martinbaileyphotography.com as well, so please do check that out when you have a minute too. For now, you have a great week, whatever you’re doing. Bye bye.


Show Notes

Here’s a link to the Livecam at the monkey partk in Jigokudani, Nagano prefecture, Japan. Remember that Japan is GMT : 9 hours: http://www.jigokudani-yaenkoen.co.jp/livecam/monkey/index.htm

Here is Scott Bourne’s “Follow Friday – The Top 10 Photography-related People on Twitter” list: http://photofocus.com/2009/04/17/follow-friday-the-top-10-photography-related-people-on-twitter/

The music in this episode is from the PodShow Podsafe Music Network at http://music.podshow.com/


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Posted on behalf of Martin by Michael Rammell, a Wedding Photographer based in Berkshire, England. Michael also has a long-standing passion for Nature & Landscape photography. To catch up with Michael, visit his Web site, and follow him on the following social networking services.

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Shooting at the Zoo – Part #2 (Podcast 80)

Shooting at the Zoo – Part #2 (Podcast 80)

Last week we started this two part series in which we’re looking at a number of shots from a visit to Chester Zoo during my visit to the UK in January and February of 2007. Today I’ve selected another eight photos from that afternoon to talk about, interweaving some tips and tricks on how to make the most of you time there. Thanks to all of those that mailed me over the last week giving me a big thumbs up for the last episode. I’m really pleased you enjoyed it, and hopefully there’ll be something for you to take away from this episode too. If you didn’t listen to last week’s episode, which was number 79, it might be a good idea to go back and listen to that first, as I’m not going to go over most of the details again today. Let’s just get right into it.

Following on from last week, I was probably around half way around the zoo by this point. Let’s look at the next shot I am going to talk about, which is image number 1327. Here we can see a baby Asian Elephant feeding from its mother. It’s always great to catch a tender moment like this. The baby was suckling literally for just a few seconds, so I felt a little lucky to have been in the enclosure at the right time for this. Note that I haven’t tried to include the mother in her entirety, or probably I should say in her enormity! There are two reasons for this. First, is that, as I said last week, I usually just try to get in as close as possible in most of my shots. We know what an elephant looks like, and the important thing here is the suckling baby. Had I included the mother as well, the baby would have been dwarfed by comparison and the detail would have been lost. The second reason is simply because this is a zoo, and to include the mother in her entirety would have meant including the surrounding too, to some degree. Although I do not try to hide the fact that these shots were taken in a zoo, I feel images which were obviously shot in a zoo come across as just that. They look like snaps from a day out at the zoo. If that’s what you’re after, that’s fine, but that was not one of my objectives.

Suckling Elephant [C]

Suckling Elephant [C]

On the technical side, I was again using my 70-200mm F2.8 IS lens, with the 1.4X Extender or Tele-converter as it’s commonly known. As I mentioned last week, I was hand-holding for all my shots, so the Image Stabilizer of the lens was coming in very handy. I was shooting here at ISO 500, with an aperture of F4, and a shutter speed of 1/50th of a second in Manual mode. Note too that I was not using a flash at all. I find that when possible, upping the ISO gives much better results than using a flash. I’m not opposed to flash, but when I can get away without one, I try to. Also, when your subject is a living animal, you’d be running the risk of startling them with the flash, and would more than likely not get natural results from a pose perspective as well as the light.

I wanted to also touch on something that also came up, I think in the forum, which is condensation forming on your equipment. I went into this rather humid elephant house from the cold outside and for a little while my protector filter on my lens steamed up. It was probably 3 or 4 degrees Celsius outside, so the temperature difference was quite large. Had it been below freezing outside, I’d be running the risk of condensation forming on the inside of my lens or camera body, not just on the outside. I’ve mentioned this in the previous Podcasts on shooting in sub-zero temperatures, but it is a real threat and should be kept in mind if you go from sub-zero to warm temperatures, and vice versa. If you need to make this temperature shift, the best thing to do is to put your camera in an air-tight bag and wait fifteen minutes or so for the camera to warm up before taking it out of the bag. Now, this is not very practical if you’re walking around the zoo with friends, but it may be the only way to go on extremely cold days.

Next we walked around to the giraffe enclosure, and found that they were all inside, which worked out fine, as I could get up nice and close, shooting between the iron bars to get shots like the one we’ll look at now which is image number 1328. Here I was kind of lucky to get a pose with some real attitude. This looks just like the juvenile giraffe is giving me a big “humph” sort of look, but in reality, he was licking his lips. I have another shot where the blue-grey tongue is visible, but it’s not that great. I found this one to be much more interesting. I guess the tip here would be to shoot multiple shots in succession, not just one shot at a time. Trying to nail this sort of shot as a one off is pretty much impossible. I tend to hone in on a subject, then if it’s moving, I just keep the shutter button pressed down for a second of two, in the hope that I’ll capture something interesting. It’s also to try and get one sharp shot from a number of shots that could potentially contain a lot of subject blur, especially when you’re shooting at slow shutter speeds as I was here, at 1/25th of a second. Again shot at ISO 500 an aperture of F4. I was shooting in Manual mode still, as I didn’t want to deal with the contrast between the giraffes and the dark background. I’ve mentioned this a number of times, but basically when the background or other elements in the shot are either much brighter or darker than the subject, or the subject may move between a dark and light background, to stop me from having to worry about my subject becoming under or overexposed, I usually just meter off the subject itself, and then take a test shot and check the histogram to see if I’m getting the exposure right. If all looks OK, but just shoot at those settings until the lighting conditions changes again.

Grumpy Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) [C]

Grumpy Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) [C]

Next let’s take a look at image number 1332, in which we can see a beautiful, to me at least, Gaboon Viper. I was really pleased to see this amazing creature lying just a few centimetres from the glass of its enclosure. I switched my lens to the 100mm F2.8 macro lens, so that I could get right up to the subject to capture that piercing eye and scales. I’d have loved to have gotten a flitting tongue in their too, but this guy just didn’t seem to be tasting the air. I closed the aperture down a little to F5.6 here, as the depth-of-field is very shallow for macro shots, and again, I was using a shutter speed of 1/25th of a second, now at ISO 400. The 100mm macro lens I have does not have Image Stabilizer, so I had to rest my hands on the ledge of the enclosure, and really support my camera firmly to avoid camera shake at these shutters speeds. You’ll have heard in previous episodes about the focal length to shutter speed rule of thumb, but just to recap, if you don’t have image stabilization or vibration reduction on your lens or camera, the slowest shutter speed you want to use is the same as the focal length. So I should be aiming for a shutter speed of 1/100th of a second here, as I’m using a 100mm lens. If I was using a camera with a focal length multiplier of 1.6, I’d need to aim for a slowest shutter speed of 1/160th of a second. If you have IS that will give you say three stops worth of help, you would go down to 1/15, or 13th of a second safely, as long as the subject isn’t moving of course. Anyway, not wanting to go into too much detail on that, here you can see again, I’ve closed in on the face of the subject to give us a really close-up look at this beautiful reptile.

Gaboon Viper (Bitis gabonica rhinoceros) #1 [C]

Gaboon Viper (Bitis gabonica rhinoceros) #1 [C]

In the next image, number 1333, you can see that I have again looked for the alternative view, and not just concentrated on the face of the subject. Here you can see that I’ve closed in on the scales of the Viper. This is really because I couldn’t resist getting a shot of the texture of the snakes scales, and also, I spotted an X there in the patterns along the Viper’s back. I think this is one of the few times when bulls-eyeing, that is putting the main subject smack in the middle of the frame, actually works. Most of the time, using the rule-of-thirds or any other composition where you move the subject off centre will give better results, but sometimes, as I fee is the case here, a bulls-eye approach will work well. A reminder I guess that the rules are made to be broken. I changed the shutter speed to 1/8th of a second for this shot by the way, with the aperture and ISO the same as the last shot, so I was really pushing it hand holding for this shot now.

Gaboon Viper Scales (Bitis gabonica rhinoceros) [C]

Gaboon Viper Scales (Bitis gabonica rhinoceros) [C]

This actually moves me on to my next tip, which I forgot to mention earlier, and that is for shooting through glass. Now, if you too are shooting macro and trying to get close up, you’re probably going to automatically put the lens hood right up against the glass as I was here. This is another way in which I kept the camera still, while composing and shooting these images. In doing this though, you are ensuring that the only thing that will reflect in the glass is the inside of the lens hood, which is going to be black, and therefore not reflect in the glass at all. If you choose a nice clean piece of glass, that means that nothing is going to get captured on the film or your digital sensor. If you are shooting at an angle, you may well start to see something reflecting from the edges. In this case, it’s often enough to just put your hand up against the glass where the reflection is, to stop whatever it is from reflecting. If you find your hand is now reflecting, try something dark in colour. Maybe you have a dark coat or some other clothing. In the extreme, you might want to carry some dark material around with you for this.

Two Rhinoceros Iguana (Cyclura cornuta) [C]

Two Rhinoceros Iguana (Cyclura cornuta) [C]

In the next shot, again I was shooting through glass, ensuring I was right up close to it, for image number 1337. Here we see two Rhinoceros Iguanas, one in the foreground in sharp focus, and I aligned myself here so that the second Iguana in the background was perfectly in line with the first. Although their bodies are at different angles, their heads were facing roughly the same direction. A kind member actually left a comment that this shot reminded him of the 70’s movie ‘The Land that Time Forgot’ because of the poses on the rocks and the depth-of-field emphasising the distance between these dinosaurs. I have to admit I’d not thought about that at all, until he said that, but it’s so true. Well spotted John!

This image was shot at F5.6 for 1/50th of a second at ISO 400. I didn’t shoot totally wide open so that we could make out the second iguana without any problems. I didn’t want to go with too deep a depth-of-field either though, as I wanted to keep our attention on the first Iguana. The main subject. Anyway, I wanted to mention one more tip here, and that is that I had to adjust the white balance of these shots, because of the extremely warm interior lighting. The original lighting was very yellow, giving all the shots a strong yellow cast. I could of course have shot my WhiBal card, and either used it as a reference later, or set my Custom White Balance from it in camera, but to do that, you have to get the card under the light conditions, which would have meant ideally getting it behind the glass, inside the compound, which I of course could not do. I could have shot the card parallel to the glass, and got a very close reference, but I decided not to, opting to just move the White Balance around a bit in Lightroom until it looked right. Of course you need to be shooting in RAW to adjust the white balance after the event, but in addition to a wealth of other benefits, this is one of the reasons I do shoot in RAW. It doesn’t matter if you don’t use Lightroom. All RAW developing programs allow you to change the White Balance by either selecting presets, or with a slider, or both. Just try a few settings until it looks right.

The next image is the one that I also entered as an example of how I interpreted Silence for the Silence Assignment. In image number 1339 we can see a black and white shot of an elderly chimpanzee. I chose this for the silence assignment as he just looks so intelligent and deep in thought, but he has no way of speaking in words that we would understand. Of course, chimpanzees do have quite a complex and structured language, so I am in no way trying to make out that our closest relatives are stupid, but it just seems as though he could almost want to say something in a language that we would understand, but can’t. This was actually shot through really quite dirty glass, but the wide aperture as well as using a normal lens instead of a macro lens, so I was focusing much further away from the glass helped. Note that when glass is really dirty often the only thing you can do in addition to using getting very close to it and using a wide aperture, is to find the least dirty part of the glass to shoot through.

Thoughtful Eyes [C]

Thoughtful Eyes [C]

As it was pretty dark in the chimp’s house, I upped the ISO to 800, and shot this at F4 for 1/25th of a second. I chose to make this black and white, to emphasis the profound expression on the chimps face. To stop this episode from getting too long, I’m not going to go into details about black and white conversion, other than saying that although I’m currently in love with the black and white conversion tools in Lightroom, for this shot, I actually just split the RGB channels out in Photoshop, and through the blue channel away, then applied the copied the red channel over the green one and selected the Hard Light effect from the pull-down at the top of the layer palette. This gives a really rugged, rough looking effect that I found suited this subject more than the refined black and white that I can get with Lightroom.

The next shot, image number 1340 was again one of those serendipitous moments, probably 70% luck, and 30% observation, where I caught a beautiful expression on an Orang-utan’s face. As I said earlier, it was pretty cold outside, and a number of the Orang-utans were wearing these sack cloths as shawls. In fact, thanks to long time forum member and moderator Landon Michaelson I now know that this sack cloth is called burlap, so thanks to Landon there for the edification. Although I felt a little sorry for these orang-utans having to use these sacks to keep warm, this one was doing forward rolls and spinning around with the cloth, and seemed to be quite enjoying himself. Anyway, I saw this guy starting to turn and look my way, and started to shoot, again in continuous mode, as he turned his head my way. Well, as he did, I caught this amazing expression. He at first seemed quite spontaneous, but then as he saw me shooting, he sort of pulled his chin in and down, looking almost embarrassed to be being photographed. I’m perhaps personifying this orang-utan a little too much here as I often tend to do, but I just got that feeling, and still do from this image. I really wanted to show it you today to both share in my enjoyment of the image, and to say once again, that we have to be open to these moments by both being observant and persistent, as well as a little lucky.

Embarrassed Orang-utan (Pongo pygmaeus) [C]

Embarrassed Orang-utan (Pongo pygmaeus) [C]

On the technical side, I was outside again, and had switch back from Manual to Aperture Priority mode, as there was no longer anything challenging about the lighting, but as it was a very dull day, I was exposure compensating to the tune of minus one stop. Again, I didn’t want the scene to be brightened up falsely, and I think it worked out just right. I was shooting at F5 for 1/250th of a second, with ISO 400.

So, we’re going to wrap up today with one last shot, of a beautiful drowsy Jaguar, that we can see in image number 1341. This big cat was sitting, sort of dozing on the log for the whole time I was there, so there was technically nothing difficult about this shot. It was a little dark, so I set my ISO to 640, and with an aperture of F4 the shutter speed was 1/25th of a second. I was shooting through glass, but again, just making sure that I was right up to it to eliminate any possible reflections. Actually, when I started shooting here, a woman that was standing next to me with a compact digital asked how she should shoot the Jaguar as she seemed disappointed with her results, and figured that I, with all my expensive equipment would be able to help her out. I had noticed that she was standing some distance from the glass and also using the in-built flash. I said for her to get closer and turn off the flash. If you use a flash it will of course reflect in the window if you aren’t pushed right up against the glass, but in addition to that, when the subject is this far away, a built in flash, and quite often even an external flash is not going to reach the subject anyway, so you might as well turn it off. There is something called a Better Beamer that I know some listener’s are using with successful results, but despite wanting to, I’ve not used one yet myself. Basically the Better Beamer concentrates the light from your flash, to push it further out to a distant subject, but I won’t go into detail on it, because I don’t use one myself as yet. Anyway, the woman that I’d given the advice too turned off her flash and got up really close to the glass and moments later was then jumping around with delight having checked the first successful image of the Jaguar on her LCD. She then went on in her euphoric stupor to say how successful her shot was even though she only had a point and shoot digital compared to all of my expensive Canon gear. This of course is very relevant. If you have the zoom range you can get great shots with a compact digital. Still, just thirty seconds earlier she had no idea how to shoot the animal, proving emphatically that it’s not the equipment, rather it’s knowing how to use it. Anyway, having resisted the temptation to lower my heavy, expensive Canon equipment at great velocity onto her cackling cranium, I got back to my own shooting which resulted in the shot we’ve just looked at. Of course I’m only joking about hitting her over the head. I wouldn’t dream of messing up my favourite lens up in such a way.

Dozy Jaguar [C]

Dozy Jaguar [C]

So, that’s it. I hope you’ve enjoyed these two episodes from the Chester Zoo. I wanted to just say a quick thank you to listener Colin Horner’s daughter, and I’m sorry if I pronounce this wrong, Nikki Potgieter for IDing the white bird that we started the first episode with, which I now know is a European White Stork. Thanks very much Colin and Nikki. Don’t forget that the Simplicity Assignment is underway, and this is the assignment in which we’ll find out who will take away the amazing Lowepro Stealth Reporter D650 AW camera bag that Lowepro have been kind enough to offer us as a prize. I myself went out shooting last weekend with this in mind, and I think I have a shot in mind. It wasn’t quite what I was hoping for, but if I can’t improve on it in the next few weeks, I now have something to go with. As usual, thanks for listening, and have a great week, whether you’re out shooting or whatever you do. Bye-bye.


Show Notes
Music from Music Alley: www.musicalley.com/

Check out Chester Zoo’s Web site here: http://www.chesterzoo.org/


Audio

Subscribe in iTunes for Enhanced Podcasts delivered automatically to your computer.

Download this Podcast in MP3 format (Audio Only).

Download this Podcast in Enhanced Podcast M4A format. This requires Apple iTunes or Quicktime to view/listen.



Shooting at the Zoo – Part #1 (Podcast 79)

Shooting at the Zoo – Part #1 (Podcast 79)

If you listened to Episode 3 of the Focus Ring podcast that I did with three other Photocast Network members last month, you’ll have heard that I visited Chester Zoo one day during my visit to the UK in January and February of 2007. I think shooting at Zoos is a great way to hone your wildlife photography skills, without the expense of going to the countries or exotic locations where many of the animals you’ll see actually live in the wild. Today I’ve selected a number of photos from that afternoon to talk about, interweaving some tips and tricks on how to make the most of you time there.

Since first mentioning my zoo visit and the intension to do this Podcast last month, there’s been a fair amount of discussion on the forum about shooting in zoos too. I raised the point about whether or not shooting in zoos in ethical some time back in this Podcast, and there’s a thread about that in the forum too. My own personal view on this is that any zoo worth its salt is probably doing a lot for conservation through breeding partnerships of endangered species and other programs, and the days of them being cruel to animals or locking them up in a tiny compound only to wheel them out for us to glare at during the days are over. Indeed, if you believe you know of a zoo that might be being cruel to any of their animals, I suggest you stop griping about the ethics of photographing their animals, and get down to your local police station or society for the prevention of cruelty to animals and report them. If you don’t have any hang-ups about zoos, then I’m sure you’ll agree that they are a great place to shoot, and get invaluable practice shooting animals that would otherwise be impossible without actually getting on a plain and visiting an exotic location. Of course, if you turn up there without ever having photographed a wild animal, there are all sorts of issues that could prevent you from getting a decent shot, so doing what you can to prepare beforehand, with the help of your local zoo, can save you time and money. Even if you’re an experienced wildlife photographer though, the other, and probably most important thing is, it’s fun!

European White Stork [C]

European White Stork [C]

So, as I said in the introduction, today we’re going to take a look at a bunch of shots from my Chester Zoo trip, and I’ll talk about some tricks or just plain advice that I can give to help you get great shots in similar conditions. The first tip, and this is something that I always try to do, but don’t always succeed, is if you have any wish to ID the animals or birds you shoot, take a photograph of the name plate or information board associated with the subject. Or of course you can just note it down as you shoot. Now for the first photograph I’m going to show you today, I could not find a plaque. This is probably more from lack of searching properly, but believe me, it takes so much more time to ID an animal or bird after the event, and sometimes, it isn’t even possible in a reasonable amount of time. In image number 1312, we can see a beautiful white bird, which I unfortunately haven’t yet ID’d. What I wanted to talk about here is that despite the beautiful clarity of this shot, I captured this image through a mesh fence. The mesh was relatively dense, and I also couldn’t get that close to it. I’d say there was at least two to three feet, or one metre between me and the fence, but it has not registered at all in the image. Now, most of you will already know what I did here, but for those that don’t, we can magically make these things disappear, to a degree, by simply using a wide aperture.

This is really only going to work though when the subject is also a reasonable distance from the mesh. I haven’t tested this, but I’d say you need the mesh to at least be half way between you and the subject to make this work. If it’s much closer to the subject than it is far from you, you will probably start having problems. Another thing to note is that the first thing to start showing problems, in my experience at least, is not the subject, but the bokeh, or the out of focus areas around the subject. This starts to become adversely effected and textured in the shape of the fence before it starts to really show up on the subject itself. If you are shooting with a compact digital or a lens that doesn’t open up to a very wide aperture, you might start to see this effect even with the aperture wide open too. I shot this image with my 70-200mm F2.8 lens with the 1.4X Extender fitted, and the aperture set to F4. An Extender is what Canon calls a tele-converter for those of you not familiar with the terminology. This at full range gives me a 280mm focal length, which allowed me to fill the frame with the subject. The F4 aperture was enough, as I say, to totally remove any trace of the fence, and yet still get beautiful detail around the eyes, indeed the face, beak, neck and breast of the subject. It also throws the green grass in the background into a just a slightly mottled green with patches of brown, which stops it from becoming a distraction.

Note that for most of the shots we’ll look at today, all but the last shot I think, I shot in Aperture Priority mode, and because this bird is mostly white, I added two thirds of a stop Exposure Compensation. It was an overcast day, so pretty dull, which meant that I didn’t want to overdo the compensation. Had this bird been in full sunlight, I’d probably have needed more like 1 stop. It’s necessary to bear this in mind when filling the frame with a mostly white subject.

Note also that all images from the day were shot hand-held. I’m not sure if it’s OK to use a tripod, and couldn’t find anything on the Chester Zoo web site, which I’ll put a link to in the show notes by the way, that says either way whether it’s OK or not to use them. Most of the time though, I’d say that zoos are pretty busy places, and even if it’s not against the rules, you’d be better off planning on shooting hand held. You’d quickly start to annoy other visitors if you started setting up a tripod, and the chances are, they’d start kicking the legs anyway trying to get in to get a look, which would in turn annoy you back.

So the next shot I want to look at is image number 1314, in which we can see two Black Rhino’s in a pretty cool face-off kind of pose. These two kept of butting each other in a show of power which was really quite cool to watch, with the dull thud of the horns clashing together along side the grunts of these incredibly powerful animals. In a talk by one of the zoo staff, we heard that Chester Zoo are heavily involved in conservation with a number of partners, one of which actually has a number of rangers in Kenya, helping to protect the Black Rhino in its natural habitat. This is something that is made possible by redirecting the admission fees and donations from visitors in such a way. This is great news as it not only is a very good cause, it also helps to dispel the myth that zoos are cruel to animals and only interested in making money. I personally think this is an excellent way for zoos to give back, and for us to help support conservation while having a great day out at the same time.

Black Rhino Face-Off [C]

Black Rhino Face-Off [C]

We also heard that Black Rhino and White Rhino cannot be easily told apart by their colour, as according to the person that spoke at Chester Zoo, they are both pretty similar in colour. Kind of like an eighteen percent grey really which makes exposure really easy if you fill the frame with the Rhino. I’m thinking of getting one to replace my WhiBal card. Seriously though, the main difference is, as you can see in this photo, the Black Rhino have like a triangularly shaped, kind of pointed top lip, whereas the White Rhino that grazes on grass, has a squarer mouth. The Black Rhino apparently has developed the pointed, triangular lip as it grazes in the forest on thorn shrub. I did actually select minus one stop of exposure compensation for this shot, as it was in doors and really not that bright. I had cranked the ISO up to 800, and with an aperture of F4, again with the 70-200mm with the 1.4X Extender, I was getting a shutter speed of 1/25th of a second. Way too slow for sensible photography, and I got a number of images that were too blurred to use, but in the moments when the animals stopped moving before another head-butting session, it was possible to capture this shot. There was nothing between me and the animals this time by the way. I was leaning on the wooden fence around the enclosure, which also helped me to stabilize the camera at such slow shutter speeds. Of course, I was also using the lenses Image Stabilizer feature. If you are wondering what kind of lenses to buy for this sort of shooting, I strongly suggest you keep image stabilization or vibration reduction on your list of requirements. It boosts the cost of the lens sometimes but often makes the difference between getting the shot, and not.

Moving on to the next image, let’s look at image number 1316, in which you’ll see a close-up of an Emu. Another portrait type shot. This image was shot through mesh made of very thick wire or metal slats if I recall correctly. I have to place the lens so that I had a clear line of sight to the Emu’s eye, but the rest had wire running right across it. I was able to make this disappear as this time I was literally pressed right up again the fence, with only the length of my lens hood keeping us apart. Again shot at F4, with ISO 400 this time, at 235mm focal length, with minus two thirds of exposure compensation as it was a dull day. This is really just another example of shooting through the mesh, and I’d like to reinforce the idea of getting your subjects eyes sharp. This kind of wide open aperture photography might not be for everyone, but to me, as long as you get those eyes sharp, the overall soft effect of the rest of the image is quite pleasing.

Emu Portrait [C]

Emu Portrait [C]

One other thing I wanted to touch on with the next shot, number 1315, is that it’s also important to keep your eyes open for something different, not just in zoos but whenever you’re out with your camera. Although it’s important to get the eyes sharp if they’re included, there’s no rule that says you have to put an animal’s eyes in the shot in the first place. When this Emu turned around I recall chuckling to myself at how comical he looked, and couldn’t resist shooting this image of the back of his head. I’d zoomed in slightly to 250mm, but still at F4 so the shot is very soft with a totally even green background, but we can see detail in enough of those hairs, and have captured those nice blue patches on the sides of the head too, which help to make this shot work.

I Need a Shower! [C]

I Need a Shower! [C]

Let’s take a look now at image number 1317, in which we can see a beautiful specimen of a Geoffroy’s Marmoset. A really handsome fellow, or fellowette, whatever the case may be. I found from the Bristol Zoo Web site that Geoffroy’s Marmosets are from Brazil and are one of a few species that specialize in feeding on tree sap. The marmosets first bite and chew through the trees bark to start the sap is flowing. Then the tree tries to stop the flow by producing gums, resins and latex that seal the hole up. Marmosets then return to the holes later and eat the gum covering, and eat the sap that starts flowing again once the gum is removed. Anyway, again, I’m using the 70-200mm F2.8 lens with the 1.4X Extender, with the aperture wide open, which is F4 for this combination. This gave me a shutter speed of 1/30th of a second with ISO 400. There was nothing between me and the subject this time. The Marmoset was sitting on a branch probably around 12 feet or 3.7 meters from me. This meant that I didn’t need to make a fence or dirty glass disappear, but still I use a wide aperture because I simply like the aesthetic of this type of photography. Years ago I used to shoot at all sorts of apertures, just to cover my bases, but I found more and more that I was always using the image that had the widest aperture to get the part of the shot necessary, such as the eyes here, in focus. I don’t care if all the detail of the fur in visible. I know that the Marmoset is covered in fur, and I can see enough detail in this shot to confirm that. To me, the soft surrounding of those tack-sharp eyes is much more to my liking. This is not always going to be the case, and you may disagree, but this is my taste.

Geoffroy's Marmoset Portrait [C]

Geoffroy’s Marmoset Portrait [C]


Geoffroy's marmoset #1 [C]

Geoffroy’s marmoset #1 [C]

Let’s look at something interesting now though, with regards to the Depth-of-Field. I tend to get in pretty close with most of my subjects, and again this last shot has been a portrait. These again are initially selected to talk about from the shots I made that day because I like them better than the full body shots that I do sometimes make, when the subject or surrounds command I do so. I would normally try to not show you multiple shots of the same subject, but today I’ve included two more shots of this Geoffroy’s Marmoset to emphasise the effect that distance to subject has on the Depth-of-Field in your shots. Before we look at them, take note of not only how shallow the Depth-of-Field is on the subject, but also note that the background is again really just a totally blurred green and brown backdrop. There is no detail to be made out whatsoever. Then let’s take a look at image number 1318, which was shot at exactly the same distance to subject, at the same aperture of F4. Now you’ll see that we do not only have more of the subject itself looking very sharp, but we can now make out more detail in the background. This is because the focal length has been changed from 280mm in the last shot, to just under half that, at 130mm. Although still out of focus, the bokeh in the background has many more identifiable patches of green and brown than the last.

Geoffroy's marmoset #2 [C]

Geoffroy’s marmoset #2 [C]

If we take a look at the final shot in the series, 1319, which again was taken from the same distance to subject, though this time with a focal length halved again to 73mm, you can see that all of the subject, including its long tail is now in sharp focus, and we can make out much more detail in the background. We can see branches and leaves, although not totally sharp, but enough to make out without doubt what they are. This helps us to see the surrounding in which the Marmoset is living, but they are out of focus enough to stop them from becoming a distraction. So we can see here very clearly how aperture effects the depth-of-field at exactly the same distance to subject.

To give you an idea of the actual depth of field, I fired up Barnack. This is a free Windows utility that I’ve mentioned in previous Podcasts for calculating depth-of-field and hyperfocal distance etc. I’ll put a link to this in the show-notes in case you don’t already have a copy. Anyway, I’m not sure exactly how far away I was to the subject, but let’s say I was 12 feet or 3.7 meters as I mentioned earlier. When I enter the shooting details of, focal length at 280mm, aperture of F4 and focus distance of 3.7 meters, I’m told that the depth-of-field is around 4cms, which looks about right from the photo, though possibly a little shallower, so maybe this guy was a little closer. When I change to 130mm focal length, the same as the second image, Barnack now tells me that I had a depth-of-field of 19cms at the same aperture and distance to subject. The even wider image that we looked at last of the three, was shot at 73mm, which Barnack tells me would give me a depth-of-field of 61cm, or 24 inches. Like I say, this is really just to give you an idea.

Anyway, moving on. Let’s take a look at three more pictures of the same subject. Once again, I don’t usually like to talk about the same subject too much, but there are reasons I’ll get to shortly. So let’s look at image number 1321, in which we can see another beautiful bird, which is a peacock. This guys was just sitting on the inside of his enclosure, maybe just over a meter or four feet or so from me. Again, I was able to lean on the wooden enclosure to stabilize my camera to minimize camera-shake, which helped me to get this really crystal clear portrait of this stunning creature. You can see I’m right up close, and he’s looking right back at me. I actually make this look pretty easy, but he was in almost constant motion, preening his feathers and just generally spinning that head around all over the place. I had a number of shots in which he just hadn’t kept still, and so they contained motion blur, ruining the shots. I was really quite close, so I closed the aperture down just slightly to F5, and with an ISO of 400 this was giving me a shutter speed of 1/200th of a second. Again, I was exposure compensating to the tune of minus one stop, so the scene didn’t get too bright in the dull daylight. You’ll notice again that I have just really gotten in close, but you really don’t have to do this yourself. By all means shoot the whole bird if you can get it in. I tried, and was just not happy with the results. I could see too much detail in the grass surrounding for my liking.

Peacock Portrait [C]

Peacock Portrait [C]

The reason I decided to include more than one shot of this peacock is again to emphasise the benefits of looking for an alternative angle. In image number 1320, you can see that I closed in on a small portion of the peacocks tail. Those beautiful eye like marking makes for a great subject all on their own, and few people would not be able to recognize them like this. Here I was paying close attention to the positioning of the eye marks. I closed the aperture down a tad more to F5.6 to get a little more depth-of-field, and positioned two primary marking diagonally in the frame, on top right, and one just off centre bottom left. The other marking are forming an arch, leading our eye around the shot, so that we can investigate the detailed textures made up of the markings themselves amongst the fibrous strands of the feathers.

Peacock Feathers #1 [C]

Peacock Feathers #1 [C]


Peacock Feathers #5 [C]

Peacock Feathers #5 [C]

In the next shot, image number 1325, I basically reduced the aperture to F5 again, to make the eye-like markings a secondary, out of focus, subject, really this time bringing the beautiful feathers on the top of the peacocks back, between the wings, and of course the markings on the wings themselves, into the limelight. This was shot at full extent with the 70-200mm with the 1.4X Extender, again at ISO 400 and I’d switched to manual, as the peacock was moving around so much that I was getting unacceptable fluctuations in the exposure in Aperture Priority mode.

And that’s about it for this first of what will be a two part episode on my visit to Chester Zoo. I hope that if this was not already something you’re aware of, you’ll be able to appreciate now how much fun shooting at a zoo can be. Also, how much this will help you to prepare for shooting real wildlife, that is, animals in the wild as opposed to captive ones. Some of the tips like using a wide aperture when shooting through mesh, would of course not really help you in more natural surroundings, unless you are shooting through foliage and want to make that disappear, but really what you can hope to gain from this practice, is becoming confident in your gear before faced with a moving subject that will perhaps only grace you with its presence for a fleeting moment, before disappearing into the distance, never to return. If you start fumbling around with your gear at that point, you’ll have lost your chance. Next week I’ll interweave some more tips as they become relevant, including some tips for shooting through glass, which is always a good one when shooting at zoos.

So thanks for listening again today. I’ve been receiving more encouraging email lately than to date, with people telling me how much they appreciate the effort I put into creating these podcasts, and how much they look forward to each episode. Some people are in the middle of a marathon listening session to catch up on all of the archives. I have to say, that my hat goes off to each and every one of you. I really appreciate you taking the time to listen to each individual episode, and to listen to all of them at this point, with 79 episodes and counting, is a test of stamina if ever there was one. I also appreciate people taking me the time to let me know what you think. Also, please do spread the word amongst your friends and colleagues too, if you are finding this interesting. And with that, I’ll sign off for today. Have a great week, whatever you’re doing. Bye-bye.


Show Notes
Music from Music Alley: www.musicalley.com/

Check out Chester Zoo’s Web site here: http://www.chesterzoo.org/

You can find the amazingly useful Barnack utility here: http://www.stegmann.dk/mikkel/barnack/


Audio

Subscribe in iTunes for Enhanced Podcasts delivered automatically to your computer.

Download this Podcast in MP3 format (Audio Only).

Download this Podcast in Enhanced Podcast M4A format. This requires Apple iTunes or Quicktime to view/listen.



PL for Water + a Moral Dilemma (Podcast 15)

PL for Water + a Moral Dilemma (Podcast 15)

Welcome to episode 15 of the Martin Bailey Photography Podcast. This week, in addition to talking about a simple technique, which is using a polarizer to reduce reflection in water, I’m going to touch on the somewhat controversial topic of whether or not a nature photographer should extend a helping hand to animals in distress or danger.

First I’d like to talk about a technical decision I made to place a polarizing filter on my macro lens when shooting a drowning dragonfly recently. I had just knelt down to photograph a red maple leaf that was floating in a shallow pond in a park. A moment later a red dragonfly plummeted into the pond. I immediately recomposed to capture the insect as it grappled its way up onto another leaf floating on the surface in a bid to stop itself from drowning. I realized that there was a lot of reflection on the surface of the water at this angle, and so reached into my bag for a polarizing filter. PL filters are often used to intensify a blue sky or to take the sheen off a glossy surface such as painted objects or even leaves on trees. PL filters also work as well to take the reflection off the surface of water to allow us to see clearly into the water.

Drowning Dragonfly

Drowning Dragonfly

Take a look at photo number 776 and you will see in this first shot that the dragonfly looks to be almost suspended in mid-air. There is very little to let you know that the bottom half of the dragonfly and the rest of the objects in the shot are under water, although the refraction of the water does seem to distort the objects a little.

I actually turned the PL filter after this first shot to allow a little more reflection show in the water as I felt I was close to going too far. I kind of like the composition of the first shot though with the way that the colourful leaves are placed in the frame and the main subject, the dragonfly is very sharp along the length of its body. Also I like the way the wings are reflecting a little off the water, which is another of the indications that it is actually floating in a pond.

Drowning Dragonfly

Drowning Dragonfly

Let’s take a look at the second shot for today, which is number 777. I made both of the first two photos with an aperture of F5.6 at 1/30 and 1/40 of a second respectively. Both were at ISO 400, so you can probably appreciate that the light was not great on this day. The result of the slow shutter speed lends the second shot a much more abstract feel, showing the wings blurring in motion as the dragonfly panicked, struggling to stay above water. Even the eyes are not sharp in this image but I like abstract feel and the large blotches of colour of this shot. Also note that as the ripples on the water where at a different angle to the water’s surface, they are reflecting a little light, which enables us to see the ripple effect.

Drowning Dragonfly

Drowning Dragonfly

The third and last image for today is number 778. I chose this image also because of the blotches of colour, but also the dragonflies head and body are incredibly sharp. This is a tribute to the Canon EF 100mm F2.8 Macro Lens and the sharpness of the images that the EOS 5D creates. This last shot was made at F4.5 at 1/100 of a second at ISO 800. I had increased the shutter speed because I wanted to get a sharper image of the dragonfly struggling, but ended up selecting the abstract shot which I just introduced as the second instead of one with a faster shutter speed.

Beep/Click

So that’s it for the technical side and the artistic reasoning behind my selected shots for today. Now I want to talk about the moral decision I made to leave the dragonfly in the water.

Firstly, while I was knelt down shooting this dragonfly, a small crowd gathered. First it was another photographer that saw what I was snapping and decided that he wanted some too, shooting it with a long telephoto from about 5 feet away. Then two middle aged couples also came over to take a look. We conversed a little as I continued shooting and one of the woman said, shouldn’t we help it out of the water. I, without hesitation stated that this dragonfly usually has no problem with water, but right now, as autumn changes to winter, it is too cold for the animal to move properly, let alone fly, and it is its time. Removing it from the water is going against nature. Her husband agreed, and a few moments later they moved on, leaving me to continue shooting.

I recall seeing a documentary when I was a kid, in which a seal pup was struggling to get out of a hole in the ice. The camera man filmed the pup for a few hours as it slowly weakened. Eventually the pup slips down into the icy water, and the left is history.

I also recall being distraught and asking my Mum why the cameraman didn’t help the pup. My Mum’s answer was something along the lines of, “If the camera man was not there, the pup would have died anyway. It wasn’t strong enough to get out of the ice-hole, and so it dieing is just natural selection of the strongest”. “Survival of the fittest” she may have said. She went on to explain “The cameraman is there to record what’s happening, not intervene. If he intervenes, he tips the balance of nature”.

Now, my mother is a loving, caring person, and would not hurt a fly, but she had a clear statement on how this should be, and although distraught, I remember agreeing to myself that what my Mum had said was right.

I remember too seeing a movie as a kid where someone builds a time machine and travels back in time a million or so years. Someone on the expedition kills a butterfly and when they came back to present day everything was changed. They’d changed the course of history by killing the butterfly. Now I don’t think that saving one seal or one dragonfly today is going to greatly change our future, any more than leaving it to die would, but maybe the idea here is the same. As observers, we should not interfere.

Of course, I do think there are areas where man has to intervene or control our actions, because we are messing around with our planet far more than we should be, and are causing many of the problems. Things need to change in a lot of areas, but getting into that here would take too long. I’m just talking about natural perils, not man made ones.

This is a difficult subject indeed, of which I have only scratched the surface. I’m sure many of you have your own ideas. I’ll start a poll in the forum and put a link in the show note. Let us know how you feel about this. Should we lend a helping hand or leave it to mother nature. In addition to casting your vote, I very much look forward to hearing your views on this subject too.

Now, before I wind this up, I want to leave you with a thought, from one photographer to another. While shooting, I found that a little adrenalin kicked in. Sure, it’s only a dragonfly, and though not wanting to belittle any living being’s right to live, I don’t want to compare my experience to someone that may have to go through the ordeal of watching a seal pup drown, or a lion eat one of it’s cubs. But, I must say that while shooting I became a little excited about the possibility of capturing some great images. I think I became a little sensationalistic. It was only as I stood up and thought of walking away, with the dragonfly still drowning in the pond, that I thought, maybe, just maybe I should just lend a hand. Maybe I should poke a finger into the water and help this guy out on to the bank. Maybe the reason I was so defensive to the middle aged lady that we should not intervene with nature, because I was a little worried that she might help the insect out of the water and ruin my chances of getting a shot. Maybe my love of photography outweighs my love of nature. Wow! Maybe I’m not the caring and considerate naturalist that I would like to think I am.

Speak to you next week.


Show Notes

The Music in the first 28 Podcasts is copyright of William Cushman © 2005, used with kind permission.


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