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/


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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/


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