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Planning leads to Success

Photographing wildlife in zoos and sanctuary’s can be fun and personally rewarding, provided you’re able to react quickly to changing circumstances. I decided to visit a wildlife park and make some pictures. It took 3 trips before I actually got to make any images. On the first day I decided to take a long and interesting scenic route. I completely underestimated how long it would take to reach the park and arrived just on closing time. The next day I received an urgent call, on route, and had to delay my visit. The third day was heavily booked. I got up extra early, attended to a whole range of chores and administrative issues, and headed off before lunch. I arrived at the zoo with several hours to spare. It was a very warm day and the light was not particularly flattering so I used what time I had to take a good look around. I visited most of the enclosures with the idea of picking the best subjects and locations to photograph as close as possible to closing time. The one exception was the Birds of Prey exhibit, which I didn’t want to miss. The problem was the latest performance scheduled for the day was mid afternoon, not the best time to be making pictures on a hot, sunny day.


Nikon F100 Camera with Nikon 80-400mm f4.5-5.6 VR Lens and Fuji Provia 400F film

Nikon F100 Camera with Nikon 80-400mm f4.5-5.6 VR Lens and Fuji Provia 400F film

I figured that the most beautiful/exciting birds would be brought out towards the end of the show. I decided to sit and watch how they behaved with the hope of having some idea about the lens, framing, composition, lighting and exposure options I’d have available to me.

What I discovered was that, once released, each bird flew in a roughly circular pattern, prior to coming back and alighting on one of two trees relatively close to the handler/wrangler who had let them go in the first place. One of those trees was lit by very bright, hard light with leaves and small branches covering up much of the bird after it landed. The other tree was actually shaded and provided a nice yellow/green canopy as a backdrop. This canopy would work well to prevent the very bright sky behind from burning out the background and placing the bird into silhouette.

So when the last bird came out it flew up and away, wheeled around and swooped down, prior to alighting on a relatively bare branch on the tree I’d hoped it would land upon. I had already taken a spot meter reading from the branch, based upon the relatively wide aperture (f 4) which I needed to produce a shallow Depth of Field (DOF). This aperture would also provide me with the fastest possible shutter speed to help combat any camera shake brought on by handholding this quite large and heavy lens. I was trying out a Nikon F100 with an 80-400mm f4.5-5.6 Vibration Reduction (VR) lens and chose Fuji Provia 400F film to further boost the shutter speed.

All I had to do was adjust focus and composition, then wait for the bird to look outwards. The bird’s eyes are, of course, the key focal point that draws our attention.

While very happy with the original transparency, I had to do quite a bit of work to produce a good print. Once the transparency had been scanned I used Photoshop to lift the bird out from the background and reduce the blue/green color cast present in the shade where it was perched. Remember that the bird was backlit. I employed Photoshop, just as I would have used an enlarger, to lighten the bird, bringing out the texture and color of its feathers and the piercing brightness and color of its eyes.


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Glenn Guy, Blue Sky Photography


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