Monthly Archives: August 2013

Shooting Fish In A Barrel

Good Zoo’s and Reserves play an important part in wildlife conservation and breeding. Being an animal lover, I can easily spend all day chilling out with the animals – especially if there is a decent cafe. As a photographer I can fill many memory cards.

Such places are a fantastic practice for photographing animals. Sure some photographers look down on this as they go to great lengths to capture animals in the wild, but sometimes a quick fix hits the spot. If I am in a photography slump, or feeling uninspired, a trip to the zoo gives you some awesome subjects to shoot. Fudge half your shots? Learn what you did wrong and go again, at least you get a great day out.

Zoo’s do have their own set of challenges. Not all enclosures are camera friendly. Most often the best zoo images are ones that don’t look like they were taken in a zoo. I usually try to keep all man made items such as feeders, signs, or fences out of the shot. As always, there are cases when a bit of context such as a crowd can add to the photo.

Walk in exhibits, or environments without bars between you and the animals provide the best photo opportunities. When you do need to shoot through glass, try to find the least scratched/dirty part and get your lens as close as possible. Also when shooting through glass or bars, opening up your aperture (smaller number) lets you have only the subject in focus. You will be amazed how distractions can be all but eliminated.

Overcast days are perfect to photograph animals. The light is generally much more even. Harsh sunlight and/or shadows make shooting and getting good results much harder. Animals will rest in the shadows more or hot days, and you might sweat more carrying your gear and waiting for your favourite animal to come out of it’s rest area. The trick though is to have the eyes in focus. Hopefully with a bit of light in them. Be mindful that some areas won’t allow flash photography. Even where they do, try to be respectful of you subject and not blind them with a full burst.

Like shooting in the wild, patience is still required. Don’t expect each subject to be in the ideal location for you. Either set up by the animal your really want an image of, or keep visiting them throughout the day. Either way I like to spend a bit of time with any animal I’m shooting to get an idea of their behavior and personality. Don’t settle at getting a few good shots either, as if you zoom off to the next location you might miss some great behavior. If the animal is just being stubbern though, have a plan B.

Click here to see a video on the truth of zoo photography

Habits To Form After Shooting

Getting home with some fresh images burning a hole in your camera bag is exciting. Review, edit, upload, goto sleep. What I need to work on is a step between uploading and going to bed. Preparation. Normally my camera bag is ready to go, but with half charged batteries, and my memory cards not as organised as I would like. Here is what I’m working on to make sure I’m always ready to go. Nothing worse than assuming your camera is ready when it’s not. I’m sure everyone has got to the end of a long drive, or paid to get into somewhere before realizing your camera is not ready to go.

Format Cards – Nothing worse than starting to shoot and running out of room almost immediately. You need to make room, but you can’t delete the shots you have already taken. You either need to delete on the go, or swap cards. Even if your normal practice is to delete your cards before you start shooting, already having done so will increase workflow.

Charge Battery – Possibly the most obvious step. Even though I have a spare charged, not having to switch at an awkward time is a blessing. Nothing worse than getting your camera out of the bag and it’s dead. Well apart from forgetting to put the battery back in the camera at all…

Charge Flash(s) – Quite often I use a flash when I wasn’t planning on it. Flashes of course use a lot of power and being low will decrease your cycle times noticeably.

Default Settings – Ever taken a heap of photo’s then realised that the last time you used your camera the ISO was set to 1000? I have. Also make sure anything like timers are turned off. Some photographers always have a certain aperture and shutter speed set when putting the camera away so they always know the settings.

Cards Ordered – What I really need to do is put my memory cards away properly after use so they are ready to go. If I need a heap of memory I need to know where they are.

Back In The Bag – Once you have done all this, make sure your main gear is all put in your main camera bag. If you are heading out, you don’t need to do a checklist, you can just grab your bag and know everything is good to go.

Bonus Round – Clean your lenses and lens cloths from time to time too. Nothing worse than getting into the field and there is still spray on your lens from when you were near the ocean.

You Can’t Control The Weather – Good!

For a while I had wanted to head out to the Makara wind farm. On a clear day you can see the South Island across the ocean in the distance. The day was perfectly clear and I was going for an ideal postcard style photo. Windturbines in the foreground, South Island in the background, maybe some high cloud?

As I drove closer, it was soon apparent this was not to be. There was a huge dark cloud over the coast. The closer I got, the blacker it looked. Clear skies and sun in every other direction. I seriously considered turning around and going somewhere else. That said, what could the harm be in scouting the location so I have shots in mind when the weather is clear.

Pulling into the car park, I couldn’t even see the turbines. Grabbing the camera I went for a walk anyway, but couldn’t see anything. Heading for the high point there was a gap in the weather just for a second, lighting up the nearest wind turbine. Just enough time to get a couple of shots between my 20mm and 50mm prime.

Luck was on my side in the end that day, but I will be heading out that way again and maybe get a clear day next time?

Fisheye – For Me?

Before purchasing a Fisheye lens I had heard a lot of people say they were a novelty. Fun for a few days, then gathering dust unused after only a few shots. Despite this, I wanted one, so I took a punt on a Samyang 8mm and gave it a shot (Terrible). Looking through the viewfinder was incredible – it’s so wide! Much wider than the human eye. Your feet are suddenly in your photo’s, and everything is so far away! If you want someone on one side of your image they will swear you aren’t pointing the camera anywhere near them.

The most obvious use for me was Mountain Biking. Sometimes the trail is so tight I can’t get far enough back with my 20mm prime, or fit in that entire sweeping bend. What you can fit in a single frame is incredible and you can give your subject a great sense of context, fitting the surrounding environment into the frame effortlessly. It also means extreme angles very close to your subject are possible. The 8mm has quickly become an essential to take with me on any single track excursion. It’s also fantastic for other sports such as Skateboarding or BMX.

As well as this, the lens is brilliant for events. Especially crowds of people. Wedding photographers will often use a fisheye and a ladder to get shots of the entire crowd. As well as stepping back and getting everything in, a Fisheye lens also means you can get really close to the subject – giving viewers a sense of being there.

The following photo is from the mass start of the Karapoti Mountain bike race. I got there really early secured a spot right in the river next to where the competitors need to run. I was so close that the camera that a few tyres bounced off the front of the lens and I got soaked. it was worth it though, getting so close to the action with the fisheye gives a great perspective and drops of water on the lens just adds to the shot.

Like anything, have a play. Landscapes, or just squeezing the camera into tight places can also be perfect. The distortion the Fisheye effect has on the image can be minimised or embraced with positioning in the frame and angle of shot. Anything near the edges will be distorted while anything near the center will appear normal. Tilting the camera up or down with further emphasize this.

I have to admit, I wasn’t too sure how much I’d use the lens upon purchase, but the 8mm has secured a near permanent place in my camera bag. In terms of recommending a lens like this, I wouldn’t say it should be your first or second purchase normally unless you mostly photograph a niche, or sport the lens is suited to.

Leaving The Camera Behind

Despite my previous post, there are times when the best thing to do is keep the camera at home. While the examples here mostly relate to Mountain biking, the theory is universal.

The last couple of times I have been out on the bike I have left the camera at home, either because of time restrictions or because I’m more focused on riding that day. Each time though I have had a good idea for a future shot on a later outing. Sometimes you get the best inspiration when you really aren’t looking for it. It also means that on the next ride I can let anyone I’m riding with know where I want to stop and I already know how to set up the shot with minimal riding time wasted.

This is of course only good if it’s a trail or area that you can get to again easily enough. Also you might be wanting to return at a certain time of day to get the right light or in certain weather. I have looked out the window previously and known exactly which trail and photo I want to try for that week.

Exploring or just going for a drive without a camera, or with a camera but not trying to force a shot can have the same effect. Hopefully you don’t see something out of the blue that cannot be recaptured later on though…