WILDLIFE PORTRAITS PROJECT 2010

I have been doing a bit of wildlife photography lately as a sort of personal side project – some of it stalking real wild animals and some of it in zoos and wildlife parks with more exotic animals. Its a sort of precursor to a possible African photographic trip next year and I thought it might be a good idea to see just what sort of wildlife photographs I can make before embarking on such a trip. I plan to post a new Wildlife Portraits Project photograph once a week or so before I leave for Iceland in July. At which time I should have compiled a small wildlife portrait portfolio to reflect on.

Continuing the ‘avian’ theme this Pelican at Healesville seemed more than content to pose for what was probably the easiest animal portrait I have yet taken in this series.

Content at Rest

Another from the same photo shoot as the Emu photograph ‘Eye-to-Eye‘. This time of the Australian Cockatoo in flight  at Healesville. I shot this with the Canon 300mm F2.8L IS wide open at F2.8 ISO400 1/2000th of a second to freeze the action. Tracking birds in flight is not easy – this was one of only a few good sharp frames where I was also very happy with the pose. In order to make the Cockatoo better stand out from the background I created a second layer in Photoshop, converted it to Black and White and then masked off the Cockatoo. This effect dramatically helps in isolating the bird and creating a clear point of focus.

Cleared for Landing

I am starting to wind down my Wildlife Portraits project as its only a week now until I leave for Iceland and I have a seemingly never ending list of things I need to complete before I can leave. The plan was to run the project up until I left for Iceland. However, I have subsequently shot a lot more frames than I initially thought I would have and still have images to sort through and process. So, rather than finalise a project that feels somewhat incomplete I am simply going to put it on hold until I get back and have a chance to pick up where I am leaving off. I will then see the project through until the end of the year. The additional time should give me greater opportunity to expand the portfolio into a more complete form. I hope to still post a couple more images (including this photograph) before next week when the project will officially go on hold.

Eye to Eye

Birds have not been high on the list of subjects for my wildlife portrait photography. The longest lens I own is a Canon 300mm F2.8L IS; which even when coupled with my 1.4 Tele-Extender on my full frame 1DS MKIII still only gives me quite limited reach for photographing birds. Most serious bird photographers I know are shooting with a minimum of 500mm on crop sensor cameras (often with Tele-Extenders) for seriously long reach; because you need that kind of each most of the time. In this case I got lucky, and was able to catch this Parrot with his colourful wing extended with the 300mm lens. The light was quite dull and overcast so I used fill flash to bring out the colours in the plumage. I am hoping I get an opportunity to photograph some of the native Icelandic birds (including the Puffin) later this month and August.

Show Off

Every time I have visited Healesville Sanctuary in the past to photograph wildlife the Dingo’s have been sleeping (I think they might actually sleep more than cats). On my last visit they were up and moving around so I couldn’t resist ripping off a few frames on my way past. This frame ended up as quite a nice portrait – handheld with the 300mm F2.8L IS at F5.6 1/100th of a second.

Australian Dingo

It isn’t really a ‘Mac Thing’ (or maybe it is!) – But the Snow Leopard is definitely my ‘favourite’ of the big cats (I also have a soft spot for the Persian Leopard); which accounts for my continual return visits to photograph them whenever possible at the Melbourne Zoo. This photograph was taken during the same shooting session as ‘Snow Leopard in Profile‘, but captures a very different moment and feeling. My only regret with both of these photographs is that this is a captive animal and not wild. But since Snow Leopards are native to a foreign country, endangered and extremely rare I hope you will forgive the captive nature of these photographs and instead enjoy them for their merit in their own right. I used the Canon 300mm F2.8L IS lens for this shot at ISO400 on the 1DSMK3. I have had a few emails from readers asking me how I photograph these animals without any ‘bars or cages’ in the shot – ‘Did I have special access?’ The answer is no – I photographed all of the animals in my Wildlife Portraits project either in the wild or from normal public Zoo access. The trick when faced with caged animals is to use a lens with a wide aperture like the Canon 300mm F2.8L IS and to put the lens as close as possible to the bars; whilst putting the animal as far away from the bars as possible. This effectively throws the bars or cage so far out of focus that they become invisible. Its a very useful technique to photograph captive animals.

Snow Leopard

The more time I spend photographing wildlife the more I am enjoying it – what started out as a bit of an experiment to see what sort of wildlife photographs I could make as a precursor to a possible African safari next year is slowly turning into a type and style of photography that I will be actively seeking out far more often.  There is definitely an African safari in my photographic future!. The Lion enclosure at Werribee Open Range Zoo is about as close as one can get to an African Safari without leaving Australia. Its a wonderful location for wildlife photography – and you don’t need super exotic glass to get great shots. You can get really quite close to many of the animals; especially if you book onto the open top safari drive (and I recommend that you do). All of the enclosures are open range in nature; giving the animals real room to move and roam in an environment far closer to their natural world than most zoo cages. As a result the animals tend to be more active, more alert and make far better photographic subjects.

For this seventh photograph I used the 300mm F2.8L IS lens (my favourite telephoto lens for Wildlife) and lay on the ground in order to get a different perspective to the average lion shot. By lying on the ground at the Lions level I was better able to capture the lovely cross light from the late afternoon Autumn sun. I really like this photograph as its clearly a decisive moment in time – the Lioness on the prowl with a keen eyed glare and a purposeful stride.

On the Prowl

The sixth image in this project is definitely an ‘Awwww…. isn’t that cute’ photograph; but I just couldn’t help myself – Sumatran Tiger cubs are too cute! And the opportunity to photograph a couple of these endangered Tiger cubs doesn’t present itself very often. For the record these cubs were born in captivity at the Melbourne Zoo a few weeks ago.This was quite a tough photograph to make. I was at ISO800 wide open on the 300mm F2.8L IS with a shutter speed of 1/100th of a second. I shot half a dozen frames on motor drive and this was the only one where the cubs stopped moving and are sharp (the front cub anyway). The back cub is soft due to the shallow depth of field at F2.8 on the 300mm.

Where's Mum Gone?

The fifth photograph in my Wildlife Portraits Project  is of a juvenile Mandrill taken at the Melbourne Zoo. This was shot with the Canon 1DSMK3 and 300mm F2.8L IS lens wide open at ISO800 through a pane of glass on a very overcast day (with very low light levels).  The 1DSMK3 and the 300mm F2.L IS is an amazing camera/lens combination. Even wide open this lens is about as sharp as one could want on the full frame 21.1 mega pixel 1DSMK3. In this instance, the camera has nailed focus right on the eyes and provided a silky smooth bokeh to separate and isolate the Mandrill from his surroundings. I really like this photograph for the ‘madness’ in this critters eyes and that ‘just groomed’ look to his hair. The small twig he is chewing on adds a little more interest to the photograph than if he had just been sitting there and completes the composition to my eye.

This Way Madness

This fourth photograph in my Wildlife Portraits project was an offhand opportunity grab shot I took a couple of years ago now. I had gone to Montsalvat with my son Julian to shoot some portraits in the grounds and amongst the buildings when this resident Peacock decided to put on a show for some of the nearby females. Fortunately, I had a suitable lens on the camera and was able to rip off a few shots before he lost interest – this one being my favourite.

Show Off

The third photograph in my 2010 Wildlife Portraits Project is a of a Snow Leopard in profile. Probably my favourite of the big cats for its cute factor alone; I have had several attempts over the years to get a good photograph of a Snow Leopard. Unfortunately, they have not eventuated  for various reasons; usually because the Leopard was in hiding or at least partially obscured. The Melbourne Zoo enclosure for the Snow Leopard is not what I would call photographer friendly (or even Leopard friendly for that matter) with its thick bars and dense undergrowth it presents a challenge requiring a degree of patience (and luck). This photograph was one of the last I took for the day as the light was fading. I like it very much for the clean overall profile and the keen glare in the Leopard’s eye.

Snow Leopard in Profile

This second photograph in my Wildlife Portraits Project is of a one-eyed Persian Leopard. I just happened by sheer coincidence to be walking past the exhibit as the keeper was preparing the Leopard’s dinner. I used the Canon 300mm F2.L IS lens wide open at F2.8 to throw the bars completely out of focus and make them effectively invisible. It was just starting to rain and light levels were quite low so even at ISO400 I could only get a shutter speed of 1/200th of a second (handheld with the help of the inbuilt image stabilisation); but its still tack sharp where it counts.

'One Eye' Persian Leopard

There isn’t much else more cuddly and cute than the Australian Koala Bear and this very co-operative baby Koala proceeded to pose for me as the first subject for my Wildlife Portraits Project whilst I rattled off a dozen or so frames. Light levels were quite low so I had to punch up the ISO to 800 to get a 1/200th of a second shutter speed at f3.2 handheld with the 300mm F2.8L IS.

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3 Comments

  1. Posted August 17, 2012 at 6:13 am | Permalink | Reply

    I’m excited to discover this site. I wanted to thank you for ones time for this particularly wonderful read!!
    There are great photos. I will be studying more about photography , and i will visit more times your website.
    thanks

  2. Posted August 17, 2012 at 6:11 am | Permalink | Reply

    Not to much to say about the photos. all of them have good quality ( composition, colors, photometry) , i will visit your blog more times. Thanks

  3. Posted August 10, 2010 at 7:13 am | Permalink | Reply

    Ok, you got some great shots here. Love this project. I think I need to start myself on one of these projects.

    It sounds like you love your 300mm lens best for this kind. I’m looking for a new lens, but I’m not really which style I want to get attached to, but I’m coming to the conclusion that a telephoto lens would be smartest. Any thoughts?

    http://foto.nedtobin.com

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