Sunday, February 17, 2013

Zoo Photography, Week 1

I'll get you my pretties

When I left the house Saturday morning, the outside temperature was a meager 13 degrees.  I have to say though, with the captivating subjects we captured - that was the last moment I thought about the frigid temperatures.

Red Panda in light snow fall

Sometime back in November or December, I signed up for the Indy Photo Coach Zoo Photography Class.  We meet for two weeks - yesterday and again next Saturday - with the awesome Jackie Curts.  Jackie is a full-time zoo keeper with the Indianapolis Zoo.   This is the sixth or seventh Indy Photo Coach class I've taken and I think Jackie is my fourth instructor at that time - and she is definitely a favorite.

I don't wanna come out and play

We started out indoors with a brief instructional period.  For my style of photography, a few things I really appreciated about Jackie:

  • She emphasized shooting lots of shots in order to get one good one - these animals move and change and do interesting things for only seconds at a time.  You can't get a good photo without time and patience.
  • She talked a lot of about getting good shots in a zoo setting with fences and mesh and glass and all sorts of other weird obstacles.  We walked away from some shooting positions because there was simply no way to get a good shot.  Some photography instructors will act as though they could get a good shot from anywhere - Jackie did none of that.  No shot in that position - we moved.
  • The most important thing - focus on the animal.  Jackie's photos show off the animal, in the best way possible.  The photo may not be technically perfect (whatever that is), but the animal look amazing.


After the brief lecture, we headed into the zoo, where you are greeted by this adorable guy.  He was sunning himself on top of this rock feature.  My photos of him sunning himself weren't my favorites, although a few of them will be in my Flickr stream shortly.  I realized as we were walking away from this visit, I had my focus set incorrectly so some of the images are softer than I would have liked.  


The sun was pretty perfect for shooting - it was a bright, but still cloudy day so most of the time, the light was pretty soft - but we'd get moments where the light would shine through and highlight something about the animal.  The photos of the Red Panda below show that off a bit.

Do I have to get up?

After we left the seal, it was time to head over to the tigers.  Ultimately we also closed our visit to the zoo with the tigers again so I have two different sets from this area.  This handsome guy is named Peter.  His name is actually the Russian equivalent of that, but I remembered Peter.  The shot of him like this, on the rock was enough to make me happy, but then he decided to open his eyes up a bit wider and give me a beautiful face for the camera.

Okay - I'm awake - what do you want?

And then he decided to sit up - and was kind enough to look right at the camera.


There is something about wild cats that is so endearing.  Don't get me wrong - I know these guys would rip me to shreds if that big thick wall of glass hadn't been between us.  However, his pose and that look is so much like my little Fluffy it's uncanny.  (Although, sometimes I do worry that she might rip me to shreds as well.)


Across the way from Peter was one of the female tigers.  The light was not as good in her area, but I did manage to get a couple of nice shots - check out the tiny catch light in her eye.


One of the many, many great things about this class was that Jackie knew exactly when things were to happen at the zoo - like a Walrus feeding/chat time.  So, we wrapped up with the tigers and headed over to the Walrus exhibit.  Indy has a big female walrus, Aurora, and an orphaned baby walrus, Pekak, who was rescued from the wild.  Aurora had not been doing well emotionally as she had lost her previous pond mates to disease, but she and the little guy are doing well together and she seems to be getting somewhat better.  The two of them even treated us to a moment of Synchro Platform Diving :-)


(You can read more about how unique it is to have not one, but two walruses in a zoo - and learn more about these guys on the zoo web site.)


When the trainers came out, Aurora did a little painting - gotta love Walrus art.  Jackie indicated these were gifts for donors and/or sold in the gift shop. I later explored on the zoo web site and Animal Art Encounters is a special offering from the Indy Zoo...anyone wanna go with me sometime - that definitely goes on the bucket list!

Aurora is very smart and went through a lot of training activities.  Both also got fed - Pekak is still drinking from a bottle so he came away with an awesome milk beard.

I gotta milk mustache

Aurora also got some love from her trainer.  This photo wasn't that good because of the scratches on the glass getting caught in the reflection - but the interaction was priceless.


As the trainers finished up, we got treated to a sweet interaction between Aurora and Pekak.  I missed the shot of them actually nose to nose, but thought this still showed their relationship.


We headed indoors to the Deserts exhibit next.  Indy Zoo has a fun meerkat exhibit along with loads of scaley horned creatures.  What I had never noticed in here before were the birds - finches and quail in several different varieties.

A few of my favorite shots...


The blue tongued skink - apparently getting a shot of the tongue out is the real challenge with this creepy guy.


The turtles are one of my favorite animals in here, but I never did get a really good shot of them all day.  This was the best thing I got, but I'm still not very happy with it.


Post-processing the super colorful finches made me realize that I will need a longer lens if I want really sharp images.  My  18-200mm is a WONDERFUL lens, but even at these short distances, it isn't powerful enough to get a truly sharp photo at that distance and zoom.



This guy was actually one of my favorites of the day.  He was having such a good time entertaining himself by digging a hole - but when he came out with that bit of dirt on his nose it was just too adorable.  Even creepy kids can be adorable sometimes.


This guy gets the creepiest award...mouth closed...



...or mouth open.  That's pretty much all he did.  Open his mouth and close his mouth.


I popped back over to the Meerkats for a few minutes and caught these two in a sweet pose.  The little one on bottom kept closing his eyes and then opening them again - while the snuggler just slept.  I imagine this is some sort of protective pose they do, but in a zoo it's just pure cuteness.

Don't ask


Jackie came over to grab a couple of us (there were only four of us so it wasn't too hard to keep us together) to let us know the quail were in good position.  I gotta tell you, I a) never would have though to look up above us for things sitting on rocks overhead (Jackie was great to point those things out) and b) was pretty sure I got NOTHING from these shots until I got them back home.  Certainly not the best shot of the day, but I was pretty happy with this one ultimately.  This guy was on a rock wall about five feet above me so the angle was really hard to work with and let's just say if you saw all the blemish retouching marks on this in Lightroom, you'd have an appreciation for the amount of plant life I had to take out of this to be able to give you a clear view of the quail.

Sexy and I know it

This one though, was pretty much straight out of the camera.  It's not a great shot, but it's fun and playful.  


We watched the birds for a few more minutes.  This guy is apparently planning to do some nest remodeling over the weekend.


Jackie kept scoping out the next area for us (the dolphin show let out while we were in here and these were the only two indoor exhibits on such a cold day).  Once snakes got a little less full she ushered us in there.  Now, let me begin by saying "I HATE SNAKES".  I ordinarily won't even walk in this exhibit.  But, the conversation I have with lots of people about the things I will do with a camera in my hand played in my head and I decided, yes, I would take pictures of snakes.  Especially when Jackie asked if anyone wanted to try out her macro gear.  I tried really hard not to bounce up and down and shoot my hand in the air and go "Me! Me! Me!".  That being said, I was still the first to volunteer to strap on her Nikon 105mm and the Close-Up Speedlight System.  There was another flash that we put in the hot shoe, but I was too busy drooling over the equipment to know what that was.  Will have to ask about that next week.  We proceeded into the snake room which is DARK!  Jackie picked out a snake and helped me set the tripod.  Two shots later, I shot this.


That one was a little out of focus, so after remembering I had to manually focus in macro, I got this shot.  I was giddy.  Over a snake.  That's what macro photography can do for you.

Is this my best side?

We also took a shot of the rattler which is still awesome, but the color of green snake and the detail of those water droplets - amazing!  Add macro lens and attachments to wish list!

I'm hiding

We headed back outside where a light snow had begun to fall in earnest.  I got a couple of good photos of the Alaskan brown bear (one of which was above), but he wasn't really all that excited about coming out to play.


However, the red panda - whose informational sign at the exhibit say if they aren't sleeping, they eating - were amazingly playful and active.  We shot these guys for a good twenty minutes.

Scratchy, scratchy, scratchy




We finished up our first class meeting back at the tiger exhibit.  This was my favorite shot of our little group. I'm not sure who was more captivated - us or the tiger.


The tiger was just doing some loops around the enclosure and so while we sat there at the glass wall waiting, she would walk down the little incline to us and we could snap away.  When she'd get to the glass, she'd swipe and paw at us a bit just like she was trying to play (or, perhaps, eat).  She had an affinity for George's shoe.



But, after a few shots of my human subjects, it was back to the tiger.





I am looking so forward to our class next week, when we'll be in the Oceans building (my favorite!).  I'm also hoping it's a little warmer so the plains animals (giraffes, elephants, etc.) might be out.  


  1. Totally awesome!! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks Diana - the class was so much fun!

  2. You really got some great shots Kara! I'm not a big fan of the zoo... get bored easily... but if I had a guide helping me get shots like these, I think it would be a lot of fun!

    1. I've always enjoyed animals and the zoo, but I understand the getting bored part - this made it so much more fun. The fact we had the zoo all to ourselves because of the cold weather was also really great.


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