Trip to Taronga Western Plains Zoo

In late October, we headed away with some good friends of ours for a three-day trip to Mudgee and Dubbo.

Our plan, apart from sampling and buying some fantastic wine in Mudgee, was to stay at Taronga Western Plains Zoo, in its exclusive Zoofari lodge, at which ten luxurious tents, complete with mod-cons, overlook the savannah, where African, Asian and even Australiananimals roam.

You know you know you are in Australia when an eland — a large Africanantelope — chases kangaroos away!

On day one, we headed to Mudgee, where we stopped at my favourite winery and stocked up on premium shiraz.  A nice dinner in town, followed by an overnight stay nearby, concluded the day.

On the following morning we headed up to Dubbo and went straight to the zoo.  Our official check-in was at 2pm, but we had time to roam the zoo via our inclusive two-day zoo pass.

Having been to Africa twice and spent time with truly wild animals in their natural habitat, a zoo can never quite come close; but Zoofari is an experience designed to emulate, as closely as possible, the safari experience.

Upon arriving at the zoo, our first stop was naturally the lion enclosure.  Unfortunately the lions were not terribly active or welcoming, so photography was not a terribly successful pursuit.  Incidentally and somewhat ironically, it is easier to photograph lions in the wild than in captivity.

One pleasing image I did capture at the lion enclosure was not an image of a lion, but an Australian pied cormorant, which was perched on a log over the lion enclosure’s moat in the morning sun.

Australian Pied Cormorant

Australian Pied Cormorant

Being a fan of big cats, naturally, we needed to visit the cheetahs.  We fortunately timed our arrival to see the keepers feed the cheetahs, which consisted of a king cheetah mother and several sub-adult cubs.

Contrary to popular belief, the king cheetah is not a separate species of cheetah, but rather, is a cheetah which has a rare fur pattern mutation as a result of a recessive gene.

The light was quite harsh, and the cheetah were very active — particularly as food was being provided — so photography was quite challenging, but I did land this pleasing image of the king cheetah.

King Cheetah

King Cheetah

The king cheetah is quite rare, so it was a pleasure to see one, and capture pleasing images of her.

Following the big cats theme, high on the agenda was a visit to the Sumatran tiger.

Now, I do not have many images of tigers, so I was keen to capture some pleasing tiger portraits despite the difficulty of broad daylight.

Again, we timed our visit to co-incide with the keeper’s talk and a feeding session, so this Sumatran beauty was very alert and more often than not, looked in our general direction, which is always what a wildlife photographer wants.

Striped Beauty

Striped Beauty

As the biggest of the big cats, the tiger is a very impressive big cat.

After lunch, we roamed the zoo and found our way to the siamangs.  I had never seen one before, so we spent a bit of time watching them play, and I snapped away, trying to land a pleasing image of one of them.

Siamang Stare

Siamang Stare

Not long afterwards, we headed to Zoofari lodge and checked in.

With adjacent tents, we soon joined at our tent for some afternoon lounging.  It was a taxing experience to sit on the back deck, overlooking the savannah, whilst consuming premium shiraz and munching on potato chips.  It is a tough life, but someone has to do it.

These were the appalling, slum-like conditions we had to endure during our overnight stay:

Animal View Lodge

Animal View Lodge

It was tolerable.

What cannot be seen in this image is the open door overlooking the savannah.  We decided to keep the doors and windows open so that we could hear the incredible sounds of wildlife at night, just as we experienced in South Africa and Kenya.

In the late afternoon light, we had the pleasure of watcing the giraffes grazing on the savannah, while these two particular giraffes (of the four inhabiting the reserve) shared a sticky snack.

Sharing a Sticky Snack

Sharing a Sticky Snack

During our lazy afternoon on the deck, we were visited by a peacock, which was only too happy to munch on our snacks, and sit very close with us on the deck overlooking the savannah.

In the early evening we headed to the communal dining room, where some wine tasting, and later, dinner, were served.

After dinner, we got to experience a night tour of the zoo, whereby 4WD vehicles drove us around the zoo in complete darkness.  We visited the lions, hippos and rhinos in their night enclosures, which are not accessible to the general public.

As can be imagined, photography was just not going to happen, as it was pitch-black; but it was great to be close to these animals in the darkness.

After a good night‘s sleep, the following morning saw another early start, with a pre-breakfast tour of the zoo — again, behind the scenes — during which we got to visit the cheetahs and see them from a different location; feed a giraffe; spend some time with the meerkats; and partake in an exclusive visit to the elephant ‘maintenance’ shed, in which the keepers bathed and fed the elephants in preparation for their entrance into their exhibition enclosures for the day.

Here is an image of one of the meerkats on sentry duty.

Wide-Eyed Meerkat

Wide-Eyed Meerkat

After the tour, we returned for a communal breakfast, before making our way back to the lodge to pack and check out.

On our arrival at the zoo the previous day, we had booked ourselves onto a rhino encounter.  Once the tour guide arrived, we found out that we were the only people booked on the tour, so we got an even more exclusive tour of the rhinos and spent a great morning learning about the zoo and how it operates — a much more personal tour than would have been otherwise possible.

After the conclusion of our Zoofari experience, we made another round of the zoo, before embarking on the long trip home.

All in all, it was a fantastic weekend, and I did manage to land some pleasing images of the  wildlife which inhabits Taronga Western Plains Zoo.

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Guest Speaker at Photography Club

A few months ago, a good friend of mine, who I had met years ago in the camera club scene, and who now runs a small but rapidly growing photography club, invited me back to his club as a guest speaker to deliver a presentation at the September meeting.

Last year I had presented at the same club, and I delivered an audio-visual show and talk about wildlife photography.

This time, the theme I chose was light and composition, and I titled my presentation and talk A Perfectionist’s Guide to Light and Composition.

I am a very fussy photographer, and I fuss about light and composition in particular, so it made for an excellent subject which I thought would provide good value to the club’s members, many of whom are relatively new to photography.

We are now living in a digital age, and the proliferation of digital cameras has put cameras into the hands of many people who would never bother to own a camera if the medium was still film.

Additionally, technology, both in terms of cameras and generally, has progressed at a rapid rate.  The unfortunate side-effect of this digital ‘explosion’ is that many people who get into photography worry more about gear and technology than the basics of good photography.

For my presentation, I wanted to focus (so to speak) on the basics, and examine in words and pictures some of the crucial building blocks of great images.

My presentation started with a audio-visual slideshow of a wide variety of my best images from the seven types of subject matter upon which my photography is based.

I then proceeded to provide an introduction to light, talking about what is light, and the properties and effects of different types of lighting.  Along with this, I presented different images which highlighted both good light and ‘bad’ light, and I showed examples of how flat light looks, compared to the more dramatic and engaging side lighting.

My next topic was composition.  For this topic, I went into the ‘rules’ of composition, but rather than calling them ‘rules’, I called them ‘principles’, and explained the main principles of composition, why they work, and why one could or should break the rules in some circumstances.

Along with the key points about effective composition, I again provided numerous photographic examples, and pointed out that many of my images use several principles of composition rather than just one.

The club’s members and guests asked me questions from time to time, and some of the questions raised brought up closely related topics which my presentation did not originally address, so thanks to those members and guests, I was able to provide more information which would help them in their pursuits.

All in all, it was a great night, and I am pleased that I had the opportunity to share my images and knowledge, and help newer photographers think about, and put into practice, the fundamentals of light and composition.

Fortunately there was very little focus on gear, and no questions about “What did you use to capture that?”, to which my answer might have been “light, composition, and a camera”.

To my delight, I have been asked back to the club to deliver another presentation early next year, so I look forward to engaging more with the club’s members to help them along their photographic journeys.

Portrait Session with Anabelle

It has been a few years since I shot any portraits, and in recent months, the desire to shoot some more portraiture came back to me.

A friend of mine has a very photogenic daughter, Anabelle, who I thought would make a great subject.

In terms of location and conditions, I want to photograph her in natural surroundings during the warmth of the late afternoon light.

I also wanted to use my new lens for the shoot, plus my staple portraiture lens.

We headed over to Rouse Hill Regional Park, where, after some earlier recce, I had located a nice lake with trees and grasses surrounding it.

Here are some of the images I captured:

Beaming

Beaming

In this image, I captured this distant shot of Anabelle beaming as the sun shone upon her.

Anabelle in the Park

Anabelle in the Park

For this image, I specifically wanted rim lighting on Anabelle‘s hair, so I had her facing away from the sun, and I used a reflector to bounce the wam, late afternoon light back onto her.

When photographing human subjects during golden hour, the challenge is that even though the sun is low in the sky, if a human subject looks into the sun, the eyes will be largely hidden due to squinting.

That never looks good in images, so the work-around is to have the subject facing either 90 degrees or 180 degrees away from the sun, and use a reflector to bounce the light back.

Lastly, a black and white image:

Portrait of Anabelle

Portrait of Anabelle

This is a close-up portrait of Anabelle as she sat in the park during the final moments before sunset.

While this image was originally shot in colour, I also wanted a striking black and white version.

All in all, it was a fun and productive session.

It was Anabelle‘s first time modelling, and she did well.  I landed some pleasing images in the conditions I had pictured in my mind, which is always satisfying.

Whale Watching Weekend

This weekend, we are heading into the open ocean for a few hours of whale watching.

The one and only time I have ever seen whales was during a white shark diving trip in South Africa.  We stopped at Hermanus to observe the whales frolicking, before heading further south-east to Van Dyks Bay to see the ocean’s ultimate predator in its domain.

This time, we are staying much closer to home to see the ocean’s largest creatures.

Whale watching has been on the must-do list for quite a while, and I am hoping not only to see some whale action, but to capture it.

I will bring out the big lenses so that I have the best chance of capturing the action, even if it is well and truly away from our position.  Having up to 800mm of focal length should help.

Stay tuned for some images — assuming I manage to capture any!

Twilight Delight

The view of Sydney‘s skyline from the western side of Darling Harbour is always a beautiful spectacle as the evening twilight descends.

I have photographed it before, and I will photograph it again.

This time, I captured a view of that same skyline from the south-western corner of Cockle Bay, right outside the new International Convention Centre.

Twilight Delight

Twilight Delight

The angle is different to what I have captured before, and now depicts the completed skyscrapers at Barangaroo to the far left of the frame.

This place is always a pleasure to visit and photograph.

Re-Visiting Featherdale Wildlife Park

Early this year, we took a trip to Featherdale Wildlife Park for the first time, and photographed a number of animals and birds.

Having recently bought a new Canon EOS 5D Mark IV and a new Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM, I was keen to head back to Featherdale Wildlife Park to shoot with my new gear, and hopefully capture a pleasing image or two.

Normally I would take my Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM for a photoshoot involving wildlife, but I specifically wanted to shoot with my new 200mm lens, so I took that, plus my Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM and both the 1.4x and 2x tele-converters.

Throughout the half-day visit, I mostly shot with new 200mm lens, and occasionally used my 300mm lens.  I wanted to shoot wide-open and isolate my subjects from their mostly busy backgrounds.

We headed out on an extremely cold morning, and were amongst the first visitors to the park on that day.

Having photographed penguins there before, I naturally wanted to photograph them again.  Here is the stand-out image from the many penguin images I captured:

Profile of a Little Penguin

Profile of a Little Penguin

These creatures can be very difficult to photograph, as they constantly scurry around and often stand in front of annoying backgrounds.  Not so in this case, as I was able to isolate this penguin against his sandy surroundings.

As can be seen in this image, the Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM is very sharp, and produces very pleasing background blur.  Had the penguin been higher and further away from the background, the background blur would have been even creamier.

We had some warm morning light during our visit, and whilst wandering amongst the bird section, I spotted this white-browed woodswallow perched in the warmth of the sun.

White-Browed Woodswallow

White-Browed Woodswallow

Unfortunately the woodswallow is enclosed in a cage, and even when shooting wide-open at f/2 within close proximity to the cage, it was not possible to obliterate the pattern of the cage against the background.

Despite this annoyance, the lens has again shown itself to be a tack-sharp performer, capable of easily isolating a subject.

Earlier during the visit, I spotted a kookaburra sunning himself in a narrow sliver of sunlight on a branch.

Catching Some Rays

Catching Some Rays

For this image, needing more reach to fill the frame, I used my Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM and 1.4x tele-converter.  I have not used that lens for quite a while now, so it was good to give it another run.

It was an enjoyable — albeit cold — morning, and using my new gear was certainly enjoyable too.

Given the capabilties of the Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM, I am very much looking forward to using it in the near future for some portraiture.

My New Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM

This is my new Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM.

My New Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM

My New Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM

This is a lens I first tried in 2008.  It took nine years before I decided to buy one, and it is my third Canon EF super telephoto lens, joining its bigger brothers, the Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM and the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM.

There is a bit of a story behind this lens.  I was meant to have it much sooner, except the lens which was dispatched from Canon Australia to my supplier disappeared. Canon had only one more in stock, which was no longer available by the time it was discovered that my lens vanished.

Consequently, a new lens needed to be ordered from Japan, which delayed the acqusition time.  Finally, it arrived, and here it is.

This year has seen some major gear changes in my lineup, with the Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM being the latest.  It replaced my long-serving Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM.

In this image, the big 200mm prime is mounted on my new Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, which is also a very recent acquisition.

A 200mm lens like this is not just an ordinary 200mm lens — at f/2, it is the fastest 200mm lens currently available for Canon EOS cameras.  Nikon also has a 200mm f/2 prime in its lineup.

At f/2, the bokeh is incredible, and I bought it to shoot it wide-open; to capture the unique look this lens produces.

I am looking forward to exploiting its capabilities.