Archive for Marwell

Marwell Zoo

Posted in photography with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 16, 2008 by overread

Well got another free weekend so decided to pay a trip to a place I have heard a lot about and seen a lot of great photos from – Marwell Zoo. I had also recently picked up a circular polarizer for my 70-200mm f2.8 IS lens and hoped to give this a try at reducing flare and reflections off zooglass; however the day I chose was not the best for photography, the sky was a thick mass of cloud and whilst the rain held off for the day lighting was drab and weak over most of the day. Whilst this avoided me problems with highlight overexposure it did create the problem of having to raise me ISO in order to get fast enough shutter speeds (and even then sometimes they were not fast enough). My own taste with my 400D is to have my ISO at 200 for a standard setting, lowering or raising as needed, but ISO 400 is my general upper limit for raising the ISO whilst still getting me images that I am happy with respect to noise. ISO 800 is for emergencies and any higher is just too much noise for my tastes. Being in a zoo I also experimented with using my flash to give me more light to work with – with variable results.
The zoo was also in that pre-season state where many grazing animals were not on show and kept in pens and the overall feel of the zoo was a bit dead (and I don’t just mean few visitors which I don’t mind, but dead on the zoo side of things as well). I am sure that when I get a chance to return in better weather and in a better season I will be back here complaining of there being too many people!

Anyway back to the photos – I am sorry to say I can’t note which ones I used the polarizer on and which I did not as I was changing back and forth with it all day – suffice to say I learnt some lessons with it at least.

All photos taken with:
Canon 400D
Canon 70-200mm f2.8 IS L
Canon 1.4 teleconverter

For flash shots following gear used in addition to the above:
Canon speedlite 580M2 + Lumiquest softbox

Circular polarizer used on some shots – noted where remembered, but not all are marked.

Cheetah

One of the first animals you see (well at least of the predators) and the first I headed for. Sad to say that whilst they have a smaller section of their pen which they like to rest in which is closer, that section is also not that wide so you tend to end up with bars affecting either the foreground of the shot or affecting the background (in the worst cases affecting the both ends of the shot!).


f4, ISO 200, 1/160sec

As you can see nice and close, but clear bars in the background and you can just see an out of focus bar cutting right through the right eye and part of the nose in a line. This is the downside to places where there is a barrier before the bars as it prevents you getting your lens close enough to easily shoot between the bars – seeing this effect in the LCD on a camera is very hard to impossible unless its a very bad effect so its harder to correct in the field if you get such shots.

IMG_2128 no noise no sharpen
f5, ISO 200, 1/125sec

Again the bars are affecting both sections of the shot – though in context I don’t mind the background as much, but the foreground is being damaged by the bars – some selective contrast and saturation boosting has hidden the effect a little, but its still clear to see sadly.

IMG_2082
f5.6, ISO 400, 1/200sec, flash used

This was not the shot I wanted – I was at the time moving to try and get behind the cat as much as possible and shoot with a view to showing the cat looking out over the large grass pen through the bars – this was a grabshot as I was heading round – sadly whilst the cat remained still for long enough the bars (which I was able to shoot over at this point in the pen) rose up to come to block me from clearly capturing a shot of the cat by the time I was in position. I was also forced further away from the cat, making it a smaller part of the shot – correctable compositionally, but not easy for me to do with the bars raising up to create a barrier of lined haze.

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f5.6, ISO 200, 1/40sec

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f5.6, ISO 200, 1/50sec

Well exposure in both is nice, but these shots show one weakness of not getting good long lens skills – and that is letting ones shutter speed drop and then rely in on IS to hold up its end. It does so very well, but not if the subject is moving at the time! Motion blur in both shots just does not work as its not really conveying movement, just showing where I let my speed down too far to freeze the moving leg. I might also (and probably should have) used flash and a higher ISO in these two shots to improve my chances

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f4, ISO 200, 1/100sec

For once a good shot – but no legs nor full tail! I do like the autumnal colours in this shot and its come out well in that respect – but whilst framing has removed moving parts which were a problem before it has now introduced the problem that I am just not close enough to the cat to get a full and proper portrait (without cropping) and I am not far back enough to present the cat as a whole. A bit of creative cropping to remove the left hand side of the shot might help this shot a bit.

Suffice to say the cheetahs have taught me a lot already from this day about shooting in much poorer lighting conditions.

Otters

The otter pen (from what I remember) at Marwell was small! That was the first thing that hit me about it – I have got used to seeing the larger pen and full pond that the British Wildlife Centre otters have so it was rather a hit to see otters now in such a tiny pen and with a far smaller pool.
Something else that struck me was that unlike the European otters in the BWC, these otters (Asian short clawed) were in a much larger family group in a single pen.

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f5.6, ISO 400, 1/125sec

I didn’t pay him for that shot either (though I would have if I could have). I had this feeling that he was really expecting something from me and was rather disappointed that I didn’t have it! Might have been near feeding time or just him also not liking the dull day, however it does show well my feelings at least about the pen.

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f5.6, ISO 400, 1/100sec

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f5.6, ISO 400, 1/100sec

One of my favourite shots from the day – after not getting anything from me he goes for a quick drink from the pool.
And now for some happier shots of them:

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f5.6, ISO 400, 1/125sec

All those moving bodies its a pain to try and focus on just one key point – looking at it now the lower left otter is where the focus is needed – but its landed right in the middle on a patch of brown fur instead! In brighter weather a smaller aperture and deeper depth of field would probably have helped save such a shot by giving greater depth – but with limited light the focus really needs to be spot on.

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f5.6, ISO 200, 1/60sec

Risky slower speeds, but for a still moment its enough with IS as a backup. The yellows have also rather dominated this shot and I should re-edit to lower their saturation (especially in the shadows under his chin).

Leopards

The leopard pen, for bars, was sadly worse than I found the cheetah pen, for these cats were in a very strong wired pen and there was wire all over the place – made worse by the fact that the pen divided into two so as to allow a mother and child in one section and the father in the other. So I walked away sadly with quite a few shots that suffered horribly from bar effects or from glass reflection problems; for whilst the polarizer did work very well there was just not the light to use it as well as could be expected. I needed every stop I could get – and I was also quickly learning that flash (at least with big cats) was not going to help at all beyond a little bit of fill – beyond that and one gets cats eye reflections.

IMG_1918
f5.6, ISO 400, 1/40sec

Really really slow shutter speed, high ISO and not a single bit of flash in this shot (though it does look like it). You can tell there is no flash because the eyes are clear and there is no cats eye effect present. This is mostly a result of editing done to the shot.
Its a shot of the cub in the pen and despite the bars in the background its one of the shots I rather like from the day due to that intense impact that one gets from the stare of the cat.

IMG_2163
f4, ISO 800, 1/60sec

No flash again and me reaching for that “emergency” ISO gives you an idea of how dark the day was and how dark this shaded spot of the pen was. This I believe was the father who spent a lot of the day pacing around the pen. I was lucky with this shot working at all as I had learnt that flash was just not going to work for me in this case (it might work but I could not get it to work for me on the day) so a nice shot. Again we have that half way sort of look to the shot that I am starting to see as a pattern in my shooting where I go for a closer shot to the face (either to eliminate distracting cage parts from the shot or as a part of my general style of shooting – often both together), but lack the focal length needed so end up only halfway there.

IMG_2165a
f5.6, ISO 400, 1/15sec

Really pushing even the IS now – remember with a 1.4TC is a 280mm lens I am shooting with at the long end – though I did have my monopod with me on the day I still found myself handholding for most of the time – though I did use it at odd spot and might have used it for this shot (can’t recall – its not stored in EXIF ;)). Personally I find that in such an environment with a light lens like the 70-200mm f2.8 IS (light by wildlife lens standards at any rate) one just does not need that support for the weight much of the time – I am sure that if I were using a much heavier lens like a 300mm f2.8 IS I would be using that monopod gladly!

Penguins

Well the penguins make an interesting shooting experience at Marwell as there is a glass windowed underwater viewing point which (unlike a lot of others) is not fully underground – so there is a reasonable amount of light floating in from the open doors. Its not enough and I had to push to ISO 800, but it gives more light than in many others I have been in.

IMG_2085
f5.6, ISO 800, 1/60sec – polarizer used

IMG_2089
f5, ISO 800, 1/60sec – polarizer used

Well ok so I could have opened up a bit more with the aperture, but I wanted to be stopped down a little to try and preserve some details as well as to get some depth since I was shooting as close as I could with the lens (limited space inside). The polarizer has helped some areas and lost any reflects from light on the glass, but its again taken away more light – if I had had time I should have removed the teleconverter from the setup.
The other tricky part was he was mostly diving for fingers – children’s fingers on the glass to be exact so every time he was there so too were the kids right up to the glass – made shooting a bit tricky. Still whilst not fantastic they are pleasing and very different shots.

IMG_2087
f5, ISO 200, 1/160sec

This is one of my favourite exposures from the day – I really like it – but what I hate is the composition. set like it is we are focused on the backend and there is no empty space for him to look into – its too close a shot in the wrong place which is a great shame as the shot technically came out well. I should also crop out the out of focus head appearing on the left side.

IMG_2249
f5, ISO 200, 1/80sec

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f5, ISO 200, 1/100sec

These last two shots were taken right at the end of the day, when the sun decided to make a token appearance – however the last shot shows that I was not thinking sunny and the whites have been rather blown out as the meter got confused – though there is some details still in there and I think using tone mapping one could get more details out of the whites on the second shot. However what I should have done was to stick with ISO 400 and gone for a smaller aperture – there beaks are very long!

Yellow Mongoose

IMG_1975
ISO 400, 1/125sec – data corrupted partly on the aperture (unless I managed f0.5!!)

IMG_1981
f5.6, ISO 400, 1/125sec

I think I might have used the polarizer for these shots as they were through glass – though they were also inside so I might not have. Anyway me being a little more compositional with my work – came out rather well I feel in both shots.

Meerkats (with contrast mask experiments)

What follows is a series of shots of meerkats where I have used a contrast mask (as mentioned in a previous post) to adjust the lighting in them.

IMG_2018

Contrast mask edition
IMG_2018contrast mask
f5, ISO 400, 1/125sec

At first glance the contrast mask is a lot darker than the regular version and the light also appears flatter. However details are now showing up clearer in the eye, ear and also some of the fur areas where before the brightness was hiding them. I think that if I used a contrast mask to remove (either fully or partially) the contrast mask effect on key areas like the main body of its back I should be able to restore some of the depth of light without losing the gains that the mask has given me.

IMG_2029

Contrast mask edition
IMG_2029contrast mask
f4, ISO 400, 1/200sec

Again we see the contrast mask doing similar to before – though the shot is not as dark as before there is still a noticeable difference. There is also the messy cloning of the background area where I have tried to hide up the large white patch – I still need to get to grips with the clone tool and its effective use!

IMG_2009

Contrast mask edition
IMG_2009contrast mask
f5.6, ISO 400, 1/100sec

And for a third time we see that darkening effect, though this time I don’t think it would need further selective removal and rather covers the kat well. Again we also have the key areas like the eye now being shown in greater detail and clarity.

And now for a normal meerkat shot:
IMG_2039
f5.6, ISO 400, 1/100sec

Once I master the clone tool I do want to come back to this shot and lose that white line along the top of it.
Also I should point out that I think flash was used for many of these meerkat shots, however for some reason Photoshop elements 6 is not registering the flash info in the EXIF data – its normally good at noting it down, but not this times and yet I am sure I used flash on the meerkats.

Tigers

Though they had a larger pen than the other big cats (far larger) the tigers did like to rest on the platforms or pace the edges – so again I was met with a lot of bar problems again – this time though the cats were generally far enough back that the foreground was safe, so its just background areas that were affected.

IMG_1927
f5.6, ISO 400, 1/160sec

Should have used that polarizer for this shot! I think the sun just peeked out for this shot and its times like this I wish I had spot focusing so that I could really nail those white patches on the cat rather than have them blowout!

IMG_2047
f5.6, ISO 400, 1/200sec

IMG_2056a
f5.,6 ISO 800, 1/125sec

Being cats some decided to spend the whole day in bed! Really glad that I got a shot of the eye looking right at me! Also I am sure that first shot is another where flash is not being exif reported in my elements 6!

IMG_2204
f5.,6 ISO 200, 1/80sec

IMG_2208s
f4, ISO 200, 1/125sec

In both of these last two shots I used the circular polarizer to help keep my sky from blowing out – however doing so also preserved the haze of the wire in those areas. So during editing I used curves to deliberately blow out those upper sky areas (and layer masked off the lower white areas so that the curves would not affect them and blow them out more as well). The result is that the sky is now blown, but the wires in the background are lost. I am sure that some editing to blur the background could have been used instead, but I was not sure of a method that would give me the effect I wanted without looking fake as well.

Wild Birds

Well around the zoo there were a small score of garden birds darting around – often near the tiger pens – so I managed a few proper wildlife shots!

IMG_1930
f5.6, ISO 400, 1/500sec

Best shutter speed of the whole day!

IMG_2048
f5.6, ISO 400, 1/125sec

Those last two shots are pretty heavy crops from the originals so a little less fine details in them, but still decent shots for tiny birds!

IMG_1937
f5.6, ISO 400, 1/500sec

And that was not a crop – full sized – he was a bolder bird by far (and must be that is the tigers pen he is standing on).

MISC

Totally forgot to get a shot of this little fellas name – and now can’t recall what he was but here he is

IMG_2113
f4, ISO 200, 1/50sec

Nice little portrait of him – very centred – but still rather nice.

And that is it from the day, it was dull day, but not a total washout, though I do wish for one of those higher end cameras with better high ISO noise control — still my composition and framing will be the same till I change!
I also learnt quite a lot about lower light shooting as well as getting reacquainted with bars and all the problems they can bring – sometimes one has to put the camera down and just enjoy watching rather than shoot away all the time.

So its goodbye to Marwell for now – but I will return – even if some of the residents don’t want their photo taken

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