I went to Cape May Zoo to practice my wildlife skills with mixed results. The company was good – my shooting pal Duke, who was trying out his new telephoto Tamron zoom lens (150-600!) and loving it.

I decided to try out using a lens support from Desmond. It is a clever idea borrowed from our video friends, cradling the lens on one axis and allowing one the ability to move the lens about with the freedom of a monopod via a damped panning swivel, but ultimately affording the solidity of a tripod.

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Unfortunately, I was not able to evaluate the new toy because I made an egregious error. When I changed my camera settings to reinstate Image Stabilization, I chose the wrong one – panning only. One expects most images to lack critical sharpness when shooting wildlife for many reasons, but very, very few on this trip were usable as a result of my error. After doing a little reading on IS, I discovered:

  1. At 1/500 or faster, you should shut it off if you have in body stabilization.
  2. With a fork, or the “loose ball” tripod arrangement used by many wildlife shooters photographing wildlife on the move, one needs to use the full 5-axis IS for best results, if one uses it at all.

On the bright side (literally), the Cape May Zoo hours of 10 to 4 are not ideal for capturing animals except in certain conditions (crisp and cloudy), and we got neither, so I didn’t miss much. Activity and light are best at sunrise and sunset, so midwinter is the best time to shoot at this venue unless you are lucky. Opportunities were few, and the crowds not conducive to concentration. The clouds finally rolled in after we had lunch and were well on our way back to Philly. I only got a handful of half decent animal shots, and my best effort was a human interest piece.

Background control proved difficult in the bright lighting conditions:

 

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I got good separation on this bird portrait, which mitigates the bright spots in the background. I like the play of light on the head, but the shadow crease on the body would take some photoshop to remedy.

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Normally, I  would try to blur a busy background like this, but shooting at a zoo does not give you many options. Actually, I kind of like the giraffe against the trees – so many people go to great lengths to shoot them against the sky that this approach stands out. The diagonal lines work for me as well. This was one of the better lighting moments – a cloud came across the scene, so there was just enough sun to define the head.

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Again it is vexing not to have the ability to change position much on zoo boardwalks. When this pair had their heads raised, their necks were cut by the edge of the field. They did give me a good heads low opportunity, but even with a machine gun shutter I failed to get separation between them by a feather.

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The light was so terrible and the setting so distracting that I had to crop the tails off these critters to get a shot of this tender moment.

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This was the only shot of the day that satisfied me. The light was near perfect, the diagonal lines appealed to me, and I caught the interaction despite kids and parents swarming everywhere. The goat’s contented reaction to the child’s touch was what attracted me.

I hope to get out for another animal shoot before I go to Yellowstone!

 

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