Melbourne Zoo, January 2016

I should start by saying it’s obvious I haven’t kept up with my 366 Project, and I’m really sorry for that. But while I may not post something every day, I’m still going to try to post 366 things that I find inspirational. Usually it will probably be portraits or quotes, and I’ll still try to say why I find them so inspirational, or the elements in them that caught my attention.

My friend Karen and I decided that we wanted to have a sort of creative expedition this month, so we decided to go to the zoo. We tried to pick a day that wouldn’t be too hot, but Melbourne being Melbourne it ended up being a scorching hot day. Not the best conditions for the animals, us, or photos but we made do.

I have a definite love/hate relationship with shooting at the zoo. On the one hand I absolutely adore animals, and I can sit for ages – especially in the Sumatran Tiger exhibit – and just watch them. I understand that zoos are also important for conservation and research, and that often can be the difference between a species dying out or retaining numbers. On the other hand, sometimes it’s hard not to project and put feelings onto the animals and start to question the wisdom of locking them up for paying people’s amusement. One photo in particular that I captured of an elephant seems to evoke that never-ending tension.

 

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He was actually eating at the time quite happily, and he looked relaxed and his eyes don’t betray any kind of fear or trepidation (as far as I can tell) but the bars across the frame still remind us that he is captured, he is in an unnatural habitat and we are the reason he’s there. Different people will come at the photo in different ways and with different opinions depending on your overall attitude towards zoos and conservation, but that’s what makes photography so interesting.

It also sort of highlighted for me the effect of framing and cropping and how important it becomes in the overall statement being made in a photo, which I am thinking of writing another blog post about since I’ve been working on re-cropping some of my old photos.

Because it was so hot, it became a game of patience waiting for the animals to be comfortable enough to come out. It also made it hard to find the right exposure settings, because there was a tendency for there to be too much glare and stark contrast between the highlights and shadows, so we were constantly having to adjust our settings even moving from one side of an exhibit to another (if you’ve ever heard people say it’s better to have a wedding day that’s not too sunny, they mean for the photography and it’s totally true). It was frustrating but good practice. A lot of the time I was trying to slightly underexpose, in order to have something I could work with later. It’s much easier to bring out shadows rather than try to recover highlights.

 

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One of my favourite photographs from the day was actually a mistake. The Sumatran Tiger was pacing back and forth between the dark overhanging leaves and the dappled spots over by the water. I had obviously adjusted my shutter to capture the latter, and then forgot as he started pacing back over towards the darkness, so the aperture/shutter speed/ISO were all set to capture a bright rather than dark setting, so the picture came out way too dark. But for some reason, the fact that all you could see was this beam of light on his face really struck me, and when I was editing it I actually exaggerated the shadows even more to emphasize this contrast.

 

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It’s in no way perfect – I wish there was more of his eyes brought out and the light on his face was a tiny bit less stark – but it was the first picture that when I was looking through them I went, okay, I like that. So sometimes mistakes aren’t all bad, and it goes to show not to be too hasty when you’re going through your photos even if you have messed up on the technical side, because something can still come out of it. Even if it’s just the knowledge that you did make a mistake and you know to learn from it next time.

Despite the inherent tensions I have, every time I go to the zoo I come away thinking how much I want to go on a safari. It’s definitely on my bucket list.

 

 

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