Melbourne Zoo

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.




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.




















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.




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.



Melbourne Zoo // January 2015

It has been blistering hot in Melbourne the last week or so, and so it wasn’t the best day to go to the zoo yesterday but my friend Nicole and I persisted. I’ve been waiting to go to the zoo for a long while – it’s a completely different skill set taking photos at the zoo to taking photos at a convention. I guess they both involve waiting for the right moment (which is fundamental in all photography) but there’s a level of patience required with taking photos at the zoo that you don’t have at cons.

I also find that the audience actually plays a huge part in how I photograph conventions, and I’m feeding off the push-pull between the crowd and the people on stage. Whereas a lot of times at the zoo I’m trying to filter out the other people around me – and usually trying to fight for space in amongst everyone!

And, in fairness, I haven’t heard on of an actor refusing to go out on stage because the weather is too hot, and this happened quite a bit at the zoo yesterday (It could happen though, never say never).

So I didn’t get a huge quantity of photos, but I was happy with the ones I did manage to get.

Lion resting at the new Lion Gorge, Melbourne Zoo

Lion resting at the new Lion Gorge, Melbourne Zoo


The heat was getting to everyone :( Gorilla, Melbourne Zoo

The heat was getting to everyone :( Western Lowland Gorilla, Melbourne Zoo


My favourite - Sumatran Tiger, Melbourne Zoo

My favourite – Sumatran Tiger, Melbourne Zoo


Capuchin monkey, Melbourne Zoo

Black Capped Capuchin monkey, Melbourne Zoo


And, funnily enough, I ran into a Canon photography club a few times as we were walking around and they were all carrying these massive L-series super telephoto lenses, something like this, and I felt very jealous and very inadequate!

“Someone told me it’s all happening at the zoo” Paul Simon

As promised, I have edited some more pictures from my trip to the zoo.

A playful Orangutan

A playful Orangutan

Among the treetops

Among the treetops

Basking in the sun

Basking in the sun

I’m rapidly deciding that the Sumatran Tigers are my favourite. I love the environment they have them in at the Melbourne Zoo, it’s beautiful. And the two male cubs who were there on the day I took photos were gorgeous.

A cool drink

A cool drink

I’m really trying to be conscious of not “over-processing” my photos too much, but the temptation is definitely there. I’m also trying not to compare myself with other photographers, but that is going to take a long time to grow out of.

Baby Elephant Expedition

On the morning of the 17th of January, 2013  Royal Melbourne Zoo celebrated the arrival of an 130kg baby elephant calf born to Asian Elephant Num-Oi.

Both Mum and bub were doing so well, that on the 19th and 20th people were invited to come and see the baby elephant getting used to his new environment and bonding with Mum. It was a bright Summer weekend in Melbourne, and still school holidays so I knew it would be busy. But I couldn’t resist an opportunity to try to take photos of the new arrival!

On Sunday I dutifully trooped into town with all my gear and stood in line with everyone else waiting to get a glimpse of the little guy. He didn’t disappoint!

The new arrival!

The new arrival!

He seemed a little unsteady, and stuck close to Mum the whole time. She was very protective, and it was lovely to see them bonding.

Hiding with Mum

Hiding with Mum

It was a uniquely challenging photo experience. It was so bright and the glare from the sand (not to mention the dust clouds Mum threw up to keep the baby cool!) made visibility difficult. It was so crowded too, so finding a good shooting place was difficult. But I loved it, and I’m glad I went.

I took other photos while I was there, which I will blog about soon. I need to keep finding these opportunities around to keep shooting. That’s my battle cry this year – Keep Shooting!