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Camera Testing at the Zoo and In the Back Yard

April 13-15, 2016
Written April15+
Dear Diary, Friends, and Families,

This is a different sort of diary, not a special family milestone nor a special tourism report.  Mostly, it is a record of a test photography run I made to the Fresno Chaffee Zoo, a test before going on an African safari ... not. Over the years, we have talked about a safari, but never with enough seriousness to matter.  Cost and time were aways hard to imagine and they still are, but for the long-range I decided I needed some experience shooting birds and animals.

My camera is pretty good, probably good enough for a real safari shoot, but I would need one of those giant lenses all the macho photographers drag into the bush.  Buying such a lens on speculation did not make sense, but renting was doable.  Horn Photography had a big, black four-pounder available for just $25 per day.  (For techno geeks, it was a Tamron 150-600mm zoom.)  

160413_zoo-000.jpgHere is the story of my Fresno Safari.

The Chaffee Zoo may not be a world-class animal park, but it was recently expanded with an African Adventure section and, for a small, low-cost town, a small, low-cost park seems about right.  For my purposes, three hours of walking among the animals carrying heavy equipment did give me some insight into a later experience - I hope.

160413_zoo-146.jpgBirds are popular at any zoo.  Kids like them.  Adults like them.  Photographers like them.  In the wild, one might see a few different birds in a day, but hunting caged zoo birds is the classic fish-in-a-barrel shoot.   First, they are in cages and second, they are comfortable with people.  Nonetheless, I liked the results, especially considering that I needed to learn as I went with the large, sophisticated lens.


160413_zoo-153.jpgChaffee Zoo recently opened the African Adventure section.  It seems to have the African animals one would expect; elephants, giraffes, hippos, and even a few leopards. There were not many of each, but that provided space.  I'm sure big zoos are more complete, but judging from the crowds of families with young kids, the selection here is good enough (for Fresno).


My favorite part of the zoo may have been the bird show: Ross Laird's Winged Wonders Bird Show.  Sure, this isn't the experience of wild animals, but it was both fun for us kids and educational enough.  Even taking pictures from the last row in the open-air theater stuck me as challenging enough, even if I was sitting on a bench.  I will look for a bench in Africa.
Owl flying over "willing" guest.
Volunteer giving up a dollar bill.
A parrot's serenade
Birds in Flight
Noisy Bird
Pretty Bird
Almost-Sam feeding a scary bird.
Trash-collecting bird.

Lessons about animal photography (including humans) always emphasize the importance of getting eyes in the picture, generally the center of focus.  So, that's what I tried to do.  Can you match the eyes to the animals?
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Technical footnote.  My rented lens had a 150mm to 600mm "focal length".  It is a geeky term, but the larger the "mm" number, the closer things seem in the viewfinder. (Even geekier was the fact that I was shooting with a camera that uses a less than full-size sensor.  This has the effect of amplifying the magnification effect, when compared to even-more-expensive "full frame" cameras.)  Here is what all this means in real pictures. 

Pictures at 600mm and links to very large images.  (All are uncropped.)
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Now, why this technical footnote about shooting at 600mm?  First, most of this was done without my tripod and I didn't think "hand held" pictures would be anywhere near this clear. That was a primary part of my testing.   The second reason is that 600mm lenses cost a fair amount of money and I will need to have a good story if I am ever going to convince myself and my partner that this a worthwhile expenditure.  (You are free to weigh in.)


John and Marianne

ps:  Here we also have some pictures from a backyard shoot or two.  If shooting the zoo was a prototype for shooting fauna in a safari, backyard shots of the garden might be prototypes for more exotic flora expeditions.

The first backyard excursion covered our normally flashy flowers, the roses, and backyard plants and attractions generally. This spring has seen a wonderful flowering of our roses, presumably a result of enough rain for the first time in years.  In the last few days, heat has caused the flowers to dry up a bit, but pictures taken earlier remain.  A strength of photographs.

The next part of the backyard photography was a bit more ambitious: detailed pictures of the smaller blossoms out there.  I have very little experience shooting true "macro", but I do have a real lens for those closeups, so I needed to use it!

I started looking around for small backyard targets and found more than I expected and enjoyed the picture taking almost as much as going off to the zoo!  This was a good lesson in looking close before longing for far-off subjects.

I have included shots with the camera to give some scale and to illustrate my rough technique at "macro" photography.  I need practice, for sure, but it was fun for a start.
Back porch geraniums.
Shade garden grass-plant-with-purple-flower*, begonias, and geraniums.
Veggie garden marigold and self-seeded something-or-other (white)
More germaniums.  Normally, we notice only large clumps, but this time we have interesting details.
A baby orange, less than one-half inch diameter.  A purple something-or-other, even smaller. A honeysuckle less than an inch in diameter.
Blossoms from a pineapple-guava tree.  In past years, the squirrels decimated these blossoms before we could enjoy them.  For some reason, the fuzzy rodents left the flowers alone this year.
A rose.  A rose bud.  A rose buddy.
*  Sorry, but I am woefully ignorant of the names for our little blossoms.  I will work on it.


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