A Day at the Los Angeles Zoo, getting better shots May 18, 2013

First off let me say that I read other people’s newsletters and books about getting better shots at the zoo, so when I needed to shoot some test shots with my new 70-200mm zoom lens, it was an easy pick to do the zoo. Plus I knew that I would be going near the zoo on some other business. So I spent an afternoon at the Los Angeles Zoo, couple of hours really.

I had my new Tamron SP 70-200mm F/2.8 Di VC USD lens. I also had my Canon 100mm F2.8 and 2 Canon 7D bodies to mount them on.

I also had a dual sling on, trying it out for the prospects of using it for weddings and other places where I would need to carry 2 cameras. The sling was made by Cowboy Studios. I bought it off Amazon.com for about $22. My brother and I modified it with different sliders that we thought were better by BosStrap. I tested that the sling worked without binding or slipping all over the place and was comfortable to wear. It passed the test. I even wore a photographer’s vest and backpack over it to see if it would work under a jacket. It wasn’t too bulky under the vest and no comfort issues with the backpack. The BosStrap connects to the camera’s strap connector instead of the tripod mount that the Cowboy Studio design connected at. My single sling connects at the tripod connector too and I have to watch to make sure it doesn’t loosen up during the day as I walk around. The BosStrap connector is a quick connect fitting on the camera so you can take it off the sling fast if needed. Taking the connector off the camera is another thing, slow. Put it on and leave it there. Small enough to not matter or get in the way when not in use.

I shot photos with both cameras and tried to compare the images, however most of the better shots were with the 70-200mm because of the issue of getting closer to the animals. Both lenses were on manual focus as the auto focus kept on trying to focus on the cages instead of the animals. Every time I pressed the shutter button it re-focused, back and forth between animal and cage. I’m not practiced at manual focus so moving animals were a problem. The 100mm focused faster, less of a twist to get the focus ring in and out. The 70-200mm had a long throw to the focus ring, twisting the focus ring a lot to regain focus if I zoomed in or out. Also when I had film cameras they had split lens focus so it was easier to see when the camera was in focus.

Both cameras were on manual setting so I could control the f-stop and shutter speed.

In photographing the animals at the zoo, it is hard to keep a natural look to the photos. You want to get the cages out of the photos. Not as easy as it sounds, as some cages are plexiglass some are mesh nets and some are metal wire. Plus the pens the animals are kept in have a lot of man-made objects in them. But if you take your time and look carefully some of it can be avoided or minimized.

This first shot is of a roadrunner that came up to the glass and jumped at a little kid staring in from the other side. I shot this with the 100mm and was close enough that it works well. The sun is behind the bird so there is no reflection on the glass and no glare either. A lucky angle as far as I’m concerned. There was a roof overhead which cut down on the glare on the glass and the glass was clean in that area.

roadrunner in zoo

Roadrunner. F/7.1, 1/40s, ISO 100, 100mm

This next shot of another bird in a similar type of enclosure shows the possible errors and problems.

You can see the glare on the bottom of the glass enclosure and the glass is not very clean so it shows up. Also I did zoom in on the bird but it was at the far side of the cage. Also had I thought about it I could have used a circular polarizer filter to reduce the glare. I think I had one for each size lens, as I have other lenses with the same size filter mounts. I have several backpacks that I use for my camera equipment, one is a camera pack that protects the gear, one is a hydration backpack that is better for hiking and long walking photo shoots and another is just flash equipment and extra stuff. So I don’t always remember what I brought with me each time. I have to remember to get the right backpack together the night before and I keep batteries and memory cards in each of the main packs so I never without them. But filters get mixed up between the backpacks. Yes, my hobby is getting the better of me as I prepare to go into the business photography.

some type of vulture

Bird, type of vulture I think. F/4, 1/40s, ISO 250 70-200@187mm

This next shot is again showing the problems with shots taken around cages.

photo of bird in zoo

Bird, note the wire cage in front of the bird. F/7.1 1/200s, ISO 250, 100mm

Now here is another shot of the same bird with a different lens and setting.

bird in cage close up shot

Bird in cage, F/4, 1/640s ISO 250, 70-200@187mm

Notice how the wire has blurred out and is not as noticeable. It makes for a better shot.

Here is another shot where I was shooting though plexiglass but I moved around and found an angle where the glare doesn’t show up much. Just a little in the upper left corner and it just looks like lighter rock. The cat was nice enough to move over to the other side of the pen to let me get this shot. Makes it look like it is out in the wild somewhere.

some kind of vwild cat in zoo

Cat in a cage. f/5.6, 1/160s, ISO 250, 70-200@177

Some of the animals are just in enclosures that you can look over the tops of and shoot into the cage, the animals don’t jump or climb so they are not a problem to keep caged. Then it is just a matter of finding an angle that makes it look natural, like this meerkat.

meerkat in cage at zoo

Meerkat. f/5.6, 1/250s, ISO 250, 70-200@147mm

This meerkat was nice enough to move into the shade, I thought it was going under a rock but it came out the other side and laid down.

Here are some shots of flamingos where tight crop and shallow depth of field hide the fences on the other side. I like the water highlights on the back of this first one.

flamingo in zoo

flamingo. f/5.6, 1/800, ISO 250, 70-200@200mm

flamingo fluffing feathers

flamingo fluffing feathers. f/5.6, 1/800s, ISO250, 70-200@200mm

Shot with the 100mm lens.

group of flamingos in zoo

Group of flamingos. f/7.1, 1/500s, ISO 100, 100mm

Of course, some animals just are no help at all. Here a large condor bird is up against the wall, back to the camera and rarely turning it’s head to where you could see it. I had to focus on the back and wait for it to turn it’s head so I could get the shot. The front cage wire is blurred out but the back fence is very plain to see.

condor family bird in zoo

Condor family bird. f/5.6, 1/60s, ISO 250, 70-200@135mm

And here some white faced monkeys sat on a branch where the mesh in front was just far away from the camera enough to still be in the focus plane but fuzzy. Light was hitting on the mesh too making it show up more. Not much to do other than come back later and try again, or earlier in the day would have been better too.

white faced monkey

Some kind of monkey. f/4, 1/30s, ISO 100, 70-200@200mm

In these next few shots I shot some photos of some mountains goats, the first photos is slightly out of focus but in the next shot I show what I was shooting though. The last shot is a good focus on one goat.

mountain goats

mountain goats. f/4 1/100s, ISO 250, 70-200@167mm

shot of mountain goats at zoo

mountain goats showing wires across view. f/7.1, 1/40s, ISO 250, 100mm

And the good close up.

tight shot of mountain goat

mountain goat in zoo. f/4, 1/100s, ISO 250, 70-200@200mm

These tiger were moving in and out of the shade making it hard to get nice shot but after shooting several shots the one tiger came around and stopped in front of the pond. It made a nice semi natural shot.

tiger in zoo by pond

tiger getting ready to pounce on it’s companion. f/4, 1/1250s, ISO 250, 70-200@191mm

this next shot took some Photoshop and Camera RAW work to pull it out, one tiger in shade and one in the bright sun. But I got the shot and it works.

2 tigers at play

2 tigers at play. f/4 1/500s, ISO 250, 70-200@182mm

This red wolf wasn’t moving around but it’s placement under the log gave it a natural look too.

red wolf under log

Red Wolf. f/4, 1/40s, ISO 250, 70-200@200mm

However this shot of a orangutan shows the wire mesh in front of it again. The sun is lighting up some of it and it is far enough away from me that it doesn’t blur out. It is about half way between the orangutan and me. I was on a platform looking down into the pen and the fence was 10 feet or so away from me.

orangutan in cage at zoo

orangutan in cage. f/8 1/125s, ISO 250 70-200@187mm

I also had closed up my f-stop some due to the bright light. If I had opened it up some it would have blurred the cage better.

This next shot I was shooting though plexiglass, no glare on it but there is a mesh fence behind the monkey. And yes it has a very long tail, you can see it winding down the fake tree and out of the frame at the bottom.

long tail monkey in zoo

Long tail monkey. f/4, 1/125s, ISO 250, 70-200@100mm

I just had to use Photoshop to blur the background since it was an easy to do job.

longtail monkey in zoo

Photoshopped photo, blur to background. f/4, 1/125s, ISO 250, 70-200@100mm

Now it looks like the monkey is in the forest.

Last is a couple of shots of giraffes, they didn’t cooperate too much. They were grouped by a fence. But then the one giraffe came over and I got a head shot. The background blurs out making it somewhat better.

long shot of giraffes

giraffes by fence. f/4, 1/320s, ISO 250, 70-200@70mm

head shot of giraffe

Head shot of giraffe. f/4, 1/320s, ISO 250, 70-200@200mm

Well, there is my trip to the Los Angeles Zoo. I hope my shots give you some insights into how to shot better shots at a zoo near you. Hopefully the animals will be more cooperative for your shots and if you go early enough in the day so that you get some shots without the sun on the fencing or can come back to get the shots later in the day to get the shots.

Joshua Tree National Park Mar. 29-31 2013

I’m a little slow posting this but here are a bunch of photos from my trip to Joshua Tree National park in Southern California. It was a Sierra Club Camera Committee trip, 3 days long on Easter weekend.
First weekend of spring and I think it was a “Take a hike Sunday” or something like that.

I’ve been busy lately doing things to get ready to get into a photography business, so that is why I’ve been a little slow posting this. My day job has been keeping me busy too, which is working on a computer all day as a graphics artist at a small print shop, so not much time to post these photos. Sorry I’ll try to do better in the future.

First off I should add that there wasn’t much in the way of wildflowers. But I did get a few. Also I got 2 cacti blooming. I bought a new Canon 100mm f/2.8 macro lens and tried it out on several shots. You can compare the close up shots taken with my 18-55mm, the 100mm and some shot with the 55-250 telephoto zoom lens.

The 100mm macro prime lens is very nice and great for shallow depth of field. My bro9ther and I need it for close up shots of rings and other items at weddings. Or other close up photos. It is also a good portrait lens, although on my Canon 7D crop sensor it becomes a 160mm compared to a 35mm film camera.

I planned on taking some night shots, but with the early rising times for the hikes and long days hiking around the park I only did a few shots. A nice one in camp and a few of the stars just outside my camp. Light pollution was evident in the star shot but I got my first real star trails. More practice later this year, I’ll make a camping trip just for star trails and post those results for all to see.

I stayed at Blackrock campground which accepts reservations, most of the campgrounds are “first come first served”. There are also some group campsites available if you want to get a group of people together.

So anyway here is the first photo, my campsite at night. I like the colors on the Joshua trees behind my tent. I’ve seen this type of photo done many times before and like the effect. So I tried it myself.

tent lite up from the inside,

My tent at night lite up. Campground lights/colors playing on the Joshua trees. f/3.5, 25 seconds, ISO 1600, 18-55@18mm

Here is my star trails shot. Best of a about two dozen I took. Tried light painting but focus was off so it didn’t turn out as well as I had hoped for. Problem with night shots is you can’t see everything and the camera doesn’t focus on auto focus. Manual focus is hard to do in the dark too. Can’t just crank it all the way to infinity and leave it there. Most lenses focus just before that point for distance shots.

Star trails with hills

Short star trails, will try stacking shots next time. Note light pollution behind hills. f/7.1, 419 seconds, ISO 400, 10-22@10mm

On the first hike Friday afternoon we saw a beavertail cactus with a flower. A bunch of us shot the picture of it in various forms. Here is a close up by me with the 18-55mm lens. Which got some good reviews for use as a macro lens.

cactus with flower on it

I believe it is a Beaver tail cactus with flower. (Not much of a botanist) f/14, 1/50s, ISO 100, 18-55@53mm

Since I showing cactus here let me show you some more shots of cactus. (Just to get them out of the way, don’t get stuck by any of them.)

cactus with flowers on it

Another cactus with flowers, a lucky find. f/9, 1/160s, ISO 100, 18-55@36mm

tight shot of a barrel cactus

a barrel cactus. f/14, 1/50s, ISO 100, 18-55@55mm

barrel cactus

Barrel cactus. f/14, 1/50s, ISO 100, 18-55@43mm.

Notice the colors in the spines on these cactus. I got into the differences in the different cacti and shot the close ups of the several different kinds of cacti I found.

another cactus

cactus of some sort, f/14, 1/50s, ISO 100, 18-55@48mm

cactus close up

cactus, f/5.6, 1/125s, ISO 100, 18-55@47mm

Most of these were shot with the 18-55mm as I was hiking along. I didn’t change to the 100mm macro as much as I should have, but the zoom on the 18-55mm let me frame up the shots a little easier than just switching to the 100mm. I’m lazy I guess, and not use to having the 100mm prime lens with me.

Macro shot of cactus

Cactus macro close up. f/2.8, 1/1600s, ISO 160, 100mm

Yes I took a lot of photos of cacti.

macro shot of cactus flowers

cactus flowers with macro. f/2.8, 1/1600s, ISO 160, 100mm

Here is a different sort of cactus, I found interesting, tried to get the feel of the short tri tip form in this photo.


Cactus, f/5, 1/400s, ISO 160, 18-55@28mm

Of course there were different colors to the cactus too.


Cactus, f/5, 1/60s, ISO 160, 18-55@46mm

I think I raised the ISO just a tiny bit due to the early morning light. some of the cactus were still in shade, while others were in the sunlight.  But I didn’t want to raise the ISO too much as the sun was coming up fast.

cactus jumping cholla

I think this is the jumping cholla cactus. Looks very similar. f/2.8, 1/2500, ISO 100, 100mm


cactus, jumping cholla again. f/8, 1/400, ISO 100, 55-250@171mm

Again as you can see I did similar shots with different lenses. This shows you that you can make the shot using the lens you have. The 55-250mm is a kit lens and a bit soft (poor focus quality), so it’s not as sharp as the 100mm macro. Which is the reason I bought the 100mm macro and also since this trip I bought a 70-200mm Tamron lens. I will get rid of the 55-250mm most likely. Took some shots of some big horn sheep on a mountain top and the shots were very poor quality to say the least, shot with the Canon EF-S 55-250mm. Not happy with the results.

Yucca flowering

Joshua tree flowering, f/8, 1/500s, ISO 100, 55-250@90mm

However there were plenty of Joshua tree blooming, took plenty of photos but nothing really different to show. Love the blue sky, it came out nice in a variety of shots over the weekend. Here are some morning shots with clouds to make it interesting.

Sunrise in Joshua Tree N.P.

Clouds during sunrise. f/3.5, 1/640s, ISO 250, 18-55@18mm

Sunrise in Joshua Tree N.P.

Sunrise in Joshua Tree National Park, f/4.5, 1/320s, ISO 160, 18-55@36mm

I even got a shot of the moon setting.

moon setting behind rocks in early morning

Moon setting behind rocks. f/4.5, 1/640s, ISO160, 18-55@35mm

Later in the day we were by Live Oak picnic area and the clouds moved in again to make some interesting skies against the rocks and plants.

rocks and clouds landscape

Rocks and clouds, f/9, 1/60s ISO 100, 18-55@18mm

rocks and clouds

Live Oak picnic area, f/9, 1/160s, ISO 100, 18-55@24mm

I also took photos from inside some different rock overhangs and holes. I learned of this idea for photos from one of my meetup.com group leaders, he was always on the lookout for holes in rocks to shoot though.

Split Rock overhang.

Split Rock overhang. f/8, 1/100s, ISO 100, 18-55@18mm

And from a smaller hole.

Shot from a hole in a rock, landscape of Joshua Tree N.P.

Hole shot. f/3.5, 1/800s, ISO 160, 18-55@18mm

We also went to the 49 Palms Oasis, a couple of miles to hike in to a small spot of water in the desert. Kind of neat spot.

Palms trees at 49 Palms Oasis

49 Palms Oasis. f/5.6, 1/320s, ISO 100, 18-55@25mm

Here is a bit of a group shot, I shot it as we stopped at the summit of the trail to 49 Palms Oasis. No, I didn’t line everyone up, I just shot them standing around. If you go to the meetup.com photo page for the Sierra Club Camera Committee (Los Angeles area) there is a great group shot of everyone. One of the people shot everyone then stitched them all together to make one BIG photo. We were standing in a circle as the photo kind of shows. This was just a quick shot without much thought, everyone was just standing around for a break in the hike.

Group of people at summit of trail to 49 Palms Oasis

Summit of trail to 49 Palms Oasis. f/14, 1/50s ISO 100, 18-55@18mm

Another thing I saw on the hikes were old cars and trucks.

Old truck in desert of Joshua Tree N.P.

Old truck near Wall Street Stamp Mill. f/4.5, 1/1000s, ISO 100, 18-55@34mm

Another truck at the Wall Street Stamp Mill.

Old truck at Wall Street Stamp Mill

Old truck at the Wall Street Stamp Mill. F/9 1/30s, ISO 100, 18-55@33mm

A close up of the wheel and fender, note the colors the metal has rusted too.

Close up of a wheel and fender of an old truck in the desert

Wheel and fender of old truck. f/9, 1/10s, ISO 100, 18-55@20mm

A shot of the Wall Street Stamp Mill.

Workings of the Wall Street Stamp Mill

Wall Street Stamp Mill in Joshua Tree N.P. f/9, 1/320s, ISO 100, 18-55@39mm

Here is a silly take on a rock formation I found, I call it “Eat a peach rock” because it looks like the big rock is biting the smaller rock and the big rock looks like it has a face on it.

rock with a face, looking like it is biting another rock

Eat a peach rock. f/8, 1/125s, ISO 100, 18-55@34mm

Another place we went was Arch Rock, here is two angles on it.

Arch Rock at Joshua Tree

Common angle of Arch Rock, (kind of at least) f/3.5, 1/1250s, ISO 100, 10-22@12mm

I was shooting with a wide angle lens so I got away with the wide f-stop. There were a lot of people walking all over the arch so I shot quick and forgot to tighten up my f-stop.

Here is the back side of Arch Rock.

Backside of Arch Rock

Backside of Arch Rock Joshua Tree National Park. f/3.5, 1/640s, ISO 100, 18-55@18mm

Here are some more shots I took that I like and want to share.

Trail at Split Rock

Split Rock trail. f/9, 1/30s, ISO 100, 18-55@23mm

This next shot we went to get a sunset photo but the sky didn’t give us much of a sight. So I put  two graduated Neutral density filters (4 AND 8) in front of my lens and this is the result. Kind of out of this world.

sunset taken though filters

Out of the world sunset. f/13, 1/13s, ISO 100, 18-55@25mm

Here is a dead tree branch I framed up for a nice composition.

Shot of dead wood branch

Dead wood still life. f/2.8, 1/2000s, ISO 100, 100mm

Some wildflowers

Spring wildflowers

Spring wildflowers in the desert. f/5.6, 1/25s, ISO 160, 18-55@55mm

Some more wildflowers.


Best wildflowers of the weekend. f/2.8, 1/600s, ISO 160, 100mm

Close up with macro to show off the shallow depth of view.

wildflower in spring

Macro shot of wildflower. f/2.8, 1/600s, ISO 160, 100mm

A close up of the strands on a plant, I think it was a young Joshua tree. Just looked different.

white curly things on leaves

White curls strands on leaves. f/5.6, 1/100s, ISO 100, 18-55@55mm

For the closing photographs, I have two photos of sayings carved on boulders in the desert at a place known as Samuelson Rocks. There are five rocks carved in all, so you will have to go there to see the rest. It is a three mile hike to the pile of rocks. The sayings seem to be appropriate to today’s financial problems and government troubles even though the saying were carved in rock in 1927.

saying carved in the face of a rock

Samuelson Rock, saying carved in 1927. f/11, 1/50s, ISO 100, 18-55@43mm

and this.

Saying carved in a rock in 1927

Samuelson Rock, No. 2 Saying carved in 1927. f/11, 1/250s, ISO 100, 18-55@43mm

Well, I hope you enjoyed my trip to Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California and can make plans to visit there someday yourself. There are more sites to see and plenty of campgrounds to stay at. There are a couple of towns on the north edge of the park where you can stay in motels if you want to. Just remember to bring plenty of water and sunscreen because it is the desert and even a mile hike is a long walk in the warm sunshine of spring or fall, worse in summer. It really is beautiful out there, lots of colors to see and interesting plants and rock formation. Lots of rocks to climb on for the rock climbers, saw a lot of them too at various stops along the way. Hopefully you will see more wildflowers than I saw and get to photograph them as well as the various sights. I hope you have some clouds in your skies to make things interesting too. The deep blue sky is nice but mid-day it bleaches out and is boring in the photographs.

Hope you learned something from my post, leave me a comment if you want to. I would like to hear from people on what they think of all this.

Thanks for enjoying my post.