Wildlife Portraits Project – Persian Leopard

I have been doing a bit of wildlife photography lately as a sort of personal side project – some of it stalking real wild animals and some of it in zoos and wildlife parks with more exotic animals. Its a sort of precursor to a possible African photographic trip next year and I thought it might be a good idea to see just what sort of wildlife photographs I can make before embarking on such a trip. I plan to post a new Wildlife Portraits Project photograph once a week or so before I leave for Iceland in July. At which time I should have compiled a small wildlife portrait portfolio to reflect on.

Zoo and Nature Park photography has some fairly unique challenges that set it well apart from photographing animals in the wild; but ultimately, one needs lots of patience and a little bit of luck for both types of animal photography. I have written briefly on this subject before in a previous post – Wild Times with the Lions.

This second photograph in my Wildlife Portraits Project is of a one-eyed Persian Leopard. I just happened by sheer coincidence to be walking past the exhibit as the keeper was preparing the Leopard’s dinner. I used the Canon 300mm F2.L IS lens wide open at F2.8 to throw the bars completely out of focus and make them effectively invisible. It was just starting to rain and light levels were quite low so even at ISO400 I could only get a shutter speed of 1/200th of a second (handheld with the help of the inbuilt image stabilisation); but its still tack sharp where it counts.

'One Eye' Persian Leopard

Forget the JPEG – Its All About the Print

I was quietly reminded yesterday after visiting Nick Brandt’s current ‘A Shadow Falls’ African Wildlife exhibition at Source Photographica in Melbourne (which is truly stunning by the way and not to be missed) of how the Fine Art Photographic Print is most definitely the ultimate medium for photography. And that online representations are a poor facsimile by comparison; a concept I think the casual online viewer may well fail to grasp in this digital age – or perhaps to be fair it just may not occur to them.

Those beautiful tones that can be so expertly and exquisitely crafted and captured on the printed page are all to often lost in the back lit screen of an LCD monitor. With so many photographers displaying their work on the internet it seems almost the defacto standard for judging the quality of ones work; when the real yard stick is in fact the print. It is the printed page that is the key to unlocking the full tonal range, textures, colours and subtleties of a photograph – It is the online compressed jpeg that is the brochure for the final print. Its the catalogue from which a potential viewer or purchaser can choose. It is most definitely not a tool by which to measure the quality of the final print.

After all, you really cant appreciate the bullets a photographer has sweated to get just the right tones or just the right color and depth to an image in an online jpeg. But in the print… the constraints are removed and the image can truly shine. Visiting an exhibition of beautifully crafted prints such as ‘A Shadow Falls’ is a timely reminder to both the visiting photographer and casual viewer that the true magic is most definitely in the final print and not the online jpeg.

Iceland – What to Take? And More Importantly What Not to Take…

Its only a couple of months now till I leave for Iceland for three weeks dedicated landscape and nature photography (that is if the erupting volcano doesn’t screw up my well laid travel plans) and its time to start thinking about what equipment to take with me for the trip. I learned the hard way on my South Island New Zealand trip last year that excess baggage can prove quite expensive – “Thanks Jetstar… I really appreciated being slugged an extra $300 for the privilege of being able to take my camera gear on my photography trip“. So as the old adage says once bitten, twice shy. So this time I will try to leave the kitchen sink at home and only pack the gear I think I will actually need; which on first blush seems like quite a lot.

My initial check list as follows:

  • Canon 1DSMK3 Camera Body (going to serve as my primary DSLR Camera workhorse for the trip)
  • Two Spare Batteries and Battery Charger (should be heaps – I get over 1000 frames out of a single charge)
  • Canon S90 Point and Shoot (Going to serve as a back-up in the unlikely event the 1DSMK3 falls over – and for shooting some video for my blog during the trip)
  • Canon 17mm TSE Lens (my widest lens for the trip – with TSE a Bonus!)
  • Canon 24mm F1.4L MKII Lens (My Favourite Landscape Lens – sharper than Ockham’s Razor)
  • Canon 50mm F1.2L
  • Canon 70-200mm F2.8L IS
  • Canon 1.4x Tele-Extender
  • Canon Macro Tube
  • Cable Release and Bubble Level
  • An assortment of LEE Hard and Soft Graduated Neutral Density Filters / Filter Holder
  • The LEE Big Stopper 10 Stop ND Filter
  • A couple of Circular Polarisers
  • A Slew of Compact Flash and Mini SD cards – totalling around 100 Gigabytes
  • My Mac Book Pro / accessories and Back Up LACIE rugged hard drive
  • Arctic Butterfly (for Sensor Cleaning)
  • Gitzo Tripod and Really Right Stuff Ball Head
  • My much loved shooting vest
  • Lowe Pro Nature Trekker II Camera Bag (which will hold pretty much all of the above except the tripod and shooting vest)

The above equipment list pretty much covers me for all the major focal lengths – except 35mm. I have been hanging off purchasing a new 35mm lens as Canon’s 35mm F1.4L is overdue for update (so the rumours go). However, if a replacement 35mm lens is not announced soon I may just have to purchase a pre-loved 35mm to tide me over for this trip. I can’t see going on an expedition like this missing one of the key focal lengths for landscape photography. Before anyone comments – NO, the 16-35mm F2.8L is not an acceptable option (I used to own one and sold it because its about as sharp as a bowl of mushy peas on a 21.1 mega pixel full frame sensor – ick).

Total weight of all this stuff…..?

*GULP*

More than 25 kilos. Which, in combination with a bag of clothes and other must haves is going to again put me squarely in the excess baggage department. I am fortunately flying business class to London; which gives me a few precious extra kilo’s; but the flight from London to Reykjavik is cattle class and I will be subject to the normal 20 kilogram limit. At this point in time I really cant see thinning down this list of gear. I just couldn’t bare setting up for a shot and not having the lens I wanted. I know in many ways this flies against the current trend of many photographers to travel as light as possible; typically packing only a zoom lens or two to ease the travel discomfort. But, I am approaching it from a different angle and am prepared to wear the travel discomfort and to some extent the excess baggage for flexibility and maximum quality when in the field. Since I wont be doing any serious hiking and will have a 4WD for the trip moving all this around shouldn’t to bothersome.

Whats not coming at this stage?

  • Canon 85mm F1.2L (I can cover this focal range with the 70-200mm F2.8L IS)
  • Canon 300mm F2.8L IS (Its just too bloody heavy and takes up to much space)
  • Canon 580 EX Flash (I just don’t think I am going to need it)
  • Canon 5D Camera Body (I want to take this… my heart says yes… my head and wallet say NO!)

You know the funny thing about looking at this check list now I have written it out is that my two of my three favourite lens’s are staying at home – the 85mm F1.2L and the 300mm F2.8L IS. The 85mm F1.2L is my favourite lens for portraiture (bar none), but I can justify leaving it at home as this is a landscape expedition and the opportunities for serious portrait work are likely to be limited in the areas I will be travelling to. The 300mm F2.8L IS is another story and is actually very useful for landscape work (although I primarily use it for wildlife) and it is only its excessive weight and bulk that makes me reluctant to take it with me. Were it not for the thought of being fleeced by the airlines for having so much heavy equipment this lens would most definately be riding shotgun to Iceland with me. I can pretty much cover the 300mm focal length with the 70-200mm F2.8L IS in combination with the 1.4 Tele extender, but it just isn’t the same. It sort of like saying the Ford Falcon will get you there.. but why ride in the Ford when you have a Ferrari in the garage. This one is probably going to cause me a few sleepless nights…

Wildlife Portraits Project – An Aussie Icon at Healsville

I am used to seeing wildlife along the Yarra River when I am out riding my mountain bike through the bush at dusk. Its usually Kangaroos and Tiger snakes (in the summer months), with the occasional Echidna and the usual assortment of native birds such as Kookaburras. I almost never have my camera with me  unfortunately, so am unable to photograph them (mountain biking with a 300mm lens strapped to my back doesn’t sound like fun!) . This time however I left the bike at home and went out specifically to photograph wildlife at Healesville. This very co-operative baby Koala proceeded to pose for me whilst I rattled off a dozen or so frames. Light levels were quite low so I had to punch up the ISO to 800 to get a 1/200th of a second shutter speed at f3.2 handheld with the 300mm F2.8L IS.

Aussie Icon

Photoshop CS5 – Advanced Masking Demo

Martin Evening – Co-Author with Jeff Schewe of the most excellent book ‘Adobe Photoshop CS4 for Photographers, The Ultimate Workshop‘ has posted a really good video example of the new masking tools available in Photoshop CS5. I rarely do this kind of high level post production work to my photographs – both because it has been somewhat time consuming without a dedicated plugin and because its generally just not my style. However, this video shows just how easy it has become to achieve really high quality professional masking results in CS5. Most impressive.

I cant embed the video as WordPress does not support the format – but here is the direct link to the Video.