Non-Human Portraits

Things have been a little crazy lately, hence it was indeed a necessity to get away from everything for a while, and just be with myself. Waking up on a glorious Sunday morning, I took a bus down to the Zoo Negara. I have had the Zuiko 50-200mm F2.8-3.5 lens with me for almost a year now, but strangely I have not brought this lens to have a work-out at the zoo before. Therefore, I thought, instead of shooting people, I wanted to shoot something else for a change, to refresh my mind and rediscover the wonders of shooting with a long telephoto zoom lens. Did I tell you I love long, big, zoom lenses?

All images in this entry were taken with Olympus DSLR E-5 and Zuiko Digital 50-200mm F2.8-3.5 (non-SWD)

Watchful Eyes.
The elephants were so huge, there was completely no way I can compose by fitting the entire body without including ugly backgrounds (man-made structures, fences, etc). As I was looking at the elephant, there was something in their eyes that caught my attention. I felt sorrow. I know I must be imagining things. 

At your Feet
A simple shot of a rhinoceros would have been too plain. Then there was that tiny black bird that flew in and landed just inches away from the rhino's foot. As I was composing my shot, the bird jumped onto the foot. I should have stopped down the aperture to get more depth of field, but when I thought of that the rhino reacted and the bird flew off. Aahhhh... 

This blardy tiger never stopped moving. I waited and waited and waited and it just kept walking on and on. It was under heavy shade, and mind you the tiger walked at quite a fast pace. Since it was almost impossible to freeze the motion, I used the motion blur in the photograph instead. 

Bird in Flight 1
With E-5 + 50-200mm combo, the autofocus was good enough to capture action shots such as these. 

Bird in Flight 2
A cleaner composition, but the focus was actually at the wing, not the eye of the bird. But I'd say it was good enough for now. More practice would nail the shot next time. 

Bird in Flight 3.
Did I tell you how much I love the Olympus Zuiko 50-200mm F2.8-3.5? 

I do feel pitiful seeing some of the animals in the zoo. This lion seemed very skinny. Perhaps it has been underfed. 

Double Image
This image was shot near noon. Not the best time to shoot anything at all, but the bright highlight surrounding the head and neck added the warmth and glow to the bird. Some may complain about the highlight blown outs, but to me it added drama to this shot. 

Man to man
The Orang Hutan was looking at me directly, I do think the gaze meant something, not sure what. 

Finally, the tiger rested. Ok I lied, this was a different tiger, at a different cage. 

Instead of flooding this blog entry with dozens of images, I only selected a few to display. Not that I do not have any more to show, but I do feel that many of my shots turned out rather ordinary. 

My main priority in shooting this session was to make sure I avoid all man-made structures, fences, grills, or whatever that may look artificial from the animal shots. Of course it is impossible to avoid everything, but I did what I can, and I utilized the long lens' super compression effect as well as limited field of view to isolate the subject from the cluttered and ugly background. 

I am not sure about you guys, but I do get the kick from shooting animals in the zoo. It is straightforward, without much need to "find the outstanding, unusual subject content", or create a story or emotional impact in the photograph to tell a story or provocative ideas in the image. Sometimes, photography has become over-ly complicated and we can just do away without those dramas. Shooting techniques? Nothing much to wrestle with in the zoo really, just point, zoom and shoot. The subjects were already there, perhaps the timing, or framing may come into play, but you need not consider "zone-focusing" or "hip-shots" or all those fancy advanced techniques to get your subject in focus. You miss-focused on the elephant? Try again. And again. The elephant wont fly away. Trust me I know. 

At the end of the day, coming home with the simple, plain images of animal portraits, I was thoroughly satisfied. I enjoyed myself being out there, appreciating the diversity of nature, and the creatures that share the same planet with us. Honestly, that tiger is a stranger to me as the stranger on any other street. The tiger may want to eat me alive since I look so delicious, but that stranger on the street might pounce on my wallet or camera, to buy himself a warm meal and get a decent place to stay for the night. My point is, we have to look beyond the limitations that hold our perception on photography down. Photography is a lot more than what we choose to do or the actions that we take to achieve our goals. Acknowledging that photography has so much more potential than just what we chose to restrain ourselves with, is the first step in improving ourselves as better photographers. 

No, I am not venturing into wildlife photography, not that I intend to. However, I would like to remind myself that there is so much more in photography to explore. I should keep an open mind, and make full use of my gear, and what it can accomplish. I felt that I have only barely scratched the surface, and there is surely a lot more to experience. One step at a time Robin, one step at a time. 


  1. I think Orang Hutan is smiling at you, because of knowing that you takes a good picture of it. It is kind of a welcome gesture showing appreciation and trust. Thanks for sharing your thought and great pictures.

    Chi Lee

    1. Thanks Chi Lee.
      I would like to think the same about the Orang Hutan too !! LOL

  2. The animals portraits are beautiful and full of emotions like you wrote.

  3. a good dosage of beautiful pictures before the Monday blues rool in

  4. Hello Robin,
    Thank you for sharing the other side of Robin. Nice connection shots with good intimacy as if all the animals were welcoming you.
    Maybe they were hoping for some food from you. I also love animal and I used to talk to animal as most of the kampong boy did.
    Normally when animal stare at you with a friendly looks that meant they want something from you which include your body parts.
    Though I do not have a zoom lens now, I may get one in a few years time when my budget permit.
    Have a good rest and good night.
    John Ragai

    1. No worries John, sometimes I do love to shoot other stuff than street only. It depends on your need and preferences, I rarely use telephoto zoom lens for street shooting. But it does come in handy when I shoot live music performance (love live music), stage events such as fashion shows, and also sports.

  5. Robin, the two photos malnourished lion and the tiger at rest really grabbed my attention. I really like the color of the cats! You really nailed the focus right on their eyes, and you somehow managed to get a very nice catchlight in them, too. Great job!

    1. Thanks Gregg for the kind comments. Its a bit sad seeing them so skinny.
      Focus was not much of an issue since they were not moving actively (unlike the tiger in the panning shot that did not stop). However, the catch-light was an interesting observation. It was late morning when I shot them, and I don't remember anything reflecting to produce catch-lights. This was more luck I would say.

  6. Hello Robin, I really like my copy of the 50-200swd. Did you change exposure from the meter recommendation when shooting those huge grey cards (i.e. the elephant and rhino)? I also just did non-humans at a dog and cat show and my E30 was underexposing 1/3 to 1/2 EV lower than i anticipated.

    1. Hello Stan,
      I did not find the need to change the exposure value, but if I have, I must have done so from case to case based on my mental calculation and on the spot judgment. I agree the metering is not 100% accurate all the time, and it is up to the photographer to make the corresponding adjustments and fine-tuning to get the desired output.

  7. I don't know why but I LOLed at "The elephant won't fly away. Trust me, I know."

  8. Hi Robin,
    love your shots, love very, very much Zuko 50-200 SWD and I have fantastic shots from the Belgrade zoo with that lens too. You dont need to go to safari to make animal portraits if you have zoo in the town. Just go there and you have everything for good photo sesion.

    Best regards,

  9. Hi Robin,
    love your shots, love very, very much Zuko 50-200 SWD and I have fantastic shots from the Belgrade zoo with that lens too. You dont need to go to safari to make animal portraits if you have zoo in the town. Just go there and you have everything for good photo sesion.

    Best regards,