Animals

Zazu

Meet Zazu, Alison’s African Grey parrot. She’s a crazy one. (Zazu, not Alison.) When I took this photo, Zazu was about three months old. You may already have seen this photo in my PAD collection, but I wanted to show you a bit of behind the scenes information from when I took this. The setup shot below should give you a pretty good idea of how I managed to light Zazu in her ‘natural habitat’.

So, first of all, for Zazu to be sitting somewhere outside her cage with not too much clutter around her, I first set up a lightstand with a superclamp, which in turn held one of her perches in place. To keep her occupied we let her play with a pen top, one of her favourite toys.
The lights are all triggered using Canon’s ETTL system. An on-camera ST-E2 sent out the signal to the slaves, which were all set to manual mode. The lights on the left and right in the back are 430EX Speedlights with my DIY snoots on them. (The snoots are cookie boxes lined with gaffer tape.) The snoots shape the light into a tight beam, to reduce flare to a minimum and to avoid the light bouncing around the room.
The softbox on the left is the Westcott Apollo set with a 580EX inside it. It’s rotated towards the camera so as to avoid it spilling light onto the wall in the backround. On the table on the right side is another 580EX. This one is flagged by a tissue box (whatever comes handy, really!) and I put a CTB gel on it in order to end up with a strong blue background. I also didn’t want the background to be homogenous, so I placed a basil plant in front of the light. The shadows from the plant add a bit of interest to the background.
Oh and the white thing floating at the top of the image which Zazu is staring at in the setup shot is an origami crane. She has since taken care of it.


Impressions from London Zoo (Film)


Last week I posted photographs from London Zoo that I took in October, this time I would like to share with you a short film I made in the same zoo last weekend. The trip was organized by the Photography and Modelling Society. I had about four hours during which I could shoot. Some of my favourite enclosures, including the rainforest indoor area, were closed to the public, and somehow I ended up shooting birds more than anything else.
Around 20 minutes before we had to catch the train the delivery guy showed up with my new LCDVF as well! I had been thinking about buying a Zacuto Z-Finder, but since they are sold out pretty much everywhere and cost 2-3 times as much I had ordered the LCDVF from lcdvf.pl. (The buying part was a bit tricky since the payment instructions got lost in translation, but I called them up, got everything sorted out and had the parcel within four days.) I might write a short review of the LCDVF, but in a nutshell, I prefer it’s 2x magnification to the 3x of the Zacuto (which I tried briefly at The Flash Center), and the magnet mount they use seems like a good solution to me. Having the LCDVF with me was really helpful for focusing, especially as most of the animals kept running or flying around. The experience is definitely very different from shooting stills! I had taken my tripod with the Manfrotto 808 head with me. There really would have been no way around a tripod, at least for the telephoto scenes: I used the EF 70-200 2.8L IS lens with both the Kenko 1.5x and Canon 2x Extenders on it, giving me an effective focal length of 210-600mm, and without the IS the footage would have been fairly shaky even on the tripod.
For the wide angle shots I used the Canon EF 24-70 2.8L which was attached to a shoulder mount. This helps to distribute the weight of the camera a bit, but I had to find out that it’s not very practical to use it whilst carrying a backpack.
Unfortunately Canon won’t release the new firmware for the 5DMkII until later this week, so I still had to shoot at 30p rather than 24p. I hope the video doesn’t look too choppy! I also think that I’ll have to invest into some kind of external microphone sometime soon if I ever want to make anything that isn’t overlaid with music. Here I mixed the song with the ambient sounds, but I was fairly limited even with that, since the camera picks up the noise from the IS as well as the wind and the noise when I touch the camera.
If you’re interested in the music, the album by Denis Richard can be downloaded from Jamendo.


London Zoo


A day after having visited the London Aquarium, Alison and I went to see the London Zoo. I had been there quickly once during a DPC get-together, but this was my first opportunity to actually explore the zoo properly.
The photos above were all taken with a Canon EOS 5DMkII and EF 70-200 2.8L IS lens, handheld.
Mouse-over the photos to see the name of the animal on the photo. I can't ID the owl on the third picture, if someone can help me there please leave a comment.


London Aquarium


I visited the London Aquarium and decided to film a bit rather than take photographs. I lost quite a few takes because somebody bumped into me while I was filming… The place was really packed with people.
The video is CC-BY-SA.


Kasematten


Alison and I visited the Kasematten as part of a touristy visit of Luxembourg. I've been there a couple of times, but it's the first time that I've seen a bat hang from the ceiling of one of the tunnels! The little guy didn't seem to be bothered by all the people passing through there (most of whom didn't notice the animal was there), and it didn't even move when we photographed it close-up with flash.


Pimpampelen


Alison and I made a trip to the butterfly garden in Grevenmacher. This time the temperature was a bit more comfortable than the 40°C in the World of Butterflies. We only had one macro lens between the two of us so we took turns in photographing and holding a flash for one another. We started out with the ringlight adapter but moved on to a DIY diffuser to light the butterflies. It's quite useful to be able to sculpt the light the way you need it to be rather than being at the mercy of the sun shining through a glass roof and foliage. I used the Pocketwizard Mini TT1 and Flex TT5 to allow the camera and flash to communicate with one another. Setting the flash power manually would have been tricky, since we worked without tripods. At those small distances, a few centimeters change in the distance between flash and subject can make a big difference. (Inverse square law: if the flash is giving me a correct exposure at 1/8 power and 10cm distance, if the flash moves 5cm closer the power needs to change to 1/32. ETTL takes care of this on the fly.)
So my technique here is to get the aperture I need for a decent depth of field, then dialing in a shutter speed and ISO that get me enough ambient light for a photo that's slightly underexposed, then bring in the flash to get the exposure to where it needs to be.
(For those wondering what the title means: it's one of the Luxembourgian words for butterfly.)


Réserve Naturelle Albert Hopp


In 2004 the CFL presented a project to add a second track to the railway line passing through Bascharage, Luxembourg. For the laying of the tracks and the underpass replacing the level crossing, about 1 1/2 acres of woodland were chopped down. In 2009, the works are nearing completion. These are impressions of the Réserve Naturelle Albert Hopp.


World of Butterflies


Alison found out about the MacFarlane's World of Butterflies in Swingfield. We went there after exams, I played around a bit with the Ringlight adapter I bought recently and borrowed Alison's 100mm Canon macro for some shots (that piece of glass has got to go on my to buy list). A pretty cool, albeit small place! The downside was that it was about 40°C in there. I waited for fifteen minutes until my lens de-fogged. (Temperature changes from cold to hot can result in condensation, which can lead to an early death for electronics. To avoid it on your camera just put it in a plastic bag, the condensation will form on the bag instead of your camera.) It was incredibly hot in there; we stayed longer than any other visitors. Fortunately they sell drinks and ice creams there. Even so nobody wanted to sit next to us on the bus back home...


Angus

Alain & Sté's dog Angus has a surplus of energy. To let him burn off some of it, Alain, Joe, Tom and I went to take a walk through the "Giele Botter" in Pétange with him. It's a nature reserve where a steel company used to mine for iron, it's also where my scout troop is located, so it's an area that's pretty familiar to us.


Richmond Park


Back in March Alison, her cousin Lucy and I got up at 4am to take four London buses and reach Richmond Park before sunrise. My excellent sense of orientation got us there at 6.30 or so, a few minutes after the sun kissed the horizon.
It was good fun, albeit a bit cold. (Since lithium-ion batteries don't like the cold very much, it's a good idea to keep them warm and close to your body.) Richmond Park belongs to the royal family, and it's a massive park (for my humble circumstances) in which deer can roam about freely. No fences between them and you. I remember that last time I went there with some photogs from DPChallenge we got a bit too close for the animal's taste and one or two young bucks decided to attack us. No close encounters this time though.
I was a bit annoyed at someone else however: we had sneaked up to the group which you can see in the first picture and stayed at a distance (70-200 lens on the long end with 2x multiplier and crop sensor = 640mm effective focal distance) so as not to disturb the animals. Halfway through the two bucks fighting some random guy just walked right up to them with his camcorder and scared them away. Well done.
It was a really nice day in the end, and I didn't fall into any of the lakes or rivers which is always a bonus.
[Update:] Here are some photos which show what happened to me last time I went to Richmond - and why it's a good idea to keep your distance. One by Alan Jager and one by Manic.