Balancing Act

by Pino Pino May. 06, 2019 762 views

This blog is purely about the photography. The questions that flash through your head when you setup a shot. Specifically, in this case, balancing focal length, aperture, and distances to get that perfect depth of field to photographically blow out fences and cages, control movement in whatever fashion you are aiming for, and keep the subject in sharp focus.

Well, my head... and probably your head... most likely... I assume...

Okay, for simplification of this blog, let's just stay in my head.

Wow! Now there is a phrase that should scare the bajeezus out of any sane person... "let's stay in MY head".
Interesting place, my head, so let's set some ground rules.
Well, one rule... Photography. That will keep us all out of trouble.
Trust me - you don't want to wander off inside my head...

Okay, now on with the blog.

So I was at a small local wildlife rescue/zoo and had a good three hours to putter about with my camera while my son participated in their 'Zookeeper for a day' program.

NOTE: This facility, and many others in our region, take in injured animals, treat them, and [when possible] re-release them, but they also provide a home for some of those that cannot be returned to the wild.

The animal residents are quite varied, but in general there hawks, coyote, some deer, bobcats, various other birds, and several farm animals.

Today I mostly photographed the bobcats while they were being fed and a small kestrel (I think it is a kestrel) that was busy stretching his wings. Both of these animals were behind wire caging of one sort or another - for obvious reasons.

Typically, if I'm shooting at a zoo instead of out in nature, I am looking to photographically 'blow out' any bars, wire, etc that might be between the animal and my camera.

As I'm sure you are aware, one's mind quickly runs through distances (camera to wire/cage, cage to subject), focal length, and aperture (how low can you go). So begins the balancing act - with the primary goal of keeping the subject in sharp focus WHILE 'blowing out' those pesky bars or wires.

Examples - the kestrel (?) photos at bottom...

These are not quite as 'creamy' of a rear bokeh as I usually go for because the enclosure had a shallow depth, he was pretty close to the rear of cage wire, and I wanted some blur of his wings to show the movement... But I am actually quite happy with the texture of the background providing that reference that this was a bird in an enclosure.
Please note that he is NOT a 'captured for display' situation. He had been wounded and is being cared for by the facility.

As with all things, there are exceptions... For instance, the photos below of the bobcat feeding. I wasn't sure if I was going to shoot the bobcat being fed because there was pretty much no way to 'blow out' the wire fencing - he was literally 'in' the fence (the focal plane was literally one in the same) while being fed and trained... and the trainer's head was pretty much unavoidable as I could only stand in certain places due to other guard-rails in place.

But then I saw him being fed...

I realized that, in this case, the fence (and the head/glasses of the trainer) were part of the story.

The bobcat and trainer were directly interacting through the fence... she was close enough to put her whole arm into the enclosure (if not for the wire fence) but the fence was more than just an innocent bystander preventing her from entering the bobcat's space... it was actually an active part of the bobcat's experience.

This was not a 'food neatly through hole' operation.

At times, the bobcat had to lap his tongue (and lips and teeth) around the wire - and sometimes food stuck to the wire so the bobcat had to manipulate it off. The fence was truly part of the experience as the bobcat manipulated tiny pieces of food off the fence that had dragged and snagged on it.

You can really see the bobcat working his tongue, lips, and teeth to get every little morsel.

Photos below the kestrel (?) photos.

At this point it looks like a pretty straight forward operation - [bird] meat through hole to bobcat...

At this point it looks like a pretty straight forward operation - [bird] meat through hole to bobcat...

But, as you can see, the bobcat tends to get the [bird] meat, tongs, and wire/fence all in his bite...

But, as you can see, the bobcat tends to get the [bird] meat, tongs, and wire/fence all in his bite...

Here he is licking the little bits (and maybe juices) off the wire/fence from the [bird] meat having dragged along it...

Here he is licking the little bits (and maybe juices) off the wire/fence from the [bird] meat having dragged along it...

Here he is really getting into the cleaning of the little bits of [bird] that stuck to the wire... he eventually got it all...

Here he is really getting into the cleaning of the little bits of [bird] that stuck to the wire... he eventually got it all...

If you look closely at this one you see that not all the pink is tongue... that is actually a piece of meat (bird of some sort) on his tongue - but the wire is preventing him from simply lapping it in...

If you look closely at this one you see that not all the pink is tongue... that is actually a piece of meat (bird of some sort) on his tongue - but the wire is preventing him from simply lapping it in...

The 'so is there more' look from bobcat to trainer...

The 'so is there more' look from bobcat to trainer...

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