Mutual of Oregon’s Wild Kingdom

July 14th, 2007  |  Published in pictures and photography  |  1 Comment

I’ve been so busy worrying about the tender sensibilities of outraged Protestants I neglected to process some shots I took last week at the zoo. It was a great trip. I woke up early Saturday morning and made it to the gate by about 8:15.

There is nothing better than the zoo at that time of day. I don’t say that because I don’t like people and wish they wouldn’t come to my zoo, but because I like being able to take as much time as I want to stand in one spot and watch. During the busier times that’s just not polite.

That early in the morning the inmates are a little less retiring, too. I lost half an hour watching a family of swamp monkeys have breakfast and start their day. Two of them scuffled over a slab of ice that appeared to be their morning water supply. One of them finally made off with it and, in greedy monkey fashion, promptly lost it in the stream running through their enclosure. I had pretty good luck with other primates who weren’t yet feeling so hassled that they weren’t willing to hang out near the fronts of their enclosures.

One of the hippos spent a lot of time right in front of the glass. The lorikeets weren’t crabby yet. The elephants were all busy giving each other dust baths. Some animals weren’t out for the day that early, but there were so many in great form that it was hard to notice the ones still hiding out in their overnight housing.

I also happened across a real photographer taking shots of the bald eagle. She had the biggest lens I’ve ever seen in person. Its barrel was about as big around as my head and maybe as long as my forearm and hand with my fingers extended. The camera just sort of hung off the end of it like a funny little box. I wanted to ask questions about the lens, but she was clearly there On Business. Her zoo escort seemed to be acting as her prosthetic situational awareness for anything outside her viewfinder, and I figured that she didn’t have time to waste. The eagle was in the perfect spot, the morning light was still diffuse, and who knew how long she had before the bird got bored and moved somewhere terrible.

I also had time to wonder why, when there’s a gift shop full of postcards that are much nicer than most of the pictures I get, I insist on getting up early and hanging around hoping some swamp monkey decides to look up at me so I can get her catchlights. I came up with two reasons:

There’s a technical challenge. Animals provide all sorts of wonderful detail to capture, like the fine lines of a lorikeet’s feathers or the wrinkles on a monkey’s paw. But it’s an adverse shooting environment. The angles can suck, there are scratched up enclosure coverings to contend with, the lighting is often dim and tinted, the animals themselves don’t hold still. A good zoo picture should remove as much of a sense that the subject is in a cage or behind glass as the photographer can manage, and that’s pretty hard without some planning and a little technique. Sometimes I catch myself taking the exact same shots this year that I took the year before, and the year before that. It’s always cool when I get something better, and a little bit of a letdown when I can tell I didn’t learn a lesson from last year’s version. Seeing how far my equipment has evolved is pretty cool, too, because shots start appearing each year that I wouldn’t have even attempted with last year’s camera.

The other reason I came up with is that I like working on the pictures when I get them home. It’s a chance to look at the animals all over again, catching things about them I didn’t notice, being able to take advantage of the sense of proximity the lens creates. It’s like a whole ‘nother trip to the zoo.

So that’s that. I’ve got a backlog of pictures from other stuff I’m working through right now. We’ve got a decent set from a trip to Waterfront Park that’ll go nicely with a Ben update.


  1. dot unplanned » Kicking the Habit says:

    July 14th, 2007 at 12:48 pm (#)

    […] out the door was kind of chaotic because I lost track of the time while I was at the zoo and we felt some pressure to get going: Lost Lake can fill up, and we were going on a Saturday. It […]

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