My favorite creature to photograph this week is the Rainbow Lorikeet. They are an Australian native, so it’s not like you’ll find one in your backyard, but they are common in zoos. Often they are kept in walk-through enclosures like the one at Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia, South Carolina.
That’s the “most excellent” option for photographers because you get clear and open shots. With any reasonably fast lens you can blur the background so that there is little to zero feeling of being in an enclosure. Children love this setup as well, they get a chance to feed the birds with little nectar cups. If you have young children this is about as good as it gets.
These birds are fearless not afraid to pose. The main problem is that they are fast and on on the move all the time. You can’t be afraid to click that shutter. I open up the lens to f/2.8 or f/4.0 to keep the shutter speed up, and manually set ISO around 320 or 400. I use a Sony A77, not the best camera in the world for high ISO photography, and that’s about as fast as I can go and still get reasonably fine detail.
The other issue is backgrounds. You just have to keep moving and trying different angles. This is another area where those wide apertures are your friend. Do your best to avoid really busy backgrounds. That’s more difficult than it sounds, especially when both photographer and subject are constantly readjusting their positions. It’s worth the effort though, I find that often the difference between a nice shot and a portfolio piece is smooth background bokeh.
For me, an important piece to this puzzle is critical focus. In almost all cases you want the bird’s eyes to be sharp. When shooting with a wide aperture, and the associated relatively narrow depth of field, getting the focus exactly right is not going to be easy. I don’t use a tripod. Everything is hand held with a big lens. My favorite lens for this type of wildlife shot is the Sigma f/2.8, 70-200. It’s big and heavy, but has wonderful image stabilization built in. I set it to manual focus, with the camera’s focus peaking feature on. My hand is on the focus ring all the time. I’m framing the shot, while fine-tuning that focus at the same time. It’s a manual skill that takes time to master. If you invest the time, it will become second nature, and you will love the results.
I usually take anywhere from 50 to 100 frames in that enclosure every trip. I’m happy to get one or two Rainbow Lorikeet ‘keeper’ shots per visit.
My view is that the Rainbow Lorikeet enclosure is a Photographer Friendly location, with the advantage of being easily accessible, and a high probability of getting a nice shot. What more could you ask for?