Yesterday was the day for photographing the lowland gorilla. I’ve tried to get a good image of this guy several times in the past, with pretty much zero success. The Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia, South Carolina is my favorite zoo from a photography perspective. Even so, the animals are often too far away for a portrait, even as an effective 600mm. Sometimes there are other problems. In this case, the lowland gorilla chose to perch himself behind the wire enclosure. Photography from behind a chain link fence is never any fun. There are ways to do it. One trick is counter intuitive, get close to the fence with a long lens. That keeps the wire out of focus. Also shoot through a part of the fence that’s in shade. Sunlight on the wire, even close up and out of focus is a killer. My only chance was to set up about 5 feet behind the fence, find an angle where enough of the wire was in the shade, and zoom out to the max.
The good part was that my subject was quiet and not moving around much. That made it relatively easy to compose the frame and get decent focus. The not so good part was that it was midday and the sun was intense, so the contrast was extreme. That’s where having a 14-bit raw file makes all the difference in the world. The raw exposure out of the camera didn’t look great, but there were no clipped highlights or shadows. There was enough headroom to adjust the levels and contrast curves and develop an image that faithfully represents the feeling of being there.
I have to admit I enjoy the challenge the pulling the image that’s in my head out of those not-so-great looking raw files. If all you had to do was point the camera and click the shutter., you’d miss out on hours of post processing. Where would the fun be?
Primates are awesome subjects for photography in my view. There is a feeling of connection. You know they are thinking about you while you are thinking about them, and there is no way on earth to really understand how close or how foreign their thought process is. That makes it worth the time an effort to capture an image that has even a little bit of emotional context.