Photography at the Zoo

Photographing animals requires one thing above all else; Patience.

Whether you're photographing your own cat or dog at home, or if you're in an exotic location with wild animals, capturing them at the right moment when they are doing something amazing is difficult.

ISO 800, 100mm, f/4 at 1/40 Sec

You can't ask animals to change position or move to a new location. You have to wait for them to be in the right place and in the right light.

You can't ask them to do something interesting to make your photo better. You just have to wait until they do it, and be ready to capture it.

The only way you can get better at photographing animals is to observe and wait and practice.

A great place to do this is at your local Zoo. You get to practice photographing animals, and your entry fee goes to rare and endangered species conservation and research.

While I was in Portland a few weeks back I spent an afternoon at the Oregon Zoo to practice my skills. It was a rainy overcast day which is great for avoiding dark shadows and high contrast, but also meant there was less light to enable fast shutter speeds.

I had to go really high with my ISO settings (remember ISO increases/decreases your cameras sensitivity to light, but also increases noise at high ISO), and with my camera (which is a little old) this means an increase in grain. With full frame cameras you can set your ISO quite high without it affecting the quality of your photos, but not so much with cropped sensor, older cameras like mine.

I still have a long way to go when it comes to photographing animals/birds/any moving object, but I really enjoyed practicing at the Zoo.

Here's 5 quick tips for photography at the Zoo

1. Observe and learn


Observe your subject and get to know some of it's habits, then find a position that works - no distracting wire or smudges on the glass- and stay there. You will notice certain patterns of behavior by simply observing them, and if you practice patience you can simply wait for your subject to come back into the frame you have set up. If you know you have a spot which works, it doesn't help to try chasing your subject around from outside the enclosure.

2. Minimize distraction


Set up your shots with minimal distracting elements by getting in close and focusing on the eyes of your subject.

If you have to shoot through glass find a clean spot (or wipe it clean yourself) and get in close with a lens hood to avoid reflections.

If you have to shoot through wire get up close and use a high aperture (low f stop number) to ensure the camera doesn't focus on the wire.


Either try to capture your subject so it seems like they're not enclosed, or use the enclosure as part of your image.

3. Get to know your camera


While you are observing your subject take some practice shots to see whats going to work. There's nothing worse than missing an awesome shot because you haven't adjusted your settings.

If you want to freeze motion you need fast shutter speeds (1/500 sec or more), high ISO and wide open aperture. Use TV mode for action shots.

If you're shooting in low light you can increase aperture, and set the ISO quite high in order to decrease the shutter speed.

Practice with all three settings to find what works.

4. Be OK with imperfection


Don't obsess over getting the perfect shot the first time. Think of each photograph as a lesson which you can learn more from.

Don't stress if you can't get a shot of a particular subject (the lion enclosure had huge sheets of filthy glass in front of it making it impossible to get a shot of them). It's ok if some of your shots don't work out.

Learn from each experience.

5. Enjoy the moment


Don't forget to take time to actually appreciate where you are and what you are experiencing.

Consider the incredible animals you get to see and be respectful of the Zoo rules (don't try to climb on anything to get a better shot).

Conservation Zoo's conduct research and do what they can for endangered species.

If you are so inclined you can help out by purchasing a Zoo membership or even by volunteering.

If you are interested in photographing wildlife go to your local Zoo and practice your skills.

Here's a few extra shots from my afternoon at the Zoo.



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What I Learnt: 30 Days of Smartphone Photography Day 30

Over the last 5 weeks I challenged myself to 30 Days of Smartphone Photography in and around Portland. Although I missed a few days due to travel commitments, I have made it to Day 30. IMG_2129

They say it takes 21 days to form a habit, and I really do feel like photography every day and A Post A Day is normal now.

Although I still feel like I have a long way to go, practicing everyday really has made a huge difference in my confidence and understanding of photography.

Here's 5 things that I learned over the last 5 weeks about Smartphone PhotographyIMG_1758

1. Read instruction booklets first

In my excitement of receiving my new Photojojo lenses I skipped the instruction booklets for the Wide/Macro lens and consequently didn't realise that the lens comes in two parts. I was getting severely frustrated that I couldn't capture macro shots like the ones I'd seen captured by other people.

Eventually (2 weeks after getting the lenses) I decided I'd look online to try to find a better macro lens. In my search I discovered that the lens I already had unscrews into two parts!

No wonder it wasn't working!

So, now when I buy a new piece of equipment I check the instructions first.

2. Be prepared

This is still something I am getting used to. No matter where you are going be prepared. Your smartphone is usually close at hand, but remember to take your extra lens and a tripod (or use a stable surface) so you don't miss a great shot.

Using your tripod is especially important when you use Apps like ProHDR, which in order to get a great shot requires your camera to be completely still.

While I always have my smartphone and/or DSLR on me, I have missed opportunities for awesome photos because I left some of my equipment at home.20140709_171807

3. Photography requires patience

When I finally figured out that my Photojojo lens came in two parts and I realized I could get some cool macro shots I spent over two hours playing around with it before I got a clear shot of a fly on a strawberry leaf.

With the macro lens you have to be so close to your subject, and then the magnification causes any movement whatsoever to blur. It was hot out in the sun but I took photos of flowers and dog noses and grass and vegetables to get used to the lens.

You might get frustrated, but ultimately it's so satisfying when you get the shot just right.

The same goes for any form of photography.

Sitting and waiting for the right light at sunset.

Hoping for the right moment when the bird you are trying to capture lands exactly where you want it to.

Sitting uncomfortably hoping the flittery fly will stop on a strawberry leaf right in front of your camera.

I feel that I am getting to the point where I love this process. I don't mind waiting for the right moment because it makes it so much better when I capture the moment I have been waiting for.hdr_00109_0

4. Go back to the same places

Sometime I think I have captured the most amazing photo, and then I get home and open it up on my computer and it looks all wrong. I realise that I have cropped the image too much, or a different angle would have been much better.

Seeing a photo on your small smartphone screen looks very different to seeing it on your computer.

Apart from when you're only in a location for one day, there's no reason why you can't go back and shoot the same location again. Try it at a different time of day, or in different weather.

Shooting the same thing in different conditions has really helps me to understand what works best in different situations.

5. Practice, Practice, Practice

The only way you are going to feel more confident in your skills as a photographer is by practicing.

Practice everyday, even if that means taking a walk to snap just one photo on your lunch break. You don't have to go to exotic locations to practice your skills.

Practice photographing the ordinary to find your own style and make it extraordinary.


I am in Oakland for the next two weeks, and yesterday discovered that there are Hummingbirds in the garden! Capturing one of these speedy birds is my challenge this week.

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Photo of The Day: Macro

30 Days of Smartphone Photography Day 29

While exploring the Oregon Zoo in Portland I took some extra time to practice my Photojojo Macro skills. 


Besides the incredible animals, the Zoo also had beautiful flowers everywhere and here's the tiny petals  of one of them.This flower was about the size of a Australian 10 cent coin or US Quarter.

Remember with Macro shots that you need to hold your camera super still to avoid blurry photos. Because it's so magnified any amount of movement will show up.

Use both hands to hold your camera and practice slow steady breathing to help avoid sudden movements.

If you have one, it really helps if you use a tripod,  rest your elbows on a hard surface, or even just rest your phone camera on a surface as close as possible to the object you're trying to capture.

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The 5 Best Android Camera Apps

30 Days of Smartphone Photography Day 28

Most smartphone's have great inbuilt cameras, but if you want your photos to really stand out there are hundreds of apps which can help you capture and create beautiful images.

The problem is deciding on which ones to use. If you look up the best camera apps you will get pages and pages of recommendations.

Rather than listing out 50 apps which you could try, here's 5 apps which I actually use and like on my Android smartphone.

1. ProHDR Camera $1.99

While your in-built camera can capture great photos at one exposure level, ProHDR Camera combines 3 separate photos taken at different exposures to create beautiful vibrant images. This app is awesome for situations when either the background is too bright, or there is too much shadow in the foreground.

Use this app to capture the most amount of colour in your images and bring out detail in overly bright or shadowed areas.



hdr_00048_02. CameraZOOM FX $2.99 for Premium or Free Lite Version

CameraZOOM FX has all the features of your regular camera app with added bonuses to help make taking beautiful photos so much easier. With controls like touch to focus/shoot, white balance, timer and burst modes and nightshot mode, CameraZOOM gives you the extras you need for awesome shots.

Use this app in place of your built in camera for greater creative control. CameraZOOM-20140712164215043

3. Pixlr Express FREE

Pixlr Express gives you everything you need to quickly edit a photo to make it really stand out. You can make minor adjustments, or you can add filters, borders, text and stickers to create an image with a message.Screenshot_2014-07-12-14-41-46

Here's some of the awesome features of this app:

• Explore the tools: easily adjust the contrast and brightness of your image, or focus on one color with the color splash tool
• Easily crop, rotate and adjust images when saving and sharing. 
• Choose from four pre-defined dimensions (or input your own custom dimensions) for fast and flexible image resizing after editing. 
• Create and customize a photo collage by editing its layout, background, and spacing. 
• Share your photo directly with friends through Facebook or email, or just save it back to your photo library.
• ‘Auto Fix’ photos for a one-click fix to balance out colors, adjusting for poor lighting conditions.
• Explore the growing catalog of additional effects, overlays, and border packs.
• Look like a pro with cool photo effects such as focal blur, denoise, and more. 

Use this app for post editing to bring colour out or to completely change your image.20140709_195059


4. Dropbox Free

I have talked about Dropbox before hereDropbox is a free service for securely storing and sharing photo’s, videos and documents online. The Dropbox app means you can access the service on any device. I find Dropbox most useful when I want to quickly access photo’s from my phone (Android) on my iPad, or when I want to share photo’s and documents without having to email or use a USB.


5. PhotoGrid Free

Make collages quickly and easily with this app to create interesting images which tell a story. If you like using Instagram, use Photogrid to make your photos stand out and capture the attention of your followers.

Screenshot_2014-07-12-14-44-13PhotoGrid_1405203724307[1] There you go! 5 Apps to help you capture and create beautiful eye capturing images.

While my phone camera is awesome as is, it often doesn't capture what my eyes see, so basically all my photos taken with my phone have some touch ups done before I share them.

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Photo of The Day: Smartphone Macro

30 Days Of Smartphone Photography Day 27

I can not even explain the amount of patience which was required for this shot! 

Flies are flittery, zipping, whizzing speedy little buggers and catching one while it's still is exceedingly difficult!

But I got him! It only took a few (many!) goes.

This is my photo of the day, taken with my Samsung Galaxy S II with my Photojojo Macro lens.

I am pretty impressed if I do say so myself!

Now you know what an American blowfly looks like. I did try to capture a wasp in action but it kinda got narky about (you need to be within an inch for macro shots) it so I left him alone.

Here's the obliging blowfly perched on a strawberry leaf. 20140709_171807

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Photojojo Camera Lens for Smartphones

30 Days of Smartphone Photography Day 26

Previously in my 30 day smartphone challenge I showed you my Photojojo wide/macro camera phone lens.IMG_1725

Today I have a quick how to and overview of all three lenses. Photojojo has all sorts of cool bits and pieces and I got this 3 pack of lenses (Fisheye, Polarizer and Wide/Macro) for $49.00. Photojojo claims these lenses will fit on any phone model, but be warned some phone covers won't work with these lenses and the magnetic ring. IMG_1741

Each lens comes with these little magnetic rings which you attach to your camera around the lens. You get a few extras too so no worries if it falls off (this hasn't happened to me and I have had the same ring on for a month now).IMG_1733Clean your lens and the area around it, then after removing the backing paper attach the sticky ring carefully to your camera. Make sure its lined up because they are kinda hard to move once stuck. You can remove the ring when you want to get it off, but it does leave some sticky residue.

Press the ring firmly onto your phone lens, then leave it to stick for at least half an hour before you try attaching a lens.

The lens simply magnetically attaches to the ring. IMG_1745

Easy! You're good to go. IMG_1743

Here's what each lens does


The Fisheye lens is a very wide angled lens which gives a hemispherical looking photograph as shown below. The first photo is from my phone camera as is at the same distance as the second photo with the Fisheye lens. The Fisheye lens takes in a 180 degree view and distorts everything so it appears like a bubble (or fishbowl).

This lens is really cool if you want to take photo's of scenes too wide for your regular camera, or if you just want to add a touch of wackiness.



A polarizing lens is designed to block light at certain angles, produce more saturated colors and help to block reflected light from windows or water.  The lens helps to create a vibrant image so you don't have to do as much (or any) post processing. The first shot is my camera as is, and the second is with the polarizer attached.

The green of the trees definitely looks greener and the caravan in the left corner is much less blown out, but the sky is basically the same.

Use this lens on bright sunny days or if there is a lot of reflective light to capture beautiful vibrant images.




The wide/macro lens lets you take extra wide angle shots or super close ups.  The lens comes in two parts and you simply unscrew the wide angle top off the macro lens to use the macro function. Both together make the wide angle lens.IMG_1759

IMG_1758The first two photos below are as close as I could get to the lenses without my phone camera losing focus. The third image was taken with the macro attached and you can see how much closer I was able to get. There is much more detail and you get a nice blurred effect in the parts of the photo which are out of focus. You need to get very close with the macro lens to get a focused shot (between 10-20mm).




The wide angle (shown in the second photo below) creates quite a lot of distortion, especially in the corners. You can crop your image to get rid of the dark corners though. This lens is similar to the Fisheye, just less intense.

Use this lens for wide landscapes.



Having a few extra lenses for your phone camera makes taking photos much more fun. I really like the wide/angle macro for getting close up detail.

If you're getting bored with your phone camera, there's nothing better than getting yourself re-inspired with a new lens.

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