Shooting Wild Monkey’s In Chiapas

Spider Monkey I HDR LR

Spider Monkey – 1/500s @ f/5.6, ISO 3200, FL=400mm

(Click on image to enlarge)

Photographer’s note:  I think this was the best shot of the day.  I like the way he is stepping off (swinging) into space, but hasn’t quite reached his destination yet.  A shutter speed of 1/500s  stopped most of the critical action, and kept motion blur to a minimum.  Shooting wide open at f/5.6 helped to isolate him with DOF, but still kept the critical areas relatively sharp and in focus.  Post-editing was a challenge:  The original digital image was captured in CameraRAW and converted in PSE11 (experimenting a lot with the shadows and blown highlights).  I finally had to process it with HDR software (High Dynamic Range) to gain acceptable contrast values, and then had to tone down the color saturation (HDR processing almost always produces garish over saturated colors I don’t much care for).  I went back to PSE11 for all of my final edits:  Cropping, Sharpening and final color tweaks. I can criticize it all day long from a technical perspective, but I think the actual ‘monkey behavior’ captured makes up for a lot.

Final disclaimer:  I am NOT a naturalist, so I may have the identifications wrong on these critters.  Feel free to comment if I’ve blown it – SFD

Shooting wild monkey’s with a camera is HARD.  It’s right up there with shooting birds-in-flight.  First of all they’re usually pretty far away necessitating a super telephoto lens (at least 300mm).  An affordable super telephoto (anything less than $10,000 USD) shoots slow—usually a maximum aperture of f/5.6 wide open (where a f/2.8 would be ideal but price and weight make them impractical for most of us).  Monkey’s are found in the jungle, and high up in the canopy.  Jungles are DARK, wet and full of extraneous branches and vines. The dark means shooting at high ISO’s even to ISO 3200 or higher—higher ISO’s result in more digital noise (or what we called graininess in film days).  The dark and extraneous foliage also plays hell with the camera’s autofocus—it wants to focus on everything EXCEPT the damn monkey.  And monkey’s MOVE.  Boy, can they move.  Fast.  All of this mandates compromise from the photographer.  You’re shooting a big heavy lens handheld (just no time for a tripod), you’re shooting at higher shutter speeds to stop motion blur which requires higher ISO’s and slower apertures (I almost always shoot wide open at f/5.6).  The monkey’s are moving fast up in the canopy so no time for manual focus or making a lot of changes to your camera settings.  In other words:  YOU BETTER BE READY WHEN THE MONKEY’S ARE READY.  These shots were all captured at the river ruins in Yaxchilan, Chiapas, MX (just across the river from Guatemala).  It required a 45-minute trip up river by longboat, and then a hike into the ruins from the riverbank.  Having Joel with me as a ‘Monkey Spotter’ proved invaluable.  While I messed about with my camera gear he kept the critters in sight.  They were constantly on the move overhead and so were we.  All images were captured with my Canon EOS 5D Mk2 camera and Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM super telephoto lens handheld.  What you are seeing are Howler Monkey’s (one of my favorites) and Spider Monkey’s.

Spider Monkey IV LR

Spider Monkey – 1/400s @ f/5.6, ISO 1600, FL=400mm

(Click on image to enlarge)

Spider Monkey III LR

Spider Monkey – 1/400s @ f/5.6, ISO 2000, FL=400mm

(Click on image to enlarge)

Howler II LR

Howler Monkey – 1/500s @ f/6.3, ISO 640, FL=400mm

(Click on image to enlarge)

Monkey I LR

Juvenile Monkey (Howler or Spider?) – 1/400s @ f/5.6, ISO 1000, FL=400mm

(Click on image to enlarge)

Monkey II LR

Juvenile Monkey (Howler or Spider?) – 1/400s @ f/5.6, ISO 500, FL=400mm

(Click on image to enlarge)

This was a VERY long 13-hour day for Joel and me; it started with a 0600 morning departure, and we didn’t return to our jungle lodging until after 1900 hrs in the evening.  Long travel in a mini-van, river longboat and finally our own two legs.  It was hot, humid, wet and slippery (dangerous when fatigued).  Joel lost his prized Tilley bush hat (some Howler monkey probably has it now), we were sweaty, tired and dehydrated.  And—WE HAD AN ABSOLUTE BLAST.


6 responses to “Shooting Wild Monkey’s In Chiapas

  1. Great post with wonderful shots! I read your description of the difficulties with auto-focus, lighting, etc. when shooting these monkeys and it brought back memories of my trip to Costa Rica in 2007. Never did get a good shot …
    You should be proud of these ones for sure!

    • You would somehow think they would be easy to shoot, but alas … NO. I had forgotten that you went to Costa Rica; when I visited in 2010 I loved it. It will be fun to revisit as we explore Central America thoroughly.

  2. Too bad you didn’t get a shot of a monkey wearing Joel’s hat! lol! Actually, I think the juvenile shots are really nice, but I agree, the first one is the best! I love the lighting on the fur and the rim lighting on the face. Also, the motion caught at just the right moment…. Good job! 🙂

    • A funny aside … I actually had to Photoshop out the male organs on these shots. Just too blatant and really distracted one’s attention. So these are mostly guy monkey’s and not lady monkey’s. I just KNOW that one of those characters is parading around in Joel’s hat right now.

      • You could have just painted little shorts on them or something! Lol! …also, the heading, “shooting wild monkeys….” Might give a person pause in investigating your site. If they didn’t know what you were about that is.. :0!!!

  3. Wonderful shots of the howler monkeys. This is what my house looks like
    when my 5 yr. old grandson comes to visit. And there’s only one of him; thank
    God he doesn’t have one or two brothers!
    Keep well.

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