Animal Portraits

Portrait of a King Signed Framed

Portrait of a King

(Click on image to enlarge)

1/1000s @ f/5.6, ISO 3200, FL=400mm, handheld

I love taking photographs of animals.  Wildlife Photography is very high on my list of photography preferences—followed closely by Travel and Nature (typically scenic’s not animals) Photography.  I prefer to capture them in the wild, in their native habitats, but that’s not always possible—especially for the exotics.  A good place for the photographer, then, is at a local zoo.  But zoo’s are very controversial today.

I was born and raised in the city of San Diego (California, USA) home to the San Diego Zoo, and the San Diego Wild Animal Park.  So my take on zoo’s might be a little different than yours.  I think progressive zoo’s do a lot to preserve our wildlife, and at the San Diego Wild Animal Park there is an active breeding program.  It is important to keep a large and diverse gene pool available if we are to preserve these wonderful creatures going forward.  Many (if not most) of the specimens in San Diego have never been in the wild, they were born and raised in captivity and would not survive if they were released back into the bush (they have no innate survival skills to draw upon).

El Tigre Signed Framed

El Tigre

(Click on image to enlarge)

1/1000s @ f/5.6, ISO 3200, FL=400mm, handheld

But a good, progressive zoo must above all else provide a humane existence for its charges.  This usually means plenty of space, and an environment that closely mimics their natural ‘in the wild’ habitat.  It is the only way to insure a successful breeding program, and it’s the right thing to do.  If you ever visit the San Diego Wild Animal Park you will think that you’ve stepped into the African Savannah—it is both huge and beautiful, and replicates Africa nicely.  Because of this their captive breeding program is second-to-none in the world, and they’ve brought a number of species back from near extinction.

Visionary Signed Framed


(Click on image to enlarge)

1/1000s @ f/5.6, ISO 3200, FL=400mm, handheld

Not all zoo’s, parks, preserves and sanctuaries are like San Diego’s—but the tide has turned, and more and more are becoming very progressive in their outlook.  It is to their benefit that they do so:  It is good business; it is both morally and ethically the right thing to do.  The zoo I visited this morning is Parque Zoologico del Centenario (Calle 59 y Avenida Itzaes).  It is Merida’s zoo (and is only about a 10-minute walk from my casa).  It’s a wonderful little zoo, but unfortunately not progressive at this point in time.  It looks like something you would have found in 1950’s USA.  Admission is free, it is very clean and well-kept, but it lacks adequate space for some of the larger critters—especially the large cats.

Plummage Signed Framed


(Click on image to enlarge)

1/500s @ f/5.6, ISO 3200, FL=400mm, handheld

There is a much larger, brand new animal facility that recently opened further out-of-town called Animaya.  I believe (but don’t know for a fact) that they will be moving more of the animals out to this larger facility going forward.  Its been done on a much grander scale, and of course has an admission charge tied to it (unlike Parque Zoologico).  Before leaving Merida I will try to get out to this new facility, and report back on what I find there.  Until then, however, I plan on returning to this neighborhood zoo a few more times.  It’s a quaint little zoo that provides a real service to its everyday visitors—and the kids love it.  In addition to the animals, there is a little train the runs the perimeter along with additional rides and food stands.

Style Signed Framed


(Click on image to enlarge)

1/500s @ f/5.6, ISO 3200, FL=400mm, handheld

I want to emphasize that, other than space limitations, I witnessed absolutely no abuse or mistreatment of the enclosed animals.  They all appeared to be well taken care of in all respects.  Cages and enclosures were all clean and well maintained, and the animals looked healthy and of the proper weight with no evident signs of injuries or sickness.  In a perfect world there would be no need for zoo’s but in this imperfect world I think they have a role to play.  But I am very much in favor of progressive, humane treatment of all critters (even the ones we breed for food).  Unfortunately, if not for zoo’s and wild animal parks (with active breeding programs) many of our favorite species would go extinct in just a matter of a generation or two.

Top Knotts Signed Framed

Top Knots 

(Click on image to enlarge)

1/500s @ f/5.6, ISO 2000, FL=400mm, handheld

Photographer’s note:  All of the images displayed here were taken this morning at the very zoo I’ve been talking about.  All were captured in CameraRAW with my Canon EOS 5D Mk2 camera and Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM super telephoto (Prime) lens.  Raw conversion and post edits were completed in PSE11.  Particular challenges this morning included ‘low light’ situations resulting in high ISO’s (2000 to 3200), chain link fences separating me from the critters and of course people (usually obstructing my intended shot).  Helpful hint:  You can successfully shoot through chain link fences with large telephoto lenses with wide open apertures (such as f/5.6) with little degradation to the image.  The lion and tiger portraits were both shot through (not over) chain link fence (with that lens + f-stop combination the links just blur into the background).  As far as the people go (obstructing your shot) you are on your own.  Good luck with that – SFD


4 responses to “Animal Portraits

  1. Steve, I know I sent this already but don’t see it. The photos are beautiful as usual. Do you think the next time you go, I can meet you? I bought the 400 also on your rec. Let me know by email and I’ll give you my number. Thanks , Pam

    • Pam, my email to you came back undeliverable (?). So I am going to Copy & Paste it here in hopes you will get my reply.

      Hola Pam,

      Nice to hear from you again. Sorry I don’t use a phone anymore now that I’m out of the corporate rat-race, a personal decision on my part—a feeble attempt to stay somewhat private and unapproachable (I know I’m weird). So email and/or Facebook messaging is the best way to stay in touch with me.

      Having said that, spending a morning shooting at the zoo with you would be fun—I plan to go back a number of times before leaving Merida. We (my brother Joel and I) are meeting some folks from the States on Tuesday, but by the end of the week I should be free of obligations. How are you liking your 400mm so far? I love mine. The quality for the price just can’t be beat in my opinion. I also purchased the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM zoom lens a number of months back, and like the 400mm you just can’t beat the quality for the price. I got the old non-IS version f/4.0 (and not the f/2.8 IS which is much more expensive). You can pickup the f/4.0 non-IS for chump change (brand new out of the box).

      If you would like to get together Thursday or Friday morning (or early the following week) let me know, and we can arrange to meet. It’s only a 10-minute walk from my small casa, so it’s easy for me to get there—I don’t even have to fire up the scooter. Email me back if that sounds good. I look forward to seeing you again.

      Buenas tardes,


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