Photography 101: Monkey Business


Brown-faced Capuchin Monkey

Northern Amazon River Basin – Cuyabeno, Ecuador

1/60s @ f/5.0 ISO 400 @ 200mm

Handheld (10-07-2015 @ 7:48 a.m.) – Evaluative Metering – Flash

I’ve written about shooting (photographing) wild monkeys a few times before. Suffice it to say it’s a bitch. I think they’re much harder to photograph than birds in flight. Why do I say that? Mostly because of their environment—their natural habitat. You will usually find wild monkeys high up in the jungle or rainforest canopy with lots of tree limbs and branches getting in the way (those obstructions play hell with your camera’s autofocus). Also, it’s usually dark because the sun is blocked out by the thick lush foliage. And did I mention they’re constantly on the move foraging for food?

I was in the Amazon in early October 2015. I was standing on the covered deck of our jungle lodge when a troop of 15 to 20 wild Brown-faced Capuchin monkeys started to appear in the trees in front of me foraging for food. They were virtually at eye level a rare occurrence indeed. I quickly grabbed my Canon 430EX II Speedlite (flash) from my bag and attached it to my Canon EOS 5D Mark II and Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L (non IS) USM telephoto zoom lens combination.

I am not a strobist. I rarely shoot with flash (especially wildlife) but this situation demanded it. I didn’t have time to dick around with camera settings so I put my camera into Auto Mode (I never shoot in Auto Mode) so my flash exposure would be automatic while I concentrated on the subject. I only got a couple of quick shots before they moved on. I always shoot Adobe CameraRAW files so I have maximum latitude when post-processing my images. My camera selected a very slow shutter speed of 1/60s but the lack of ambient light allowed my flash to freeze the subject.

The flash exposed my subject nicely while providing some nice catch-lights in the eyes. In post (Adobe Photoshop Elements) I was able to fine-tune the shot: I applied subtle Shake Reduction (to minimize the camera shake from handholding my camera at 1/60s at 200mm) and Haze Removal. Some additional Sharpening was required and I worked with Shadows/Highlights and Contrast. I think the final image turned out pretty good considering the circumstances—I do know that I was the only one to come away with a useable image that morning.

Stephen F. Dennstedt



4 responses to “Photography 101: Monkey Business

  1. great photo! I love the expression on the monkey’s face…he seems to be saying “here ya go, human…you want a shot? Think fast.”
    Indeed there’s no time to think in a photo op like this one…practical experience and know-how surely play a giant role.

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