What are Self Assignments and Why Do Them?
We all tend to get in creative ruts sometimes. We start assuming too much about what we can and can't photograph, and about the limits of our equipment, our film, and ourselves. These assignments (hopefully) take you out of your comfort zone and get you photographing things you might not normally shoot.
The only way to really learn is to do, and the more film you put through your camera the better you'll get. Plus you get the chance to win a bunch of film. This months winner will get 20 rolls of the Professional film of their choice courtesy of FujiFilm Professional.
This Month - Head for the Zoo!
Just for the sake of argument lets say that a 3 week African safari or a 4 week trip to the artic aren't in the cards for you this month. So what's a photographer to do who has a yen to photograph wildlife?
Head to the zoo!
If you haven't visited a zoo in a while you'll be pleasantly surprised. For some time now the trend has been to create "environments" for animals to live in rather than putting them into cages. That means that you can create photographs that look like they were shot in the wild.
The trick is to watch your backgrounds. Once you've chosen the animal you want to shoot, walk around the enclosure to find angles that will work. Next settle in and be patient. Different animals have different habits and are active at different times of the day (though most are active around feeding time). Zoo workers and even signs posted near enclosures are a great source of information about the animals. Some will even point out the best times of the day to observe and photography the animals.
Also be sure to watch the traffic patterns of zoo visitors. You don't want to set your tripod where some inattentive soul is likely to knock it over or where that same person is likely to walk into your frame.
You'll need a telephoto lens for the best results. A long lens will allow you to crop out unwanted background elements and shot wide open longer lenses will soften the background more than shorter focal lengths.
Nothing says that you can't shoot more than one animal in a given visit. If you want to shoot a big cat that is only active at feeding time, find out when that is. Then try stopping by the primate and bird houses where subjects are active throughout the day while you're waiting for feeding time.
You can also take advantage of environmental conditions. I deliberately visited the Philadelphia Zoo after a snow storm just to shoot Polar Bears and Penguins. The bears didn't cooperate but the Penguins turned out to be real hams!
What you'll find is that some images come painfully easy while other animals are exceedingly difficult to photograph even in a limited environment. This seemingly simple exercise can be quite challenging depending on the subject you choose and will give you a new appreciation for the skills of professional wildlife photographers.
Lens Types (35mm format used as a reference)
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