John’s Recon

May 6, 2009

It’s Still Happening At The Zoo

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Prichard @ 7:29 am

Last Wednesday my wife decided to take off work so that we could take our grandson to the zoo. As usual for this time of year, the weather was not dependable … it was either drizzling or threatening to rain … basically a dark dreary day made enjoyable by kids. Not just the one we brought but by thousands who got to go on a field trip to the Fort Worth Zoo. Two buses were from Anna, Tx which is a long way from Fort Worth, Tx. I’m just starting to put up pictures. We walked through a small sea of school buses. My wife said it was going to be a zoo in there … I said it doesn’t look too bad … but she was so so right.

I wished I had brought my monopod/walking stick that my son gave me. It is a telescoping walking stick with a camera mount on top … a nice way to hold a camera steady in low light conditions. Even with image stabilization it is hard to hold a camera steady at anything below 1/60 of a second … then there is the subject that moves. I fully expected to throw 2/3 of the pictures away since either I or the subject moved … Chimpanzees bad, Gorillas worse, lazy lions, tigers, and reptiles ok. So for every shot, imagine me standing in a crowd of waist-high munchkins jostling for viewing position while under constant barage of don’t-commands by their handlers. It’s hard to take a steady shot when you are constantly bumped … sorry mister.

The wild animals weren’t always in their cages. I tried to take a picture of 8 kids occupying one of the tiger viewing windows but only two were left in the time it took me to compose the shot. The last few years I have used Canon point-n-shoots because they fit in the pocket, have good color, lens, and great internal firmware. I don’t use them in full automatic since they have a tendency to blow out the bright areas in order to maximize the overall light for the picture. My current G9 is the best point-n-shoot I have owned because it is the best at having extra buttons that you can redefine for exposure lock and focus lock for great semi-automatic pictures. For years I have used the Canons by first zooming for best composition, then moving the spot around between light/dark to get the best light balanced image on the display, and then pointing to what had to be in focus and then finally composing and squeezing the trigger. The G9 is the best at this technique but most point-n-shoots can be manually overridden this way. See the sunset at the end of my Grand Tetons set … I was surrounded by people wanting me to show them how to use their automatic to capture the sunset … the more people I showed, the more they showed their friends … many got good shots from their lowly point-n-shoots that day. I can do this technique just under 2 seconds which is still not quite enough for action sports but good enough for scenery.

Also the G9 has 12 megapixels to work with. More megapixels means less chip portions per pixel … which means more noise … so I don’t go over ISO 200. But, I shoot at only 8 megapixels in most cases giving me extra non-digital zoom (not digitally approximated but real resolution) … the equivalent of 15x zoom. Canons allow you to trade zoom for megapixels since only the center of the chip is used anyway. Some say you can just take the picture at full resolution and then crop it to what you want and it’s the same thing. Not quite true. By zooming first you can eliminate overbearing bright or dark objects that are averaged in the exposure … this gives much better exposure control which can even give better focus … plus now you will remember what the subject of the picture was about later. Of course, my wife’s pictures of me and my grandson on the zoo train were fully automatic … nice too  … but it was flat light with no overbearing anomalies to overcome.

Enough about cameras and photography (one of my favorite subjects).  A couple of other observations from my trip at the zoo. Some teacher helpers (parents) were good at letting kids enjoy themselves and some weren’t … some expected a lot of dicipline which was a little annoying. The kids with one particular parent were miserable … she kept (well dressed business professional looking – maybe a lawyer) spouting off wonderful animal facts to the kids and asking them questions … the kids just wanted to see the monkey lick his thing and not answer questions about habitat, social behavior, or food preferences … where are we, the classroom, you’re not my teacher. I was quite impressed with her knowledge until I saw her reading the signs before the kids got there and then quizzing them on the content. I remember this in my own childhood … some parents can be so cruel … educating us on our very rare field trips when we thought we were going to catch a break from school. My final observation is this. There were kids that were not part of the herd … obviously intelligent … clever in their mischief … good observers of their surroundings … and sometimes leaders/controllers of their little groups. These kids could have chosen to race ahead and read the signs and be little know-it-alls and teacher’s pets but that just wasn’t their thing. These kids were constantly scolded and I bet have had a few parent teacher meetings … these kids will be our leaders some day. Be reassured … there is a darn fine crop of them coming up.

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