Lowry Park Zoo – Tampa, Florida – November 2015 – Part 1

Since I don’t get a chance to travel to far away places such as Africa or Asia, the zoo is a great replacement. For the past few years, we have made the trek up to Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, Florida. Lowry has been voted best zoo by Parents Magazine and the best part is that they won’t empty your wallet like going to some of the other theme parks. In fact, by going to AAA and buying tickets there, we saved $7 a person. Also, there is a nice sit down restaurant called Riley’s Reserve where you can sit and watch the giraffes in air conditioning! We waited until November to go since the weather was going to be cooler and the animals would be out and about. Or at least that was the plan. This year has been strange, I’m writing this on November 8th 2015 and it’s still 90° outside! I always look for the nice cool weather in the winter after putting up with the sweltering heat of summer. I have a feeling that we won’t have much of a winter this year. Oh well, I’ll write it off to global warming. Anyway…

I’ll divide this post up into two parts, since I took a number of photos. This post we will focus mainly on the different birds and the next post will be on the other animals. There is so much to see, plan on spending all day there if you have never been.

I’m one for using what you have, unless you are looking for an excuse to go out and buy something, I’m sure that never happens! The longest lens that I currently own is a Nikon 70-300. I have had this lens for some time and it focuses fast and is quite sharp for a zoom. 300mm might seem a little short for a venue like this, however I found that this lens had no problem grabbing the subject 95% of the time. Granted, you can always crop and make it look closer than you actually were, but the way that Lowry has this set up, you can get really close. The other part of this is lighting. I had the advantage of shooting here before so I knew what to expect. Working in the middle of the day, dealing with harsh highlights and shadows are always a pain. I shoot RAW files all the time since I know I’ll have to be pushing and pulling on them in post. Knowing this was going to be a lighting nightmare, I decided to take a couple of secret weapons with me. My flash and better beamer. The flash will provide extra light in the shadow areas. This is an external flash and offers more horsepower than a pop-up flash. These are great for about 30-40 feet. But, knowing that most of the animals are in the back of the enclosures, the better beamer extends the range to about 100 feet! All of the photos that I took except for the leopard (in the second post), were all taken with flash.

We gathered at 9:30 a.m. outside the front gate, had a little pow wow then I answered a few questions and we were off. The first stop that my wife and I made was the aviary.

Spencer Pullen photographed this roseate spoonbill at Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, Florida.Roseate Spoonbill – Spencer Pullen © 2015 All Rights Reserved

These seem to be a popular bird to photograph. They have an amazing pink color, not to mention their spoon shaped beak. I have seen these guys out at the local parks as well. I wanted to get the spoonbill doing something, so I waited until he was hopping around and I took a few. He was trying to get himself positioned on the rocks and was fluffing his feathers. With flash, I was able to keep my ISO low, and get a sharp shot. This was in a pretty dark environment and using natural light would have been a challenge.

Spencer Pullen photographed this toucan at Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, Florida.Toucan – Spencer Pullen © 2015 All Rights Reserved

Not exactly sure what is going on here, but this toucan seems to have extra bill on his head! I really wanted his blue eyes to pop, again with flash I was able to expose for the bright background and use the light from the flash to make the toucan appear.

Spencer Pullen photographed this white brown bird at Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, Florida.Brown White Bird – Spencer Pullen © 2015 All Rights Reserved

This is a Spencer Special. I have no idea what this bird is, maybe someone can tell us in the comments sections. Like the toucan, the eyes really popped and I wanted this to show through. I had to take care to get the exposure correct for the top of his head so the light feathers in the full sun didn’t blowout to white.

Spencer Pullen photographed this black and white bird at Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, Florida.Black and White Bird – Spencer Pullen © 2015 All Rights Reserved

Like the one above, I have no idea what this is. This fellow was side/back lit with full sun. This shot would have fallen apart without flash. He posed for awhile and I was able to take about 30 photos of him!

Spencer Pullen photographed this larakeet feeding at Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, Florida.Lorikeet Eating – Spencer Pullen © 2015 All Rights Reserved

One of the things that we like to do when we go is my wife likes to feed the Lorikeets. This stuff to the birds, must be like me going to the donut shop, they love it. Here you can see a lorikeet perched eating some nectar out of my wife’s hand. Again, the bird was backlit and since they have such rich beautiful colors, I wanted to make sure I was able to capture them. I also use spot focus so I moved my focus point on the lorikeet’s eye to make sure that was the sharpest thing in the frame.

Most of my settings were ISO 200, f/5.6 at 1/250. This is pretty standard when I’m using flash for the zoo. My “native” ISO for my camera is 200. The widest opening that I can get for my 70-300 lens is f/5.6. Since I’m using flash, I have to stay at 1/250 or below since that is the sync speed of the camera. From there, I adjusted the flash power up and down to get the desired results. I shoot the camera in manual and the flash in manual. This way I can force the camera to do what I want it to do instead of hoping for the best when I get into post.

Speaking of post, I spent less than two minutes working on these. Since the lighting was what I wanted in the camera, all I really had to do was to do a little contrast and sharpen. Then I knocked them down to web res for the site. Nothing like doing a little Photoshop in the camera when we can to speed up the workflow!

If your up in the Tampa area and have some time, stop in and check out Lowry Park Zoo. It’s a great place and they are very photography friendly, they even allow tripods! Take lots of cards and batteries with you, it’s definitely worth the trip.

Until next time…

Keep Your Glass Clean


  1. The Better Beamer flash does a beautiful job of capturing the color of the birds. Your photos are awesome.

  2. Sorry I missed the trip. Will look for the next one. Glad to hear you didn’t set your camera on fire this time……but your photos are still hot stuff!

  3. When I grow up I want to be a photographer just like Spencer. The colors and sharpness of your photographs are spectacular.

    • Spencer

      LOL! Well, I just practice a lot. Thanks!

  4. Thank you for sharing your photography wisdom – so appreciated!

  5. Such great pictures and talent. Love your Photoshop Elements 11 class. Now, if I could just remember all those steps to achieve such greatness!

  6. I look forward to your regular postings after taking your course last year in
    Punta Gorda.
    Re: your zoo photos – the 2nd & 4th shots are types of Hornbills.
    The 3rd one is an Australian Kookaburra.


  1. Lowry Park Zoo – Tampa, Florida – November 2015 – Part 2 | Spencer Pullen Photography and Training - […] In the last post we looked at how I used the Better Beamer flash extender on my photographs at…

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