Lowry Park Zoo – Tampa, Florida – November 2015 – Part 2

In the last post we looked at how I used the Better Beamer flash extender on my photographs at Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, Florida. We focused on the birds that were in dark situations. If you missed that post and would like to visit that post first, here’s the link: Lowry Park Zoo – Tampa, Florida – November 2015 – Part 1.

In this post we’ll have a look at the other animals that I photographed and some of the challenges that came with it. Lowry Park Zoo is a great place to photograph and if you get a chance or if you have family visiting, this is a great place to take them. As I mentioned in the last post, my longest lens is a 70mm-300mm. The camera body is aging quite nicely like me, it’s a Nikon D300 that is about 10 years old. I’m a believer of putting your money in good glass instead of a camera body that will take photos, wash your car and make you dinner. The sharpness and details will be rendered much better if you use higher quality lenses. Canon folks, this is your “L” glass and for Nikon we have the “N” series. Why can’t all the manufactures get together and decide on common settings so we all know what is going on?! At 300mm, this lens is a little on the short side for wildlife photography, but hey, it’s what I have. Maybe I should be taking donations for a Nikon 800mm. Anyone have a spare $18,000 they would like to donate to a poor school teacher? It was worth a try. The flash that I was using was the Nikon SB800. It’s long in the tooth, but still works great….especially when you don’t set it on fire! However, if I were to buy a flash, no matter if I was shooting Nikon or Canon, I would get the Vivitar DF583. It does everything the $600 Nikon/Canon version does, only it’s about $139! That’s quite a reduction in price. All of that extra money can go into great lenses. That brings the 800mm down to $17,861. I feel as if I’m getting much closer to owning it already. Ahem…

Now that we are all geared up, it’s time to take some photos. Since I know I’m going to be using flash and using an extender, there are some settings that I like to set up initially. I shoot manual on the camera and manual on the flash. For the camera, I set my ISO to 400, f/5.6 at 1/250. The flash only cares about the ISO and aperture. I start with ISO 400 and if I can lower it, I will. I want to cream the backgrounds so I set the aperture wide open, in this case, that would be f/5.6. The last part is the sync speed of the camera. To be safe for this discussion, set your shutter speed to 1/200, we can’t go any faster or the flash won’t register in the frame. We can lower our shutter speed, however we can’t go any faster. As for the flash, this is where it gets a bit confusing. 1/1 on a flash is full power. If you want to cut one stop of light from the flash, we can go to 1/2. If we want to cut it another stop we would choose 1/4 and so on. There is an option for “auto” flash, however I have never had success with that, so for this discussion, I’ll focus on the manual settings as that is what I used.

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

This is the ONLY shot that I took without the flash. Why? Well, I did try and found that since I couldn’t get close enough to the bars, the flash actually lit them up and I had this really strange line pattern in my photo. So, this was one of those times I was going to have to rely on my RAW file. I exposed for the highlight on his head, and let the rest go where it wanted, mostly in the shadows. I came home and opened the file up in Adobe Camera RAW and cranked the shadow slider over to the lighten side and that pretty much took care of it. It does not have that snappiness of the flash photos, but it’s better than nothing!

Spencer Pullen photographed this American Bald Eagle at Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, Florida.American Bald Eagle – Spencer Pullen © 2015 All Rights Reserved

Yup, this is the real deal. No fences or plexi to deal with. I was able to get within 30 feet as he was perched on a log. In this case I had to make sure that I didn’t over flash him (ok, that just sounds bad) as I wanted to keep detail in his white feathers. Some minor adjustments and it was in the can. There is a slight catchlight in his eye if you look closely.

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

After lunch we looked at the giraffe exhibit and apparently they were hungry and eating the palm trees! I always like to get an animal doing something. I think that it makes for a more interesting photo. I waited as he stuck his tongue out to grab the tree and I took one. This is even a flash shot. I exposed for the highlights in the background and in this case, I had to set the flash to nuclear mode, that would be 1/1. These types of flashes also have a zoom in the head like a lens. I set my zoom to 105mm and at full power, I was able to reach him.

Spencer Pullen photographed this posing meerkat at Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, Florida.Meerkat – Spencer Pullen © 2015 All Rights Reserved

When we visited the meerkat exhibit, there were planes flying over. Some were assigned to looking for food as other were on the look out. I lined up with one who was looking toward the sky and I said to myself, I would love it if he looked straight at me to get a portrait. Then he did. Their eyes are pretty dark so I had deal with those in post just a bit. As before, you can see the catchlights in his eyes that is from the flash.

Spencer Pullen photographed this orangutan eating at Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, Florida.Hungry Orangutan – Spencer Pullen © 2015 All Rights Reserved

I had tried to take some photos in the morning however, since the light was coming from the front of the exhibit which would have made this a breeze to photograph in, was in their eyes. Therefor all we got was butts! I waited until the afternoon when the sun was on the other side of the exhibit and they were actually facing us now. They have dark hair and skin so I really had to pump up the flash to get some detail.

Spencer Pullen photographed this orangoutang sleeping at Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, Florida.Sleeping Orangutan – Spencer Pullen © 2015 All Rights Reserved

I love this one! This reminds me of me. The look on his face suggests that he’s dreaming of a donut shop. I know that face when I see it. Anyway, he was quite far away, and to get the flash to reach that far, I pumped up the ISO to 800 and that increased the effectiveness of the flash. You can see the specular highlight on his face. This would have been a challenging shot to get without flash.

There we go, another successful trip to the zoo and nothing caught on fire. We were hoping for cooler weather, but we had great friends and lots of laughs to go around. The Nikon and Canon people even sat next to each other at lunch, it must have been a miracle or something in the Kool-Aid! It’s not about what equipment you have or don’t, or what brand you shoot, it’s about who is standing next to you that really makes this hobby fun. I hope everyone that was able to make it had a great time and we’ll have to do it again soon.

Until next time…

Keep Your Glass Clean


  1. Loved them all! The sleeping orangutan seemed to be smiling….probably a Boston Creme with a chocolate glaze!

  2. Great photos. Thanks so much for including the technical details behind each shot. That makes it a good learning experience and help us to improve.

  3. Enjoyed this second installation. All ‘captivating’ shots. Especially favor the American Bald Eagle – you captured the the true essence of why he’s the Symbol of our Nation. Like the giraffe too…prehensile tongue action, a hard one to catch. Meerkat is cute and funny at the same time. Wonderful informative post! Happy I’m on your email list!

  4. Thanks for the how-it-was-done info to go with the shots…You will recall my orangutan had a blue face….remind me again how that happened and what to do?

    • Spencer

      He was probably shot in the shade which gives off a blue cast. It’s a white balance issue. This can be corrected in Adobe Camera RAW inside of Elements, Photoshop or Lightroom. Thanks…



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