Beginner Cat Photo Skills

Telephoto Lens Zoo Skills at Wellington Zoo

This month’s New Zealand spotlight highlights the telephoto lens fun you can have at Wellington Zoo, New Zealand.

I want to share with you the impact of a new telephoto lens I first reported on here. A lens like this can change your view of taking photographs especially at locations like zoos, and other large spaces.

On a previous visit to the Zoo, I had my Canon 1300D and a single kit lens. None of my first zoo trip photos were really successful and, like many new photographers, I feel this was partly a lack of camera experience. Here’s the kind of thing I mean. Most of my photos looked similar to this one of Miranda. It’s nice enough but without any of the detail I have learned I might get in a telephoto lens.

  • Which lens to use when is a skill you learn more about just by using different lenses when you can.
Tuxedo kitten climbing a tree
Miranda in a Tree © Dash Kitten ISO 100 55 mm F 6 1/200

Off to Wellington Zoo

This time I had a bit more experience thanks to investing time in a little online photo blog reading, a course online and in-person workshops with an experienced photographer in Wellington. I also took more time with my photos looking at composition and light and settings.

  • I took my Canon 50 mm and telephoto 55-250 mm lenses to try a different view of Wellington Zoo.
Wellington Zoo, telephoto lens shot of the chimpanzee enclosure.
Distant Wellington from the Chimp Enclosure © Dash Kitten ISO 100 55 mm F 9 1/200

The Difference A Telephoto Lens Can Make

In 2018 the chimpanzees at Wellington Zoo had a total habitat makeover which included climbing frames, platforms and the red hammock that is a big feature in the photo above. As you can see, the view from the spectators’ area is amazing. Not only do you look into the generously sized enclosure and the interaction of the chimpanzee community, you see beyond it to the city of Wellington.

The telephoto lens did not do as well as I expected for a wider view of the enclosure so I tried my 50 mm. You can do the same. If something isn’t working be patient, take your time and see if another lens you have might do a better job. Then I switched back to the telephoto.

Zoom shot of a cheeky young monky lying on the ground.
Relaxing Chimp ISO 200 250 mm F 6 1/640 © Dash Kitten

After taking the enclosure shot I looked around for some chimp activity and spotted one lazy chimp enjoying himself. Then my eye was caught by a magnificent older chip making his way slowly across the enclosure.

I found myself following him closely, and with great respect. He was gracious and moved with a slow dignity that was captivating to watch. To make sure there were no distractions I zoomed close to fill the frame with his figure and held my camera as steady as I could.

Elderly chimpanzee at Wellington Zoo
Elderly Chimp © Dash Kitten ISO 200 216 mm F 9 1/160

Meerkat Portrait

Wellington was the first New Zealand zoo to welcome Meerkats in 1991 and it was the best place for some telephoto zoom fun.

The Meerkats are overseen by an alpha female and her mate, and each meerkat has a specific job that keeps the community working efficiently. Some run the creche, others hunt and others stand lookout as sentries. Below you can see a sentry meerkat who scans the horizon for predators.

I was pleased the lens was able to zoom in and isolate his cute but serious little figure from the background. The camera settings ensured his background was a nice soft focus bokeh and I was pleased to capture him on the alert.

Meerkat on the alert during sentry duty at Wellington Zoological Gardens
Meerkat Lookout ISO 200 250 mm F 9 1/200 © Dash Kitten

Telephotos Don’t Just Take Closeups

The public viewing area for the giraffes is quite high up. This works to a photographer’s benefit because you are not forced to zoom upward from a low angle.

This magnificent giraffe was walking away from the viewing platform and I focused close enough to iull the frame to try and capture the feel of the animal striding as it would in the wild. This is my best image. They are beautiful animals and walk about with such grace.

Full length photograph of a giraffe walking away from the camera.
Strolling Giraffe ISO 200 70 mm F 6.3 1/400 © Dash Kitten

This giraffe was waiting for the keepers to finish cleaning out the inside of the enclosure, and I got the impression it was getting a bit impatient at the scrubbing, spraying and cleaning taking place where it could not get in.

I made use of my lens getting a giraffe closeup too.

My settings were a bit dark, so I dodged a little bit of light into the deeper shadows in Affinity Photo later on. Using a faster shutter speed means the spots are reasonably sharp and the short mane stands out well too and I learned to be braver with my shutter speeds which could be faster than 1/400.

Profile of a giraffe's head showing its eyelashes and spots on its hide.
Giraffe Closeup ISO 200 149 mm F 6.3 1/400 © Dash Kitten

Meeting an Agouti

The Agouti is quite a shy animal, or it is unless you zoom in from a distance. It looks a bit like a very large Guinea Pig and looks both super cute and gentle.

The Zoo has several communities of Agouti living in different enclosures with fellow Brazilian natives like the Squirrel Monkeys and Golden Lion Tamarins. They all get along really well as the ground-dwelling Agouti doesn’t get in the way of the tree swinging excitable monkeys and they eat different foods.

Agouti are one of the few animals in the world that can open Brazil nuts without tools, thanks to their strength and sharp teeth – making them critically important to the survival of Brazil nut trees and the people who depend on them.

Wellington Zoo
Te gentle Agouti looking directly at the camera, showing its ticked fur and long whiskers
Attentive Agouti ISO 200 250mm F 5.61/125 © Dash Kitten

Meeting a Golden Tamarin

There were also Agouti in the Golden Tamarin enclosure I visited.

This beautiful and very small monkey was thrilling to see. It is about the size of a small cat and a deep shade of orange-gold especially around its face.

Lively, fast-moving ‘Bronx’ seen here, arrived in 2015 and his story is worth a read. Wellington Zoo is part of a breeding programme to pull this beautiful animal from the brink of extinction and I was glad my telephoto lens was able to capture his gorgeous colouring and personality.

I shot a lot of blurry images because he moved so fast but, Bronx stopped long enough to eat which gave me a good chance at some better composed shots. I had to be ready – it’s like shooting photos of cats on the move and waiting for the moment they pause before a leap or pounce.

The Golden Tamarin posting by its food bowl on a branch.
Golden Tamarin ISO 200 250 mm F5.6 1/80 © Dash Kitten

When you can’t get Close Enough

One area I could not get close to was Monkey Island, as a lake separates the public from the primates living there. The White-Faced Gibbon and Brown Capuchins have plenty of trees and small cubbies to hide in. The islands are surrounded walkways and I spotted some brown capuchins high up in a tree.

See how far away they look? I had to try a telephoto shot.

Distant monkeys in the palm trees at wellington Zoo.
Brown Capuchin Monkeys ISO 200 55 mm F4 1/1000 © Dash Kitten

This is the result. I cropped the photo to feature the monkeys as my lens isn’t a powerful zoom but I got a photo so I’m happy. The monkeys were playing in the palms and did not come down to the ground at all.

Zoomed in closeup of two Brown Capuchin monkeys.
Closeup of Capuchins ISO 200 250 mm F5.6 1/400

Squirrel Monkey CloseUp Success

The one animal I took photos of that really excited me was the Bolivian Squirrel Monkey. They are totally cute and gorgeous.

I managed to get several sweet shots by preparing with the right settings and then standing quietly in position. My patience paid off and includes one photo of a mum and baby far up above me.

Can you see the little baby’s arm wrapped around its mum?

Mum and Baby Squirrel Monkeys seen far in the distance.
Mum and Baby Squirrel Monkeys ISO 200 70 mm F 4.5 1/4000

Squirrel Monkeys are omnivores, eating fruit, vegetables, insects and small animals. They are not on the endangered animals’ list and thrive in South America where they make their home. Their groups can be as large as 500 individual monkeys. I can’t imagine coping with that many friends and relations.

Here’s my favourite Squirrel Monkey photo.

Sweet closeup of a gorgeous squirrel monkey eating some food.
Munching Monkey ISO 200 200 mm F 5.6 1.400 © Dash Kitten

DID YOU KNOW? Squirrel Monkeys rub themselves with their own urine to make it easier to spread their own scent!

Wellington Zoo

I have lots more zoo photos so I may introduce some during the selfies during this year, and I aim to make another visit to the zoo to improve my camera skills more You will find your own confidence grow as you work with your camera and you go to new places. The more photos you take, the better you get.

I hope that next time the big cats will be outside at Wellington Zoo. February was chilly and the cats seemed to have decided the warmth of their dens was more to their liking.

Do you like the monkeys as much as I do, or do you have another favourite?

10 thoughts on “Telephoto Lens Zoo Skills at Wellington Zoo”

  1. Beautiful photos, Marjorie! We love the Bronx Zoo, and would love to visit again when it is safe to do so again (we will hopefully get our vaccines this month).

  2. Those are excellent photos! Thanks so much for the info. We learn so much when we come visit. I really wish I could move that darn left arm better as I need to us auto focus due to that. Great!


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