Exotic Portraits Close To Home

This year, consider making plans to visit wild animal parks, zoos, aquariums, safaris and animal reserves so you can get some exotic portraits of animals that you would otherwise have to travel great distances to see. Photos by Chad Ecklof

Welcome to another edition of Let’s Talk Photography!

It’s here! Spring is officially here! Although the weather hasn’t quite caught up with the calendar, we can finally start thinking about getting out of the house and preparing for more outdoor activities. One of the things we do in our family is start to think about what sort of summer trips we’ll be taking and begin planning and making reservations before it’s too late and we miss out on the dates that we want for our vacations and fun.

This year, consider making plans to visit wild animal parks, zoos, aquariums and safaris and animal reserves so you can get some exotic portraits of animals that you would otherwise have to travel great distances to see.

If you’re into birds and small critters you’re in luck as we have two great places right here in town that you can visit to get great photos. The first is the Audubon Community Nature Center where you’ll find many species of birds, reptiles and waterfowl along with the occasional deer and small critters like squirrels, chipmunks, various bugs and insects and, of course, natural landscapes. They have several viewing areas that give you the opportunity to sit and capture great bird portraits including several places inside the building where you can take photos through the windows, that is, if being outside isn’t your thing. Also, the viewing areas around the big pond give you fantastic vantage points from all sides. This year they’ve reported immature bald eagles hanging around the pond so there may be some great chances at watching them mature and nest in the area.

Another local option, just like the Audubon, is the Roger Tory Peterson Institute behind JCC. Both have nature trails and many references to help you identify the birds and critters that you’re capturing.

If you’re looking for something a little more exotic, then think about visiting a wild animal reserve or safari type park. Zoos will also give you access to exotic animals, but the spaces they live in are a bit more confined and there’s always a lot of cement and man-made structures that become part of the picture. I like visiting a nature park where they have open fields or wooded areas for viewing the animals in more natural settings. Especially the parks that have safari type tours through the different wildlife exhibits.

The photos in this article were all taken at Lake Tobias Wildlife Park in Harrisburg, Pa. (http://laketobias.com/). We originally took the kids down to spend the week at Hershey Park and discovered Lake Tobias through a suggestion by the desk staff at the hotel where we were staying. So, as we were headed home, we made a last-minute decision to stop and see what it was like. I’m so glad we did because the kids enjoyed it and I shot some amazing photos of the animals all throughout the park.

They have a zoo-like viewing area for animals such as their tigers, bears, alligators and other “dangerous” animals so I had to make use of the wide aperture and shoot through some fencing, but as I discussed in a previous article, that’s not much of a problem when you know how to set the camera and position yourself. If you want to read more about that then visit The Post-Journal’s website and search for the article titled “Understanding Your Camera’s Aperture Mode.”

The best part of the trip, though, was the guided bus tour throughout the safari style landscape. The bus had no roof and most of the animals such as elk, large types of deer, buffalo, and other large animals would approach the bus and take food right from your hand and allow you to pet them. The kids thought this was the greatest, but for me, it was wonderful not having to shoot through a small window or smudged glass. I had the freedom to stand up and shoot out into the landscapes and capture the animals as if I was photographing them in their natural habitats. This made for some really nice portraits. Narrowing them down to just a few for this article was a real chore as there are so many I would have loved to share with you.

After the bus tour was done we went to a petting zoo area that had the standard fare of small deer and goats and sheep for the kids to follow around and feed and pet. And, finally, at the end of the whole trip we were able to go indoors to a nice viewing facility for the many small monkeys, snakes and reptiles that they had. They even did a show where they brought out some large snakes and baby alligators and let kids interact with them and touch them. It was a wonderful place to visit and I highly recommend taking the trip if you want to get some nice portraits of these wild creatures.

Another popular place for local photographers to visit is Elk Country in Benezette, Pa., where you can see an amazing display of elk all throughout the year. The best time to go is during mating season in September and October. This is when you’ll be able to get photos of bull elks battling each other for a mate.

Finally, I’d like to remind you of another gem that is close to us, Presque Isle in Erie, Pa. I’m currently following a photographer on Facebook who takes beautiful photos of the wildlife throughout the park every morning and shares them with his followers. If you’re interested, search for Dean Zeller and make sure to send him a friend request. You’ll be blown away at his photos and videos of owls, eagles, foxes, deer and beautiful landscapes and waterscapes taken from within the park.

Until next week, happy shooting!

Is there a topic that you’d like to learn more about? Send feedback, share your photos, or offer topic suggestions to talkphotos@ecklof.com. If you’re looking for a place to connect with local photographers in Chautauqua County, search for the group “Shoot ‘n Share Chautauqua” on Facebook.