07.17.16: Mandrill portrait

Male mandrill looking pensive at the Columbus Zoo, Powell, Ohio.


Technical information

July 16, 2014,
3:57 p.m.

40°9'23” N,
83°7'20" W
(Show in Google Maps)

Canon EOS 7D

Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L 


1/640th second


Every time I post a photo taken in a zoo, I make the same statement: I have more difficulty getting quality photos of animals in a zoo than I do in the wild.

It seems like it should be the other way around. After all, I know exactly where the animals are at a zoo. There are maps and signs showing where to find animals. Can't miss 'em. Just walk up to the pen and start shooting. Nothing to it.

Except there are often high fences to shoot through. Or glass walls. And crowds of people. And the animals tend to seek shelter far from the viewing areas.

This male mandrill was sitting about 15 feet from a thick, dirty, scratched, reflective glass wall in the Columbus Zoo. Thick glass makes it difficult to get a sharp photo. The glass acts as a diffuser, softening the features of the subject. And autofocus can be fooled by glass. Add the dirt and scratches to the equation and capturing a sharp photo becomes as much luck as skill.

As always when shooting through glass, I put the lens hood of my 300 millimeter lens against the glass to eliminate reflections of people passing by. I set the camera to use a wide aperture to reduce the depth of field in an attempt to minimize the impact of the scratches and dirt. And I took a series of photos, refocusing between photos, to increase the chances that I’d get some shots with accurate focus.

In other words, I use the “law of averages” method of photography when shooting the scratched, dirty glass. If you refocus frequently and take a lot of photos, there’s a chance one might be usable.

And this is the usable photo.

Mandrills are the world’s largest monkeys and live mostly in tropical areas of southern Cameroon, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, and Congo. The male usually weigh between 42 and 82 pounds with an average height of 30 to 37 inches, but an exceptionally large male can weigh almost 120 pounds.

Each week I will post a photo from my collection with an explanation of how I got the shot. Previous photos of the week are in the archives.