Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Cheetahs - Fast Action Photography (2)

The next chapter:  Cheetahs

A couple of weeks ago I organized a Photo Workshop in Reno.  Nine photographers answered the call and
– no – we did not go gambling.  Reno was hosting a fantastic Hot Air Balloon Festival and Race, a yearly
event drawing experienced balloonist from all over the world.  In the early morning, colorful hot air balloons glowed
against the night sky and the mass ascension of 100+ balloons is a marvelous and colorful spectacle –
not to be missed.

 Ringo, the raccoon

Lynx,  © M. Raeder-Photography

But today I want to bring you another fast action photography story:  While in Reno, we visited a small wildlife center and sanctuary for life for rescued animals that can no longer survive on their own in the wild. 

Among the 2 tigers, the lone wolf, a mountain lion, the elderly arctic fox, Yogi bear – may his soul rest in peace – coyotes, kit foxes, a lynx and several other animals, there are 3 cheetahs:  a 13-year old female and two young 2-year old boys. 

In the wild, cheetahs hunt chasing their prey at a speed of up to 60+ miles per hour and they are the fastest of the cats.  Although this puts a strain on their body, research has shown that the life expectancy of cheetahs in captivity is less than in the wild and it is speculated that the lack of exercise might be causing the earlier death of these animals.  With this knowledge, the Animal Ark devised a ‘race track’ where the 3 cheetahs can exercise and ‘chase’ as they would do outside captivity.  As we visit the Ark, we learn that the cheetahs exercise in a chase once a week and the public can see them exercise at certain dates.  One of those coincided with the Reno Hot Air Balloon Festival.

During the afternoon, we visit the other animals in anticipation of the run.  A small crowd had gathered along the race track, and our group of photographers took position in the blind where we would see the animals running towards us.  And what a thrill it was!!

Mountain Lion,  © M. Raeder-Photography

In a cloud of dust, they were sprinting not more than 50 yards away and each round was over in several seconds – quite a Photographic challenge.  [For Fast Action Photography Tips, please scroll down.]

© M. Raeder-Photography
© Bob Story

© Brian Wong

© Lynda Sanders

We saw all three cheetahs sprint and chase the lure with such concentration.  In the last image here, you can see the yellow lure that the cheetahs follow in their run.  Their reward at the end of the run was a hefty portion of raw meat and they knew that that was their treat.  But if you allow me to anthropomorph a bit, I had the distinct feeling that they were smiling as they chased down the race track.  Every muscle in their body a well tuned powertool!

Fast Action Photography Tips:
For those interested, I thought I would describe the camera settings for capturing fast moving objects.  This technique is often used in wildlife photography and I teach it in depth in my hummingbird workshops:

To obtain the shallow depth of field, I use f/7.1 and try to achieve a shutter speed of  1/1000 or shorter.  Depending on the light, this will necessitate dialing up the ISO to 640 - 1200 or more.  On our particular day at the Animal Ark, we needed to shoot with ISO 2500 or more since a storm front was blowing through and the black clouds were gloomy.  To capture the fast moving cheetah sharp and in focus, set your camera on continuous focusing and either spot or dynamic focusing (this is a smaller focus area than the usual matrix focusing).  These are of course are the starting points and need to be adjusted in accordance to your histogram.  This might necessitate adding some exposure compensation to obtain the correct exposure.

The challenge in our situation here was that the action in each run was over in about 3 seconds and we had only a limited number of runs!  So being prepared, setting the camera and being ready was a must!

I always had very mixed feelings about holding wild animals in captivity and that notion was strengthened after seeing the wildlife in Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda this Spring.  But here at the Animal Ark, at least once a week these cheetahs can enjoy the almost freedom of a run, feel the wind blowing around their face!

And for us, marveling at what nature provides strengthens my believe that we need to protect, conserve and do everything in our power to make sure future generations can see and enjoy such beauty in their natural settings.

Til next time,

To see all of the workshops and photo travel opportunities 
offered by M. Raeder - Photography, please click here.
Join me for a great outing to photograph the elephant seals and their newborn pups!