Ostrich at Safari World, Bangkok Images

Canon 5d Mark II, 300mm F2.8L IS @F2.8  1/500th  ISO 100

 

For those of you who live in Bangkok, or a big city like Bangkok, I'm sure there are times when the cement, noise, smells, and fast pace of this big city start to feel a bit heavy.  Bangkok is one of the most exciting and interesting cities in the world, certainly in the top 10, yet sometimes too much of a good thing becomes.. too much.

It's times like these when I remember my small ranch in Oregon or any number of the many places in the countryside I've visited over the years.  Sometimes I miss the quiet, the clean smells, and without question I miss most of all observing the wildlife in its natural settings.

 

Stork at Safari World, Thailand

Canon 5d Mark II, 300mm F2.8L IS @F2.8  1/1250th  ISO 100

 

On these mornings I grab my gear, drive through the McDonald's 'drive-thru' for some breakfast, and then drive the few kilometers to Safari World.  Safari World is very accessible, a scant 15 minutes from my home.  It's a place I can decide to go on a whim with little preparation.  I grab a body with a fresh battery, the 300mm F2.8L II, the 1.4x teleconverter, and maybe if I'm feeling ambitious a second body with a wide angle zoom.

 

Photography Workshop, seabirds, Bangkok Thailand

Canon 5d Mark II, 300mm F2.8L IS @F4  1/640th  ISO 100

 

At least once a month I'll spend a full morning on a Safari World therapy session.  My breakfast is still warm as I roll through the ticket booth and showing them my local drivers license purchase a ticket at local rates.  A few minutes later I leave Bangkok behind as I enter this semi-secret wildlife oasis.  Gone are the sound of busy roads, gone are the street smells, gone is the rushed feeling of the big city.  15 minutes from my apartment I'm now in the countryside and wild animals are everywhere.  Some roaming freely, some migrating and on their way to somewhere else in the region, and some of the dangerous big game animals tightly controlled but still not in conventional cages.

 

Juvenile seabird, Bangkok Thailand.  Canon 5d Mark II, 300mm F2.8L IS

Canon 5d Mark II, 300mm F2.8L IS @F4  1/1600th  ISO 100

 

My world has changed, time no longer matters, and I can feel my heart rate slow and a special calm flows through my body.  With the windows down I can hear and smell the animals and their environment.  Taking a sip of my drink I unwrap my breakfast and sit back taking in what this special place is offering me on this day.

 

Colorful bird at Safari World,  Canon 5d Mark II, 300mm F2.8L IS

Canon 5d Mark II, 300mm F2.8L IS @F2.8  1/2500th  ISO 100

 

As you follow the road through Safari World the first area you come to is the wetlands with big bodies of water partially covered with moss and aquatic plants.  Sea birds fly in from the ocean and surrounding areas hoping for a free breakfast and to enjoy what they must consider a 'spa-like' environment.  Depending on the time of day and year there can be thousands of birds in this area.  If you arrive early enough you'll see the Safari World crew drive through in the feeding truck dumping hundreds of kilos of fish and feed.  The birds converge on the food and in mere minutes not a trace remains.

 

Critcal sharpness, blue eyed African Marabou Stork

Canon 5d Mark II, 300mm F2.8L IS @F4  1/500th  ISO 100

 

When I say "sea birds" I'm talking about a huge variety of small and big birds.  Every time I visit the birds are different and in visiting in different numbers.  I spend a fair amount of time observing the differences.  I'm long past shooting everything in sight.  I've been here often enough to look for my shots.  I want the best light, the best specimens, and I've perfected the necessary techniques to achieve dramatically sharp images.  Critically focused images.

 

1:1 crop from Canon 5d Mark II, 300mm F2.8L IS

Canon 5d Mark II, 300mm F2.8L IS @F4  1/500th  ISO 100

 

I don't consider a shot a "keeper" unless its perfectly exposed and critically sharp.  I want to be able to see the pattern in the iris of the eye, the fine feathers, and the small details that make an image interesting when printed large.  To achieve these types of images you need to practice your best techniques.  You need to take your time and ensure you do everything perfectly.  The depth of field should be ideal, the light should come from the right direction, and the composition should be strong.  Patience will reward you with a small number of solid critically sharp images which really help the animals stand out and be of interest to viewers.

 

Nesting seabird, Bangkok Thailand

Canon 5d Mark II, 300mm F2.8L IS @F2.8  1/2500th  ISO 100

 

This is a great place and if you look in the tree tops and other prime nesting areas you'll see the birds think so too.  You'll see their nest and new family members and if you're patient enough you can witness their interactions few ever get to see.  If you come often you'll come to know which birds are white when born, black when grown, and all the shades between.  You'll learn what time of year certain species nest and you'll know what month, perhaps even which week, certain species will make their dramatic appearances as they fly in for their first visit of the season.

 

Photography workshop, wildlife through a telephoto

Canon 5d Mark II, 300mm F2.8L IS @F2.8  1/500th  ISO 100

 

The more you visit, the more this place offers.  No two visits are the same.  As I position the truck in an ideal position I'll notice several cars go slowly by.  Sometimes you'll see tour buses.  They all go by so quickly, never taking the time to 'see' what's on display.  A bus goes by with 100 people and 100 small cameras.  1000's of pictures get taken in less than 3-4 minute and they're gone.  No one saw anything and not a single picture worth printing.  I want to stop the bus and go inside to explain what they're missing.  I want to show them what I'm seeing, tell them which birds are new and which just hatched.  But they aren't interested.  They're not here for the same reasons I am.  They're here for flashy signs and bright lights.  They're here to be momentarily stimulated.  I remember these feelings during my visits to the Getty Museums.

 

Marabou Stork and hatchling, Bangkok Images

Canon 5d Mark II, 300mm F2.8L IS @F4  1/500th  ISO 100

 

Some of the bird species leave me speechless.  Ugly beyond compare, yet beautiful in their own way.  A mother stands guard over a baby only a few days old.  The baby has a face only a mother could love.  The pointy tongue of the baby looks prehistoric.

 

Stork with hatchlings in nest.  300mm F2.8L IS telephoto

Canon 5d Mark II, 300mm F2.8L IS @F4  1/500th  ISO 100

 

In the tree above a common stork stands proudly guarding her hatchlings.  I've already watched her change position with her mate as each took a turn eating when the food truck went through, with both regurgitating to feed the young.  The entire process is pulled off with an almost  military precision and a simple elegance.

 

Large seabirds can be used as a compass.  When the sun peeks through the clouds they'll spread their wings and turn their backs to the sun to gather warmth.  Their bones are hollow and part of their respiratory system

Canon 5d Mark II, 300mm F2.8L IS @F4  1/500th  ISO 100

 

As the sun rises higher in the sky the birds will lift their wings to catch the warmth.  Birds have a hollow bone structure which is part of their respiratory system and also helps carry warmth throughout their bodies.

 

Female Marabou Stork and hatchling at Safari World Bangkok

Canon 5d Mark II, 300mm F2.8L IS @F4  1/400th  ISO 100

 

Not every bird can be beautiful.  The world has it's share of ugly birds.  Here the mother is vocalizing and the baby is doings its best to follow along.  When the baby responds correctly the mother regurgitates and feeds the baby, and then they do it over again.

 

Mother stork checks her baby closely

Canon 5d Mark II, 300mm F2.8L IS @F4  1/400th  ISO 100

 

Once tired the mother nuzzles her young to provide comfort and affection in much the same way more familiar species do.  As the mother brings her head down and rests it on the baby, the baby relaxes and calms.

 

1:1 crop, critical sharpness

Canon 5d Mark II, 300mm F2.8L IS @F4  1/500th  ISO 100

 

Again, critical focus is key.  This shot is critically focused (every shot in this section is exhibits critical focus), yet this crop is such a small part of the frame you can start to mistake pixelation for over-sharpening.  On the other hand it's hard to separate the extremely rough skin and features of this species.  The mothers beak appears to have decades of wear and a patina not unlike the buildup on an old boat hull.  Nothing in nature equips these sea birds to ever be free/clean of salt water.. so I suppose a salt build up is considered perfectly natural.  I wonder what they'd look like if bathed in fresh water every day?  Crazy thoughts..

 

Long delicate eyelashes, doe eyes, Safari World Bangkok

Canon 5d Mark II, 300mm F2.8L IS @F4  1/320th  ISO 100

 

Leaving the birds area, which is a huge spacious area, I round a corner and find myself in the African plains area.  Usually I'm not that interested in watching common deer species or the boring activities of these species, but the long lashes and textured nose of this one catches my attention.  This doe's eyes are glassy sharp and you can see brilliant reflections in the lower halves.  The detail on this large crop is stunning.

 

This tiger watched us the entire time

Canon 5d Mark II, 300mm F2.8L IS @F4  1/250th  ISO 250

 

Immediately adjacent to the African Plains animals is the high walled/fenced tiger and lion enclosure.  The fences are a good ten meters tall and a employee watching from a tower pushes the button to open the motorized gate.  I pull in and the gate closes behind me, and then another gate 10 meters ahead of me starts to open.  They take no chances a tiger or lion will run out.  And that's a good thing, as you look carefully at the fences you notice that on the other side, mere meters from the lions and tigers, is someone's back yard.  Through the cracks I can see a children's play set and other toys.  This is the same along the entire inner perimeter of Safari World.  Wild animals on the inside, and human homes on the outside.

 

This tiger ignored us.  Safari World Thailand

Canon 5d Mark II, 300mm F2.8L IS @F4  1/320th  ISO 320

 

In this area you'll see small open top Suzuki jeeps, white with black tiger stripes, and Safari World employees sitting there watching the animals.  There are signs warning you the animals are dangerous and to keep the windows up.  There are no windows and nothing but a canvas top on the Jeeps.  I roll down the windows and poke the big white lens at the tigers ever mindful of how close my hand is to the power window toggle switch.  It just wouldn't do to become lunch.  The employees have conditioned the lions and tigers to keep well clear of the jeeps, often revving their loud engines to encourage the lions and tigers to move on to different activities, for instance when standing in the middle of the road peering into a tour bus.

 

1:1 crop, critcal sharpness, photography workshop

Canon 5d Mark II, 300mm F2.8L IS @F4  1/320th  ISO 320

 

As I watch the tigers I capture them with the same techniques and care I use for the birds.  A tigers face has a lot of detail and the images must be perfect.  You should see the iris of the eyes perfectly, each whisker in focus, and each fiber of the fur clear and distinct.  You want to imagine these images 4-5 feet in size and how every detail should be clear and distinct to catch viewer interest.  With modern equipment and proper technique there's no reason you can't make life size prints that allow the viewer to see as much detail as if they were standing in front of the real thing.  Anything else is just another picture.

 

A peeping tiger!

Canon 5d Mark II, 300mm F2.8L IS @F3.2 1/200th  ISO 320

 

On some days you can catch the tiger feeding truck, where a lady wearing go-go boots and a tiger striped hot pants outfit inside a metal cage pushes large chunks of meat through the bars.  I'm not joking, look through past columns and you'll find these pictures.  On other days the tigers are splashing and swimming around having a great time, and on other days they're just laying there in the hot sun doing nothing.  As I leave the tiger area I catch this guy watching my every move.  His ears rotate and twitch when he hears the shutter trip.

 

The bear stirs, it must be close to lunch time!

Canon 5d Mark II, 300mm F2.8L IS @F4  1/80th  ISO 100

 

We're in bear country now!  These bears appear to have a ton of room, until you realize that like tigers.. their natural habitat often has them protecting a personal space consisting of over 100km's.  The bears have some bird friends.

 

This bird and others like it were hopping all over the bears and eating parasites from their bodies

Canon 5d Mark II, 300mm F2.8L IS @F4  1/100th  ISO 100

 

If you take the time to isolate the birds and get a bit closer the birds themselves become interesting.  They're highly animated and their colorful yellow beak is ideally suited to picking the flies and other bugs off the fur of their favorite bear.

 

An incredible amount of detail in this bear claw.  Photography workshop, Safari World Bangkok

Canon 5d Mark II, 300mm F2.8L IS @F3.2  1/320th  ISO 100

 

I can't help but wonder who's in charge of grooming the bears.  Of course no one is out there shampooing them and brushing their teeth.. but this guy needs his nails cut and trimmed.. :)  I would have never thought there would be so much detail in a bears foot!  Notice how coarse and long the hair on this foot is?  Those nails are very thick and strong.  I've watched them shred small logs.  A swipe of one of these feet would open up a man in milliseconds.

 

Interesting bird that chatters

Canon 5d Mark II, 300mm F2.8L IS @F4  1/80th  ISO 100

 

Another bear bird.  I'm guessing there must be all sorts of flies and other insects on a bear to keep all these birds happy and coming back for more.  It's time to leave the bear compound, it's the last major compound before you exit the park.

 

Bears have all the fun!

Canon 5d Mark II, 300mm F2.8L IS @F4  1/80th  ISO 100

 

This bear roars and bit and rolls around on his back having a good time as I exit the bear compound and minutes later I'm back in the main parking lot.

I've shown you only a very small part of the Safari World attraction.  There are hundreds if not thousands of species to see.. and the park is huge.  It really is cut out of the surrounding neighborhood with normal Thai homes all around it.  No space is wasted.

The serenity and beauty is now behind me, and the streets full of motorsai riders and noisy trucks greet me for the ride home.  Sometimes the entire trip from my home and back takes as little as 90 minutes, other times I stay 6-7 hours.  I love the mornings the best.  If you've got a spare few hours and you want to "get away from it all", even if only for a few hours, Safari World just might be the perfect place for you.  Check it out!