A Point-and-Shooter’s Guide to Gorilla Photography

Thanks to Henry Tenenbaum (http://www.henryten.com or http://www.henrytenenbaum.com) for writing the following useful beginner’s guide to gorilla photography:

You are guaranteed to get some remarkable gorilla photos, if you do a little preparation and planning before and during the trek up the mountain.

The gorillas are very dark. On a sunny day, they are surrounded by brightly lit foliage. Even today’s smart point-and-shoot cameras will have a hard time figuring out that the gorillas are your main point of interest. That means you may end up with fabulous foliage shots – and dark, fuzzy primate blobs in the middle.

There are ways to deal with this problem:

  • Find the camera’s instruction manual. That’s the hardest part.
  • Most cameras give you many options on focus. Determine how to set a single automatic focus point in the center of the viewfinder.
  • Be sure to turn off any “face recognition” features (this automatically focuses and exposes for human faces. In my experience, gorilla faces are unfairly unrecognized).
  • Set the camera’s “resolution” (how much detail is captured to the memory card) to the maximum. This will take up more memory on your camera’s card. Make sure that you bring a couple of large-capacity memory cards (8 gigabyte should do, but always being an extra in case of malfunction).
  • If possible, set the camera’s ISO (the sensitivity to light) at 400.
  • If possible, set the camera to “shutter priority” and set the shutter speed to 1/200th of a second. If that all sounds too complicated, set the camera for “sports” mode.

The camera should now automatically focus and expose for a single point:  the exact middle of the frame. When you shoot, be sure that your target, the gorilla, is exactly in the middle. (If you want to get fancy about framing, you’ll need to do some more reading in the instruction manual).

Before you head for the mountain, practice and review your results with camera AND computer. Stick a dark piece of clothing or a stuffed toy in the midst of some bright shrubbery. Shoot from different angles. Play back your results on a computer screen (those camera viewfinders often hide multitudes of photographic sins). Can you detect the clothing’s or toy’s texture?

Note, also, that flash photography is forbidden, so be sure to locate and switch off your flash option before you go tracking.

On your way up the mountain, apply the above settings and try shooting dark objects hidden in foliage. Check your results. The foliage may be very bright, but the dark objects should be perfectly exposed.  If there’s a problem, ask your fellow-trekker with the fancy camera (there’s always one) for help before you meet the gorillas.

Finally, take many, many pictures. You’ll discard 90%, but a few of the shots will be dazzling!

Once you get home, you can crop those high-resolution pictures in a free program like Picasa, Photo Gallery (PC) or iPhoto (Mac), giving you some great close-ups.

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