Photographing the Moon Bears of China
This week we welcome back guest blogger and media photographer Maria, who has just returned from an amazing trip to China, to photograph the beautiful Moon Bears. Here she shares her experiences and tips on how to make the most of travel and animal photography. Over to you Maria…
At the end of March, I was lucky enough to travel to the Animals Asia Sanctuary Chengdu in China to meet over 180 Moon Bears. My time living amongst, and photographing these beautiful ‘second bears’ of China has altered me, I am a changed person in a way I have yet to fully understand. Here I will share some tips on overcoming the practical hurdles I encountered and differing weather conditions all of which had to be embraced to secure a series of images that tell ‘A Bears Story’.
Chengdu is a vibrant and emerging business centre famous for its Panda breeding programme. The drive from the airport leads quickly into beautiful countryside – a never-ending mass of yellow rape fields are broken up by a scattering of orchards and paddy fields where farmers tend to their crops.
Photography tip: remember that when you are capturing real life; always ask permission before taking someone’s picture.
When travelling, research the weather conditions of your destination. The lack of definition within the sky is a near everyday occurrence in this part of Asia. In similar conditions use a large flashgun to capture distinct architecture in near silhouette, such as in the picture below.
You can look for natural framing within the shot and try different perspectives of the same picture. Shoot with a large depth of field from ground level – keep as much of the ground to sky ratio in focus as possible. If you are shooting on a compact camera, use the landscape mode then frame the shot as a portrait.
From the moment I arrived at the Animals Asia sanctuary, I knew I was in a special place. The Moon Bears, also known as Asiatic Black Bears, have been rescued from former bile farms across China. A solitary rusted cage stands on a concrete plinth with its door hanging open. This is a symbolic representation of all that Animals Asia are working towards, with the help of the Chinese government, to end the practice of bear bile farming forever. This made for a powerful yet simple image. Look out for unexpected travel shots like this and experiment adding different filters to your colour photographs, particularly if photographing a landmark or famous monument.
Every day, workers from the surrounding villages join the resident staff to take care of the bears, preparing breakfast consisting of a delicious selection of fresh fruit and vegetables in ‘The Bear Kitchen’, which is then delivered by bicycle drawn trailers to the many bear houses across the 25 acre site.
Top tip: Always remember to record plenty of detail or macro shots on your travels as alternative holiday/travelogue pictures.
The food is hidden in different places each day, as this recreates as near natural environment for the bears as possible. If you are photographing rescued animals in a sanctuary, or wild animals in their natural environment, make sure you take or hire a good zoom lens, this will allow you to capture close up shots – also take something to sit on if necessary. Safety should always come first when photographing animals, both for you and the animal.
Moon Bears are omnivores and live in the forested mountains of Asia from Russia, through China, down to Vietnam and Cambodia – their status is listed as vulnerable. Throughout 2013 the Animals Asia Chengdu sanctuary used 180 sticks of bamboo to protect the trees and make an enriching environment, along with 182 jars of stinky tofu, 2580 large ice blocks and 148.76 tons of vegetables.
If you are photographing animals on your travels be patient. As they get used to you and your camera they will relax and play together….
….or simply rest providing you with some great candid shots.
One final tip – if you are photographing through a fence or gate you may find the edge of your picture is a little soft. Make sure that you have a strong focus point and make the softness feature part of your picture.
Whether you are a keen travel photographer who keeps a personal photo journal or simply love taking pictures on your holidays, the images that you capture allow you to revisit those memories time and time again. Have you got some unusual travel pictures to share with us? We would love to see them.
The amazing photos I managed to capture are definitely going to be used as personal travel gifts for my family. They would perfectly suit something you’d see on a jigsaw puzzle – all of the different elements of the photo seemed to piece together.
All images copyright Maria Slough www.mariasloughphotography.com
Sanctuary information at www.animalsasia.org