Saturday, July 24, 2010

Chicago Done Naturally (Post 6 of 10) - Brookfield Zoo

Brookfield is much bigger than Lincoln Park. It’s a pay-admission zoo, and even a pay-to-park zoo, if you’re not a member. However, if you’re big on public transportation, the Metra lets you off just a few blocks from the zoo, so you can avoid the parking fee.

Brookfield is very photo-friendly. They even have a list of shooting suggestions on their website. Obviously, you’ll want your tripod and telephoto/macro lenses if you have them. Being bigger, and admission-based, they tend to have fewer school groups during the day, or at least they’re less concentrated.

It’s unlikely you’ll be able to see the whole of this zoo in one day. So you might want to download a map before you go and make a plan.

Flash photography is allowed in certain indoor exhibits at this zoo. The free-flight area of the perching bird house and the penguin/inca tern habitat are a few places where you don’t have glass separating you from the animals, and you’re allowed to use a flash. Watch for signs – places like Habitat Africa and Australia House have a number of nocturnal animals and flashes are not allowed, at least in certain areas. There’s almost always a keeper or docent within sight and they know the rules, so if in doubt just ask someone in a green shirt. Tripods are allowed and even with the carefully controlled lighting to try and make nocturnal animals interesting during the day, a lot of them are still enough that you can get a good shot without the flash and a long (sometimes really long) shutter.

For example, this hyrax was taken in a very dark environment with an 8 second shutter at f4.5 on a tripod.

To hit:
From Memorial Day to Labor Day there’s a fantastic exhibit, simply called, Butterflies! And it’s exactly what it says on the tin. About 20 species, hundreds of specimens, in free-flight around you in a big net house. The best way to get good shots is to get to the zoo a few minutes before it opens, and go straight to there once they let you in. (It’s just on the left of the North Gate) At that point the butterflies are lying around on rocks and the pathway (watch where you walk and put your tripod!) warming up and they haven’t been annoyed into finding hiding places yet. While they’re still cool from the night, they’re still and their wings are open. Great shooting!

The free-flight area of the bird house is great. There are two huge red McCaws on a perch right next to the observation deck, but the more interesting birds are in the trees. You can use your flash and tripod here and either these birds are fed *often* or I’ve developed a knack for going there when they’re being fed, which brings them down from the higher limbs or denser bushes.

Tropic World: This is three separate environments for the various monkeys and apes of the world. You’re up on walkways, so there’s no glass or bars, but the flipside is, most of the monkeys stay pretty far back in the huge exhibit. Bring your telephoto for good shots. The apes tend to stay a little closer to you. Also, watch the signs – they rotate the hippo and the otters in the middle part, so you may want to come back later to get the other animal.

To miss:
The dolphins have returned to the Seven Seas exhibit, which was recently redone, but they haven’t announced an opening date. Breaking news off Facebook: Dolphin shows are scheduled to resume Memorial Day weekend.

Likewise, for the next little while (until May 8, 2010) the bears are off exhibit as they get used to their new home.

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