My first wildlife trip this year was to Indonesia to shoot orangutans and Komodo dragons. This post is about the former, I'll save the dragons for another post.

These photos were taken in Bukit Lawang, North Sumatra, which has a sanctuary for Sumatran Orangutans (there is another species in Borneo). They offer guided treks to see the animals, which are mostly rescue animals that have been re-introduced to the wild.

I think this is my favourite shot of the trip. It seems almost posed.

Shooting in the rainforest can be a challenge; very little of the glorious tropical sun actually makes it through the canopy. The forrest was so thick that I couldn't fill the frame without branches, creepers and vines getting in the way. When I could get a clear line of sight, the animals were often too close to fill the frame and I could have done with a 200mm lens, and not my 400mm prime. This is why most of the shots that worked are up-close and personal with the animals (with a few exceptions where I was close enough to switch to a 40mm pancake lens I keep in my bag).

The conditions weren't ideal, but that's often the way of wildlife photography. Thankfully I had plenty of time with the orangutans and managed to fill two 32GB memory cards over the course of two treks.

Many shots on the first day were disappointing since the animals were mostly in shade - I either got grainy high-ISO shots, or I lowered the shutter speed too much to get a steady shot hand-held. On the second trek, I took my monopod with me, and that made the world of difference. I could shoot at 1/200 which gave me an extra stop or two of light to play with.

Orangutans are much stronger than humans. The guides warned us to keep our distance as some individuals had been known to be aggressive. The only sign of "aggression" I saw was when a young orangutan raided a back-pack for a packet of biscuits.

This orangutan seems happy to have mango. Love the facial expression.

This shot was almost a throwaway; it was purely a test and there is a bit of blueish bokeh from somebody's clothing. There is something about the hand that I think shows how close to human they are.

I kind of like this shot, it has a refreshing amount of negative space, where the other shots are so tight. It was taken with a 40mm f2.8 pancake lens which is small and light enough that I keep it in my camera bag rather than a body cap. I didn't expect to get close enough to use it!

Gear Talk

I used a Canon 400mm f5.6 for most of these shots (on a Canon 5D mk III). The takeaway from this trip was that a monopod is pretty much essential if you are on the move and the light isn't great. If I had a newer lens with Image Stabilisation then maybe I could have gotten away without the monopod, but I suspect even with IS, shooting in low light would still benefit from physical stabilisation.

Another takeaway would be to take a regular lens with you when you are trekking with a long lens. Something like a nifty 50 or a 40mm. You wouldn't want to miss a close up wildlife encounter because you couldn't focus.

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