Today I’d like to share this new image of Tuan with you, the male orangutan in Hamburg’s zoo, the renowned Tierpark Hagenbeck. I have photographed Tuan several times before. In fact, he „modeled“ in some of my best orangutan portraits to date.
A couple of weeks ago, he did it again. Attached with the image you will find at the end of this post, and there is a story I’d like to share with you today.
The Orang Utan House
The orangs in Hamburg live in quite a luxurious „enclosure.“ In fact, „enclosure“ isn’t quite the right word. The orangutan house in Hamburg is a spacious dome with a diameter of 32 meters, made of steel and glass. On warm days, it can be opened, turning the orangs space into an outdoor enclosure. Most of the space inside the house is used for the orange which leaves a relatively small area for the visitors, a small snack bar, and other facilities. And when it’s feeding time, the place is packed with people. It was on one of those occasions when I took today’s photo of Tuan.
Photographing in difficult conditions
Of course, the place is far more accessible beyond the feeding times of the apes. But then, they usually move back into the back of their enclosure and don’t care about presenting themselves to the visitors. During feeding time, however, they readily come forward. And what’s more, Tuan seems to love posing for the visitors and their cameras.
There are no words to describe how packed the visitors’ area in the orangutan house was. Kids, their parents, photographers with long lenses, mothers with buggies, seniors with walking canes were all competing for a good spot to get a glimpse of the apes. Almost everyone seemed to believe that they had priority access and that the other visitors just had no right to stand in their way. It was packed to the point where it wasn’t fun anymore. The best word to describe it is melee combat.
In this mess, I had decided to turn on image stabilization on my lens and used my tripod only as a monopod. Whereas usually I try to slow down and shoot less and more deliberately, here I could only shoot away quickly because sure enough, another person’s head or could inevitably move into the frame any given second.
This is precisely what happened when I saw Tuan put on his epic yawn. I could see him in between the heads of those standing before me, but I couldn’t get a clear line of sight for a photograph. So, in my desperation, I zoomed out to 150mm focal length which is the shortest my telephoto lens offers, activated autofocus, lifted the tripod up to the point where I could reach the shutter button with my arm reaching up, pointed roughly into the right direction, and shot away blindly. I got a couple of frames before Tuan’s yawn ended. I am fortunate and pleased that I got this image under such difficult conditions. I have to be honest with you. I owe 90% of this image to sheer luck and the other 10% to the image stabilizer of my Tamron 150-600mm lens.
Sometimes, making sacrifices pays off. Getting to Hamburg took me a 3.5-hour drive, to begin with. I had primarily gone there to photograph lions. Sacrificing 30 minutes with the lions for short visit with the orangutans, deciding to push my way through the crowd to get to a suitable vantage point, accepting who move into my line of sight, knowing that I would lose more than 10MP by zooming out as far as I could, realizing that I would very likely not get rewarded with a keeper at the end of the day – these were all the sacrifices I accepted and trade-offs I made to get the shot. I tried anyway and thus got a photograph that (at least in my opinion) is quite unique. But even if I hadn’t any satisfactory results, I still enjoyed the thrill of trying in a difficult situation.
Check out my Apes & Monkeys portfolio for more images of orangutans and other apes.