Back in 2015, we spent our kids’ birthday at the zoo. We were already leaving, tired and exhausted, when I spotted a clouded leopard in its enclosure. Unfortunately, being more a dad than a photographer on this day, I only had my 50mm prime lens with me to capture the day’s birthday action. For animal portraits, however, you need a much longer lens.
I have been trying to take a photo of this fellow ever since. But the cat never showed up, leaving me standing and waiting in vain. Being active only at twilight and night, the clouded leopard usually spends the zoo opening hours hidden away in the shadows – until this day in March 2022. Dusk wasn’t too far away anymore, and for some reason, the leopard had decided to get up a little earlier. It walked to and fro in its enclosure, climbed trees, and checked everything out. This time, I was adequately equipped and determined to get the shot. And I got it! However, it wasn’t easy. I had several problems to solve:
- Light: With the sun already getting quite low and the the enclosure being pretty overgrown, the whole scene was pretty dark. Given the fact that the cat didn’t stand still for longer than a second, I had to work with an ISO of 1000 and get my timing right.
- The window: The clouded leopard is a big cat, so the used extra thick safety glass for the enclosure’s window. This sort of glass tends to mess with the focus unless you shoot at an angle of 90° through the window. Sharp photos at a sharper viewing angle are impossible.
- Obstacles: It is nice that the try to give the captive animals a surrounding that resembles their natural habitats. For us photographers, however, this means that more often than not something is in the way – leaves, rocks, tree trunks, you name it.
The photographer’s main allies in such adverse circumstances are patience and persistence. I spent more than an hour in front of that window, waiting for the cat to stand still at the right spot. Finally, with a little bit of waiting, I got several attempts. In the end, however, I only got one useable image. So here it is, ladies and gentlemen – the elusive clouded leopard.