Golden Lion Tamarins are one of the more active simians present at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo, next to the Squirrel Monkeys. Being one of the New World Monkeys, it is lighter, faster and smaller than the Old World Primates which tend to be larger and heavier – apes and humans. It is this combination of characteristics along with the lighting conditions of their enclosure which made them a challenge to photograph; Let me explain why.
One of the bigger attractions of the Golden Lion Tamarin exhibit at the Zoo is the tamarin itself. Golden colored, small and agile, the tamarin is usually a very active primate which jumps from branch to branch, often hiding behind leaves and branches. The small size and active nature makes them pretty difficult to track even with the autofocus system of most modern cameras. I have walked away with many blurred shots because they were so active.
The problem is further compounded by the fact that the lighting conditions in the pen is very low. To the human eye, the change in light is not all that significant as our eyes have a higher dynamic range than that what is achievable with digital cameras. However, for a photographer on a budget who does not have the money to invest in the next 2.8f 200mm lens, having a significantly high ISO capable camera with low noise can be your best friend. Otherwise, one can suffer from slow shutter speed which again results in blurred pictures. Now, blurry photos are not a bad thing, as long as they are done deliberately and with reason.
Thankfully, on my visit to the zoo earlier this week, I arrived at a time when the tamarins appeared to be still sleepy. It may be that they are just adjusting to the cooler weather of Fall. However, this was the first I had visited and seen them so lethargic hanging from the branches within the pen. This gave me the opportunity to really think through my shot and compose the best way I could. Consequently, I took this photograph labeled Golden Lion Tamarin. This photograph is one in probably three or four that I took of the tamarins. Of all of the photos, this is the only one where the tamarin in the foreground raised its head and looked forward. In the others, it merely laid its head on the branch and slept. I choose to stick with this image because I thought it carried the most interest, compositionally.
Further, I chose to stick with color on this shot as there is no other way I can illustrate that the tamarins are golden color without showing them in color. The hair growth on the tamarins is also interesting as the hair on the head appears like a mane on a lion. I guess this explains the name.
Tamarins are always a pleasure to watch because of their color, agility and general active nature. However, they are difficult to shoot because of their very active nature. The problem can be further compounded by the lighting conditions of their enclosure. But, if you are lucky, there are times when you can capture them when they are still. And, that opens the door for more creativity in shooting them.