family bonds

Long-Tailed Macaques in Sumatra, Indonesia

Long-Tailed Macaques in Sumatra, Indonesia
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Behind The Lens

I would love to say that I had made a grueling hike deep into the jungles of Northern Sumatra to capture this image but, that isn’t the case. While I did do hellacious treks when there, this shot came much easier to me as I was enjoying the views from the comforts of the backseat of a car. These Long-Tailed Macaques were conveniently hanging out along the road that hugs Lake Toba. On the google satellite map using the coordinates 2°42'4.908" N 98°55'19.758" E, you will see that there is a large group of macaques living in the jungle that this narrow road cuts through. I asked the driver to stop the car and was lucky to observe them for a few minutes before having to move on as we were blocking others from passing.
I remember setting out early morning from Samosir Island and taking a ferry to meet our driver in Parapat. Getting anywhere in Sumatra seems to take forever but the upside of that is that everything seems like an adventure there. Some of my favorite images of the trip were taken on our many drives. This spot was about a half hour into the drive from Parapet to Bukit Lawang. I captured this image at 10:05 AM.
This particular morning was very overcast and there was very little sunlight getting through the thick foliage. Fortunately, these monkeys were sitting close enough to the roadside clearing that there was just enough of this very diffused light to at least get a few shots that I could work with in post-processing. My raw images were quite dark and I admit that there were other choices I might have made with respect to my camera settings. I think I got a bit lucky here with the monkeys having just moved into a spot where they were illuminated a little better.
My favorite camera to travel with is my Nikon D7000 and I shot this was with the Nikon 18-105 f/3.5-5.6 lens which I rarely used to shoot prior to this trip. Other than that there was nothing else used. I had my lens out to 105mm and the camera set to 1/250 at f/5.6, ISO 160 using the car door for support.
I am never lacking for inspiration when I have monkeys in front of me! I think the similarities to humans are what fascinate me the most about them. I was struck by the serenity and the peaceful nature of the macaques seen here. What cannot be seen is that there is a little baby tucked in between these two. There was also a large male who was keeping watch over them. I wish I could have stayed there longer as our presence was not hindering the normal behavior of the monkeys. I felt as if I had been invited into their home. The older female was looking right to the camera and appears to have been accustomed to having her portrait made. In a later shot, I have the opposite with the younger monkey looking to me while the elder female gazes off into the distance. My goal here was to create an image that seemed natural, moody and that captured the spirit of the family group. The other thing that we are not seeing here is that there is a steady flow of traffic passing by their home and intruding on their serenity. I think I was able to get past the actual environment and am happy that I could give them back their jungle in my image.
As previously mentioned, this image was under exposed and was quite dark. In Lightroom, I decreased the shadows and blacks and then used Nik Collection Color Efex Pro for the “sunlight filter” and followed that up with the “darken / lighten center” filter to call more attention to the pair of macaques. I do not like to use a heavy hand when processing. With an image as dark as this one was it is difficult to not introduce a bunch of noise. I did as little as I could and paid close attention to that aspect of my post processing here. I think I saved this image in post. It was just too dark as shot.
In my camera bag
I travel with my D7000. The body is light and it can handle just about any situation I will come across. I upgraded at one point to the 7200 and didn't like it as much. As far as lenses go, I normally have an 18-200mm on but, I do have a terrible habit of bringing everything with me. I bought that 18-200 when I first got a dSLR and have kind of just got stuck on it because of its versatility. I do think I am getting over the convenience of this this lens and as my knowledge and experience deepens, I realize that I need to get a 70-200 f/2.8. I also always bring both of my Nikon primes, a 35mm f/1.4 and 50 f/1.8 mm. I recently bought an inexpensive Zomei tri-pod for traveling and it has been a pleasant surprise. I also bring a reflector, ND and polarizing filters for all of my lenses and of course back up batteries. I have the 18-55 and an 18-105 Nikon lenses but I rarely used them before this 4 month trip to SE Asia. For super wide, I bring a Tokina 11-16 f 2.8 and that lens is awesome. To house all of this stuff in addition to all the cleaning supplies, I use a Lowepro Day Runner backpack and then have another self-made pack that holds everything that I should NOT have brought!
When shooting images from a car window the light changes constantly with every twist and turn. Making adjustments is hard when you are just passing by. Planning ahead and making use of a camera’s ability for saved settings is a great way to overcome fleeting moments. Flash is no good as you will likely freak out the animals, so I think a reflector is a great thing to keep handy. I now have one that I have rigged with string so that I can hang it over the car window in case I ever come across something like that again. Additionally, the jungle presents some strange focus issues as you are surrounded by a constant color with little else to break that up. Here I got lucky with the hints of purple flowers and a fertile female macaque’s pink heart shaped bootie! Lastly, slow down. Find a safe place to park and observe as long as you can. Monkeys seem to get used to your presence and then forget you are there. That is when you can really capture their spirit.

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