Taronga Zoo

This post is a little bit late, but I went to Taronga Zoo a few weeks ago in a burst of 'tourist-in-my-own-city' and catch-up with two friends that I hold very close to my heart.

Taronga Zoo has always been somewhere special, for several reasons. Not only is it one of the 'famous' places in Australia, but I've been a few times throughout my childhood and each time it has been treasured and filled with pleasant memories (also, a mad shout-out to Australian Museum which is many-times cheaper and also a wonderful treasure trove of curiosity and wonders).

The last time I had visited Taronga Zoo was in 2011. Back then I had only just started my photography. Five years later I'm back at the gates, with two upgrades in camera gear, and hopefully many upgrades in my skill in photography.

Out of curiosity, I decided to look back at the photos from when I was merely fifteen years old. How the times have changed since then! It reminds me that we all start somewhere. Yes, photography is a skill that I have developed over the years, but often I forget to consider how much I have learned and come since the start of it all.

I have had many people tell me they've want to start photography as a hobby, but they haven't because they 'aren't good enough'. 

Of course you're not! You haven't even started.

Looking back to when I started, even when I had a DSLR, my photos were most definitely not something I am proud of today. But you know what I am proud of? How far I've come since then. And I think that's what matters most.

Taken at Taronga Zoo, 2011.
Nikon D700, with kit-lens 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6
I think it's always interesting to take a look back at how far we've come. How naive we were, and, let's face the truth, how shit we once were at almost everything in life. Because it reminds us of how much we've improved and learned over the years.

Looking back on these old Taronga Zoo photos from 2011, I probably cringed around five thousand times, and developed the urge to burn my computer's hard-drive and bury it in the ocean floor. But I didn't. Instead, I've taken a courage of breath and uploaded them here for the world to bask in the beloved and sweet shittiness of my past!

So, without further ado...


Taken at Taronga Zoo, 2016
Nikon D750, with 24-70mm f/2.8

Although my equipment has upgraded (twice) in the time-span of five years, I don't account most of the differences to that. Through the last five years I've learned how much composition plays a role, and getting close, and being confident in your skills (which relies on knowing how to operate your camera, and what things mean). 

They always say camera < lens < skills, and looking back on these photos, it really does show.

2016; Seal portrait
2011; this image isn't even in focus -- yeah, lovely thing looking at those high-definition heads
And, on that note, knowing when to use B&W or other editing to bring out something in the image. A filter isn't just a fancy thing to throw on to make it look cool; there's a lot more thinking and consideration that goes into deciding how images should be edited or changed. It took me a really, really long time to understand this.

And, not to mention, deciding what is actually interesting to take a picture of... 

2011; namely, a boring cityscape far off in the distance with a poor zoom is not interesting or aesthetic in the slightest.
It's shocking that the same subject matter can prove to be so incredibly different depending on your skills as a photographer. Composition, colour, angle, and lighting are all things that I've slowly worked on in the last five years -- to the point that I hardly even realised it. 
It's never a jump; it's something that I slowly and surely worked on, though I never really noticed it. The progress is slow, and only now after five years do I think back and see what has come from all of this.

Glass is constantly a problem that arises at zoos or enclosures; trying to deal with reflections is not easy, and... Well, let's just allow the images to do the talking.

2011; Check that awful reflection in the glass!

2016; Also taken behind glass.
Also check that intense frog-face-off
Back in 2011, I wouldn't consider myself a photographer. I just had a camera and took photos.

Perhaps now I do. At the very least, I know that my images play a role more than simply 'documenting my Taronga Zoo trip'; 

I hope my images show character, or show something that we don't usually see or notice. There must be something more behind it than just its face-value; looking back on these old photos, I can't help but cringe at, honestly, the worthlessness of the images.

2016; Never thought a portrait of a tortoise would ever be an image I would have, nor be proud of.
2011; oh god, what are those things even?
2016; "Doesn't he look so wise?"

2011; "Was this taken with a potato?"
Seriously though, even a phone camera would have produced a better quality image than this.
And I realised that an image is supposed to tell a story.

2016; Depicting the many tanks of Corroboree Frogs at the Restoration Facility at Taronga. Each one of these tanks had its own little frog, thriving, which would soon be released into the wild to try and restore the wild population numbers.
I took the photo because I thought this was incredible, and wanted to document that.
Back in 2011 I would take photos for the sake of taking it; because I saw this enclosure, I would thus be obliged to take five low-quality images of it. That was it. Which I think is a major mentality shift in what photography and a camera means to me today.

2011; Eh-composition, and doesn't really show much, in hind-sight
2016; Hopefully this image shows much more character, and is more captivating than the previous one

Same setting, same light conditions, same subject. Yet, with a little bit of experience and thought, the images are completely different.

By no way are any of my current/recent images perfect. There is no perfect image, I believe, but I think comparing these photos with the previous ones I took when I was much younger and less experienced really show me how much things can improve with time, effort, and persistence.

2011; What's the point in taking an image like this with heads in the foreground, etc.; looking back on these images I really don't understand what was running through my mind.
2011; Seriously???
Another thing to mention is the number of shots I take. Last trip to Taronga I recall ending up with over five hundred images to go through. Let's not forget that a large majority of them were rubbish.

Recent trip I returned with just under two hundred images sitting on my SD card, which I think says a lot about quality over quantity.

2011; this was single-handedly the best image I took during that trip to Taronga Zoo. It's now featured on the cover of Cambridge Mathematics 3U for HSC, 2014 edition (I believe), and was more of a lucky shot than anything. I ended up with at least fifty images of various angles, before picking this ultimate, single, best shot.
Bird shots this time? (Also, I was also severely limited by the amount of zoom I had on my lenses. The recent trip, being a full-frame with a max 70mm length, this was significantly less than the 105mm I had on my DX D7000 camera). There were, by far, no where near as many as last time. Perhaps five to ten images, on average. Maybe a maximum of fifteen for the last shot (because I took it from multiple different angles).

What's the point in this post? Definitely not to say 'Oh, look at how great my photographs are now!!!', because I do not see my images as fantastic, nor perfect in any way, shape or form. It is my belief that I still have very far to go -- there are people I know who are in many ways far more talented and skilled at photography than I am.

The point of this post is to do a little shout-out to younger-me.

Thanks for never giving up. Thanks for being so ignorant and not realising that your photos were so bad. Just kidding. What I mean to say is, I am very glad that I didn't stop. That my passion and my interest in photography kept pushing me to pursue this hobby -- not for money, not for someone else, but for myself. I really did love and enjoy photo-taking, and it's only through continued practice, experience, and watching a lot of tutorial videos and research online did I start to understand my camera, refine my skills, and find inspiration.

Photography has grown to be a creative outlet of mine, and picking up that camera makes it seem almost like an extension of who I am. It is something which has become a part of who I see myself as, not just 'something I do'. Arguably, five years ago, I still had this passion for photography, even though I was (let's be honest here), pretty shit at it.

So what am I most proud of? Not how bad my old-images are, and also not how much I like my recent photos, but most of all, that I kept going. It is only with the slow, unnoticeable improvements that accumulated over the last five years that I've grown to be the photographer that I am today.

We all start somewhere, and I think this is a big testament to that.

In almost everything we do, there is always a point in time when we are, let's face it, shit at it

Instead of feeling ashamed, embarrassed, or bad, be proud. Be proud of how far you've come, and the insane amount you have learned since then. And how you didn't give up and throw your camera gear into the trash because you thought you were trash. Be proud of how you embraced it, even if you were shit (you probably were). Be proud that you miraculously managed to convince yourself you weren't so shit as you really were.

I think most of all, that's why photography means so much to me.

So, this is a message for me, my future self, and for anyone else out there who may be trying something new. Who knows? Maybe it'll come to you naturally. But maybe it won't. Maybe you'll struggle, and not even compare to everyone else. You'll be rubbish at it, awful, and people will be too kind to criticise you most of the time. But if you have a passion and motivation, then I really think we need to remember that it may be worth it to invest some time into it. Even if it's just because you enjoy it. Who knows how far you will go?

Young Manj, though your photos may have been shit, you weren't so bad after all.
And future Manj, keep pushing yourself. You'll be surprised to see how far you can really go.

Manj out.

"Thanks man"
2011; Taken by my friend VA


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Hello! I'm a student from Australia. I like photography, am aspiring to be a Doctor, have fallen in love with many things that life has to offer, and hope to see more of it. I've been blogging for a while and over the years what it means to me has changed. Currently still trying to figure that out, but here I am in a weird hybridisation of photography, film, blogging, and the confusion of a young adult, you'll find me here writing about my experiences and life. Or whatever tickles my fancy. Whether that's entertaining or not is yours to decide. Stay hydrated, kids.