I’m sure all of you are familiar with the Lucky Six by now, but do you know the Nifty Fifty?
Before I get any further ahead, I need to clarify something. Y’all may be disappointed, but we don’t currently have any plans to rescue a group of fifty chimpanzees. (Not anytime soon, at least.) The colloquial term “Nifty Fifty” refers to something a little less exciting.
The Nifty Fifty is a type of camera lens.
More specifically, photographers refer to 50mm prime (fixed) lenses as “nifty fifties” because they’re relatively inexpensive, versatile, lightweight and sharp (id est, nifty).
By sacrificing the mechanical components required to zoom in on a subject, prime lenses can be built with a larger aperture* (usually f/1.4 or 1.8) while retaining their relatively affordable price and compact size. This trade-off is particularly beneficial in poorly-lit conditions, but it also creates a shallow depth of field that can produce a bokeh effect (an aesthetically-pleasing background blur that makes the subject stand out). Given all these qualities, the 50mm prime is a staple of event, travel, studio, and street photographers. It’s not bad for shooting landscapes, either!
*For those of you who may be new to this topic, aperture, shutter speed, and ISO/sensitivity are the three main variables that photographers adjust to get the desired exposure. The aperture setting is the camera’s equivalent to the dilation of your eye’s pupil; when the aperture is opened wide, more light reaches the sensor at any given shutter speed or sensitivity, resulting in a brighter image.
Normally, the first lenses we caregivers reach for in the morning are the heavier telephotos that let us zoom in on the chimpanzees from afar. These lenses are particularly useful when the chimps are lounging on the upper decks of the greenhouse enclosures or foraging outside in Young’s Hill. They’re not quite as effective indoors, however, since they have comparatively small apertures that limit the passage of light to the sensor.
Last week, the weather was foggy, chilly and wet, and the sanctuary’s primate residents chose to spend more time lounging and socializing in the heated indoor areas. With the chimps hanging out in close proximity and limited sunlight coming in through the windows and overhead skylights, I decided to use the 50mm “nifty fifty” lens to get some portraits for the blog. Fortunately, some of the chimps let me photograph them while they perused their daily enrichment and made blanket nests in the cozy front rooms.
When we’re holding the camera lens (or smartphone) flush against the caging, it’s easy to forget that there’s steel mesh between us. For some perspective on this, I recommend revisiting one of Diana’s posts from long ago: Caging is OK.
Safely shooting through the caging is one of the most difficult aspects of photographing chimps. One benefit of the wide aperture on the aforementioned Nifty Fifty is that it can blur out a barrier even when sections of it are obstructing the image. Sometimes, this effect even creates a halo-like frame around a chimpanzee’s face. In my opinion, it’s a cool way of highlighting each chimps’ unique expressions while subtly reminding you that the barriers are there. In these photos of Jody and Annie, you can see the caging but it’s not drawing your attention like it would if it was sharply in focus.
One slow afternoon, I sat with half-sisters Lucky and Rayne for a few minutes and let them each observe their reflections in the camera lens. They were both enthralled by the shiny iridescence of the optical pieces, the bizarre motion of my fingertips around the camera’s other controls, and the absurd positions I put myself in to get the compositions I wanted. Their inquisitive stares led to some striking “eye contact” with the lens, and I was pleased with how each series captured pieces of their quirky personalities.
Lucky was the first to approach and spent the whole session looking down at me with skepticism. Typical.
Rayne was munching on a paper wadge when we started, but she eventually spit it out so she could examine her own teeth in the reflection.
Finally, here are a couple more shots I took with the 50mm this past week. Thanks for scrolling down this far!
John Joseph O'Brien says
Cy with the picture of a tree in the magazine, as if saying…”Oooh, look at this tree!”
Haha! He was very invested in that magazine but was actually getting up to hoot about dinner when I snapped that photo! Magazines with trees are great but they’re no match for bananas.
tom austin says
is “Barn Kitty” the cats name?
It appears that the feline is a somewhat elusive creature, and as such has yet to reveal name, age, vaccination status, preferred pronouns, etc. I am just glad that the Barn Kitty remains on the premises.
Linda C says
It was sweet of you to remember Barn Kitty in your Thanksgiving message
Anthony, what a fabulous lesson in photography this posting is — and a great joy in viewing your handiwork and the chimps’ antics w/ their poses (wadge and all). Thanks for all the dedication and time you put into, well, everything! It’s greatly appreciated! I love the “tone” (if there is such a thing in photography) if these photos. JB does a great job of “tone” also! That shot of the countryside and distant sky is just breathtaking!
I hope some of these photos make it into tje 2023 calendar. Wonderful photographs!
Great post, Anthony! Thank you! I enjoyed it.
Nancy D says
Wow, that nifty fifty is worth every penney..fantastic photos. Cy seems to be showing you a picture of how to care for a tree. Both Cy and Gordo appear to be more handsome than ever–real heart throbs! Thanks Anthony for the explanation of the camera in layman terms.
Wel you definitely got a very clear shot of honey’s tongue up her nose! Ha!!
Love all the photos but especially of Lucky and Rayne up close and personal. And Cy and aDORAble and Gordo. Well, ALL of them!
All of these photographs are exquisite (of course, as their subjects are so beautiful): the Barn Kitty, Honey, Nutmeg, Annie redolent with her bedhair, Dora holding her food tray, Gordito sitting cross-legged, Rayne chewing up someone’s homework, etc. First among equals: Cy in mid-hoot while holding his magazine page.
Oh those photos of Rayne! WOW. What a study, from the fuzzy fluffs on the top of her head to her white beard and down to her hands and fingernails. And her expressions!! All of these photos are fantastic. Let’s hear it for the Nifty Fifty. Thanks! C
Have to add it looks as if Cy is givng you a lesson on his reading materials. Gordo, Dora, Lucky, and the Moo Crew, just so much fun to look at all the details on these beautiful faces.
Gloria Seifert says
I love all your pictures. The would be awesome framed
Kim Harris says
I think I could write a dissertation on how awesome these pics are! I don’t know how you managed to capture Cy’s pant hoot lips; they are perfect! All of these pics are so amazing. Being a caregiver at CSNW quickly parlays into becoming a photographer! Everyone seems to capture the best photos.
Barn Kitty is beautiful. She/He looks to be a great addition to the family.
I am always so moved by the daily posts, whether it be awesome pics and video, educational, or enjoying each of the personalities at CSNW. I often express my gratitude for the daily posts. But I won’t be able to do that for a few weeks because I’m having rotator cuff surgery in the morning. So, even though I won’t be able to comment, my thoughts will definitely be with all of you. I know I will especially be enjoying the posts while I’m recouping. I plan on continuing my reading of old posts while I’m out of commission (I’m into 2014 so far) so I can catch up to when I started following the posts.
Thank you for all of the great pics and the education on photography.
Linda C says
Wishing you a speedy recovery!
Kim Harris says
Linda, thank you for the well wishes. Surgery went well and pain is minimal. I’m even slowly typing one-handed!
Mary Garripoli says
Every one of these photos is terrific. You have captured each of the chimps; and their sweet, intelligent faces are beautiful to behold. Thank you for giving us a window into thier world. It makes me very happy to visit with them!
Linda C says
Thanks for the pics and the lesson, Anthony!
Barn Kitty certainly looks healthy…gonna give Neggie a run for her money in the Buddha belly contest! Do you feed him/her as well?, or do they exist solely on mice and voles?
Amy Bianco says
Thank you so much for sharing a day in the life of CSN! Your commentary and photos are superb! ?
Interesting post, Anthony, I have a relativrly “ancient” Nikon SLR 50mm and an I’m-too-lazy-to-get-up-and-look-at-its-brand telephoto. No digital, which I think forces me to consider more carefully what I’m snapping. Case in point, the nifty-fifty forced you to consider composition perhaps more carefully than a telephoto, as you have nicely done.
Which reminds me, I have a finished roll from my nifty-fifty I need to get developed. I have no idea what’s on it!
Margaret Bond says
Beautiful photos and descriptions. I always look forward to the daily posts.
DIANE M. KASTEL says
The close-up photos of Rayne, especially, the one at the top of the blog, are magnificent, and, the best I have ever seen! I also enjoyed the close up of Meredith. Much appreciated, Anthony.