Nikon Z 6 - Insights into photographing the Foxes at ZAO Fox Village
I am going to share the images I captured of the Foxes at ZAO Fox Village which is like a zoo of sorts that is located at Shiroishi , Miyagi Prefecture , Japan. I was there on 21st Feb 2019. This sanctuary for foxes has been opened since 30th July 1990 so thats like close to 29 years now.
It's not difficult to get to this place. I took a Shinkansen (9830 Yen per pax, no reservations) from Tokyo Station to Shiroishi-zao station. The comfortable ride was close to 2 hours , then followed up with a 30mins. taxi ride (4180Yen) to the Fox Village.
The entry fee was an absolutely affordable 1000 Yen which was then accompanied by a safety briefing by one of their english speaking staff. The main message I got was do NOT touch the foxes as they WILL bite and hospitalisation would be needed if it did happen.
There was no time limit and the photography I did was done in this relatively large open area with a natural landscape. The Foxes were roaming freely and did what they wanted unsupervised.
Nikon Z 6 ISO3200 1/500s f8.0 440mm focal length Hand-Held
Two male foxes "fighting" & being agressive to each other over a single female fox
Weather Conditions during visit
- temperatures between 3 DegC to 9 DegC
- very strong winds faced which did make it seem much colder
- light snow fell for about 30 mins
- unfortunately a lot of the snow in the open area had melted
Photography Hardware Used
- Nikon Z 6 mirrorless
- Nikkor F-mount 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR
- Nikkor FTZ adaptor
- Hand-Held throughout
Nikon Z 6 ISO1600 1/2500s f8.0 260mm focal length Hand-Held
It must have been the season because these interactions were going on all over the park.
Photography Tips to capture good Wildlife images
- Select the right foxes , foxes with healthy coats (and there were many to choose from)
- Capture from an appropriate to lower Point Of View (POV)
- Be especially selective of the background , focus on natural backgrounds when composing
- Zoom in tight to create more impact & minimize distractions
- Use the fastest shutter speeds possible to "freeze" explosive agressive action by the Foxes
- Normal AF Tracking setup is sufficient
- Focus on action & the animal's natural behaviour
Read the commentary accompanying each image to find more tips & photography insights
Nikon Z 6 ISO3200 1/640s f7.1 400mm focal length Hand-Held
I make it a rule to keep a "safe" distance from the fox , so a telephoto zoom like the Nikkor 200-500mm is an excellent focal length range to use. To capture the snow falling, composing with the darker background to provide contrast for the falling snow was intentional.
Nikon Z 6 ISO1600 1/1600s f8.0 320mm focal length Hand-Held
To capture close up action like this , I had to very aware of the composition with priority on being able to capture the facial expressions clearly & at it's peak moment
Nikon Z 6 ISO12500 1/3200s f8.0 450mm focal length Hand-Held
Depth Of Field was extremely important as I wanted both foxes to be in good focus , so selecting the right pair of foxes that were interacting a good distance away from the background was key to ensuring that the background bokeh was appealing and provided sufficient separation between subjects and background. f8.0 was a good aperture to use.
Nikon Z 6 ISO3200 1/800s f7.1 270mm focal length Hand-Held
Another image of the Red Fox "resting". For this composition, I wanted to show a soft natural background with the subject sandwiched with a soft foreground.
Nikon Z 6 ISO3200 1/500s f8.0 500mm focal length Hand-Held
Being observant was key to getting interesting compositions. As I observed the foxes , I could see the "Symmetry" which I felt created an appealing and impacful composition. This was exactly what I wanted to capture as seen in this image.
Nikon Z 6 ISO1600 1/5000s f8.0 500mm focal length Hand-Held
Do not be afraid to "clip" off parts of the subject as long as it was intentional. In the image below, the stalking posture of the White Fox was so much more important then the tail which was clipped off a little.
Nikon Z 6 ISO1600 1/1600s f8.0 410mm focal length Hand-Held
Another example of a natural looking environmental portrait of the White Fox.
Nikon Z 6 ISO12500 1/2000s f8.0 410mm focal length Hand-Held
Studying & being observant of how light & shadows were interacting with the foxes were again key to creating images that "pop". There were protective shelters for the foxes in this open area that we were photographing in. This female fox was partially in the shelter and with the sun at a lower angle in winter, the light hitting the fox was directional and not spreading to light the interior. This combination created the opportunity for me to capture this shot.
Nikon Z 6 ISO3200 1/320s f11.0 220mm focal length Hand-Held
Another environmental capture with 3 foxes resting at different locations. As you can see, I stopped down to f11.0 to get a more Depth Of Field (DOF) with the main AF point focused on the front most Fox.
Nikon Z 6 ISO1600 1/5000s f8.0 350mm focal length Hand-Held
The EVF Live Preview of the Z 6 mirrorless camera helps so much in getting the "best" exposure possible to capture maximum details of the White Fox.
Nikon Z 6 ISO1600 1/2000s f8.0 230mm focal length Hand-Held
The Silver Fox with a standard profile type capture. What I wanted was to capture the fox with eyes open ! It was easier said then done.
Nikon Z 6 ISO3200 1/320s f11.0 270mm focal length Hand-Held
The exposure settings were biased to provide more DOF to show the snow details in this close-up.
Nikon Z 6 IS03200 1/500s f8.0 45mm focal length Hand-Held
Froze the action & composed tight to mimize background distractions.
Hopefully my insights were helpful. Photographing in a place like ZAO Fox Village may not be to everyone's liking. To me though it was a GREAT place to photograph AND observe the amazing behaviour of these animals.
I would definitely make a 2nd trip next year and choose the month of January for a much better snow background. It is clear to me that the importance of the background is paramount as it can easily "make" or "break" an image.
More blogs coming featuring my recent personal winter wildlife trips.