Parque de la Naturaleza de Cabarceno: Top of the Bears Panorama

The view from the top of Cabárceno Natural Park

Parque de la Naturaleza de Cabarceno is a huge wildlife Park set in a 750 hectare old open-cut mine near Santander, Northern Spain.  This was my first solely photography trip abroad.  We were very lucky to be graced with beautiful blue skies for the 3 days we were there.  Santander was a 2 hour flight by Ryanair from London Stansted Airport, and Parque de la Naturaleza de Cabarceno is a 20 minute drive away from the airport.  

When I first saw the bear enclosure I was surprised by its size, the walled viewing area can be seen in the panorama.  The surprising number of Brown Bears and the vast enclosure they lived in was fantastic.  One of my hates about zoos is the size of the enclosures that wild animals are kept in.  I'm lucky that my closest zoo is ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, Bedfordshire.  I always thought ZSL Whipsnade Zoo was big but Parque de la Naturaleza de Cabarceno is just on another level.  The bear enclosure is so big that its hard to think this is a zoo, it could be easy to pass off images taken there as 'wild' but thats not something I would personally do.

From the viewing platform with your back towards the bear enclosure you can look across the park towards the mountains in the distance.  On my first visit to the park it made me think I wanted to find some way to portray the sheer size and beautiful landscape the park was set in.  Unfortunately even my ultra wide angle lens set at 12mm (18m effective focal length) was unable to fit the whole scene in.    

The Location

The platform at the Brown Bear enclosure is set at the bottom and you are looking up towards a steep sided hill where the bears are free to roam.  This is great as you can get eye level bear images in a natural setting.  Whilst standing on the viewing platform my friend and I noticed the fence at the top of the bear enclosure and thought the views from there would be great.  We studied the park maps and looked for footpaths towards that area.  On the final day we were there we had the time available to try the footpaths we had located.  It was a long walk that took about 30 minutes in the midday sun up the side of the old mine.  Once up the top we had the great views down on the bear enclosure and across to the mountains in the distance.  

The Shoot

This was my first try at a panorama image, I had previously read about how to do it.  As I had left my tripod in the car boot and it would not have been much help anyway due to the 6ft high fence in front of me.  So the fence was not in the photo I had to hold the camera above the fence.  This was a mistake in some ways and I would not recommend anyone trying this, it not something I will do again.  The fortunate thing was the safety fence was electric and the safety wires were missing.  On my second try of capturing a panorama I inadvertently touch one of the electric wires whilst panning the camera.  I can definitely say I know why the bears don't touch them and it was an experience I wouldn't like again. 

Six images were taken at 12mm using the setting f8, 1/640 sec, ISO280.  An overlap of about 25-50% was used to ensure the images could be stitched together easier.  My inexperience of landscape photography meant I the aperture setting was perhaps not the best, f11 may have given a larger depth of field, whilst the high shutter speed 1/640 could have been lowered to give a low ISO value.  Values such as 1/100 f11 ISO 100 would have given a similar exposure without any any camera shake issues and an increased depth of field. I was also using the auto ISO function to give the correct exposure as it was difficult to see what exposure values required were required.  I did use the exposure lock button to ensure the camera did not change the exposure on each of the 6 shots.  If I had no touched the electric fence I would had adjusted the exposure settings but after that I did not want to try again.

Processing

The panorama was made by stitching together 6 photos in Adobe Photoshop Elements 9 and then transferred to Lightroom 4 for further editing for my usual processing adjustments.  The final image is cropped to a suitable aspect ratio to keep as much of the image as possible.  I decided to keep the fence to the left in the frame as it was part of the story of this image, it would have been possible to crop this out but for me its part of their environment.  The photomerge function in Photoshop Elements 9 makes panoramas surprisingly easy.  

Landscape photography is one type of photography I would like to learn more about over the next few years.  There is plenty to learn about landscapes and it is quite different to my normal wildlife photography.

Getting there

If you would like to visit Cabarceno Wildlife Park you can find out more information here.  I can highly recommend staying at Posada Rural Bernabales.  We were made to feel very welcome, the accommodation was fantastic and its only about 10 minutes drive from the wildlife park. Ryanair fly directly from London Stansted to Santander. They are a budget airline and their comical flight arrival announcement is worth the experience!