Photographing Animals at your Local Zoo Part1

A mountain lion takes a drink in its enclosure. This picture was taken through a thick glass. I was so close, I could almost hear her purr.

We all have dreams of going on a safari in Africa.

But how many of us have the deep pockets or the time to do this?

So a trip to your local zoo to photograph the animals may have to do for now. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • a long telephoto lens (300mm and longer)
  • a monopod
  • a cart for your gear

If you don’t have a long telephoto lens, you can rent one from Borrow Lenses or if you happen to live in the Los Angeles area, you can head to Samys Camera.

Getting close is often your biggest problem. This image of a big horn sheep was taken with a 300 mm lens on a Canon 40D which has a cropped sensor, so the effective focal length was 480 mm (300 x 1.6) yet he appears small and hard to differentiate from his surroundings.

lens rental
I like Borrow Lenses because you don’t even have to leave your home.

They ship it to you.

And when it’s time to return it, you drop it off at Fedex.

With today’s gas prices, the less I have to drive, the better.


I attached a Gorillapod on the handle of the Magna cart for my Point-and-Shoot compact camera for some self-timer group shots.

Since you’ll be doing a lot of walking at the zoo, I highly recommend a cart.

The Magna Cart fully extended is 39″ tall.

It weighs a mere 7 lbs  and can hold 150 lbs.

It  folds down easily to 25″ x 15″.

Where this cart shines is the size of its wheels.

I dragged my cart through sand without problems or difficulty on my visit to the Living Desert, thanks to its oversized wheels.

Most zoos are paved and handicap accessible, so you shouldn’t have any problems even in sandy ground.

This cart is just the thing for the photographer in your life who has more gear than they can carry.

The question is whether they own a bag that is big enough to hold everything.

I brought a Speedlite but I never used it because in most cases, the animals were either behind glass enclosures, fencing or just too far away.

I brought a 70-300 variable aperture zoom, specifically the  Canon 70-300mm f4.5 -5.6 DO  lens during my trip to the Living Desert.

Mouse over the image above to see why I like this lens.

At the 70mm setting, the lens is very compact and its physical length only changes when set at the 300mm end.

I like the fact it’s black and therefore low-key unlike the more expensive “L” series white lenses with red lines.

I purchased this used lens on ebay for $730.

Since most of my photography is portraiture and events these days,  I can’t justify buying a long telephoto with a price tag in excess of $1K which I’ll use once-a-year.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my visitors here in the US. Make it a safe holiday. Don’t eat and drink too much.

I’m embedding one of my favorite video clips I shot in Malaysia.

Next: Part 2:Things to Consider when Shooting Animals at the Zoo
Peter Phun Photography

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