Photographing Animals at your Local Zoo Part2

Assuming you are all geared up and have your best pair of walking shoes on, what should you be thinking about when you photograph animals at your local zoo?

Meerkats make fun subjects because they appear to not mind humans. This fellow was sunning himself in the sunlight and it stayed put allowing me to move until I found a clean uncluttered background.

Things to Consider

I doubt I would ever get a picture of a fox yawning like this in the wild unless I spend days in an uncomfortable hide.

You will usually be restricted to no more than a-180 degree view of each animal’s enclosure.

There are, of course exceptions, like enclosures for small animals like a colony of meerkats or aviaries or walk-through exhibits like for butterflies.

In the case of butterflies, having access to macro lenses can be a huge advantage.

Take a look at a short video clip I shot at the Butterfly Farm in Penang island, Malaysia where I grew up.

Otherwise, the majority of your pictures will be taken with a telephoto (300mm) or a long zoom (100-400mm).

This African Fennec was photographed through a wire mesh fence with my zoom lens pressed right up agains the fencing. Because I used a wide open aperture of f5.6, I was able to blur that out.

Also keep in mind that zoos with a few exceptions, don’t landscape the enclosures very well.

Standing still at 12 feet tall and weighing 1.5 tons against the palm trees, it took me a few moments to realize this giraffe was there because it was so well camouflaged.

So if  you’re after pictures of creatures in as natural surroundings as possible, consider these:

  • Be patient. If you can’t isolate  your subject even with your lens, you may have to be patient and wait till the creature moves to a better backdrop/background.
  • Pay attention to the  light. Low light levels mean possible camera shake and exposure problems especially if you shoot on automatic exposure modes.
  • Remember it’s not the quantity of light but the quality, so go back when the lighting conditions work better.
  • Plan your arrival to coincide with feeding time.
  • Strive to make your picture different. We’ve all seen pictures of these creatures over and over again. Try to come up with a ‘twist’ or your interpretation of a subject that has been photographed millions of times.

    Big horn sheep are so well camouflaged, you have to get up close or else you risk losing them in their background.
  • Don’t include identifying tags on the creatures’ foot if they’re birds or the tell tale wire mesh  of the enclosure if possible.If the enclosure is big enough, putting the front of your lens right up against the wire or glass and shooting with a wide open aperture will blur out the fencing or minimize the glare or reflections.
  • Visualize your image in the viewfinder as you would want it hanging on your wall, shooting as tight as you can. That way if you have a winning image, it will hold up when you make a large print.
  • Shoot raw as this option gives you the most flexibility in post production especially if you can’t get any closer despite your using a telephoto.
  • If the animal is very active and your light is marginal, increase your ISO even if it means your image will be noisy. A sharp image without camera shake is better than a blurry one.
  • Attend those animal behavior shows especially when the creatures have been well trained. Those can be great opportunities for good pictures.

Do be careful when you see a show like the one below which I shot while on vacation in Malaysia back in 2007.

I would guess that the more  research and preparation you do, the more likely you will be happy with your work at the end of the day.

Please share any of your own tips under comments.
Peter Phun Photography

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2 thoughts on “Photographing Animals at your Local Zoo Part2”

  1. Sabe,
    Thanks. I wouldn’t say exactly that they’re great pictures though. I had fun. Almost wished I didn’t drag the family along because you can imagine what it’s like working under pressure at each exhibit, can’t you? 🙂

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