I know all of us would love to be wildlife photographers, but, to do so takes a huge investment in equipment and time and expense in going to far away places to do it right. No one knows how much time and expense it takes to be a good wildlife photographer until you can follow the life of a good wildlife photographer. I follow a friend of mine who is a great wildlife photographer and see how much time he spends at home, vs. the time he spends in the wilds and the amount of equipment he has in his equipment bag, and believe me, it is mind-boggling. (See: http://www.robswildlife.com/ )
So, the next alternative is THE ZOO! Hardly the same, I know. Funny, how it seems as I do photos for my blogs, and I try to collect photos for wildlife photos, I often wonder if the photos that are posted are ones taken at the zoo. If they are taken correctly, there may be a chance that we could never tell. Some zoos today have improved the environment for the animals to look more like their natural habitat. That makes it even more natural for us as photographers to get realistic photos. A tight crop of the animal and you may never know that they are behind a fence. But, in comparison to a wildlife photographer, who DOES include the surroundings the animal is in, then it is obvious that you have two different types of photos.
Let’s take a look at some general rules of taking pictures at the zoo, so you can enjoy the pictures and so will others:
GO EARLY IN THE MORNING:
Go early in the morning, this is when the animals are the most active and there are fewer people to have to shoot around. If you haven’t done it ahead of time, when you arrive, check out the zoo activities. Feeding times and any exhibits you may especially want to photograph are good to have planned out. If your zoo has an aquatic exhibit with performances, schedule your day to be in that area to catch the show. You should be able to get some great action shots. But be careful where you stand. If the zoo has large animal displays, people in the front tend to get pretty soaked and we all know water and cameras don’t mix. You’re better off positioning yourself up and back and using your telephoto lens.
HAVE ALL YOUR CAMERA EQUIPMENT READY IN ONE BAG, READY TO GO:
Have your camera bag ready to go with all the equipment you’ll need for an easy day at the zoo. Consider using your rolling backpack camera bag to make maneuvering through the zoo effortless. Besides your camera and telephoto lens, take along a tripod, if your zoo allows them. If not, ask if a string tripod would be allowed. They’re not as effective, but they will offer some stability. Have plenty of memory cards and batteries. If you have a lens hood, take it along. Since you won’t necessarily be able to have the sun where you want it and you will also be taking shots through glass, you’ll probably be able put one to good use.
BE POLITE, DON’T FORGET THAT YOU ARE THERE IN THE PUBLIC:
Be polite. Don’t forget that the primary purpose of the zoo is for everyone, especially families, to enjoy a day together viewing and learning about the animals. Don’t spread out and restrict the view of other visitors for extended periods of time. If your zoo does allow tripods, be courteous in setting it up. Choose a location where you can get your shot without inconveniencing others. Don’t set up on the sidewalks. Follow the rules, and be considerate of the other visitors.
SAFETY ALWAYS COMES FIRST AT THE ZOO:
You can get phenomenal shots and still operate safely. Again, follow the rules. Never cross barriers to get a closer view. The animals don’t understand you’re just trying to take their picture. To some of them, you could be breakfast. Safety always needs to come first. With the right equipment and techniques, you don’t have to climb fences to get that awesome polar bear picture. You’ve packed the right equipment in your camera bag to photograph safely.
USE A SHALLOW DEPTH OF FIELD WHEN SHOOTING THROUGH A CAGE:
You can use a shallow depth of field to blur any unwanted background and produce a great wildlife photograph. Many of our nation’s zoos are housing their animals in more natural settings, without the use of bars. There are still, however, many zoos with animals in cages. To photograph through a cage try to find a wide opening, if there is one. To take a picture through the bars, use a longer focal length and a wider aperture and get as close as you can, safely. Be patient and take your shot when the animal moves towards the back of the cage.
When photographing in glass enclosed exhibits, use your lens hood to reduce any glare. If you don’t have a lens hood and see glare in the glass, just move slightly until the glare disappears. If you’re in a dimly light, glass-enclosed exhibit and need your flash, use a diffuser and angle your camera to the glass to avoid glare from the flash.
If you follow these simple tips, you should end the day with a memory card loaded with fabulous wildlife images. Just remember; be prepared, follow the rules, stay safe, be polite, and have a great day at the zoo.
Thanks to PictureCorrect and Suzanne VanDeGrift for this timely article on how to take pictures at the zoo. I totally agree with everything that was written here. We have found that the best time to take pictures at the zoo is first thing after it has just opened. The feeding of the animals has just started, they are much more active, and the lighting is good, too. Every zoo is different. I know our zoo has some different animals than the zoo in California. So, it doesn’t hurt as you travel, to go and visit the different zoos. They are all very entertaining. The incredible thing I am seeing, at least here in the United States, is that the zoos are trying to get away from the “caged” look and creating more of a habit similar to what the animals live in naturally. So, taking pictures of these animals is becoming nicer and easier to do. The “caged” effect is going away. Our local zoo here where I live is under constant construction to help the animals have more of a natural habitat, and still keep the public safe.
Now, I want to take the rest of this blog and show some pictures that I have found from various zoos. I hope you will find them entertaining as well as inspiring as you go to the zoo this year. Here we go: