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Sep 29

Photography Tip: 10 Tips for Taking Pictures at Zoos

I know I would love to go on safari in Chobe National Park in Africa, or dive for a week on the Great Barrier Reef, off the coase of Australia, but on a teacher and an account manager for a local business salary we do not have the means to go to those types of exotic locales.  Not many people do.  So, while I cannot afford that type of vacation yet (does not hurt to dream) I can try to get as close to the real thing as I can by visiting Zoos, wildlife refuges, aquariums, and drive-thru safaris.  They are a lot closer and do not require new vaccinations and a passport to go there.

I think that is one of the main reasons why Karen and I go to so many aquariums and zoos is because we cannot go and see the real thing.  For only a few bucks we can be transported to those safaris or dive spots that we would love to see someday.  It is also a great place to work on photography skills.  I have picked up several tricks along the way that have made my photography better. Here is my top 10 tips for taking pictures at zoos. To see my other photography tips, click here.

Tip 1 Follow the Weather

Black BearIf you are going to a zoo, or any location for that matter, to shoot wildlife you want to make sure the weather is comfortable.  Not for your sake but for your subject.  If it is too hot all you are going to get is bunch of animals laying around in the shade, and can you blame them for that?  Side tip, parents letting your kids bang the glass is not going to get the animal to move around for your entertainment.  Also if there is a chance of rain most animals will stay inside.  You can also damage your equipment if you are not well prepared.

Tip 2 Shoot through the Fence

LeopardThankfully zoos are slowly getting away from using bars to having glass enclosures or in the best case scenario moats or other visually low impact barriers to keep viewers and the animals safe from one other.  However, sometimes you have to shoot through wire or netting to get a photograph of the animal.  The best way that I have found to do this is to get as close to the wire as I can without crossing any boundaries and zoom in on the animal’s face.  Try to get the animals face centered in one of the gaps in the fence.  Usually you can make the fence blur out to become a small outline so that you can see the animals face in the picture framed within the fence.

Tip 3 Watch the Background

RhinosThe better shots tend to be the ones that do not look like they have been taken in a zoo.  The best way I have found to achieve this is to wait for an animal to move to a spot where the animal is not next to the concrete barrier.  This takes a lot of patience and sometimes going back a few times before the ideal shot can be taken.

Tip 4 Fill the Frame

Red PandaUsing a longer focal length, or in other words zoom in on your subject, will serve two purposes.  First, it will help with the background by giving the photo a more natural look because there will be less of chance that bars and concrete will be showing.  Secondly, it will make for a more impactful, detailed photo.

Tip 5 Get there Early

GiraffeThe closer you arrive to opening time the more likely you are to get great shots for a variety of reasons.  First, the animals will be moving around more since the weather will be cooler and we have found most of the zoo feeding times are early in the morning.  Second, the crowds usually do not arrive until about 10:00am so you can try to get some trouble free shots without being nudged or bumped by over-eager viewers.  Also you can take a little bit more time in an area without blocking someone else’s view.  There is nothing worse than a “professional” photographer setting up a shot and shooting away for 20 minutes blocking everybody elses view.

Tip 6 Stabilize your Camera

JellyfishIf you can use a tripod then use it because it is probably the best thing you can do to improve the quality of your photographs.  Now, a lot of places will not allow the use of tripod, but that does not mean that you cannot stabilize the camera in other ways.  I always look for edges or posts that I can set the camera on to help with this.  I also sometimes use my wife to lean on to help me get crisper shots than just holding a camera in my hands.

Tip 7 Get Down to Their Level

Free-Range KangarooI have mentioned this tip earlier which you can see by clicking here.  Getting to their level makes the photograph a lot more personal.  It also allows for an eye contact shot that makes or breaks an animal photograph.

Tip 8 Predict the Animal’s Behavior

Polar Bear LeapKeeping the camera up to eye level and watching the screen can get very tiring, it will also run down your batteries.  The best thing to do is to watch the animal for a little while and find a pattern.  That way you can catch something a little bit different like two grizzly bears play fighting.  It makes for a much more interesting photograph than the critter just sitting on a rock or perched in a tree.

Tip 9 Change your Perspective

Butterfly 2 St. Louis WatermarkAfter taking a few pictures in one spot and getting one that you like, or if you are not getting the shot you like, try moving around to a different angle.  Also, change the height that you are shooting at.  So many people just shoot from one level all the time.  Take a different perspective to add a little variety to your pictures, and make sure you take a few vertical shots.

Tip 10 Shoot and Shoot Some More

OrangutanIn the digital age, the only bad photograph is a photograph not taken.  It is so easy now to flip through your photographs and delete the ones that did not turn out very well.  Just keep shooting and the more photos you take the better you will get.  I know because my photography has come a long ways in just the few short years since I got started in this wonderful hobby.

Have fun and good luck!

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4 comments

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  1. Karen

    Kenny, you constantly stun me with your amazing photography! I am blessed to be your wife 🙂 I sure do love YOU!

  2. freda phillips

    Your photographs are always great. I love to look at them. I don’t know how you could get any better. Thanks for sharing them with us.

  3. Wildlife Photographer

    Hi,

    I was searching the Internet and found your awesome blog.

    1. Kenny and Karen

      Thank you for that wonderful comment- We appreciate you taking the time to read it!

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