Photography that works
The challenges of taking photos at the Zoo
The beauty of zoo photography is that you are relatively close to animals. The challenge is that the environment is not a natural one: there will be distracting elements in the background or foreground that could be a problem for taking pictures through glass or fencing.
Here are some tips that may help improve the photos you take at the Zoo:
Taking pictures through fencing
Try to find a wide opening in the fence or put the lens as close to the fence as possible without violating Zoo animal safety rules. Make sure you focus past the foreground to the animal. Use a longer focal length lens. Choose a larger aperture opening. The smaller the number, the larger the aperture- f4 is larger than f8. A larger aperture will put the foreground out of focus and make the fence disappear. If you are using a point-and-shoot camera, put the setting on portrait mode. Wait for the animal to move away from the fence or enclosure material.
Taking pictures through glass
To eliminate reflection, get in close to the glass. Use a lens hood or cup your hand around the front of the lens to eliminate reflection. Wear dark clothing to minimize your own reflection. Attempt to shoot at right angles. Wait until guests have left or find an area where there are fewer people. Bring cloth or use your sleeve to wipe smudges off the glass. If the smudges are on the inside of the glass- good luck!
Focus on the eyes
Get the eyes in focus and in a prominent position in your picture. Get down low- photograph the animal down at its level if possible. This is a way of creating a sense of closeness and intimacy with your subject.
Use a faster shutter speed
If the animals are moving, use a faster shutter speed. Switch to shutter priority if you have a DSLR (digital single-lens reflex camera), or switch to sports mode if you have a point-and-shoot camera. In order to obtain a higher shutter speed, you may need to increase ISO.
You can eliminate unwanted foreground or background by getting close to your subject and using a longer focal length lens. If possible, try to shoot from angles where there is vegetation. Where there are distractions, try using a larger aperture, which narrows the depth field (the foreground or background will then be out of focus).
Give yourself an extended period of time to camp out at the enclosure. Be ready- keep the camera up to your eye. Arrive at the Zoo early when there are fewer people. Go alone- when you are with someone, you may be talking and miss that great shot. Cloudy/overcast days are great for taking pictures of animals. The lighting is softer and there is less contrast.
It is so much fun photographing our wonderful animals. Getting that great picture is often being in the right place at the right time. But it does help to keep these tips in mind to get that perfect picture.