Have you ever wished you could go on safari and get some great exotic wildlife photographs?
I wish it all the time. But the wilds of Africa are just a little out of my budget at the moment, so I have to settle for regular trips to the zoo. While it’s not exactly the African Savannah or the Brazilian Jungle, I have found I can still exercise my creativity, have fun and get great photographs.
Here are a few tips for making the most of your next safari to photograph zoo animals.
Use a Long Lens and a Wide Aperture
In order to make your zoo photos look not quite so zoo like, you want to eliminate as many of the distractions that make a zoo look like a zoo as you can. The best way to do this is to eliminate as much of the background as possible, especially if it involves fences, gates and other artificial elements. Using a telephoto lens, especially a zoom telephoto, and shooting at a wide aperture will help you get close AND put everything else out of focus. If you don’t know about aperture and depth of field, here’s a handy depth-of-field primer for you. Besides, getting close to your animals–at least photographically–makes for far more interesting photographs.
Avoid the Fence
Very often, especially with birds and other smaller very mobile animals, their zoo enclosures are marked by chain link or mesh fencing of some kind. Shooting through a chain link fence doesn’t normally make for great photos. After all, it isn’t the chain link you came to see, right? But with careful planning you can often get a great photograph in spite of the barrier. The eagle and bird below were both photographed through a chain link barrier. Here’s how: Choose an animal who is some distance away from the front barrier of the enclosure. Find a spot where the sun is not shining on your fencing, especially if it is metal. Using your long lens, get your camera as close to the fencing as possible. Now, focus on your subject. If you are close enough to the fencing AND the sun is not shining on it, it should virtually disappear and leave you with a great close up of the animal on the other side.
Go For the Close Up
In the zoo, it is often very difficult, if not impossible to get a great full-length photograph of an animal and not have it be obvious that you are at the zoo. The answer to this is to use that long lens (I told you it was an essential) and go for a close image, a portrait, so to speak.
If you want great photographs, patience is essential, whether you’re photographing toddlers or photographing animals at the zoo. Be willing to spend some time just observing the animals before you photograph them. As you spend time learning about different animals and watching their behavior, you are much more likely to be ready for a great photo opportunity when it appears. The photographs you see in textbooks and travel brochures are not always the most memorable pictures. Don’t try to duplicate them, but concentrate on capturing the personalities of the animals in front of you.
The whole point of a trip to the zoo is fun, right? So, don’t get so caught up in the perfect photo that you forget to enjoy your trip to the zoo. Make lots of fun photographs (don’t forget some pictures of your kids), enjoy the animals and keep going back so you can keep improving your animal photography and be ready when you finally get to go on a real safari.