Top 10 Zoo Photography Tips

Are you happy with the photographs you took last time you went to your favorite zoo? Photographing animals at the zoo affords the photographer many unique experiences to get up close and personal with a variety of animals, but as with any type of photography, it’s not as easy as just aiming your camera and shooting. To help you get started, here are some basic tips to improve your zoo photography experience.

giraffe portrait

photo by Nicki Mannix

1. Fill the Frame

Some animal exhibits are nicer than others, but even in the nicest ones, photography composition can be tricky. Sometimes either the angle is a little complicated or there’s a fence to remind us that these animals are in a zoo and not in the wild. So when this happens, the best advice is to zoom in or crop the image so you can fill the frame with the animal and not what’s around it.

fill the frame

photo by William Warby

2. Capture Animals’ Interactions with Each Other

Portraits are nice, however the cutest image opportunities are usually when you see a family together. A mom’s tenderness for her baby is always a good reminder of love in the animal kingdom. There are also happy gestures among siblings or other family members.

animal interactions

photo by Bob Haarmans

3. Try Different Angles

When we approach a new animal exhibit, we always think first of the most obvious composition, but moving around is the key to open a lot more possibilities.

zoo photography angle

photo by John

Some animal exhibits are great because they allow you to move fully around the animals; you may have to hunch down to be at their eye level, but it pays off!

4. Choose the Zoo Carefully

The best zoos for photography are definitely the more modern ones. It helps when they have nice decorations, with scenery of plants, rocks, or even sand that replicate the animals’ natural environments.

5. Quality vs. Quantity

It’s easy to enter a zoo and want to see it all. That’s a good idea for a first visit; however, if you want to get cool photos, you must limit yourself to spending more time with few animals. That’s how you make sure you get really good shots.

6. Be Patient and the Animal May Look at You

These beautiful creatures are cute when they’re sleeping, eating, or playing, but I have to admit that it’s magical when they look at the camera.

Patience is really a virtue when photographing animals. Please behave and don’t shout at them, start jumping, or waving to get their attention—that doesn’t help anybody. I’ve seen people doing that and animals turn around or walk away. Some seem used to being annoyed like that, so they just ignore that kind of human behavior.

patience for zoo photography

photo by angela n.

My advice is to stay still and quiet; they might be curious at some point and look straight at you with sweet eyes.

7. Avoid Crowds

Animals are annoyed by crowds and when this happens they just go hide. So choose wisely the day and time when you go to the zoo. If going on weekends is more convenient for you, just go in the morning. Try to go as soon as they open the zoo to take advantage of some of the best lighting conditions of the day.

8. Focus on the Eyes

People say the eyes are the windows to the soul, and that could be the very essence of a picture. Camera manufacturers are aware of this, which is why the latest cameras often detect the eyes when focusing on faces.

sharp eyes

photo by Mathias Appel

Some animals have unique eyes and it’s important to have that part of the photo sharp focused.

9. Animal Textures

Sometimes animals won’t do much. Sometimes they’re resting in a position that isn’t flattering. So what can we do about it? Well, since we cannot persuade them to pose, we have to pay attention to what we’re looking at. What if we do a close up so we can capture textures?

Those texture photographs can be beautiful. You might be surprised by how nice they look and see a different beauty in animals.

10. Zoo Etiquette for Photographers

Photography is welcome in most zoos, but you need to follow these etiquette guidelines:

  • Respect the animals.
  • Do not use flash on the animals.
  • Do not get in the way of other visitors while taking photos.
  • Stay behind any barriers and stay in the public areas at all times.
  • Check if the zoo allows the use of tripods. Some zoos only allow monopods.

Some of these guidelines may seem like common sense, but it’s not always the case. I’m sure this will help you next time you take your camera to the zoo.

About the Author
Diana Varela takes pictures of animals because she loves interacting with them ( The beauty of nature’s design is simply amazing. Many years ago, she was a volunteer at a zoo in Mexico City. Getting to know all the different animals there was incredible.

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