Where else can you go and spend a day photographing wild and exotic animals without leaving the city? The zoo, of course! You can take your time to get the perfect shots in a relatively safe environment. Keep in mind you are dealing with wild animals. And, if you choose to take the opportunity to get up close for that terrific shot of the llama, don’t be surprised if she spits at you.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
About the Author
Suzanne VanDeGrift of has developed this article for M-ROCK.com, manufacturer of backpacks.
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