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Tips for Better Zoo Photography

Updated on June 23, 2016
Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)
Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) | Source
CC0 Public Domain
CC0 Public Domain | Source
(CC BY-ND 2.0
(CC BY-ND 2.0 | Source

Tips for better zoo photos

By writing at the zoo photography tips I hope to offer some advice which I have accumulated over twenty years as an avid photographer and tons of trials by error experience.

Use it as an opportunity of taking better shots of wild animals that otherwise would not be possible unless one was to travel to Africa, South America or any of the exotic places where zoo animals come from.

Unfortunately, most zoo operating hours are not ideally suited for photography. By the time you buy the tickets, take a bathroom break, get the map and make it to the tiger's exhibit, the tiger is sleeping or lounging around just causally looking at those strange bipeds staring at him. So you run to the gorilla's enclosure only to find more of the same.

If you have ever wondered why zoo animals are always asleep or basically just laying around, even thought you raced to get there just as the park opens, it's because they were fed about two hours before the park even opened.

Zoo animals offer most of us the chance to take great wildlife photos without having to travel outside of the country, although nothing beats an experience in the African plains, most often than not the prices for such trips can be overwhelming.

Here's a tip, most, if not all, zoos have special viewing times for zoo members, zoological association members and zoo donors. These special viewing times carry a fee but can be manageable. But the best is that they are usually during the best times for photographing animals in action.

These times are earlier in the morning or later in the afternoon, when the temperature is cooler and animals are eagerly awaiting their meals. Think of it, would you want to be prancing around after a full stomach or during the hottest part of the day?

Once you find yourself at the zoo during these special times, concentrate on taking shots that represent the animal in their natural environment as best you can. Try to avoid shots in which the animal's enclosure is visible. Also try avoiding un-natural looking "rocks", plastic or resin trees, fencing, and obvious feeding stations.

Remember that the goal is to represent the animal as it would be represented if it were in its natural habitat. However, if you plan on selling your shots, be very clear and forthcoming in identifying the shots as being taken in a zoo.

When photographing your zoo adventure, concentrate on the animals eyes, even if other parts of the animals are not sharp or slightly out of focus, the eyes must always be sharp and clear. Do take advantage of freely roaming zoo animals, such as peacocks, to do close ups when safe for your and your subject.

If you find your subject behind a fenced enclosure, place your lens as close to the fencing as possible and use a wide aperture. This will render the fencing almost invisible with just a minimal loss of detail. If your subject is behind an acrylic or glass enclosure, the same holds true, get your lens as close to the barrier as possible otherwise the glass or acrylic will promote reflections which will be visible on the final print.

The better zoos are those in which the environment has been carefully planned so that the animals have space to roam and made to look as natural as possible, a good example is Metro Zoo in Miami Florida. All enclosures are open air and you can get close with any medium sized zoom lens. Seek this type of zoos for better photographic opportunities.

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Better zoo photography

Using a long lens isolates the animal from its enclosure
Using a long lens isolates the animal from its enclosure | Source | Source
This lion had several concrete formations near, a long lens isolates it from these
This lion had several concrete formations near, a long lens isolates it from these | Source

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© 2011 Luis E Gonzalez


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    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 7 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      Thanks for the great tips on photography. I actually understood :). Wonderful hub...interesting and enjoyable read. :)vocalcoach

    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 7 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Thank you, glad to see that you've enjoyed my hub.

    • dablufox profile image

      dablufox 7 years ago from Australia

      Some great tips and some interesting shots. I have been to most Zoo's in Australia and have never really given much thought about how to take the best shots of Zoo animals until I read your article.

    • medor profile image

      medor 7 years ago from Michigan, USA

      This is so cool I love zoos, Columbia SC, Columbus OH, San Diego, Edinburgh and Detroit amongst my favorites. It was always raining in Scotland so the flash became my friend along with a rain parka big enough to keep my camera protected. Nice article shared in with FB and my followers. Thanks great way to start the day.