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How to Take Better Pictures at the Zoo

Updated on January 2, 2015

Leopard -Close Up

Close ups will eliminate unwanted backgrounds.
Close ups will eliminate unwanted backgrounds. | Source

Tips on How to Improve Your Zoo Pictures

Everyone loves going to the zoo. There is just a thrill you get when you can see that the animals up close and personal. When the animals are actually looking back at you, you seem to make some kind of connection with them. With many of the animals you can actually look them in the eye and it makes you wonder, just what are they thinking right now? Are they wondering why we are here, or just thinking about having us as lunch! We all like to take pictures when we go to the zoo. We take tons of pictures while we are there, but when we get home, most of the pictures just don’t come out the way we would have liked them to. Hopefully I am going to give you some tips here that will help you take better pictures at the zoo.


Puma, Mountain Lion, Cougar. Picture taken through glass.
Puma, Mountain Lion, Cougar. Picture taken through glass. | Source

Take Pictures in Bursts

If you have a digital camera that will take pictures in “bursts”, more than just one picture when you push the button, that is a great option to use. The animals are usually moving around and you may just catch that perfect shot that you weren’t really expecting. A lion may all of a sudden yawn or roar. A mother may nuzzle her little one or give it a lick of love. Use the auto focus option on your camera and it will keep the animal in focus as it is moving around. Remember, if you are using a digital camera, you can always delete the shots that don’t come out.

Naughty Giraffe

Giraffe sticking his tongue out for food.
Giraffe sticking his tongue out for food. | Source


If possible, try to catch the animal when it is either all in the shade, or all in sunlight. You don't want shadows on part of the animal. If shooting in the sun try to keep the sun on the side of the animal that is nearest to you. This will help with your light balance and will help you get good color and sharp focus. Visiting the zoo on what you know is going to be an overcast, (not rainy) day is a great idea. Not only is the weather going to be cooler while you are out walking around, but you won't have to deal with the shadow issues.

Close-Up of Zebra

Zebra - Taken from angle to remove unwanted background.
Zebra - Taken from angle to remove unwanted background. | Source

Eliminate Background Junk

Be sure and look for the “junk” in the picture. Look through the viewfinder and really see what else is in the picture. Try to move around if you need to, to eliminate some of the background. If you have a zoom lens, you can use it to zoom in on the animal and eliminate most of the background. Using a zoom lens will also blur out the background, which will make your subject really stand out. You want the animal to be the main subject on your photo, not the rocks or trees. See how much better the zebra picture above looks, without all the junk.

Zebra with Bad Background

Zebra with "junk" in the background.
Zebra with "junk" in the background. | Source

Personality and Habitat

You want to capture the personality of the animals, so zoom in! Be sure that you are focusing on the eyes (not the nose), the eyes and the windows to the soul. And, yes, I believe that, at least mammals, have a soul. Take several shots, some close up of the face, then back up and get a full frame of the animal. If the habitat is natural looking, get some of their “natural” habitat in some shots also. You want to document where and how they live as well.


Chimpanzee close-up to capture personality.
Chimpanzee close-up to capture personality. | Source


If possible, you don't want the fencing to show up in your pictures. When taking pictures through fences or caging, it is going to work best if the animal is about middle of the enclosure. Then get as close to the fence as possible. (Of course, stay within the safe boundaries set by the zoo.) Put the lense right up to the fence, be careful not to scratch it, but this will let you zoom in on the subject and blur out the fence in front of you. There may be a little distortion, but it will be minimal. If there is a fence or cage behind the animal and they are not too close to it, zooming in will also blur it out. The photo below of the caracal, was taken through a chain link fence.


Caracal - Shot through chain link fence.
Caracal - Shot through chain link fence. | Source

Shooting Through Glass

Be sure to take some type of glass cleaner wipes. Windex has small packages of window cleaner wipes. Children and going to have put their little hands and probably noses, against the glass and you need to clean the glass to get a good, clear shot. (A small bottle of hand sanitizer wouldn't be a bad idea either, just because!) When taking pictures through glass, a gradient lens will really help adjust your pictures. Either with or without the lens, you want to put your camera lightly against the glass at about a 25 degree angle and shoot the picture. (Remember to have wiped the glass clean first.) The photo below was taken through glass.


Serval - Phot shot through glass.
Serval - Phot shot through glass. | Source

Get Their Attention

"Rattle their cage." You can call the animals, talk to them and make all the little noises you want to, to try to get them to either turn around or come towards you. It's not going to work. They hear these types of noises all the time and have learned to just ignore them. What they do pay attention to is either the sound of the cage being opened or the sound of keys. When I say, "rattle their cage", I don't mean to get aggressive with it, just try to make it sound like you are opening it. Jiggle your car keys. All these gates and enclosures have locks on them. They are used to hearing keys rattle when their food is coming in. These are usually the best ways to get their attention.


Hyena coming towards me.
Hyena coming towards me. | Source

Well there are a few thing I hope will help you take better zoo pictures. and make your picture- taking trip to the zoo a little better! Remember, above all, make it fun. Oh yeah, be sure to watch the monkeys closely, because they like to throw poo! Have a great trip!

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