Very few of us can afford the luxury of travelling across the globe and seeing a wide range of animals in their natural habitat. Visiting the plains of the Serengeti or travelling down the Amazon is all but a dream for many. So, the next best thing is to take a visit to a Zoo or Wildlife Park.
And that’s what I did. A couple of months ago, I took a trip to the zoo. In this case, it was the wonderfully-spacious Whipsnade Zoo in Bedfordshire, England. Of course, my camera came with me. Here are my top tips for taking great zoo photos.
Make it Look as Natural as Possible
Watch your background. To make it look as though the animal is in the wild, you’ll need to choose your position carefully and try to keep unnatural objects out of shot such as a cage or fence posts. Watch for people walking in the background or even other animals (you don’t want to end up with an elephant with two heads). If need be, crop tight on your subject or use a shallow depth of field.
Watch those Fences
Many zoos are great in allowing the public to have an unrestricted view of the animals. But for the more dangerous species, they’re often guarded by fences and cages. This means you’ll have to take photos through the cage bars. However, this is possible. To remove the fence from your pictures you need to move as close as possible to the fence. Position the camera so the lens is pointing through one of the gaps. You’re best off adjusting the aperture to an ‘open’ setting; this will give the image a narrow depth-of-field and throw the fence out of focus. Hopefully the fence will be so blurred it won’t be seen in the photo.
Please do not try to climb or cross the barriers to get a better shot. They are there for a reason!
Some enclosures will have glass viewing points, enabling the public to get up close and personal with the wildlife. However, it can cause a problem with photography. It can be tough to get a clear shot and there will inevitably be hand prints all over it. If this is the case, carry a cloth to wipe the area you will shoot through. Get the lens as close to the glass as possible to avoid any unwanted reflections.
Get There Early… Leave Late
This is usually the time when animals are the most active. If you’re visiting in the height of Summer, most animal’s activity will be very limited in the harsh midday sun. The other advantage of getting there early and staying late is the zoo is quieter. With less people around, it’s easier to get in those great positions and avoid getting the public in your shot.
Speaking of the public, be polite. Remember, your camera doesn’t grant you extra privileges. Everyone is there to see the wildlife and have a good day.
Either before the day of your visit or checking as you arrive, be sure to look at the zoo’s feeding schedules. Some of the best pictures will come from these activities. Zoos will also hold performances and demonstrations. Again, these are well worth watching and snapping. Be aware though… if you decide to take in a show that involves water (seals, dolphins and other aquatic mammals), there’s a chance that you could get wet – along with your camera equipment, so stand back!
Limit Use of Flash
Flash is prohibited in many parts of zoos, so look out for the signs indicating where you can and can’t use flash. In most cases, it’s better to use the available natural light and increase your ISO levels if you need to shoot with a faster shutter speed.
Lastly, and I often end with this tip, look around! Put your camera down once in a while and look around. The wildlife is fascinating and always better to witness with your own eyes.