Ten Tips For Getting Better Zoo Photographs
Luck certainly helps – but time, effort, and experience will improve your odds.
- Moving subjects can pose challenges, but try this: for an animal following a regular path, focus on a spot on the path and shoot when the subject reaches that point. For randomly moving creatures – waterfowl, for example – when using a tripod, don't tighten the tripod's pan and tilt controls completely: leave them loose enough so you can follow-focus the subject. You will still get sharper pictures this way than if you try to hand-hold the camera.
- Wire fencing is less of a problem if you can get close to it, use a lens of 100-mm or longer, and shoot at a wide aperture. Place the lens front right on the wire and focus on the distant subject: shallow depth-of-field will make the wire "disappear" – but check your preview button first just to make sure. Watch out for seemingly harmless critters that can bite through the fence, however, like ostriches, emus, and cranes.
- Filters are of limited use when you're trying to show animals in their natural environment. With the exception of an occasional polarizer and warming filter, they're best left at home.
- Be respectful and considerate of the animals: clapping, whistling, yelling, or
throwing things does little good if subjects are just sitting there. In all likelihood,
you'll probably scare them further away. Patient observation really is the best way
and you'll avoid the wrath of the Zoo Keepers.
- Photographing down at animals often yields disappointing results. Instead, concentrate on exhibits that let you shoot up at them or at least at eye level.
- Some exhibits are photographically impossible. Tile walls, concrete floors, fluorescent lights, and smudged glass do not make for interesting shots. The newer outdoor exhibits are better for animals and photographers alike.
- The eye is the window to the soul. As with human subjects, a portrait of an animal should have the critical focus on the eyes; the nearer eye if the head is at an angle to you.
- Shooting through glass is difficult but not impossible if you can get your lens up close to the glass and it's relatively clean. Use a flash for illumination and a flexible rubber lens hood to block stray light. Light bouncing back from the glass will be foiled by automatic flash units, so calculate exposure manually or use a camera with a TTL flash meter and a dedicated flash.
- In the contrasty light of a sunny day, the eyes of gorillas and chimps may be lost in the shadows of their massive brows. Don't switch film; switch light. Go back on an overcast day when the flat, even light will reveal exquisite detail.
- When subjects inside the exhibits don't excite you, look for those on your side of the fence. Check flowers, foliage, and insects for potential close-up photographs.
- Members of your own strange species can be fascinating as well – but this is one area where it's best to work with friends and family. Be careful of photographing people you don't know.