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I love photographing animals, so here is a comprehensive collection of zoo photography tips that are worth learning to make the most of your next trip to the zoo.
Anyone who is interested in wildlife photography would not miss the chance of a wildlife safari, but there are times when a safari is not a possibility due to a number of constraints (I'm looking at your money, time, and opportunity!). For anyone in a situation like this, here are some awesome zoo photography tips to get you up close and personal with the animals.
Of course, until you get a chance for a wildlife expedition, it is really good to visit the nearby zoo to get some images of the birds and animals – it won't replace photographing animals out there in the wild However, it can be a good way to practice photographing wild animals.
But here is what everyone needs to know about zoo photography…making images of wildlife in a zoo comes with its own limitations as most of the animals are caged or kept in enclosures that may be surrounded by glass or fencing.
So, here is a comprehensive list of zoo photography tips that you need to know before your next photography trip to the zoo.
So how was your first visit to the zoo? Did you return with great images? Were you happy with them? If you weren't, not to worry – we have some amazing zoo photography tips here for you so that you can come home with some brilliant images the next time you visit the zoo!
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Here Are The Zoo Photography Tips Everyone Needs To Know:
1. Blending Out The Fence:
Of all the zoo photography tips, this is one of the most important and one of the most difficult factors to overcome when photographing in a zoo. Most of the animals are kept within fences – especially birds, monkeys and other small animals. Even the bigger animals in larger enclosures are usually fenced in.
Photographing through a fence can be quite tricky especially if the fence is thick. Moreover, if the animal is close to the fence there is nothing that can be done to avoid the fence or blend the fence.
If you need a better image of animals or birds in a wired or fenced enclosure, you will need to use certain tricks to get a neat shot – although remembering that it is not always possible.
Here are the 5 key zoo photography tips for blending out the fence:
- Get very close to the fence – put your lens very close to the fence and use manual focus so that the camera does not focus on the fence (lenses can struggle with where to focus as the fence is in between, distracting the focus system). This way the fence can be made to “disappear” in the image
- Wider fences are easier to deal with as you can shoot through the gaps.
- Shooting at the widest aperture available preferably f2.8 will help you to blend out the fence in the foreground. The same applies to distracting backgrounds behind the animal, like habitat enclosures, feeding buckets, etc. and any fences in the background.
- Also, using a combination of longer focal length and wide apertures can help eliminate any distractions. That is, zoom in from a distance where possible or get as close with shorter focal lengths to get blurry foregrounds and backgrounds.
- In cases where you still have parts of the fences showing in the image and you really need to save the image, you will have to get the assistance of the cloning tool in your post-processing app.
2. Photographing Through The Glass:
Photographing through glass is the trickiest when it comes to zoo photographs because here you are dealing with reflections, oily smudges, and scratches on the glass. Some glass enclosures even have a colour cast in them that needs to be carefully dealt with during post-processing.
How Do You Avoid These Unwanted Reflections?
First of all find an area of the glass that has fewer specks and scratches and wipe the glass clean in that area, if possible, to remove oily or dirty smudges.
Use a lens hood or any black cloth around the front part of the lens to minimise glare – your lens needs to be against the glass. If there is any glare, tilt the lens slightly at an angle where the glare is eliminated or at least minimal and then shoot. You may need to pump up the ISO a bit (between 400 to 1000) here and switch to manual focus if focusing becomes a struggle!
3. Wait For The Action To Happen:
Photographing wildlife, in general, requires a lot of patience, observation skills and to be ready to shoot the action when it happens. So one of our zoo photography tips worth learning is understanding the behaviour of different types of animals before your visit to the zoo so you know what to expect at certain moments.
Feeding time is another a good time to be around as you can get some photographs where the animals portray their natural behaviour. This can also yield some funny moments.
Revisit the zoo a few times so you get to know the animals better and chances are, with each visit you get better images.
4. When To Visit:
The best time of the day would be early in the morning when the zoo opens because at this time, the crowds are less and the animals are out active and the light will be great too! Later during the day, the animals are tired and sleeping in areas where they can be away from the noise and other disturbances mostly caused by the visiting humans.
Sometimes animals are quite active just before sunset (the golden hour) and this is a time when you can get some great shots utilising the beautiful golden light.
What If All Else Fails And You Get Caught With The Crowd?
So, zoo photography tips 101 – make the best use of the situation! You can get some really good candids where you can show human-animal interactions. With children in the frame, it can be quite interesting if there are areas where children are allowed to feed the animals.
Also, most of the time you will notice that humans are excited to see these animals and some really enjoy being there observing what the animals do. Humans too can react humorously to animal behaviour. Stand back and photograph these moments as these can bring a smile to anybody’s face.
5. Don't Forget To Bring A Tripod Or A Monopod
Depending on how long you will be spending at the zoo (some may spend a whole day) you may need the help of a tripod or at least a monopod to give some rest to your hands occasionally while carrying heavy lenses around. But bear in mind, some zoos may not allow the use of tripods or monopods and you will need to check this with the zoo before your visit.
So now that you have an idea of what to expect and how to deal with certain issues that you will come across in a zoo, let us look at the gear and settings that you will need to create brilliant zoo photographs.
- You will need a camera that lets you shoot in manual mode so you have better control over exposure and other settings.
- Most of the animals are in enclosures far away from where humans are allowed to be – so a zoom lens is a must if you are visiting the zoo.
- The best lens would be the 70-200mm f2.8, for the brilliant images it produces, faster focusing and the reasonable zoom that it provides, but not everyone will own one as it is quite expensive.
- An alternative to the above lens would be the 70-300mm lens, where you may sacrifice a bit on the aperture value. Get the one with image stabilisation which is very important when dealing with longer focal lengths.