Don’t let interesting animal pictures fool you, zoo photography is harder than it seems. For every great shot, there are hundreds of failed ones. This is because zoos are not the best area to shoot in. for one, the animals are usually distanced from you hence posing a shooting problem. Also, you will seldom get time to yourself as other visitors are as eager as you to watch and sometimes even photograph the animals. What’s worse is that these animals are usually caged up making the idea of a clean shot seem more and more impossible. However, with the right guidance and a little practice you can make great zoo memories. Here’s how.
Zoo Photography Tip #1
Since you will be far from the animals, a long zoom lens comes in handy. This comes in handy whether the animal is too far or close from the cage. It especially works great for up close photos which you can later crop using a Photoshop app. Normally, anything between 100mm to 400 mm focal length works great since you will mostly be working with 200 mm and 300 mm focal lengths.
Lens hoods are also of equal importance to zoom lenses as in many cases, you will be shooting towards the sun. This is especially if you are after animals on trees or even birds. These cover your lens reducing flares. As a bonus, they also protect your lens from scratches which is quite useful in a buzzing environment such as the zoo.
In this kind of photography, stability is of great importance since in most cases the animals will be on the move. To avoid blur in your photos, a vibration reduction lens is the best option. However, these are not readily available to everyone, will a tripod be a good alternative? This depends on the zoo you are visiting. Most usually restrict the use of tripods. However, if there are no restrictions, a monopod will be more convenient.
Zoo Photography Tip #2
Cages: Unbox The Animals
Zoo Photography Tip #2
Cages and glass reflections are a photographer’s worst enemy. Unless they are intentionally placed there, they will be a serious distraction. So how do you get rid of them? Photoshop? Not really. For mesh cages, zoom your lens to a longer focal length and focus on the animal. Doing this in priority mode usually works best.
The same goes for glass cages but when paying more attention to the glass surface. Avoid any scratches by positioning yourself at the right angle. A good wipe down before working won’t hurt too.
Zoo Photography Tip #3
This is another great challenge that you will experience when it comes to zoo photography. Other than the glaring midday sun sometimes you will encounter cages that are not well lit. Lens hoods work for those sunny afternoons, however, for poor lighting conditions, the answers are in your camera settings.
In normal cases, using a tripod will increase your stability allowing you to take advantage of the shutter speed. But since the zoo is buzzing with activity, the chance to set up may not come along. You also risk your camera getting knock off.
A quick fix to this is to increase your ISO to no more than 1200 which will allow more light into the photo without making it too noisy.
Zoo Photography Tip #4
Declutter The Background
A messy background is, to say the least, very distracting to your photo. I mean, nobody wants a feeding trough or worse, a pile of poop (excuse my French) in their photos. In cases where cropping will not work, you will be forced to illuminate the background of the shot.
Physically positioning yourself and aiming directly at the animal is one way of eliminating unwanted backgrounds. Alternatively, you can blur out the background by shooting at a larger aperture (small f number). This usually provides a shallow depth of field which other than blurring the background, it allows the main focus to be on the animal.
Zoo Photography Tip #5
This is a no brainer, planning ahead allows you to not only pack the right gear but also know the zoo’s rules and policies. For instance, it is generally taboo to use a camera flash while shooting nocturnal animals. Going to the zoo’s website is one way of planning ahead that will not only help you know the animals available and the best time to visit.
Zoo Photography Tip #6
Timing Is Everything
There are days when the animals will not be doing anything other than laying around in their cages. This rarely presents any emotion evoking shots which calls for a lot of patience on the part of the photographer. Eventually, you will be lucky enough to get occasional movements and even some rare emotions such as yawning.
From observation, however, animals are usually more active when it’s almost feeding time. You will see them pacing around in their cages or yawning among other anxious behavior. Take note of feeding times and be there to be part of the action.
Zoo Photography Tip #7
Be On The Same Level As The Animals
In most cases, you will be forced to either crouch to the level of the animals or even stand on a higher ground to attain a good shot. While doing this, try to close in on the subject to create a connection with the viewer. Focusing on the eyes is also important as it gives your photos life.
Zoo photography is more about seizing the moment and mastering your camera settings. But aren’t all other kinds of photography? Don’t be too overwhelmed, relax and be patient, you will get your shot. However, if you are new to this, expect a few unfruitful trials before getting a good shot. Sometimes you might even go home empty handed.
Finally and most importantly, make sure you don’t disturb the animals to get their attention or liter the area. It is quite unprofessional not to mention uncouth. That said, remember, you are in the zoo, set your camera aside occasionally and remember to have fun.