Photographing in the Zoo
Those who love to look for zoos will probably have discovered that it is not so easy to come home with prize-winning photos. And although it is often thought that it is EASY to go to a zoo to photograph the animals, that is a different story if you go for it. Because it is precisely in a zoo that you have to deal with other factors. You are almost certain that you will see the animals. But the chance that you can also take a special photo is considerably smaller in a zoo. Why?
Thick glass, fences, concrete backgrounds and the crowds are just a few obstacles that you have to deal with in a zoo. The possibilities you have to choose your position are also very limited, and the animals are of course also very limited in their possibilities. The natural behavior is influenced by the unnatural way of life. And all this gives you, as a 'zoo photographer', the necessary bumps you have to overcome in order to get a good photo. In this blog I will provide you with some tips so that you, too, after your next zoo visit with good photos at home.
And how do you do that? It is not simply knowing your camera, of course it is important that you can estimate which lens you should use, and of course it is important to know the lighting triangle. But besides the technical side of the story you mainly have to deal with factors other than usual.
An important point is to think carefully beforehand, and to find out, in WHAT zoo you can make the most natural-looking photos. Which zoo has the most beautiful stays for the animals. They are certainly not all the same and that is something you should look for BEFORE you go, to avoid big disappointments afterwards.
When you go to a zoo, you usually want to see and photograph as many different animals as possible. But that is not the most sensible when you go to photograph.
The best photos you get in a zoo when you really can and will take the time.
To get good pictures in a zoo, it is important that you observe the animals well. That you talk to the caretakers so that you know when the animals are most active, when their feeding time is, and that you look closely at their stay so that you can estimate where you can make the best photos without it being immediately clear that you photographed a zoo.
Often in a zoo you will of course have to deal with bars or mesh. And that is exactly what you do not want in your photo. Are there ways to take pictures without you seeing it? Yes there are! If possible, place the lens hood of your lens against the fence. In 99% of cases, this results in the desired result because the unwanted mesh, or the bars, disappear from your image because your focal point is behind the obstacle. Set your aperture as large as possible ... this ensures nice blur in both foreground and background. Large aperture is small number,
The next obstacle you often encounter in a zoo is glass! Very thick glass. What is so difficult about glass now? Well the fact that it often suffices with fingerprints and other filth. There is really no time to clean that glass 10 times per hour so that you can easily photograph through it. And glass naturally reflects. With a bit of bad luck you see very little of the animal you try to photograph through the glass, but a lot of reflections from the audience and the surroundings on the side of the glass where you are standing. That is not what you want.
Can you prevent that? Again here, Yes definitely! A polarization filter naturally helps with reflections. But if you don't have one, try to put the lens hood of your lens against the glass. Find a piece of glass that is as clean as possible and put your sun canopy against it. You will see that the reflections are disappearing now and that you can get a nice sharp image. At an aquarium it is a bit trickier because it is already dark .. here you will have to play with your settings, mainly ISO and aperture, the shutter speed will have to be fast because a fish moves naturally continuously.
Because you have to do with glass, do NOT use the flash. This would only give you more problems, and your flash light bursting on the glass, it doesn't reach your subject and the animals just get scared.
If you have multiple lenses, take them all. Certainly a telephoto lens is definitely recommended. But also a macro lens can give you very nice images as they have a butterfly garden in more and more zoos. And what I have written before, with a macro lens, you can also take good portraits. If the distance allows, you can do much more with your macro lens than just macro photography.
Briefly summarized ...
Keep in mind WHAT zoo you are going to visit.
Put on DARK clothing to limit reflections in glass as much as possible
Find a QUIET by the weekday if you have this opportunity
Take your TIME per animal and OBSERVEER the behavior to be able to anticipate on this.
Place your camera AGAINST the glass, again to avoid the reflections, but the finger / hand prints also disappear to a large extent.
In case of mesh / bars, place your camera as close as possible to make your foreground disappear. (This does not work with a wide-angle lens, but I assume that you will hardly use one in a zoo).
Animals are usually active early in the morning when they come out of their night quarters
They are active around feeding time, check this on the internet or ask the caretakers
And if despite these tips you still can not quite manage to take the pictures as you would like to make them. Do not despair ... there is also something like photo editing.
Which in some cases is really a lifesaver.
I seldom show an example of this ... but in this case I show you an example of how editing can save your photo. With this leopard I had no choice but to just shoot. There was no possibility to come closer. I did not have another lens. This has already been shot at 300 mm with my 70-300. So I could not zoom in anymore. And this moment would not last long, so I had no choice but to just shoot and see what I could do when I got back home.
So in case you really have no other choice ... this is also an option.