Three Easy Tips for Better Zoo Photography
If you travel with children, there is a good chance you will end up visiting some zoos. Here are three easy tips to improve your zoo photography!
When we travel, and especially when we travel with the kids, we always seem to end up at a zoo. The kids are always quite excited about the animals, but the fun for us adults is often in the photography. Where else would we ever be able to (safely) get within two feet of a jaguar?
However, there are a lot of challenges to photographing wildlife in captivity. Bars and screens on the cages, or, sometimes worse, reflective glass, often leave you with images that are ‘meh’ at best. The enclosures often provide backgrounds that range from somewhat artificial to downright ugly. It is so disappointing to get up close with an amazing animal, only to get home and find that your photos don’t reflect the awe you felt!
Sometimes, there is nothing you can do – the barriers are too intrusive, and the enclosures are too artificial. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is highlight that fact, and recognize that it’s just the nature of a lot of zoos. Sometimes, however, there are things you can do to vastly improve your photos.
How to Get Better Photos at the Zoo
1) Get Close to Your Subject
Zoom Right In!
Get close to the subject. Zoom in as much as you can, and fill the frame with the animal’s face – cut out some or even most of the animal’s body, if necessary, and make the eyes the focal point of your photo. The face is the most interesting part anyhow, and faces have the most emotional impact, and therefore make striking photos. This does two other things. It reduces the amount of (often ugly) background in your photo. It also will tend to reduce your depth of field (the area in focus), making the background more blurry, which can obscure ugly little details.
2) Cut Out Ugly Backgrounds
Watch Your Background
Pay attention to the background, and change your angle for a better shot. This is especially possible in the natural-style bird and butterfly enclosures, where you can move around within the enclosure. Look for ugly bars and screens, and try to set up a shot where there is greenery in the background. Sometimes it pays to find the perfect background, then wait for the bird or animal to move into your shot. Feeding stations, if they are not too ugly or artificial, can really help with this.
3) Watch Out For Reflections and Glare
Reduce Glare on Glass
Get your camera right up to the glass. If the glass is dirty on the outside, sometimes you can give it a bit of a scrub with your sleeve or a diaper wipe, which will really improve the clarity of your photos. Often, though, the dirt is on the inside, and the best you can do is try to find the cleanest spot. If you can find a vantage point where you and the glass are in the shade, go there – sunshine increases problems with glare. Then get your camera lens right up against that glass – touching it, all around. Try not to tilt it so that your lens is at an angle; keep it perpendicular to the glass if at all possible. This will reduce or eliminate issues with glare and reflections, and leave you with much better photos.
We don’t have especially fancy equipment – a basic digital SLR with a zoom lens – but we’ve been able to capture some really dramatic photos from our zoo visits, which reflect our awe and amazement with the animals. Hopefully these three easy tips will help you do the same!