Thursday, December 15, 2011

Tips for photographing at the zoo

Stuttgart's Zoological and Botanical Gardens

Sun may be fun, but a gray day is in many ways prime time for visiting the zoo. No crowds to block your view or rush you along, so you can see everything at your leisure. Nevertheless, some animals are difficult to photograph. In the winter the ostriches are in a glass house and the giraffes are inside behind bars, so it's hard to get the whole animal in one picture. What to do?

Concentrate on the details. Pull out your telephoto lens - if you don't have it on already - and look for interesting parts of animals. You could even put together a collection of the animals' noses/snouts/ trunks/beaks! Or their ears. Or their eyes. Use your imagination!

Another type of animal that is difficult to photograph are the fish. The aquarium is very dark and the glass is often smeared by all the kids who have tried to get nose-to-nose with the sharks.

So pump up your ISO and look for a clean spot on the window (or clean it off with your sleeve). It is also helpful to put your lens (without the hood) right up to the glass so you don't get your reflection in the picture. Don't worry about hunting for the fish; they'll eventually swim right by you. Keep your finger on the shutter button and click away. It helps to keep your other eye open so you can anticipate when an interesting fish might swim by. An open aperture will allow you to use a faster shutter speed. This technique may also result in interesting shots you might not have composed otherwise.

Even the animals you might consider less interesting - because they aren't as exotic - can fascinate you by doing unusual things. This toad seems to be shedding its skin. It was pulling off a layer of slime and eating it bit by bit. Maybe it was an 8-year-old male. They've been known to do that, too.

I love photographing the pelicans. They glide through the water so gracefully and they are much larger than you would think. At the Wilhelma there are always several of them in the reflecting pool near the seas lions. Again, sometimes a detail makes for an interesting picture. The background here doesn't take the viewer's eye away from the main subject but somehow adds to the picture because it looks somewhat feathery, underlining the pelican's texture.

Or you may opt for more of the animal. They do have wonderfully beautiful feathers and magnificently strong wings.

At the other end of the pool is a 150-year-old building that serves as a beautiful backdrop, in this case to a cormorant plucking at itself.

Finally, when you run into areas of the zoo where there are flocks of birds or lots of animals in a herd, you may find it difficult to pick one out of the pack. There are a couple of ways you can attack this problem. Use a very shallow depth of field and then wait until one animal gives you its best pose while the others are not posing:

Or you can shoot into the middle and hope that the composition ends up being attractive enough to make the resulting photograph interesting. Here I think the heron in the foreground adds an nice touch, as does the black space in the middle:

On the edges of the flock or pack or herd you might also be able to isolate a couple of animals in an interesting pose.

What tips would you add to this list?


  1. You've got some awesome shots here Jim! Nice work :)

  2. Thanks, Stephen. We'll have to go to the zoo together soon!

  3. Love, love, LOVE that last shot!!!!!

  4. Great pics! I have yet to go to the Zoo but its on my list and now I will have a better insight for when I do :)

  5. Awesome work thanks for the tips going to new orleans in april with my students and the aquarium tip will go a long way thanks again.


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  7. Thanks for the compliments. Now let's see your pictures!

  8. Really a great photoblog. I love these photos:) My friend referred it to me. Looks like everyone knows about it, just I didn't...until now. Waiting new photos;)
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