Shooting Fish In A Barrel

Good Zoo’s and Reserves play an important part in wildlife conservation and breeding. Being an animal lover, I can easily spend all day chilling out with the animals – especially if there is a decent cafe. As a photographer I can fill many memory cards.

Such places are a fantastic practice for photographing animals. Sure some photographers look down on this as they go to great lengths to capture animals in the wild, but sometimes a quick fix hits the spot. If I am in a photography slump, or feeling uninspired, a trip to the zoo gives you some awesome subjects to shoot. Fudge half your shots? Learn what you did wrong and go again, at least you get a great day out.

Zoo’s do have their own set of challenges. Not all enclosures are camera friendly. Most often the best zoo images are ones that don’t look like they were taken in a zoo. I usually try to keep all man made items such as feeders, signs, or fences out of the shot. As always, there are cases when a bit of context such as a crowd can add to the photo.

Walk in exhibits, or environments without bars between you and the animals provide the best photo opportunities. When you do need to shoot through glass, try to find the least scratched/dirty part and get your lens as close as possible. Also when shooting through glass or bars, opening up your aperture (smaller number) lets you have only the subject in focus. You will be amazed how distractions can be all but eliminated.

Overcast days are perfect to photograph animals. The light is generally much more even. Harsh sunlight and/or shadows make shooting and getting good results much harder. Animals will rest in the shadows more or hot days, and you might sweat more carrying your gear and waiting for your favourite animal to come out of it’s rest area. The trick though is to have the eyes in focus. Hopefully with a bit of light in them. Be mindful that some areas won’t allow flash photography. Even where they do, try to be respectful of you subject and not blind them with a full burst.

Like shooting in the wild, patience is still required. Don’t expect each subject to be in the ideal location for you. Either set up by the animal your really want an image of, or keep visiting them throughout the day. Either way I like to spend a bit of time with any animal I’m shooting to get an idea of their behavior and personality. Don’t settle at getting a few good shots either, as if you zoom off to the next location you might miss some great behavior. If the animal is just being stubbern though, have a plan B.

Click here to see a video on the truth of zoo photography

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