Friday, March 21, 2014

Let's Go to the ZOO!

Zoo Photography Tips & Tricks

As I've mentioned before on this blog, I'm a big proponent of "accessible" nature photography. I don't believe it is necessary (or sufficient) to take exotic trips to Africa or the Galapagos to produce excellent images. However, staying at home in the US means that many of us never get the chance to see impressive big mammals or fantastical birds - except, of course, when we go to the zoo.
Jacksonville Zoo, FL

I believe that zoos are important for many reasons. Firstly, they do extensive conservation and breeding work, allowing threatened and endangered species to maintain viable wild populations. For example, zoo breeding programs are responsible for saving the red wolf, a species that was driven to extinction in the wild by 1980. Captive breeding programs allowed for the species' continued existence, and the wolf is now being reintroduced today.
Additionally, zoos allow for conservation issues to be made large and tangible to the public, encouraging public support for wildlife conservation.

Okay, on to the photography.

Is it possible to get "natural" looking photographs in a zoo?

Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Different zoo setups will either help or hinder your quest if you are intent on acquiring "natural" looking images. Here are some tips:

1. Bring your telephoto lens - having a long focal length will allow you to take close portraits of the animals, excluding distracting, man-made backdrops. This is a unique opportunity to take close-up images of animals you would not likely be able to get close to in the wild.

African Stork - Jacksonville Zoo, FL

2. Arrive early - this serves two purposes. One, you will be able to catch any remaining "good" lighting (the downside of a zoo is that many of them do not open early enough for photographers!). Two, you will be able to avoid crowds and thus have access to prime shooting spots.

3. Scout your location - if you intend to visit a zoo for photography purposes, look for one with open enclosures, free-flight aviaries (where there will be no mesh between you and the birds), and enclosures with natural mixes of animals. If you only have access to one zoo, look around for the best vantage points before you start shooting.

Sloth Bear - Fort Worth Zoo, TX

So far, you are making this sound difficult. Why should I bother?

Zoos allow unparalleled access to exotic species, baby animals, and interesting behaviors. It is worth braving the crowds and sticky popcorn for! Also, there are interesting photojournalistic opportunities to be had, as zoos are one of the best places to view animals interacting with people.
Baby bongo - Jacksonville Zoo, FL
How do you feel about photographing in zoos?

Check out my photography basics guide: You can read Part 1 here.

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Thanks for reading!

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