kathyreeves.com: Tips & Articles

How to Take Great Zoo Photos

by Kathy Reeves

Giraffes  in Motion
Giraffes in Motion

I get some of my best photos at my local zoo but there are a few tricks to getting fantastic photos of animals in captivity.
Consider joining your local zoo. Most zoos have a once a year price for unlimited visits. My local zoo charges $25 for an individual membership that lets me visit without paying for a year.
Try to go when there are the fewest people especially children. Go during the week or when it is the off season. The animals will be calmer and more likely to be in a posing mood. I try to be there when the zoo opens. Go often, you never know what you will find.
Talk sweetly to the animals—don’t laugh it works. Never shout or use wild gestures. If there are other people behaving badly, nicely ask them to stop, telling them it upsets the animals or report them to a zoo employee. Go as often as you can and some of the animals will actually get to know you.
Talk to the keepers and find out when your favorite animals are fed, then be there at that time. Most keepers will move the animal’s food to a location that will give you a better shot. Learn their names and always take a little time to chat with zoo employees. Zoo keepers love to talk about their animals and can be very helpful about animal behavior and the best time to catch them doing something special. Be sure to be polite and write a complimentary letter to the head of the zoo praising employees who go out of their way to be helpful.

Amur Leopard
Amur Leopard
Contest Winning Photo

Never use a flash. I never use a flash on animals. It hurts my eyes when someone flashes me and it does the same to animals. Once they understand you will not use a flash on them they will be curious about the clicking of the camera and many times look right at you.
Take more photos than you think you need. If you are using digital take plenty of cards, it does not cost anything to take extra photos, that extra photo may be THE photo.
Now about those bars! There is a way to make the bars on cages disappear. Set your camera using the AV (Aperture Priority) or manual mode to the lowest aperture number (widest opening) you can. If you are using a camera that does not allow you to set aperture, use a setting like macro to get your lowest dept of field possible. Check your user manual to find the setting that will give you the widest possible aperture (lowest number). Get as close to the bars as you can and focus in-between the bars. You many have to set your camera to one focus point or use manual focus. The animal needs to be toward the back of the cage so the bars will blur completely out. It also helps if they are in a spot with plenty of light. If the animal is not in a good location come back later in your visit to check again. This is another situation where zoo keepers can help you determine the best time for a photo.

Smiling Face
Smiling Face

Bring plenty of quarters. Most zoos have places where you can purchase animal food especially around pond areas to feed the fish, geese and turtles. At one zoo there is an egret that waits for people to throw food into the water then catches the fish that come to get the food.
Learn to change the background in your favorite editing software so the background does not ruin and otherwise great photo. You do not have to use the expensive version of PhotoShop,
try PS Elements or do a search on the Web for free or low cost editing software. Be sure to try before you buy.
If you have the time get involved and volunteer, you could get some special access not available to regular visitors. Check to see if they have special events or other activities you can become involved. Work in your community to get a better quality of life for your zoo animals. Remember animals can not help themselves they depend entirely on us for there wellbeing.
Learn the Ethical Rules of Wildlife Photography and follow them to the letter. No photo is ever worth breaking them. The can be found in various form on the internet.
If you have any tips, questions or suggestions, please let me know.