While visiting San Diego last month, we were lucky to celebrate Milli’s birthday at the San Diego Zoo. This zoo is known as one of the largest and most progressive zoos in the world. It was so large (and so hilly) they have escalators in the park to get you from one section to another. You could also catch the bus!
While walking around, I remembered an article I had read about how many wildlife photographers actually take their images in a zoo. And many times, they take it from
outside the cages. Naturally, I was determined to figure out a few tricks for taking great “wildlife” pictures.
My first mistake was taking my entire camera bag. I had to watch my stuff more, and lens changes became a nuassance. An hour into the day, I’d settle on using my telephoto lens for two reasons.First, I had a better chance snapping close-ups of animals. Second, I could capture my family’s natural reactions without being in their face.
Before you are shattered with too bright photos, remember that between 11-3 is the worst time of day to take pictures. And what time do you usually visit the zoo? We already have the sun working against us. The first step to combat this is to change your ISO to 200. I would go above 400 unless you are in a shaded area. The second thing you can do is learn about spot metering (but that’s a whole other can of worms)!
Avoiding the Fence
My next obstacle was avoiding the dang caging. I tried to get creative by moving to the outskirts or kneeling between bars. When I couldn’t avoid a fence, I made sure to take my picture with a shallow depth of field. I was able to focus on the background image (the lion above) and blur everything else (the fence). Remember to use a wide aperture and zoom in to create depth of field.
You could wait hours for an animal to look directly at you, but be prepared for the chance they do. These are the most emotional images you can take of an animal.
We aren’t attracted to zoos because we get to see the animals in real life. We also enjoy it, because we can see how animals behave differently. Avoid taking full shot images of the animals sitting or standing. Zoom in to highlight a day in the life of *insert your animal*.
Catch the Excitement
Remember that this visit to the zoo is about your family and the excitement ringing through the air. Instead of approaching an exhibit to photograph the animal, position yourself to take a picture of your child approaching and reacting to the animal.
A trip to the zoo is a great activity for families to hang out. We were blessed to meet this family at our RV park. Capture the special interactions between friends or siblings.
I have to share. I have to share. People will get in the way of your photo. I could not for the life of me get a picture of this hippo teaching her baby how to swim. Too many heads, too much excitement. I tried anyways.
Save the Blurry Ones
Everything moves at the zoo. Don’t worry if a few of your shots end up blurry. Keep them if it’s only image you managed to snap of that moment.
With a little practice, you’ll stop wishing for a national geographic photographer to accompany your trip. Instead, you’ll be your best photographer. Gear up for spring, pull out your cameras, and head to the zoo!