Take Zoo Pictures You Are Proud Of

by Courtney

in Photography

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

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outside the cages. Naturally, I was determined to figure out a few tricks for taking great “wildlife” pictures.

Gear

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.

Sunny Day

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.

Eye Contact

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.

Animal Behavior

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.

Friendships

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.

People Will Interfere

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!

 

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Mariza May 9, 2011 at 9:21 am

Beautiful photos!

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Courtney May 9, 2011 at 1:22 pm

Thank you Mariza!

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Justin Hamlin May 9, 2011 at 5:52 pm

I havent been to the SD Zoo in probably 6-7 years. They added escalators? Wow… I will withhold judgement on that.

The SD Zoo is amazing, but as a photographer, the San Diego Wild Animal Park is amazing. I was lucky enough to do a photography tour there, in the back of a truck, got to feed hippos and have giraffes eat out of your hand. Great photo opportunities there.

Great points for those learning photography and dealing with the crowds and the fences, and great shots!

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Jeff Sarris May 9, 2011 at 8:09 pm

I love this Courtney, great job! The telephoto lens decision was a perfect one, you really captured some awesome shots despite the fence ‘interference.’ :)

Struggling with amount of gear is definitely something that I completely identify with. I’m all about traveling light, but I’m also a prime shooter 100% of the time. So it can be a challenge to have so little gear that I’m comfortable, but also ensure that I have enough to cover a variety of situations. My default at the moment is my 50mm f/1.4 just because I love that lens, but I’m not gonna lie, I’ve been eyeballing the Canon 24-70 F/2.8L for some time. One day that will be my traveler…one day :)

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Heidi May 22, 2011 at 10:45 pm

Love love love the Lion picture! I haven’t been to SD zoo since I was a kid. The only thing I remember is the huge turtles smacking on stringy cactus. It was gross and fascinating.

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Rachel Denning May 24, 2011 at 8:37 am

Nice photos. I take a lot of my wildlife photos at zoos and animal parks too. It makes it so easy :)

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Rachel May 24, 2011 at 1:00 pm

My home zoo! Before Rio I lived in San Diego. I love that zoo, it’s amazing for kids. And your pictures are wonderful (as are the tips)!

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Alex June 16, 2011 at 1:17 pm

These are awesome!!!!! Last time I went to a real, full zoo it was awhile back and I MAY have still been shooting automatic… and you can tell it lol – not half as good as these. I loved this lesson and these photographs – and as always, Milli is the coolest kid.

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Courtney March 27, 2012 at 5:25 pm

Hi,I’m Courtney. I’ve just randomly through google stumbled across your blog. I noticed your daughter in the side bar and said to myself ‘huh’ because you see I also have a Millie. She is Camille for long or Millie for short. She also has blond curls and blue eyes. I was searching for families who have hit the road because the thought and idea of it all makes my fingers tingle. I’m in desperate need of a change. We also got married,got pregnant (times four) and opened a business but now hmmm well it just feels so permanent to a free spirit adventure seeker like myself. I read only a few posts here and the similarities jumped out at me immediately. I clicked here to leave a quick comment and noticed THEN that our names were very similar. By similar I mean the exact same. It has become something that I do (recently) that when something sticks out to me to not let it go. To examine it and see where neto kinds of places it leads. I’ve decided to not let your blog go. I’ve watched as two of the blogs I read up and slip my dream right out from under me (traveling around with my family) and I’m ready to shed and make things happen. I just need to convince my husband to toss caution into the wind. ;) I have four kids,I’m Courtney and it’s nice to meet you.

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Nathan May 4, 2012 at 8:00 am

That shot of the Panda makes me want to be one! Lazing around all day while people take my picture because I’m so pretty… :)

Enjoy your travels with your daughter. We’ve got a 10 year old, a 1.5 year old and another on the way, all boys. They all have (or will have, in the latest edition’s case) been travelers from birth, and I don’t think they’d have it any other way.

Looking forward to reading more!

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Michael July 18, 2012 at 1:53 pm

Not to be rude, but … what happened to you guys since May, 2011?

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Never Ending RV Trip January 19, 2013 at 12:55 pm

Amazing pics. I never thought you could get good pics at a zoo. I always thought they would look too touristy and fake. I wish I read this before we went to the San Diego Zoo last year. Thanks for the tips.

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