Need some good wildlife pictures, but not able to go to a wildlife sanctuary? Add a little fun to your desire for wildlife by taking pictures at the zoo. Following tips would help you get pictures, such that the animals appear to be in their own natural home.
Most important is to have pictures showing the best of animal expressions, have a balanced composition with no cluttered or unnatural looking backgrounds.
1. Choose a zoo wisely
While choosing the zoo to visit, check it online for;
- Variety of animals they inhabit- more the merrier.
- The type of spaces they have for animals- it could be small cages or open ranges. Open ranges allow you to have more of natural looking surroundings and less of fences and barricades.
2. Select the day and time
- Select a cool day with preferably an overcast sky- would keep the animals more active, help you spend more time without losing energy in heat and give better colors to your picture with less shadows and burns.
In bright sunny hot days, the animals tend to stay in shade and won’t pose for a good picture.
- Also, start your day early, as soon as the zoo opens- this would help you capture some good shots, as the animals would be coming out in their open space and will be in the best of their energy levels.
At this early hour, you won’t even have much crowd and would get good space to move around and click pictures from different angles and positions, giving you a deeper connect with the animal.
Even an early start will give you more time, allowing you to have extra time to spend with individual animals.
The tiger coming out of his cage to the open area for him to spend his day.
The good morning yawn.
- Also, we know that these wild animals tend to stay in shade and can be found sleeping during the afternoon for long hours, so plan to visit their homes first than those of the animals found in groups- the deer or the monkeys.
I would suggest to start with the big cats, the reptiles, the beers and the lion and follow to the elephants, rhinoceros, hippopotamus, deer, and birds.
Now as the day is planned on papers, enter the zoo and put your camera on the job.
3. Equipment to carry
- As we know, the animals won’t be sitting next to us- also it’s not possible for you to jump into their home and capture the close-ups. So it solves it, do carry a zoom lens, I carried one 70-300mm and most of my have been shot comfortably.
A picture possible only if you have a zoom lens, or else the bird would fly away.
- As the day is planned long and the camera has to be at work all the time, try to carry extra batteries. If not extra batteries, you can plan your shoot on two different days too.
- I would advise not to carry a tripod. As the animals are continuously moving, you would need to be changing places and setting up a tripod could be difficult.
- While my trip to the zoo, I just carried along my camera with a zoom lens.
4. Adjust your camera aperture and shutter
- For animals in open areas, you won’t need much of the camera settings- just adjust your focal length and start clicking. The fencing won’t interrupt much as it’s not so high and you can easily click from over it.
A monkey sitting in a non-fenced area
- But for the ones in cages, you need to have the aperture set to a wider view so to have a better depth- defocusing the fences and the obstructing backgrounds. Set the aperture between f/2.8 to f/5.6.
Also, you need to wait for the animal to go away from the fence to have a better shot.
The bird was caged in a fence from all sides, by setting the focus on the bird with a wide open aperture and a zoom of 300mm, I could manage to capture the bird without the fences.
- For the fast moving animals, set the shutter speed to a faster one, depending upon the focal length you have- for a 300mm zoom have a shutter speed of at least 1/300sec. But for the static animals, there’s no need to adjust the speed to a special number- it could even work fine on the auto mode.
- As your visit will be during the day, the lighting won’t be tricky and all you need is to manage reflections on the glass cages- for which clicking at an angle can solve it.
The parrot had a fence at the back and a glass on the front, with a wider aperture I could manage to remove away both the fence and the glass from my picture.
Now as we have set the camera and lens, it’s time to look in for the animals.
5. Frame your shots
A good picture is not just made by the equipment, but with a balanced frame and composition.
- Point of Interest: Knowing what interests in a particular animal would help you have a point of interest as you click them. A well-planned point of interest will help you have a picture telling a story by itself and make out a nice composition.
Something we would rarely know, this water bird drank water by turning his neck 180° and bend it in water.
- Close- up shots: A close-up of the animal shows a better connect for the viewer. Try to have frame filling shots by taking close-ups of the animals, their faces, their expressions, their eyes, skin, etc.
Getting so close to a hippopotamus that we are able to see his hair on the nose.
- Capture animal activities: animals too, have fun together, relax together, and fight together. While in a zoo, keep your eye and camera ready always to capture any such moment.
- Include natural backgrounds, as much as possible, and where it’s hard to do so, take close-ups so as to just keep your attention on the animal.
The wider shot of the animal had various obstructions around, making it unnatural- whereas the close-up made it look in the natural environment.
- Have isolated pictures of the animals showing more of natural backgrounds, as not always the animals appear in a group when in wildlife, as there they have large areas. Isolated animals look more of a natural environment.
The rhinoceros walking alone all surrounded with greens appears to be one in its natural habitat.
- Get low angle shot by kneeling down at the level the animal is based. Such a shot will give you a picture which attracts the viewer as it won’t just capture the animal coat, but also the lower body parts.
A high angled shot won’t have been able to provide the image of the inside of the crocodile.
- When going close-ups, try to capture the attractive parts of the animal- such as eyes, nose, mouth, skin, etc. Every animal has a different shape and style of their various body parts and some form to be a good attraction.
6. Shooting the people around
- Sometimes, while checking out the animals, you could even get some people around check out the animals. Sometimes such people give you beautiful expressions and help you have an expressive picture.
A baby in her cart checking out the animals and enjoying around in the zoo.
As for all the above points, we understand the points talk much about the technical requirements and seems that a good photograph is dependent on a good technology camera.
But, I would say, a good photograph is not just because of a good camera, it’s even more important to have a good perspective and a balanced composition. A good photograph can be clicked even with a mobile phone- just that when you clicking animals, you need an optical zoom.
You can even have decently good pictures by clicking on auto mode of your camera or if you have a digicam, just use an optical zoom of 10x- 12x and you will be able to get nice pictures, with the framing guide above.