Many photographers think that taking a great animal photo requires extreme patience, sitting and waiting for hours in the wild. Yes, this is how a great wildlife shot is captured. However, if you just want to get some practise, you can still capture great animal photos in a zoo. Taking pictures of animals in a zoo is easier than shooting in the wild. Yet, it is not too easy.
Many people think that taking a picture in a zoo is not challenging, but I don’t agree. It is not as simple as you think to take a good picture in the zoo. Here are some tips that will help you to capture a better photo next time.
- 1 Be Aware of Both Foreground and Background
At the zoo, animals usually live in cages. If you are able to shoot inside the cage, beware you do not capture the cage as a background. On the other hand, for those animals you can observe through a thick glass wall, what you can do is to shoot as close to the glass as possible and open up the aperture as wide as you can so as to minimize flare and dirt on the glass.
For example, I shot this crocodile outside a glass wall. I used a 200mm lens at f/2.8 because I wanted to blur out all the dirt on the glass. When I was shooting, I removed the hood and stuck the lens to the glass so that no flare would affect my image. You can also use this same technique to blur out the cage if you can only shoot outside a cage.
- 2 Learn About the Animal’s Behaviour
Although you do not need to wait for your target animal to appear when you photograph in a zoo, you still need to understand their behaviour so as to capture a good image. Most animals feel hot and find shelter at noon. They tend not to move around and just sit still or sleep instead.
You may not able to get a good pose because they are not going to keep the same pose for hours. One of the solutions is to find out when the feeding times are. When the zoo keeper takes the food into the cage, or glass house, you are going to have the best chance to get the best angle.
- 3 Use a Wider Aperture and Higher ISO
Do not be afraid of noise. Noise is so much better than a blurry image. When you shoot with a 300mm lens hand held, you have to get at least 1/300 shutter speed in order to achieve a sharp image. Boost up your ISO. I normally use automatic ISO selection so I can focus on composition and catching the target’s movement. You can set a minimum shutter speed and a maximum ISO with most camera models. You will need this because when the target is moving, it will move between both brighter and more shaded areas. You are not going to have enough time to change the ISO if you shoot with Aperture priority or Manual mode.
On the other hand, open up to the widest aperture unless you are shooting in good sunshine. A larger aperture can give you a faster shutter speed which can reduce the chances of handshake. It can also help to blur out the foreground and background.
- 4 Try a Different Angle
Unlike shooting in the wild, shooting in a zoo is limited by many restrictions. You cannot step into the cage, or even get as close as you want. Therefore, you need to look for the best angle. You can shoot behind a rock with a telephoto lens.
This will provide you with a blurry rock as foreground and the photo will have more depth. You may also get a nice perspective by shooting from an extremely low angle.
- 5 Practice, Practice and More Practice
A zoo is the best place for practicing animal shoots in my experience. You can take more time to think about your images.
You are extremely safe when shooting. Hence, you can get more practice with both your camera and lens. Get the feel for how fast your 300mm focuses. Practice and develop better hand held skills so you may use 1/40 sec for a 300mm lens. (I still cannot do this. Learn how to press the shutter just as an egret is beginning to hunt. When you have enough practice, you can try going ‘wild’.
By Kevin Choi
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