Photographing at the Zoo

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Author: Luis E Gonzalez

At the zoo photography tips will hopefully give you the opportunity of taking better shots of wild animals that otherwise would not be possible unless one was to travel to Africa, South America or any of the exotic places where zoo animals come from.

Tiger feeding in a zoo
Just try and take it !! (EXPLORE) by Steve Wilson on flickr (licensed CC-BY)

Unfortunately, most zoo operating hours are not ideally suited for photography. By the time you buy the tickets, take a bathroom break, get the map and make it to the tiger's exhibit, the tiger is sleeping or lounging around just causally looking at those strange bipeds staring at him. So you run to the gorilla's enclosure only to find more of the same.

If you have ever wondered why zoo animals are always asleep or basically just laying around, even thought you raced to get there just as the park opens? it's because they were fed about two hours before the park even opened.

Zoo animals offer most of us the chance to take great wildlife photos without having to travel outside of the country, although nothing beats an experience in the African plains, most often than not the prices for such trips can be overwhelming.

giraffes by Stav on flickr (licensed CC-BY-ND)

Here's a tip, most, if not all, zoos have special viewing times for zoo members, zoological association members and zoo donors. These special viewing times carry a fee but can be manageable. But the best is that they are usually during the best times for photographing animals in action. These times are earlier in the morning or later in the afternoon, when the temperature is cooler and animals are eagerly awaiting their meals. Think of it, would you want to be prancing around after a full stomach or during the hottest part of the day?

Once you find yourself at the zoo during these special times, concentrate on taking shots that represent the animal in their natural environment as best you can. Try to avoid shots in which the animal's enclosure is visible. Also try avoiding unnatural looking "rocks" plastic or resin trees, fencing, and obvious feeding stations. Remember that the goal is to represent the animal as it would be represented if it were in its natural habitat. However, if you plan on selling your shots, be very clear and forthcoming in identifying the shots as being taken in a zoo.

Lion portrait photo taken at a Zoo
A nice portrait of one of the brothers by Tambako The Jaguar on flickr (licensed CC-BY-ND)

When photographing your zoo adventure, concentrate on the animals eyes, even if other parts of the animals are not sharp or slightly out of focus, the eyes must always be sharp and clear. Do take advantage of freely roaming zoo animals, such as peacocks to do close ups when safe for you and your subject.

If you find your subject behind a fenced enclosure, place your lens as close to the fencing as possible and use a wide aperture. This will render the fencing almost invisible with just a minimal loss of detail. If your subject is behind an acrylic or glass enclosure, the same holds true, get your lens as close to the barrier as possible otherwise the glass or acrylic will promote reflections which will be visible on the final print.

Small red panda eating in the snow
Small panda eating in the snow V by Tambako The Jaguar on flickr (licensed CC-BY-ND)

The better zoos are those in which the environment has been carefully planned so that the animals have space to roam and made to look as natural as possible, a good example is Metro Zoo in Miami Florida. Seek this type of zoos for better photographic opportunities.

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About the Author

Luis E Gonzalez, Long time Miami resident, enjoys photography and has been doing so for over 20 years. Currently employed in the social services industry in career development. Graduate of the University of Miami with bachelors degree and concurrent doctorate degree. Varied experience in many fields, such as US. Navy reserve member during the operations Dessert Storm & Iraqi Freedom, State of Florida Law Enforcement Officer, Public School Teacher, Retail Management.

I am dedicated to sharing my photography experience with everyone.
You may reach me at

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March 26th, 2011 at 5:00 am

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