Not So Wildlife Photography


The Digital Eye is my column in What’s Up Yukon. This article was published November 24, 2011.

Where is wildlife considered to be “not so wildlife?” Why, in a zoo of course.

Here are some tips and ideas about shooting in that setting that may be of some help should you find yourself at one during your next vacation.

I made the photos accompanying this column at the internationally renowned Frankfurt Zoo this past summer.

Zoos and game farms provide a wide variety of subjects in different settings, frequently with difficult lighting and with different levels of shyness.

They are often some distance from you at one display and up very close at the next so having a variety of lenses handy is useful including a macro for some displays. (zooms are useful if you have a good one)

Some animal displays are surrounded by glass or wire cages which create difficulties in photographing the animal without getting reflections in the glass or interference from the wire.

Chain-link fence can be particularly disturbing if it is in the photo. Get in close to the fence. Use a long focal length lens and a wide aperture to blur the wire.

Glass enclosures call for taking the time to ensure you are not getting unwanted reflections or flare from lights.

Consider what attracts you to the animal you are photographing. Is it the size, the shape, its colouring or something else?

Doing this helps you to take the time to create an interesting image rather than just a snapshot.

Get down to the level of the subject you are photographing. This gives a different view than the standard shot from a standing position.

Make sure you have a tripod or monopod for those shots that will have to be taken in lower light.

Animals anywhere, zoos included, don’t stay still for long so you have to be ready to make the image when the lighting, position and surroundings are just right.

Always set your shutter speed as fast as you can and still get the shot because, sure enough, the animal will move just as you release the shutter and you want to stop the motion.

A digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera capable of higher ISO settings (sensor sensitivity) will help maintain a higher shutter speed.

You may even want to set your camera to continuous shooting mode and take several consecutive images.

Be patient. Wait for the moment of beauty … or humour. Most animals will provide one or the other.

If there is a particular species you want to capture, plan your day so there is enough time to persevere and wait for that perfect shot.

One of the great things about zoo photography is that you can get nearer to these wonders of nature than you ever would in the wild. However, this causes some difficulty in choosing what all you want to include within the frame.

Zoos are not a natural setting for the animals so you might want to move around your subject in an attempt to include some vegetation or other surrounding instead of a barn.

However most times you will want to isolate the beast itself.

When you want to get in close, use a telephoto lens (200mm to 300mm or more) to bring your subject in and fill your frame.

Create a close-up of the face or body to create an intimate feel to the image as well as eliminating any distractions that may be in the background.

When framing close, focus on the eyes. Like people, the eyes are the “window to the soul” of the being you are capturing.

Wide apertures will help isolate the subject from the background where you simply cannot get a shot that doesn’t include distracting elements.

Post processing with your photo editor – Paint Shop Pro, Photoshop, Gimp, etc. can be invaluable in eliminating these off-putting elements.

Last, but certainly not least, is the one fascinating animal that is present at all zoos and game farms; the people.

Keep an eye open for interesting individuals as well as fun images of the way people interact with the animals in the enclosures.

Children are wonderful to be with as they encounter the “not so wildlife” in the zoos.

Email questions to me or post them in the comments section below.

Happy shooting and remember to leave the environment as you found it.


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2 Responses to Not So Wildlife Photography

  1. Bev Wood says:

    Norm these are gorgeous!! shots. What is there to capture has been captured (-:
    Beautiful, thanks

  2. Hi,

    This is a really good read for me, Must admit that you are one of the best bloggers I ever saw.Thanks for posting this informative article.

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