Monday, August 24, 2009
A zoo is not the ideal place for animal photography. Of course, given the cost of a safari to Africa, they're the next best alternative for me.
Most zoos are designed for the living space of the creatures (at least the newer or recently refurbished ones are). The best ones integrate an "up close and personal" viewing experience. But even those don't seem to take into account the needs of photography. Glass with all manner of glare and reflections, wire mesh barriers, and living areas that, while they provide lots of room for the inhabitants, also increase the distance from the camera, making life challenging for a photographer.Here are some tips on how I do things at the zoo.
Zoom, baby. At a minimum, I have a 200mm lens on at all times. I also use a 2x teleconverter to double the zoom. The tradeoff -- an exposure that's slow as molasses. The teleconverter takes away a stop of light from an already sluggish lens. This lion was shot at ISO 800 at an exposure of 1/1250 at a "wide open" effective f-stop of f8. This was OK for animals in the early morning sunlight. Animals in the shadows, not so much. The benefits -- you can get some great "in your face" shots that help disguise the fact that you were shooting in an artificial environment. You also can shoot right through mesh barriers without them registering in your shot. This lion was shot through a series of thin vertical wires separating people from big cats at a viewing station. Just be sure you're shooting through an area of mesh that is not in direct sunlight. You also have a better chance of avoiding reflections when shooting through glass when you use a long lens.
Patience is a virtue. Zoo animals have all the time in the world. You necessarily don't. But spend some time watching the critters. You might pick up a pattern of movement that you can use to your advantage. I watched a pair of lions pacing and positioned myself to catch them as they made their turns. I caught the young male above as he turned his head in advance of his body, making him apear as if he might be roaring or at least belting out his favorite song.
I also observe the rule of shooting early or late in the day. If I have to be there in the middle of the day, I'll try to catch animals in shady areas to avoid harsh shadows and the bluish light of the midday sun. I'll also change my white balance to "flash" or "cloudy" to warm up the tones in my shots.
Got your own zoo tips? Successes? Failures? Let me know.