Monday, August 24, 2009

At the zoo

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.

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1 Comments:

Blogger Ashley said...

I'm a homeschool mom with a passion for photography. We make many zoo trips to study animals for science, and I always take my camera. I've learned to wait patiently for the unique shot (though my boys haven't...) and to look for the creative angle. While I do remember to change the f-stop and the speed, I don't remember about the white balance. I'll have to remember to try that next time. And I might need to borrow my husband's telephoto lens next time, too.

Our most recent zoo trip was yesterday. We went inside a hands-on bird exhibit in the children's area of the zoo, which provided a great opportunity for close, clear shots. Another favorite place for great photos is the reptile building. If you can get a good angle to cut the glare, you can get some amazing shots. I was able to get two good ones yesterday: an albino reticulated python climbing the rock wall to a higher ledge; and a snake resting with its head against the wall, mouth open and slime stringing. I'll be posting some of my better shots sometime this weekend, if not later today.

Thank you for sharing such helpful tips!

October 29, 2009 at 10:32 AM  

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