Hamadryas Baboon - Papio hamadryas

It’s the time of year to start thinking about Zoo photography. The great thing about the zoo is that you almost always come back with at least one great pic.

Zoo’s have everything to make an amateur photographer excited. Lot’s of animal behavior going on in a confined area. There are always places to rest and get refreshments. Places to shelter if it rains.  Sometimes the best shot will the zoo visitors.

The only specialized piece of equipment you need is a long lens. A 200 mm telephoto should be considered the minimum, 300 or 400 mm is much better. Decent long glass is not cheap, but the long term value is there. Good glass will still be with you after you’ve traded in several camera bodies. The best advice I can give is to buy the best glass you can manage, and keep it forever.

One of the good things about a lot of specialized photo gear is that once you have it, you will find ways to use it that you had not even thought about beforehand. A long lens will definitely fall into that category.  Long glass can be good for candid shots for people, or for backyard wildlife.

To get things started, I’m including a few tips on zoo photography, along with a gallery of my own photos.

Some Tips

  • When using a telephoto lens, a tripod or monopod is a good idea. Stability is always a positive. You may watch or track and animal for minutes, trying to frame the shot and catch just the right moment. Your arms will get tired. I often set my camera to hi-speed mode and shoot batches of 3 or 4 shots. That will help capture that magic moment.
  • Fences and wire cages are always a problem. Start by getting the lens close to the wire. Use a wide aperture, f/2.8 or f/4 rather than f/8. That narrows the area that’s in focus, so you have to be careful to make sure the subject is perfectly sharp. If your camera is equipped with a focus peaking display, use that the keep the animal’s eyes sharp. Autofocus is not your friend here.
  • Sometimes you have to shoot through glass. Carry a little window cleaner or some lens wipes to clean the class. Use your lens shade, and put it right up to the glass to minimize reflections. Be a good citizen and don’t block the display for too long.
  • Get into the animal’s world if possible. That doesn’t mean get into the enclosure with Siberian Tiger. Avoid shooting down. Try to be on the same eye level as your subject. That usually means getting as low as possible. When your audience sees the images, they will feel like they were there.
  • Look for the the unconventional. The best shot of the day might involve humans at the zoo. One example is at the Riverbanks zoo in South Carolina. They have a big netted Lorikeet enclosure where children can get nectar cups to feed the birds.
  • Sometimes an unusual angle can work for you. Shooting from a very high or low angle might make a great shot. Also, don’t miss a shot if you can get very close. The abstract pattern of a zebra or tiger can make a great image. It’s all about pattern and texture. Closeups of eyes or teeth will make a very dramatic image.

Mandarin Duck - Aix galericulata

That should be enough to get you started with Zoo Photography.  Enjoy.

New Zoo Photo Gallery Here

Quote of the Day
“Zoo animals are ambassadors for their cousins in the wild.”

Jack Hanna


Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia, South Carolina

North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro, North Carolina