The only way to shoot animals, is with a camera !

I want to inspire people to explore through photography. I also want to share my knowledge.

Would you like to practice your wild animal photography but are unable to spot Lions and Tigers outside your window? There is an easier, cheaper and probably a lot safer way, by heading to a Zoo.

The King of the Jungle, in the city | 1/160 second exposure | f5.6 | ISO 400
The King of the Jungle, in the city | 1/160 second exposure | f5.6 | ISO 400

paulkporterphotography disclaimer: I understand that Zoos are not for everybody. I would prefer to see the animals running wild and free but that is not always possible. If you have any concerns, please research your local zoo before going. This article is solely about photography opportunities. 

Zoos are very popular all over the world, they are a huge educational resource and are often the only time to see endangered species. They are a great place to bring people and animals together to practice photography. In my travels I have been to multiple zoo’s as it is a great way to learn about animals local to the area, the flora and the fauna.

There are so many variables when photographing at the Zoo. Different seasons create different behaviours. My main suggestion would be to make repeat visits, study and photograph the animals that you like and that inspire you most.

It could be the Panda cubs, Lions or a character like Toronto Zoos Humphrey, The Polar Bear.

Humphrey the Polar Bear | 1/320 second exposure | f5.0 | ISO 200
Humphrey the Polar Bear | 1/320 second exposure | f5.0 | ISO 200

Toronto Zoo (www.torontozoo.com) is a short car or bus ride from Downtown Toronto, covers 710 acres and has over 5000 different animals, all waiting to be your model for the day. The animals are very well looked after and so I am happy to donate money to practice making images. The zoo is open 364 days a year (it is only closed on Christmas day) and so there are no excuses for image making opportunities in all seasons.

Any camera and lens can take a picture. For this particular type of shooting, I would advise a telephoto zoom. As you cannot get too close to the animals, a telephoto lens will zoom in for you. A more affordable lens is the 55-200mm that is often supplied as part of the camera kit.  The larger the numbers, the closer you can get (150mm, 200mm, 300mm etc).

Raar or Yawn ? |1/160 second exposure | f5.6 | ISO 400
Raar or Yawn ? |1/160 second exposure | f5.6 | ISO 400

Patience and viewpoint are important. My shot of the lion yawning took a while for both of them to be looking in my direction, if they did not face me, I would manoeuvre around so that I could capture them face on, without distracting them too much.

Faster shutter speeds help to capture the action and maintain sharpness throughout the image.

Behind the Glass | 1/250 second exposure | f4.8 | ISO 400
Behind the Glass | 1/250 second exposure | f4.8 | ISO 400

This Cheetah likes to sit behind the glass, as close to people as can be. She just sits, watches and waits for feeding time. Again, I recommend a faster shutter speed to capture the moment. These animals are so fast and unpredictable, you never know when the shot will be disturbed.

Gorilla Portrait | 1/200 second exposure | f5.6 | ISO 2000
Gorilla Portrait | 1/200 second exposure | f5.6 | ISO 2000

Gorillas, Orang utans and monkeys make for great portrait models. These primates often show human style behaviours and are fun to watch and make images of. The key to animal images is focus on the eyes. If the eyes are sharp, the rest of the image will fall into place.

Can you see me? | 1/160 second exposure | f5.6 | ISO 2000
Can you see me? | 1/160 second exposure | f5.6 | ISO 2000

The majestic Tiger, leans against a tree. It shows similar characteristics of a house cat but is a hundred times more powerful. When framing your image, make sure the main subject is just off centre to draw the viewers eyes around and into the image. If they blend into the background, like this Tiger does, then show that. It highlights that the Tiger is camouflage.

Wheres my 1/2 skinny white mocha chocca latte? | 1/30 second exposure | f5.3 | ISO 800
Wheres my 1/2 skinny white mocha chocca latte? | 1/30 second exposure | f5.3 | ISO 800

I mentioned that patience is key. Get a coffee and head to the enclosure of the animal that interests you the most. Watch them from different angles and when you feel that moment is right, press the shutter.

Hmmm | 1/125 second exposure | f5.6 | ISO 2000
Hmmm | 1/125 second exposure | f5.6 | ISO 2000

Another human like moment. I saw the Orang utan playing, she stopped and was looking around. I followed through my lens, she put her hand to her chin and looked through the window. She held the pose for a moment, I composed, increased my ISO as I was inside, and clicked the shutter.

Macro hide and seek |1/30 second exposure | f5.6 | ISO 2000
Macro hide and seek |1/30 second exposure | f5.6 | ISO 2000

Often Zoos will have very dark indoor sections with amphibious tanks. Home to snakes, spiders, frogs and fish; this is a great place to work on Macro photography. Many of the frog species are so tiny that magnifying them with your cameras lens, is the best way to see them. Make sure you study all around as you never know where they may be hiding. These frogs are camouflage on the green leaf to hide them from predators. Remember your camera settings. Now you will be inside and so a high ISO and slower shutter speed will be required otherwise your image will be very dark.

Still with movement | 1/30 second exposure | f 5.6 | ISO 2000
Still with movement | 1/30 second exposure | f 5.6 | ISO 2000

This marmoset was sitting surprisingly still. As I clicked the shutter, his buddy jumped behind giving a blur. Just keep clicking the shutter, the animals are so unpredictable, you never know what you may photograph.

Hold on Mum | 1/200 second exposure | f5.6 | ISO 2000
Hold on Mum | 1/200 second exposure | f5.6 | ISO 2000

When the time comes for post production and editing your images. Play around with black and white tones. Sometimes an image will have more impact in black and white, so play with it. This may make a moment more poignant and enhance what you originally saw. Make the image what you like and what you want to share with people.

Make sure you share your images. Share with friends and family on Facebook, Instagram and any other social media site you wish. The more people who see your images, will encourage you to take more. ‘Likes’ will boost your confidence to have more fun with the camera. Do not worry about any negative comments. As long as you know the animals are well treated, you can have fun making images. Just keep practicing.

Is there a Zoo near you ? Then what are you waiting for, go and make some images. I am looking into running a Zoo Photography workshop, let me know if you are interested.

Paul

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Jon Hurd says:

    You forgot to mention that if you decide to use a flash to stand at an angle so the light hits the target and bounces away from you

    Also to wear dark clothing so you dont get the reflection of the clothing through the glass and you can use it to create a dark space for your camera to aim through 🙂

    I go to the Toronto zoo every weekend in the winter to practice new styles.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. paulkporter says:

      Both great points John, thank you for commenting 👍.
      Personally, I tend not to use a flash as I don’t want to disturb the animals any more, but it really is a point that can be included and to utilize. I’ll try and join you on a shoot soon 🙂

      Like

      1. Jon Hurd says:

        I will be happy to do so! Once you get my name right of course 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  2. paulkporter says:

    Sorry Jon, that was rude and unprofessional of me (and I cannot edit it either 😦 ) I look forward to catching up with you soon.

    Like

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