Thursday, October 29, 2009

Photographing Captive Animals


Frankly, there is nothing more boring that someone else's zoo photographs. They usually consist of a distant animal surrounded by a few fake stones or some slithering reptile behind extremely dirty window glass. There are, however, a few simple things the everyday photographer can do to create better photographs and thus better memories.

1. Go for close ups

Here's the main idea. When photographing animals, the animal itself should be the subject of the photograph! Try to avoid including too much of the man-made enclosure. Obviously, in most cases eliminating it entirely will not be feasible, so pay attention to whatever foreground and background objects are in the scene as they can become very distracting.

Tom Turkey
Tom Turkey

2. Face the front

It is usually best for the animal to be facing forward with their eyes towards the lens. Keep the eyes in focus! People will always notice if the eyes are out of focus, whereas often they will overlook other areas. This will, however, mean exercising your patience as you wait for the animal, or bird, to turn in your direction. Take your time and don't get in a rush.

Windows to the Soul, Barred Owl
Windows To The Soul, Barred Owl

3. Keep shooting

Don't be afraid to take multiple shots when the right opportunity finally presents itself. Animals rarely ever just smile and pose. If the lighting is low, try using a faster shutter speed or increasing your ISO, or find a prop to steady your lens! Fence posts, benches, or railings work well to prevent blurry photographs.

4. Look for animal behavior.

After all, it is the animal's behavior that draws people in. The interaction between animal groups and any animal young make for great photographs. If possible, leave sleeping animals for a time when they will be more active. Inquire from zoo keepers as to what is the best time of day and return then.

Hatchlings, American Alligators
Hatchlings, American Alligators

5. Include the people.

Don't forget to photograph yourself, your children, or whomever is in your party. Place them as the subject of the picture with the animal in the background. Stop and talk to caretakers who are available and willing to talk, especially if they are toting an animal around. You might learn something and come away with a memorable photograph.

6. Angle your lens.

For animals "under glass" angle your lens to eliminate any glare, especially if you are using a flash. (When using a flash on animals, please pay attention to any signs warning you NOT to use one. Some animals are very sensitive to light.) If wire is the problem, zoom in past it. The use of telephoto, in most cases, will cause wire cages to fade from immediate view.

Feeling Blue, Poison Dart Frog
Feeling Blue, Poison Dart Frog

7. Never hide the fact the animal was captive.

The biggest mistake you can make as a photographer is to hide the fact your animal is captive. People can be very touchy about this issue, so when asked, just be honest! Know what the animal was called that you are photographing. There is nothing worse than someone inquiring and your only answer is, "Uhm..."


Here are a few other tips. Respect others by not cutting in front of them. If the area is crowded, give the person in front time to complete their view. Do not participate in any behavior which will disturb the animals. This is the biggest no-no of all. Lastly, by all means control young children! The day needs to be fun for everyone, not just your party.

Most of all, enjoy yourself and try to learn something!

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Suzanne Williams Photography
Florida, USA

Suzanne Williams is a native Floridian, wife, and mother, with a penchant for spelling anything, who happens to love photography.


Anonymous said...

Great and amazing pics.Thanks for sharing. Blesssings.

Maria I. Morgan said...

Fantastic photos! Great tips too. Your picture of the barred owl is my favorite! Thanks for the post!

Tracy Ruckman said...

Incredible photos!!

I recently took some zoo photos myself that I loved - your explanations of how to capture better shots made me feel better about shooting animals in captivity! :-)

scw1217 said...

Thank you so much. The barred owl photo was taken at the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, Florida. A caretaker was walking around with the owl on his arm. I was so captured by his eyes. Glad the tips helped you!