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A dream of many digital photographers, especially those who enjoy nature and the great outdoors, is to have the opportunity to photograph wild animals in their natural habitats. A safari on the Serengeti Plains of Kenya or a trek through the jungles of Central America would be an once-in-a-lifetime adventure for most people; and they’d be sure to take their digital cameras with them. Going to those natural habitats is only a partial realization of this dream, however. You must also know the behavior of the wild animals you’re likely to photograph, so you’re able to capture the best pictures possible. You’re unlikely to go again. You can gain that knowledge as well as experience by taking pictures of animals at the zoo.
Digital photos of zoo animals are not exactly the same as pictures of them in the wild; however, many zoos now house their animals in more comfortable and natural surroundings. Even if you never make that trip to the Serengeti or Central America, you can create an outstanding album of wildlife photos when you follow the tips in this article.
1. Although the zoo environment allows you be closer to wild animals, safety always comes first. Always observe all the rules; and certainly don’t ever stick your lens into a cage or any part of your body just to take a great photo.
2. Before you start to shoot digital photos of zoo animals, spend some time just observing individuals and socializing groups. Know when animals are more likely to be resting, so you can take portraits. Know when they are more likely to be active, so you can capture their movements, energy and interaction with each other.
3. When you do take pictures of zoo animals when they are active, you’ll want to use one of a number of techniques to make sure you freeze that action. The light will be more even and the animals will seem to pop from the background. Attach a polarizing filter to your lens and use a high shutter speed. You can also try a few shots in burst mode.
4. Bars or fencing on cages can be barriers to taking pictures of zoo animals. You can place the end of the lens as close to a fence as possible to reduce its effect, or better yet practice what you’ve learned about depth of field to make the fence nearly invisible. When shooting through bars, choose an angle that only shows one or two of them. You can crop the bars from the image with photo editing software.
5. Glass enclosures can also be tricky because your photos will also be affected by the reflections and glare. You can try to stand between the source of light and your subject or shoot from where only low light hits the glass. Then, use your flash to illuminate your subject. You can also raise the ISO setting on your camera.
6. Other compositional tips that will help you take better digital photos of zoo animals is to zoom in close and learn how to shoot under the natural lighting conditions. Some days will be sunny and others cloudy. Animals may rest in the shadows and play in direct light. Read or review the tips in the series of PhotographyTalk.com articles, starting with Digital Photography—Taming the Three-Headed Exposure Monster, Part 1, to learn how to control your photo exposure in various light levels.
Photographing zoo animals is a great activity you can do with your family and an opportunity to introduce your children to digital photography. Plus, you’ll be prepared to photograph free-roaming animals like a professional when you finally take a trip to one of the world’s wild places.