Back to the zoo

February 11, 2010


Last time I talked about shooting at your local zoo and I want to just address something that came up in the comments and in some emails sent to me. You need to check the rules at your local zoo about what can and can’t be done with the photos. I just want to make sure that you guys understand that I am not suggestiong you do anything to break the rules. Rules are important and should be followed. This applies not only to the rules about what you can and can’t do with the images but also to all the rules at a zoo. Don’t put yourself or any of the animals in danger by your behavior. Shooting at the zoo, like all photography should be fun. So lets get on to some tips about how to get the best images while at the zoo.

One of the main problems with shooting in a zoo is that the animals are usually behind some type of barrier, be it a fence or thick glass. The secret to shooting though barriers is to use a longer lens and a wide open aperture. The shallow depth of field can not only cause the background to blur nicely making your subject stand out but can make the barrier in front of the subject vanish. The key is to have enough space between the fence and the animal to make this work properly.

These two images were taken moments apart of the same big cat in the same enclosure. The difference between the two, other than the visible fence in the top image, is the distance of the cat from the fence. Both images were shot with a Nikon D700 and a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens at 1/500 of a second at f/2.8.

The other type of barrier that has become more common is the wall of glass. This lets you see the animals without a fence but can be even more difficult to shoot through. The glass can have unwanted reflections, dirt and scratches. The key here is to get close to the glass. You need to try to get the end of your lens as close to the glass as possible to cutdown on unwanted reflections. I will even remove the lens hood to get the front element as close to the glass as possible.

This lion was shot through about 3 inches of heavy glass. I waited until he moved his head so I could get the profile shot i wanted. It took about 30 minutes of patiently waiting with the camera pressed up close to the glass to minimize the reflections and scratches. I did have to slightly adjust the image in Photoshop to increase the contrast. Shot with a Nikon D700 and 70-200mm f/2.8 lens at 1/800 of a second at f/2.8 and ISO 400.  Next time I’ll talk about the importance of checking the  background.

, , ,

This post was written by:

- who has written 10 posts on The Digital Photo Experience.

Alan is a concert photographer based in San Diego. Alan strives to bring the energy and excitement of live shows to his images as he captures concerts 3 songs at a time. Alan teaches workflow using Adobe Bridge, Lightroom and photoshop. You can follow Alan on twitter at

Contact the author

One Response to “Back to the zoo”

  1. Leoraul Torres Says:

    Two weeks ago I visited Sea World with some friends and I took my DSLR with me. I applied exactly what you are saying with shooting species through a thick glass. I ended up with some shots that can make my portfolio stand out. It’s not every day you can take a shot at a polar bear or at an exotic fish. If anyone wants to take a peak, I’m at Coincidently I uploaded them today.


Leave a Reply