Background at the zoo

February 19, 2010

Photo Tips, Wildlife

In my last post I talked about shooting through fences and other barriers at the zoo. In this post I want to talk about the backgrounds. Many times a good photograph can be ruined because the photographer failed to pay attention to the background. We get so focused on the subject we fail to notice what is behind the subject.

Getting a great animal shot at the zoo can really help us as photographers to pay attention to the whole scene. Lets look at the following two photos. They were both taken on the same day of the same leopard in the same enclosure about three hours apart. The top photo shows the leopard right after he was fed, but the fence behind the animal really detracts from the photo. The bottom photo was shot while the big cat paced back and forth across the enclosure and was possible because I waited until the background was free of anything that would detract from the image. I made sure that the only elements in the frame were the ones I wanted there. I was then patient enough to wait until the cat was positioned in the frame before taking the photograph.

Both leopard shots were taken with a Nikon D2X using a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens at 1/100 of a second at f/2.8 using ISO 400.

There is also another something else you can do that will help with making your subjects pop out of the background and at the same time helps make it look like you aren’t at the zoo. You need to use a shallow depth of field. Look at the giraffe in the photo below, it was taken at the zoo with a fence in the background. I was able to make that fence blur to a point where it disappears into the background foliage. The photo was shot using a Nikon D2X using a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens using 1/250 of a second at f/3.2 and ISO 100.

Both my positioning and my control over the exposure helped to create images that are all about the animal and not about where the shots were taken.


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

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2 Responses to “Background at the zoo”

  1. Sheila Says:

    Gr8 subject & article…helpful tips.


  2. Rick Sammon Says:

    Thanks. Also, if you get a chance, go to Fossil Rim and photograph the cats!



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