How to maximize the value of your visit to the zoo as a photographer

The zoo is a great place both to explore animals and locations but also where you can practice your photography skills. To maximize your visit there however you can plan out ahead on what you should do there and what to bring. Read on to find out more!

Before you leave your home

Even before you show up at the zoo there are steps you can take to make the trip the best it can be. It is all about preparation.

Read up on the venue you are to visit

Go online and read up on the zoo you are to visit. What animals are there and is there anything special showing at the moment you should plan for? There might be local rules you must follow and there is also some venues that do not allow cameras at all. Most of the times flashes are not allowed since they can put stress the animals.

So I am going, what should I bring?

As always; the best photography equipment is always that you have with you. If you are planning to walk around a zoo for a whole day you should plan accordingly and not bringing to much gear. A single camera with a super-zoom will be sufficient but it can be quite useful to bring a macro if you have a good backpack to place it in. When it comes to tripods or mono-pods you should bring one if you are comfortable of walking around with it and it is light enough not to stop you.

Since I am a Nikon user myself the gear I’d bring would be my Nikon 18-200 and my Sigma 105. I would not bring a tripod since it would be too much to carry around and since the 18-200 has vibration reduction I can handle the situation using it.

Techniques to practice

You will be faced by situations you can easily practice in your own home so there is no reason not to. By doing this you will have a better understanding of your tool-set when you arrive at your destination.

fishShooting photos through glass

Reptilians and small creepy crawlers is always behind glass in a zoo. At first this might put you off but it really shouldn’t. Shooting through glass can be done with great result as long as you practice the technique. It all comes down to keeping the lens tight against the glass (remove the lens hood) and minimize the light coming in between the lens and the glass. If you have a shirt or some other cloth you might also wrap this around the lens to get least possible amount of light creep. This can be practiced at home against your windows or using an aquarium if you have one.

Invisible fences

A fence between you and your target is not a problem as long as you focus on the target and there is enough distance between it and the fence. A simple way to practice this is to hold a pencil in front of the lens at home, focusing and taking photos of items.

At the zoo

The day has come and you are at the zoo, now it’s time to get all that preparation into action and get a fun day with the animals and preferably leave with a great set of photos.

Composition and context

Regardless of what animal you are photographing you goal most of the times is to freeze a moment where it seem you are meeting the animals in the wild. This means that you want to minimize the amount of lamp posts behind that wolf or care taker behind the polar bear. What’s behind your subject gives the photo context and tell a story of an animal in it’s own habitat. Look around for different angles you may reach and think about how the outcome from that specific angel would be. Or simply try them all!

For in-door photography at the zoo, double check what you are allowed to do and what gear you can use. In-door you are not usually allowed to use flashes so be prepared to increase you ISO to the higher span of what your camera can handle.

lionNot all photos of animals have to be strict like the lion on the savanna with a gazelle under it’s paws though. It can be just as good if you get a photo of a lion playing with a red ball while a monkey is juggling with rocks in the background.

Never underestimate the power of humor in photography.

If you are not sure, ask for permission

If there is an exhibition or alike in the zoo, ask for permission before you start taking pictures. There might be special rules around it and if uncertain, always ask!

Wild animals can’t be controlled or made into giving you poses and they should not be. Patience is a virtue and you should spend some time at each location you want to photograph to find the spot you should be at and to get the photo you want.

Things to remember

General points on how to handle animals and the situations you may face.

Respect the animals 

Animals are living beings with personalities of their own. Just as we must respect our fellow humans we should respect the animals and not put them in situations for our benefit more then needed. A zoo is a great place to learn of the animals but we should put as little stress as possible for them. If you would to see any mistreatment or alike of any animals while at a zoo, please report it to the authorities. For you own safety, do this when you have left the zoo. Not to get into a situation where it’s you against the staff. That is a question for the authorities.

Respect other visitors at the zoo 

Everyone at the zoo has paid for their ticket and have the same right to see the animals as you. Do not push yourself in front of other to get your photo. Respect the people around you. If there is child watching the animals, let them. You can always take your photo on another day but for the child it might be a day of wonders. Be nice to them!


Photo credits: Featured image taken by Eike_, Fish by Nigel Swales, Lion by Tambako the Jaguar.

Published by

Martin Karlsson

I am a hobby photographer always trying to improve my technique!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *