Article Courtesy of Scrapjazz.com: by Denise Gormish

Ever since I was a child, I’ve loved taking photographs at the zoo. It is a great opportunity to get close-up photographs of animals I would never be able to see otherwise. Zoo photography, though, provides a set of challenges to overcome. Over the years I’ve learned a variety of techniques to help with those issues.

Equipment. A good camera will help you get the best photographs. Take the best camera that you own. An SLR will give you lots more options due to the variety of lens and the ability to adjust the aperture and shutter speed. A zoom or telephoto lens of at least 200mm is critical for close-ups of distant animals. I take a digital SLR with a 75-300mm zoom lens. A zoom lens gives you the flexibility to shoot animals close to you or animals far away in an instant.

Composition. When taking photographs of animals at the zoo, remember the basic principles of photography, including composition. Remember to take photographs from different angles including different areas of the enclosure and different heights. Use both vertical and horizontal orientations when taking photographs. Also consider the background in your photograph. It shouldn’t be distracting and most appropriately it would contain the natural elements of the animals environment. When composing photographs, follow the rule of thirds.

Action. Capturing fast-moving animals can be tricky. To capture the action, use the highest shutter speed possible and a high ISO. If you have a motor drive or continuous mode, use it to take pictures quickly while pressing down on the shutter release. An alternative mention to show speed is to blur the background by panning. To pan, follow the direction of a moving subject with your camera while pressing the shutter release. Panning works more effectively with a manual focus lens.

Long Distance. To get close-up shots of animals, use your zoom lens. A zoom lens can get close and capture the details of the animal.

Wire Cages. Wire cages are often used in zoos and you may need to take photographs of animals behind them. Get as close to the gate as you can and try to find a wide opening or a gap in the gate. Zoom and focus on the subject to get the best results. With a SLR camera you can use a long focal length and a wide aperture (4.0 or higher) for great results.

Glass.  If an enclosure has an area without glass, try taking a photograph from that area first. If there is nowhere else to take the photograph, then find a spot where the glass is clean  and scratch-free. Also avoid using a flash, as the resulting reflection will mar the photograph. If you are using an SLR, set a wide aperture and use the highest shutter speed necessary. Holding the camera at a right angle and focusing on your subject will allow you to take the best photographs. In my sea otter photograph I stood behind a water-drenched glass. In the final image you can see the spots from the water around the edges of the photograph but the subject stayed in focus.

Post-Processing. If you edit your photographs using a photo-processing program, take advantage of the process to make the images better. Adjust the color balance and levels and crop the photograph to get the best image possible.

With some basic photographic techniques you’ll be ready to photograph your next zoo outing.