Zoos are really interesting, and no matter how much National Geographic or Animal Planet we watch, a visit to the zoo is always too precious an experience for us to ever stop going there. With respect to what we’re talking about here, you need to watch out for the following things when taking out your camera in a zoo.

* The distance between the photographer and the animal

* The fact that animals don’t stay in the same place for too long.

* Sporadic lighting in zoos where there are lot of trees. You also have to shoot indoor sometimes.

* Although they are trying to give more natural surroundings to the animals living out here, you have to photograph them without distracting them because of the light reflected off the glass and the bars of the cage that form the background and foreground of the animal within the cage.

Gear up

Have a long zoom lens handy always, although you may or may not use it depending upon the kind of photographer you are and the sort of shots you are planning to take. It always comes in handy. Keep a DSLR with an attachable longer focal length prime lens or telephoto lens with an upper length of 200-300 mm or even a point and shoot camera with a 10-12x zoom.

You might want to shoot a butterfly or some small bird in the zoo, too, so have a macro lens ready for such a situation.

Some snaps might demand slower shutter speed which is nothing but extra stability; even the weather and lighting will be unpredictable. Carry a tripod or a monopod for sure for such times.

Also remember a lens hood, because you will be shooting outdoors and also the fact that you have only limited angles to shoot from and you might have to shoot through a barrier of glass. A lens hood will save your photographs on a bright and sunny day.


Do it the real way:

1. A plan of action: You might not know how the exact situation might be, but have an overall plan for the day no matter how spontaneous you might be. Get the zoo map and have an idea of what all animals you might see. Keep the feeding times in mind and get information from the zoo-keeper about which are the most active animals and what are the times when the lazy animals get active. Look through animal pictures and postcards and plan out a few angles at which the photo might look natural and interesting.


2. Go as close as you can: Capture fine details and rarer qualities in the animal by getting intimate with it. If it is an animal in a cage, this cannot exactly be done so use a lens with a longer focal length. Later on, crop the picture to make them intriguing and remove distracting elements that might have been present around you when you clicked the picture.


3. Speciality in the animal: Look for the most interesting characteristic of that animal in terms of its colour, its pose, its expressions and the surroundings it lives in or any other attribute. Make your shots more interesting by capturing these traits of the animal that are so unique to it. Get a proper approach to your shot.


4. Cages are difficult: You never know if a cage will have narrower or wider gaps between its bars and but in any case, get as close as you can to the animal in the cage without distracting it. Use longer focal length and wider aperture and wait for the animal to move back from the bars. Photograph in the portrait mode as it will give you wider aperture and narrow your depth of field.

5. Focus on the eyes: Just like each human has a different thing to say with their eyes, animals also say a lot through their eyes. Focus on the eyes to catch rare expressions and looks. Create a deeper connection between the person who will be viewing your picture and the animal in your picture.

6. Bring people in: The people watching animals in a zoo are almost as interesting as the animals themselves. Catch funny, animated as well as terrified expressions on the faces of the people in a zoo and bring them subtly into your snaps.


7. Catch funny instances: Animals are not aware of much around them so having so many humans watch them can cause them to do really funny things. Look out for the monkey that might point at you or might grab a banana from a child’s hand or even grab its cap. Look for a giraffe picking its nose with its tongue or say an emu poking its head out of the cage and stealing something from the people.

8. So near and yet so far: A zoo helps you get much closer to an animal, something which cannot happen in the wild. Here, there are distractions all the time. Try to eliminate distracting elements by focussing and closing in on the subject if you want to totally avoid post-photography editing. Include as much of the natural surroundings as you can. Use narrow depth of field at wider apertures wherever you want to avoid the distractions. Catch the expressions on their faces and make your photograph speak things the animals want to say but can’t!

~Zahid Javali