A wonderful day at the zoo with some early access and some very cooperative animals. Thank you Calgary Zoo for always being an awesome place to visit and explore. Please have more cotton candy available at the stands
Zoo shooting can be awesome practice prior to taking a hike in the wilderness and encountering animals in open spaces. Zoos offer a great opportunity to practice framing, composition and also a little bit of patience as you elbow your way through the crowds (an allegory for bushes, trees, general obstacles) in order to best setup for the shot you like. Here’s some quick tips to get the most out of your zoo photography experience.
- Dress appropriately for the day – as you go in and out of pavillions and into the various weather climiates that the animals are in, treat it as practice for when you’re out in the middle of nowhere on a hike. Dress in layers that are easy to lighten as the weather warms and have enough of them so that you’re prepared for the wind and cold should things change. This is a mental prepardness exercise – being attire appropriate to all the conditions you may encounter will give you more time to focus on the task at hand instead of trying to get the feeling back in your fingers or giving up prematurely due to less than ideal conditions.
- Shoot long – Want to get rid of or minimize the fence between you and Mr Pooh bear? Shoot long – use your lens in the 200+mm range (if you’ve got access, beg and borrow 300 or 400mm units for the best effect). Long lenses compress the subjects and detach them from the background. The nice byproduct of this is that they also help blur obstacles such as fencing which may be seperating you from your subject. Most of the shots below are shot at a minimum of 200mm. Get up against the fence, shoot long and compose in that order. This will give better clarity and framing for your animal shots as you’re forced to pick a subject instead of just taking a wide angle photo of the entire enclosure which is about as interesting as watching paint dry.
- Shoot wide open – As open as you can go – I love to shoot wide apertures (F2/2.8) in order to pop the subject out of the background as much as possible. There’s always something more compelling about animals when you isolate them as individuals. Go as open as your lens allows you to. Couple this with shooting long, and you’ll be able to isolate your subject with a creamy smooth background, minimizing distraction and maximizing impact.
- Focus focus focus - The eyes are the window to the soul as they say. Animals like people have a reflective personality that can be seen in their eyes. Focusing in this area, coupled with the isolation of long lenses and wide apertures will help bring life to your subject. It’s also an exceptional training tool for mastering quick and precise control of your autofocus system or perhaps, if you’re a little more daring, manual focus. Train your camera to the subject you want, and focus on the details which defines them.
- Bring memory, lots of it. And use it, all of it – you’re there to shoot – fire away and capture every angle and every possible idea that comes into your head. If it means an hour at each exhibit, so be it. This is a great opportunity for practice in a controlled environment and more importantly, maybe you’ll walk away with a smiling Panda or a roaring lion. Like we talked about in the last Photographer’s Tip – keep your eye on the ball and shoot everything that interests you. Fill up those memory cards and have fun.
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