The zoo is one of the best places to start practicing wildlife photography. There are many challenges you will face while trying to get that perfect shot. The biggest hurdle will be the enclosures or cages in which animals are kept in. The cages differ from one zoo to another. In some zoos, animals like deer, bear, and monkeys are kept in cages made of strong wire meshes and in other places metal-barred enclosures are used. The important thing to note here is the size of the opening in the mesh. You will have a hard time if the opening is very small. Nowadays, most zoos replicate the natural surroundings of the animals inside their enclosures. This will help you in getting better pictures.
The second factor is the distance between the animal and the photographer. At farther distances, you will have to use a long telephoto lens. Also, be careful about lighting—just as you would during indoor photography—when you are photographing animals in zoos. Animals will not pose for you and will be moving continuously. That is another challenge.
Shooting through cages can be tough. Use longer focal lengths and wider apertures to remove the wires or bars in between. If you are using a DSLR camera, then you will be able to do all these. Now, what about a point-and-shoot camera? In order to get a narrow depth-of-field, you will have to switch to the portrait mode.
Try to get as close to the mesh or bars as possible, to get the perfect shot. Make sure that the animal is not near the mesh or bars. If so, you will not be able to get near the mesh and shoot and end up in bringing the mesh into the picture. Also, do not disturb the animals or other visitors.
Snakes are usually kept inside glass cages. Shooting through glass can be frustratingly painful. If the glass surface has fingerprints or scratches, they might ruin the picture.
Reflection or glare from the glass can also be tricky to circumvent. If you are using a DSLR camera, make use of a rubber hood. This will let you in stick your camera to the glass and thereby reduce reflections. Before doing so, wipe the fingerprints and oily patches on the surface of the glass with a cloth. You may also use a CPL (Circular Polarizer) lens filters to remove reflections on the glass. While using point-and-shoot cameras, get close to the glass and make sure the inbuilt camera flash is not triggered.
Before you begin shooting, observe the animal and its environment. Plan the shoot. Decide whether to do a close-up shot of the animal alone or the bigger picture of the animal within its environment. Try both. This will help you in developing a “Photographer’s Eye”. As always, try to eliminate distracting elements from the picture.
Observe the surroundings too. Often you may find subjects outside the cage—like the expression on the faces of kids on seeing these animals—far more interesting than the animals. Observation is the key to a great photograph.
Camera positioning can make or break a shot. When you are shooting an animal, a good rule of thumb is to maintain the camera at the same level as the eyes of the animal or below that. Never shoot an animal from the top; it never turns out great. So crouch if you have to and get in line with the animal’s eye.
And remember; always focus on their eyes and enjoy your zoo photography.