Over the last couple of years, my partner and I have visited numerous zoos and taken hundreds of photographs of zoo animals. The answers to these problems, lie in both the equipment a zoo photographer chooses to use on the day, as well as his or her technique. A focal length of 300mm allowed me to get in nice and close for an ideal animal portrait, which was then cropped with Photoshop software, into a square for display purposes. For comparison, the photograph of a giraffe below was taken with a focal length of 100mm to fit in both the animal and its surroundings. Whether or not to use a tripod or monopod is often a grey area when it comes to zoo photography. Now those more experienced photographers would most likely argue that you could simply use a tripod instead of increasing the ISO.
I recently visited Sydney Taronga Zoo where a photographer was rather upset at an infant who grabbed the leg of his tripod to collect his balance. If you own a DSLR camera the equivalent of a Canon 5D or Nikon D300, there is no reason why you couldn’t up your ISO to 1200 and still get a good quality image. If you own an entry level DSLR and can’t reasonably increase your ISO, or you feel like you need more stability, then I recommend using a monopod instead of a tripod.
Lens hoods come in handy for times when you have no choice as to the angle from which to shoot. Plan your day - As soon as you get to the zoo, grab yourself a map and plan out what animals you want to see and at what times.
Treat animals as moving subjects - With a lot of animals constantly on the move at feeding time, I like to keep my camera settings on shutter priority mode with a fast shutter.
Eliminate cages - There is nothing more annoying to a zoo photographer than not being able to photograph through the cage and capture only the animal.

Eliminate glass - You eliminate glass using the same method as eliminating cages, as explained above. Get in close, then crop the images even closer - When you arrive at the zoo, take time to look through the shop and take notice of the posters and postcards being sold. Focus on the eyes - As with all living subjects, if the eyes aren’t sharp, you lose the connection between the animal and the viewer. Get down (or up) to the animals level where possible - Even if it means being on your knees or laying in the dirt Other times, you might need to stand on a seat.
Eliminate backgrounds where possible - Nothing is more distracting in a zoo photo than a fence in the background, or a feeding bucket. Photograph people and their enjoyment - The main reason to visit the zoo, should be to experience the enjoyment of viewing the different animals. If you enjoyed this post you may also like to read: Our best tips for photographing animals or our article on Bird Photography. By a long zoom lens, I am referring to one in the range of 100mm, to say 400mm focal length.
Yes, it’s true that animals in darker enclosures may need a slower shutter speed to allow more light into the shot, therefore requiring extra stability. We have found the best times to see animals is just before feeding time, when they are most active. My partner on the other hand, keeps his camera on P mode, with continuous shooting also set.
The best way to do this, is to zoom your lens to a longer focal length and place the focal spot on the animal itself. However, there are a few other tips for glass including: wiping the glass with a cloth to get rid of grubby marks, or positioning yourself so there are no scratches between you and the animal.

You’ll soon learn that tightly cropped faces and body parts have more impact than those with ample surroundings.
You’ll find your images have a lot more impact if you are at eye level to the animal, within reason of course. By the time you stand in front of the first animal and set your camera up, the lighting can prove to be a challenge.
Personally in these cases, I prefer to increase the ISO to a higher number, for example 800. This same photographer also expected other zoo visitors to give him ample room so he could take his professional photo. This should in most cases, eliminate the cage.A trick my partner uses, is to set your DSLR camera to P mode, zoom your lens out to a longer focal length and take your shot.
I often do this by repositioning myself so the distracting object isn’t in view, or using aperture mode (set to a small F number) to nicely smooth the background.
At the end of the day when you look over your photographs, it will often be these images that bring a smile to your face.
This will enable you to capture a burst of shots, one after another, never missing an opportunity. This tip also tends to ensure the focus is on the animal and not the cage.If all else fails, move your physical position and try again.

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