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Photography In The Zoo

Online Photography School

Photography In The Zoo

Many of us want to take pictures of lions, tigers, bears, and other small furry creatures without the expense of a trip to Alaska or the dangers of a photo safari in Africa. In order to do this many of us turn to our local zoos which will allow us to take as many photos as we want from the safety of the sidewalk. However there are many things to hinder us from getting those awesome shots like you would see on safari, from weird feeding times to those pesky fences allot stands in the way of us capturing that award winning shot; however, with the right preparation and equipment much of this can be overcome.

photography at the zoo


First of all I recommend that you get a DSLR camera, no it doesn’t have to be a top of the line camera but it needs to have at least 8 megapixels. You are going to want to get a wide angle lens probably in the range of 15-35mm and a telephoto lens (probably around 35-300mm.) If you are strapped for cash I have always been able to find an awesome deal on used cameras/lenses on ebay. As far as lenses are go you want one that has an image stabilizer built in, this way if you aren’t able to use a tripod then you are more likely to take sharp photos.

Also, I recommend a lightweight tripod. Keep in mind that you are going to be walking around quite a bit so you want something that is going to be isn’t heave. Sunpak makes an awesome carbon fiber tripod that is well suited for this, but you can also find a cheap one in any of the big box stores. Many times, if I feel a monpod is better suited to my needs I’ll take one leg of my tripod, extend and lock it and use that. This cuts down on the amount of items I have to carry around.

Don’t forget the walking shoes. You are definitely going to want a comfortable pair of shoes because you are going to be moving around quite a bit.


Zoo photography is as much about planning as any other shoot and during your preparation you are going to want to find out when their feeding time is. This means you may have to call ahead or ask one of the staff members. If they feed the animals 2 hours before opening you may have to look into getting in the park before it opens.

lion at the zoo

I am not suggesting that you do anything illegal, but if you are serious about this you may want to see if you can join the park’s charitable foundation. This may give you privileges that the rest of the public doesn’t have (like getting in the park before anyone else.) If that is a bit pricey for you then you may want to consider jingling your keys and (if safe) tapping on the fencing around their cage. This may make the animal think they are going to get fed and it’s possible that they might respond to it, if think a zoo keeper is entering the exhibit.

Don’t haze the wildlife, how would you like it if you were in a cage a someone was messing with you? Not to mention, this won’t endear you to the park staff and may even get you thrown out.

Taking Pictures:

Fences can be a pain but are there for both ours and the animal’s protection. When trying to photograph an animal though a fence open the aperture up as much as possible. This should remove the fence from view while not distorting the rest of the photo.

Focus on the eyes: The eyes are the will be the most expressive part of your subject, from sadness to anger and curiosity the eyes will say it all; so focus on the eyes even if other parts are slightly out of focus. Composition is also a big plus, this will be a great opportunity to apply the rule of thirds when feasible.

Don’t forget to take photos of the wildlife that roams freely through the park. This includes the birds in the aviaries as well as peacocks. I know at my zoo they have also used some sort of orchid looking plants in their aviary, so although you may be there for the animals this may be an also opportunity for some great macro photography.

zoo photography

The point of all this article is this, keep you eyes open and do your research, just because the zoo seems like an easy place to shoot photos (and it is) there are still some preparations that you need to take. Have the right equipment and ask questions of the zoo staff. Also if you find your local zoo isn’t photographer friendly search for other local venues. You may find that an alligator farm, state park, tiger sanctuary etc. may be better suited to your needs.

About the Author:
Mark Wilson (take-pictues-101.blogspot.com) is a photographer based in the Jacksonville, Fl area.

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