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4 Tips on Taking the Best Pictures of Zoo Animals

written by: Mayflor Markusic•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 9/22/2008

You’d like to take great pictures of animals at the zoo but you don’t want your images to look like they were taken at the zoo, there are four different strategies to accomplish this goal. Read on to learn more.

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    Zoo Without the Zoo

    The only reason that you are taking pictures of the Bengal tigers at the zoo is that you can’t afford the plane ticket to go to India and take pictures of these animals in their natural habitat. And the only reason that you are taking pictures of the Polar bear at the zoo is that you don’t want to risk life and limb by coming within a few meters of these animals in Alaska. The zoo is a nice safe place to take pictures of animals. But the best pictures of zoo animals are those that don’t show the zoo. The fences, the bars, the cages, and other artificial structures of the zoo never fail to make the pictures ordinary. The animals, within the confines of fences, lose a significant part of their appeal. Fortunately, there are four strategies that can remove the zoo background from the pictures.

    Three of these four strategies are done while taking the picture while the fourth is done on the computer when the picture is being edited.

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    Animals with distracting zoo backgrounds

    The fence distracts the view from the antlerThe relaxing camels appear trapped because of the backgroundThe electrical box on top, the street lamp on the upper left, and the metal gate to the right distracts the attention from the horse.
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    1 - Use Your Zoom

    Use your digital camera's zoom capabilities. This is the easiest method to remove the zoo background. If you own a D-SLR camera, purchasing a telephoto lens will allow you to get even closer to the zoo animals, but keep in mind that telephoto lenses can be expensive.

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    Effect of Zoom

    Prairie dogs when zoom is not used.Prairie dogs when the zoom was used.
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    2 - Shallow Depth of Field

    Reduce the camera’s depth of field. A large depth of field is excellent for taking landscapes pictures. A small or shallow depth of field is suitable for taking portraits and, of course, of animals in the zoo. The shallow depth of field will allow only a small light to enter the lens and this blurs the background of the zoo animal. When the background is blurred, it will be difficult to identify the zoo fence behind the zoo animals. One way to reduce the depth of field is to set the camera’s f-stop at its lowest number.

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    Blurred background

    The lizard appears to be in a more natural environment although it is inside a glass cage
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    3 - Move and Get Creative

    Don’t just stand and shoot. One of the most creative ways of removing the zoo background is to move around to get the best angle. It is also a good idea to get down on the knees and shoot from there. This will eliminate the higher structures of the zoo. And if the zoo photographer wouldn’t mind getting dirty, he or she can crouch really low and make the sky the background.

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    Choosing Angle

    Low angles will eliminate the man-made structures that would have appeared on top of the Aldabra TurtleTrumpeter swans shot an angle to eliminate much of the man-made pond
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    4 - When All Else Fails...Crop

    Crop the pictures. If, after all the physical efforts and acrobatics, there are still evidences of the zoo, the only way to fix the pictures is to crop them. With digital cameras, cropping should be easy in any photo editing software.

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    Cropping pictures

    Elephant shot at zoom and close range, but the fence to the left still showed.The same picture but cropped to make the elephants fill the frame.
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    Further Reading

    In addition to the other informative articles in this series, further tips and techniques can be learned by reading: Animal Photography - Tips, Tricks and Techniques to Take Pictures You'll Love