Zoo Photography! 4 Photography Tips and Techniques on How to Take Photographs of Zoo Animals Through Bars and Cages

Bars and Cages

There is a trend among zoos these days to reconstruct the cages of animals to make them appear similar to their natural habitats. Thus, cages and bars are fewer today than a decade ago. This is good news for zoo photographers who bemoan the fact that they always have to take pictures of animals through bars and cages. Bars and cages, however, can never be completely removed because of safety reasons. It is not a good idea for photographers to jump inside the cage just to take pictures of wild animals without the distracting cage wires. But there are four safe strategies of taking pictures of zoo animals that will reduce the unappealing effect of bars and cages.

Animals behind bars

The fence detracts the eye from te pronghorns
The wires made the Alaskan moose appear trapped

1 – Get Close

The easiest way to reduce the unappealing effect of bars and cages is to get as close as possible. When the camera is close enough, the cage wires will become blurry and can no longer be recognized. Of course, this technique will just reduce the distinct shape of the cage wires but will not completely eliminate them. Sadly, the zoo photographer could not take award-winning pictures with this strategy.

Closing in on the zoo animal

The African lion when shot from the regular distance
The African lion when shot closer and at a different angle

2 – A Little Ingenuity

If the bars are too big, a closer proximity to the zoo animal will make the bar look less like a bar. Again, it will not produce pictures fit for the National Geographic. But there might be interest groups that will adore that picture. At the same time, the bars can be used as a frame or if the camera is set at the highest resolution, it will be easier to crop the bar off when editing the picture.

Ingenuity at work

The Asian elephant behind bars
The same picture with the bar cropped

3 – Using Backgrounds

If the bars or cages are too far, the zoo photographer needs to move around and find an angle that will make the cage wires less prominent. Usually, a darker background will blend with the cage wires and make it less obvious.

Backgrounds against cages

The bald eagle in a mesh of wires, shot against the sky background
The same bald eagle shot against the dark leafy background with wires less obvious

4 – Manual Focus

The best way to eliminate the unwanted lines of the cages is to take matters into your own hands. That is, the zoo photographer must set the camera to manual focus. The camera does not have any aesthetic sense to decide which object needs focus. Thus, the zoo photographer must manually set the exposure settings in order to blur the cage wires and focus on the zoo animal.

Pictures of zoo animals with the camera in manual focus

Black bear. Squint to see the wires.
The okapi behind the blurred cages
The okapi with blurred cage and zoomed lens

This post is part of the series: Taking Pictures at the Zoo – Tips and Techniques

There are several things you can do to prepare yourself for taking the best pictures at the zoo. This series will provide you with tips, tricks and techniques that will have your zoo photos look like snap shots taken directly from the wild.
  1. Portrait of the Zoo Photographer – What it Takes to be a Zoo Photographer
  2. Zoo Photography Professional Etiquette – Rules You Should Follow When Taking Pictures at The Zoo
  3. Safety in the Zoo – 3 Tips on Staying Safe When Visiting the Zoo
  4. Taking Pictures at The Zoo – Camera Equipment You Need to Have
  5. Taking Pictures at the Zoo – What Not to Bring
  6. 4 Tips on Taking the Best Pictures of Zoo Animals
  7. The Best Times to Take Pictures at The Zoo
  8. 4 Tips on How to Take Pictures Through Bars and Cages at The Zoo
  9. It’s Not All About The Animals – Taking Photos at The Zoo
  10. Tips on How to Take Pictures of Zoo Animals Through Glass