(The following section is adapted from America’s Best Zoos: A Travel Guide for Fans and Families by Allen W. Nyhuis and Jon Wassner.)
The most important thing to understand is that anyone can take great animal pictures, even without spending a fortune on expensive photography equipment. But getting a great picture means taking into account a number of factors that can change on a daily basis. Specifically, dream shots require timing, patience, and often a little research. Here are a few tips that should prove helpful in almost any situation:
Timing. By timing, we mean time of day, and specifically the lighting. Early morning light is usually the softest of the day; it almost lights the subject from within. On the other hand, midday light can be bright and harsh, and in the late afternoon, the setting sun creates problematic shadows. Cloud cover can be a bonus when it comes to lighting; the diffuse light illuminates evenly without creating harsh shadows. Be aware of these factors when composing a shot. But timing also can include attending planned zoo events like Busch Gardens Africa’s Meet the Keeper series. These informative interactive presentations also present excellent picture-taking opportunities.
Patience. Patience may be the most important factor in getting a good photo. Finding an animal in a zoo isn’t always tough, but finding one in the right position can be quite difficult. If a gorilla is hiding behind a bush, spend a few minutes waiting to see if it will move. Trying to find an animal in the right context, however, does not mean tapping on the glass to get its attention. Glass-tapping is a clear violation of zoo manners and rules. Repeatedly tapping on their glass tanks can even harm some animals, such as reptiles. Even though it will take longer, waiting for the right shot, instead of artificially creating it, is much more satisfying.
Angles and equipment. Modern zoo exhibits bring animals closer and closer to visitors, so even a disposable point-and-shoot camera can produce some nice shots. Quite often, these close encounters with animals are achieved through creative use of glass barriers. Unfortunately, the downside of glass is the potential for glare. The best way to eliminate glare is to take the picture from a forty-five-degree angle. For those willing to purchase more advanced equipment, a glare-reducing filter can significantly improve photos of animals taken through glass. If you are fortunate enough to have an SLR camera with detachable lenses, bring along a wide-angle lens to the zoo.
Zoos are in the business of recreating natural habitats. While close-up pictures of animals are certainly impressive, don’t forget to include a few pictures that showcase their surroundings – you might even be able to convince someone you actually went on an African safari!
For more information about America’s Best Zoos, visit . . . www.americasbestzoos.com
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