Zoo Photography Tips: Look for the Right Background

In a recent post, I described the quality of the St. Louis Zoo being very good.  Mostly, that is because the zoo is large, free, and has a wide array of animals.  Not only that, but the animals always seem healthy and active.  All of those qualities make the St. Louis Zoo a great place to visit, and certainly a must-do if you travel to St. Louis.  Undoubtedly, if you go, you’ll want to bring your camera.  What I hope to do in the next few posts are provide some tips I have discovered that will help you get more out of your photographs and your post-zoo experience.

The first tip I’ll provide is all about the photograph backdrop.  That is, look for a spot to shoot that allows you to focus on the animal, but also gives you a background that doesn’t have “zoo” written all over it.  You know, like a fence, especially a chain link or mesh fence.  Or signs, or huts.  One of the great characteristics of the St. Louis Zoo is the aesthetic qualities of the zoo exhibits themselves.  Here are some examples of what I mean.  Of course, they are all clickable to a full screen view.

background example 1
In this shot, I looked for a view to make the animal stand out in more dramatic fashion. The sunlight was really good for shooting on this day. It was not a direct sunlight, casting unwanted shadows, but more a thin cloud layer that provided highlighting. I was able to position myself low to capture the ground as it rolled to the animal, and enabled me to eliminate the top of the fake wall, so that it looked like this animal was really grazing in a sort of a canyon in the African safari.
This is a babirusa. But, that’s not the point. The point is I took a few extra steps and moments to wait until the animal went behind the hollowed out stump so that I could get some scenic drama to the shot and compliment the otherwise ugly critter! A good zoom lens and a little cropping in the editing software can take away the undesirable aesthetics of the exhibit.
Cougar background example
You know you’ve been to the zoo and experienced the feeling of seeming like all the animal wants to do is hide in its den? In this shot of the cougar, I used its den opening as the backdrop to get contrast and depth to make the subject pop. The bonus was capturing the tongue wag for extra color and action.  Does it look like a zoo shot?
Ape Scale
Sometimes you may want to show the animal in relationship to its surroundings, especially if the surroundings were aesthetically pleasing. Here, at the zoo’s “Jungle of the Apes” exhibit, I decided the chimpanzee was still enough to try a longer exposure which enabled me to capture more colors in the exhibit and gain the dramatic effects of the waterfall.  I managed to capture all that and still catch the silly facial expressions the chimps routinely make.

So, again, if you want better shots of animals you’re only likely to see at the zoo, think about how you’re going to compose that shot so that it doesn’t just look like you went to the zoo.  Think about the backdrop and how you want the animal to look in its final form in your family vacation scrapbook.  More tips to come!  Leave a comment if you have other tips on this subject.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. You have a great blog filled with beautiful photos! I will be on the look out for your next post!

    1. webcentrick says:

      Thank you very much! I appreciate you taking the time and effort to comment!

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