|Photo Tip & Assignment #8 – At the ZooAs in London there is always something new and fresh to see, going to the Zoo is one of the things I always put aside since I moved here, ten years ago.
Maybe part of my reluctance is the fact that it saddens me to to see animals in cages, even though I’m very inspired by wildlife photographs. But a couple of weeks ago, one of my students suggested that we do a lesson at London Zoo, in preparation for a Safari in Tanzania, so off we went.
My curiosity soon overcame my worries. There are so many species and so much to see and photograph that I almost forgot the fact that we were in the middle of one of the biggest capitals in the world.
There are at least two approaches when it comes to photographing at the zoo. One is to photograph the animals making it look like they are in the wild (that is, trying to make the cage bars disappear out of focus, for example), and the other approach is to embrace the zoo’s nature and photograph the visitor’s interactions with it’s inhabitants, which can be extremely engaging and funny.
We did a bit of both that Sunday, and here are some good tips:
For the first approach, the most important elements are depth-of-field and focus. Use your longest lens (telephoto), with the widest possible aperture (small f/number). This will give you very shallow depth-of-field, and if you manage to get accurate focus on your subject, it will make the other elements on the frame go very blurry, and even “disappear”. Patience is important here, wait until the animal is as far as possible from the cage bars and at the same time try to be as close as possible from the cage yourself (at a safe distance, of course).
Manual focus might be necessary as sometimes cameras keep focusing the foreground element (the cage), struggling to find focus in the background (animal). Either choose a single focus point or switch to manual focus and turn the focus ring yourself until you see the animal sharp and be quick, as most animals move all the time, unless you chose a three-toed sloth as your subject to start with.
Shutter speeds are also an important factor when it comes to moving subjects. Leaving a wide aperture (small f/number) for shallow depth-of-field, automatically gives us the fastest possible shutter speeds. The more light getting into the camera, the quickest we can capture it. ISO 400 or a bit higher is recommended if you photograph in the shade.
The second approach requires you to become an observer. Step back a little, find a great angle of view and wait. As families, couples and groups of children pass by, observe for patterns of reactions that will enable you to prepare for the best shot.
The penguins on that day were giving a little show. On a side of their swimming pool there was this magnifying glass that looks very much like a fish-eye lens perspective. Hundreds of people were passing and stopping by to see, I had some good shots, either of people or the penguins alone, but it took a good while until I captured both elements in one single shot. In the picture (left) the exposure was set at the pool water, making the children become silhouettes, which is also a great way of preserving their identities.
Be non intrusive and confident. If confronted by people, be polite, show your images and delete any frame that identifies them if they request. Smiling helps a lot, and you will always find someone who is OK with that. That day, no one complained to me.
Upload your Zoo images to the Flickr Gallery: ASSIGNMENT #8 for a chance to win a £150 Discount Voucher towards Courses and Workshops at LSP*.
Photo and Text: Luciana Franzolin