How to Photograph Animals in the Zoo

Make the most of a day at the zoo by bringing along your camera and getting shots of animals you’d never see otherwise. Victoria Hillman explains how best to do it…


How to Photograph Animals in the Zoo


Zoo photography is a great way to practise techniques and take some intimate images of animals you may not have the chance to see in the wild. However, getting great photos from a zoo can be a challenge and although animals are generally now housed in naturalistic enclosures, which allows for more natural images, there is either wire fencing or glass to contend with and you can’t always get the perspective you would like. But, there are ways around these obstacles!


General Tips

  • Be patient, quiet and make no sudden movements. Just because there is fencing/glass between you and the animals it doesn’t mean they can’t see or hear you!
  • Watch your subject for a few minutes, especially if they are moving around. Animals generally follow patterns and paths so by watching where they are going you can position yourself in the best place to get a good shot.
  • Take your time with each animal, don’t just rush around taking snapshots as it’s guaranteed you will miss a moment!
  • Try to capture their character.
  • Keep your aperture between f/2.8 and f/5.6 as this will be very handy in throwing out foregrounds and backgrounds.
  • Make use of the natural light, if your subject is in bright light it will enable you to darken the background more easily.
  • Flash most zoos have a no flash policy, please adhere to this. If you do wish to use a flash be aware of objects that it can bounce off, potentially ruining your shot, and also please be mindful of any animals that may be sensitive to the flash.
  • If you can, move your focus point. This will allow for more creative compositions and more accurate focusing on your subject


How to Photograph Animals in the Zoo


Wire Fencing

  • If you can get close enough, place your lens flat to the fence with it pointing through a gap. If you cannot do this then make sure that the focusing point is through a hole in the fence.
  • Be careful not to shake the fence or disturb the animals.
  • Use a wider aperture to help to blur out any fencing.
  • Avoid areas of fencing that are in direct sunlight as these will be harder to blur out of the photograph.


How to Photograph Animals in the Zoo


Glass Panels

  • As with fencing, if you can put your lens flat against the glass it will stop the lens trying to focus on any marks on the glass itself. This will also help to cut out reflections and glare.
  • However, please be very careful not to bang the glass as this will disturb the animals.
  • Try to pick a clean spot and give it a quick wipe to remove any finger prints etc.
  • Pick an area that is in the shade if you can as this will reduce glare and reflections.


How to Photograph Animals in the Zoo



  • Focus on the eye(s) to create a more intimate connection and image.
  • Think about filling the frame with your subject, this will not only help to reduce the appearance of fencing and glass but create a striking portrait.
  • Try to get as low as possible so that you are as close as you can be to eye level with your subject.
  • Keep an eye on your background, try to keep it uncluttered so the eye is drawn to the animal.
  • Zoom in and focus on details for example hands, paws, patterns or just an eye.


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