Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Taking photos at a wildlife park

Aperture F4.0, shutter speed 1/250 sec, ISO 200

So I secured a very cool corporate shoot…  It wasn’t just any corporate shoot; it was to retake all the photos for African Lion Safari. The cool part is the way they exhibit animals is completely different from the traditional approach; that is, the visitor is caged in the car, and the animals roam in 2 to 20 hectare (5 to 50 acre) reserves. They first opened the gates to the public in 1969 with 40 lions in 3 reserves; today the park houses in excess of 1,000 animals comprised of over 100 species including Asian Elephants, Lions, Cheetah, White Rhino, Rothschild Giraffe and numerous other animals from Africa, Asia and North America. I got to ride in the staff vehicles and get up close and personal with many of the animals that generally stay back from the visitors...

If you were to go to a park like this the first question you should consider is "What equipment should you use for a shoot like this?"
1) Lenses - In my experience, a long zoom lens is required to take good photographs at the zoo. By a long zoom lens, I am referring to one in the range of 100mm, to 400mm in focal length. In a lot of cases, you’ll find yourself shooting within the 200 – 300mm focal length.
2) Use a tripod or monopod? - Whether or not to use a tripod or monopod is often a grey area when it comes to wildlife park photography. Yes, it’s true that animals in darker enclosures may need a slower shutter speed to allow more light into the shot, therefore requiring extra stability. Personally in these cases, I prefer to increase the ISO to a higher number, for example 800 to 1600.
3) Use a lens hood - Lens hoods come in handy for times when you have no choice as to the angle from which to shoot. Often you may need to shoot into the sun. Lens hoods may be useful for stopping sun flares in these situations.
Aperture F10, Shutter Speed 1/80, ISO 160

As for the shooting tips, listed below are some tips for taking good photographs at a zoo or wildlife park.
1) Animals are constantly on the move and aren’t going to sit and pose on cue. I like to keep my camera settings on shutter priority mode with a fast shutter, an appropriate ISO and an aperture around f3.5 to f5.6.  Some photographers will set the aperture at f2.8 to maximize the wide open iris, but for those less experienced shooters, the narrow depth of field with an f2.8 will lend itself to more missed shots than keepers.
2) Get in close, and then crop the images even closer. When you arrive at the zoo or animal park, take time to look through the shop and take notice of the posters and postcards being sold. You’ll soon learn that tightly cropped faces and body parts have more impact than those with ample surroundings. This allows you to capture details otherwise not seen.
3) Focus on the eyes. As with all living subjects, if the eyes aren’t sharp, you lose the connection between the animal and the viewer.
4) Have patience. Give yourself ample time to get the right shot. I can’t count the number of times I’ve walked away from an animal, to find they yawned or did that unique expression.
5) Eliminate backgrounds where possible. Nothing is more distracting in a zoo photo than a fence in the background, or a feeding bucket. I often do this by repositioning myself so the distracting object isn’t in view, or using aperture mode (set to a small F number) to nicely smooth the background.
6) When you get your photos home and you are editing, don’t be confined to the traditional sized image, try something new and crop your photos in a way that gives the subject more impact.

I hope I gave you some things to think about… and if you want to come with Rick and I to photograph these animals in their natural habitat, we are headed to Tanzania in April of 2013. Check out the details of this awesome trip here.

Thanks for reading,