How To Photograph Zoo Animals

Wildlife photography can take a lot of research and work – plus, it can be pretty dangerous too!

How To Photograph Zoo Animals

A lot of photographers don’t feel comfortable getting up close to wild animals and as a result, they turn to captive animals in zoos instead. 

There are lots of benefits to zoo photography as an alternative to wildlife photography. First, you get guaranteed photographs of animals and they are kept at a safe distance from you. 

However, there are some things you need to consider first before you take your camera to your nearest zoo. Here are some great tips to help you photograph zoo animals safely and legally! 

1. Check Photography Is Allowed

Before you buy your ticket to the zoo and start setting up your tripod, you need first to check that you are even allowed to take photographs of the zoo animals. 

Most zoos allow photographers to snap photographs of their animals but you should always check beforehand as some zoos may have different rules.

There may be some animals you are not allowed to take photographs of – like bats or snakes (see also “How To Photograph Snakes“). 

So to avoid any trouble, check the zoos’ website or drop them a call or email asking permission to take some professional photographs of their animals. 

2. Get The Right Gear

You will probably need more than just your camera to get some amazing zoo photographs.

There are two pieces of gear photographers like to recommend when photographing animals, whether they are wild or captive. These are: 

  • A Tripod – These are great for reducing motion blur in your photographs. As you will likely need to wait a while for the perfect shot, a tripod can help you out so you don’t lose your position or angle while you wait. 
  • A Lens Hood – Lens hoods are great for keeping any sun flare from ruining your shots. As most zoo enclosures are outdoors and on sunny days, harsh sunlight can ruin the exposure of your photographs. Bring it back under control with a lens hood. 

3. Visit Early 

Zoos can be pretty crowded and all that hustle and bustle can make it difficult to capture the right shot of your animal subjects.

As a result, it’s a good idea to avoid crowds by visiting the zoo early and getting a few hours of photography in before more guests arrive. 

There are other benefits to visiting the zoo early. Firstly, most animals are more active in the early morning and you may be able to catch them grazing and feeding for breakfast.

You may even capture some stunning shots during the golden hour – the first hour after dawn. 

Of course, this depends on the opening times at your zoo! 

4. Avoid Using Your Camera’s Flash 

How To Photograph Zoo Animals (1)

The golden rule for zoo photography is to turn off the flash. 

The main reason why flash photography is banned at zoos is because it can startle the animals. Some animals are very sensitive to light and flash photography can cause some serious stress.

As a result, zookeepers are pretty strict about the no flash photography rule. 

Your camera’s flash won’t be of much use to you anyway. A lot of zoo animals are kept behind glass-paneled enclosures and using the flash can only lead to some ugly glares and unflattering reflections. 

So, turning off the flash will not only improve the quality of your photographs but avoid any distress to the animals and keep you on the good side of the zoo keepers! 

5. Compose Your Camera

At the zoo, there will be a good amount of distance between you and the animal subjects. On top of that, the animals will be kept behind some kind of wall.

Whether it’s made of glass or a chain-link fence, it’s likely that there will be a boundary between you and the animal. 

As a result, you need to composure your camera so it’s ready to take long-distance shots and work your way around these distracting elements. Here are some ways to do just that: 

  • Use a zoom lens. Zoom lenses are great for taking photographs of subjects that are a long distance away from you. Lenses with a focal length between 100 and 300 mm are great options for you to choose. 
  • Use a fast shutter speed. Animals can move fast and the last thing you want is a blurry photograph because the subject moved slightly at the last moment. To get some great shots, increase your shutter speed so your photographs are sharper and cleaner. 
  • Use a wide aperture. This will blur distracting objects in the background and foreground so the animal subject is the clear focus of the photograph. This can completely transform your photograph and turn an okay photograph into a stunning one. 

What exact settings you should use will vary from camera to camera and your individual situation. You can make adjustments as you see fit – no one knows your camera like you do! 

6. Focus On The Eyes

A good tip when taking photographs of animals (be they wild or captive) is to try and capture the eyes. 

The eyes are one of the most expressive features for both humans and animals and so, capturing an animal’s eyes can make a good shot into a fantastic one.

Making them the focus of the photograph and keeping them sharp and clear is a great way to capture the majesty and beauty of the subject.

It builds a stronger connection between the view and the subject, making your photograph more expressive and impactful. 

Of course, not all your photographs need to focus on the eyes but it’s a great method to try out to get some truly amazing zoo photographs! 

Final Thoughts 

So, from camera settings to zoo photography etiquette, there are a lot of things you need to be aware of when photographing animals in captivity.

It’s much easier than wildlife photography but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any rules you should follow. 

Follow the guidance above, grab your camera, and head down to your nearest zoo to start taking some test photographs.

Laura McNeill
Scroll to Top