Advanced Photo Tips

Story and photography by Charlie Morey/
with Los Angeles Zoo photographers Tad Motoyama and Jamie Pham

Click here for basic tips

RhinoTip #1 - Zoom In

If your goal is to capture animal images that appear natural (i.e., not taken in a zoo), you'll need to omit most of the environment. That's most easily done by hanging a telephoto lens on your SLR (single-lens reflex) camera and zooming in tight enough to include only the animal itself.

If you're buying your first long lens, we recommend a zoom in the 70-200mm, 70-300mm or 80-400mm range.

Tip #2 - Brace Up

One of the first things you'll discover about your long lens is that it's much harder to hold it steady. Most of the animal enclosures have some sort of wall where you can brace your elbows, and if possible hold the camera itself against something solid. If you're not close to anything solid to brace against, try this: Place your left hand under the lens, palm up. Grip the right edge of the camera with your right hand, and then hold both elbows solidly against your chest. Control your breathing – take several breaths and then release the last one about halfway. Very gently squeeze the shutter release button (don't poke it) until it clicks.

PigeonTip #3 - ISO Speeds

Long lenses typically aren't as "fast" as short ones (they allow less light to pass through), so to get good depth of field while maintaining a fast enough shutter speed to avoid blur due to camera movement, you may want to increase the ISO rating on your digital camera or film.

It's not uncommon to shoot at ISO 400 or even 800. Although there will be increased noise in your digital images, it can be minimized in post-production to produce a good quality image.

CraneTip #4 - Shooting Through Glass or Wire Enclosures

Many of the animal enclosures are fitted with wire mesh or transparent glass-like material, and both can present a challenge to photographers.

You can actually shoot through the wire with a long lens if the animal is farther away from the wire than you are. You may have to focus manually, and don't use a small aperture that could bring the wire into focus. With the transparent material, your primary problems are dirt, distortions, and reflections.

Either place the front of the lens against the glass or try to line up your shot so that the reflected area is dark. Watch for a few moments, and you'll see if people moving in the background affects the reflections in your viewfinder.

GiraffeTip #5 - Seasons

Spring is an amazing time at the Zoo. New offspring are bouncing around the enclosures, exploring their environment, and interacting with their parents and extended family. Photographers seeking great photo opportunities will find them all over the Zoo!

Please check the website regularly for updates to our animal collection. Practice is key to developing your technique, and wonderful opportunities abound for great pictures at the Zoo. Good luck!
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