Photo Tips

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

Tip #1 – Patience

Hippo at the LA Zoo Photo Credit: Charlie Morey
Peafowl at the LA Zoo Photo Credit Charlie Morey

Animals, just like people, have their ups and downs. On any given day, you may see your favorite critter performing like a thespian on stage, or you may not see it at all! So, when you go looking for photos, go with the flow. Explore and discover which animals are “on” at the moment and turn your attention toward them.

Tip #2 – Weather

Male Lion at the LA Zoo Photo Credit Charlie Morey
Chimpanzee at the LA Zoo Photo Credit: Charlie Morey

Think a bright, sunny day is best for zoo photography? Not necessarily. You’ll notice that most animals seek shade when they’re on display, and hot weather doesn’t make any of us particularly energetic. Overcast days with their cool, soft light also provide more detail because the camera can capture the entire spectrum of visible light. Bright sunlight has a much wider range of tones—the highlights are brighter and the shadows are darker—so your sunny-day images will have much more contrast and typically suffer when highlights are overexposed to pure white or shadows are underexposed to black.

Tip #3 – Timing

Flamingo at the LA Zoo Photo Credit: Charlie Morey
Nubian Ibex butting heads at the LA Zoo Photo Credit: Charlie Morey

Animals are likely to move in almost any direction at almost any time. Learn to anticipate them, so when the perfect picture falls into place, you’re ready to press the shutter release button. You’ll also find that weekdays are less crowded than weekends, and moving around to get the best angle is much easier if you aren’t caught in a shoulder-to-shoulder mob.

Tip #4 – Flash

Surprisingly, using a flash doesn’t bother the animals. Flash can open up the shadows (minimizing the sunny-day exposure problems described above), and in certain situations it can provide enough light to make picture-taking possible. When taking pictures through glass, place the front of your lens against the glass and then shield it with your hand, as necessary, to avoid reflections.

Tip #5 – Composition

Monkeys at the LA Zoo Photo Credit: Charlie Morey
Female lion at the LA Zoo Photo Credit: Charlie Morey

Take your time when composing the image in your viewfinder. Look at all four edges of the frame and then arrange the subject and its environment into a pleasing composition. One of the rules often used by professionals is the Rule of Thirds. Divide the frame into thirds, both vertically and horizontally. That creates four intersections where the lines cross. Place your primary subject on one of those intersections, and odds are good that you’ll be pleased with the results.

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