There are times in the life of every macro photographer when you just get a bit bored shooting flowers and insects. Don’t get me wrong, these are great subjects and their are huge varieties of each right in your backyard. But sometimes as photographers we crave something new, different, and maybe a little exotic. You could pick up a couple of plane tickets to an exotic local in the hopes of finding new and interesting wildlife or you could hop in your car (toss your kids in the back if you’ve got them) and head off to your local zoo.

Zoos are great places to shoot subjects that you’d otherwise have to travel great distances at great cost to find. Another benefit of the zoo is that the animals are enclosed in much smaller spaces than they are in the wild so you won’t have to be worried about them getting away from you. The animals are also accustomed to people so many times they won’t be shy when you’re leaning in to get a closer look. Here are some tips for getting great close-up shots at the zoo.

Chicken Close-Up Getting to the zoo early will give you more time to get all the shots you're looking for

1. Make a visit without your camera first - You can get some great shots at the zoo if you just show up with your camera and start shooting. However, if you really want to get something different and interesting you’re going to need to do your research. Take a trip to the zoo and DON’T BRING YOUR CAMERA. This may seem counter-intuitive but the idea is that rather than being distracted by camera settings and fiddling with your angle and position, take the time to walk around the zoo and get the lay of the land. Find out which enclosures have open sight lines (cages can really be a hinderance in certain enclosures). Also, take note of when feeding times occur. Animals will be up and active for feeding so these can be some great times to get interesting shots. Your goal at the end of the day is to be able to put together a plan of action for they day you’re going to go out and shoot.

2.Get there early and be patient - You’ll want to take advantage of the entire day to get all of the shots you want so get to the zoo early. If your zoo opens early enough you may be able to utilize some nice morning light early on. Remember to be patient. The animals aren’t going anywhere which allows you to sit and be patient waiting for that perfect shot that you may not be able to get in the wild.

Eagle Close-Up Zoos offer great opportunities to get up close and personal with beautiful animals that you may have difficulty finding in the wild

3. Focus on the eyes - They eyes should always be the focal point when shooting portraits of people and the same is true of animals. Not to mention that many animals you might see at the zoo have very unique eye structures that can make for some gorgeous macro or close-up shots. Because the animals in the zoo tend to be a little less active than those in the wild, a little bit of patience is all you should need to get a nice still shot of your subjects beautiful eyes.

Flamingo Eyes Focusing on the eyes helps to give the viewer a connection to the subject

4. Experiment - Experimenting is good advice in almost any situation but never more than when shooting at the zoo. Remember that these animals aren’t going anywhere so take some risks and see what happens. You can always come back another time if you don’t manage to get that perfect shot. You never know what you might get if you’re willing to try some different shutter speeds or aperture settings.

Zoos are fantastic places to take great photos. Being so close to the animals makes it easy for anyone to take decent photographs. However, with a little bit of planning and patience you can move beyond “decent” and get some really phenomenal shots.

Do you have any great shots you took at your local zoo? Feel free to share them in the comments or in our Flickr group.

If you’re interested in some more tips for shooting photos at the zoo check out these great posts:

Photographs in this post

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