The British Isles offer a wide and diversified range of animal subjects to photograph. Unfortunately, animals like Deer, Foxes, Hares, etc require special fieldcraft if you stand any chance of being able to get close enough to be able to photograph them. You will also need to use specialised hides and may require the permission of private landowners to gain access to land that they inhabit.
Don’t let this put you off!
If you enjoy photographing animals you can always visit a zoo or wildlife park. Zoos are a lot better than they were 15 years ago. Some species would not exist if it were not for zoos. Any new enclosures I see have put the animals interests first and foremost and then they look at how they can enhance our viewing experience of them.
The animals are enclosed so they are more easily to photograph. You just need to know how to overcome some of the physical barriers like fences, glass, cages, etc.
The key to a good photograph of an animal in captivity is to not let their physical environment intrude on the final image. You don’t want to be able to tell that the animal was encaged.
The physical barriers vary according to the level of threat to humans. Any big cat will have at least 2 fences between you and them although some newer exhibits are making use of glass panels and also water as physical barriers. This makes it easier for us to photograph them.
Generally, you will need a camera with a long lens zoom capability (70 to 300+ mm). A DSLR is ideal although some fixed lens cameras offer a staggering zoom range.
As with photographing people, the one feature you need to be sharp and in focus is the eyes. Always focus on the eyes, lock focus and recompose the shot.
If you are shooting through a mesh or cage, put the lens flat up to the cage, select a large Aperture (f4 or larger). Again, focus on the eyes. Adjust exposure. Take the shot. The fence or cage should be so out of focus it does not register on the final image (see Mangabey monkey below).
If you are shooting through glass use the same process as above but rest the front of the lens on the glass. This helps to eliminate reflections. Always try to find a clean bit of glass to shoot through (not always easy). See Silverback Gorilla below.
To minimise damage to the front element of the lens always use a clear UV or Skylight filter and a lens hood. You may need to remove a lens hood when shooting through a cage as you want the lens as close as possible to render the cage out of focus. This can be done if you are careful.
A Monopod is a useful support to have to hand as it will enable you to support the camera and lens more easily.
Watch out for changes in White balance. Some animal exhibits may have artificial lighting which can throw a colour cast over your photograph. If in doubt use an Auto setting on the camera and shoot in RAW format. This will enable you to make adjustments during post-production.
Have a go and see what you think. All of the photographs shown here were taken at ZSL London zoo on a busy August day.
If you want to learn more about these techniques, come on of our courses.