The Art of Zoo-tography

by | Jun 28, 2024 | Stories & Expeditions | 0 comments

If you’ve been following the blog, you would know that I went to the zoo for the Fatherhood assignment awhile back. It was a great place to photograph that assignment!

But how could I be at a zoo and take only pictures of people doing things? I wanted to make sure to take photos of animals too! And not just animals. Exotic animals! Like Iguanas and lions and monkeys! The kind of animals I wouldn’t normally see running around in my backyard. I had my big telephoto lens, too, so I was pumped!

As soon as we walked through the entrance, I started taking photos. Here’s one of my first:

240427_James Staddon_4712 Canon EOS 7D Mark II, 200 mm, 1-1000 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 200

Epic!

Or, maybe not. I needed to slow down. Yes, an exotic species here, but totally a bland, zoo-looking photo.

Do your zoo photos look like this sometimes? In the excitement of being in a fun place, I forget about the art of photography. The elements that make a photo enjoyable to look at, in addition to documenting a fun memory.

So, let’s analyze it. What makes it look like a “zoo snapshot”?

1. Fence in the background.
2. Animals far away.
3. No thought put into the composition.
4. No depth of field. 240427_James Staddon_4740 Canon EOS 7D Mark II, 200 mm, 1-160 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 200
5. Subject in harsh sunlight.

Ok, it was time to take artistic photos of the animals around here!

Around the corner, it was impossible not to notice this beautiful, vibrant red bird boasting it’s bold color. And it wasn’t even in a cage!

The subject doesn’t fit into the “exotic” list, exactly, but it definitely is a better photo. No fences, the animal is filling the frame, the subject is positioned nicely, there is nice depth of field, and with the help of the shade and a little tweaking in Lightroom, it doesn’t look too much like it was photographed in the middle of the day. However, too bad I didn’t nail the focus! Otherwise, it would have been a really nice photo.

Over where the elephants roamed, the lemurs lurked, the tortoises lumbered, the lions lounged, and the cockatoos stared with unblinking eyes, I did my best to make photos look as artistic as possible, keeping in mind the things I mentioned before. Here are some of my favorite shots:

240427_James Staddon_4791 Canon EOS 7D Mark II, 200 mm, 1-400 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 200

240427_James Staddon_4804 Canon EOS 7D Mark II, 200 mm, 1-500 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 200

240427_James Staddon_4815 Canon EOS 7D Mark II, 200 mm, 1-400 sec at f - 2.8, ISO 1600

240427_James Staddon_4839 Canon EOS 7D Mark II, 153 mm, 1-250 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 200

240427_James Staddon_4922 Canon EOS 7D Mark II, 200 mm, 1-5000 sec at f - 2.8, ISO 500

240427_James Staddon_4851 Canon EOS 7D Mark II, 160 mm, 1-200 sec at f - 2.8, ISO 200

240427_James Staddon_4868 Canon EOS 7D Mark II, 130 mm, 1-125 sec at f - 2.8, ISO 500

240427_James Staddon_4861 Canon EOS 7D Mark II, 153 mm, 1-400 sec at f - 2.8, ISO 200

And here are a few of my almost favorites. They still may be a little “zoo-looking” or have elements in them that are less than ideal, but I still thought they were nice enough to share, especially in light of the fact that a zoo is the only place I would be able to photograph such specimens.

240427_James Staddon_4795 Canon EOS 7D Mark II, 200 mm, 1-125 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 200

240427_James Staddon_4831 Canon EOS 7D Mark II, 200 mm, 1-400 sec at f - 2.8, ISO 1600

240427_James Staddon_4874 Canon EOS 7D Mark II, 135 mm, 1-125 sec at f - 2.8, ISO 1600

240427_James Staddon_4891 Canon EOS 7D Mark II, 200 mm, 1-320 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 200

240427_James Staddon_4833 Canon EOS 7D Mark II, 200 mm, 1-500 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 200

240427_James Staddon_4918 Canon EOS 7D Mark II, 130 mm, 1-5000 sec at f - 2.8, ISO 500

It had been such a loooong time since I had been to a zoo! Back when I was young, we would go practically every year to celebrate my (or one of my 6 brothers’) birthdays! But that was almost 20 years ago. A lot has changed since then, and I very much enjoyed being able to get close to exotic birds and animals, photographing them in as artistic a way as possible.

The next time I was able to pull out my camera just for the fun of taking artistic photos was about two weeks later. And the subject I was photographing had nothing to do with animals this time. Instead, it was more historical in nature. And in Pennsylvania. Can you guess what it was? Will let you know in another blog post!

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