Sunday, September 15, 2013

How to Get a Great Zoo Photograph on a Rainy Day

Part Two: The Light

Last time in our series, we mentioned that to get a great zoo photograph, the first step is to be there. This time we tell you not to be afraid to be there on a cloudy or a rainy day. The skies were about to open up when I took this photo of Olympia and Apollo when I visited at the North Carolina Zoo.  In fact, I only had about sixty seconds, because the minute the rains poured down, Olympia was off like a shot, Apollo stowed safely on her back. In conditions like that, she trots off to the wall, where she gets some protection from a bit of an overhang. Gorillas are not thrilled about getting wet!

Apollo lolls around in the lap of Olympia

Most people with a camera in hand tend to wish the sun would just come out already and light everything up. But I  have found the opposite works well with zoo photography. The thick blanket of clouds we had that day served to take the edge off of the light, surrounding the gorillas in a gentle glow. No harsh light from a bright unfiltered sun, means no harsh shadows on the animals. The features of the animals will not be chopped up by uneven light and shadow, but will appear in their most natural aspect. The light will be nice and soft. Additionally, under heavy cloud, plants seem greener than they do under full sun, and rich greenery makes for a fantastic background to show off any animal. So next time you are taking photos at the zoo, don't make such a sad face when the sun tucks behind a cloud. Photography in soft light conditions can give you spectacular results.

Work fast when the rain is coming

On the other hand, be quick, because many animals are going to go and seek shelter in the rain. Olympia scooped up her baby and scaled this rock skillfully and quickly when those drops came out of the sky. If you are worried about your camera getting wet, you can have someone hold an umbrella over your head as you shoot. If you are working alone, and have your camera set on a tripod, you can wrap it in a rain sleeve. But I have had mixed results with those. It's hard to get your hands inside to operate them. The sleeve has collected some water, and you don't want any of those little pools draining right on to your camera. So instead, I just throw a plastic table cloth over the entire set up and I crawl under there with the camera. Disposable oblong party table cloths are nice and big, and are available in drugs stores for a few dollars a piece.
You can just make out the raindrops which drove Olympia away