Thursday, October 10, 2013

How to Get a Great Zoo Photograph. Part 3

Part Three. The features.

You're at the zoo and you want to come home with some decent photos, but you're not exactly a world class nature photographer. Never mind that! With a few tips, you can take some pretty good shots. In Part One we talked about how to maximize your chances by staying a long time and going often. In Part Two we talked about how important it is to pay attention to the light. And now, we let you know what to focus on. One of the reasons we find animals so intriguing, is that many of them have fascinating distinguishing features. For the male lion, it's that massive mane, for the zebra, it's the stripes, for the flamingo it's the mile long legs. Observe the animal for a while. Think about what you find appealing. Is there a feature which sets the animal apart from all others? If so, go ahead and try to find a way to make that part of the animal especially prominent in the photo.
Here in this photo of a baboon reaching for a rope,  what I found striking was the length of the arm, so I made sure to focus on that. When I went to visit  Jojo, the silverback gorilla of the Brookfield Zoo near Chicago, it was the pose that was so compelling. So I made sure to take a full shot of Jojo, demonstrating how a silverback will perch on his haunches.   And on another day, when I was photographing a mother pig and her piglets, what was most amazing was how tiny those babies are in comparison, so when one of the tiny piggies went up and nuzzle his mom, snout to snout, I was sure to capture that.
Sometimes it's a little more subtle that all that, but you can still create a good photo.  Apollo Gorilla is being completely adorable just resting on the log above, but it's hard to zero in on a distinguishing aspect. So  I made sure to focus on those eyes of his. Having visited, photographed and blogged about these baby gorillas constantly for over a year now, it's surely obvious to you that I find just about anything regarding a juvenile gorilla to be completely captivating. But the eyes, in particular,  are where the gorillas show so much humanity. I wanted to be sure to show them off  as best I could.
With gorillas, the eyes are a challenge, especially as they get older. Gorillas have a prominent forehead which protectively juts out over their eyes.  Most of the time, that brow ridge creates a dark shadow. To get a photo where gorilla eyes are clearly visible in all their glory, I generally have to stand there waiting until the animal turns face to sun.  That's just what Apollo has done here, with the result that his face is nicely lit up. When you are at the zoo, be patient. Watch the animal. Think about what makes this animal special, and then get ready to snap that shutter just at the right time to capture what you find so endearing.