ZSL Whipsnade Zoo- a quick visit

February 07, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

With a few hours to spare Monday afternoon I took a quick trip to ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, Bedfordshire.  I've been a member here since September 2012, and due to this I can visit the zoo whenever I want to and I dont have to spend all day there.  This is brilliant for me as I can target my visits when there is likely something to be going on. 

Ring Tailed Lemur

One of my target species was Ring-Tailed Lemurs, I find them great to watch. I always find it can be difficult to get close to animals in zoo's.  The enclosure can give you problems.  The Ring Tailed Lemur enclosure at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo is great as you can walk through the enclosure and get amongst them.  This is great for getting close to them for some good portrait opportunities. 

One problem with zoo's is trying to get the most natural background you can get.  Zoo's and wildlife parks are well know for their fences that surround the enclosures.  Some enclosures are better than others and I usually have a walk around looking for the best angles and backgrounds.  This usually means waiting for the animal to come into frame, sometimes this can be quite a wait.  This gives me time to watch what's going on around me.  It's funny when people crowd around you just because they see you have a DSLR and think the animals must be near you.  You then get strange looks because your sitting there with your camera pointing at nothing, and they cant understand you are waiting for the ideal opportunity rather than doing what I call a 'drive by'.  You know when people come up to an enclosure and can't see any animals or the animals are not doing anything so they stay about 30 seconds then move on to the next one.

Lots of advice generally says to only taking photos in good sunlight, especially low light where it adds atmosphere to the image.  This is true but overcast conditions can be great as they are ideal for animal portraits.  Sunlight can cause shadows, especially harsh shadows from bright sunlight.  The clouds act as a giant diffuser giving a nice diffused light with no shadows,and this is ideal is light for portraits.  Don't worry too much about ISO being higher on cloudy days, most modern cameras can give great images at high ISO's, the Cheetah images below are ISO2500 and still look pretty noise free (although Lightroom 4 is great for noise reduction).

Here are a few more Lemur images, I've still not got the images I'm really after but they are going in the right direction.  More visits and practice is needed to get the Lemur behaviour images I want to get.  


Ring Tailed Lemur

Ring-Tailed Lumur


I also visited the Cheetah's.  Six Cheetah cubs were born last year and I've been trying to get photos of them for a while but I've been unsuccessfull.  The cheatah cubs were all lying with their mother, all nice and warm.  This one cub just lifted its head and looked straight at me through the glass.  Shooting through glass can give a few problems, just like fences which can cause different problems you need to do a couple of simple changes that can make all the difference.  Shooting through glass can mean reflections and possible glare from the sun and other light sources  (lights or doorways can cause problems).  To overcome this problem I have brought a cheap screw-in flexible rubber lens hood from ebay.  This is an inexpensive way of cutting out reflections.  All you need to do it press the rubber lens hood against the glass and reflections are cut out between the glass and the lens.  The rubber hood also gives a little movement so you can angle the lens rather than keep it flat against the glass. 

Cheetah Cub

I thought the Cheetah cub image above was ideal for a black and white conversion, so a little extra processing in Lightroom 4 (curves, B&W colour mix, local burning and dodging using the adjustment brush) gave me the image below.  A close friend, and fellow photographer, George Wheelhouse introduced me to this technique, he has some great Balck and White images on his website.  This is my first try at this technique and I'm pretty happy with the results.  The fuzzy fur of the cub did cause me a few processing problems, especially around the edges.   

Cheetah Cub Portrait (Black & White)

Here are my Zoo Photography Tips, hopefully they may help you.

  1. Take a few minutes to walk around enclosures to look for the best backgrounds and places to set up.
  2. Wait for the animals to come to you rather than you chasing them around, you may get less photos but they should be better photos.
  3. Get to the animals eye level where possible.
  4. Talk to zoo keepers, they can tell you the best times to visit during the day.  Many animals are more active 30 minutes before and after feeding times.
  5. Cut out glare and reflections when shooting through glass by using a screw-in flexible rubber lens hood.
  6. Try to find the cleanest area of glass, close to the floor below sticky hand prints is one good place.
  7. When shooting through fences, get the lens right up against the fence (you will need to remove the lens hood, I use a protector filter to stop getting any scratches on the front element).
  8. If there are double fences (big cat enclosures usually have them) set the focus limit switch on your lens so auto focus doesn't pick up the second fence when focusing.
  9. When shooting through a fence choose an area that is in shade if possible, it helps to stop glare on the metal wire or shiney plastic coating on many fences.
  10. Do your research before you go, if you know what the animals may do you you can look out for their interesting behaviour. 




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