Featured Image of the Week – 9/22/2014


This week for my Featured Image of the Week I chose another shot from the National Zoo. I visited the zoo a week ago to see how all of the youngest animals are doing but I also spent some time getting some shots of the adults. This is a shot of lioness, Nababiep, relaxing and keeping an eye on her cubs. To get these kinds of shots there’s a few things I like to do to really help me increase my odds of success.

In a previous Featured Image of the Week I shared a few tips that I use to help me get my shots at the National Zoo. This week I’ll be sharing a few more tips.

More Tips for Shooting at the Zoo

I know I’ve said it before but it’s important enough to say again. If you want to increase your chances of getting good shots of wild animals at the zoo you’ll need to spend a lot of time getting to know your subjects and their environment. That means coming back more than once to really learn as much as you can. In my many trips to the zoo I’ve learned where the best places to shoot each animal is with special attention to how the background will look and what time of day works best.

Pay Special Attention to your Background

When it comes to the background I prefer to find places (to shoot from) that give me a background without lots of busy stuff and distractions. I’ve found there are a few places in every zoo (for every animal) where you can find a perfect background for your shots. Once you know where to shoot from it’s just a matter of waiting for the animal to come in to your frame.

Here’s an example of another shot of Naba’s sister, Shera, photographed from a different vantage point and you can immediately see that the background is busier (I’m not a fan of the orange safety catch fence, for example):

Another important factor is the color of the background. I look for good color contrast so my subject stands out. If the background is the same color as your subject it might get lost in the shot. In the case of my featured image the green color of the background helps Naba stand out big time.

As I’ve mentioned before, it doesn’t always work out because these are wild animals with a mind of their own. The trick is to set your expectations before you arrive and accept that you may not come home with a good picture and to keep coming back until everything works out perfectly. I have no idea how many times I’ve been to the National Zoo but I do know that I’ve come home without a single sharable shot on more than one occasion. But because I’m persistent I also have a number of shots I’m really proud of.

Wait for Eye Contact

An animal’s eyes are super important when it comes to taking pictures at the zoo. Sometimes you’ll capture a really awesome shot where you don’t have a clear view of your subjects eyes (especially when you have more than one animal in your shot) but I’ve found the best wild animal shots will usually give viewers a clear look directly into the animal’s eyes.

You make a real connection when you lock eyes with an animal in person and that same feeling can be captured and shared in a photograph. As an example, here’s a shot of Nababiep captured just before my featured image:

Almost everything is pretty much the same in this shot but Naba is not looking directly at my camera. The result is a shot without the connection of my featured image. To me this feels completely different because I can’t see Naba’s eyes.

If you want to get a shot that includes the eyes you’ll need to have a lot of patience. I’ve found myself standing in a single place for hours waiting for an animal to look directly at me. Sometimes it happens quickly and other times it doesn’t happen at all. So be patient and keep an eye on your viewfinder with your camera ready to go. An animal may only look at you for a split second so be ready with your shutter release finger!

Another thing I look for is the direction of the ears. In my featured image Naba’s ears are pointing directly at me and that really adds to the feeling that I’m connecting with her. Again, this doesn’t always happen so you’ll need to be patient and ready to capture that one frame where everything comes together.

That’s all for now. Be sure to check back next week for another Featured Image of the Week!

You can check out this shot on my 500px page here.

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