Captive Animals can sometimes be the easiest or hardest subjects, depending upon the facilities you are visiting.
Accessibility - Many of these animals are either kept in enclosures that are far away and have to be shot with a zoom lens, or they are behind glass with smudges and smears. Don’t let these factors deter you from getting a great shot. There are often ways to get around this. If they are in area that needs a zoom lens, talk to the staff. There may be a time that they are closer to the front, or that the animals will be brought to an area for special showings. If they are behind glass, try to time your shots for early morning when fewer people have been to the area and there will be less smudging. Also, keep some baby wipes with you to clean the glass. Take your shot from as close to the glass as possible. I will often get my lens right on the glass. This often times allows you to use your flash without the problems of reflections. Take the same shot several times to allow for focusing issues and movement of the animal. This hippo was taken through 3” glass as was the baby alligator below.
Staff – This is your most valuable resource. I’ve met very few staff members that won’t help you if they can. They can tell you the time of day your subjects will be most active, what the feeding schedule is, where the best locations are, what personality traits to look for, etc. If you are a regular visitor, and get to know the staff, they may start extending extra courtesies, such as inside information on when an animal is being moved from one enclosure to another, or when a new animal is being introduced to an exhibit.
Behind the Scenes Tours – Try to take one of these if they are available. You often get photo ops that most others don’t get.
Common Courtesy – I can’t say this often enough. Everyone with a camera wants that one special shot. I’ve found that if I’m patient and conscious of my fellow photographers, they will extend that same courtesy to me. Nothing is more frustrating or irritating than hearing, “Would you mind stepping aside, I’m a photographer and need to get this shot.” Everyone typically has paid the same amount to have the same opportunities. Being a photographer doesn’t accord the right to be rude. If I see children trying to take a picture, I will often do anything I can to help them as well. I’ve had staff members offer to help me get a better shot later on because of this.
Photo credits: Diana Child.