An online book of Common Sense Photography, by Rhett Stuart

How to Take Wildlife Photographs in the Wild, and at the Zoo


Did you know a lot of professional wildlife pictures are taken at the zoo early in the morning when they feed the animals? They are not off in Africa somewhere! The wild areas are shrinking and getting taken over by us humans!

Animals are more active in the morning and the evening. Try and get permission to go to the zoo early in the morning and get your photographs quietly while the animals are the most active. I have found taking a LOT of photographs of animals can get the best results because they will never pose for me! Good wildlife lenses are in the 70mm-200mm range up to 1000mm. Telephoto lenses really come in handy to get in close! Try and take photographs of animals at their eye level. This gives the effect of you entering their world, from their perspective. I like the feeling this gives, it helps the viewer visualize what the animal’s world is like.

Another option is to get special permission at an animal park to take the photographs, but expect to pay $100 or more. Often there are bars in the way. Going off hours to a special place set up for photographers can get you first class photographs without bars, tourists, or other distractions.

I took a “wildlife” picture of a small bear while on a backpack trip while I was by myself. It was definitely exciting since the bear was slobbering and walking towards me to get my backpack full of food, and I was lost and alone. I took the picture and he kept coming. I drove him off by waiving my arms and yelling. But I used the 50mm lens that was on my camera, I used film with no white balance setting for the shade like digital cameras have, under exposed it, and the picture turned out lousy. The main point is, opportunities come just once in a while so keep alert and don’t lose your nerve! I totally skipped the bear shot a few years later when this huge black bear got my back pack while I was away briefly. I was thinking more about getting my food back then taking the picture. Also, he had my camera… He finally decided to leave after a lot of hand waving and yelling.

If you are interested in grizzly bears one of the best spots is Brooks Camp in Katmai National Park, Alaska. You have to get there by float plane. I have never been there but it is on my list of things to do and places to go! A lot of great photographs of grizzly bears have been taken there.

Consider going on a photo safari. There are many quality safari trips to allow you to take photographs of polar bears, elephants in their natural habitats, and grizzly bears! The trip is planned out for you, and your tour guide is available to answer questions and give tips. Plus you get a nice vacation to go along with it!