Thoughts & Ideas

A Trip to the Zoo

Some photographers have the wonderful privilege of going to these exotic (and not-so-exotic) places to see all kinds of animals and make photographs of them, but not all photographers are quite so lucky. For the rest of us, zoos are a wonderful place to experience the beauty and majesty of these animals, even if it is a bit limited by the confines of the zoo itself.

While down with my family celebrating Thanksgiving, we had this absolutely gorgeous day – seventy degrees, gorgeous sunlight, all the trimmings. We knew this was likely the last day of the year to be this nice, and so we just had to do something special to enjoy it. And so a trip to the zoo was in order. After a little bit of finagling with our GPS (road construction confuses these poor things like nothing else), we arrived safe and sound. And… so had everyone else. We weren’t the only ones who figured this would have been a good day, and so the zoo was quite packed. Even so, we moved at our own very leisurely pace and picked up, I think, some fantastic photos.

Flare through Lamp Post (1/250/sec @ f/20; 75mm; 100 iso)

The day was a gorgeous day, as the above image attests. We arrived at the zoo at around 1:30pm, so the sun wasn’t at its peak, but that really didn’t matter; it just meant a bit harder light to deal with. The non-photographer in me was fine with that – I hadn’t seen 70 degree day for what felt like eons, let alone a nice, bright, sunny day. The photographer in me would’ve liked to have had softer light, but you can’t have your cake and eat it too!

Not Just Animals

The zoo isn’t just full of animals, but it is full of gorgeous flowers, plants, and trees. Although most of the flowers and grasses had, justifiably, put up for the winter, a few just couldn’t resist coming out on this glorious day and strutting their stuff.

Still in Bloom (1/250/sec @ f/5.6; 200mm; 160 iso)

Cute Plant (1/250/sec @ f/5; 200mm; 640 iso)

Photographer’s Side Note: Just a tip, if your camera supports it – get a circular polarizing filter! It’s not just for making blue skies bluer or for dealing with reflections in water or glass, but it can also saturate colors – not just blue. It does introduce some light loss (about 1 stop or so at full), but the results are well worth it.


The zoo has a lot of birds – especially inside, but that gets really difficult to photograph. I have lots of blurry images on my computer now, or images that are sharp but very, very, very noisy due to the low light. Not to mention that a lot of these birds were fairly active, and wouldn’t stay still long enough to get a blur-free image – so even if I had a tripod, I’d have had problems.

But the zoo also had birds outside and in an outdoor bird house (which was impressive on its own), so I was able to get some good shots:

Nitpicking: Standing on one leg, this bird is preening and cleaning. I suspect he's been napping, too. 
(1/200 @ f/4; 200mm; 200 iso)

Turquoise Eyes: From a distance this bird didn't look all that interesting -- for one reason, he was preening quite frequently, and didn't let us get a good look. But when I got home, I noticed his gorgeous eyes! Aren't they beautiful? (1/100 @ f/4; 200mm; 1600 iso)

I See You: This bird was just showing all sorts of attitude. I think he's rather used to being photographed! 
(1/200 @ f/4; 200mm; 320 iso)

Look At Me! This male peacock was out wandering the grounds, and definitely wasn't afraid of us humans getting up close. He did eventually get tired of us photographers stalking him though, and eventually wandered off to get away from our cameras. 
(1/80 @ f/4; 200mm; 1600 iso)


The zoo is also full of all sorts of animals. Most were taking full advantage of the fantastic weather and sun – either taking a nap or sunning themselves. Some were far more sociable than others… I have an image of a cheetah, but like most cats, it just didn’t want to appease us by making an appearance where any of us could get good pictures. But others just posed and posed, while others could care less what we were doing!

Bush Dogs: Awww, aren't these cute? These bush dogs were so enjoying the gorgeous day and taking a nap out in the sun seemed the perfect way to do it. (1/250 @ f/4; 200mm; 320 iso)

Red River Hog: I rather think this guy is rather cute, although he is definitely a hog, snout and all. He was busy foraging in the grass and dirt for some tasty grub, and was apparently finding some.
(1/160 @ f/5; 200mm; 1600 iso)

Sleeping Hyena: This hyena wasn't being very sociable when we arrived, and was curled up in its cave aways back. Thank goodness for long lenses! Though I think they look rather funny when up and prowling around, this one is managing to pull off "cute" quite successfully. (1/80 @ f/4; 200mm; 400 iso)

Dwarf Mongoose: I nearly missed this guy -- they are really small -- not much bigger than a large rat or something, but they are kinda cute up-close. He was enjoying the very warm rock, apparently, although he was definitely keeping an eye on us.
(1/200 sec @ f/4; 200mm; 1000 iso)

Having a Laugh: Technically I'm sure this Asian Elephant is doing anything but laughing (she's actually eating), but this frame just caught this expression. Who knows? Maybe she really is laughing at us... (1/250 sec @ f/4; 200mm; 250 iso)

Bull on the Prowl: At first this Bull Asian Elephant didn't seem to want to have anything to do with us, preferring instead to prowl in the distance. But something brought him striding proudly forward, and then he stopped to pose for us for quite some time.
(1/250 sec @ f/4; 200mm; 250 iso)


Okay – so even though the snake below is fake, he’s pretty realistic. If you don’t like such things, click here to skip right on by. Otherwise, scroll down and enjoy:









Fraud: This snake -- while rather realistic -- is totally fake. (I wouldn't be so close if he was real!) But still, he's a bit menacing, isn't he? (1/250 sec @ f/4; 200mm; 1250 iso)


And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming:

Leave Me Alone: This bear was out enjoying the warm weather, and you could almost swear he was fake -- he was stock-still in one position for quite some time, and then did this. I think he was annoyed at all of us interrupting his siesta, since he wandered off to his cave shortly after. (1/250 sec @ f/4; 200mm; 200 iso)

Wanna piece o' me?: Something about this prairie dog just screams "attitude". I think he's got loads of it, and he's not afraid to let it stick out all over him! (1/200 sec @ f/4; 200mm; 500 iso)

I've my eye on you...: This prairie dog wasn't fooling around, keeping a keen eye on us when we got close, and for quite some time after we left. (1/200 sec @ f/4; 200mm; 160 iso)

Gorilla Antics: This image is just prior to this gorilla and another deciding that it would be a good time to ram each other and fight a bit. Not sure if they were really angry (their expressions sure looked it) or if they were showing off for all the onlookers. Regardless, they bonked each other so fast that I didn't have a chance to catch a picture of it!
(1/160 sec @ f/4; 200mm; 1600 iso)

Arf!: These sea lions were out basking in the remnants of the day (it was nearly sunset), and they were generally just in one pose: noses up in the air. But occasionally they'd make these movements at each other and bark a little.
(1/50 sec @ f/4; 121mm; 1600 iso)

Being that the days are pretty short, sunset was upon us by the time we hit the sea lions, and even though the photographer in me wanted to keep going, my feet (and the rest of me) said that it was time to go. And so it was back home, confusing the GPS even more, but we made it. Of course I couldn’t just not see if anything came out, so it was straight to the computer to check to see if the photographs were any good.

Finally, over the last few days, I’ve been able to edit the few you see here. I’ve got a lot more on my computer that may or may not ever see the light of the internet, but these give a pretty good representation of what we were able to see. One thing is for sure: I’d love to go back – the place is too large to explore in one afternoon (even too large for one day).

Photographer’s Side Note: I use Adobe Lightroom to post-process my images – just like film, digital images straight-out-of-camera are rarely exactly what I want. To maintain a consistent “feel” to the images, I also used the same Lightroom preset as a starting point for all the images, and tweaked to suit. I call it “Purple Shadow Vignette”. If you use Lightroom and would like to use this preset, download it here.

1 comment:

  1. Your right... you did get some fantastic shots.
    Enjoyed the read and all the pics but wow... that "Turquoise Eyes" is stunningly beautiful.