Fun Photography Assignments to Try at the Zoo

In a perfect world, we’d all have the opportunity to go on a photo safari to see lions and tigers and bears up close and personal in the wild. But most of us have to make do with zoos. Rather than focus on the limits that zoo photography sets, focus on the possibilities that lie within the park’s gates. Try one of these assignments to get the most out of the zoo on your next visit.

Hide the Fact That You’re at a Zoo

Zoo Photography

Portrait of a cute fennec by Tambako The Jaguar

Attempt to take photos that look as if they were shot in the wild. This entails eliminating all evidence of enclosures, walls, signs, and barriers. Use a telephoto lens to close the distance between you and your subject and shoot through a gap in the fence.. Try using a wide aperture to achieve a shallow depth of field that will blur distracting foregrounds and backgrounds. Move around until you find a perspective to shoot from that omits man-made structures, and fill the frame to create a photo that will trick your viewers into thinking you went on safari.

Zoo Photography Details

Zoo Photography

Louis’ nose by Tambako the Jaguar

Instead of taking photos of entire animals, zoom in and limit yourself to details. Possible details to hone in on are teeth, tails, paws, prints, eyes, and ears. Choose one detail and stick with it for every animal, or try different details through your visit.

Photo Essay

Zoo Photography

Three cheetahs by Tambako the Jaguar

Be a photojournalist for the day and capture a story, whether it’s true or fictional. It helps to choose an emotion, such as joy or sorrow to set the tone. Decide on your story ahead of time, then look for ways to tell your story in a handful of frames. For example, you might take photos to tell the story of a family of cheetahs or to document feeding time for the penguins. Or, you might tell an imaginary tale about all of the animals escaping from their cages.

Themes

Zoo Photography

Prison by Joshua Davis

Themes, both light-hearted and profound, can give your day of photography at the zoo some direction. Dark themes like captivity or violence are one possibility. Playfulness, smiles, and family serve as more positive themes. Go out in search of scenes that fit your theme and build a cohesive collection of photos.

Human Animals

Zoo Photography

Looking In | Looking Out by Knar Bedian

Typically, when you’re at the zoo, the animals are the focus. But zoos are typically crowded with people during peak hours. Sometimes there are so many people that it’s hard to get a glimpse at the more popular exhibits. Try a different approach to zoo photography by spending the day photographing the humans. Depending on your style and comfort level, you can take candid shots or ask other visitors for permission to take thought-out portraits.

Just One Click

Zoo Photography

Caught in the Act by Mike Fisher

We’ve all been guilty of being shutter happy when we’re out taking photos. We snap a photo every few seconds and then have hundreds of images to sift through once we get home. One exercise that will make you stop and consider your framing and choice of subject matter is to only allow yourself to take one or two photos at each exhibit. This challenge requires careful observation and attention to patterns in the animals’ behaviours. Pretend you’re using film and don’t want to waste a single frame.

Animal Portraits

Zoo Photography

At Rest by Art G.

Spend a day photographing faces. Treat your animal subjects as you would people to create compelling portraits. Consider all of the aspects that go into a human portrait: light and shadows, eye contact, expression, mood, poses. Wait for the right stance and quality of light to accentuate the animal’s features.

Humor

Zoo Photography

Making bubbles by Tambako the Jaguar

Photograph the humorous antics that you see throughout the day. Curious animals provide plenty of entertainment. Watch for funny faces, playful behaviour, and fun interactions between animals.

Next time you’re feeling uninspired or bored with having to settle for the zoo, choose a project for yourself. Sticking with an assignment provides direction for your photo walk and results in animal (and people) photographs you can be proud of.

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Profile photo of Nicoal Price About Nicoal Price

​Nicoal is a New England photographer with a penchant for learning. Her work ranges from nature-inspired portraiture to outdoor product photography. Visit nicoalprice.com for more info.

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