Tips for Taking Better Photographs at the Zoo

Tips for Taking Better Photographs at the Zoo

Images and Tips by Jerred Zegelis

Images taken at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium


Check out this series of quick tips that you can use right away to capture better pictures on your next visit to the zoo or animal sanctuary!

 A pair of birds

When you’re at the zoo, a telephoto lens is a must.

This was shot at 600mm, well beyond the range of most kit zoom lenses. Did you know that Rockbrook Camera has a wide variety of rentals for every system? A day at the Zoo is a perfect opportunity to take a more dedicated zoom lens out for a spin before you make the financial investment in owning a new lens. Our recommendation: a 100-400 or 200-600 is perfect for getting in close!


Monkey in a tree


The animals aren’t always doing interesting things... but they certainly are beautiful no matter what their activity level is.

Although there were several of these animals close together, I chose to get in closer with the telephoto and focus in on one of the animals in order to show the details a little more.


A black monkey checking things out 

Use the rule of thirds when composing shots of animals.

Because this one is looking to our left, I kept more “open space” to that side of the frame, giving the viewer a more carefully considered photograph.


bats hanging upside down

If you have seen the bats at the Henry Doorly Zoo, you know that there are a LOT of them gathered in one place.

A word of advice is to resist the temptation to photograph them all with a wide-angle lens, and instead get in closer with a telephoto to allow the viewer to focus on the details that make this creature so interesting.


Monkeys paying attention to a baby 

Patience pays off sometimes, so relax and watch for the opportunities.

This is just a fun little moment when a baby screamed, and the animals were curious about the sound. 


Profile shot of a monkey at the zoo

Cropping is your friend.

Instead of getting the full body in the photograph, consider either cropping or zooming in closer to details. Here we can see the interesting way the hair stands out.


black bird at the zoo 

Pay attention to your shutter speed!

With animals it’s important to keep your shutter speed a bit higher than you might expect. Here I was at 1/250th of a second, which is not very fast, but it was what I was able to get while indoors and still get a well exposed shot. Even so, I had to wait for moments like this when the bird was stopped for just a split second as it looked out to press the shutter release button.


sleeping monkey with cute lips 

Details are important!

Sometimes the animals are bored and sleeping, but this animal’s lips were too cute to ignore. Focusing in on these details can make a difference between a photo that makes you shrug and one that makes you smile.


sleeping monkey composition 1

Watch out for distracting backgrounds!

This photo was too cute to pass up, but I noticed too late that he had “horns” coming out of the back of his head! Make sure to try and see the background for any compositions you make.

sleeping monkey

A few feet to the left or to the right can make a big difference.



Here is an example of a decent photo ruined by the background. The extreme brightness is a negative here, and doesn’t work well with the colors of the bird. If you can, move around a bit and find a different angle with a background that works a bit better, like the following image.

close-up of a macaw 


snake through the glass 

Photographing through glass can be tough.

A quick tip is to put your lens as close to the glass as possible. This will give you the best chance for a clear photograph!


Dynamic lighting on a monkey

Make the available light work in your favor

The lighting on this animal was tough, and most of the others in this spot were in very poor light. This one, however, had just a bit of light coming in from the back to create a rim light and make the animal stand out from the background. Without the rim light, the dark fur would have blended too much into the background to be considered a decent photograph.


sparrow on a branch

Pay attention to "other" wildlife

The zoo doesn’t just feature exotic animals. Sparrows and other birds from our region find the zoo a fantastic place to hang out, so just remember to give these creatures some love with your photos as well. Although they aren’t exotic, they can be just as beautiful!



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