Zoos are great places for capturing wildlife photography and the Minnesota Zoo’s naturalistic environments provide an excellent background. Here are some helpful hints for capturing stunning images. You can even take a photography class at the Zoo and sharpen your skills!

Visit early or late in the day, when the animals are most active, the Zoo is the least crowded, and the light is better.

Be patient! The best photographs come after observing the animal closely and watching how it uses the exhibit. Wait until it is against a natural setting like rockwork or trees or is foraging for food or interacting with another animal.

Use a tripod if you have one, but please be mindful of other guest.

Taking photos around the Zoo in the winter? Plan to take your indoor photos first, before heading outside to our Northern Trail and Russia’s Grizzly Coast. If you go from outdoors to indoors, your lenses may fog up and you’ll have to wait for them to clear up before you can start taking photos again.

Use a digital Camera—the advantage of instantly viewing your photos is huge. If you don’t like the results from the first shot, you can improve upon it with a subsequent shot, by making adjustments that partially override the automatic systems in your camera.

Taking pictures inside exhibits can be tricky. When using flash photography, shoot at an 18-degree angle to the glass, so that the flash penetrates the glass rather than bouncing off of it. Also, wear dark clothing. Bright colors tend to reflect in the glass.

If you have them, bring lenses for long-distance shots. That way you can get photos of animals that stay in the rear of their exhibits or roost near the roof.

Try to keep the animal’s eyes in focus when you take the picture.

To eliminate fencing or netting, use long focal lengths, open to maximum aperture, and position the lens close to the barrier. If sunlight is falling directly on the bars, come back when it has shifted or the sun is behind clouds.

Some naturally photogenic and charismatic animals are found throughout the Zoo (bears, tigers, wolves); however, do not just focus on the big animals. Keep your eyes open for interesting birds, small mammals, insects, reptiles, and plants.

Return throughout the year—seasonal changes highlight different animal behaviors and provide various backgrounds.

For the more photo savvy folks, preset your camera. If a picture suddenly presents itself, you want to be ready. Here are some suggestions:

  • Continuous firing mode. To catch fleeting facial expressions and body language, shoot at the highest frame rate possible — and shoot a lot.
  • High ISO. Faster shutter speeds freeze an animal’s motion. Shoot at ISO 320 or 400. In better light, ISO 200.
  • Wide apertures. They allow those higher shutter speeds, plus blurred backgrounds that help hide perimeter fences. Deal with the shallow depth of field by focusing on your subject’s eyes.
  • Centerweighted metering. It’s easy and usually more accurate.
  • Auto white balance. It’s usually close enough, especially when you’re shooting RAW files. But you’ll need to try different settings in aquariums.
  • Flash. Have some flexibility and preview your shots often. A pop-up or shoe-mount flash can put a catchlight in the subject’s eyes. But while flash is good for opening up shadows, it can ruin the shot if it calls attention to itself. And it can irritate some animals.