May Theme Challenge – “Your Local Zoo”

The theme challenge for May 2022 is “Your Local Zoo“. This month the assignment is to go to a zoo near you and enjoy capturing some animals that you may not have had the chance to photograph before. You’ll contribute to supporting the work they do at your local zoo when you pay admission and you’ll get an opportunity to photograph various types of animals up close.

Two well known Zoo’s in Nova Scotia are the Shubenacadie Wildlife Park and Interpretive Centre located in Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia known for it’s variety of animals and birds native to North America and the Oaklawn Farm Zoo located in Millville Nova Scotia known for it’s various exotic and native breeds of animals, birds and reptiles.

There are many challenges to getting good images while at a zoo and we’ll discuss some techniques that will help through showing sample images which will re-enforce the tips presented. The main problem we face as photographers at a zoo is the wire fencing to make it disappear from our images. There are a number of key elements that will help make better images:
■ overcast weather minimizes the glare on the fencing, or find a spot where the fence is in the shade
■ get as close to the fence as possible
■ wait for the subject to be further away from you
■ use a longer focal length lens such as 100mm – 500mm with a wider aperture such as f/4 – f/8 this will blur out the fence that is between you and the subject, pick the aperture that blurs out the fence but also has enough depth of focus to have the subject sharp
■ use a single continuous focus point and focus in a clear spot of the fence, if your having trouble you may need to switch to manual focus, remember to focus on the subjects eye
■ wait until your subject is away from the fence to the subjects left or right so its out of the image frame
■ also wait until the fence behind the subject is further away too so the fence will be blurred out in the background
■ a tighter crop will also help with removing fencing and other distractions from your images
■ Photoshop may be required to cleanup the fencing that was not removed with in camera techniques as described above, you also may want to completely replace the background depending on the in camera result

Let’s see what Local Zoo images you create this month. If you want to share your image there is no facility to upload your image here, however just paste your social media link to the image in your comment and we’ll be able to see your image. Please note comments are moderated so it will not show up right away, however we do get a notification when any comment is posted so it won’t take long to get approved and subsequently show up.
As an example; take a look at the sample comments for an Instagram image and Facebook image at the bottom of the September 2021 Monthly Theme – Water blog post. By posting your social media link of your image in your comment, it gives us, or anyone visiting the bog, a chance to not only see your image for the challenge but also the ability to look at your other work as well by visiting your social media through your link. Again the comments here are moderated, we want sharing to be a positive experience. We hope you have fun this month with this challenge.

The first image of the Siberian Tiger was taken at a low angle, remember its important to get to eye level so the viewer feels connected to the subject. This image was taken at Oaklawn Farm Zoo as the Tiger was pacing around the pen. I used a longer focal length, 400mm, to isolate the head and neck of the subject removing the fencing from the right side of the subject and minimizing the background which is also out of focus due to the focal length, aperture and position of the subject away from the camera and background.

The image of the female African Lion, taken at Oaklawn Farm Zoo, below is a composite image meaning I replaced the background using Photoshop with an image of a field because the Lion did not move a way from the fence background. As in this case if the need arises to replace the background keep an eye out for background image possibilities at the zoo or surrounding area with the same light and colour so the composite will look as natural as possible. Always keep an eye out for possible scenes to use as backgrounds just in case the in camera image did not work as hoped. If you do not have access to Photoshop checkout a free online web browser based alternative called Photopea which will allow you to achieve background replacements.

The horses shown below, taken at Oaklawn Farm Zoo, were composed tightly to remove the surrounding distractions

The next four images shown below were taken at the Shubenacadie Wildlife Park. This image of the Cougar was using a longer focal length to blur out the fence close to the camera and a tight composition to remove the fence on the right side, however the Cougar did not move a way from the fence in the background, so I used Photoshop to remove the fence.

The image of the Arctic Wolf with the reflection was taken with a longer focal length and composed tightly to remove the fence for the left of the Wolf, however the background was his wooden den and as a result I replaced the background using Photoshop.

The image of the Timber Wolf was taken as the Wolf was pacing around it’s pen and I waited until the Wolf was in a position that gave a clean more natural background before I captured the image. The Timber wolf was in the optimum position in the pen, being far enough away to blur out the fence, a great background, and in good light.

The Red Fox image is a composite replacing the background because the pen just did not have any angles that I could position myself to get a good background. The background for the Fox image was shot at the zoo and used to replace the background using Photoshop.

As you can see from the examples above that it’s challenging to get all of your images successfully in camera, and may require some Photoshop work to get a final image. In any case you can see it’s possible to create successful images. It’s well worth the experience, to get out for some fresh air, exercise, as well as support your local zoo.

With our monthly theme challenges we try to seek out an instructional resource, below are a few YouTube video links to help with some hints and ideas.

Zoo Photography instructional aids:
5 Tips For Taking Great Photos At The Zoo with Laurie Rubin: by Laurie Rubin [ViewBug] (14min 13sec)
No Fences Ep 137: Take and Make Great Photos with Gavin Hoey: by Gavin Hoey [Adorama] (12min 2sec)
How to Remove Fence Lines: Photoshop Tutorial #49: by Glyn Dewis (16min 5sec)
Remove Fence with 3 Simple Steps in Photoshop: by PiXimperfect (15min 33sec)

Students are encouraged to develop their ability to tell a story or invoke an emotion, as well as how to plan and troubleshoot while creating their images. As such it’s important to not only create the image but to also include a “title”, and write a short paragraph about; how they came up with the idea, any interesting back ground that compelled them to make the image, and describe any techniques on how they overcame any obstacles.

An important part of improving your photography is practice, which is one aspect of the monthly theme challenge, in addition you have an opportunity to learn about different genres, techniques and tips.

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