Who says you need to travel far to capture great animal photographs.

By Jon Vemo

I’ve always thought that to be able to capture great photographs of animals, it had to be in the wild, which generally meant traveling to some place far away. Well, I’ve learned that that is not necessarily the case, and often your local zoo or wildlife preserve can provide just such an opportunity.

On a trip back to my home town of Seattle, I decided to spend one afternoon at Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo. Though I had lived in Seattle for 35 years before moving to Arizona, I do not remember visiting the zoo since I was a kid. I recall hearing many great accolades over the years about how Woodland Park had become a world class zoo, however I was not expecting to see surroundings that were as native to the inhabitants, as was possible in Seattle (Giraffe’s are not native to the Pacific Northwest, if you weren’t aware, however the habitat created was close as could be).

Wow was I surprised and impressed with what I saw, truly a world class zoo. However what I think impressed me the most, was the variety of animals and the habitat created for them. Yes there are barriers, fences, glass partitions, and other means to provide separation and protection for the animals (yes, zoo visitors can be quite raucous…), but I was truly surprised in the way in which this separation was camouflaged so as to reduce the sensation of “I’m at the zoo.”

Photographing at the zoo can be challenging; crowds, fences, glass partitions, etc. but that does not mean all your photographs have to look like they were captured at the zoo. To help you capture photographs that do not look like ‘zoo pictures’, I offer the following suggestions on how to capture photographs that do not look like they were taken at the local zoo.

Use a long lens and wide aperture.
Using a long lens allows you to better control depth of field, as well as reach into your subject (and exclude undisrable elements). Using a long lens, held close to a fence or glass barrier, with a wide aperture, will greatly blur, if not remove, the traces of a barrier…

Woodland Park Zoo, Seattle, WA

Patience.
When photographing animals, I want either a completely natural image, or one that is truly unique and interesting. To capture either of these, patience and a steady hand are required. Having familiarity with your target subject and its natural actions…

Woodland Park Zoo, Seattle, WA

Composition.
Frame your image with the subjects natural tendencies in mind (OK, so maybe this isn’t completely natural, but I couldn’t resist)…

Woodland Park Zoo, Seattle, WA

Bold.
Create a natural image, one that compliments that animals surroundings, such that it truly appears to be in the wild. Doing so will draw on the above suggestions; composition, patience and a long lens to capture those desired elements…

Woodland Park Zoo, Seattle, WA

While capturing images in the wild, whether being in Alaska or while on an African safari (which remain on my bucket list), I know that I can create great wildlife images, applying the above techniques, a little closer to home.

Jon Vemo is a Volunteer with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes

What is my photographic specialty?

By Jon Vemo

To quote a photographer I’ve followed for some years, Rick Sammon, “I specialize in not specializing.” Why limit yourself, why focus only on one or two particular photographic genres, when there is so much that life offers? Sure there may be things that you are more interested in or passionate about – and that’s OK. But when it comes to creating images, I, like Rick, prefer to be open to whatever I find of interest.

Like so many people that carry a DLSR or one of the new mirrorless, when out with my camera, I am often asked about what I do and what my specialty is. I’ve tried to answer this in many different ways, but I have recently landed on, “I photograph life around me” – meaning what I see or whatever is happening around me that I find interesting. I enjoy a beautiful landscape, I am intrigued by unique people I see on the street, an object with unique lines or appearance, or any other activity that I find interesting.

The colors, the smells, the people of a vibrant public market…    

Pike Place Market, Seattle, WA

Several years ago while visiting the tulip fields in Washington’s Skagit Valley, I came across a tulip growing from a highly unlikely spot…

Skagit Valley, WA

I do not really consider myself a bird follower, however when presented opportunities to make an image of natures more majestic winged creatures, I am quick to reach for my camera…

   

Sonoran Desert Museum, Tucson, AZ

I am also often intrigued by lines, leading and otherwise, and applying different techniques to create that unique image;

Boyce Thompson Arboretum, Superior, AZ

Boyce Thompson Arboretum, Superior, AZ

And especially the beauty of the Pacific Northwest coast;

Oregon Coast, Oregon

So my advise to those starting out in their photographic journey (as well established photographers seeking inspiration), is not to limit yourself to a particular form of photography. Go after the images that interest you, what excites you. After all, it’s about following a passion and what interests us, and we shouldn’t limit ourselves on the images that we create.

Jon Vemo is a Volunteer with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes