Zoo Photography and Patience
By Jim Zuckerman
In a way, zoo photography is more challenging than photographing in the wild because the environment is usually unnatural and/or distracting. Chain link fences, artificial rocks, and too much dirt on the ground seriously detract from the subjects. In addition, animals are rarely animated. Indeed, they look bored.
If you wait long enough, and are patient, you can sometimes catch a compelling expression and a good pose in a section of the enclosure that looks fairly natural. The clouded leopard that you see here was photographed behind glass – not my favorite scenario – and I spent about two hours watching his moves, trying to anticipate what he’d do. I shot with and without flash, and my favorite image is this eerie, haunting portrait where the flash reflected in the retina of the leopard’s eyes, similar to red-eye in people, and the result is this other-worldly type of creature.
To avoid the reflection in the glass of the flash, I placed the lens right up against the surface of the glass. This was enough to solve the problem.
I invested the time and the patience because to me there’s no other creature as stunning and intriguing as leopards, and this particular Asian species has such beautiful markings that I wanted to take advantage of the close proximity. In the wild, there would be no way to photograph this secretive animal in the thick jungle.