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Captive Wildlife Photography Tips

Updated: Mar 30, 2022

Moholoholo Rehab Centre, Hoedspruit, South Africa
Moholoholo Rehab Centre, Hoedspruit, South Africa

Zoo's and other captive wildlife sanctuaries are a controversial topic and although this post is not aimed at discussing the ethics of captive wildlife I do think it is important to highlight a few things...

  • Before visiting ensure to check if it is a reputable sanctuary; the main objective of any zoo in my opinion should be animal welfare.

  • Is captive photography cheating? This is entirely down to opinion and a lot of people often considered captive wildlife 'faking it', personally I think it is fine as long as you don't pass them off as wild photos


Working with animals is never straight forward and they are very rarely in the perfect position for a photoshoot. Don't just snap a shot and walk away, take some time at each enclosure to see if the animals will move to a better position or visit them later on in the day. Different animals are active at different times of the day so if there is a specific animal you're looking to photograph do some research of their most active hours before your visit.

Blur Out the Background

An easy way to distract from any obvious enclosure feature (e.g. signposts and fences) is to put the animals at the focal point of the photo by blurring out the background. There are a few ways you can do this both during shooting and in post-editing. One of the simplest methods is by using a very large aperture in your settings ( f/1.4 is often the largest on most settings) which will create a short depth of field. Any camera with a manual setting will allow you to change the aperture and if you're not sure you can trial and error.

If You Can't Avoid it Use it

Some enclosure layouts make it extremely difficult to photograph around fences and other obstructions and for this reason a lot of photographers skip these exhibits. Sometimes when you are forced to incorporate something into your photo it can push you to think outside of the box and I would always encourage you to at least try. Things don't always work and that's okay, not every photo you take will be a masterpiece.

Feeding Times

As I mentioned earlier it can be difficult to find an enclosure where the animals are either active or in an ideal position for photographing. Feeding times and talks are a great opportunity for some action shots so make sure to check the timetable when you arrive. If you are heading to a talk make sure to get there early so you don't get stuck in the middle of the crowd, you can always ask the staff if there is a good place to stand.

Eye Level

This is by no means a strict photography rule and there have been some amazing photos taken looking down on animals however you will find that if you come down to eye level or lower you create a much more interesting image. Not only do you create angles and views that people don't tend to see in everyday life, but you will also have a better connection to the animals in the photo which is an easy way to make a 'dull' subject interesting.

I would like to give a special mention to the Moholoholo Rehab Centre in Hoedspruit South Africa where most of the photos on this post were shot, they do incredible animal conservation work and release as many of their animals once they have been rehabilitated.

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