When I have a desire to shoot the more exotic wildlife of the world, I again consult my checkbook and figure out that an African safari is out of the question and still only a dream. So I do the next best thing and I visit the Saint Louis Zoo. Now if you are from the St. Louis area and have visited the zoo, you appreciate how really great it is. The Saint Louis Zoo is consistently rated as one of the top zoo's in the country. The best part is it is free. Now let me repeat that. No admission, It is free!
I really enjoy visiting zoos, and do so whenever I travel to a destination that has one. I cannot recall ever getting into any other zoo free. They all have an admission charge of some type. Many are way over priced for what they offer, but I understand that it is very costly to run a zoo. So I am happy to pay the entrance fee to help support that institution.
The Saint Louis Zoo is celebrating it's 100th anniversary this year. They continue upgrade and expand the facilities there. The animal exhibits are designed to resemble their natural habitat and give the animals as much space as they can. The zoo is a world class facility, and I am lucky to get to visit as often as I do.
As a photographer the Saint Louis Zoo is a great place to visit and create some amazing photographs. My goal on each visit is to come away with great photographs of the animals and the viewer not be able to say that is a zoo shot. I can't always accomplish that, but I will work extra hard to find a background or odd shooting angle to make the scene look as natural as I possibly can. Many times it will be a very tightly cropped shot, or carefully selected DOF to blur the background .
Crested Screamer - South America
Not only do I enjoy creating a good photograph, but I also enjoy learning as much about the animals as I can. I doubt I may ever see many of the animals I photograph at the various zoos in the wild. I am not here to debate the whole issue of keeping perfectly healthy animals in zoos, or the whole other issue of shooting captive verses wild animals. My personal opnion is zoos are vital for education and research into protecting and saving many species.
Chinese Water Dragon
There are many factors that work against you as a photographer shooting at a zoo such as bars, wires, horrible lighting and backgrounds. But the good thing is the animals are accessible and not bothered by your presence. This allows you to take your time and figure out how to create the best possible shot. In the wild you may only have a few seconds to get a few frames off before the animal dissapears.
I took Wednesday off last week since the weather was going to be perfect. Although the zoo does not offically open until 9:00am, I walked in at 7:00am and found plenty to shoot and had the place to myself except for the keepers working in their areas. All was going well until every grade school in the metropolitian St. Louis area showed up at 9:00am for their field day at the zoo. WOW! It would have been safer to climb into the bear pits to avoid the mobs, but I beat a hasty retreat and got out before I was trampled by thousands of out of control children. So if you live in the Saint Louis area, you ought to visit the zoo again just to realize how lucky you are to have a world class zoo so close to you. If you are ever visiting St. Louis, put this place on your must see list. Here is a link to the offical zoo website: http://www.stlzoo.org/
I hope you found this useful. Let me know if you think they look like zoo shots, or something a cut above that.