How to photograph wildlife at the zoo


  • Sean Cayton
If you love wildlife photography but don’t know where to start, this is for you.

The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is a great place to learn how to photograph wild animals. It's truly one of the finest zoo experiences in the country. There are a number of up-close and personal interactions with many different animals.

The giraffe exhibit is especially cool. You can touch, feed, pet and look in straight into their eyes, or get a wet smooch. The viewing angle is wonderful for photographers.

I’m reminded of National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore’s fantastic photograph from the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo of the giraffe exhibit.

Sartore has spent time at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo photographing endangered animals for his multi-year project called the Photo Ark. It’s an audacious, ambitious project, collecting photographs of the world’s species we might lose, according to the website. “It is a visual connection between the animals and people who can help protect them.”

You can create your own photo ark with your camera when you visit the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.

Here are my tips for getting great pictures of animals at the zoo:

Arrive when it opens or show up late and stay until it closes. Wild animals by their nature are most active in the early morning or at night, zoo keepers reserve these times for feedings and the light is better, too. For most animals, high noon is reserved for midday napping — it’s harder to photograph them when they are nestled down for a nap in a hard to view area.

Use a long lens.The longer the lens, the closer you can get to animals that are in large enclosures and don’t always hang out by the viewing areas. The wolf exhibit and the bears at our zoo are harder to photograph without a long lens, for instance.

Don’t be afraid to shoot through glass or fence to make a picture. If you stand close enough to either and zoom your lens through the enclosure, the fence or glass won’t be apparent in your images. Pro Tip: If you’re photographing through glass, find a spot on the glass without scratches or blemishes.

Shoot for portraits, not behavior. Great wildlife photography, like Sartore’s Photo Ark Project, is more about photographing the animal that allows us, the viewers, to connect with it in a way that we never would otherwise.

Happy shooting!

Colorado Springs wedding photographer Sean Cayton loves remarkable photographs and the stories behind them. You can see his wedding work at, his personal work at and his editorial work in the Colorado Springs Independent. Submit your photo and the story behind the image - no more than two a week, please - to for consideration in upcoming blogs.

Add a comment

Clicky Quantcast