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Photographing Wild Animals In Captivity

( Originally Published 1902 )

OF all branches of photography there is none so deceptive as the photographing of animals in the Zoos. Nothing appears so easy, and yet the difficulties are far greater than one would ever believe. Of course, if you do not object to the bars showing between the animal and yourself, why, then it is easy enough.

But when you want really good pictures, pictures that show the animal in striking and characteristic attitudes, away from the objectionable bars, then I say the work is difficult. At first thought one would say, "That 's easy enough; I could make twenty or thirty photographs a day without the slightest trouble"; but the first day spent in the Zoo would disillusion you, and you would be more humble, and think yourself in luck if you made six or eight good pictures. With a tripod-camera the work is absolutely disheartening, one good picture being frequently the result of a day's hard work ; but with a hand-camera with which you can focus accurately, better work can be done, and with infinitely less trouble.

The animals may be divided into two aggravating classes: those that are too tame, and those that are too wild. If anything, the latter are the easier to manage. You can get pictures of these even if they are rather far away. But the animal which insists on putting his nose through the bars and licking the lens tries one's patience to the limit. There is a large gray wolf in the Bronx Zoo (New York) that I have tried a number of times to photograph, but so far without success. In fact, I never made but one exposure, as I could not get far enough away. He always wants to lick my hand or the camera. With some of the animals it is curiosity which prompts them to come so near ; but with many it is the spirit of friendship, and with these, though they are most exasperating, one cannot be angry. While the animals are being fed is usually the best time to secure photographs, as then their attention is devoted to the food, and to watching each other, if there are several in a cage, and the camera has little or no attraction for them. If the rules of the Zoo permit visitors to feed the animals, it is a good plan to come provided with such dainties as would be most appreciated. By placing the food where you wish your subject to stand, you may be sure of his going there; only you may generally be equally sure of his back being turned toward you. So the best way is to throw food to a point farther from you than you wish the animal to stand, then when he is there throw another piece nearer ; in this way, as he has to turn back to get the food, he will be more likely to stand either facing or broadside to you. By such methods you can sometimes induce an animal to overcome its natural aversion to going to the place you wish. Whenever possible it is advisable to avoid having the iron bars and other such unnecessary and unbeautiful objects show in the picture. A . way to overcome this, where it is impossible to secure a picture without the bars, is by double printing; that is to say, block out all the background on your negative, leaving the animal only; then make a picture of a suitable background, being careful to keep the correct proportion of things, and print your animal into this scene. By this method' beautiful results may be obtained with comparatively little trouble.

Remember that what was said in Part I of this chapter regarding the advantages of using a long-focus lens applies to this branch of photography almost more than to any other. The grotesquely fore-shortened animals we see in pictures made with very short-focus lenses are an object-lesson to those who think there is too much fuss made about lenses and see no advantage to be gained by using a lens of long focus. As regards the lighting of the animal there is not much to be said that would be of any value. White animals look best when the light is on the farther side ; that is to say, the animal should stand between the camera and the source of light. This applies more particularly when strong sunlight is used. Dark-haired animals usually require to be strongly lighted. The distribution of the light and shade means so much in the picture that careful thought should be given to the subject. Strong sun-light is frequently a thing to be avoided, notwithstanding the beginner's usual idea on the subject. A really bright cloudy day is, for all-round work, the most desirable. Pictures taken under such conditions are softer and more full of detail.

First Steps Towards Photography
Adventures In Travel Photography
Animals in the Wild: Wildlife Photography by Jim Robertson


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