In part 1, we explored a few possible techniques that you can use to eliminate distracting foreground mesh or bars from the enclosure housing a zoo subject. In this blog, we are going to extend the technique to include eliminating and reducing the background distractions as well.
Sometimes, zoo enclosure backgrounds are very nice. Modernization of many zoos has altered the design from a “concrete, easy-human-maintenance design”, to a much more aesthetic version of a habitat that would be represented by the animal’s habitat in the wild. This makes it fun for the viewing public and the animal.
But some species have to have many safety procedures installed, which not only protect humans from the wild animal, but many times it is for the animal’s safety that the design includes bars or mesh…but it is never a great thing for the photographer.
I like to employ 4 different techniques, which can be applied individually, or any combination because the necessity for their use is always a choice of the photographer and what he or she desires from the final image.
The primary technique, and I must say, the most applied, is using the widest aperture from the lens (also described in part one for reducing the foreground distractions). F5.6 or f4 with a long lens works quite well. The shorter depth of field helps with the background as well as the foreground. Also, a longer the lens, (the longer, the better) subject isolation becomes more effective.(see A Zoo Problem and Solution – previous blog).
In the following image, you can observe that with a normal exposure, the background fence becomes apparent in the image. If you view the illustration below, you can see that having your camera set up to have the subject in the light, while the background is darker would make the background recede from the image.
Sometimes a slight bit of post processing (PP) can enhance the background by darkening it completely before cropping (see below). The top image displays background fencing, while the lower image (the same image only cropped), has the background darkened in PPing.
The reverse of this is also true. If your animal subject is located in the open shade, be sure to expose for the shaded portion of the framed animal, leaving the background to blow out (overexpose) somewhat. Try not to exaggerate the highlighted background with the initial exposure. Wait until PP.
But if you choose to PP the highlights, always try to expose the image to include some color and detail - even with the background over-exposure. This will aid well during editing in PP by having colors and shapes to soften with software later.
The lemur in the photo (below), illustrates how dark the foreground would be if exposed by the in-camera metering. If I expose for the lemur itself (second lemur shot below), and not the bright background, the background becomes much lighter and the details of the mesh enclosure are less evident. I then crop tightly, reducing the impact over-exposure might normally cause (third lemur shot).
Another way to attack the distracting background can be performed by masking out the background. Once masked out, you can replace it with an entirely different backdrop.The major emphasis of this blog is not intended to be PPing, but to have more control over your image while the capture is taking place. I will possibly cover masking backgrounds in a different post. But I thought it was at least worth mentioning it here.
So the next time you are invited to the zoo, be sure to take your camera and spend a bit of time locating wildlife from around the globe, but making look like you were on a safari to faraway places. But as always, happy shooting.