The zoo in zoom

Wildlife photographers go on safari to capture wild animals with their cameras. They use long lenses and zoom in to draw the animal closer, capture it in a rectangular cage, and bring it back home to display to their friends.

I have been one of these collectors for many years, obsessively prowling the game reserves to find perfect specimens. And like many others I constantly reached for my biggest calibre lens to capture the animal as tightly in the frame as possible.

But one day I realized that to zoom in too much results in zoo-like images. Images of tightly cropped animals resemble the zoos where they are kept in spaces far too small for them. There leopards lose their minds from boredom. There birds break their wings trying to fly.

That is why I have decided to set some of my animals free. I still capture them, but use weaker lenses to leave space around them so that they can roam freely in the frame.

If you want to see tightly cropped animals, go to the zoo.

5 Responses to “The zoo in zoom”

  1. john deakin says:

    Hi Heinrich, I follow your train of thought. For me both types of images have their place, however, we do tend to try filling the frame all too often cutting out the subjects environment.

    My thoughts are that we see small images mostly on the net these days and we don’t get the full impact of these wonderful landscape type images when viewed at 800/900px size and therefore we want to emulate what we see from others, ie, tightly cropped portraits with milky uncluttered back grounds.

    Even if we do capture wider images we feel they lose that impact so we crop the hell out of them for web viewing.

    i’m sure many of us who have been doing this for a while have taken a similar road to you now. I will certainly be using a wider range of focal lengths in the future when opportunities arise.

    Thanks for your continuing photo tips, always helpful and of interest to read your thoughts.

    Regards, John

    • heinrichvdb says:

      Hi John, yes you are right, the web has influenced the way we take images big time. Impact is more important than detail, and saturation more important than realism. So the cropped, saturated images mostly get the most ‘views’. It all depends where one wants to use the image, as there is a huge difference in what kind of image would work on a calendar versus the internet versus a book. Heinrich

  2. Wondeful insight, Heinrich…I too have been trying hard to capture the ‘wider perspective’, at first mostly by default because I didn’t have that super long lens to work with, but I quickly learned to love the shots of the animal in its habitat instead of wanting to remove all the ‘distracting’ elements. Now that I have a long telephoto lens, the challenge is going to be resorting to your so-called ‘weaker lens’ often enough to not get caught up in making those ‘zoo’ images.

    • heinrichvdb says:

      I agree. As soon as you get that big white lens (or even black lens if you are ‘that’ kind), then it is difficult to reach for anything else when you see something to photograph. But it is worthwhile to keep a short lens on you lap for in case.

      • I am “that” kind now after being the “other” kind for a long time 🙂

        I typically now have a 70-200mm f2.8 ready on a second body, but don’t hesitate to switch to a 24-70mm if the subject is quite close and there is an interesting sky/environment behind it.

        How many body/lens combos do you typically have at-the-ready?

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