Photographing Chimpanzees at the Zoo

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I write this post with some trepidation that I might stir up a debate about captive wild animals.  I am personally conflicted every time I visit a wild animal park or zoo.  I leave with a feeling that the animals should be free with space to roam, and also a much deeper appreciation for the natural world around me.  My favorite time to visit the zoo is spring and early summer.  There are usually baby animals, and I find the interaction of the “children” within their communities captivating.  Peter and I visited the zoo twice in a week, and each time we spent about an hour watching and photographing the chimpanzees.

I think between us we took over 500 images.  We just couldn’t stop.  Every time we walked around the enclosure there was a different interaction, or a different expression, or a different composition.  At one point we sat down in the viewing “amphitheater” and I realized that they were sitting in their own version of an amphitheater watching us as we were watching them.  I was struck when an adult chimpanzee grabbed a burlap “blanket”, followed their active youngster around, and then set it down and the child laid on it grabbing its toes.


  • Watch them for awhile.  Try to anticipate movement and relationships.
  • Look for expression.  I find I gravitate toward expressions that resemble human emotion.
  • Look for interaction. At one point the baby chimpanzee went to its mother for a hug and she seemed to bend down and kiss him/her.  Unfortunately our angle was off for the shot.
  • If there is quite a bit of activity, set your camera on burst or continuous shooting mode.  Remember to change your focus setting so it will track the action and movement.  Be prepared to take a lot of images that you will later have to weed through.
  • For post processing, try changing the image to monotone.  I find the backgrounds in zoos to be distracting, and drab.

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