“What is man without the beasts? For if all the beasts were gone, man would die of a great loneliness of the spirit.”
~ Chief Seattle (1786 – 1866), Chief of Suquamish and Duwamish Tribes
Everyone loves animal photos, but few people have the time and resources to shoot wildlife in their natural habitat. I recently made a trip to my local zoo, where I used a technique called “shooting through” to photograph the magnificent leopard you see above.
In a zoo, sometimes it is possible to view and photograph animals with no barriers between you and them. In other cases, you must deal with a metal fence or other obstructions. In the case of this leopard, there was metal grid fence between my camera and this beautiful animal. Using the “shooting through” method I aimed my lens at him right through the fence, ignoring the fence completely, as if it were not there. I did not attempt to shoot through one of the spaces between the fence wires. I simply focused on the leopard, which I was able to do with autofocus, but if it had been necessary, I could have used manual focus. With the focus on the leopard, the wires simply disappear. They are closer to the camera, not on the same focal plane as the leopard, so the camera does not focus on them. Since the fence wires were relatively thin and dark, you do not see them in the image with normal viewing. If you magnify the image to 200% or so, you can see some faint rippling of the image where the wires would be, but they are not detectable in normal viewing.
In some situations, you may shoot through something which ends up blurry, but still visible in your image. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and in fact may be a deliberate artistic choice. An example would be shooting in a field of flowers. You may choose to shoot through foreground flowers, focusing on more distant flowers beyond them. The foreground flowers will be indistinct patches of color, which could be quite effective in making viewers feel like they are right there among the flowers, enhancing the viewer experience.
The shooting through method works best if 1) there’s a fair amount of distance separating the foreground object you’re shooting through and your main subject, or 2) you use a shallow depth of field (large aperture) if the foreground object and your main subject are closer together. The idea is to either have actual separation (by physical placement) or to create separation (by using the large aperture) so the camera can focus on the main subject and not on the foreground object you’re shooting through. For the leopard photo above, I used a 100 mm lens at f/4.5. The lens was very close to the fence, and the leopard was about 8 feet beyond the fence. In this case there was actual physical separation, so I probably could have used a smaller aperture, but the light was a bit low, so I used the larger aperture, along with ISO 400, in order to get more light, while still keeping a fairly fast shutter speed. The larger aperture was sufficient to get the leopard’s face, upper body, and front paws in focus, while blurring the surrounding rocks and his back legs. (Since the intention was a portrait, I don’t mind his back legs being slightly blurred, though some may disagree.)
All in all, I accomplished the goal of shooting a nice animal portrait without an expensive trip, while using the shooting through method to eliminate the fence barrier. I hope you’ve found this tip helpful. I would love to hear your thoughts, so please feel free to leave a comment below. As always, I wish you happy shooting, and a satisfying photographic journey!