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Shooting Photographs through a fence

Trying to make Photographs through a fence at the zoo can ruin your day, but there is a way. 

It was in back in March when I visited the Port Lympne Reserve. It's an animal wildlife park in Kent. It's billed as an African Experience and considering you are in Kent in the UK it's pretty good.

When you arrive you pass through the inevitable gift shop at the entrance and then you enter the park. There is a short walk to where you board the transport for the trip. This is a ex army ten ton truck that is fitted with rows of bench seats. The sides are all open so photography from the truck is not a problem

A Meerkat (Click image to enlarge)

When you set off you realise that you are in for a very bumpy and noisy ride  but all the kids think it's a great adventure. You are slowly driven past Rhino and Leopards that at the time had cubs, Giraffe's and a variety of smaller African wildlife like Wild Dogs and Wildebeest.

You then make a welcome stop at coffee shop, this is the half way point.

A Cheetah (Click image to enlarge)

By far the biggest attraction here are the Meerkats. They are in a small enclosed area and there is no fence so shooting them is really easy. They sit there on rocks posing for you. There is also a small collection of reptiles to see that are all behind glass.                  

Photography is possible, you just have to cope with the very high humidity that mists your camera instantly.

After bagging lot's of Meerkat shots, its back on the truck and you are driven to the Cat and Primate area. There are lots of great photo opportunities here but this is where you run into the dreaded cyclone fence.

I was shooting with a Nikon D7000 and a Sigma 70-300mm f/4.5.6 lens. This was working very well until I started shooting through the fences. The result was  the blurred ghost of the wire fence all over my shots. Then I remembered a tip I heard years ago. A long focal length and a wide apature will make most things in the way disappear. I don't known about most thing's but this tip made the fence vanish. I found that with this lens 80mm and longer, and the largest aperture in could make worked very well as you can see from the shots posted in this blog. The only thing I  have noticed is the bokeh may show a very faint ghost of the fence but it's not bad and can be fixed it Photoshop in no time. I used the healing brush, and also blurred a copy layer and painted on a layer mask to reveal the areas that I needed to be sharp.

A Baboon (Click image to enlarge)

A Cheetah (Click image to enlarge)

The next area was the Monkeys and Baboons. I used the same trick on them and made some nice frames. The Gorillas have a very large outdoor enclosure, if they are in this field you will need a very long lens indeed. On the day we visited it was cold so the whole troop were in the Gorilla house. One side of this house has a glass wall which makes it easy to make some really great photographs. Shooting though glass can be a problem. The most common is reflections in the glass showing up in the shot. I use a lens hood and make sure it is touching the glass and shielded the lens with my hand if needed.

This approach worked and the wide apature seemed to lose all the sticky finger marks on the glass from the Gorillas on the inside and on the outside from the hundreds of kids that visit the Gorillas.

A Gorilla (Click image to enlarge)

The Gorillas are fantastic, you could spend hours shooting them but there is more see. Notably the Lions and Tigers but they will be the subject of another blog post.

A Gorilla (Click image to enlarge)

I hope that helps if you find yourself having to shoot through fences at any location. It worked for me and helped me make some nice photographs.

Port Lympne Animal Wildlife Park is well worth a visit if you are in the area. Here's a link to their website.

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Mark Shoesmith.