Captive Animal Photography – Whipsnade Zoo

January 30, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

This post is a review of ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, from the perspective of a photography day-trip, and is the first of a new series about captive nature photography.

You can see my original discussion of nature photography in captivity here, along with my tips for better zoo photos.
Other reviews in the series will appear here.

Please note that this is an unofficial and independent review of my experiences in visiting.



As I was growing up, Whipsnade Zoo was our local zoo, so I took it for granted that this is what all zoos were like. Having now been to many others across the UK and abroad, I have to say that Whipsnade is almost in a league of it’s own, both in terms of the enclosures & the space afforded to the animals, and for an enjoyable day out.

It’s a large zoo, set in over 600 acres of the Chilterns, so it’s a long tiring day, but very fulfilling. It can also be quite cold, as the wind rips across the open spaces on a chilly afternoon. Wear comfy footwear, and bring a jacket.

The large enclosures are a real feature of Whipsnade, and it’s great to see so many of the animals afforded so much space.

A giraffe photographed close-up in high-key style.Giraffe PortraitA giraffe, posing for a portrait, in bright lighting. A favourite style of mine.

Nature photography, captive subject.




The trick to any zoo visit for photography is to pick and choose which species you concentrate on according to which enclosures lend themselves best to photography at that particular zoo.

The chimps have a well designed enclosure when outside, and can prove very accessible for photos.

Flamingos are very photogenic, and you can also get some good angles on them sometimes.

Rhinogiraffeszebras, and cheetahs, all have photographer-friendly enclosures, though all obviously rely on the animals being in the right place at the right time. The recent addition of the eye-level giraffe viewing platform is really good.

You can actually go in with the lemurs, and watch them run & jump all around you, which is good fun. Try and time your visit with feeding time, for peak activity.


The biggest frustration of Whipsnade is that the lion and tiger enclosures are not very photo-friendly. The lions are visible through a set of huge well-meant glass windows, but the windows are always mucky and stained green. The pride also like to lie just over the brow of the hill, hidden from view. The tiger enclosure is a double wire-mesh fence, which you can’t get right up to in many places, and this makes it all but useless for photography.

The wolf enclosure is another battle against wire-fencing, and the bear enclosure offers either an unflattering view from above or the opportunity to peer through a dirty glass window, which is sure to leave photos looking soft.

The real joy of Whipsnade is its sprawling size. There are so many animals and enclosures that there are opportunities all day every day. The trick for getting good photos there is to keep moving until you find a good situation, then stick with that until you get results. Then move on again, not stopping too long where the opportunities don’t present themselves. That way, you’re using the choice on offer to your advantage. Also bear in mind that some of the less obvious species make great photos too. It’s not all about photographing lions and tigers. A well composed and well-lit photo of a less obvious subject is usually more interesting than yet another lion shot.



Best Enclosures Cheetahs, Lemurs, Zebra, Giraffes, Rhino, Chimps.
Species Selection 4/5 No African elephants, no leopards, but otherwise a great mix.
Price 2/5 At around £20 per person, it adds up to an expensive day out.
Day Out 5/5 Lots to see and do.
Photography Experience 4/5 Despite the restrictions with some species, there’s so much here you’re left with plenty of other animals to photograph, and it’s large enough to avoid the crowds on all but the busiest days.
Overall 4/5 Good for photography, despite some frustrating limitations, but a fantastic zoo and well worth a visit.

Post by George Wheelhouse, 2015.


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