Captive Animal Photography – Marwell Zoo

March 30, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

This post is a review of Marwell Zoo, from the perspective of a photography day-trip, and is part of a series about nature photography in captivity.

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 can be found here.

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



I first visited Marwell in 2011, after reading on a forum somewhere that it was a good place to go for photography. Incidentally, looking on that occasion was the inspiration for writing this series of reviews, having not found much in the way of useful advice around (yes, it took 4 years before I bothered to do it). Anyway, Marwell isn’t exactly local to me, but we were in the Hampshire area, so dropped by for a visit. We had a great day, and I got what were good photos for me at the time. I say “at the time”, as my standards have risen somewhat since then. But one thing that stayed with me was the memory of my first experience of snow leopards. They’re such beautiful animals, and I’d encourage anyone to see them somewhere if possible. On my first visit, the only decent photos I got were of the snow leopards. Partly because I was glued to the enclosure for the majority of the time. But in many ways, that’s the key to a successful zoo photography trip; concentrate on the best enclosures that each institution offers.

Like many UK zoos, Marwell is operated by a parent charity, using profits from the zoo and public donations to fund conservation and action for wildlife where it’s most needed around the world.



As already mentioned, the snow leopards are great subjects at Marwell, and they have a well designed glass enclosure providing clean views from a variety of angles. Note that they’re more active later in the day.

The Amur Leopard enclosure can also prove a rewarding spot to try, though their activity levels are fairly low so I recommend checking multiple times in the day, rather than staking it out for a prolonged period. There are several angles available through glass windows, and it’s possible to compose shots with natural-looking forest backgrounds.

I like the new giraffe viewing platform, which wasn’t there on my first visit. It allows you to get to eye level with them, and opens up potential for some more original portraits.

The tiger enclosure seems to have potential, but I’ve never managed to get any good photos there. Partly because they’re fairly inactive creatures, but also because they tend to favour less photogenic areas of the enclosure, and I’d rather get good angles on a less popular species than click away at the more high-profile species with a bad background.

There’s a nice walk-through aviary at Marwell with various birds. This definitely has potential, as you’re not shooting though fencing / glass / or netting, and there are usable natural surroundings which make nice backgrounds. However, I’m yet to get a shot I like from in there.

The cheetahs have a large and varied enclosure, but it’s frustrating for photography due to shooting down on them. It’s a nice view for most visitors, but I’m not sure it has any photography potential.

One species I was keen to see for the first time, was the Sulawesi crested macaque. They’re characterful subjects, and very photogenic. In fact they have a reputation for selfies. They were actually smaller than I thought. They have a good enclosure but, separated by a watery moat, it’s not possible to get close enough without a larger lens than I want to take to a zoo. If you’re prepared to shoot through glass, then there’s potential for close-ups, but the light levels are lower, and they do move quickly at that distance. There’s potential though, for those with time and patience.

The lemurs have a varied enclosure, as well as housing several different species. You can shoot through clean glass windows, at lemurs just a few inches away.



Best Enclosures Snow Leopard,
Amur Leopard, Giraffe.
Polar bears are fantastic to see, but the enclosure isn’t that photo friendly. If you hang around the leopards, you can also see from there if the lions are on the mound.
Species Selection 4/5 I do love leopards, and Marwell’s snow leopards and amur leopards are always a joy to see. They also have lots of interesting lesser known species; crested macaques and coati, for example.
No lions, and no elephants though. Personal preference of course, but they’re two of my favourites.
Price 3/5 It’s quite pricey – Nearly £20 in the summer. But they do better value prices in winter.
Day Out 4/5 It’s a varied zoo, with a good range of species, and modern enclosures. The cafe’s do good food, and the leafy surroundings are very pleasant. I recommend avoiding school holidays, as it gets very busy.
Photography Experience 3/5 If you stick to the right species / enclosures, there’s potential for some great photos at Marwell. There are just fewer enclosures with that potential than there could be. The best enclosures aren’t close together, so lots of walking is required when visiting each species multiple times a day.
Overall 4/5 Nice place, and well worth a visit. They also encourage a growing photography community with their Flickr group and Photography competition.

Leopard Cub In The LightLeopard Cub In The


Post by George Wheelhouse, 2015.


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