Nature vs. Nurture

I am a nature-lover by nature.

Some of my favorite childhood memories was when I was four or five and I would join my grandfather for a walk along the pier in Brooklyn near Canarsie to enjoy the weather and the sea breeze. Another favorite memory was hiking with my father and brother through various trails in the woods around New Jersey; I liked it so much I continued the tradition recently with my dog by taking him to these same trails for a long walk. When I first got the camera, without even thinking twice, my first few dedicated “camera outings” were to local parks and trails to capture photos of nature and the wildlife.

I fully believe that very little compares to the beauty of nature or wildlife in their natural habitats and environments. It reminds me of what life is all about and how all the constructs, thoughts, and drama in our daily lives can just be an illusion or, at the very least, not as important as they may seem to be.

However, a zoo has wildlife and animals which I could only dream of ever seeing in real life in their natural settings. I am an English teacher in New Jersey by trade, and a local photographer, musician, and soon-to-be father: when would I get the chance to travel to an African safari to see a lion or a gazelle? When would I ever get to see a penguin swimming or an elephant or hippo bathing in a lake?

I was never a big fan of the zoo as I was growing up. While the zoo facilities nurture the animals’ basic needs, I see it as captivity and restraining for the animals, although the animals probably don’t know any better as they were born and raised in this life and don’t know anything different. Therefore, I typically passed on any trips to the zoo. However, photography at a zoo suddenly added a new factor and challenge to the mix, so this past weekend, the wife and I chose to go to the Philadelphia Zoo.

Philadelphia Zoo

Here was one of the first stops. The goat!!

Philadelphia Zoo

At the goat section, this bird flew up and rested on the fence right by me. I’m at the zoo to see all kinds of exotic animals and creatures, yet this common bird stopped and posed for me, so why not capture it?

Philadelphia Zoo

Philadelphia Zoo

Philadelphia Zoo

Next was the Galapagos Tortoise. I had to move pretty quickly though, because this guy was moving really fast.

Philadelphia Zoo

Animals aren’t the only attractions at a zoo for a photographer. I am always looking for interesting shots, and this view caught my eye across from the tortoises.

Philadelphia Zoo

Philadelphia Zoo

Next up: the lions. Rumor has it they are growing up very quickly. They were hiding in the back of their den since it was hot out and this provided shade for them. They are so majestic in nature!

Philadelphia Zoo

Philadelphia Zoo

Philadelphia Zoo

Philadelphia Zoo

And then comes the tiger section. What a beautiful animal! Even with the close up, one doesn’t need to see the rest of the body to know just how big and powerful this animal is.

Philadelphia Zoo

It only makes sense that after seeing one of the largest cats on the premises, one of the tiniest birds would pop up to say hello.

Philadelphia Zoo

Philadelphia Zoo

Even the bald eagle stayed back in the shade due to the heat.

Philadelphia Zoo

This is one of my favorite photos from the trip to the zoo. The biggest challenge for me at the zoo was to take photos with the gates, fences, glass dividers, and walls in the way while still creating an appealing photograph. Here is an example when the restrictions enhances the photo. The fencing and the wooden gates provide the perfect framing for this monkey, and just look at its expression! I think this is a powerful image which draws the viewer directly to the subject.

Philadelphia Zoo

This fox was hiding, and no one could see him in his den. In all fairness, it was very dark in there and I’m lucky to have gotten this image of the sleeping fox.

Philadelphia Zoo

Philadelphia Zoo

Philadelphia Zoo

Philadelphia Zoo

Philadelphia Zoo

Philadelphia Zoo

Here is another one of my favorite photos from the day. Rather than capturing the full hippo, I liked the image of it bobbing its head in and out of the water, creating such a pleasant ripple effect.

Philadelphia Zoo

Philadelphia Zoo

Philadelphia Zoo

This child was not impressed with the giraffes. I guess it’s because the giraffe isn’t in a catalogue for Toys R Us.

Philadelphia Zoo

Philadelphia Zoo

Philadelphia Zoo

Philadelphia Zoo

Philadelphia Zoo

Philadelphia Zoo

After the birds, we moved on into the simian section. It was very dark in there and these were the most challenging photos. Even with an ISO of 1600 and the widest aperture, I could only manage a 1/10 or 1/15 shutter speed, but I managed a few keepers from the area.

Philadelphia Zoo

Philadelphia Zoo

Philadelphia Zoo

Again, like the other attractions, some of the bigger animals here were hiding in their shady, cooler spots since it was such a hot day out.

It was a fun day at the zoo and I think I’ve captured a few good images. I’d never pass off these types of photos as wildlife in their natural habitats, but I still think there’s value in photographing animals at the zoo.

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