Over the weekend I visited ZSL Whipsnade Zoo with my camera in hand and time to stop and take photos as I went. Although I have been to Whipsnade many times, it is fairly rare to visit simply for the purpose of taking a walk with a camera and seeing what pictures could be found.

European Lynx

Whipsnade Zoo European Lynx

The first port of call – nearest to the entrance – was the European Lynx. Being relatively early in the day there were not so many people around and it was still quite cool. I thought that maybe the Lynx would be relatively active rather than tucked away sleeping. I had the EOS 7D Mark II with me, an EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM and a 1.4x Extender, and this is what I used for the Lynx.

It was quite a challenge avoiding the blades of grass, and I switched to spot AF for these pictures. Spot AF is the smallest focus area, so it’s not great for tracking moving subjects, but cats in the grass is an ideal use. I needed to watch my shutter speed with an effective 448mm focal length so I mostly used ISO 400, with some shots at ISO 800.

Whipsnade Zoo European Lynx


I like the “knowing smile” on this Lynx’ face.

European Brown Bear

Whipsnade Zoo European Brown Bear


The European Brown Bears are a short walk from the Lynx and two of the bears were out people watching. The zoo visitors were bear watching so it’s probably fair. One of the bears was quite happily resting on a rock and looked like he’d be there all day given the chance. I’d removed the 1.4x Extender and it would spend the rest of the day unused.

I cut across the zoo to the giraffes to find a new baby giraffe, but as it was inside pictures were less visually attractive. I moved on round the zoo in a big loop through the section called Passage through Asia and ended up near to rhinos. There I headed out to see the elephants who were all in their enclosure so I opted for the tigers.

Amur tigers

Whipsnade Zoo Amur Tiger


The tiger enclosure does let you get pretty close, the picture is slightly cropped from what came out of the camera, but is shot through the fence. Again using the spot AF point I was able to ignore the bars closest to me, and with the lens wide open at f/4 the limited depth of field made sure they had limited impact on the picture too. You can probably see a slight smearing just above the tiger’s eyes, that’s the bars closest to me, they are the same as the ones in the background of the picture.

Another tiger was much closer, just resting on the ground in the enclosure. With the animal so close I positioned the lens as close to the fence as possible and with the middle of the lens aligned with the centre gap in the wire fence. At short distance the depth of field is small, the fence is all but invisible and the details of the tiger’s face appealed. Even better with a tongue hanging out.

Whipsnade Zoo Amur Tiger

Butterflies in flight

Whipsnade Zoo Butterfly


In the afternoon I headed on to the butterfly house, this is a relatively new enclosure at Whipsnade that puts the people in the large warm enclosure with the butterflies. If you stand still or wear yellow you’l most likely get a butterfly to land on you.

I had a mind to see if I could get a picture of a butterfly in flight. A pretty tall order with a lens that only focusses to 1.2m and when there’s a lot of butterflies flying in and around a large multi-coloured textured environment. Sure enough if the AF could get a lock the butterfly was soon out of the frame. I’ll be back with a macro lens another time!

Birds in flight

Whipsnade Zoo Bald Eagle


Right outside the butterfly house was the area where the “Birds of the World” show operates. As it was just about to start I decided to try my tracking of birds in flight – especially after my lack of success with the butterflies. First up was the impressive and big Bald Eagle. I switched over to AF case 3 to help out with tracking the birds in flight. As usual the challenge is getting the focus locked on as soon as possible then following the birds path, not always so easy.

Whipsnade Zoo Bald Eagle


Soon after the bald eagle, the European Eagle Owl was brought out. I’d chosen to use a large block of AF points. Once locked on the camera would track the owl really well, even with a busy and confusing background of the other spectators. I also set the lens to the 3m to infinity range as I was unlikely to be able to track the birds if they were in the 3m to 1.2m range anyway.

Whipsnade Zoo European Eagle Owl


When the owl returned to the glove it flew low over the grass, and the camera stayed locked on.

Whipsnade Zoo European Eagle Owl

The elephants are out

Whipsnade has a good few elephants, and almost every day they take them for a walk round the zoo. The walk starts somewhere after 2pm, and the elephants walk round the perimeter roads. I walked in the opposite direction hoping to meet them face to face. On the way I stopped off to catch the wolverine who had just had a few rats hidden in his enclosure. He was soon out finding them and munching…

Whipsnade Zoo wolverine


Whipsnade zoo is on the top of the hills, and from past visits I knew that the elevated position can make for good pictures of these “Chiltern hills elephants”. Sure enough the elephants and their keepers picked a nice spot right next to the lookout cafe, and let the elephants enjoy the long grass. It looks great with all the yellow fields in the background. Some elephants enjoy the grass, the littlest two year old one seemed more interesting in laying down on the grass. The keepers are more than happy to talk about their elephants and try to answer as many questions as possible.

Whipsnade Zoo elephants

Whipsnade zoo elephants


These are asian elephants, so only the males have tusks. The elephants are also smaller than african elephants, but to have five elephants in the frame with the lens at only 75mm means you can be close enough.



About the author

Full-time photo tutor and photographer. I love to share my knowledge and skills to make photos, videos and teach others. I write books and articles for photo magazines and I always have at least one Speedlite flash in my camera bag