Here in Central Florida, when photographers start planning a photo trip to a zoo, our first thoughts are often no different from any tourist: Animal Kingdom, Sea World and Busch Gardens. These are huge, extravagant and impressive parks that can keep a shutterbug happy for a full day. But there are three other ‘traditional’ zoos nearby that, although smaller, offer unique photo opportunities: The Central Florida Zoo (Sanford), Lowry Park Zoo (Tampa) and the Brevard Zoo (Melbourne). I’ve previously posted a blog with tips about the Central Florida Zoo, and Ed Rosack covered Lowry this year (see this link) but I’ve never seen much about the Brevard Zoo so my wife and I drove over this past weekend to see if it might be of interest to photographers.
The short version
This compact (50 acres), high quality zoo is a wonderful location for photographers! Most of the exhibits are the modern, open-air, cage-less type that allow you to photograph the animals in a ‘natural’ setting. The zoo has the animals grouped in different exhibits based upon geography (an African area, one for Asia, Americas, etc).
Some of the exhibits, like the giraffes and rhinos are better for photographers than anything the ‘big’ attractions have. And…if you are a birder…you will be in heaven. I’ve never been to any zoo with as many great bird photo opportunities!
If you have kids (or grandkids) the zoo has an area (Paws on Play) designed specifically for them that they will love. If you have teenagers (or folks that act like teenagers) they have a great zip line adventure (a $20-$40 additional fee) that lets you zip right over zoo exhibits (it is a thrill to zip over the gator enclosure!)
Let’s talk some specific tips and opportunities:
First of all…be there when the zoo opens. This is true of any zoo because the animals tend to be more active before the day warms up. Once the sun is up, most of the critters find a shady spot and nap…which makes capturing interesting images challenging.
Second…find out when the animals are fed. I usually phone ahead or ask the first zoo employee I see. Some of these critters seem to sleep 23 hours a day, but they are active when the feeding bell rings! Also, if you identify yourself as a photographer and ask employees their thoughts on how to get some good shots, I’ve found they are happy to share with you insights that can help you capture images you wouldn’t have imagined.
Third…don’t make the mistake of making only one ‘circuit’ thru the zoo. Some of my best shots came at the end of the day when I went back to check on the animals that were sleeping or hidden deep in shadows my first time thru. The zoo is compact enough that you can walk anywhere in less than ten minutes, so make a second effort before you head home.
Fourth…catch a sunrise at the beach. Since the zoo opens at 9:30, you can drive to the beach, photograph a sunrise and still have time to stop for breakfast and get to the zoo at opening. It is less than 12 miles to Satellite Beach.
Have you ever looked DOWN at a giraffe?
Well the Brevard zoo’s viewing area for giraffes is built about 15 feet off the ground…so you look at them eye level. This is pretty cool and will allow you to get some unique shots. When you get to the zoo, check to see when they will be feeding the giraffes…they will walk right up to the viewing area and you can get shots from inches away
Unlike Animal Kingdom, you don’t have to try to photograph the Rhinos from a moving vehicle. Actually, you see them from the other side of the giraffe deck. With a long lens, you can easily fill up your viewfinder. One thing I didn’t have a chance to try was the “Rhino Encounter.” Apparently this allows you to get “up close and personal”…which could make for some impressive photos!. These encounters are offered from noon to 1 p.m. at a cost of $15 per person . Each tour lasts about 20 minutes they are in an open area.
There are multiple locations spread throughout the zoo for bird photography. My guess is that the zoo’s designer had a particular love for birds (and he/she might have been a photographer as well!) because the habitats are beautiful and photographer friendly.
There are a couple owls set up in small ‘houses’ in the “Paws On” area as you first enter the zoo to your right. You can photograph them from eye level and less than 10′ away.
Three Eagles were perched about 50′ from the boardwalk in the Wild Florida area. These raptors have been injured and can’t be returned to the wild, but they look majestic nonetheless. You will need a long lens to get a decent shot. If they are in the shade you might have to push your ISO to a higher range than normal to be able to keep your shutter speed over 1/60th of a second to freeze any motion.
The zoo is circular in shape (see map)…about halfway thru you will come to a large food gazebo called the Flamingo Café. As you stand there, you should see a large pond full of Flamingos, Scarlet Ibis and Rosette Spoonbills. I’ve photographed Spoonbills many times in the wild, but I really enjoyed the opportunity to photography these strange looking birds up close.
There is a nice Aviary in Australasia where you can feed Lorikeets for $1. This is also where the hornbills are located (see first photo in this article). The hornbills are actually not in the open Aviary, but right next to it behind a kind of ‘Chicken-wire.’ If you get close to the wire and select your smallest aperture, you should be able to throw the wire out of focus so it doesn’t show in your shot.
There’s quite a bit more to keep you snapping away than I will be able to cover in this article. For example, there is an exhibit with Giant Anteaters (fascinating and impressive creatures). For the non-locals, you will also see plenty of gators. You will also have a chance to photograph Kangaroos, Cheetahs, Jaguars, Tapirs…there is a surprisingly large number of species, here is a complete list .
Location: The zoo is located a half mile east of I-95 (exit 191) in Melbourne (8225 N. Wickham Road, Melbourne, FL 32940). Here is a link to Google Maps that you can use to plan your trip.
Hours: 9:30am to 5 pm
Admission: $15 for adults
More info available on their website
Two thumb up! If you like photographing wildlife at all, then you will leave this zoo with a smile and a memory card full of great images.