Wild thing: Photographing captive animals in studio

April 2016 issue

Wild thing: Photographing captive animals in studio

The unlikely portrait subject

Brad Wilson’s portrait sessions with captive animals are as unpredictable as the subjects. After securing permission to photograph an animal, Wilson rents a studio or sound stage near the zoo or sanctuary where the animal resides, pays trainers to accompany the animal, and then gives the animal free reign. “The animals are effectively loose in the studio and are not trained in the traditional sense,” he says. “They’re habituated to humans and human environments, but that’s about as far as it goes. They basically do what they want to do, and they’re constantly moving.”

© Brad Wilson

Depending on the subject’s mood and tolerance, Wilson may spend a few hours or a few minutes with each animal. And it’s tight quarters—he’s usually photographing from 2 to 10 feet away. He lights with Profoto 2400 packs and heads and uses a Hasselblad H1 with a Phase One P65+ digital back. His lens is either a Hasselblad HC 100mm or the 120mm macro. 

© Brad Wilson

“Finding a meaningful moment and capturing it in the middle of what generally becomes a sort of organized chaos is extremely difficult,” Wilson says. But, oh, the rewards.

Amanda Arnold is the associate editor of Professional Photographer.

Tags: wildlife photography

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