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Introducing Julie Larsen Maher, our Zoo Photography expert

Introducing Julie Larsen Maher! Julie is one of six professional photographers that have agreed to sit on the judging panel of our Wildlife Photography Competition. We thought we'd take the chance to get to know her, and her photos, and see if she has any top tips she could share with us.

Who are you and what is your job?

I’m the sixth person, and first woman, to hold the position of staff photographer for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) since its founding in 1895. I take photos at WCS’s five New York-based wildlife parks including the Bronx Zoo, Central Park Zoo, New York Aquarium, Prospect Park Zoo, and Queens Zoo. I also travel to remote locations globally to photograph some of the world’s leading conservationists and document the work they are doing to study and protect wildlife and the habitats where they live. WCS manages hundreds of conservation programs in more than 60 countries and in all the world’s oceans.

This red-eyed tree frog uses its tangerine-colored toes to stick to the slippery surface of a bromeliad bloom at WCS’s Bronx Zoo.

How did you get into photography/zoo photography?

I’ve always had a passion for the outdoors. I grew up on a farm in Iowa – and never met an animal I didn’t like.

Hoping for a career where I could blend my love of nature with art, I found WCS and its mission and began my career as Art Director of Publications, then switched to Staff Photographer.

A Caribbean flamingo takes a bath at WCS’s Bronx Zoo
Gelada Baboon with baby at WCS's Bronx Zoo

Any top tips when it comes to taking zoo photos?

As photographers we need to think about how and why we want to take a photo as well as the story behind it. Here are some tips:

1. Have a plan. Think about the best time to take aphoto. Animals in our zoos and aquarium can be most active first thing in the morning. Take the time to observe animals to learn about their behaviors.

2. Keep it simple. Anything that isn't directly helping the composition of a photo takes away from it.

3. Be patient. Photographing animals can be a waiting game. Go to your photo spot several times.

4. Appreciate and photograph animals at a respectful distance. Avoid stressing animals by standing too close or shouting at them to try and get their attention. You'll get better shots if your subjects are relaxed and engaging in natural behaviours.

5. Use the element of surprise. (And be prepared for the unexpected - like a tiger jumping into a swimming photo)

What makes a great zoo photo and what things you will be looking for when it comes to judging?

A photo should tell a story. The difference between a photo that is remembered, and one that is forgotten, depends on whether it tells a story. Images should invite viewers to relate to the subject or the situation at the zoos and aquariums.

Tigers are one of the few large cats that enjoy water. A Malayan tiger splashes in the pool at WCS’s Bronx Zoo.
American bison calves are born with reddish coats that turn brown like adult bison as they grow at WCS’s Bronx Zoo.

Why should people enter the competition?

Images and their stories help advocate for the protection of wildlife and wild places. Great photos can inspire people to conservation activism whether taken in the wild or in zoos and aquariums.

Our Wildlife Photography Competition is OPEN NOW and there's a special category dedicated to Zoo Photography.

Zoo photos can also be subitted to the 18s and under section and the Cameraphone Calendar Competition

For more information on the competition, including how to enter, click here