06.12.16: Tiger in water

Tiger in water on a hot day at the Philadelphia Zoo. 


Technical information

Sept. 1, 2015,
11:28 a.m.

39°58’18” N,
75°11'44" W
(Show in Google Maps)

Canon EOS 7D Mark II

Canon EF 70-200 f/2.8L (105mm) 


1/320th second


This is a photo of a tiger that knows its daily schedule.

The tiger, a resident of the Philadelphia Zoo, was standing in deep water on a very hot day in Philly. But it kept its eyes on lions that were walking on an elevated trail over the tiger’s habitat.

I assumed that the sight of lions nearby had the tiger on alert, but a zoo employee nearby had the accurate explanation. The tiger knows the schedule for the zoo’s elevated trail, known as “Big Cat Crossing.” The tiger gets access to the trail after the lions. The employee said the tiger watches the lions in the walkway. Once they leave the tiger’s line of sight, the tiger moves to the trail’s access door and starts pacing until it opens. Then it climbs the stairs and walks on the trail over zoo visitors and other animal exhibits.

The Philadelphia Zoo has four elevated trails: Gorilla Freeway (for gorillas, of course), Treetop Trail (for monkeys and lemurs), Great Ape Trail (for orangutans) and Big Cat Crossing (for lions, tigers, pumas and jaguars). The trails are covered with see-through mesh, allowing the animals to see out and zoo visitors to see in.

When we were there we saw a lion resting about four feet above our heads, watching people walk by. And we saw lemurs scampering and chasing in another trail.

The elevated trails are designed to provide variety for the animals. In addition to letting the animals walk outside their habitats, the trails link habitats of animals with similar requirements. This lets the zoo use a “time-sharing” system for the habitats, regularly moving animals to different habitats to give them room to roam new areas instead of staying locked into the same scenery each day. 

It’s obviously good for the animals. And it provides zoo visitors a chance to see the animals close and on the move.

Getting this photo was a challenge. The tiger was close to the camera location, but it was behind thick, dirty, scratched, reflective glass. I located a section of glass that had fewer scratches and handprints than other areas and positioned the camera so the lens hood was touching the glass to minimize reflections. I set the aperture “wide open” (f/2.8 for this lens) to reduce the depth of field (the area of the scene that would remain in focus). Focusing on the tiger’s eye with a narrow depth of field throws impurities on/in the glass out of focus and reduces their impact on the scene.

The tiger cooperated, staying in a location that let me use the less-scratched, less-dirty section of glass for a number of photos. I refocused several times and fired-off several series of shots in hopes that the detail in one of the photos would be sharp enough to use. 

I got lucky. Several of the photos were very sharp. I selected this one because the intensity of the tiger’s stare was evident.

Each week I will post a photo from my collection with an explanation of how I got the shot. Previous photos of the week are in the archives.