Taking great photos is a challenge regardless of what equipment you have. Another challenge could be to find the time to explore the wilderness and shoot. Our community member Dave McKeegan (DPMphotography) thinks the nearest zoo is a great place to start your training in photography. Dave has been into photography since he was a child, building it into a hobby a few years ago and has now turned professional. The British photographer finds inspiration everywhere around him and his favorite place is, yes you guessed it, the nearby zoo. It is a place where he challenge himself with the surroundings; indoor, outdoors, bad lightning, fast animals, etc. Read our interview with Dave where he also shares his three best tips for his fellow photographers!

I love photography because like most people who are passionate about photography, it’s a way of expressing yourself. It allows me to push myself creatively. I am forever learning new techniques and getting new ideas from seeing other peoples work. People can see the same situation in totally different ways and it’s always intriguing to see how a slight change of angle or lighting etc., can totally transform the feel of a photo.

My camera lets me not only snapshot a brief moment in time and preserve it forever, but also lets me capture moments that do not even exist to the human eye and that are instead only perceivable in the imagination, from high speed photos to long exposures of the night sky, from being able to see what the eye is incapable of seeing clearly to bending the rules and creating things that never really existed, my camera lets me do them all.

I find inspiration when... this is tricky to answer since inspiration can strike me at any moment. My mind is forever seeing the world and thinking “That would make a great photo”. There are times I will have very weird and wonderful trains of thought in a daydream and suddenly stumble across an idea for a photo – then comes the challenge of making the idea a reality. Other times I have been browsing through other peoples photos either online or in print, seen a concept that I particularly like and then experiment with implementing that concept into my own work.

Sometimes the inspiration occurs after the photo has been taken, I may be out and about taking a walk and I will just snap a view that looks quite nice or something that intrigues me. I’ll get the photos onto the computer and have a play around with them and through the wonders of modern computer software I can pull out colours and details that weren’t even visible and suddenly the photo transforms itself from a snapshot to a piece of art.

One of the photos I am most proud of is "Tiger reflection". I could pick out dozens of photos that I am very proud of and justify why for one reason or another, but I’d have to put this at the top of the pile for several reasons, it happens to be my most popular photo on ViewBug, barely a day goes by without it receiving a new like or award and always finishes well in contests.

The biggest reason I love this photo you would never know that it was actually taken in a zoo enclosure. I go to Chester Zoo quite a lot to photograph the animals and I always try to find an angle or composition to make it look as wild as possible, this photo was a once in a life time moment that just happened to present itself for me. The enclosure has a pool for the Tigers to swim in, the pool is only around a 15ft circle in size and the nearest edge is around 6-7 ft away from as close as you can get (there is a fence in between) when this photo was taken, the staff has actually drained most of the water away as (unknown to the public at the time) they were expecting cubs, so the water level in this shot is only a few inches deep, which meant that if the tigers wanted a drink they had to climb down the sloped pool edge to get there. I just happened to be walking past the enclosure when I looked in and seen the tiger having a drink, the light was breaking through the overhanging trees onto her, so I stopped walking and started snapping, hoping she would look up at me. She did, but in the briefest of moments, her head tilted from the floor to me and then panned immediately to the left. A few seconds later she walked off and that was it, a split second moment that to just watched would have been a nice experience, however, with the right timing on the shutter button and a camera lens capable of blurring out the fence entirely, this was created.

My favourite place to shoot is Chester Zoo. I enjoy all sorts of different locations however, a zoo presents its own challenges; every visit is different as you never know what animals will be active. There is a wide range of environments to test your skills in (i.e. indoors/outdoors, low light, fast animals) and it is also a challenge to try and work around the obstacles that the zoo presents (such as fences, buildings and other people) to try and make the photos look as close to wildlife as possible.

One of my favourite photos on ViewBug is "We are one." by robertmatakovic. It makes me feel a real sense of man and beast together. I loved it the moment I first laid eyes on it and I am so glad that someone was at the right place at the right time to capture such a delicate moment - even if it wasn’t me.

One of my favourite photographers on Viewbug is gbrookshaw because he also visits Chester Zoo, so I know the environment that he is shooting in and I am always in awe of how beautiful his photos come out.

These are 3 quick tips I’d like to share with fellow photographers:

1) Your imagination is your only limitation, everything regarding creating you can learn.
2) Look back on your older photos to remind yourself much you’ve evolved as a photographer and remember, you never stop evolving and improving.
3) Have a camera with you as much as possible because you never know when an opportunity will present itself – so many times I have been going by my day to day life then seen something and thought “I wish I had my camera”

One photo that was difficult to shoot was "Silhouette". It was difficult to shoot because it was shot in near total darkness, illuminated by a single flashgun positioned behind the couple so focusing and composing the photo was very difficult to do.

The tips and secrets behind this photo:
The idea was a spur of the moment idea that came to me at the end of the evening, so I explained my idea to the couple first so they could get an idea of how the photo will look before hand so they were not feeling awkward or unsettled while we did all this in a very dark environment.

I only had my phone light to position the couple and flashgun + stand. I shot the photo with a 35mm f1.4 lens so that even though I was shooting at f5.6 for a deep depth of field to ensure they were sharp, but having the wide f1.4 aperture allowed plenty of light in to be able to see to focus. To focus the shot I had the groom hold my phone between them with the screen on and facing me, I then focused in live view so I could zoom in on the phone and manually focus.

For more great photos taken by Dave, visit his profile.