The (Mock) Battle of the Sloth Bears

Sloth Bears playing - National Zoo, Washington, DC
Sloth Bears playing - National Zoo, Washington, DC

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When working at a zoo, a photographer faces numerous obstacles. One is wire cages, as mentioned on the Steller's Sea Eagle page. Another is glass walls.

A trend in modern zoos is to replace bars with glass. On the whole, this is a good thing. It lends a more intimate feel to a zoo, reducing the perceived separation between a visitor and the animals.

But those same glass walls can be a nuisance to photographers. They are often dirty. They reflect flash. They catch the glare of nearby lights.

I faced this problem while attempting to photograph these sloth bears at the National Zoo in Washington, DC. The bears were engaged in what I believe to be playful roughhousing. It made for a photogenic subject.

Unfortunately, the only viewing opportunities were through glass walls. Dirty glass walls. Filthy glass walls. Walls that hadn't been cleaned since the beginning of time. Well, maybe not that dirty, but, desperately searching for a hole in the grime, it did feel that way.

I shot through the cleanest section I could find, but it was still dirty. See the light haze in front of the rightmost bear? That's glare from dirt on the glass.

During the shoot, I was disappointed. But, upon viewing the photographs later, I found I actually quite liked some of them. To me, the haze gives the impression of dust thrown up by the bears' scuffle. It lends drama to the photo.

This was one of those lemons-to-lemonade situations that crop up unexpectedly from time to time.