How to Shoot Through a Wire Fence - Digital Photography School

How to Shoot Through a Wire Fence

Stuck behind a wire fence when trying to shoot an interesting subject can be a pain. It’s a challenge most often faced at the zoo but you also come across it when shooting at some sporting events (car racing for example) or in other random circumstances (for example I recently was photographing some kids on a trampoline which had a mesh around it).

Image by Doug Brown

So how do you minimise the impact of the fence in your shots? Here’s a few quick tips:

  1. Switch to Manual Focusing – one challenge you may face shooting through any kind of fence is that your camera may not know what to focus on – the fence or the object behind it. Switch to manual focus mode and you’ll be in complete control of what is in and out of focus.
  2. Get close the the Fence – ideally your best bet is to try to make the fence so out of focus that it can be barely seen in your shot. To do this one strategy is to get up very close to the fence – so close your lens has no chance of focusing on it. It may not be possible to be right up against a fence (shooting a lion at the zoom may mean you have other barriers in place for your own safety) but the closer the better.
  3. Use a Large Aperture – choose a large aperture (making the number of your aperture as small as possible) will help to narrow the depth of focus and will hopefully through the lens even further out of focus.
  4. Wait Until your Subject is away from the fence – if your subject is moving around behind the fence – wait until they are a little further back from the fence to take the shot. The closer they are to the fence the more the fence will be in focus.
  5. Position Your Lens to Shoot Through Larger Gaps – This one isn’t rocket science – but if the fence has largish openings you’ll do better to position these gaps in the middle of your frame.
  6. Avoid Reflections – if shooting through a part of a fence where there are reflections from the sun or other lights coming off the fence you’ll find the fence will become even more noticeable. As a result try to find a part of the fence that is shaded – or get someone to stand in a way that casts a shadow on the fence.
  7. Incorporate the fence into your composition – it may be that the fence can become an important part of your composition – so consider breaking all the above rules to try that out!

    Image by J. Paxon Reyes

    Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category.

    Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

    • Dave Lister

      not sure if this pic is showing up. I’ve tried twice to post it.

    • Amrit Bharadwaj

      Here is an example of a Turkey I shot at the Edinburgh Zoo!

    Some older comments

    • Bri

      April 21, 2012 12:05 am

      This is my pic made in Kuala Lumpur zoo, Malaysia.

      http://www.flickr.com/photos/brigitulita/6779371410/in/photostream

    • Morris

      March 19, 2012 11:43 pm

      I think I did it...http://mauriciofotodigital.blogspot.com/2012/03/zorro-sur-americano-south-american-fox.html

    • anupartha

      February 16, 2012 01:03 am

      Interesting and quite useful. Have tried it with the camera close to the fence , yet to try with manual focus (say after learning)..:)
      http://www.flickr.com/photos/anupartha/6084696973/

    • Paul

      February 15, 2012 07:22 am

      Nice neat little article, I always wanted to try this at the local zoo, but haven't got around to it just yet.

    • kennard

      February 14, 2012 11:45 pm

      I just wanted to add, these tips apply to windows in cars while traveling as well. kj

    • RAMKI

      February 13, 2012 09:29 pm

      These tips will come very handly especially during large events like car races, air shows and when shooting from top of tall buildings. I had used manual focus alright, but the large aperture did not occur to me. Great advice and tips. Keep em coming. Thanks a lot.

    • Paul Mac

      February 13, 2012 12:18 am

      This is the image I was trying to include in my posts above.

    • Paul Mac

      February 13, 2012 12:16 am

      http://flic.kr/p/brDpXp

    • Simon Kitt

      February 12, 2012 09:09 pm

      Great advice again guys. Heres my picture incorporating the fence.

      http://www.flickr.com/photos/25177906@N06/6253488880/

    • Ebnat Al Holm

      February 12, 2012 03:02 am

      I took this picture for the bird through a Wire Fence in the bird park in Kuala in december 2010. I almost made what you have advised here in this lesson.

      What do you think?

      https://www.facebook.com/pages/Nature-is-the-Whispers-of-Quietness-Ebnat-Al-Holm-Photographie/161081410615912?ref=tn_tnmn#!/photo.php?fbid=244589322265120&set=a.161106213946765.35811.161081410615912&type=3&theater

    • andy fuentes

      February 11, 2012 03:32 pm

      I am new to photography. Last week I scoped a parking lot on top of a mall where I was going to take pictures of the NY City skyline. Before I went there with my camera I went to check out the area. The lot had an amazing view of the city but it also had a very tall wire fence. I was wondering how I was going to get around this until I read this article. Thank you Daren.

    • Paul Mac

      February 11, 2012 10:31 am

      This image was taken at the Southwick Zoo in Mendon MA. The leopard was very patient and cooperative. There is a mess fence between us.

    • Paul Mac

      February 11, 2012 10:28 am

      This image was taken at the Southwick Zoo in Mendon MA. The leopard was very patient and cooperative. There is a mess fence between us.

    • Zuha

      February 11, 2012 12:48 am

      Darren:
      Thanks. :) I have a Nikon Coolpix L120, though.
      Thankyou for the tips.

    • Adam

      February 10, 2012 06:13 pm

      I took pictures couple of months ago in Tokyo. Then we found huge gate which I used to shoot model through. I foucused on here eyes with Nikkor 50mm f1.4
      When I found this blog on your Twitter I thought it would be good to read and see what others do :-) Below is link to one of my photo.
      http://adamkalbarczyk.eu/erica-behind-defense

    • tim

      February 10, 2012 01:39 pm

      Fantastic! Did you see you can enter for an upgraded camera here http://bit.ly/z5l7sR

    • Leon Barnes

      February 10, 2012 12:14 pm

      Using your techniques with film camera with manual focus, I have even made a 2 inch pipe disappear That was 3 feet in front of me. Large aperature and manual focus really works. I think I had the focus set at infinity because it was a basketball game.

    • Vicki

      February 10, 2012 11:32 am

      Having become a member of my local Melbourne Zoo just a couple of months ago & making quite a few visits since, I have become (for a beginner) very successful in just changing my camera to one focal point and placing that on a bird's eye - even through the finest of wire mesh.

      Of course, I have taken dozens of shots, but practise is what it's all about.

      I notice this pactise at holding the DLSR very, very steady has improved the focus on my other photography subjects too.

    • Nimish

      February 10, 2012 11:08 am

      Great tips. Fences are definitely not the end to your shooting. I've shot through them and those photos won contests. Depth of Field is definitely your friend.

    • Celia

      February 10, 2012 09:42 am

      Good points. I have tried both making it part of the composition here http://www.flickr.com/photos/tropicallytied/5920786183/ and blurring it out here with manual focus and wide aperture http://www.flickr.com/photos/tropicallytied/5457743720/

    • Darren Rowse

      February 10, 2012 09:23 am

      zuha - just try all the others if you have no manual focus. Like others have said - its not essential - you just might need to persist a little longer in getting focused if your camera struggles. Most cameras these days should work it out.

      If your camera allows you to select different focusing modes you might want to try that too. For example some cameras let you switch off the multi focus points and just have a central focus point to allow you to pinpoint exactly you want to be in focus. Not sure if your camera has that though! :-)

    • Simon

      February 10, 2012 08:35 am

      As advice goes, that's certainly better than "climb the fence". :)

    • Jeff E Jensen

      February 10, 2012 08:17 am

      Here's a few shots from a trip to the zoo last spring. The Tiger and the Leopard were both shot through chain link.

      http://jeffejensen.blogspot.com/2011/05/zoo.html

    • Jeff E Jensen

      February 10, 2012 08:11 am

      These are great suggestions. I hadn't thought about reflections issue before, I'll have to keep that in mind.

      The first image in this blog post was shot through a pretty tight net:

      http://jeffejensen.blogspot.com/2010/02/blog-post.html

    • The Girl Behind

      February 10, 2012 07:53 am

      This is a really tricky area as a beginner - I have one I took last year that I'm particularly fond of, although it's a bit of a rule-breaker

      http://thegirlbehind.com/wirefence/

    • Greg Nelson

      February 10, 2012 07:40 am

      I learned this technique on the fly at Medieval Times. I get better at it every time I'm there.

      http://www.flickr.com/photos/tallok/6342332412/

    • Maria-Lynn Turi

      February 10, 2012 07:07 am

      This is something that I do rather frequently. Here is one example from the zoo in Colorado Springs.

      [eimg url='https://skydrive.live.com/?sc=photos&cid=5143f9d45c8246a2#!/?cid=5143f9d45c8246a2&sc=photos&id=5143F9D45C8246A2%215471!cid=5143F9D45C8246A2&id=5143F9D45C8246A2%215473&sc=photos' title='?cid=5143f9d45c8246a2&sc=photos&id=5143F9D45C8246A2%215471!cid=5143F9D45C8246A2&id=5143F9D45C8246A2%215473&sc=photos']

      More de-caged animal photos are here:
      https://skydrive.live.com/redir.aspx?cid=5143f9d45c8246a2&resid=5143F9D45C8246A2!5471&parid=root

      Manual focus is usually necessary, unless your camera allows you to reduce the size of the autofocus point like the Canon 7D. I have used both manual focus and automatic focus with a reduced focus point.

    • Terry James

      February 10, 2012 06:08 am

      I have found that panning also helps get ride of the fence.[eimg url='https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=3186545467008&set=a.3175809078605.151528.1366927473&type=3&theater' title='photo.php?fbid=3186545467008&set=a.3175809078605.151528.1366927473&type=3&theater']

    • Dwain Linden

      February 10, 2012 04:56 am

      I shoot a lot of college softball, and I have found that my "nifty fifty" (Canon 50mm 1.8) fits precisely in the chain link fence opening, so I get clear unobstructed shots of the home plate area. In addition, the 50 is almost perfect in its framing of the area. This way i am able to shoot either batter's box and it works wonderfully behind the plate to get a perspective of the hitter making contact with the ball with the pitcher in the background.

    • Larry Lourcey

      February 10, 2012 04:54 am

      Great post Darren. #7 is brilliant!

    • MikeC366

      February 10, 2012 04:36 am

      I can see me going to the zoo next week now, Had a visit a little while ago to the Yorkshire Wildlife Park. All the shots were taken on my old Fuji compact. Have the feeling I should now return next week sometime.

      Here are some of the few I took: http://wp.me/p268wp-91

      Hope you enjoy.
      Mike.

    • forthepie

      February 10, 2012 04:35 am

      Awesome tips, last year I sat behind the screen at a Royals game and quite a few of my pics were blurred by the camera focusing on the screen. Now I know how to work around that.

    • Killian

      February 10, 2012 04:19 am

      Great ideas.

      I was recently shooting some indoor soccer games, and not only do you have the netting to contend with, but the ball comes whizzing at your face a LOT. You learn to duck fast! =)

    • Toynia

      February 10, 2012 03:36 am

      I've done this before and it works well. I have taken some beautiful wildlife photos through the fence using the manual focus technique and people often wonder how I was able to get such clear shots.
      Many Blessings to All!

    • Jim Somppi

      February 10, 2012 03:25 am

      Another step is to use single point focus. If you can narrow the focus, it is much more likely that the fence will not be a problem.

    • Alexander DiMauro

      February 10, 2012 02:55 am

      I had this issue once when I was trying to photograph a cheetah at the zoo. The auto-focus kept wanting to focus on the fence. I turned it off, and had no problems after that.

      When I went back home and downloaded the photos, I was expecting to just throw away the one where the lens focused on the fence. Until I found out that, just by chance, the camera captured a large ant in perfect focus, sitting in the perfect spot according to the 'rule of thirds', with a beautiful cheetah blur behind it. Now I tell people, 'yeah, I meant to do that!'

      So, I inadvertently followed your advice #7, and it came out great. You never know, your 'mistakes' sometimes turn into great surprises.

    • dok

      February 10, 2012 02:31 am

      manual focus is not obligatory when you have a precise camera for focus. large aperture is of course the best advice but sometimes even at 1.8 it is difficult to make completely disappear the fence!

    • Erik Kerstenbeck

      February 10, 2012 02:31 am

      Hi

      Funny, almost the same rules apply to shooting through plexiglass at a Hockey game!

      Chicago vs Edmonton

      http://kerstenbeckphotoart.wordpress.com/2012/01/13/chicago-blackhawks-vs-edmonton-oilers/

    • Through the Lens of Kimberly Gauthier, Photography Blog

      February 10, 2012 02:29 am

      Thanks. I love to shoot at the zoo and bring my zoom lens to capture those wonderful close up shots, but the fence has always been a dilemma for me. I'm going to use your tips.

    • Beth

      February 10, 2012 02:06 am

      Great tips. My son plays baseball and I love to get action shots at his games. I have learned through trial and error many of the things you mentioned above, but hadn't tried the larger aperture. I'll definitely try that this season! One thing I've learned that can make a great photo - if I can't get around it - is that sometimes the chain link fence can make a very interesting frame for an action shot during the game. (BTW - awesome tiger photo!)

    • raghavendra

      February 10, 2012 01:28 am

      This is good.
      I have not tried this, but i have done something similar

      http://raghavendra-mobilephotography.blogspot.com/2011/10/plants-reaching-sun.html

    • Zuha

      February 10, 2012 01:24 am

      My camera is a Nikon L120. It doesn't have manual focus. -_-
      What do I do in that case?

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