Theme parks can be a great source of interesting photos. Here in Tampa we have Busch Gardens, a Mecca for thrill rides and encounters with exotic animals. I was never a fan of riding roller coasters but they sure are a lot of fun to photograph. I am lucky enough to live very close to the park, allowing me to visit regularly, but not everyone has this chance. If you’re a photographer and want to get the most out of your trip this post is for you.
What to bring to Busch Gardens
My first advice for anyone wanting to visit a theme park is to pack light. There’s actually a few reasons for this. First off, if you want to ride any rides you won’t want to be running back and forth to lockers all day. Whatever you bring should fit in a single bag. Also be aware you are going to go through a security check to enter so having a neat and organized bag will make this a smooth process. Lastly, you’re going to be on your feet and carrying your bag pretty much all day so you won’t want to be lugging around a big bag all day.
When it comes to gear you really only need a few things. A wide angle lens is great for getting shots of the roller coasters as well as general shooting. You will also want a telephoto lens for getting nice close-ups of the animals throughout the park. I find my 75-300mm works perfectly for this. If your trip will keep you after dark a tripod is a must. The park is well lit to see by but a camera will struggle with the lack of light once the sun sets. Luckily the park doesn’t have a problem with tripods as long as they aren’t really big.
There are a lot of things that go on at Busch Gardens that can make your life easier when it comes to taking photos of the animals. Throughout the day, trainers will hold little sessions with various animals around the park. This is not only a great way to learn about them and what is being done to save some of these endangered species but you can also get some really great photos since the animals tend to be engaged in some way. Some sessions are scheduled and are noted on park maps or signage near the habitats; other sessions are more random and change from day to day to keep it interesting for the animals.
My favorite one of these sessions is with the lions, the trainers will often feed them part of their daily diet from outside their habitat. This brings them right up front where you can get a good look at them. Of course if you aren’t able to catch one of these sessions you can always get creative with a sleepy animal.
If you see a trainer don’t be afraid to ask questions. The staff is incredibly knowledgeable and will be happy to answer any questions you have. You can learn a lot about the animals this way. They may even be able to tell you if a certain animal will be out while you are there, allowing you the chance to see more during your visit.
Don’t be in a rush! Very often I’ll see people walk up to a habitat where an animal may be laying around in the shade keeping cool only to walk off right away because they aren’t doing anything interesting. You never know what the animals might do next, take a few minutes just to enjoy being able to see these amazing creatures. You might just happen to catch a cool moment that you may have missed if you were in a rush.
Last but not least, get to the park early and stay late. Animals tend to be most active early in the morning and later in the day when it isn’t as hot. Just like you, they try to keep cool during the hottest part of the day. Be sure to walk through all the animal areas during this time of the day to make the most of your visit.
If you like photographing roller coasters this is the park for you. There are lots of places you can get some really awesome shots of the different rides. Some of them are off the beaten path so keep your eyes open while you’re walking around and look for unique angles.
My favorite spot at Busch Gardens is actually right in front of the Zambia Smokehouse entrance. There is a little seating area there that looks out over the water under Sheikra. You can get some of the best shots of it from this spot as it tears through the water.
Busch Gardens isn’t just animals and roller coasters! There are also many award winning shows throughout the day. Although several are inside dark theaters, I find I do well with a telephoto lens inside the theaters. The shows are pretty well lit so you can still get crisp shots even with a slower lens. I usually sit back from the stage so I am level with the performers. I find it makes photos come out much better this way. If you use a shorter lens and sit up front you will be looking up at the performers. Not only will the edge of the stage be in your way but the angle won’t look as nice.
Please just don’t be that guy using a flash at the shows. Not only is it dangerous for the performers but it’s also really annoying to everyone around you.
I hope this guide to photography at Busch Gardens Tampa helps you on your next trip to the park. If you have any tips of your own be sure to share them in the comments below. If you want more, check out my other guides!