Nourify Photography

Living Desert Zoo and Gardens

Living Desert is a public botanical garden and zoo located in the city of Palm Desert, CA, and is perhaps the only zoo in the US solely dedicated to the desert animals. It is well managed and not too large, and similar to the Safari Park in San Diego, they have tried to preserve a natural habitat for their animals.

Zoos are generally among the most photographed places of all time, as almost anyone visiting a zoo will carry a camera. While taking pictures of animals in captivity is not nearly as challenging as shooting in the wild, following certain tips can still help you capture better shots during your visit to a zoo. Many articles and tips on zoo photography can be found online, such as this one, or this one.

In our opinion, two of the most important tips, which are applicable to any wildlife photography, are to be mindful of the background, and to almost always try to focus on the eyes. On the latter point, it is critical that you understand how the focus sensors and the different auto-focus modes and auto-focus areas work in your camera. Going through the various AF modes in detail will be beyond the scope of this post. But lets quickly touch upon the approach we typically use, which is the so-called “AF-ON” technique where auto-focus is decoupled from the shutter-release button, and instead focus is achieved once the AF-ON button is pressed. Now, there can be two auto-focus modes: Single-Servo or AF-S, and Continuous or AF-C. A good description of the two modes is provided here. With AF-ON technique, we use the AF-C mode. In doing so, once AF-ON button is depressed, the focus is obtained, and being in the AF-C mode, the camera will attempt to track focus for as long as we hold on the AF-ON button, and the focus will be locked once we let the AF-ON button go. So we no longer need to worry about switching the auto-focus mode between AF-S and AF-C. Instead, depending on whether our subject is stationary or moving, we can simply control the focus by either one-time pressing (e.g., when we want to focus and recompose for static objects), or by continuous pressing of the AF-ON button (e.g., when our subject is moving). One other setting we would have to pick is the so-called auto-focus area (as described here). which will determine which AF sensors the camera will use when trying to track focus within the frame. With AF-ON technique, we typically use one of the so-called Dynamic Area settings where the initial focus is achieved using our selected AF sensor, and then, if we continue to press the AF-ON button, the focus will be tracked using the nearby sensors within the frame. A summary of AF-ON auto-focus technique for Nikon DSLR’s can be found here, here, and here. The same approach can be used with Canon or other cameras as well, albeit the settings and the namings might be a bit different.

Back to Living Desert. Though not exactly related to the zoo or the gardens, the Living Desert has a fascinating G-Scale model train and city, and that is where we started our visit:


We then visited their special exhibit on the Birds of Australian Outback:


We then headed to visit their animal exhibits on both African and North American regions:

Cheetah: The Fastest Land Animal

Sister Cheetahs…

Reticulated Giraffe

Grevy’s Zebra

Slender-horned Gazelle

Mexican Wolf

Swift Fox





And finally, a couple of shots of the beautiful desert gardens:

We hope these pictures make you interested in spending a few hours at Living Desert if you ever travel to Palm Springs or Palm Desert areas in California. Thanks for visiting…

2 Responses to Living Desert Zoo and Gardens

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