Field Test
Go behind-the-scenes of a National Geographic magazine article
to see how our photographers use technology in the field.
Posted January 10, 2012
Dispatch #4
My Visit with the Showgirls

This is one in a series of dispatches sent from the road by photographer Joel Sartore.

Adobe Flash Player This video requires the latest version of Flash Player. Click here to download.
At the Fort Worth Zoo, a pair of showgirls strike a pose.

Help Joel rename the Biodiversity Project

The Fort Worth Zoo really works hard to bring people in the gate. It even has live showgirls.

They looked so good, I just couldn’t say no to photographing them, even though they didn’t exactly qualify as “wild animals.” Besides, their handlers were counting on it.

When the showgirls stepped onto my black velvet background, they immediately began scratching and clawing around, looking for seeds and bugs to eat. After all, they are chickens.

It seems that a pair of Silkie showgirl hens had been donated to the zoo. They’re a domestic breed that is extra-fluffy, with big puffballs on their heads (which look great backlit, I might add).

Generally speaking, I try not to turn down any shooting opportunities for the Biodiversity Project. I’m interested in everything, from black jaguars to giant Caribbean cockroaches. Whatever the zookeepers think we can pull off, we try, even if it’s a domestic chicken or two.

Of course, none of this “just happens.” This visit had been planned for many weeks.

Before I show up at any zoo, the staff and I have had many discussions, both on the phone and via email, about what species they think would work for my black-and-white background portrait technique. This is a collaborative process, so we talk it through, trying to sort out the animals that will tolerate humans and not get too stressed.

At the Fort Worth Zoo, many of the animals in its education and outreach department are handled every week. There was a white-nosed coati (above) that would work for grapes. They had trained macaws sitting pretty for sunflower seeds. They even had a serval, a species of wild cat that’s sometimes called the “giraffe cat” because of its extremely long neck. Best of all, it would sit in one place while I photographed it in exchange for tiny bits of food.

But the showgirls were among my favorites from the entire day. They were really comical and easy to photograph. Indeed, it would have been a perfect session—had they not pooped on the black velvet backdrop.

For more on excrement, see tomorrow’s post.

PreviousNext dispatch: “The Straight Poop”

See more animal portraits and learn how you can help at

To hire a National Geographic photographer or license photos, visit: and

For updates, follow @NatGeoMag on Twitter or become a fan on Facebook.

blog comments powered by Disqus
View More Projects
Michael “Nick” Nichols uses remote-controlled cars and copters to photograph lions of the Serengeti like never before.
Joel Sartore drives his mobile studio to U.S. zoos to photograph endangered species from around the world.
Join the Conversation
Share your questions and comments here. Each week we’ll highlight one as our Lexus Technology Question of the Week to be answered here by our experts.
Related Posts