Yesterday was a really fun, though exhausting day. Wren and I took part in the annual ‘Day at the Zoo with Glazer’s Camera.’ This meant that we were able to spend an entire day in Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo, learning by shooting with great equipment while being mentored by professional wildlife photographers.
The day started at 9am with a two-hour lecture from professional safari and travel photographer, Randy Hanna. After that we were invited to borrow all kinds of equipment from Glazer’s and the photo suppliers that had turned out for the event, including Sony, Tamron, Manfrotto, Nikon, and Canon. We borrowed two Monopods from Manfrotto and two Canon 70-200mm f2.8 lenses from Glazer’s. It was a good thing we did too; because once we got out to the park those telephoto lenses were essential.
The main problem, at least at first, was the other people. The park was in full operation, and since it was a busy Saturday morning every viewpoint was packed. Especially crowded was the first display of the day, where everyone was pushing and shoving to see the three lion cubs. Wren had her camera full-out kicked by an unruly child, and I was forced back into a crevice where I hurriedly tried to change the lenses on our cameras to get better range. In the process I somehow got a speck of dirt on the mirror inside the smaller camera, which fortunately doesn’t affect the photographs, but was annoying for Wren to see in the viewfinder for the rest of the day. With the longer 70-200mm lenses securely in place, it became at lot easier to shoot past the crowds than with the normal lenses we’d started the day with.
Randy Hanna was full of really valuable knowledge about the animals from the African Savanna that we were shooting for the first few hours. He also made sure we weren’t rushing and ignoring basic technique. There was a big range of skill levels in the group of about 30, so this covered everything from basic composition to checking histograms or setting custom focus points. He’s a Nikon and Hasselblad camera user, so we also got to teach him how to navigate the Canon menu while he was trying to help another student.
We had another shock on the Savanna when we looked back through our photos and realized the Zebra we’d been shooting was a stallion. A very well-endowed stallion. A fun example of missing something big that was in our faces while in a hurry to get good shots. Anyway…
After the African exhibit we ate lunch, and then headed back to the classroom for our guaranteed ‘animal encounter.’ We’d paid extra for ‘VIP’ tickets to take part in this, so we were expecting a chance to shoot one of the exotic animals up close. We were a little disappointed that it was just one of the zookeepers doing a standard showing of two owls. Nothing against the owls, who were beautiful, but it was exactly the same experience that any zoo-goer can have multiple times a day at the raptor display. Plus, since we were in a packed classroom with fluorescent lights, there wasn’t much of a chance at a good photo anyway. Kind of lame.
To follow this the ‘VIP’s were to have what Glazer’s advertised as a ‘Curated Zoo Walk’ with an actual Zoo Photographer. This turned out to be a bust as well. It was a last-minute replacement photographer who volunteers for the Zoo, and who arrived late offering only an impromptu Q&A session. Since Glazer’s was going to pack up all their rental gear and end the event at 3pm, and this guy started talking at 2:15, Wren and I had a choice. We decided our time would be better spent shooting in the park.
Trying not to be rude, which was hard since we were in the front row, we rushed to the rental table and I borrowed a massive 200-400 f4 lens and said sayonara to the lecture. We ran as fast as we could with the heavy gear back into the Zoo for our last 30 minutes of rental time.
We went straight for the tigers because… why wouldn’t you?! We were really lucky again. The tiger display is brand new and has three adult tigers. Two were lying just inside the glass in easy view and were holding their bodies fairly still while actively surveying the crowd. Score. We found a spot by the glass and dug in, ignoring the other patrons around us. We weren’t bothered because we were packing serious equipment, though we also left space in front of us for kids to get in beneath our eye-line. The 200-400mm lens was HEAVY, so I supported it on a monopod, while Wren shot hand-held next to me with her 70-200mm. We were able to zoom in on every hair on the tiger’s face and we got so excited, they were posing for us so well, that we unconsciously started shouting out directions. “Oh yeah!, turn a little to the left! Yes! Good Kitty! Look here!” We might have freaked a few people out, but we got the shot. We did the same thing with the jaguar, who was pacing back and forth in her enclosure.
After we returned the lenses and monopods, we were able to get free 13”x19” prints made of our favorite photos. We both chose the tigers, though I wish I’d printed one of the shots of Wren that I’ll post shortly. Since we were both out, we couldn’t resist shooting a bit of each other in action. More on that in a later post. With our prints in the trunk of my car and the event now ended, we went back into the park to shoot with our own lenses for another hour and a half until the park closed. This was another great choice, since there was so much more to see. We missed the great lenses, but still got shots of lots of animals in action, like the ocelot, the lion cubs, the aviary, and most fun-the otters.
So all in all, a great day. We wound up walking about five miles and taking thousands of photos. I have a few posted here, and Wren has posted some of her own that you should check out on her Facebook page. To finish our Saturday: Famous Daves for dinner and Coldstone after. Check back soon for more on the human portraits we took and I’ll be starting up actor headshot season here in Seattle.