This weekend I went along to ZSL Whipsnade near Luton with some friends and to take some shots of animals. In the last year, I've also been to the San Diego Zoo and Woburn Safari Park to the north of London so I've gotten fairly good at being ignored by animals when I want them to pay attention to me....
There are two things to remember when you shoot in a zoo. Firstly, the animals are not actors, they wont look at you or do a trick for you unless THEY want to. You can get amazing shots, but only if you surrender yourself to that simple fact. More often than not, the animals will be facing the wrong way, will have something obstructing some of their body or will generally just not be willing to pose for your attempt to fake your way into the Nature Photographer of the Year Awards.....
The second point is, unless you are fortunate to be there at the request of the zoo, that you are not special. Often, the fact of carrying a nice big dSLR with a hefty lens is enough to get you special treatment. You are taking shots of a building and people move around you because just maybe you are someone famous or are working for the building owner.... Zoos are one of those places where everyone has a camera with them and a lot of those are dSLRs. Additionally, everyone has paid their money to come in and see the animals and so why should you get pride of place or a better view? They are fair questions and ones you need to remember. Getting great pictures is good but do try and avoid ruining peoples day be getting in the way or being obnoxious with the camera, it gives all of us a bad name.
Most of the animal shots I took were done using my 70-200mm lens with the 2x extender. This gave me a excellent 400mm (520mm on my camera) range for shots, and the illusion of being really close to the animals.
However, it also means the widest aperture available is f8. Luckily the day was very sunny, so I had no real problems with the restriction, but I did occasionally have to push the ISO up to 500 when the clouds rolled over. The other lens that got a lot of use was my 24-105mm lens, because the extension tube also has the problem of making the closest focal length a 140mm (182mm on my camera). I've always called it my walkabout lens and once again it fell into that use. It was used for getting shots of a few animals in a herd.
Finally, I took a couple of hand held HDR shots of the countryside as Whipsnade is on a hill using my 17-40mm lens, though these were more opportunistic than anything related to the animals.
The other pleasant surprise was everything was loaded into my Kata 3n1 bag, the bag I picked up for trekking in Nepal later in the year, (excepting a tripod) so it was a similar weight to what I will be carrying and it was manageable. Whilst I was not walking nearly as far or as long as I will be, its the first time its really had a workout that is comparable and it performed admirably.