A Day at the San Diego Zoo

The next installment in “zoo week” on the blog comes from the San Diego Zoo in California.

I remember visiting here when I was about 5 or 6 years old. I was absolutely in awe of the place at the time. My strongest memory is of the giant tortoises – tortoises bigger than me!

I wondered if this was one of those childhood memories where everything seems huge but when you visit again as an adult it turns out to be not so big after all?

Well it wasn’t one of those memories. The zoo is just as large and impressive now as I remember it and after many hours walking around I was both delighted and relieved that there was an aerial tram that takes you from one end of the park to the other offering a spectacular view above the treetops.

I rented a special lens for the occasion – a 100-400mm F/4.5-5.6L IS USM. Nice lens! The focal length was a perfect compliment to my 24-105L giving me a great deal of range while only carrying two lenses. It was quite heavy though. And not as sharp as the 400mm L lens I rented in Florida last year. I’m glad I tried it because I have been considering buying one and after using it for a couple of days I think I might give the 70-300L a shot before I put my money on the table. That is IF I put my money on the table. I think I might just save my money and keep renting lenses when I need one. I figure that way I always get the perfect lens for the job and I always get the latest and greatest technology.

Now, on to the photographs! Please click any of the photographs to view a larger version.

First, a flamingo, always a great subject in my book.

Flamingo at the San Diego Zoo, California.

My favourite subjects were the monkeys. I love their playful expressions and the challenge of capturing them during a fleeting moment when they stop moving about. This is a Tufted Capuchin.

Tufted Capuchin at the San Diego Zoo, California.

The gorillas were so interesting to watch. They seemed just as interested in watching us as we were watching them.

Gorilla at the San Diego Zoo, California.

The orangutans have such fascinating faces …

Female Orangutan, San Diego Zoo, California.

…especially the males!

Male Orangutan, San Diego Zoo, California.

As I mentioned in my post earlier this week, I fell in love with elephants at Lion Country on the same trip I went on as a child. So I was especially looking forward to the elephants in San Diego.

But I have to say that I was disappointed. I did make this one decent image but the elephants here were so sad. It almost made me cry to see this elephant standing just rocking back and forth, every once in awhile he would kick at his ankle guard, and go back to rocking. They didn’t have a very big area. I’ve never seen such a sad elephant.

Elephant at San Diego Zoo, California.

Ray had quite the encounter with this baby hippo! Just like the gorillas, the hippo seemed just as interested in watching Ray.

Ray and the Hippo eye each other at the San Diego Zoo, California.

My favourite part of the zoo turned out to be the same as when I was a child – the giant tortoises! We were so lucky that just as we came upon the exhibit this one tortoise came right up to the edge and the keeper invited us in to pet him! She said it was an experience people pay hundreds of dollars to have (you can pay between $600-$1000 dollars for an exclusive VIP experience). We were just there at the right time with a tortoise that seemed to like us. They are very soft under the chin!

Ray pets the tortoise at the San Diego Zoo, California.

I couldn’t help but wonder if this tortoise remembered me too :)

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  1. Dina J says

    All of the shots are really great! That expression you caught on the monkey is priceless. Sad about the elephant though. The ones here have a great big space to roam in.

    • says

      Hi Dina, now that I have been to the Safari Park as well I wonder if the elephants at the zoo are the ones that are not as healthy or they need extra attention for some reason. I would sure like to see them “graduate” from the zoo to the safari park. Thanks for your compliment on my photos, much appreciated!!

    • says

      Hi Chris, the gorillas were amazing. It was almost as if they had their daily chores to do and then they came over and sat down to watch TV – the TV being us humans behind the glass watching them. They have such expressive faces and it’s so interesting to watch how they interact with each other so similar to ourselves. Thanks for your visit and comments.

  2. Steven Read says

    Nice work!! I have had the 100-400 for several years. Works well with the 1.4 multi. Wish it was sharper but not bad for most uses. Thank you for shareing your work.. Steve

    • says

      Hi Steve, thank you very much. I did enjoy using that lens. I have to say renting is so much fun getting to try out different lenses. I never thought of renting the 1.4 multi at the same time. I rented that once when I had the 400mm but didn’t end up using it much.

  3. Kelly says

    Hi Anne, the pictures are great! You must have the patience of a saint. My husband and I visited San Diego Zoo over Thanksgiving weekend and I didn’t get any pictures I would consider to be outstanding, mostly because the days were a lot shorter and I tried to see as much as I could before losing daylight. I visited the zoo once before, about 20 years ago, and the habitats seemed to be a lot smaller than they were back then.

    I didn’t get to see everything I wanted but that only means I’ll have to make another trip this summer. Next time I will definitely spend more than one afternoon at the zoo and take my time. I did get a great shot of the red panda hanging out in a tree, so that alone made the trip worthwhile.

    Thanks for sharing your beautiful work and keep ’em coming!

    • says

      Hi Kelly, I know I only got one afternoon there too. I guess I did stick around at some of my favourite exhibits where I thought I could get a good image and didn’t spend much time at the ones where I could see getting a good shot would be impossible. And I missed the pandas all together!! It would probably be worth going there once without a camera at all just to see and appreciate everything and take notes on which exhibits are photo worthy for another trip. It was a lot of walking for one afternoon. Thanks for your comments!

  4. says

    Love how you really used the telephoto’s shallow depth of field and the bright lens to stay wide open and keep the backgrounds out of focus. Great tonal ranges too. Can I ask what the light was like? Was it overcast, were the subjects in shadow and you exposed for that? Nice soft portraits. Loved these, and inspirational. Going to the zoo this weekend!

    • says

      Hi Mike, the light conditions changed quite a bit through the day and in different areas of the zoo. I found that the images that turned out best were made when the sky was overcast giving that soft light with no shadows. The exposures were pretty even. The images with patchy light are not nearly as nice. Thank you very much for your comments Mike!

  5. says

    Fabulous post, Anne! You’ve done a smashing job with capturing the character and personality of the animals you visited. My heart is broken for the elephant, that’s really really hard to see my friend. All your shots here are just wonderful, I tip my hat to you for capturing such a terrific series!
    Toad Hollow Photography recently posted..High Above HeavenMy Profile

    • says

      Thank you very much Toad! Now that I have been to the safari park I wonder if the elephants at the zoo are the ones that need extra medical attention or something like that and I hope that one day they will graduate to the safari park. I would like to think that anyway.

  6. says

    Great shots, I love animal portraits and one day I will rent a lens when I need it too. We have a photographer customer (I work at a pro photo lab) that feels the same as you do, he rents his L lenses a couple times a year.

    I’ve been to the San Diego zoo once a couple years ago and actually was very disappointed. Maybe it’s because the Omaha Henry Doorly zoo is right in our backyard. My son (who had just graduated from Marine boot camp) really wanted to go to compare it to Omaha.

    We all were disappointed. It seemed so crowded and the enclosure were smaller with older style exhibits. We are used to the indoor rain forest and desert with pretty much open exhibits where it’s easier to see the animals, and get photos. http://www.squidoo.com/the-best-zoo-in-america

    If you ever travel up to Nebraska I’ll take you on a personal tour!
    Dawn recently posted..The Best Zoo in America updated Tue Dec 31 2013 11:01 am ESTMy Profile

  7. joan says

    How sad about the elephant. So sad to see a zoo with such backward living conditions for animals who are intelligent and with a social structure. Is anyone doing anything about that? Find it hard to imagine not. But love the Tufted image…


  1. […] A Day at the San Diego Zoo – the ability to capture a moment in the mind of soul of the animals that inhabit our planet with us is clearly one of the best attributes of photography.  This wonderful post by Anne McKinnell takes us along to the San Diego Zoo as she and her husband spend the day visiting all the wonderful creatures that call this place home.  Anne has come away from the visit with a stellar series of photographs that really feature the incredible character of the animals housed there. […]

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