This is a long post with a LOT of pictures! You have been warned!
Just before Christmas I was sat with Steve on the sofa, casually flicking through various channels on the tellybox. I was on leave, recovering from a nasty virus the week before, and didn't have to be back at work until the first week of January. It was a pretty relaxed time.
Steve was perched on the sofa, cushion on his lap, laptop balanced on top. We were talking about nothing in particular, when he suddenly looked up and said "you have to see this, you would love it".
The 'this' in question was a photography experience at either Howletts or Port Lympne, the two Wildlife Parks owned by the Aspinell Foundation. As I read up on the experience days, I got more and more excited by the idea.
These two were some of my favourite animals of the entire day. First up was this handsome fellow who absolutely loved playing in his water, dunking his great head fully under, pawing at the meat that the keeper threw to him and shaking great shining droplets from his whiskers. His pads were enormous but he didn't make a sound as he moved around his enclosure.
We were advised with the gorillas not to get too close, but instead to stand behind the protective glass and make sure our camera lenses were flat against it to obtain shots without a reflection. We could also go up to the mesh, but in all honesty, these animals demand a lot of respect and you just don't want to get that close! The gorillas would put on impulsive displays of strength and agility, running up and down the boundaries of their pen, banging the fence and throwing the straw into the air.
2) Make sure your memory cards are empty and bring spares. You will take a lot of pictures. One of the others on our tour hadn't emptied her memory card prior to the experience and by the time we got to the deer park she was desperately trying to delete old pictures to free up the space for new ones.
3) Bring additional zoom lenses but make sure you can whip them off quickly and into a convenient storage bag as the animals get a lot closer than you realise!
4) Wear comfortable shoes that you don't mind getting muddy
5) Don't bother with a packed lunch, just grab something at the cafe.
Other than that, if you have the opportunity to do something like this, I highly, highly recommend it. It was a simply incredible experience and you don't have to be a pro with a camera - as long as you know your way around it, you can set it to auto and still get some brilliant shots.