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San Francisco Zoo: Introduction to Wildlife Photography Workshop - April 11th, 2015

Wildlife Photography Workshop Students with Aperture Academy at the San Francisco Zoo

Shooting wildlife is tricky, and there's nothing more frightening than travelling to a foreign country to shoot wildlife on safari and not knowing how to capture the images that may be a once in a lifetime opportunity. Our Zoo intro to wildlife class is a perfect way to get in some behind the glass experience, and learn all the ins and outs of shooting wildlife before you make the plunge into the real deal. Phil and I met a group of 10 awesome aspiring wildlife photographers at the SF Zoo for a fun afternoon of shooting creatures from across the globe.

There's a few different approaches to shooting wildlife. The two main ones are Aperture Priority, and the other is Manual...both are great, but both require the user to be involved in the checking of settings and making sure the camera is your ally not your enemy. The main part of shooting wildlife is that shutter speeds, we always are checking to make sure we're constantly about 2x our focal length to ensure that we get crisp, sharp images. This means bumping up the ISO to acceptable levels to make the camera work harder with the available light, and giving the cameras the ability to use faster shutter speeds. Lucky for us we had a nice sunny day that also helped us to get really fast shutter speeds.

We started off in the big cat area where we found the big cats doing what they do best...sleep. The lion were of little interest as they were content to just nap the day away, but the tigers were right by the viewing glass which gave our group a chance to really capture these beautiful cats nice and close. We covered compositional tips, reinforced the settings, checked histograms, and talked about how to combat the glare, and color tint of the window. One of the tiger in a neighboring cage was really getting into a bone and chewing on his morning snack...this made for a lot of really nice images.

The next spot is the grizzly bears. This is probably the most accurate way to shoot zoo animals that mimic their wild behaviors. The keepers release live fish into a pond and the bears get to fish for them and it's one of the highlights of the whole zoo...and really gives the class a chance to catch some high action...and showcases the importance of those fast shutter speeds. I like to take this chance to talk about the importance of taking test shots, and getting your cameras ready prior to their being ANY action to speak of. Some of the images I saw on the cameras were GREAT...some really nice captures of the bears with fish in their mouths.

From here we shot polar bears, seals, and a few of the other creatures within the zoo, and we have a minor Koala sighting as well, they were ALMOST awake and photogenic, which is rare for these "bears".

After lunch we were treated to a show from one of the local chimps...he took great joy in doing a little dancing and then hurling various objects at the crowd...it was all fun and games until one of the objects he found to throw was a turd. RUN! It was a spot though to go over exposure compensation to talk about photographing darker subjects that might get slightly under-exposed if the user lets the camera pick the shutter speed without any added assistance. The Exposures compensation feature is the photographers way to combat and help with darker subjects and brighter subjects.

After lunch we photographed the flamingos and I talked a bit about how to under-expose intentionally to get a more aesthetic look with the birds and water...the green water can be kind of ugly, and making sure it's dark will not only bring out the detail in the light pink birds feathers, but make the water appear almost black, which gives great contrast and I think makes a more dramatic image.

We eventually make our way to the gorillas and there we reinforce all the settings we have been shooting throughout the day, and here is a great place to talk about dark subjects like the gorillas who are sitting in very bright grass...to expose for the gorilla will certainly overexpose the background...the only ways to handle this effectively are to wait until the gorilla moves to the shadows so the contrast is reduced, or shooting in monochrome will make the over-exposed areas appear as only a shade of white...which to the viewers eye makes more sense than if it were a blown out color. It's a creative way to deal with very tricky lighting, and with wildlife photography there often is always a trade off and having creative ways to handle these situations can make not only more original images, but also very nice images.

The day seemed to fly by and before we knew it was 3pm, and time to wrap up. Phil and I would like to thank everyone for a great day, and being awesome learners, asking questions, and really working hard...it was a blast!

Until Next Time,

Brian, Phil and the rest of the Aperture Academy Team!

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