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San Francisco Zoo: Introduction to Wildlife Photography Workshop - April 14th, 2013

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

San Francisco, all things said, has a really wonderful zoo. The grounds are beautiful, and the people working there obviously really care about the animals. In addition to this it’s also a great place to learn more about wildlife photography. Matt and I were really looking forward to being with a good group and helping them get some great shots, and understand their cameras a little bit better.

After a brief orientation and introduction to the settings we set off to the zoo to begin our day. The first spot I like to hit is the big cat pens. The big cats, as was evident by the lions, are accustomed to sleeping long hours during the day…typically the best time I’ve found to photograph them is during the first hour of the morning when they’ve just been released from their night enclosures. The lions, as I mentioned wasted no time in going RIGHT to bed, but we all got some great shots of one of the tigers who was walking his territory, roaring, and making for a great subject matter.

With a safari or any other wilderness wildlife shoot you’re never guaranteed what you’ll get from one day to the next, and the same is true at the zoo; animals that are active on one day, maybe asleep and disinterested the next. One thing that is always a certainty at the zoo is that the grizzly bears eat at 11:30, and we’re always there early to get a good seat for the show along the window. Matt and I give some instruction on settings and encourage taking test shots often during the day on “down-time” to make sure your histograms and images are right so when the critters DO come out, you’re ready to shoot.

The bears never disappoint. They are always put on a great show as they dive for fish, and frolic around their environment in search of the food the trainers have hidden for them.

From the grizzly bears to polar bears, and on to seals, the class takes in a variety of animals and also a variety of lighting challenges. The zoo is great for really helping students work with not only a variety of animal subjects, but also a variety of different lighting challenges. White bears in the shade, Dark gorillas in the sun; all kinds of challenges await the photographers here. Matt and I help students to get the best of each situation, and explain when sacrifices need to be made in order to get shots, and how best to make them to still get aesthetically pleasing images.

After the bears and seals it’s time for a small lunch break before we finish up the afternoon with the gorillas, mandrills, and other critters. The gorillas are always a great time. They provide very captivating subjects as well as some good lighting challenges to keep people on their toes. The whole troop was out today and the little guy, Hasani was exceptionally frisky as he ran around teasing the other gorillas, turning summersaults, and throwing handfuls of dirt at the massive silverback before scampering off to hide. It was not only good photography; it was a lot of fun watching them interact.

Post-gorillas we photographed hawks, owls, and baby prairie dogs along with some zebras, Kudu, Ostrich, and Giraffes. The giraffe was hilarious to watch as he awkwardly stretched out to get a small drink of water then held his massive neck up high so the water could actually reach his stomach. So much variety in such a small geographic area! This is where the zoo really shines. Photographers are able to visit the entire spectrum of animals all in one day!

Wildlife photography is about change, and being able to do it quickly, and being aware of how light changes, and then making the most of the time between the action to stay dialed in on the right settings…along with the knowledge Matt and I tried to leave the students with, it takes a lot of practice…and thankfully the zoo gave the class a lot to practice with!

Until next time,

Brian, Matt and the rest of the Aperture Academy Team

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