San Francisco Zoo: Introduction to Wildlife Photography Workshop - April 3rd, 2016

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

If you are interested in wildlife photography, but you aren't ready to make the big trip to Africa yet, the zoo is a perfect place to get some practice in. The San Francisco Zoo houses many of the same animals, including tigers, grizzly bears, and giraffes, that you will find in a wildlife photographer's favorite places to visit! So it was great fun this last weekend, when I met up with some shutter happy folks to spend the day photographing beautiful wildlife and instructing on how to use their cameras to best capture these magnificent creatures!

First thing is first, and I needed to get the group orientated to our adventure. We started off with a general introduction to get acquainted and so I could learn some names. Next, I got right down to brass tacks, and went through what we would be doing for the next five hours. I had the students bust out their cameras so I could take a look at them and we set them all up for capturing some wild moments. The thing with wildlife photography is SPEED! Your shutter needs to be working hard to stop-motion when it counts, so I showed the students the relationship between the Aperture, Shutter Speed and the I.S.O., and how these affect how fast your camera will perform. After we got all set up and everyone was feeling stoked to get out there into the "wild," we packed up and headed into the zoo.

Our first location was the tiger pen. The tigers can be lazy, like most cats, but today they were moving around and interacting with each other. We couldn't believe our eyes when one of the tigers decided to lay right in front of the glass in front of us, especially since everyone had just put on their telephoto lenses. (A good example of how unpredictable wildlife photography can be.) I helped everyone who had a wide-angle lens put them on, so they could get closer to the big cat. We had fun watching the striped wonder yawn and show its gigantic teeth. What a great photo opp!

Next, we headed over to the Grizzly bear pen to pay a visit to the big female brown bears for their lunch. We arrived a few minutes early, to beat the crowds, and everyone picked a spot to wait. I shared advice on some interesting angles and how to correct for the green cast in the retaining glass wall, just in time to see the bears burst into their pen with intent to hunt down every last fish and stick of celery that the zoo helpers had planted. They splashed around in the water as the students fired off their shutters like there was no tomorrow! After everyone was satisfied, we made a quick stop to see the bald eagles before heading back to the big cat kingdom to catch some that we'd missed.

We stopped in to see the elusive bobcat, but it was a lazy day for this feline and it was passed out in the sun. No worries, though, because right across the trail was the even more elusive snow leopard, and this girl was up for as many glam shots as we could throw at her! We went into the enclosure and the students photographed through the glass. Since it was pretty dark, I instructed them to increase their ISOs to speed up their shutter speeds. After awhile the leopard decided to take a nap, so we moved on to grab a bite to eat. We headed down to the Lemur Café, so we could refuel and talk a bit before heading back out.

After lunch, we walked over to the gorilla house to see our old friend, Pappy Silverback and the family. When we showed up, they were all out in the sun showing off for the cameras. I went over some ideas for composition and ways to get rid of glare from the glass and the students got some great shots!

After everyone grabbed their fill of nice shots, we popped into the aviary to see some African birds. This is one of my favorite places to see in the zoo, and the students liked it, too. We made a big circle around the African enclosure and everyone took some photos of the zebra as it fed on the long grass. The day flew by as the workshop class filled their memory cards and got some memorable and incredible shots. We worked our way around the zoo, and as we came full circle we had also run out of time for the day. But, what a great day it was!

Until next time,

Phil and the rest of the Aperture Academy Team!

If you'd like to join us at one of our workshops, you can find the schedule/sign up here.

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