San Francisco Zoo: Introduction to Wildlife Photography Workshop - August 16th, 2015

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

So wildlife photography is easy right? You just grab your longest lens, point it and hold the shutter down hoping to capture something great. Well your half the way there. There are some tricks to being ready for that special moment when your subject does something truly amazing and original. Many people get lost in the mechanics of all of it but here at Aperture we simplify it down so that all that is left is to be awake and ready to witness the unexpected.

To get the ball rolling we all shook hands and got to know each other a little better with a short orientation. After figuring out the names of all these new friends I threw down the basics of what we were going to be doing for the day…camera settings, lenses and so forth. I taught the group how to shoot in Aperture Priority. This way you have one less thing to worry about when making fast decisions and trying to capture rare occurrences in nature. For wildlife photography it is important to be able to change your depth of field. This is especially important somewhere like the zoo where you don’t really want the background to give you away. It is also very important to be shooting at a fast enough shutter speed to 1. Stop the motion of your subject and 2. Stabilize any of the movement caused from you holding your camera. Once everybody was a little more dialed in with the gear we headed in to the zoo to go visit a few good friends of mine.

Now the big cats, like most cats you know, are pretty lazy. They spend the majority of the day sort of lying around in the shade. They are like natures procrastinators. This only get’s worse if they’ve just eaten lunch so we hurried in to catch them before breakfast! The tigers weren’t doing a heck of a whole lot when we arrived so I took this opportunity to fill everyone in on how to adjust the ISO to get faster shutter speeds. After a few minutes one of the tigers began to pace and it turned directly toward us giving the guys some real time practice. Next door to the Tiger’s are the Lions and all three of them were lying out in the sun basking when we showed up. They gave us a little love and the sidelight helped to get some interesting shots.

Next up were eagles, polar bears and grizzlies. The eagles were in their usual perch and every so often they let out a shrill call announcing their presence. These eagles are both rescues and cannot fly but this is a good lesson on contrast and framing. The bright white of the bald eagle’s head is often overexposed so I helped some of the students adjust for the exposure to get a good shot. After hangin’ with the eagles we walked just down the way as the polar bear was eating her lunch. We got some great shots as she took a break from her chow and looked up at us. Here it is a big advantage to have a long lens to isolate the bear’s head and blur the background to make it look like it is in its natural environment.

It was almost time for the grizzly feeding so we walked over to secure our vantage points before the crowds gathered in. Now all we have to do is wait! The grizzly feeding is great because the zoo keepers play hide and seek with the bear food and the two female grizzlies really have a good time hunting it down and splashing around in the water. After capturing some nice shots of the bears we were ready for lunch break ourselves.

After lunch we went and visited with our Lemur friends. The Lemurs are always a hoot and are usually quite active in the afternoon. Sure enough the Lemurs were jumping around from one tree to another and letting out loud howls back and forth. There’s never a dull moment with these strange looking creatures.

Now it was on to the Africa section of the zoo. This is one of my favorite stops and the giraffe were frisky today galloping around the pen. It was the perfect place to practice stopping motion with fast shutter speeds. The students were really getting the hang of their camera’s by this time so I would pop in and check their shots here and there and offer advice.

As we circled around Africa we decided to pop into a small aviary with exotic birds. These birds proved to be some tough subjects between lighting and timing but we managed to pull some great captures from here. Some of them looked like they belonged in an alien zoo with long beaks and featherless heads and others had the most magnificent blue wings.

We continued around Africa full circle and decided to call it. After a whole day of hoofing around in the zoo we were tired and the group was ready to go home and check these pictures out on the big screen!

Until Next Time,

Phil and the rest of the Aperture Academy Team!

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