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What better way to learn about photographing wildlife than to take a very diverse group of animals and throw them in a controlled setting and let a group of learning photographers wander amongst them and try their hand at capturing them on disk while instructed by and guided by a professional landscape and wildlife photographer?
Such was the case on a foggy and slightly chilly Sunday afternoon at the Aperture Academy's Intro to Wildlife course at the San Francisco Zoo. A small group of eager photographers met instructor Brian Rueb at the gate entrance for a brief orientation before setting off to see what the animals were up to. Some of the class was so excited to start that they actually showed up a day early and tried to convince Brian that the class was on Saturday not Sunday (HAHA!)
While overcast days might not be the best for photographing landscapes, they are perfect for wildlife photography. Not only are the animals more likely to be moving about, enjoying the cooler temperatures, but the light is softer and more even, creating better lights on the animals eyes...which is the key to a great image.
The group began the morning shooting the Mandrill, a large baboon-like primate with a very curious, yet photogenic, set of colorations. The hind portion of the male almost looks like it was spray painted by hoodlums. The alpha male was out in full display on this morning patrolling his area and giving the class a few very nice opportunities to photograph his face (as well as his backside).
The goal of the morning was to be at the Grizzly cage for the 11am feeding, but as the class worked its way through the zoo, opportunities for photographing kept popping up. First it was a small monkey sitting perfectly posed on a rock. The male lion was also out creating amazing opportunities for shooting only feet away from the glass. It was a plethora of photographic opportunities, which actually put us at the bear exhibit RIGHT on time.
The bears came out and put on quite a show, catching fish and swimming in their pool. It's a hard scene to photograph, as it's not only behind a thick pane of dirty colored glass, but it's also one of the most popular shows of the day at the zoo. That being said, there were still some nice images of the bears captured.
The next portion of the day was spent photographing polar bears, peacocks, and some of the other animals that were out and about on this cool December afternoon. We also made another stop at the lion cage to photograph the king of the zoo as he paced his domain.
There was even an incident where a stork tried to attack instructor Brian Rueb. He was just lucky that there was a piece of mesh between him and the very irritated bird.
Before taking a lunch break, the group spent some time at the gorilla exhibit watching the youngest member of the group, Hasani, do a little performing before he went inside to take a nap...giving the group a good reason to take a break and rest up themselves before tackling the rest of the afternoon.
We're all big kids at heart, so it's fitting that we spent some time in the children's zoo area. Not only is it well put together, but it allows us to get very close to some of the animals and capture more intimate portrait-style shots of them.
The meerkats spend their days basking lazily in the sun or perched on a rock in constant search of predators wanting to eat them. Prairie dogs abound in their enclosure, playing and patrolling their own little world. Eagles, owls, and falcons are on display only feet from the viewer and allow great chances for photographing some of the predators of the sky.
From the Children's Zoo to the primate's children...we headed back to the gorillas to see if Hasani had decided to come out and allow himself to be photographed some more. He was out, and while it's not great photography to shoot a baby monkey pooping into his own hand, the other gorillas were in a lot better position and acting less disgusting, so the students got some very nice images of these primates as they basked in the sun that had finally started to break through the fog.
Our last stop was along the grasslands exhibit near the entrance. We photographed some very colorful birds as they strutted and showed off for a group of nearby ducks and seagulls. We saw so many different creatures throughout the day that it would've taken several weeks and many thousands of dollars in airfare to be able to capture a memory card full of these animals in the wild. Yet, we were able to do it all in a few hours of learning and fun with the Aperture Academy at the San Francisco Zoo.
On behalf of Scott, Scott, and the rest of the Aperture Academy staff, thanks so much for another great workshop experience! We look forward to seeing you again in the future.