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San Francisco Zoo: Introduction to Wildlife Photography Workshop - January 22nd, 2011

Our first Intro to Wildlife Photography Zoo Workshop of the New Year started off in fine fashion with unseasonably warm temperatures and only a trace of fine wispy clouds in the sky. It was a welcome change from what seemed like an exceptionally long, cool and foggy summer, fall, and winter. Yes, conditions proved to be perfect as Aperture Academy Instructors Scott and Alicia welcomed a mix of 11 aspiring as well as seasoned photographers to an afternoon of inspiring wildlife photography. It was particularly nice as we recognized many who had signed up for this workshop, from previous workshops. I suppose it's a good sign when people come back for more. Its always great to see familiar faces especially those who have now been bitten hard by the photography bug..

We grabbed our tickets and navigated our way to the far end of the zoo to catch the beginnings of the bear feedings. En route, it seemed that all the animals in the exhibits also appeared to be relishing the particularly fine weather. It wasn't too hot nor too cold and as a result, the animals were very active. Often with wildlife photography, having patience is mandatory personal trait. Long periods of waiting are sometimes punctuated with fleeting moments of action. The successful wildlife photographer has to be ready for that decisive moment. However on this day, it was as if the sunny warm weather had perked everyone up, both people and animal.

The Grizzly Bears were in fine form. We positioned our cameras at numerous positions taking advantage of profile angles as well as head on shots. The bears were pacing back and forth in anticipation for the first meal of the day.. At the zoo, the pre-meal time is often the best time to get good action shots. The animals are excited and the shooting is good. For many in our group, this was the first time they began exploring the subtle nuances of working their digital SLR's in complete manual mode. Before today, simply setting the camera in an Automatic mode was the preferred setting for many. Working one on one with the instructors, the intricacies of determining proper exposure, especially under difficult lighting conditions were discussed. We also examined histograms, highlight alerts, meter modes, determined when aperture settings should trump shutter and ISO settings and vice versa as well as other tools of the camera at our disposal that enable us to get the best possible shot under the given circumstances.

Finishing up with the Bears, we decided to make our way over to Africa to see what the gorillas had in store for us. Of course, its easy to get side tracked at the zoo. In this case, the action among the chimpanzee's, a close cousin of the gorillas, provided a welcome detour. At first look, the lighting conditions seemed a little challenging. The dark bodies of the chimps set against a strong bright backlit lighting scenario. As a photographer, I love shooting backlit subjects. It gives a soft, almost ethereal look to the subjects. We use it all the time in people portraiture, wildlife portraiture, as well as travel and lifestyle imagery. However, in auto mode, the camera's meter often has a hard time determining proper exposure. Since we tend to focus on full manual mode during our workshops, our participants within a few minutes were quickly determining the optimal exposures and managed to get some truly beautiful portraits in what some consider tricky lighting conditions.

Having bagged some wonderful chimpanzee images, we set off in search of gorilla. The sunny weather found the entire gorilla group out and enjoying the day. The youngster was very active, swinging from branches, while the females traversed from one end of the exhibit to the other. The big Silverback was providing regal poses for all as he surveyed his kingdom. We continued working on composition and tips on what makes a average wildlife shot a great wildlife image.

Trekking around the zoo builds an appetite so we had a quick lunch break surrounded by a flock of pink flamingos, (real one's, not the plastic kind). Lunch allows us to recharge our batteries so to speak as well as have informal discussions on equipment preferences, general questions, travel destinations, not to mention, it's just nice to hang out with fun people among the various critters.

Following lunch, we finished the day practicing our skills among the meerkats who never cease to provide wonderful picture opp's, as well as numerous birds of prey including owls, eagles, vultures and hawks. I have to admit, I was pretty jazzed at the quality of images I was seeing on the LCD's of our participants. There were some definite prize contenders captured.

The first Zoo workshop of 2011 concluded on a perfect day. For some, this course serves as a basic primer allowing them to get familiar with a new camera. For others, they may feel comfortable working with the basic settings but still not quite happy with some of the results and want to learn more. And still for others, a big trip is on the horizon (Africa or in today's case, the Galapagos Islands-you know who you are you lucky dog) and they know they want to get the best pictures they can with the camera equipment they have but perhaps have a few questions about settings and techniques to bring out the best image outcomes. For some, its simply about having a fun day photographing animals with other like minded individuals and perhaps making contacts with others so when the urge hits to go out shooting, a shooting buddy is only a phone call away. No matter the motivations, it certainly beats spending the day watching TV.

On behalf of Scott and Alicia and the rest of the ApCad staff, thanks so much for a wonderful day. We look forward to seeing you again in the future.

On behalf of Scott, Alicia, 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.

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



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