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San Francisco Zoo: Introduction to Wildlife Photography Workshop - January 12th, 2014

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

Every time I go to the zoo I feel like a kid. Perhaps it was because I didn't visit the zoo that often when I was young, but every time I go to the zoo I'm filled with the wonder of seeing some animals I might never encounter in the wild. The zoo is a fantastic place to visit as many of these animals are here to educate people because they were no longer able to be in the wild do to injury, or some other issue that made it unsafe for them.

In addition to being a great place to learn and see animals from all over the world, the zoo is also a fantastic place to work on learning more about wildlife photography. Ellie Stone and I met a group of 10 eager photographers at the SF Zoo for a day of fun and photography.

We begin all courses with an orientation to get to know the students a little bit more. Although on this class we knew almost ¾ of them already from previous courses. It's always good to see familiar faces! It's also nice to meet new folks as well and get them started on their photography adventure. With the formalities concluded we begin to go over some of the settings we'll use for our day together. For those photographers already comfortable with the manual settings we recommend they continue on working with those settings, and give them a couple tips for what to check, and when to check it. For people still gaining that confidence with their cameras, we recommend shooting in Aperture Priority. This way the photographer controls the depth of field, and the camera assigns the appropriate shutter speed. The main thing to remember is that wildlife shooting requires a faster shutter speed, so the photographer needs to remember to check the shutter speed often to make sure it is fast enough…or else it's time to adjust the ISO.

Our first stop was the tiger cage, lucky for us the tigers were moving about and stopping by the glass so everyone could get dialed in and get some nice shots of these magnificent cats. It's been fun to see the ‘baby' tiger grow up each month as I do these classes, several months ago she was just a tiny kitten scampering about the pen…now it's difficult at times to tell the cub from the mother! Both cats are gorgeous and posed quite nicely for our cameras. Ellie and I moved about checking settings, trouble shooting, and trying to help the class get to the best angles to shoot these frisky felines. While we shot the tigers, the lions came out to play, and everyone was able to get some nice majestic shots of the giant male.

We slowly worked our way to the bear pen to see the feeding of the grizzly bears. I really like the way the zoo handles these bears by hiding their food in a large enclosure so they have to hunt and find it. There are apples, and veggies, and even several live fish for the bears to catch. Definitely a great show for the lenses! There's not much time here to give feedback when the action starts, so we do our best to get the class ready with practice shots while we wait for the bears to be released into the feeding pen.

After the bears, we work our way to lunch stopping for the lazy polar bear, and the seals. These creatures were really behaving well so the class got a few nice shots of them as they relaxed in the afternoon weather. Sure doesn't feel like winter.

After lunch we set right back to work finding animals and working on shots; Flamingos, giraffes, birds, and of course the gorillas. This was the first time I have seen the new baby gorilla. Our classes had a few years where we were fortunate enough to photograph baby Hasani, and now he's a big brother and a new baby has been born. The past few months the mother kept her away from the crowds in their bed area, but on this day she brought the little one out to get some fresh air and see the world. Such a cute little one! The visit was short lived, so most people got only documentary shots of the new addition, but just seeing her was awesome.

The rest of the troop made occasionally appearances as well and everyone got a few nice shots of these stoic primates as they posed throughout the enclosure.

After the gorillas we concluded our day with the meerkats and prairie dogs. While these little critters are not the big draw for any wildlife photographer, the zoo does an excellent job of putting them in a location our cameras can get right up and personal with them…and everyone always gets some nice portraits of these furry little beasts. The meerkats are particularly awesome as they really pose for some intense shots as they perch atop the stone structures scanning the sky for predators.

With so many animals and opportunities to photograph the day really does go by quickly, and before we know it our 3pm end time has snuck up on us and everyone has memory cards filled with images to go home and process. We saw creatures from nearly every continent, and never even had to leave the city! What a day!

Until Next Time,

Brian, Ellie, and the rest of the Aperture Academy Team

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