San Francisco Zoo: Introduction to Wildlife Photography Workshop - July 10, 2016

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

What time is it? It’s time to go to the zoo, that's what! And who better to go with than a great group of six students ready to learn all about the fundamentals of wildlife photography? On this Sunday in July, we stormed the gates of the San Francisco Zoo in search of some great subjects to practice on.

I met up with the group in front of the zoo entrance, where we gathered round and proceeded to introduce ourselves to each other and get acquainted. This is a great way for me to learn a little more about where everyone is “photographically,” to help each student on a more specific level. After everyone had finished meeting and greeting, I explained a little of the basics of what we would be doing on this gorgeous summer day. I gave a quick explanation of how an exposure is made through the camera, and then went into some important settings to help manipulate the scene to their liking. Of course, we would go back over this when we got out there, as there is much to remember!

After answering a few questions and going over a few last minute settings, we packed up the gear. It was time to get to it, so I grabbed our tickets and we headed in to the show!

After entering, we made our way over to the tigers to see if they wanted to play. If you think your cats at home are lazy in the morning, wait until you meet these tigers. While the group waited patiently for one of them to come out from under a tree, I explained a little bit about how to meter the light and what to look for when photographing unpredictable, fast moving creatures. After some time, one of the tigers got up and paced once or twice before going into the corner and lying down (again). That’s ok, there was so much more to see!

We headed next door to the lion’s den, and as we rounded the corner, we saw a small crowd forming around a large male lion, posing beautifully as he sunned himself. It was the perfect shot! I quickly found the group some spots to stand where they could get some unobstructed photographs. One of the zookeepers even offered up her spot, where they could shoot through the fence. After everyone felt like they had gotten some good ones, I rounded the group up and we headed to go see the grizzly bears (Ursus Arctos).

These two rescue grizzlies, Kachina and Kiona, were originally going to be euthanized as cubs, because of their mischievous behavior and dependency on human food. Thankfully before that happened, the Montana Wildlife officials were contacted by one of the Zoo board members, and it was decided that they would spare them for a new home in San Francisco. Everybody got some great photos of the healthy bears, and one of them even posed for several minutes at the edge of the pool!

Brand new to the zoo is the Mexican Grey Wolf. This is the smallest of the wolf species, found only in the Apache National Forest in southeastern Arizona. When we arrived, we could tell that the wolves were still a bit shy in their new space, but had found comfort in the shaded corner of the pen. There were a couple opportunities for some shots there, as one of the wolves exited its enclosure to join its companion. We decided to give the wolves a break and go get some food for ourselves and made our way over to the cafeteria for a quick bite.

Now feeling full and happy, we were ready for more! We exited the cafeteria and walked across the way to the pink flamingo enclosure. Pink flamingos get their color from eating shrimp -- we wondered if that’s where they get their smell, too! In spite of their odor, I showed the group how to darken their shots down to add some more contrast and make the birds pop out from the background.

On our way over to our next area, the Patas monkey pen, we stopped off for a fun group photo, to memorialize the adventure. Then on to the monkeys, who were full of energy and mischief. They are constantly chasing each other around making one another mad. Today was no exception. This proved to be a great lesson in using the tracking focus. Also, I helped some of the students set up their camera into high speed burst mode so that they could take several photos in a row. This gives one much better odds of capturing those hard to get moments that happen quickly, and only once.

Our last area for the day was a "trip" to Africa.

We first stopped in to visit with the Western Lowland gorillas. These mammals make excellent models, and they enjoy the company of the strangers walking by to take their photos, seemingly as much as we enjoy them. In the wild, they make separate nests for day time and night time use, and have been known to take care of orphaned young. The male Silverback came in and out of his hideout, allowing the group several different shots as he moved around.

We moved on to the African aviary for some shots of the feathered friends, and then we popped in to pay a visit to the giraffes. The zoo has painstakingly applied netting to all of the trees within the enclosure, but this doesn’t stop these giant lumbering animals from weaving their blue tongues underneath to try to eat them. And what a great subject for some fun photos they were.

Last, but not least, before leaving, we made a loop back around to see if the tigers had come back out since the morning. Sure enough, one of them was up and walking around! What a great place to finish a great day!

Until next time,

Phil Nicholas, 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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