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It’s always a great time at the San Francisco Zoo, teaching the manual controls of a DSLR camera with a fun group of people and a host of amazing animals to photograph. Shooting animals is also a great way to get better acquainted with portrait photography. The settings are so much alike! We get to learn the basics of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO in this great learning environment, as well as how to frame subjects to make them look their best.
Jean and I were so happy to see all of our participants for this Sunday not just on time, but early and ready to get going. We started by having everyone tell a little bit about themselves and what they were hoping to get out of the workshop. The group was eager and ready, so after the introductions were over we were quickly off and running!
We headed straight for the Bear Country, with some impromptu stops along the way to shoot animals in the early morning light. The Polar Bears were a fun time and easy to warm up with since they move slowly and like to hang out on the rocks. On the other hand, it’s an amazing experience to shoot feeding time at Grizzly Gulch. We always try to get there early to have a front row seat for our participants. This part of the day gets everyone a chance to shoot high shutter speed action as the bears run through their habitat. We are also very careful not to step on the children who line the windows to watch the festivities!
Once done with the bears we make our way to the South American Tropical Rainforest indoor exhibit. Here we work with lower light as we capture the various exotic birds and reptiles that abound. We teach the concept of DOF (depth of field) where you can blur the background (often referred to as bokeh) to create a beautiful effect that puts the subject into focus in a very artistic way.
After shooting for a while in this part of the zoo, everyone is ready for a short lunch break, so we head to the Leaping Lemur Café where we can all refuel and talk about and reinforce the concepts we had been learning for this first part of the day.
After everyone was filled and re-energized we went straight to the Flamingos. These animals can be quite interesting to shoot because of the variety of ways that they can be represented, whether in traditional or abstract. They tuck their heads beneath their wings and can easily start looking like anything other than a bird, so we have a lot of fun seeing what we can do with them using creative framing and the DOF skills we learned before lunch.
Next we head to the gorilla pen. Some days they are very active and on others they are more subdued. We were happy to see them out and about, and after a short time a couple of the primates stopped in front of our group. They are so aware of us and like to pose. This time we had one of the females who put on a show opening her mouth and twirling her tongue for us. When everyone laughed she would go and do it all the more. Because of the cloudy skies above, we had nice diffused light that really worked well with our cameras, which is always nice with these particular animals and their rich black hair.
When the group was done with the gorillas we headed for the Meer cats and Prairie Dogs. They are adorable and always fun to shoot. We stopped to shoot a few pics of a Giraffe having it’s lunch. In both situations, Jean and I were able to share with the group more ideas and ways to work with getting great exposures in a variety of different lighting conditions.
We typically enjoy shooting our group pic from this same area. Everyone got a short chance to sit and be funny for the shot before headed to our last stop at Hawk Hill where there is always a variety of birds that are good to photograph. This Sunday presented us with a cute barn owl that hid in its house for a while then came out to show us just how cute it was. With these birds at this part of the zoo we generally get the best bokeh of the day because of how far away the background is.
Jean and I had a great time with this really fun group who asked a lot of great questions, and learning from the information we shared back in return. By the end of the day our photographers were getting used to playing with their settings and becoming comfortable with shooting in Manual Mode…which is a big step in becoming more familiar with the camera.
Until next time,
Matt, Jean and the rest of the Aperture Academy Team
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