Photographing wildlife in its element has long been the stuff of legend. Deep pocketbooks and an even deeper desire for adventure are abound in those willing to partake in the long journey across the oceans to Africa, the heart of mother earth at her wildest. But, with the instructors of The Aperture Academy, and the fine location of the San Francisco Zoo, the opportunity for such burgeoning photographers to stretch their creative wings is upon us!
On that fine Saturday morning at 9:30 we meet up with Scott Donschikowski, an Aperture Instructor since the Academy opened its doors late 2009. And not to be left out; Alicia Telfer, a newcomer to Aperture and a fine photographer in her own right, there to assist and document the day for students.
The morning started out fabulously, nice cloud cover, cool and crisp and all the markings of great day to photograph all the wildlife the San Francisco Zoo had to offer. Starting out with pleasantries, we meet our 5 students Pia, Bryan Bob Lauren and Pat. Tickets purchased, gear ready, and fingers crossed for good luck and weather, we enter the gates on our way to the first stop: the Mandrill.
The San Francisco Zoo is a great place to practice wildlife photography. The animals being in a static place, affords us the possibility of capturing those quintessential moments many times throughout the day. Also its less expensive and less dangerous! The Mandrill pen is no exception to this rule. A menagerie of blue and red, the Mandrill is an exotic and beautiful creature, who loves to walk around in circles constantly asserting his presence. At this particular time he was playing somewhat with a ball presumably a keeper had thrown in, but after a couple of minutes, he began his routine in earnest, and our shutterbugs did not hesitate.
The next on our list were the Grizzly Bears, who get fed every morning at 11:00am. So a quick walk over to grizzly gulch and everyone gets setup to wait the hungry bears out of their pens. The keepers like to hide food around the outside area of their pen, and also like to throw in some live fish to keep the bears craft up to par. It is essential to get to this place early because as the bears are turned loose, grizzly gulch turns into chaos of sorts.
So its best to arrive early and setup, then wait for the action to occur. Fast shutter speeds are necessary to capture every droplet of water flung helplessly about as the bears dive in the water in an attempt to dine on their live fish. Alicia promptly took our group photo after all of us were on high from some amazing shots in grizzly gulch.
Our next stop is usually the Snow Leopard, but she must have had a late night, because she was out for the count. Good thing our Alicia has a thing for penguins, because that was our next stop: Penguin island. Some good shots there, catching them swim around their lake with a polarizing filter to cut into the water, and we're off again to grab some images of the tamarinds. These little guys are the best. As they vamp for cameras, we get some great shots, all while trying to avoid the hideous glare in area, the only real downside of the park.
Lunchtime comes, and we all gather around two tables and discuss the mornings musings. Pat is really interested in astrophotography and picks our instructor Scott's brain about it. But mostly the group talks about equipment and what to buy to make the photographic experience easier.
Lunch ends and we come to highlight of the day, The Gorilla Preserve. If Scott could find it! He was so engrossed in conversation with the group, he led them on a miniature safari of their own trying to find the Gorillas. Found them! No harm no foul, five minutes of walking in circles later, we arrive at The Gorilla Preserve and settle in to capture these amazing creatures. They never disappoint, and we are constantly reminded of their majesty and humanity while peering in at 400mm.
Having spent about a 25 minutes engrossed with the gorillas - the little one is always quite a character, like Curious George - it was time to move on to the children's loop and spend the last 45 minutes or so catching up with the prairie dogs, meerkats, hawks, farm animals and finally the ducks.
All in all, it was a great experience again, the weather got a little sunny towards the end of the day, but everyone got some great shots, some great one-on-one time from both of our instructors and some memories that will lead us together again in the future. Thanks to all our students!
Until next time,
Scott, Alicia and the Aperture Academy Team
If you'd like to join us at one of our workshops, you can find the schedule/sign up here.