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The zoo is a great place to learn a lot about photography that applies to both wildlife photography and portrait photography (believe it or not kids and animals are a lot alike and use similar settings!) There is also a lot of information that just helps make one a better photographer in general. We had a great group who arrived ON TIME (which was awesome)! Everyone had some experience but many were just getting their start with photography…that's always a lot of fun for Alicia and me.
Our group started at the Lion enclosure. The lions always seem to be more active in the early part of the day before they get tuckered out and need their cat-naps. Alicia and I helped get those cameras set the right way and really get people comfortable with starting to understand the process of using manual. I like to try to get a system down that they can follow every time they use the camera.
Aperture- Shutter Speed- ISO (if necessary for shutter speed)
We set the cameras for Apertures of 5.6-6.3 and then bumped our ISO up to 400 to allow the cameras to get those high shutter speeds necessary for capturing crisp images of the animals.
Once the lions had been photographed we noticed a tiger had come out to walk his enclosure. I've rarely seen the tiger out moving, normally he's asleep. IT was cool to have the students get a chance to grab some shots of him.
The cats took up a large portion of our morning, and before we knew it, it was time for the 11:30 Grizzly feeding. The bears are a good ‘real-world' example of wildlife photography as they have a large enclosure, and the staff of the zoo puts in live fish for them to catch. Our photographers have a good chance to try and capture moving critters as the bears roll into the pen and scamper about chasing fish. The main difference is that in the wild there aren't thirty 5-year olds jockeying for position along with you.
The Grizz were great, and the class also got a few good shots of the polar bear as she swam in her little water pond. The whole time Alicia and I would check the students to make sure they were adjusting their shutter speeds to coordinate with the often changing light as the sun came in and out from behind clouds, and the animals changed as well. The dark fur of the Grizzly, the white polar bears, or very dark gorillas…there are so many different tonal values that constantly checking the histogram of the camera is necessary to ensure proper exposure.
After the bears we took a break at the little café and let the students shoot the flamingos. I like to use the flamingo pen as a chance to really talk about how to compose an image and use the pinks of the flamingos and a shallow depth of field to create interesting images. Often making a compelling image is only a matter of re-positioning yourself to find a better background. In this case pink makes a better backdrop than brown dirt.
It's the gorilla pen after this…and they were in good form moving about the pen and making sure they positioned themselves in super challenging light. Some in bright sun, others in the shade…it made it a great place for the class to practice and work on really adjusting the shutter speeds and settings constantly to make the best exposure.
The gorillas were a lot of fun, and I think my favorite memory was watching the baby, Hasani, climb up the tallest tree, and then pee from the top. Just like a little delinquent boy.
When the group was done with the gorilla pen it was a brief stop for a group photo, and some shots of the feeding giraffe before finishing up our class in the children's zoo where the baby prairie dogs were having a blast. One of the zoo workers said that for a few of these pups it was their FIRST time out of the den…and boy were they cute!
The often present Meerkats were on lock down this day due to one of them having an injury that needed rest. We spent the remaining portion of the class working with the raptors. I like to use this too as a chance to discuss depth of field and how the position of the animal in front of their background will help the "bokeh" or blur effect on the image. Animals that have more space between them and the background will have more blur than those close to their background…again sometimes just moving a little will make for an entirely different and better image.
Alicia and I had a great time with a fun bunch of students who really asked a lot of questions, and paid attention to what we said…by the end of the day our photographers were starting to get the hang of the settings and making progress with the "when should I change my settings" part of the class…which is a big step in working in manual, and becoming more familiar with the camera.
Until next time,
Brian, Alicia and the rest of the Aperture Academy Team