I've been coming to the San Francisco Zoo for a long time and I can say that this past Saturday was one of the best for photography for some of the animals. After orientation and basic intro lesson on the camera settings for our class, Scott Donschikowski and I led a group of 12 excited photographers to the big cats to start our course. Lucky us the tiger and her cub we right by the viewing window giving our class a perfect chance to grab some great close ups of these magnificent cats. Any time we photograph through viewing glass, there are some issues to deal with like color casts, and glare, but most of those can be handles somewhat with post-processing or simple repositioning in the field, and we were able to use the opportunity to discuss some of those techniques as well.
The tigers were so good we almost got sidetracked and forgot to head towards the bears! Lucky for us we keep track of the time, so we were able to move our group to the grizzly pen in time for their feeding. Of all the times I've watched this process over my years teaching this class I've never seen so much action. Instead of the normal 2 fish the trainers put into their pond, they added 4 fish. Under a typical 2-fish situation there is a very predictable pattern to the ways the bears behave and catch the fish. With these added fish there was a new excitement in the bears, and they were clearly caught off guard. What ensued was a frantic 20-minute chase between bear and fish.
The class had bears splashing, walking on hind feet, running, diving, and generally providing ample opportunity for the class to get some top-notch bear shots. It was a lot of fun to witness this feeding in such an exciting way. We arrived in plenty of time to go over the settings with the class, and allow them time to take a few practice shots before the bears were even released to feed. These practice shots, in the field are very important to making sure that settings are right, and when the action heats up…everything in the camera is go.
The seals were the next stop prior to lunch, and they were yucking it up and having a good ole' time. I pointed out how nice the reflections were in the water in some areas and how shooting close up and using some of those patterns and colors can really help make a more artistic image. The class got some good shots of these bloated barkers as they made their laps.
After lunch we worked out on shooting some of the flamingos and their great coloration. This is fun because we can get really close to the birds and get some nice close up shots of their crazy pale eyes, and pink plumage. These shots are very good in providing texture and interest…something that can be often overlooked in photography, as we tend to always try to focus on shooting the WHOLE animal…and forget how interesting the small details of each creature can be.
Monkey were next on the safari, and due to a recent birth, the gorillas have decided to take some personal time, and are very reclusive choosing to spend more time in their enclosure with the newborn than out in the sunshine providing our cameras things to shoot! We saw the big male peak out a couple different times to check on the scene, but mostly they stayed to themselves. The Mandrills were out though and provided some entertainment and nice photo ops too with their tye-dye behinds.
The day ended in the petting zoo area, where close up access to the critters is granted and we were able to get some really nice images of some Meerkats. One was on guard providing us that traditional vigilant look, while the other was taking the day off, relaxing and not caring too much what was happening.
They also had the lizards and snakes out today and we got some great shots of these crazy colored creatures as we were able to get up close and personal with them. It was also quite humorous to see lizards on leashes.
Classes like this are great because they allow the newer photographers a chance to see some great photographic opportunities, ask questions in real time, and come away with some nice shots and knowledge in all an afternoon.
Until Next Time,
Brian, Scott, and the rest of the Aperture Academy Team
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