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Connecting people with wildlife for education and understanding is among the benefits for Aperture Academy staff during our regular workshops at the San Francisco Zoo.
Not only is it a pleasure to see our students come away with beautiful photos during this introduction to wildlife photography, it is also satisfying to find people discovering new things about the exotic creatures found here.
This workshop turned out to be a bonus for about 75% of the students. They had come to learn all the tips and tricks possible before going on a safari to Africa, many with the Aperture Academy!
The weather was regarded as a plus for Aperture Academy instructors, Scott Donschikowski and Jean Day, as the soft light from overcast skies and cool weather would make for ideal shooting conditions, and the animals would likely be more active throughout the day.
What better place to learn about wildlife photography, than having a wide variety of beautiful creatures in settings that provide closer access to animals not easily encountered in the wild? To insure getting the most out of their workshop experience, Scott began with introductions to learn of student's abilities and individual needs for what they wished to learn, or to improve upon, in their photography.
Welcomed and ready for a fun and productive day, our team set out for a wild kingdom adventure. The first visit was to the large cats, where students were given preliminary instruction suited to increase their skill levels, and to get them comfortable using the many functions available on their particular cameras.
An adult male lion and two females lounged in the breaking sunshine until one female decided she needed his attention and walked over for a little snuggle. Cameras clicked away as students had an opportunity for a small glimpse into the familial life of a pride of lions.
Our next stop was over to Grizzly Gulch in time for the feeding of two female grizzlies. Their lunch was "served" in a separate playground area, where they hunt for fish in a large pond and discover apples and other vegetables around a rocky waterfall. Students were given warning of how quickly the bears come charging out and to be prepared with cameras set to continuous shooting modes. So they were prepared, and able to capture great shots!
A viewing area with large windows bordering the pond gave us an up close and personal experience of the almost comedic activity as the bears happily romped and splashed while seeking out their lunch. After the general public moved on, ApCad students had time to continue shooting the bears' activities through the glass, learning to make adjustments in exposure with higher shutter speed and ISO to capture the action, and at angles to help reduce glare from the glass.
Though aperture priority is used for most situations in wildlife photography, teaching students to take control of their ISO, apertures, white balance, and continuous shooting functions is of utmost importance in achieving the best possible wildlife images. And our class had plenty of opportunity for practicing these controls.
The enthusiastic photographers, pleased with their captures of the grizzlies, then spent time photographing a pair of bald eagles perched by a small lake. They learned the use of depth of field to allow isolation of the subject while finding backgrounds to help reduce distractions.
Our group then continued on through the "Australian walkabout" capturing shots of kangaroos, wallabies, and colorful peacocks. We then took a lunch break at the Lemur Café. This leisure time allowed our students to receive additional instruction and advice on both photography and photo gear, as well as some review of the images shot throughout the morning.
Following our break, the pink and orange plumes of the Chilean flamingos provided students with some practice in detail and abstract shots, using these graceful birds.
A great highlight of this workshop is a visit to the gorilla preserve to see a large male silverback and his family of females and one infant male. The big guy never disappoints and provided ample opportunity for students to capture his large muscular frame and expressive facial features with a variety of poses. A mass explosion of shutter clicks could be heard each time he would turn his face toward our photographers. However, the females and youngster also afforded some "face" time and antics to please our crew as well.
After pausing a few moments to get our traditional workshop group shot with our students, we headed to the prairie dogs and meerkats. These characters provided more unique shooting conditions, as they blend more into the background of their burrowed homes. In spite of its relative protection from outside dangers, the instinct for one meerkat to remain alert on top of his perch allowed for some intimate portrait shots of this adorable creature.
A final stop at Hawk Hill provided students with a chance to photograph the nearly ten pound Eurasian Eagle Owl, a Harris hawk, turkey vulture, and the smaller barn owl. Because they were all unique in their coloring, and located in separate areas, it required constant adjustments for available light and separation of subject to background. It was a great way to practice all they'd learned.
The white-faced barn owl was allowed to perch on his handler's arm while being served bits of a rat for lunch, giving students the opportunity for close range shooting, achieving a more intimate look of his face and features. A nice experience to add to the shoot.
It was a fun and eventful day with a fantastic group of students willing to learn and prepare themselves for some serious "real world" wildlife photography. Discovering more about their cameras and their preferred style of shooting, various lighting conditions, changing environments, and focusing in on the form and characteristics of uniquely different wildlife was challenging, but a lot of beautiful shots were achieved by all.
We are very pleased to have been your guides and instructors for this introduction to wildlife photography.
Until next time,
Scott, Jean 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.