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San Francisco Zoo: Introduction to Wildlife Photography Workshop - September 9th, 2012

Wildlife Photography Workshop Students with Aperture Academy at the San Francisco Zoo

Many people are mystified by the aspects of successful wildlife photography. But the skills needed to capture animals in their environment are very basic and anyone can learn how to technically achieve a beautiful wildlife portrait.

The San Francisco Zoo is one the perfect places for us city dwellers to come and revel in the beauty of wild animals, practice the technical skills, and come away with some great images, all without having to make an arduous journey to find these animals in the wild.

The Aperture Academy's Scott Donschikowski and Jean Day were lead instructors on this absolutely gorgeous day in September. San Francisco is known for its inclement weather, but today the skies parted, the sun shone, and the temperature was perfect. Although you would prefer the nice soft light that only a cloudy sky could provide, the sunny weather provided an extra element to teach against, as conditions when wildlife shooting aren't always perfect.

As per usual, we started with a round of introductions, to get everyone acclimated to the group and to find out what our students specifically wanted to work on or learn during the workshop, aside from setting up the camera properly. After introductions and a brief overview of the course of the day's events, we began our walk to the lions and tigers.

Scott and Jean spent time helping the students to properly setup their cameras; correct ISO, aperture, shooting/drive/focusing modes were all explained to ensure the students could be getting their perfect shots much easier.

After the lions and tigers, there was just enough time to make it to Grizzly Gulch and claim a spot in front, to capture two fully grown brown bears as they took part in their morning feeding. What a show these two bears put on! The zoo keepers hide food all around the enclosure, and drop live fish in the pool that abuts the glass that our group was eagerly waiting behind. Cameras all set for action, and within about four seconds, these hungry bears came barreling out of their enclosure into the gulch, splashing right into the water in search of their live fish. We were all ready for them, snapping the moment, because as fast as it started, the main show was over, with one bear grabbing both fish in a frenzy of pawing and swimming.

After the brown bears found all their food, our group moved on to the two bald eagles on the eagle island, and then continued to grab some shots of the polar bears and then finally the two sea lions before we needed a break to grab some food for ourselves.

After a short lunch break, Scott and Jean decided it was time to go see some animals that closely resembled us, and they started with the mandrill enclosure. These primates are extremely beautiful with their elongated snouts, which are colored with hues of red and blue. There are three mandrills at the San Francisco Zoo, one adult and two juveniles, and the ApCad group spent some time finding interesting compositions, intermixing them with the foliage in the enclosure to find the best shots.

After the mandrills, the group headed to the gorilla preserve, to see the famous silverback gorilla, Oscar Jonesy, and the little boy, Hasani.

Like most wildlife photography sessions, it's all about the wait. The gorillas proved to be lethargic and hidden when the group arrived, but to be a successful wildlife photographer, one needs perseverance. The group indeed persevered, and was ecstatic to see Hasani playfully running around acting like most human children do. It was also indeed great to see OJ the silverback come out from the inside enclosure and pose for everyone to watch.

With the flash cards filling up fast on the gorillas, it was time to move on, because Scott and Jean had one more spot to take the group before farewells. So, they made their way to the children's portion of the zoo, where some of the raptors (predatory birds) were on close display.

There was a Eurasian Eagle Owl who was out and about on Hawk Hill. These birds are gigantic killers, weighing in at nine pounds and with wingspans up to six feet! They have been known to kill anything up to and including small deer! Athena, the owl in question, was up for feeding at this particular hour, and our group of photogs captured every crunch and bite of her meal of previously deceased mice. (Yuck!)

What an amazing day of imaging these unique animals we had. Our students may not have captured them in the wild, but they now possess the skills to turn their cameras into wildlife capturing machines wherever they may be in the future. Thanks to our students for a great day at the zoo!

Until next time,

Scott, Jean and the rest of the Aperture Academy team

If you'd like to join us at one of our workshops, you can find the schedule/sign up here.

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