The San Francisco Zoo is a wonderful place to learn how to photograph animals. Whether you are brand new to your camera, or a seasoned veteran the zoo presents some great opportunities to observe and capture some unique sights. The zoo is located right along the ocean which gives it nice diffused light in the mornings when the fog rolls in. This weekend I met with a group of photographers from all over California that were looking to improve their skills in the wild.
After a brief orientation to get to know each other I went over a few of the camera basics so that the students could prepare their minds for the situations we would likely encounter. After going through the exposure triangle and how the camera reads light, I talked about how we would be manipulating our camera to shoot with faster shutter speeds and stop any motion. By stopping the movement of the subject the students would come out with “tack-sharp” photographs of all of the wildlife. Without further ado we headed into the zoo for the day.
The first on our list was the cat kingdom. This tends to be the crowd favorite and for good reason too! The big cats seem to be the most photogenic. Now with a new lion cub born just a few months ago the opportunities have gotten even more favorable. Since the tigers were being lazy we went straight to the lions where the students captured some adorable shots of the cub playing with mom and dad. After visiting Cubby the lion we went to see how our snow leopard friends were doing. Fortunately we were just in time and the leopard was pacing around giving the students several attempts to grab the perfect shot. After everyone had taken a few shots I went around and reviewed them and helped the students raise their ISO’s so that the pictures were nice and sharp.
Where does the time go! We had a lunch date with the two grizzly bears so we high tailed it to the bears. We arrived at the grizzly pen with plenty of time to get front row seats for the feeding. The students were able to get some nice captures while the bears stood on their hind legs and fished for the live salmon in the pool. The glass that you shoot through here has a noticeable green tint to it, which can cause some strange white balance issues. I showed the students how to set their cameras with a warmer white balance here to balance out the cool colors.
We had been at it for a while and we were working up quite the appetite! Time for a short break and some sustenance.
After lunch we headed back out to see what else was lurking about the zoo. As we made our way over to the gorillas we decided to check in on the lemurs. These primates hail from the island of Madagascar and the species is in trouble because of logging industries. Although their numbers in the wild are diminishing the zoo has managed to make a home for over ten lemurs of all different varieties. After snapping some shots of the lemurs leaping around we bee-lined it for the gorilla’s and sure enough upon arrival there in the front was the big silverback proudly displaying himself for all to see. It was like he was posing for the Aperture crew’s photos.
After a short visit to the African aviary we headed into the African mammals section of the zoo. Here we found zebra, giraffe, and ostrich sharing the space. The animals were slightly restless today and we had the pleasure of witnessing the giraffe chasing a zebra. This was a true safari experience and the group learned that nature doesn’t wait for your camera, so you need to be ready at all times.
After one last visit to our friend Cubby the lion we were out of time. We said our goodbyes and headed home.
Until next time,
Phil Nicholas 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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