There's always something happening at the zoo and on this past Father's Day, Matt Granz and I greeted eleven smiling students who were happy and eager to begin a fun-filled afternoon of beginning wildlife photography at the San Francisco Zoo. We started our workshop at the zoo entrance in our usual fashion with introductions so Matt and I could know of our student's current skill levels, type of camera gear they had with them, and if there were any particulars they wished to work on through the day. There were lots of questions for us as we began our tour, so we spent time going over some basic settings which would help students better prepare themselves for the action ahead.
The weather began cool and overcast providing for the best, even lighting conditions and, we hoped, to increase animal activity level. The use of a higher ISO to keep shutter speeds up, and burst mode for successive shots was discussed to capture any fast movement from wildlife or a fleeting moment of cuddly cuteness. Spot focusing, and spot metering also came into play as Matt and I emphasized that wildlife would be the star of the show and of our student's images.
Our first stop was in Bear Country where we found a couple of polar bears enjoying the cooler temperatures and students were able to capture close ups of their faces from occasional glances as they gracefully lumbered through their habitats. Then on to Grizzly Gulch for one of the most popular events at the zoo-the feeding of the grizzly sisters. This is always a treat for young and old and a great chance for our students to learn to photograph the fast action of these wonderful creatures as they come bounding out into a large play yard complete with a pool stocked with live salmon for them to capture. Fruits and vegetables are also scattered around the area and along a mountainous waterfall just for the bears to forage like their cousins in the wild. The most difficult part of photography here is the large viewing glass one has to shoot through. It's a great way to watch the grizzlies up close and personal, but can cause issues with glare and odd color casts. No worries as Matt and I helped our students in understanding white balance and a few post processing techniques which would help with sharpness, color, and contrast.
With smiling faces over some great shots achieved it was time to move on to the Tropical Rain Forest building. Totally enclosed and kept temperate with only natural light streaming through, students had the opportunity to discover little green frogs hidden among tropical plants, turtles basking on logs in a pool of water, and wildly colorful Macaws perched high in the trees. Our next stop was for a lunch break at the Leaping Lemur Cafe. As we made our way we watched as the park was filled with dads enjoying Father's Day with their families, taking a ride on the Little Puffer steam train with giddy children waving at the onlookers. Having lunch with our students allowed Matt and I some time to discuss what some of them had learned so far and be sure they were on track in understanding their cameras and increasing their abilities for great wildlife photography.
We spent a little time photographing Chilean flamingos in the abstract by getting close ups of their colorful plumes and graceful curves of their necks until it was time to venture off to the Cat Kingdom to see if the latest addition woulds be available to us. The tiger cub, Jillian at only 4 months old did not disappoint as she frolicked and played in the company of her ever watchful mother. She put on quite the show for our students as she pranced and played, explored her surroundings of trees and rocks, rolled about in the green grass discovering her paws, and enjoyed a quick chew of mom's tail. We had two vantage points at which to get these glimpses into the life of a tiger family, and again had to do so through large glass panes, but our students were getting their groove on capturing some great shots with new skills learned.
The fog was burning off with the mid-day sun, but the gorilla preserve provided ample shade for its inhabitants and the large, male silverback graced us with his expressive face and piercing eyes. He always seems keenly aware of his stage presence when photographers are around as he responds to the many clicks of the shutters. His rock solid build with black and gray colors gave our students plenty to work with as they learned to isolate him from the background and adjust white balance to compensate for the cooler tones of the shade. A few more shots of the male toddler hanging out with the females of the troop and we were off to our final stops of the day in the children's area.
Our group enjoyed getting shots of the antics of the prairie dogs continually digging or popping out of their burrows, playing with each other, or foraging for bits of meal. Next door the adorable meerkats lounged in the warmth of the sun while a sentry kept watch for predators atop a replicated termite mound. Students had fun capturing their expressive dark eyed faces as they otherwise blended in to their surroundings. With a few minutes spent on getting our traditional group shot memento, we arrived at our final stop at Hawk Hill to visit the birds of prey. The large Eurasian Eagle Owl with his bright orange eyes and tanned feathers was a popular subject. Matt and I worked with students in finding the best vantage point to get shots with a less distracting background of green foliage to compliment this beautiful creature. The smaller white-faced barn owl presented opportunities for close ups as he perched in a doorway and students learned to work the magic of their cameras so the background drops out to black framing his form perfectly. Fielding a few final questions and offering even more tips, Matt and I said our good-byes to this happy group of photographers as many of them continued a successful day of wildlife photography at the San Francisco Zoo.
Until next time,
Matt, Jean and the rest of the Aperture Academy Team