San Francisco Zoo Wildlife Photography Workshop, September 14th, 2014

San Francisco Zoo: Introduction to Wildlife Photography Workshop - September 14th, 2014

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

It's baby time at the SF Zoo...which is awesome. It seems there is new life in abundance right now, which is perfect for photography, and a group of 12 photographers arriving to spend a day with Jean Day and me exploring and working on the basics of wildlife photography.

There are two approaches to this kind of photography. One is all manual, and the other is Aperture Priority. With wildlife, as with portraits, we want a shallow depth of field to put the focus on the subject, and blur the background to create separation. In manual mode as with aperture priority, the student selects the aperture. In priority mode the camera selects the most balanced shutter speed needed...while in manual the student picks the shutter speed. Because with wildlife photography we want those faster shutter speeds I encourage everyone to start at ISO 400, which will automatically pick the higher shutter speeds, and have lower levels of noise.

Once everyone has selected their mode of shooting it's time to head inside and see the animals.

We begin at the big cat enclosure, where the male lion was in perfect posing form gazing regally across the pen giving everyone a chance to really get some nice shots of him. Jean and I stay lose by to help fine tune those settings and make sure everyone is getting a nice exposure...this is also a good time to go over what a histogram is and how to read one.

From Bears we make a brief stop at the stinky penguins before getting to the bear enclosure to watch the grizzly bears partake in their morning feeding. The staff of the zoo places a couple live fish in the pond for the bears to chase, and simulate their natural eating behaviors. It creates some amazing photographic opportunities.

From one bear to another we make a stop at the polar bear enclosure to see some of the oldest living bears in the world. One of these ladies is 34 years old, which is about 15 years older than most bears in the wild. We were excited to see her jump into her swimming hole, but it seemed she was content to just blow bubbles and not look towards anyone's camera. It was pretty funny.

Our next bear wasn't a bear at all. It was a koala, and for once it was awake AND looking towards the cameras...this was awesome as it provided for a lot of really great portraits of this critter that is rarely active during this time of day. I saw some adorable shots of this little guy. Jean and I checked with the group a lot to make sure they had all the necessary settings for this type of photography.

We took a brief break for lunch, and then regrouped at the flamingo pen...and the flamingos are in full on chick mode. There were several newborn chicks romping around the pen, and one baby who couldn't have been more than a day or two old...It was a great chance to photograph some very intimate behavior by the parents of the chicks as they tended to these little balls of fluff. This spot was also a great time to really explain a little of how exposure compensation the bright light on the flamingos can overexpose their brightly colored feathers, even with the camera doing all the work to balance the exposure...the exposure compensation can lower or brighten an image in aperture priority by telling the camera to make an adjustment beyond what it has selected.

The next baby on the list was the newest baby gorilla. This little cutie is active as can be now, and takes great joy in climbing her mothers head and looking into the viewing window at the other kids....they tap back and forth on the glass and each is delighted to check out the other. It made for some super cute photos too of the interaction between primate and child. After the mother was tired of having her kid walking all over her head she moved out of the way, and the little one had to be content playing in the vicinity...but lucky for our lenses this little gorilla was still in perfect areas to be photographed.

Our day ended with a walk through the giraffe pen, and on to the new Red Panda enclosure. The panda was a little nervous, but as class ended he finally came out and made a round or two on his climbing apparatus so everyone could get some nice shots of him.

I must say with the baby flamingos, and gorilla in full view as well as the bears, and lion being in great locations it was as fine a day for animal viewing as I've had at the zoo...and based on the number of shots I saw on the cameras it was rewarding for everyone involved!

Until Next Time,

Brian, Jean and the rest of the Aperture Academy Team

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