San Francisco Zoo Wildlife Photography Workshop - December 10th, 2023

San Francisco Zoo: Introduction to Wildlife Photography Workshop - December 10th, 2023

San Francisco weather is notoriously unpredictable, yet today was going to be a great day. Not cold and foggy, but cool and nice with fun and wispy clouds. A great omen of things to come.

Our group met near the entrance and introduced ourselves to each other. We talked about the goals for our adventure in the zoo briefly and we were off.

We usually start in the back of the zoo as the Grizzlies eat at opening time. It turned out the bears were not out as they normally would be in hibernation. Related to this, all of the bears stayed sequestered today. Being understanding of this, we were happy to keep on moving.

The Mexican wolves were super interesting to watch and very playful today. Moving at a quick pace, we played with camera settings to create photos with them. The Andean condor with a wingspan of up to 10’ and the Taper were the next animals we saw, along with a Giant Anteater.

From the same vantage point, we were able to see all three in their respective habitats. The anteater was surprisingly active and was doing laps through its area while we talked about unique images we could create including focusing just on the course hair or the long snout to make interesting images. The Andean Condor was impressive to look at with the white tuft of feathers surrounding its black head. At this spot, we were able to do a lot of practice, including discussions of composition, shutter, speed, and depth of field. The Taper was busy eating, allowing a still subject for us to photograph.

Next, we wandered over to the rainforest building. From the snakes to the lizards to the birds to the three-toed sloth, this is a fun environment to shoot in. We practiced raising our ISO levels and lowered our shutter speeds to ensure we got some great pictures in a slightly darker environment. Great images of majestic and colorful birds were had by all.

Leaving the humid rainforest environment, we went back outside to the nice cool weather and headed towards the penguins. These frolicking characters are always a hit and make for outstanding subjects to practice photography with.

On the way to take a short lunch break, two orangutans were out and active. We delayed our lunch as we discussed how to shoot them in a backlit situation. Their expressions made for great images of them and smiles for us. While we ate, our group noticed the orangutans were a great spot again so we gathered our gear and got more shots, some with powerful facial expressions.

Just before moving on, Santa Claus drove by and was taking pictures with other zoo guests. He also reminded us to leave carrots out for the reindeer!

From there, we headed up to a boardwalk above the lemurs. Watching these little guys jump around and play in some Christmas trees that adorned their enclosure. We watched all of the Lemurs play and banter. We were even there to hear a scream fest among the lemurs, which was loud and entertaining.

Lots of questions were being asked and stories told throughout our adventure. Our next stop was the African safari. In the safari loop, we shot a lot of zebra, ostrich, and giraffes. Their facial expressions and patterns can all make great images.

We moved next to the Silverback Gorillas and it was among our best stops of the day. We watched several gorillas wander around eating fruits and vegetables. The largest male then came outside, looked around, and sat down. After a brief stop, he wandered over to only 30 feet of us. He sat completely still with power and majesty as if he was posing for pictures. We all created numerous compositions, including images with him looking directly at us. After about five minutes, he stood up and went right back inside. We felt very fortunate we got to capture images of him.

As we had not seen the big cats yet, that is where we excitedly headed next. The male lion was sleeping out of view, so we kept on moving. In the enclosure next door, we arrived just in time. A lioness was just waking up from a nap and was basking in the sunlight. We were able to see her face and her beautiful eyes. A very stoic and powerful creature. As we continued to watch her, she yawned several times and we were able to create dramatic photos showing her mouth open displaying huge teeth. Everyone got great images of the female lion.

Just behind us, the pygmy hippo and a rhinoceros, each were active in their environments. Both make for great subjects to shoot, including seeing the huge teeth in the pygmy’s mouth when it played with a ball. Shooting images of the rhino walking towards us made for dramatic images, too.

Luck was on our side this afternoon as we continued to see active animals. Not just sleeping ones. Only a few more feet away, a snow leopard was pacing about. Before sitting and licking his fur, we could see the huge tail as we watched the cat look about. It also showed us its teeth and eyes several times. The Jaguar and other birds were part of our next few shots, all of which were great to see and perfect for talking about photography techniques. We took a stroll past the wallabies and the emu and back to the Mexican wolves. The soft light, and the very active wolves made for some more great pictures.

Suddenly, 5 hours had passed. Time in the workshop today flew by and we all walked out to our cars together, discussing photography on our way. There is no doubt that everyone has frame-worthy images, which is always a goal. Members of this group have done trips and will be doing trips throughout the world. Lessons learned today will help on future animal voyages to South America, Central America, and Africa, as well as lots of options locally.

Everyone in the group today was excited to shoot, fun to be with, and eager to learn new things. It was a great group that not only learned a lot but also created some amazing images.

Looking forward to seeing everyone again at future workshops.

Until next time,

Kevin and the rest of the Aperture Academy team

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