The San Francisco Zoo is a wonderful place to be for someone that is interested in becoming a better wildlife photographer. Just like out in the wild plains of Africa or the jungle's of Costa Rica the opportunities of seeing an animal do something unique or natural is actually pretty good. Last weekend it was my job to take five photographers out and teach them how to use their camera's setting to maximize their odds but also how to be patient and ready for those special moments to occur.
We met out in front of the entrance and had an orientation before entering into the wild kingdom. For orientation we all learned each other's names and a bit about each other so we weren't complete strangers. Next I explained the most important settings when shooting wildlife. I explained how we would be "stopping or freezing motion" to capture a fleeting moment without any unwanted blurring or movement. After everyone was feeling well acquainted with their setting's we headed into the zoo.
We bee-lined it straight for the big cat area because they can get a little sleepy later in the day after they've eaten. Our first stop was the lions. The lions have a nice sunny cage and the partly cloudy sky provided a nice soft and warm light for our furry subjects. Although the little zoo-born lion cub has grown substantially since it was born a few months ago it still retains its cub like appearance and habits. Here since the cub was sitting in the shade I explained how when shooting in Aperture Priority it is good to adjust the exposure compensation to adjust the exposure. This lightened up their images enough so that they could see the details in the shadows.
It was getting close to the Grizzly feeding time now so we promised the cats that we'd be back later. We got to the bearea just in time to watch the two female grizzly bear recues start foraging around their pen for their lunch. The zoo's employees go into the pen beforehand to place a mixture of proteins and vegetables for the bears. They even put some fish into the pond making for some great pictures as they splash around hunting until every last fish is gone. I showed the students how adjusting their white balance here can help make the pictures less green from shooting through tinted glass.
After checking in on the bears, we decided to go back through the cat area for another look and to see if we had missed anything. Even though I would say it is out in the open only 3 out of 10 times I look, I always like to check in on the zoo bobcat. I was surprised to see that the bobcat was indeed out in the open sunning itself in the grass. We couldn't have asked for a better shot! The netting on this cat's pen is very small and poses some difficulty to shoot through. If you don't know what you are doing you will end up with little square and diamond shaped blurs in your shot that are hard to remove. I explained that if you position your focus point in between the netting and get as close to the net as possible it makes eliminates this problem.
Right across the sidewalk from the bobcat is the elegant and rare snow leopard. We timed it just perfectly for lunchtime and it was well worth the wait. The students all gathered around the indoor section and sat down at eye level as the leopard munched on a rabbit. Yum!
After watching all these animals eat and them not sharing any we decided we had better go fend for our selves and we headed to the cafeteria for lunch. After lunch, we were off to the Gorilla pen. The mountain gorilla's can be quite the showoffs as they chase each other around in the grass and clap for the audience. After shooting here for about 5 minutes or so the big male silverback decided to join in on the fun and came out for a pose. When everybody had shot their fill we headed to the Africa section for our last but not least stop. The students grabbed some nice images of the giant giraffes and zebras and we concluded one fantastic day at the zoo.
Until next time,
Phillip 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.