San Francisco Zoo Wildlife Photography Workshop, July 16th, 2011

San Francisco Zoo: Introduction to Wildlife Photography Workshop - July 16th, 2011

Night Photography Workshop Students with Aperture Academy

"Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh my"... This famous quote from Dorothy and The Wizard of OZ always comes to mind at the Zoo.

The San Francisco Zoo houses more the 250 species of animals, including, Lions, Tigers, and Bears. It’s also the largest Zoo in Northern California and has been in existence since the 1930’s.

On this classic foggy summer day in July, Aperture Academy (APCAD) instructors Ellie Stone and Alicia Telfer met up with 11 excited students, outside the Zoo’s main entrance. At APCAD, we always like to start the day with introductions. Ellie and Alicia give some background information on themselves, but more importantly, they are eager to hear from each student. Learning their expectations for the day of shooting, as well as a comfort level with their equipment, is vital information for the APCAD instructors. After all introductions were complete, the eager group heads out for it’s first of many shooting locations.

As our APCAD group made it’s way to Hearst Grizzly Gulch, the instructors floated through the collection of students, to ensure that everyone knew how to get set up for this first, and very exciting shoot. Alicia and Ellie went over the settings required to capture the intense action of the Grizzly bears, devouring their morning meal. It’s important to be sure that all students understand the required ISO, aperture, and shutter speed, before the fast action begins. Today, the instructors would emphasize getting out of “P” (program) setting and taking full control in “M” (manual) mode, or even “AV” (aperture priority) mode.

Upon arrival, it was evident that the Zoo had changed the feeding time for the Grizzly Sisters; by pushing it back an hour. This was a welcome opportunity for the students to practice their settings and gain a better understanding of the exposure triangle. Right across from Grizzly Gulch is Eagle Island, with a female Eagle affectionately named Sureshot. She sits perched in the center of the Island on some low branches, which makes photographing here extremely easy. Guess you could say she’s a Sureshot. The extra hour really flew by and it was time to get into position for the Bear feeding. Zookeepers put live fish in the 20,000 gallon pool, then let the Grizzly Sisters loose. The bears make a b-line for the pool and immediately start “fishing”. As the excitement ensued, the shutters continually fired. This 5-hour workshop was off to an exhilarating start!

Next on the agenda was the Big Cat Grotto. Alicia and Ellie led the students by some other excellent exhibits, during the stroll, including the Australian Walkabout. Upon arriving at the Grotto, the instructors guided everyone to the best vantage points for capturing these beautiful Cats. Once into position, the students waited for the Lions to interact with each. The wait did not disappoint, as both the male and female started to nuzzle and communicate with each other. By now the students had gained confidence with their camera settings, and once again shutters snapped with zeal. After meandering around the Cat Kingdom and a quick stop by Penguin Island, it was time to grab a quick bite to eat at the Lemur Café.

During the lunch break, everyone got further acquainted and talk inevitably revolved around photography. Alicia and Ellie shared tips, personal stories, and advice. Also, the Lemur Café is located directly across from the Chilean Flamingo exhibit. Some students took advantage of the convenient local and enjoyed the opportunity for more photography practice, during the brief respite. Once everyone was fueled up and re-energized, it was time for one of the most anticipated stops of the day...

The highly anticipated Gorilla Preserve was next on the list. The Preserve is home to the Western Lowland Gorillas. Consisting of one male adult silverback, four females and one infant male. The infant, named Hasani, is full of playfulness and mischief. Hasani is the perfect subject for our poised students to capture. The preserve has many viewing platforms, making it easier to follow all the unfolding action, as the infant rolls and cartwheels around. The large male watches over the infant and females with a very regal stature. At times he sits in the doorway, creating a fantastic portrait opportunity. Ellie points this out to a group who are poised to capture the moment, as they concurrently absorb some compositional basics. It would be easy to spend an entire day at the Gorilla Preserve, but there are a couple more exhibits that are a must see.

Alicia and Ellie lead the APCAD group to the Children’s Zoo area. This section is home to some very adorable and photogenic animals, the Prairie dogs and Meerkats.

These burrowing animals are delightful to watch and even more fun to photograph. The warm tones of environment, coupled by the animal’s equally warm toned coat, was the perfect opportunity for experimenting with the cameras white balance feature.

As time was running out, the group was only a few steps from Hawk Hill and the Birds of Prey exhibit. You could say that time had “flown” by and the Birds were a fitting way to wrap up the sensational day of photography. Smiling faces were abound as the students expressed appreciation to the instructors and all said their final farewells.

Until next time,

Alicia, Ellie and the rest of the team at Aperture Academy!

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