San Francisco Zoo Wildlife Photography Workshop, July 27th, 2014

San Francisco Zoo: Introduction to Wildlife Photography Workshop - July 27th, 2014

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

Where on earth can you see a tiger, a lion, a grizzly bear, a polar bear, and a gorilla all in one afternoon…and photograph them?

The San Francisco Zoo! (I guess most zoo's probably)

This past Sunday Jean Day and I met a group of 10 great photographers to help them navigate the tricky world of wildlife photography. We began our group with a discussion of the two different approaches to shooting wildlife.

Manual Mode.


Aperture Priority.

Each mode has it's advantages and disadvantages…and we covered both and let people decide how they wanted to work during the day….

Aperture Priority is nice because you can pick the depth of field you want to get with the subject…in this case we like between 5.6-7.1 and the camera does the shutter speed that corresponds. We opt to put our ISO up to 400 in this case to help the camera pick a faster shutter speed. The advantage is that you will always get a fairly balanced exposure, and don't have to think too much about the settings. The disadvantage to this system is that sometimes the camera picks too slow of a shutter speed for shooting wildlife, we want FASTER shutter speeds (average about 2x the focal length)

Manual is nice in that you have complete control…but it requires the user to check the shutter speeds and histograms more often to make sure everything is OK…but the same basic starting point is used. ISO 400 and a Aperture of 5.6-7.1

The light was slightly overcast, and perfect for shooting wildlife…the even light makes for better-exposed photographs with fewer hot spots, and less contrast. Animals like bears and gorillas that are darker in color are also better in this light as it is easier to capture details in darker subjects in softer light.

Our first stop to put all of this in to practice was to photograph the otters and penguins that were out and about and full of energy. This was a good spot for Jean and I to really help the class look at histograms and show them the different types of balanced exposures. Neither of these subjects stays still for too long either, which makes it more fun to practice.

Our second stop of the day was to visit the big cats…who were asleep, as big cats tend to do 18 hours a day. After waiting for a few minutes to see if one of the cats would even bother to look up we decided to head to the grizzly gulch to see the bears. The bears are without fail a guaranteed photographic opportunity.

We encouraged the class to switch to mid-range zoom lenses here as the bears are often RIGHT at the viewing window splashing about, catching fish, and looking for other pieces of food and those larger zoom lenses offer nothing but a shot up their nose.

Once the bears were released it was a mad house of clicking shutters, and kids running around all trying to catch a perfect view of the two grizzly girls frolicking about their enclosure. As with most of the animals in this zoo these two grizzlies are rescued. They were rescued after their mother became a problem bear in her home habitat and had become to accustomed to eating human food…and thus her newborn cubs were growing up the same way. The cubs had no choice but to live life in a protected area like a zoo or be put down….so good for us an our cameras these little bears came to SF and are now part of this zoo.

We hit Polar Bears, The Outback, and a Koala Bear enclosure all before lunch. After lunch it was Flamingos, a trip back to the big cat cages, where we were treated to the male tiger up and moving about waiting for his afternoon meal, and the lions had not stopped sleeping, but at least moved into a spot that was much better for photographing. The male lion even performed a little by opening his eyes to look at the cameras, and rolling onto his back for a few cute poses.

Gorillas, Zebras, and Giraffes were on the docket after the lions, and though the gorillas were being lazy the giraffes were fun to photograph and the little one was sitting perfectly in a spot that not only allowed us to get some nice photographs, but also give a little lesson in composition for animals.

From the giraffes it was time to head to the newly acquired Red Panda, and the meerkats and prairie dogs. All of these little critters were performing admirably for the cameras, and everyone was able to get a few nice captures of them.

A day at the zoo is a trip around the world and we are able to see and photograph so many different species that might take a lifetime to see otherwise. The class is able to ask questions, and get answers in real time so they can build confidence and practice so when they are in the wilderness and a bear without a cage comes into view they'll know what to do with camera before they scream and run away.

Until Next Time,

Brian, Jean and the rest of the Aperture Academy Team

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