San Francisco Zoo Wildlife Photography Workshop, March 5th, 2011

San Francisco Zoo: Introduction to Wildlife Photography Workshop - March 5th, 2011

Our first Zoo workshop of March brought fantastic weather conditions, mostly blue skies with only a slight sheen of high clouds, giving us perfectly diffuse light in which to photograph the animals of San Francisco's Zoo. On this day, 13 intrepid souls along with three Aperture Academy Instructors made their way through the entrance gates looking forward to what the day may hold.

Typically, we like to make our way to various animal exhibits just before feeding time as the animals are usually quite active in anticipation for their morning meal. For this reason, the Grizzly Bear exhibit is usually a fantastic place to start. However, as we entered the zoo, a sign announced that the scheduled Grizzly feeding was cancelled for the day. Not to worry as one of our instructors had worked extensively with wildlife for over 20 years including Grizzly Bears and figured that although all the humans were notified of the feeding cancellation, no one had thought to inform the Bears. So without hesitation, we made our way to the exhibit trusting that the bear's natural time clocks would find them active and photogenic. Our assumptions proved correct as the bears became more and more energetic as feeding time approached. An added benefit to the feeding cancellation was that the typical crowds that usually showed up to watch the feeding were noticeably missing. Our group had almost complete freedom to set up their tripods wherever the action was going on. As feeding time came and went, the Grizzly pair became even more animated, running back and forth, wrestling with each other, and even plunging into bear pool. Our instructors had never seen them this active. We figured all the energy typically reserved for food time was now being displaced in other ways which worked perfectly for us. It was a great way to start the first photo ops of the day not to mention practice techniques for getting sharp, crisp properly exposed photographs of animals in fast action. A big thanks to the bears.

Off to Africa we went in search of the elusive lowland gorillas. One lucky person in our group was heading off to Rwanda in the near future as part of a photo safari to photograph Mountain gorillas so this was excellent practice to help ensure she came back home with once in a lifetime images. Luckily for us, in a zoo situation, the gorillas aren't too elusive. In fact, they often give us amazing portraits, chasing poses frequently, propping themselves up on promontories, giving us plenty of time to perfect the subtle techniques needed to bring out the fine detail hidden in their dark coats and eyes. Many people found their auto readings and metering weren't always accurate which is often the case when working with subject matter with ultra dark or light tones - too dark, too light, blown highlights, etc. which is one reason we like to encourage working in full manual mode. For some in our group, this was their first attempts working in full manual but before long working step by step with our instructors, perfect exposures began popping up on people's LCD's.

With some great images of the mighty silverback and playful and rambunctious youngster as well as the other members of the gorilla troupe, we headed over to the cafe for a short refueling break. In addition to some welcome caloric intake, the break also serves as a good time to casually discuss all things photographic like recommended equipment for specific types of photography, good photo locations, specific techniques, post processing tips and other similar topics.

Following our break, we decided to see what the chimpanzees were up to as they often make a good subject to practice backlighting techniques. However, like so many other times when walking around the zoo, it's easy to get side-tracked with other interesting subject matter. En route, we noticed a peacock living up to his prideful reputation strutting around in full tail feather display. For those who have never seen a peacock in full display, it's truly a sight to behold and one of the countless incredible adaptations found in the animal kingdom. The ornately patterned iridescent feather colors with their neon blues and greens combined with the hundreds of "eyes" patterned in his plumage make for fantastic abstracts and close-ups. Ultimately, the chimps weren't too active having settled into an afternoon siesta so the displaying peacock made for a stunning substitute. That's one of the great things about shooting at the zoo. When one animal species is taking a break from its activities, there's always another around the corner to occupy our viewfinders.

We finished up the remainder of the day practicing our wildlife shooting techniques with some always entertaining meerkats, comical prairie dogs, various regal looking birds of prey, and a final stop at the petting zoo for some work with extreme depth of field shots. Each stop allowed for practice with different topics. Sometimes the topic revolved around difficulties with changing light conditions or how to decipher histograms to get the best exposures or perhaps when should shutter speeds override depth of field vs ISO adjustments for a specific look to the image. Whatever the question or subject matter, we love working with workshop participants so they can get the most out of their camera, allowing them to capture what they envision in their minds onto their camera's memory cards. Of course, strolling around the San Francisco Zoo on a pleasant Saturday afternoon is not a bad way to spend the day either.

On behalf of Scott, Alicia, JC, and the rest of here at Aperture Academy, thanks for another great day. We look forward to seeing you again soon.

On behalf of Scott, Alicia, and the rest of the Aperture Academy staff, thanks so much for another great workshop experience! We look forward to seeing you again in the future.

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