San Francisco Zoo Wildlife Photography Workshop - Sep 24th, 2023

San Francisco Zoo: Introduction to Wildlife Photography Workshop - Sep 24th, 2023

Arriving at the San Francisco Zoo this morning, it was bright but overcast and surprisingly warm with no wind. Not too hot, not too cold. We took all of these as good signs that we would get some more active animals.

After a few minutes of introductions and discussing the fun we were going to have, we headed into the zoo. We headed straight for the back of the zoo first as we know the bears are often active as they are fed around opening time. We watched the zookeepers hide food for both the black bears and grizzly bears. When the keepers left, we got to see the beautiful bears appear and wander their respective enclosures looking for breakfast including lettuce and carrots. We discussed shutter, f-stops, and ISO starting points as well. It was fun to watch the bears move around.

As the Mexican Wolves were right in front of us, but not active, we moved next to the tropical rainforest building with birds, snakes, frogs, and a 3 toed sloth. The indoor environment allowed us to practice changing settings as we shot the birds high up silhouetted on the window ledge. After creating many images from different angles, so headed back outside to cooler weather. We were almost immediately treated to a peacock sauntering by us (one of about 25 that live at the zoo and wander the grounds freely), and we even watched a crow and hawk battling overhead.

On the way to the next spot, we took a new route to change things up. We spotted an enclosure with a majestic spectacled owl with its huge eyes observing everything. In this area, we also shot two large swans while two macaws squawked loudly nearby.

Just before reaching the smelly but frolicking penguins, the Komodo dragon was a hit with our group. He was active, moving around with his tongue going in and out. The Komodo seemed to be posing and looking at the camera. Great shots were had!

At the penguins, we talked about lighting and were able to practice different ways of shooting the flightless bird and capturing the water beading on its feathers. As we moved on, the lion was asleep, so we kept walking and moved to the rhinoceros, the pygmy hippo, and then the snow leopard. All beautiful creatures that made for more memorable images.

On the way for a lunchtime break, we were treated to unexpected extras like bees, hummingbirds, and pelicans. At the SF Zoo, the mandrils are always fun to watch. From large colorful males to very young, playful ones, the entertainment factor is always there as is the photographic opportunity. Beautiful colors and majestic looks allowed us to create several unique images and have a few laughs as the baby in the group was clearly frustrating some of the older ones with its antics.

From there, it was time to grab a bit of nourishment at the café. We used this time to take a load off our feet, talk about pictures, and talk about photography gear. After a short respite, we were off again to continue the afternoon adventure. We started with flamingos, including creating abstract images, and then onto the lemurs. The lemurs seem to be either all action or passed out asleep. In between, there are some very loud noises they make that get everyone’s attention. Whether they’re lying in the sun or climbing up their fire hose lines, they are a blast to watch.

The reopening of a long-closed catwalk allowed us to check out other animals as we continued our afternoon adventure. The koala bear was surprisingly active and fun to watch climb up and down the same tree. From there, we watched some primates basking in the sun. With the stern looks they were giving, were able to capture some great facial expressions. Some of these will become great black-and-white images as well. We also spent time shooting the powerful silverback gorillas wandering around their area.

We made another attempt to see if the lion had moved, but no such luck. The large male was still tucked in the same place he was hours earlier. In the Safari loop, we watched ostriches and zebra mill about and we got to watch the numerous giraffes eat. We were able to shoot a wide variety of images here, including portrait-style images of the giraffes and abstract images of the beautiful ostrich feathers. Whether shooting very wide, or very tightly framed, the multitude of photographic options at the zoo is always amazing.

After what just felt like a couple of hours, it was already past 3 p.m. and the workshop was over. Everyone was free to stay at the Zoo or head home to see the great images they created. One of the goals at the beginning of the day was to ensure that everyone went home with pictures they would be proud to put on the wall. Based on looking at everyone’s cameras LCDs, there’s little doubt we were successful in that goal!

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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