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On a surprisingly cold morning the Sacramento Zoo was already receiving guests early on Saturday morning. A Zoo Photo Safari Class was taking place with Pat McKown serving as the instructor on the third, in a series of four photography classes offered this summer on the Sacramento Zoo campus. The class was geared toward learning how to photograph zoo animals and compensating for exhibits housing avoiding some photography obstacles such as bars, netting and glass. There were 14 people taking the class and many questions were asked during the lecture part of the class. Pat McKown’s photography helpful tips were quite useful. Students brought their digital cameras and I think many of them learned more about their camera during the lecture than they had since they’ve owned their cameras. Cameras used by class participants ranged from small digital cameras with 3X zoom to full blown digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras.
Ann Geiger, zoo educational director, met me at the zoo entrance and led me to the classroom where the class had already been taking place. As we walked to the classroom Ann indicated that these classes were made possible by a grant from GenCorp. Anne explained that there was also a similar class for students sixth grade and up. She also talked about the Sacramento Zoo Docent program. The Docent program is made up of volunteer educators, older than 18 years and who’ve had Sacramento Zoo training. They provide tours, station walks and other services to zoo visitors. Classes for the program will start again in January 2011 and go into early March. This program requires a lot of training before becoming a Docent. Log on to the Sacramento Zoo website to learn more about this program and other volunteer programs. Programs are also available for teens and currently there are about 50 teen volunteers who work at the Zoo mostly on weekends.
The photography class included topics such as whether to use flash or not. Pat recommended that flash, in order not to startle or bother the animas, should not be used when photographing the animals. I noticed many zoo visitors violating this rule but at the same time most don’t know that it can be a nuisance. Optical vs. digital zoom was discussed; ISO and other photography terms were explained. The most interesting topic, in my opinion, was taking pictures and trying to compensate for bars, netting and glass structures between the photographer and the animals. I will be interested in viewing the final product when pictures from this Safari are posted on a zoo website.
(The giraffe exhibit)
Pat’s expert knowledge of both subjects (photography and zoo animals) was very helpful for the students. I overheard several of them, as they were taking pictures, saying things like “I keep getting reflections off of the glass housing. I just have to be patient and get closer to the glass enclosure”. This comment was made in reference to McKown’s suggestion to get close to the glass in order to avoid seeing reflections on the photos. The patience part was, I believe, the hardest thing for the students to heed. Most animals do not like to pose for pictures, they tend to move the second you press the shutter release button. I noticed that if they seem to be posing it’s because they’re asleep. Patience however allows the photographer to take the picture as the cage or netting is out of focus and the animal comes into full focus. It comes in handy as you wait for your model to move and seemingly pose for you. Patience is one of the hardest qualities to attain whether it’s in photography or life but it pays off in either facet. Patience in photography is all about, as Pat put it, “capturing the moment”.
As students broke into smaller groups and eagerly walked from the classroom to the zoo I had a chance to speak with Pat McKown for a few minutes. This was the third Photo Safari class that she’s taught this year with one more class scheduled in September. I asked how she got started doing these classes and she said, “I had been a Docent on a regular basis. When I came back from a trip to Africa I did a presentation and this eventually led to a grant”. The grant was passed on to the Sacramento Zoo. Pat’s experience in photography is immeasurable and her enthusiasm is apparent making the class quite enjoyable.
I followed one group of students out to their Safari Adventure. I ran into other students at different sites and all seemed to be enjoying the shooting and challenges posed by exhibits behind glass, net, wires, cages and other zoo visitors. Capturing the moment seemed to be in everybody’s mind as they moved from one exhibit to the next.
(The challenges of cage wire at the lion exhibit)
(Compensating for glass enclosures at the anteater exhibit)
(At the flamingo exhibit)
(Below are other animal exhibits)
Pat’s lecture and tips are a good foundation for a Zoo Safari. This foundation can be applied to taking pictures of your children as well. There are dozens of other topics that were covered in class and if you’re interested log on to the Sacramento Zoo website and sign up for the September class before it fills up. Also, look for other classes offered to people of all ages.