ZSL Photography Workshop at Whipsnade Zoo

Back in July I attended a ZSL Photography Workshop at Whipsnade zoo. They provide 2 levels of workshop as follows:

General level workshop (aimed at novice – intermediate amateurs):
• Knowledge and confidence in using various camera controls
• Explain various photographic techniques such as how to expose correctly, how to attain sharp images and how to photograph moving subjects
• Students will also learn how to approach wildlife including field craft (camouflage and concealment)

Master-classes (aimed at advanced amateurs):
• Composition and how to approach the art of photography, and less about camera settings
• People booking on a master-class should ideally have a DSLR camera and at least know how to use the camera in manual or semi-manual mode

I attended the Master-class workshop, the class was run by Chris Weston – one of the world’s most influential wildlife photographers. We spent some time on a few areas that I must admit thinking were done deals. I’ll mention oa couple of them here:

RAW vs JPEG – entire books have been written on this subject and the general thinking is that RAW will produce the best quality images so you should always shoot this format. This is not always correct, RAW images have no sharpening applied, no “in-camera” adjustments of any type and the white balance is not “baked-in” to the image i.e. it can be altered after the fact. So out of the camera the JPEGS will generally look better as they have had the standard adjustments applied to the image. In fact as long as the compression isn’t too excessive you will be hard pressed to know a JPEG from a RAW file that has had the same (relative) adjustments in whatever RAW management program you care to use (i.e. Camera Raw in Photoshop or Lightroom). Where RAW files win is you have a lot more latitude to make adjustments if needed without degrading image quality. If you get everything right in camera and do not anticipate large amounts of post-production in the aforementioned software packages (such as portraiture, then JPEG is fine).

White balance – although this is “baked-in” to JPEG and can be altered from the camera’s setting after the fact with RAW files, you should still think about what white balance you are shooting with. I usually shoot with Auto white balance and worry about what to do when I edit the RAW file. I have also read that you should adjust this manually to the relevant light-source to be more accurate (this has the added benefit that every image taking will have the precisely same white balance setting making adjustment of the images by the same amount later much easier). However, what the manual settings and auto-settings are trying to do is make the white balance as close to natural daylight as possible – which is OK if that’s what’s needed. When you are taking picture where the colour of the light source is very important (sunrises and sunsets are the obvious examples), you need to make sure the white balance setting isn’t going to remove the colour you are seeing. That white-balance bracketing future that you though you’d never use doesn’t seem so redundant anymore.

I had no idea the amount of work that goes into capturing some of the shots that Chris has taken. I don’t have the dedication that he does. For example, Chris comes up with the name of the picture first. His “How does a Lion see a Zebra) took 3 years to acquire. He made may visits to Africa to get the image and needed everything to converge to get the shot he wanted that fitted with the title (migration patterns, lighting, time of year, the right pattern to illustrate the title).

We did go through many other things but I recommend taking the course to find things out. The only thing I would add is that research is the key to getting the shots you require, if you understand the animal you are trying to take pictures of better you might be able to get the shot you want. My wildlife photography comes from my love of wildlife first and is a means to record what I have seen. When I cannot get the pictures I can also just watch the events as they happen.

I only disagreed with one thing Chris said – video in DSLR’s. He didn’t see the point and I do. Sometimes images cannot convey the events in front of you and short videos help convey this. As you will see from my post about the pictures taken in the afternoon this was critical for the otters, the sound they make and the way they move is not possible to capture with single images.

After lunch we were allowed to go around the zoo with Chris so he could try and put some of the things discussed into practice. We also had Chris on hand so we could ask any questions are we proceeded.

For more details on the workshops, click here