A Special Opportunity to Join a Most Exciting Marine Wildlife Encounter
Sailfish Hunting Bait Balls in Isla Mujeres
January 29 – Feb 4 2018
* Preliminary Dates
5 boat days for sailfish
Limited to 5 guests
Photograph and free dive with sailfish hunting sardines in the blue water off the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula. Our private charter leaves daily from the docks of Isla Mujeres for an 8 hour day of maximum time in the water photographing and enjoying this incredible encounter.
Only snorkeling gear is required and the action happens at or a meter or two below the surface. We charter the most experienced sport fishing guides who know the water and patterns of the sardines and predators.
Limited to 5 passengers on boat plus guide and crew. This is an excellent opportunity for photographers to capture dramatic images and video. Freediving and excellent swimming skills are recommended in order to enjoy this athletic experience.
“The trip was fantastic. Excellent itinerary and well organized. I saw way more sailfish than I ever expected and was much closer than I thought possible. My friends are amazed by the photos I took. I got a really good shot of you that I attached. Many thanks to you and Karen. Michael and I are spreading the word about a trip to Africa. Great trip and hope to see you again” ——- Kurt Bitters
“Had a great time in the water and topside. And, I salute your restaurant selections! I’ll be back for more… you’re a topnotch guide and host. I will be back for more.”
— Bob Pooley
The hotel has a private beach with pool and deck. The rooms are ensuite with a balcony, AC, and wifi. Upgraded rooms are available at extra cost. The town of Isla Mujeres is safe and features many great restaurants, shops, beaches, bars, and a park. It is an easy ferry ride from Cancun.
I will need a minimum of 4 guests to make this trip happen and a max of 5 to allow for uncrowded boat and encounters.
Please contact me soon with your interest so I finalize bookings and make sure I get space on the fleet’s and hotel’s busy in season schedule. Contact Me
Last year Adobe released a new version of Lightroom CC which contains their newest adjustment tool: The DeHaze slider. It is found in the FX menu of the Development module (way down toward the bottom of the list).
You must have the CC version of Lightroom to use it, but if you have Photoshop, there is a way to access the tool and take it further using a few medium/advanced PS techniques. (see at the end of this article for details). Also this tool works on the entire image – in Photoshop you can target the area where the effect takes place.
The purpose of the Dehaze slider is to either add or remove atmospheric haze from a photo. In Adobe’s words:“The Dehaze technology is based on a physical model of how light is transmitted, and it tries to estimate light that is lost due to absorption and scattering through the atmosphere.” The obvious use is for adjusting landscape images, but I have found it useful with safari images where there was quite a bit of dust in the air and even for some underwater images where the water was not clear. (the underwater equivalent of dust)
For me, it is a tool that combines Contrast, color saturation, and midtone sharpening into a single tool. Using a combination of tools it is possible to achieve similar results to the Dehaze slider, but if time is an issue, you can get great improvements with just one adjustment. Investing a bit more time you can build on the improvements Dehaze adds to your images by combining it with further adjustment tools.
Here is an example of how I used Dehaze for an image that was not a landscape.
The drought has made everything very dusty and it really effects this image taken in the mid morning light.
With just one adjustment, the colors pop and the contrast is greatly improved.
Now I experiment with doing some Exposure adjustments first before applying the Dehaze.
My method for this is to temporarily Desaturate the image so I can analyze it without the distraction of color.
I used the Tone Curve tool (you can also use the 4 sliders under Exposure) to add contrast by darkening the Shadows and Darks and lightening the Lights. I left the Highlights as they were since there is a bit of bright light in the mane and sky. I then restored the color to see the following improvement.
Now I add the Dehaze adjustment – a little bit less than I used when it was my only adjustment.
Dehaze has taken the image a step better than exposure adjustments alone.
Looking at the results in detail, I want to bring some lightening back to the Shadows range of the midtones. I go to my Darks slider in the Tone Curve tool (or the Shadows in the Exposure section) to lighten these tones up. I can now see the details in the lion’s face better.
Now my image is acceptable or I can add details such as small color adjustments (to saturation or hue) or some targeted sharpening or highlighting on places like the eyes.
Here are a few other images with a simple Dehaze adjustment.
For those without Lightroom CC who have Photoshop or those who take the technique further with more targeted results:
Open the image in Photoshop.
Make a duplicate of the background layer.
Go to the Filter Menu and find Camera Raw Filter
Dehaze appears under the FX tab
Make your adjustments and choose OK to return to Photoshop.
Now you will make a Layer Mask which will hide the effect where you do not want it. – in my example I will mute the effect in the background.
Add the layer mask to the layer which has the Camera Raw Filter adjustments. Use a paintbrush and black color to mask out the effect. You can soften your brush and/or lower the opacity at the transition points.
If I had turned my copied layer into a Smart Object, I would be able to return to the Camera Raw adjustments and amend them as I wish.
The Dehaze tool is now my go to tool for images that need contrast boost – especially if it was taken in dusty conditions.
During our small group photo safaris we travel an hour and half south of our Tree House Lodge to the Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve. This is a very old reserve (one of the first to be decided as a nature reserve) and we stay in the section which is bordering the Kruger National Park. There is no fence so wildlife is free to range into both areas.
We come to Sabi because they have the rivers and tree conditions that leopard prefer and thrive in. They also have a long history of tracking and knowing their leopards very intimately so the rangers quickly find the leopards and can tell us each animal’s story.
We had many wonderful leopard moments over the course of our 3 September 2016 safari groups. This evening game drive was especially nice: we tracked a male leopard named Tingana while he went on his early evening rounds
We catch back up to our leopard after the sun has set. There are lions moving through near by. A leopard can be harassed or killed by lions so he is becomes very alert and circles back to his tree where he had a kill stashed away.
After a snack in the safety of a tree he goes back to resting.
The next morning we catch up with Tingana and he is on the ground under the tree still guarding it from lions and others who would steal it.
On a previous visit to Sabi Sands we saw Tingana with a zebra kill up a tree. It is amazing to think of the strength this animal must command in order to drag a small zebra high up a tree.
See our photo safaris which include a visit to Sabi Sands in 2017 & 2018 on our website Africa Wild Safaris
A South Africa photo safari will be full of opportunities to photograph animals at close distances. These images have all the details and interesting poses found in modern (human) portraits. You can apply current portrait processing techniques to your wildlife portraits. This technique gives the image added depth and dimension and adds the illusion of the face coming forward.
The key characteristics of this technique are Light, Contrast, & Sharpness
Areas with contrast and sharpness draw the viewers attention and lighter areas seem closer to the viewer building intimacy and connection between subject and viewer.
Begin in Camera Raw or Lightroom
Start with a basic White Balance adjustment if the image is too warm or cool.
Also quickly adjust the tone for good exposure and add some contrast. We will add more contrast later and do further work on the overall Tone.
You can also add punch to the eyes now, but I like to leave this as the final touch.
Dodge and Burn
Dodge and burn will increase contrast and bring out specific details that you think are important. Details around the eyes and character features on the face are good targets. For animals with facial markings, it is good to bring these out.
This step is done in Photoshop since it will be achieved using a layer mask. Switch To Photoshop from Lightroom by accessing the left click menu and selecting Edit In – Photoshop.
Create a new Layer with blend mode of Soft Light
Fill with 50% gray
Choose Dodge tool
The Dodge/Burn tool has controls which limit the effect to specific tonal ranges: Highlights, Midtones, and Shadows
Start with the Dodge Tool: Set range to Highlights with Exposure between 5 – 10% Paint over areas on the face to brighten highlight areas and other areas you with to appear closer to the viewer. Repeatedly go over areas to make the effect stronger or raise the Exposure setting higher.
Switch to the burn tool and darken midtone and shadow areas in the same way.
It is a bit of a pain, but try to burn and dodge in the whiskers and eyelashes: they are unique to the animal and thus important to present to the viewer.
Contrast and Sharpening
If you are familiar with using Smart Objects, you can duplicate your image layer and convert it to a Smart Object. Then choose Filter – Camera Raw Filter.
The alternate method is to run the Camera Raw Filter on the layer. The difference is that with the Smart Object, you can go back and fine tune your Sharpen and Clarity values.
In the Camera Raw tool, choose the Adjustment Brush, then set Clarity to around 25 and all other sliders to zero. Check the Mask at the bottom of the dialogue box and paint over the face where you want the effect. Click it off to see the effect, then also increase the Sharpness around +10 – +25. Press Ok to return to PhotoShop.
Press D to set Foreground and Background to default colors of black and white.
Create new Adjustment layer and choose Gradient Map Adjustment Layer . In the properties panel click on the gradient ramp to open the gradient editor
Drag white color stop left toward the center to intensify the highlights.
Drag midpoint slider to the left or right a small amount. ( you might want to try midtones both to the left and right on separate layers to see which you like best.) Click OK . Reduce layer opacity to 30% or a percent that gives the look you want. You still want a hint of color instead of a completely monochrome image. The amount that looks good to you will vary depending on the image.
Add some Fake Depth of Field
If the image could use more depth of field, this step will add some.
Add another merged layer to the top of the stack
Use the Filter Blur Gallery Iris Blur and place the oval over the face
Adjust it to fit and so none of the sharp areas are covered
Increase the blur amount. Since animals do not have oval shaped faces (ears etc. ) you can add a mask to the layer and paint black to remove blur from these areas.
Make a merged copy and name it Sharpen. You can make this layer a Smart Object f you wish. Choose Filter Other Highpass. Add radius of 1 – 5 pixel: enough to be able to see the hairs and whiskers, but without a large halo around edges. Change the Blend Mode of the Sharpness layer to Overlay. If the effect is overdone you can reduce the layer opacity or adjust the radius.
At this point you can also add a layer with texture to add a gritty effect. Use a mask to block the texture effect from the eyes so they stay sharp.
Adjusting the Light
The idea here is to darken the background and leave the face bright.
There are several ways to achieve this. One way is to add a curves adjustment layer then mask out the areas you want to remain bright.
Another method is to add another Merged layer to the top called lighting
Do a Camera Raw filter and choose the Radial Filter tool to draw oval to encircle the main part of the face. Adjust Exposure to darken outside the oval. Alternately use the Adjustment brush to navigate the non oval face.
Add punch to the eyes
If you have used all Smart Objects and Adjustment Layers, you can go back to the Dodge and Burn layer and add some contrast to the eyes. If you have used stamped layers, you simply add a layer at the top, fill with 50% grey and set the Blend Mode to Soft Light. Use the Dodge and Burn tool.
A vignette or cropping might also be a good edition.
Use this series of adjustments on several images to give a consistent look to a collection.
I hosted 2 wonderful photo safari groups in May 2016 . We had fun and adventure among some really great wildlife sightings. My guests returned with many great action, predator, and close up shots. One guest told me he had over 3,000 photos to sort through.
After each series of safaris, I reflect back on the moments that made the most vivid memories while I sort through my photos. Each moment spent out in the wild spaces of South Africa is special, but I have selected a few to share that stood out for me.
The majority of these images were shot with my Canon 70 – 200 lens on a 5D MK3 – this is my workhorse setup for safaris in South Africa
Burchell’s Coucal in Kruger National Park
I had had a great and active morning in Kruger, but things were slower in the early afternoon. This coucal brightened things up by landing on a branch near my vehicle and stayed in a perfect pose. I was even able to move the truck to get shot from different angles and sun exposure. This species of cuckoo does not deposit eggs in another species’ nests.
Leopard Cubs at Play
We were lucky enough to find these cubs and their mother on a morning game drive with perfect weather and again on other drives. They played with each other and often their mother would join in the fun.
Every so often they would sit to rest and survey their surroundings as young predators in training.
Then the fun would erupt again for another round of pouncing and wrestling
Rhino Establishing Rank
White rhino are usually pretty stoic when we encounter them: they keep at eating or close ranks to stand in an alert defensive position. This group of 3 males and one young (probably) male were agitated and active when we found them. The 3 older rhinos were engaged in some intense battling with their horns with one male defending his dominance in the herd. The youngster was quite stressed by the whole affair and ran around in panic.
Very Young Hyena Puppies
This is a very large and active den site for spotted hyena. On this visit there were several adult females around and some adolescent and older pups. Out of the den came 2 very young pups. These are the youngest I have ever seen. The female in charge (not sure if it was the mother) kept them close to the den by picking them up in her powerful jaws using a gentle touch.
Lions with their Kill
This was one of several very good sightings we had through the two May safaris. This time the females were resting nearby and the male was there too. The buffalo meal was mostly consumed, the previous night, but this male lion was still hungry and working with the carcass to get all the meat he could. It is hard work for the lions to pull the meat apart and they frequently take a rest in the shade.
Mother Leopard Having Fun
It must be stressful to try to feed, train, and defend two active cubs. This is why it was so delightful to be there to see the mother leopard play with her cubs. No of them took any notice of our vehicle and cameras and just stalked and mock attacked each other in the open and right in front of us.
Antics in the Mud Bath
As the rainy season water drys up and becomes mud, these spots become a favorite place to visit and photograph. When elephants come by it is a funny mud flinging spectacle with bodies rolling and splashing. One elephant pushed his younger sister in the mud. Rubbing follows the mud bath. At this water hole the favorite rubbing tree had become very short and elephants had to contort to funny positions to use it – such as this youngster doing a face plant in order to get a rub.
Moving Herds in Kruger
Parts of Kruger National Park open up into wide vistas where you can see far into the distance. This herd of wildebeest was on the move and created a nice sight line and vanishing point for my photo.
Game Drives in the Dark
I enjoy the end of our afternoon game drives when we return to the lodge after dark using spot lights. This time we found a bush baby. I am still hoping to see a pangolin or aardvark by night. We also find chameleons , small cats, and hear the night calls of birds and herd animals.
Lions Seeking Shade
This kill was in a great spot for feeding at night, but as the morning wore on it was getting hot out in the open defending the remains of the meal. The female lion – who was covered head to toe in blood and guts – tried to drag the carcass to a shady spot. It was a bit too heavy for her and the other lions just watched from the shade.
Drama in Kruger – all in the first 10 Minutes
This was the start of one of our all time best days in Kruger. A hyena chased after a leopard cub while the mother fought to defend it and this black-backed jackal stood at the ready to take advantage no matter who won. The jackal was probably following either the hyena or leopard to wait for chances of stealing a meal. We also saw elephant, lion, and rhino all before the welcome center.
We also had beautiful and interesting skies that day. Sometimes you forget to take some wide shots to illustrate the vastness of the park.
Safari Story: An Afternoon at the Elephant Mud Bath
We are on a game drive in the Balule Game Reserve in the mid afternoon. We had just left a very nice leopard sighting and we were now in search of our next wildlife encounter. Our driver took us to a favorite spot for rhino, elephants, and buffalo to have a mudbath. Today a family of elephants was enjoying the baths.
The season has become dry early this year so a good water hole and mud have been a rare find for the animals in the area. Here there is a small area where the water is still at the surface, but elephants can find water by digging.
As we arrive, two juvenile elephants are digging in the small pit to enlarge it. Their sides are caked with fresh mud and dried mud covers their faces and trunks. You can see the enjoyment as the two use their front feet to dig deeper and bring up more water which they stir into mud.
Nearby, a mother elephant and her infant calf eat leaves and rest together in the shade.
Now the juveniles have had enough mud and turn their attention to a tree stump which functions as a favorite scratching post. Each has a go at it displaying crazy poses as they maneuver their bulk to reach the short stump. Each has a try at pulling the stump out in hopes of making it taller and a more excellent tool.
Meanwhile, the baby and mother have a go in the mud followed up by their turn at the scratching post. The little elephant is completely covered in mud and very pleased with her adventure in the mud.
The juveniles have gone back to eating and two older males, still juveniles practice some mock sparring. These playful fights and twisting of trunks is also a bonding and an exercise is establishing and acknowledging rank in the group.
The elephants had some good fun, but they never stop eating for long, so soon they return to eating.
We continue on to watch the sunset and prepare for the wildlife action after dark. We had several encountering on our way back in the dark including a bushbaby (a type of subprimate) and a chameleon.
If you would like to join us on a photo safari visit our safari webpage or check out other posts and links on this blog site.
Our tree house lodge enjoys comparatively great cell phone coverage from two local carriers: Vodaphone and MTN. The signal is usually 2G while in Johannesburg you may get 3G.
Manage your expectations: Outside of Johannesburg, the coverage will be spotty and vary by time of day or weather. There will be many dead spots such as the whole of Kruger Park. There will be times when you will not be able to connect, perhaps for most of the day.
Make sure you contact your phone carrier to get a global plan before travel and follow instructions about setting for roaming etc on your phone. Not all phones are capable of picking up signals outside of the US and Canada so please check this too.
South Africa Networks are GSM networks. Many cell phones are using CMDA networks; their carriers are Verizon, Sprint, and US Cellular. A smaller number of service providers are on the GSM standard: Tmobile and At&T.
An advantage of a GSM network is that changing carriers is as easy as buying a new SIM card for their device. This makes them great for international travelers. If you phone GSM or operates on both networks, you can get a local or international SIMM card with pay as you go service.
Check that your phone is compatible with the networks in Africa – almost all of which operates GSM digital networks running at a frequency of 900mhz and some 3G networks.
A few phones sold in North America operate on both networks.
You may also have to “unlock” your phone to be able to switch cards
Check that you phone will be able to work in South Africa, then sign up for your carrier’s international plan
Get a local SIMM card for your phone with a pay as you go program. This can be done in South Africa, but will probably be easier done before travel.
Rent a “global phone” from your carrier
Rent/Buy a “global phone from a provider such as www.Cellhire.com They have phones for around $50 and SImm cards starting at $9.00
Internet and Data
Manage your expectations: South Africa is not the land of free WiFi, great coverage, and high speed internet. You will be time-warped back to dial up type speeds, outages, and pay per use – if it is even available.
The best solution for internet access it through a smart phone or wireless device that works through the phone signals.
Just as with the Global Phones discussed above, you can rent or buy a WiFi device (sometimes called MiFi) equipped with a SIMM and data plan. With the device you can connect your laptop, tablet, or phone to a signal and send / receive data.
Cell Hire rentals and sells WiFi devices. I have used this option before with great success. Cell Hire
On our safaris, the tree house lodge does not offer wifi, but the other two lodges we visit have internet available for a fee.
Enjoy being unplugged with the knowledge that if someone really needs you, they will be able to get a message to through us.
Be mostly plugged, but check in a few times through your pay per use Global plan or if we find an internet cafe or connection.
Get a WiFi device with local SIMM card and data bundle
Learn about our Photo Safaris on our Africa Wild Safaris Website
Travel Insurance is an Important Addition to Your Safari Plan
Please Consider Travel Insurance
Because of a recent incident I want to stress the importance of travel insurance. Twice in less than a year we have had 4 guests on two different trips cancel very close to there travel dates. None had travel insurance.
Because of the way things work in Africa, all of our group’s safari expenses are booked and paid for well in advance and refunds and credits are not offered by our contractors, so when the trip approaches it is impossible for us to refund money. Many safari companies require guests to have coverage. Africa Wild Safaris does not make it mandatory at this time, but please understand that we will not be able to refund any money. Some money might be refunded if we can replace you , but it is most likely not going to be the full amount you paid.
Get Trip Cancellation, Curtailment, and Medical Coverage
Travel insurance with a cancellation coverage is really import. One of the guests had a near fatal heart attack 1 week before travel and in the other case the spouse died. While these seem extreme bad luck, more likely cancellation reasons could be a car accident, illness of parent or family member, house break in, work emergencies, surgery, or court appearance. When looking at policies please check cancellation reasons carefully. Also good to have is the usual trip interruption (cancelled flight), lost luggage, and the less likely illness on the trip so great it requires evacuation.
See Details about our Safaris on the Africa Wild Safaris Website
Trip Cancellation and Curtailment
This incorporates cover against trip interruption or travel delay, loss or theft of luggage, or if you must cancel.
Typically this incorporates cover for medical expenses, transport to medical facilities expenses for travel partners, evacuation. Most also come with an assistance hotline support. They may also work with your medical insurance for follow up care once you are home or if you have coverage while overseas.
Travel insurance offered by credit cards may not be comprehensive so check the policy fine print.
These websites might help you get educated and give a start to finding a good company and comparing their products
Diving with Tiger Sharks and Photographing in the Bahamas 2016
The trip always starts with the packing. I packed as efficiently as possible. Years of experience has taught me what I need and what is not necessary. I picked up a nice bottle of rum to enjoy after the dives and to with the delicious and fresh meals.
Canon 5D MKIII
EF16 – 35mm f/2.8L II USM
EF15mm f/2.8 fisheye
Glass dome ports
2 Inon Z 240 strobes
Backup: a 2nd Canon 5D MKIII and Nexus housing (this one is a MKII housing converted for the MKIII)
We boarded the boat in West Palm Beach and were on our way to the Bahamas overnight. After the stop for customs and immigration checks we headed out to deep water for our first dives.
The first sharks to react to our chum and scent trail were the lemon sharks and some caribbean reef sharks. It always takes a few dives to bring in the tiger sharks. The day there was just one small one then by the last day we were attracting 5 at a time.
During the course of the dive week, the captain moves the boat to different locations. One of my favorite is the beds of eel grass with their green glow. We also anchor near a reef where we can get shots of sharks cruising over the sponges and fans and also see some reef fish.
The weather was overcast, but we were able to find sailfish each day we headed out. The first day we found dolphins and sailfish working the same large bait ball. This was fast and chaotic scene. We did several drops from the boat to keep up with them. It was a great trial by fire for my guests who are new to sailfish.
Our second day stayed with smaller groups of sardines and bait balls. I found that the smaller the ball, the slower the sailfish moved making it easier for us slow humans to keep up and photograph the action. We were privileged with several hours long sessions in the water with the sailfish and their prey .
For processing the photos I used Adobe Lightroom with some scatter and spot removal via Photoshop. I used Sharpening and Contrast tools to bring out the detail. Some required a Curves adjustment to brighten them up.
During our stay on Isla Mujeres, we took one of the days to try out the new cage for mako sharks. We loaded the cage onto their largest boat and headed out. We picked a likely spot off shore and chummed and trolled bait.
Overall I am very pleased with our results. The crew was excellent and very skilled at getting us to the right places and finding the sailfish. Once we were on them they could get us in the water and back into the boat for another drop. I thank them for making it a special trip for our first time guests and those who have been before.
I was very conscious of baggage volume and weight when I made my equipment choices. My biggest decision was between my 16 – 35mm lens and the fish eye. I have used both before for sailfish. While the images with the fisheye were nice, one drawback was how close you need to be to get a good shot. Also if you get too close, your subject gets distorted at the edges of the image. I did not want to bring both or switch my equipment halfway through, so I opted for the 16 – 35mm.
I have a Nauticam housing with my best glass dome port. I also had a 2nd 5DMKIII as a backup and set for land images. No strobes as they would just slow down my swimming.
I have had my housing from my old Canon 5DII converted to fit my 2nd 5D III or a future RS. I like things to be interchangeable and to carry less equipment.
My initial setup was thus:
Canon 5D MKIII with a 16 – 35mm lens ISO 500 1/250 and f5.6
The conditions were cloudy much of the time so I stayed in the ISO 400 – 640 range, Shutter priority
You can enjoy my sailfish images from past season in my online gallery
As always, Isla Mujeres is a fun and comfortable home base for this adventure (and out whale shark trip). We had nice rooms which were so new they paint was barely dry. We were right on the beach and the pool was very refreshing after a day at sea.
There are more good restaurants than we could get to for our dinners. We feasted on fresh fish, Mediterranean dishes, local tastes and Cuban.
The shops are colorful and the people are friendly and we enjoyed just walking around town. The guest and I had happy hour around the pool with great conversations . I hope to share another adventure with each of them.