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.
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.
Sailfish and Sardine Run in the Gulf of Mexico off Isla Mujeres, Mexico
In a few days I will be heading to Mexico to photograph the Sailfish.
This is a challenging photographic situation: the fish are fast, the baitballs in chaos, birds diving at the surface, action all around. It is well worth it to witness this spectacle. The images can be exciting and beautiful capturing a dramatic natural spectacle.
Please enjoy this gallery of my sailfish images from the past years. I look forward to sharing my images from my upcoming trip.
These images were taken with my Canon 5D MKII and MKIII in an underwater housing .
The lenses I used were a EF15mm F2.8 Fisheye and an EF 16-35mm f2.8 . While I found an equal number of good photos taken with both lenses, for this year’s trip I will just take the 16-35mm. I base this decision on the fact that I have to get very close with the fisheye and given the speed of these animals and the choas, it is difficult and if I miss the sweet spot I get distortion of the fish’s body shape.
Basking Sharks are the 2nd biggest fish in the ocean. (whale sharks are the biggest)
A basking shark can grow to over 10m (33 ft) long and weight several tons. Their mouth can open 1 metre wide for feeding on plankton. They filter fed on the plankton by sieving out the minuscule animals from the water column using special gill rakers. These rakers are specially adapted bone which sit in the sharks gills and act in a similar fashion as baleen in fliter-feeding whales. They are efficient and can filter up to 1.5 million litres of water her hour.
Scotland has some of the richest cold waters in the world and every spring the oceanic and weather cyles create optimal conditon ofr explosive blooms of plankton. The sharks migrate from their winter feeding grounds to feast on the plankton and for mating.
Historically basking sharks have been a staple of fisheries because of their size, (former) abundance, and slow movement. Today basking sharks are still hunted all over the world for their livers containing a vast amount of oil. The oil is used in cosmetics, perfume and lubricants. Synthetics and conservation efforts have stopped the hunting in some places and they are now protected. They are also victims of the shark fin trade.
Basking Sharks are a cosmopolitan migratory species, found in all of the world’s temperate oceans. In additon they prefer to swim close the shore and also enjoy swimming near the water’s surface swimming at a slow pace while they filter. They travel through the Mediterranean Sea, Pacific and Atlantic ocean, sea of Japan, New Zealand, and Southern Australia. Nova Scotia and New Brunswick are great places to spot them as well. At times they travel in groups of about 100 but also are most often seen traveling alone.
Like many sharks, ovoviviparous basking sharks develop embryos which first rely on a yolk sac with no placental connection and develop inside the female. Gestation is unknow but might be a year or more. The small young are born fully developed at 1.5 – 2m. From the only pregnant mother ever caught we learned that the brood can be six pups. The lifespan is not known. Experts estimate about 50 years.
This article appeared in Issue #87 of Underwater Photographer Magazine UWPMag.com
Northeast off the coast of Cancun on the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico lies the small island of Isla Mujeres. The island is approximately five miles long and one half mile at is widest point. Just a short ferry ride from Cancun, the island offers beaches, scuba diving, and a relaxing place to shop and dine. In the summer months the island plays host to guests drawn in by the whale shark ecotourism trips. Guests travel out into the Gulf of Mexico and snorkel with the gentle giants. If they are lucky they also may encounter giant manta rays.
Isla Mujeres is best known for wintertime fishing and game fishing of sailfish. The sailfish attract many fishermen, but also underwater photographers. Watching the great coordinated predation of the bait balls is a thrill and photographing it underwater is challenging but rewarding. The sailfish work together as a fast moving team to keep the baitfish tightly packed in the bait ball. Being in the water to witness during this action is as exciting as catching a sailfish on the rod.
Adding to the adventure of Isla Mujeres is the chance to see shortfin mako sharks up close. Captain Anthony Mendillo is now offering this opportunity to photographers and shark fans during the winter season.
Captain Anthony was the pioneer of the sailfish freediving experience. Also he was involved in early efforts too preserve the sailfishing industry. The fishermen of Isla Mujeres all agreed to a Code of Conduct that only allows traditional fishing methods.
The same spirit of sustainability and responsible tourism extends to the whale shark trip and to the mako cage dives.
Capt Anthony and crew have worked with Guy Harvey Research Institute to catch, tag, and release Makos, which are then tracked to add valuable and previously unknown details about the timing and long distance migratory movements of this vulnerable species. This experience has added greatly to the knowledge of the Mexico shortfin mako population and their overlap with other populations tracked by the Guy Harvey Research Institute. Close interaction with the makos has also taught the crew the secrets of location, behaviors, bait preference, and seasonality. This know-how leads to a 70% success rate for attracting makos to the boat.
The makos in this area of the Caribbean are large compared to those in some other locations. Average sizes for shortfin makos are 3.2 m (10ft) in length and 60 – 135 kg (132 – 298lb). The Isla Mujeres population averages in the top of that range at 114 kg (250lb). Shortfin makos are a beautiful and photogenic fish in brilliant metallic blue and a white underside. They inhabit offshore temperate and tropical seas worldwide and this pelagic species can be found from the surface to depths of 150m (490ft) normally far from land, though occasionally around islands or inlets. Makos are seldom found in waters colder than 16’c (61’F)
Makos are curious and feel and taste everything with their mouth including the cages, floats, transom, and midwater bait or other targets. Their prey is cephalopods and bony fish including bonitos and swordfish. They hunt by lunging vertically up and tearing off chunks of flank or fins. Makos swim below their prey and have a high probability of reaching prey before it is alerted due to their high velocity. Makos are the fastest species of shark. This speed and hunting method makes Makos one of only a few shark species to accomplish a full breach out of the water as part of its predatory attack. Captain Anthony has observed makos of all sizes doing this full breach behavior and he has developed methods to allow guests to see and photograph the breaches.
Our boat is the very comfortable Keen M , a 41 ft custom Michael Fitz Sportfish with a 580 hp diesel. We leave the dock on Isla Mujeres in the early morning and head to the waters North of the island. The cage is mounted on the back. Once we reached the deep 400 ft water, the trolling lines are baited. No hooks are used so as not to hurt the shark. It did not take long to attract a shark. When it hit the bait its whole body launched out of the water like a rocket and with tail flapping did a nearly complete flip smacking back into the water on its side with it prize in mouth.
I have my camera set to burst mode with a fast shutter of 1/1250 sec. I will only get a few frames per leap and it happens with little warning. A shout comes from a crewmember and I press my shutter capturing the full breach.
With a confirmed shark in the area, bait crates are set around the boat and scum scent slick started behind the boat. Now it is time to deploy cage in the water.
The cage adds a safety factor for the guests and piece of mind for the captain. This area is subject to wind, current and the boat is constantly drifting. Using the cage eliminates the worry that guests will drift too far from the boat or let go of the line drifting quickly out of sight of the boat and crew. Without the worry of where the guests are, the crew can concentrate on keeping the makos close to the boat and interested; coaxing them into the best position for observation and photos.
Engineered to be similar to the cages used in South Africa for great white shark encounters, this one has room enough for 2 people. It sports bars of stainless steel and aluminum with a solid floor and a top protected with bars. The cage floats a bit above the surface of the water to enable communication with the boat if needed. At eye level on the sides and front are clear panels made of Lexan polycarbonate sheet. The front has two open ports for cameras.
Captain Mendillo has experimented with different ways to rig the air supply to the cage: They tried bottles in the cage, but now opt to leave the bottles in the boat and run hookah lines to the people in the cage. This allows monitoring of the air supply and leaves more room in the cage for the guests.
Using a tether, the cage is floated 2m away from boat so the shark can do a complete 360’ around the cage.
In the cage I am able to see the makos up close and swimming very calm and curious right in front of me. They come to the bait floating nearby first to investigate then to strike. They even investigate the cage on a few passes. As the large eye connects with me I feel secure in this strong cage.
The makos will stay with the boat and cage for extended periods. Some encounters have been 3 hours long with the same shark staying with the boat feeding and circling. Our mako stayed for almost an hour doing many passes by the cage and boat. I am able to get great shots of the full shark passing by either the side or the front of the cage. As the mako comes close to check out the cage I get some close up and front opportunities. Later back on the boat it is still circling and I get some topside shots of attacks on the bait to add to my breaching shot. Capt Anthony has seen guests achieve great images with everything from professional cameras and video rigs to GoPros on a stick.
Hunting for and photographing shortfin mako was a fun and productive day. I returned with great underwater images from the cage and spectacular breaching shots from the boat. The cage experience is exciting: the sharks come close and stay close making many passes and allowing time to get a variety of images and angles. The encounters are very engaging and guests can get a great experience even if they stay in the boat and forego the cage. It is a good feeling to know that a sustainable tourism activity is being built around this vulnerable sport fish. Since the season overlaps with sailfish season it is possible to get both of these exciting large fish on the same holiday using the same crew. It is thrilling enough to appeal to both photographers and fishermen.
We are very proud to announce a new addition to Bona Ntaba Tree House Lodge. Our 4th tree house is complete and ready for guests.
The new tree house has spectacular views of the mountains with comfortable hand-made wooden deck chairs for watching the sunset with a drink in hand. Soak in the spa tub or catch more views from the outside shower. The thatched roof and wood floors give you a sense of adventure with ample protection from weather all the while catching a nice cooling breeze.
Our safari guests will enjoy several nights on our Nature Conservancy in the tree houses where they will enjoy game viewing and game drives during the day, roaming plains game species while they relax at the tree houses, and delicious meals in our boma under the stars. After dinner we enjoy listening and spotting for night creatures at the watering hole just off our deck and pool.
Most guests say they miss Bona Ntaba and its food once we move on to the Sabi reserve .
While not hosting one of our photo safaris, the lodge hosts independent travelers, mostly South Africans, who like to self cater their meals (do their own cooking). For them, we are making a special private experience with an outdoor kitchen and braai area added to the new tree house.
Follow our adventures on safari in South Africa and underwater