Category Archives: Wildlife on Safari

Photos and stories of wildlife and animals seen on our safaris. Learn about behavior and how to get great photographs.

Safari Stories: Ground Hornbills

It takes cooperation to raise young and keep them safe in the bush

Members of a Southern Ground Hornbill family group take on different roles in order to raise chicks. Family members also must cooperate to defend territory or risk young members being kidnapped by rival hornbill groups.

We often see Southern Ground Hornbills when we traverse their territory in Kruger National Park. We also hear their distinct calls during mating season in May.

Ground Hornbills are Cooperative Breeders with all members taking on responsibilities

Ground Hornbill groups typically consist of a single adult female, several adult males, and immature birds.  Each group also has an alpha male who is usually considered the one who mates with the female. Once the eggs are laid, the female has the sole responsibility of incubating them in the nest for around 40 days, during which time the rest of the group will bring her food from the outside world.  Once the incubation period is over, she leaves the nest to join the rest of the groups and begins to play her part in feeding the chick. 

Studies have shown that the ages, sex, and rank determine the roles of each individual in the group.  The contributions of the parent birds will depend on the number of helpers they have. Typically, there are two variations: additive care and compensative care.  Additive describes each bird in the group doing an equal part in feeding the chick.

Ground Hornbills foraging and finding some nice insects to eat

With compensation care, some adult birds, usually the parents, neglect their feeding duties and rely on other members of the group to feed the chicks.  This happens in cases of larger groups where there are more birds to do the feeding.

Ground Hornbills in Kruger
A juvenile is getting lessons on how to forage for insects

Juveniles are do not participate in territory patrols for fear they will be kidnapped by rival hornbill clans.

Territory defense is vital to the survival of ground hornbills. Each group is dependent on its nesting site and food source and the birds must be ready to fend off any intruders.  Their deep booming calls which travel a great distance and are a signature sound of the bush, broadcast who they are and where they territory lies. 

Patrolling and defending these territories ( up to 100 sq.KM) requires an immense amount of effort and energy.  You would assume an important job such as this would be performed by all members, but it has been observed that younger individuals within groups do not take part in territorial defense.  It is the responsibility of just the adult birds.   The reason why is not understood, however the recent observation of kidnapping of juveniles by opposing groups has suggested that there is a risk of losing young members of the group in a territorial altercation.

Ground hornbills
Hopefully this group is foraging close to home base and not on patrol on the edge of their territory: the juvenile in the group could be at risk of kidnapping by rivals.

Breeding is difficult (and getting harder) for ground hornbills and kidnapping a healthy juvenile is a cheap way to grow the clan and perhaps replace chicks lost to failed breeding or rearing.

Favorite Safari Images from September 2018

Images from my September 2018 Safaris

Animal Portraits & Action Captures

Each safari brings a wealth of wildlife encounters for my guests.  I feel like I have come to know some of these animals through multiple sightings from year to year.

Safari images taken in South Africa can be very intimate since we are often able to get very close to the wildlife.  Between our proximity and our medium range lenses, it is possible to get eye to eye portraits of our subjects displaying all the details of their faces and sometimes even reading their story in their eyes.

In contrast we are often witness to fast moving moments in the animals life played out right in front of our cameras and safari vehicle.

Find out about my next Photo Safari

I thought it would be nice to precent couplets of images contrasting these two common image styles. Each was taken while in the Greater Kruger Park private reserves, Kruger Park, and the Sabi Sands Reserve.

The lenses used were my

Canon EF 24 – 105 F 4 IS  and my EF 100 – 400mm F4.5 – 5.6L IS II

Lions

Lion on a termite mound

Resting like a typical cat, this lion surveys her surroundings from a mound

young lions spar with each other

Elephant

new born elephant
The family moves away from the newborn elephant giving us a clear shot

elephants at wateringhole
One of the funniest elephant incidents I have ever seen: an older elephant refuses to let the young one drink the fresh water.

Leopard

Male Leopard
Grumpy leopard sits guard below the tree holding his kill

leopard with kill
A young female leopard brings a rabbit kill to her cubs

Cheetah

Cheetah
The watchful glance of a cheetah mother (with a damaged eye)

Cheetahs
Cheetah cubs and their mother wrestle

Jackal

(ok, not an action shot exactly, but a neat contrast between adult and cub)

Adult Jackal

jackal cub
A black backed jackal cub calls to an adult

Rhino

White Rhino
A white rhino stares us down at close range – luckily they are more calm than black rhino

Black Rhino Aggression
A black rhino gives us a warning display giving us the clear message that he is tired of our vehicle in his view.

Wild Dog

Wild Dog
A Wild Dog stops moving long enough to get a detailed frontal shot

Wild Dogs
Wild Dogs play both for fun and to establish rank in the pack

Love the feeling I get on safari as if I am part of these animals’ daily life. A precious few hours spent in their world indeed!

I hope you enjoyed my selections and pairings and found inspiration in them.

Polar Bears Photo Expedition to Churchill

Trip Report:  Polar Bears in Churchill , Canada 2018

Polar Bear

Every October and November, polar bears congregate in the Churchill area to await the return of the sea ice and access to their preferred prey: the ringed seal.  This year our trip to Churchill was in late October.  The weather was starting to get snowy, but the ice had not yet formed. Numerous bears were known to be in the area.

Churchill, Manitoba

Join my 2019 Polar Bear Expedition to Churchill

This year’s trip featured very nice weather under partly cloudy skies and snow.  The ice has started to form, but is not solid enough yet for the bears to move out.  The bears were gathered and very much anticipating the next few weeks when the ice will be fully formed for their trip out to seal hunting territory.

Rock formations Churchill

 

In my Camera Bag:

I keep my photography kit streamlined for easy travel and utility in the field

Canon 5D MK IV

Canon 5D MK III

Canon 100 – 400 F4.5 – 5.6L IS II

Canon 400mm F4 +1.4x teleconverter

24 – 105mm lens for murals etc around town.

 

We traveled by way of Winnipeg and a flight up to Churchill.  Our group stayed inside the Churchill Wildlife Management Area at the Northern Studies Centre, a research facility that houses the scientists and their research. Each year the Centre welcomes a few visitors such as our group.  While at the Centre we were introduced to the ecofriendly facility, learned of the current research, and had a thorough orientation to polar bears in this region. It is a comfortable facility with meeting rooms, media rooms, a workout room, and we enjoyed the observation deck and night observatory dome. At times we had wildlife sightings from the windows of the Centre: a fox visited daily, a hare, birds, and a bear came close.

Tundra Buggy for polar Bears Polar Bear looks at the Tundra Buggy

Our first day was spent on a specialized bear tundra vehicle in the Wildlife Management Area – a nature preserve.  The vehicle was comfortable and had window we could photograph through as well has the big open back deck for unobstructed photographs.

 

Polar Bear in Churchill These vehicles are the only way to get into the Park area as the terrain is too rough for standard vehicles.

We had many bear sightings  from the bear vehicle.

Our 2nd day out was in a private van which takes us around the town area and bordering wildlife area. When out with our wildlife guide we are able to get out of the vehicle (when safe) and use our tripods to photograph the bears or arctic wildlife.

Churchill mural Photographing polar bears Cross Fox Polar Bear

We had several opportunities to see bears up close and were able to place the van in such a way to get great images from outside the vehicle.

bear traps
Bear Traps to remove nuisance bears away from town

Eskimo museum Churchill mural

Learning about conservation in this Arctic Region is a primary goal of these visits. We learned about the impact of humans on the polar bears and the steps they take to keep bears from becoming a nuisance around human areas like the dump and in town. We were enlightened about the bear jail and how they trap and release the bears.

Polar Bear Female Polar Bear Polar Bear

On our last day we were back with our private van and guide.

We had a chance to see a polar bear trying some hunting on a ice covered pond.

Wildlife such as  snowy owls, ptarmigans, and a fox were harder to find on this trip perhaps due to weather changing on our last day.

Our day ended in town at a restaurant and then straight onto the airport and our flight back to Winnipeg.

It was a great trip full of great chances to photograph polar bears and wildlife.  We are grateful for the opportunity to stay at the Northern Studies Centre for a quality yet affordable trip packed with wildlife and photography.

 

Get information about our next Polar Bears in Churchill Trip

 

 

Polar Bears in Churchill 2017

Every October and November, polar bears congregate in the Churchill area to await the return of the sea ice and access to their preferred prey: the ringed seal.  This year our trip to Churchill was in late October.  The weather was starting to get snowy, but the ice had not yet formed. Numerous bears were known to be in the area.

Join my 2018 Polar Bear Expedition to Churchill – my last time offering this trip!

Northern Studies Centre
Drone image of the Northern Studies Centre

polar bear photo workshop

We traveled by way of Winnipeg and a flight up to Churchill.  Our group stayed inside the Churchill Wildlife Management Area at the Northern Studies Centre, a research facility that houses the scientists and their research. Each year the Centre welcomes a few visitors such as our group.  While at the Centre we were introduced to the ecofriendly facility, learned of the current research, and had a thorough orientation to polar bears in this region. It is a comfortable facility with meeting rooms, media rooms, a workout room, and we enjoyed the observation deck and night observatory dome. At times we had wildlife sightings from the windows of the Centre: a fox visited daily, a hare, birds, and a bear came close.

Ptarigan
Ptarigan

polar bear mother and cubs
mother and cubs cross a frozen pond

Our first day out was in a private van which takes us around the town area and bordering wildlife area. We learned about the impact of humans on the polar bears and the steps they take to keep bears from becoming a nuisance around human areas like the dump and in town. We were enlightened about the bear jail and how they trap and release the bears.

bear jail churchill
The building which houses the “bear jail” for nuisance bears around town

bear traps churchill
Bear traps

photographing polar bears

environmental theme mural
Photographing mural art around town

Our next day was spent on a specialized bear tundra vehicle in the Wildlife Management Area.  The vehicle was comfortable and had window we could photograph through as well has the big open back deck for unobstructed photographs.  They move slowly, but there is no other vehicle which can cover this territory without damage to the environment.

male polar bear

bear buggy polar bears
Guests photograph from the windows of the bear vehicle

A vehicle for traveling into the Wildlife Management Area

We had many bear sightings  in the bear vehicle.  We tracked a mother and two cubs for a long time as they advanced to a half frozen creek. Our best encounter was a male bear who took a nap right near our vehicle.  He gave us a great display while he rolled and rubbed.  He changed places and went back to sleep.

arctic hare
An arctic hare

Funny polar bear
A male polar bear strikes some funny poses while scratching and stretching

An arctic hare whose size was surprising gave a good photo opportunity before bounding off. We also found several snowy owls.  Many of the sightings were due to the expert spotting skills of our driver and guide – they knew where to look and positioned the vehicle for great views.

northern lights
We were lucky enough to have Northern Lights for a few hours on a clear evening

Our 2nd night was clear and we were treated to Northern Lights early in the evening.  It was cold but worth the bundling to set up our tripods and cameras to try to capture the magic of the lights.

photographing polar bears
The group gets out and sets up using tripods and the bear comes closer

polar bear photo tour

On our last day we were back with our private van and guide.  We had a great encounter with a male bear who was walking toward our van then crossed the road right in front of us then kept going into the rough. We are able to get out of the van and use tripods.  When the bear went out of range, we changed course to intercept it down the road.

Snowy Owl
Snowy Owl

We had several more snowy owls, ptarmigans, and a fox this afternoon.  Our last encounter of the day happened as the weather turned to blowing snow. A young bear was lying down near at the quarry.  He looked sad as if his mother would not let him follow her anymore.

polar bear photography workshop
A young bear sits high up at the quarry

Our day ended in town at a restaurant and then straight onto the airport and our flight back to Winnipeg.

 

plane crash

Mounty Moose
Local mascot welcomes guests to Churchill

It was a great trip full of great chances to photograph polar bears and wildlife.  We are grateful for the opportunity to stay at the Northern Studies Centre for a quality yet affordable trip packed with wildlife and photography.

 

Get information about our next Polar Bears in Churchill Trip

 

A Collection of my Best Safari Photo Stories

A Collection of some of my favorite Safari Story Posts

A safari is an adventure and like all adventures it is full of stories and special moments.

With or without a camera, it is those stories and having been there in that moment that make the vivid memories.  The great photographs enhance and help tell the story.

Over the years of leading safaris, my guests and I have been present for many moments which culminate great stories.  I have told many of these stories here in my blog.  Here is a collection of my best African safari stories.



Stories from our 2017 September Safaris – One safari is One hundred stories

Learning to be a Leopard:  A young cub must quickly learn to drag a kill up a tree and eat it up there.

A newborn elephant:  We were present to celebrate a birth with the family herd. Just an hour old it was a very special encounter

Lions Hunting Buffalo: From the planning to the (failed) execution of the plan: we were there to see and photograph the exciting event

Safari Stories: From my September Photography Safaris

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While staying on the Sabi Sands Reserve we take the time to see life through the eyes of a leopard: patrolling territory, resting on a good vantage point, planning the hunt, guarding a meal up a tree.

Safari Story: The Life of a Leopard

 

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When a predator makes a kill and settles down for a meal, it is an invitation for many different players to come to the party:  the hyenas who hope to steal it, vultures who want their share, jackals who just want to sneak a small meal without being noticed, and others.

A Dinner Party in the Bushveld

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Giraffes seem gentle and passive but violent fights break out between the males. We were close enough to get some great photos of a serious battle over rank.

A Photo Safari Story: Giraffe Battles

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Many vultures will show up to a kill sight. Of the many species, each has a specialized function and morphology at the carcass. Some vulture species can not eat without another species to first do their part.

Safari Story: Which Vulture Eats Last?

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A game drive with spent with elephants will result in many stories. We get to see and photograph so many behaviors and elements of their daily life.  We gain insight into their gestures and habits.

Elephant Images and Stories

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Hyenas have a a social structure that is easy to observe when we visited an active den.  As we sat and watched we were treated to cubs at play and a juvenile left in charge.

Morning at the Hyena Den : A Safari Story

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The  wonderful Sabi Sands Reserve treated us to leopard and lion cubs as well as other young wildlife.

Being Young in the Bushveld: Photographing cubs in Sabi Sands Reserve

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Safari highlights this time include big herbivores, big cats who seemed to be posing for portraits, some rare species, and humorous moments.

Favorite Moments from our 2nd Group Safari

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Leopard cubs at play, male rhinos fighting, baby hyena cubs, and some very impressive male lions with their kill, funny elephants, and more.

Favorite Moments from My May 2016 Safaris

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This season we had some usual sightings, following a leopard on his rounds, hyena family life, local conservation efforts, special encounters without leaving the lodge.

Favorite Moments from our September 2016 Safaris

 

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Safari Story: An Afternoon at the Elephant Mud Bath

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Safari Diary: Our First Game Drives with Rhinos, Lions, and More

 

Safari Stories: From my September Photography Safaris

To Go on Safari is to Return with  Hundreds of Stories: Predator vs Prey,  Survival, and Cooperation among Wildlife

Learning to be a Leopard

The Sabi Sands Reserve is famous for its resident leopars.  Our guests were  treated to a 4 leopard afternoon game drive.

An older female leopard called – Ingrid Dam – was watching her cub (unnamed) eating an Impala kill up in a tree, it was having a difficult time eating in the tree because of the position of the kill. The Impala kill and the young cub fell out of the tree.  We knew and the leopards knew there were hyenas nearby wanting to steal this meal should the opportunity arise.  Was the mother going to come down and take the kill back  up the tree for her cub?  We watched and waited.  Though the cub seemed to be asking for help, mother decided on tough love and stayed in the tree watching  as the cub learned to drag the impala kill back up the tree.   It was a hard and physically challenging lesson to learn, but the cub had succeeded for the first time to save his meal from those who would steal it away.  The effort involved with dragging a kill up a tree is the leopard’s way of out maneuvering scavengers.

mother and cub leopard
Mother leopard is watching her cub learn to eat and manipulate a carcass up a tree

leopard in a tree with kill
The cub looses control of the dead impala and they both tumble from the tree.

 

leopard cub
After the cub and the carcass fell out of the tree, he looks to his mother to see if she will help take the kill back up the tree

 

leopard in a tree
Mother leopard watches her cub struggle to take the kill back up the tree

As New as it Gets – A Newborn Elephant

infant elephant

We were on a game drive on a private reserve near Kruger enjoying some great lions, a buffalo herd, and a leopard up a tree when we had a radio call from another safari vehicle about a great sighting.  We hurried over to find it was a newborn elephant calf.  At first we could not see the little one since the calf was hidden among the large legs of the mother, her sisters, and the herds older children.  They were all vocalizing and moving in small, strange movements as if dancing or chanting.  The mother was throwing dust on herself and the calf.  Soon the crowd parted and we could see the newborn.  Cute, wrinkly, and very unsteady on the feet, it was obvious the calf had only been standing for mere minutes.  We were very close and felt very privileged that the herd let us be this close and share their joy at the new arrival.  The calf tottered and fell a few times and we worried until the little one struggled to stand again.

Infant elephant
The infant has alot of growing to do

The next week, we had wonderful continuity when we spotted the herd again.  It was wonderful to see the infant prospering, healthy, and nursing.

infant elephant

The Unicorn of Safari Experiences: Lions Hunting Buffalo

It was our last game drive on the last day of safari and getting to be the time to turn around and head back to the lodge.  It was a great drive, but about to get even better.  We spotted several female lions concentrating on a medium sized herd of buffalo.

Lions hunting buffalo
Planning the attack – the lionesses take position at angles to the herd

It appeared the plan was to slowly move into positions around the herd to separate certain buffalo.  The lions separately made their way around the buffalo herd. Suddenly something goes wrong  – one of the lions must have blundered – and the buffalo started to run.   Wait a minute; they are not running away, they are charging the lions!  One of them was running for their life straight toward us.

Lions Hunting Buffalo
The buffalo turn on the lions and attack. The lions flee for their lives

Lions attack buffalo
The buffalo start to stampede

It is hard for lions to give up when things do not go to plan.  Some of the pride continued to run with the stampeding buffalo to see if there could still be a chance to salvage the hunt.  It was not to be.

Still, it took a long time before the lionesses could let this one go – they continued to watch the buffalo herd move out of reach.

Lions hunting buffalo
One of the Lionesses can not give up on the hunt and keeps watching the buffalo hoping for an opening

As I look through my images, my memory goes back to watching the events  unfold in front of me.  They are much more than the  best image: it is the dozen images before and after that one great image that make up the safari stories that I will tell my friends and family.  While images help to make the story real; nothing compares to having been there and witnessing it live.

Contact us about a safari  or with any questions about choosing, preparing for, and going on a safari.  It is just my wife and I but we correspond with all inquiries personally.

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Safari Story: The Life of a Leopard

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.

Leopard in Sabi Sands
Leopard Tingana is paused to watch and listen for prey or other predators

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  September safari groups.  This evening game drive was especially nice:  we tracked a male leopard named Tingana while he went on his early evening rounds

leopard in sabi sands
He observes every smell, sound, and movement ever vigilant for the presence of lions.

small group photo safari
patrolling his territory

photographing the big 5 on safari
Our leopard crosses a road on his rounds. We often get very close sighting of big cats who ignore our vehicles

photo safari with leopards
The leopard is checking an area with holes where there might be warthogs

photographing leopards on safari
checking for warthogs in a hole

photographing big cats in Sabi Sands
he pauses in a comfortable spot to take a short nap

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.

male leopard
A lion is nearby and our leopard is suddenly very alert to the danger

leopard in a tree
Resting after a meal stashed in a tree

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.

photo safari with leopards
The male keeps thinking about and checking on the impala carcass up in the tree

photographing-leopards-in-south-africa-3

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

Favorite Moments from My May 2016 Safaris

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.

Photo safari Group

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

coucal

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.

leopard siblings

Every so often they would sit to rest and survey their surroundings as young predators in training.

leopard cub fight

Then the fun would erupt again for another round of pouncing and wrestling

Rhino Establishing Rank

Rhino fight

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

GS_9976_160601

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

Lion snack

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

Leopard mother

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

elephant humor

elephant 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

wildebeest herd on the move

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

bush baby

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

lion with a kill

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

Black Backed Jackal

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.

Kruger National Park

 

Safari Story: An Afternoon at the Elephant Mud Bath

Our Photo Safari Dates for 2017

My Favorite Moments from our 1st September Safari

My Favorite Lens for a South African Photo Safari: my Canon 70 – 200 mm f2.8

New Tree House Complete at Tree House Safari Lodge

Safari Story: An Afternoon at the Elephant Mud Bath

south africa photo safari seeing elephantsWe 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.

photo safari sightings: elephant in a mud bath

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.

photo safari game drive elephants

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.

photo safari photographing elephants South Africa safari elephants elephant in funny position while scratching

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.

photographing baby elephants

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.

Young male elephants sparing

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.

young elephants mock fighting

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 Photo Safari Dates

Know Your Subjects: Elephant Bonding and Greeting with Their Trunks

Gregory Sweeney Underwater Photography Trips

A New Tree House at our Tree House Lodge

Using the Shadows / Highlights Command in Photoshop to add Contrast to an image

Adding contrast to an image is a great way to boost the impact of the image, especially African images shot in full sun and those where the animal is camouflaged.

 

Between the Development tools in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop, there are many ways to achieve increased contrast. Here I will employ the Shadows/Highlights Adjustment in Photoshop and compare it to results using the Curves Tool and to using a combination of Development Tools in Lightroom.

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Original Image with White Balance Adjustment

My starting point is this image of a male lion who has just fought for his pride females: he is clearly injured,  but still has a regal air. I start with a small white balance adjustment in Lightroom (I used the eyedropper on the white fur of his chin to set the balance).   Using the right-click to get the menu, I select Edit In Photoshop to open the image and Photoshop. If promoted, choose to edit the image with the Lightroom adjustments. When I am all finished and saved the results, Lightroom will display the two images together – like a before and after. I can then stack them or otherwise keep the two files related.

 

Use Photoshop for more sophisticated tools and the ability to limit adjustments to certain areas of your image using layers and masks.

 

For comparison, This image is processed for contrast and sharpness entirely in Lightroom. I started with a Medium Contrast Curve which I tweaked slightly. I added Clarity of +22 and Vibrance of +18 then sharpened with an amount of 56, radius 1.1, Detail of 17, and a high masking value of 85 to limit sharpening to the subject and foreground. This is a great quick result that is good for social media, but if I want to print this or display on a large monitor, I want more specific control.

lightroom results
Lightroom Development Tools results

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Lightroom results details

While the Lightroom tools are very good, Photoshops layers and masks gives you so much more ability to control where the adjustments happen.

 

I also liked the control and results I achieved with the Shadows/Highlights command better than those I got from Lightroom and the Curves command in PS.

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Photoshop Curves contrast adjustment

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Photoshop Curves Detail

 

The Shadows / Highlights Adjustment – Found under the Image – Adjustments Menu

 

This tool has multiple uses including improving images with too much contrast, those with subjects shot against bright backgrounds, and images in need of more contrast (such as this one)

Inside the dialogue box are separate controls for working with the Shadows and in the Highlights.

 

Each Tonal area has 3 options:

 

Amount: The amount of adjustment you wish to make

 

Tone: This asks “how much of the image comprises Shadows (or Highlights)

Here you are setting the definition of Shadows and Highlights based on this specific image and its needs

 

Radius: Sharpening is achieved by adding a “halo” of light around areas where dark and light meet enhancing the transition.  The Radius is how large or how distributed the halo is. If you set the value high, the halo is large and spread and the effect is not has noticeable on smaller areas of change.

 

Overall you can control the following factors:

Color: This is equivalent to controlling saturation and boosting color saturation along with the exposure contrast changes. Setting this to zero would limit the effect to contrast only: no boost to color contrast.

.Black clip / White Clip   Here you are setting what will clip at each end of the light to dark gamut. Clipping is when a value that is not pure white (or black) is now increased to become all white. This is a loss of detail unless the clipping occurs in unimportant areas such as sky or shadow where there was no detail anyway.

 

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Shadow / Highlights tool results

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Shadow / Highlights results detail

When I use the Shadow / Highlight adjustment, I like the distribution of the contrast and the boost to color in just the places I needed it.

 

Of course you can also boost color when using Curves or any of the other tools to add contrast, but this would involve other tools and adjustment layers. For this image, I can achieve my desired results with just the one command.

 

Add a final Punch of Sharpness

 

With the contrast increased to a level I am happy with, I can add a final touch of sharpness.   Photoshop has the tools that allow me to add the sharpness to just the areas I want it and to provide it in lesser or not at all to other areas by way of Layers and Layer Masks Lightroom has an adjustment brush that adds Sharpness and Clarity to where you apply it, but this tool is no where near as refined or precise as what you can do in Photoshop.

 

There are many tools for adding Sharpness in Photoshop – including all the tools under the Filter – Sharpen menu. I will use a High Pass Filter Layer and a Blend Mode to bring out details on the lion’s face and some of the foreground .

 

High Pass (under the Filter Menu: Other – High pass) makes a monochrome version of your image. The higher the setting the more the edges of items in your images will be highlighted. When combined with a blend mode from the contrasting group (Overlay, Soft Light, etc) it will sharpen and pop details.

Create a copy of your background layer and place it above the layer with your Shadows and Highlights adjustments. Go to Filter – Other – High Pass and adjust the amount until. A setting of 5.0 makes some good edge detail. I can set this tool high because later I can temper the results with layer opacity and the blend mode. I like the effect of Soft Light as the blend mode – Overlay is a stronger effect that also works.

Now to limit the sharpness to just the subject. Add a layer mask and use a soft edged brush at 100% to paint black in the mask at the top of the image then taper the brush opacity down below 100% as you move down the image then work in detail around the lion and select specific grass on which to mask out the sharpness. You can even choose to mute down the sharpening on specific features of the lion and leave other areas at 100% (pure white on the mask). Using a mask, and layer opacity gives you very specific control.

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Curves and High Pass filter

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Curves and High Pass details

 

 

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Shadow / Highlights with High Pass filter

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Shadow / Highlights and High Pass filter details

A final touch on the image would be a further color balance adjustment. You can even mask out some of the contrast effect in the Shadows / Highlights layer; for example in the background.

Final-Image
Final Image

Now save the image as a PSD , layered Tiff, flat Tiff, or jpg and the adjusted file will appear next to the raw (original ) image in Lightroom.

 

Lightroom tools are very good, but you can gain more artistic control with a few of the very smart tools in Photoshop. Combined with layers and masks, you can achieve precise and professional results in a very short time.