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.
Join my next Tiger Shark and Hammerhead Trip to Tiger Beach
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.
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.
Each year I pull together a collection of images that summarize all of the wildlife photography and wildlife encounters I had this past year. This year I thought I would try a theme of Black and White / Monochrome.
There are many tools that will help you process your digital images into monochromatic images; Photoshop, Lightroom, and numerous third party and plugin softwares. Even within Photoshop and Lightroom there are dozens of ways to achieve the black and white look and spirit.
For this collection of images I challenged myself to use many of the different techniques available to me in the Photoshop and Lightroom toolset.
The first challenge was which images to choose: not every image is powerful in monochrome / Black & White. Contrast, range of tonality (black to highlights), sharpness , and separation of subject and background / features are all important for making a successful monochrome image. Color can be necessary to understand the subject and the setting, but sometimes it is just a distraction. It is these times when the image can be elevated by removing the color (or most of it)
Here are the highlights of my year and a bit about how I processed the images.
March: Tiger Sharks and Caribbean Reef Shark, Bahamas
Processed in Photoshop: I want to use Quadtone: 4 colors assigned according to tonal range Black, shadows, whites, highlights. First change to 8 bit and Greyscale mode. Then choose Duotone Mode. I set 4 colors all in grays and browns and set the curves of each to assign them to a tonal range. I then used a Highpass filter to sharpen. Convert back to RGB before saving.
April – May: South Africa
June: Wild Dolphins in the Bahamas
July: Whale Sharks in Mexico
Sept – Oct: South Africa
I hope this has sparked your creativity and you will start to experiment and explore ways to enhance your photos in the monochromatic realm.
Some other posts about Post Processing and Black & White