Category Archives: Photo Safaris

Posts about our safaris, preparing for your safari, African wildlife, and safari guide reports.

Enhancing Wildlife Eyes

A little enhancement to the eyes of your subject adds a little extra pop and elevates the whole image.

Whether using Lightroom adjustment brushes or Photoshop, the basic principle is to add contrast, brighten the iris and perhaps add some spectral highlights.  Professional retouchers have a detailed process for this, but simple edits have good effects.

This image was taken with a flash so there is the added problem of the cat equivalent of red – eye.

eyes

I will be using Photoshop to make the enhancements. It is possible to make these changes in Lightroom, but the adjustment brush is a bit awkward for me so I prefer the fine control possible in Photoshop.

Replace the Red Eye caused by flash

Open the image  and make a  selection of the the pupil.  You can start with a circle selection, but it may not be perfectly round so add to the selection if necessary.

Fill or paint black into the selection.

select-fill

The black looks a bit flat  so mix in a bit of dark gray to help give a shiney, reflective look.

Eyes usually have a white spot reflection in them called a spectral highlight which gives a lifelike effect.  Add a dot of white off center in the pupil.   Place the highlights in the other eye as if it is made by the same light source or the eyes will look a bit crazed.

 

highlight

Now we can add some pop.  For those not concerned with non-distructive techniques (because you have the original raw file or another copy), you can use the Dodge and Burn tools.  If you are less confident and want to make the changes on a separate layer(s) that it can be adjusted, use  a layer and a paintbrush.

This image shows areas to dodge (lighten) start very lightly and build up the contrast .

The next step is just a tiny bit of color. The eyes are such a

burn

dodged areas
dodged areas

match to the color of the fur,  a slight shift in hue will help them stand out.  I added a bit of green to the eyes to set them apart from the color of the fur.

final

Other species have different shaped eyes, but the same principles can be used to enhance their eyes.  Because careful not to overdue this technique because it can look fake and odd if too heavy handed: better to understate the enhancement than to overstate.

Morning at the Hyena Den : A Safari Story

The oldest checks us out
The oldest checks us out
The pups play with a stick
The pups play with a stick

While on our morning game drive, our guide had the suggestion , since we were near by, to swing past a den area known to be used from time to time by hyena. Sometimes we forget about the hyena as an interesting and fierce predator. It often acts as a scavenger, but it can hunt and kill on its own and it has a fascinating pack social structure . We approached the den and could see immediately that it was active. There was one pup exploring around the den. We watched it wander around looking like it wanted to play with a stick. Then we noticed a small head peaking out of the den: a second pup probably curious at the new noises. We watched them play together for a while.

 

Curiosity draws the youngest pup out of the den
Curiosity draws the youngest pup out of the den
two cute hyena pups
two cute hyena pups

I don’t usually think of hyenas as cute, but these two had all the appeal of any young and fuzzy animal. It seemed strange for them to be all alone and running amok, but we soon learned that the “babysitter” was near by and ready to intervene if the pups got too out of control. The dominant female who is the only hyena allowed to breed, will appoint a juvenile subadult to watch over the den while the mother hunts , This guardian did her duty that morning and made sure the pups did not stray into trouble.

 

photo-safari-hyena-4
The Oldest pup greets the babysitter

Hyena pups

Safari Camera Support Systems Recommendations

camera support on safari

 

Our safari guests often ask me for a recommendation on how to support long lens in safari vehicles. The options out there range from simple to complicated and from cheap to outrageously expensive Over the years I have tested many methods, some worked and other didn’t. I like multitasking products that are simple, effective, and easy to travel with -inexpensive doesn’t hurt either.  A few basic support items in my travel bag can be used singly or in combination to support my camera while allowing for necessary tracking.

My Photo Safaris

Safari vehicles are usually custom made and no two are likely to be constructed the same. On the typical safari you will be in many different vehicles and one system may not work for all of them: the more complicated the system the more likely it will not work in all vehicles.  Most support systems are bean bag supports, tripod or monopod with heads allowing pivot and movement, or a combination of tripod/monopod rigs and various clamps to secure it to a spot in the vehicle.

Bean bags – These come in many shapes and sizes with some made for specific lenses and vehicle situations. When empty, they are easy to travel with. Upon arrival at your destination, stop by a local grocery store buy a bag of rice or beans, put the fill into a zipper plastic bag then into the bean bag, and you are ready to go.  In a pinch you can use sand. When you are finished shooting, donate the beans or rice to a local family.  Also Birdseed works quite well and the birds get a happy meal after your travels.

I like bean bags because they provide a significant amount of vibration isolation compared to a hard mount and can be used in multiple situations not just safari vehicles.  Beanbags work best in pop-top vans (the photographer is standing in this type) or open-roof vehicles that would be found in Kenya and Tanzania. For the standard open safari vehicle they do not work so well due to the lack of doors, window frames, or other resting point. Usually you will get just a pipe-type arm rest or seatback to attach to; nothing to obscure the view of the animal, but not enough surface for a beanbag to function.

Tripods – Usually a photographer’s best friend, they unfortunately do not work so well in safari vehicles. They are difficult to set up and keep secure among the vehicle seats and passengers. Tripods are not recommended in vehicles because they take up precious space.

Monopods – A good monopod will be  lightweight, compact, and easy to travel with.  I have found them indispensable when shooting wildlife from a safari vehicle.   They carry the majority of the weight of long lens to save your arms and provide stabilization.   Combined with a ball head the monopod can be very versatile in capturing images on safari allowing you to swivel and adjust. The single leg pivot point makes it easy to turn and shoot out the opposite side of the vehicle with minimal body shifting and rearrangement of equipment. It is comfortable  and safe to hold the camera on the monopod while the vehicle is in motion.  I found that monopods work very well in the game drive vehicles in Botswana and South Africa.

If there is a down side to monopods it is that they are not secured to the vehicle.  Really Right Stuff (www.reallyrightstuff.com) has designed a clamp system specifically to clamp the monopods to a support in the vehicle. I have not tested out yet and am not sure about loosing all the mobility advantages of a monopod  by clamping it to the vehicle.

safari-camera-clamp-1

I have been experimenting with my own camera / lens mount system for safari vehicles.  My goal was to create one with a secure mounting system that was affordable, stable on a vehicle, and all its components could be multitaskers used in other photography settings.  I sourced out 3 components from different manufactures then MacGyvered then together.  The combined system came to about $155 USD before shipping costs.

My system starts with The Impact Super Clamp. This is a lightweight, inexpensive clamp that is easily attached to a strobe unit or ballhead. It can then be attached onto a pipe, table, stand, game drive vehicle seat back, or anything stationary. This thing is so handy; it is a must for your camera bag arsenal. At $20 it is a solid product that outperforms more expensive versions.

It can clamp onto an object ½ in to 21/8 in diameter and has a weight capacity of 33lb (15kg)

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/371927-REG/Impact_KCP_700B26_Super_Clamp_with_Standard.html

The second component is a Mini Gimbal Mount Sidekick for Large Telephoto Lenses that I procured on Ebay from India for $110.00 USD.

http://www.thecinecity.com

To attach the super clamp and the Mini Gimbal Mount together I used a Manfrotto 208HEX Head Mounting Plate with Hex Stud – 3/8″ Thread

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/307472-REG/Manfrotto_208HEX_208HEX_Head_Mounting_Plate.html    $20.51 USD

I still like to have the freedom of the camera on the monopod but the clamp rig will give me a more stable option.  With this system I can have the clamp set up on the safari vehicle ready to go then quickly switch from a monopod  rig to the full support clamped rig for a longer distance and stationary subject such as a lion on a kill.  So far I have had good success with the Frankenstein clamp rig and it works in most safari vehicles.  Unless you know your safari vehicles well it is best to choose support systems that are simple and offer options.  My best advice is still a nice ball mount attached to a good monopod.

safari-camera-clamp-2

What is the Best Season to go on Safari in South Africa?

See our Current Safari Schedule

New Tree House added to our Lodge

Photoshop: Using the Shadows/Highlights Command to Improve and Image

 

 

 

 

 

 

Using Photoshop to make a Super Sharp B&W Portrait

I wanted to create some portraits of big 5 animals that show the unique characters of the animal in sharp detail.  Buffalo are maybe the most difficult of the tbig 5 to make look unique – they have many similarities to cattle.   To me it is their massive horns  that make them unique and I wanted to make and image that shows off the impressive size of a good rack.  I selected the starting image because it shows all the important features of the face: both eyes, ears forward, nose , mouth and both horns.

 

photoshop-sharpening-before

 

BW sharpening photoshop-sharpening-final

 

 

Crop for drama

At this point the composition is not too exciting; it is centered, colors are muted and boring, shadows are distracting, etc.   A crop with add drama by making the horns act as sight lines from one corner of the image to the other.  Unnecessary space is eliminated.  The perspective even works in my favor here making the right side horn feel closer to the viewer like it is popping out of the picture and saying “this thing is big”.  The horns are the star here.bw_applied

Switch to monochrome

The color does not work toward the goal of making a portrait of big scary horns attached to an exotic animal. They actually make the buffalo look too common and color patches in the ears draw attention away from the horns.   I will switch this to a monochrome treatment.

I have a favorite  preset in Lightroom “Creamtone” under B&W Toned Presets.  This is actually a duo tone treatment whereby highlights are tinted in one color and the shadow in another.  A balance control will set the “break point” as to whether the highlight color or the shadow color is used.  This preset also applies a high contrast  to the  image with bright highlights which works here because it simplifies the background detail.  I add a darkening vignette to burn the edges.  This concentrates the viewer’s attention onto the subject in the center and adds to the high contrast mood.

You can duplicate the effects of the Lightroom preset in Photoshop by using the Mode< Duotone command.  First the image must be converted to 8 bit grayscale.  Once this is done the command will be available and you will find many preset duo, tritone, and quad tone settings.  Go crazy picking from these or select your own color combinations.  Use an adjustment layer to increase the contrast.  Use a mask or other technique to create the burnt in edges.

At this point in the Lightroom workflow I switch over to Photoshop for fine details and the sharpening step.

I make a copy tweaks to the image such as a touch of brightening just under the chin to bring out some detail there and using dodge and burn techniques on the eyes.

Make the Details Pop

Now the image is ready to add the sharpening that will make details pop right off the page.before-sharp

 

after-sharp

If you have made multiple layers in your document, create a flattened version by  pressing Shirt-Option-Command  – E  ( or Shift-Alt-Ctrl) to create a new flat version of the image and leave the layers intact.  Now make 2 more copies of the image by pressing Command-J (Ctrl-J).   Make a new layer group and place both of these layer copies inside.  The blend mode for the group should be set to Overlay.

Step 2:  Click on the top layer in the group and press Command-I (Ctrl-I) to run an Invert command.  This command basically changes dark shades to light and light to dark.  This will be used later to highlight edges of details and thus provide the sharpening. Change the layer Blend Mode to Vivid Light.

Step 3: The inverted layer will be run through a blur filter. Use Filter>Blur>Surface Blur.  Converting this layer to a smart object first will allow you to come back and adjust the settings later.  In the Surface Blur options, keep the Threshold low: under 25 and a Radius of around 50. Adjust to your taste.

screen-shotStep 4:  Use a mask on the group to limit the sharpening effect to just the face and horns.

This sharpening technique is not appropriate for every image. The high drama works particularly well with dark and monochrome images.  Keep this technique in your bag of tricks to create a dramatic look.  Also you may want to check out a more subtle but similar sharpening method using the High Pass Filter.

 

 

A Monopod: the Right Camera Support for your Safari

Choosing a support for your camera equipment to use while on safari is important especially if you are bringing large lenses of 300mm – 600mm image stabilization or not.

Over the years I have learned to streamline and keep my photography equipment light and versatile for use on my safari photography workshops in South Africa. For many years I used an aluminum monopod and a homemade mount. It had seen too many safaris and needed to retire. I replaced it with a new monopod  system.

The system is composed of

Really Right Stuff Monopod Head MH-01 and a quick detachable plate for my Canon 5D’s

Gitzo carbon fibre GM2541

monopods

 

The light weight and durability of these products were top criteria for me.  The plate on top is quick and easy to release so I can transition to handheld instantly.  The whole thing is less than 900 grams

I own a nice ball head that will fit on this monopod,  but I can get a great range of movement and angles just by twisting the monopod in my hands. By the way I also prefer a lighter camera without a bunch of bells and whistles that are impossible to use out in the field while the elephants are charging and the light is changing.

Tip:  When shopping for a monopod make sure it will be able to fold short enough to use from a seated position (not too tall)

Support Options for Safaris

For Southern Africa including South Africa and Botswana, the monopod is my best recommendation.  Bean bags work really well in Eastern Africa where the safari vehicles are either enclosed with windows or of the popup roof variety. Some photographers even use mounts that secure a Wimberly head to the window.

These solutions are not at all useful in South Africa where the vehicles are mostly open Land Rovers with no sides and in some places fitted with canvas roofs (required in Kruger National Park). The open vehicles are much more exciting to ride in and afford more unrestricted view as well as allowing riders to see well without standing.

 

safari-monopod-setup

The vehicles do not have room for tripods, so monopods or handheld are the way to go.  With a monopod your camera is supported and you are still able to move about, swivel the camera, and it is pretty easy to adjust the height. With the right mount ranging from a simple swivel with a tightening screw to a fancy ball head, you will be able to move and lock into any position.  Monopods are also handy for when you are on foot and are easy and fairly light to carry or strap to a pack when not in use.

My nice tripod and gimbal head will still travel with me for star photography and interior shots of the lodge

 

see our Current Safari Schedule

Composition in African Wildlife Photography

In this article I describe three typical types of African Wildlife compositions and the features that make them successful.  My goal is to get you planning ahead, analyzing the scene in front of you, and consciously using your knowledge of composition to achieve the best rendering of the exciting animals you will see on safari.

Looking through my catalogue I can put most of my images into three categories images: animal portraits, animals with environment or landscape, and groups of animals

Animal Portraits

These images have one center of interest; the animal. All other elements that can be distracting are eliminated and all the viewer’s attention is on the animal, its textures, and eyes.

Setting the Camera for the Portrait

When setting up for animal portraits try to include the following camera techniques

–       Include an uncluttered background of solid color. The best way to achieve this is by blurring out the background so it is monochromatic and has little texture leaving the subject in sharp focus.

–       Use apertures such as f2.8 f4.0 or f5.6

–       The background should be at least 2 feet behind the subject

African Wildlife photography tips

portrait-2 portrait-5

Use proximity to show details

Placement of the Subject in the Frame

Most portrait subjects will be too large in the frame to worry about Rule of Thirds placement (more on that below). If there is space around the subject, it should be in front of the subject or in the direct that the subject is moving or looking.

Get close and fill the frame – cropping can be done after the fact to add impact if the aspect ratio is not flatter or you just were not sure how to frame the shot.

portrait-6Other Elements that add to the Portrait

Light and shadows enhance interest. Light from the side reveals texture and gives the 3D pop effect. Shadows can play down less important features. Light can create leading lines that help viewers discover all the details of the portrait.

Some external elements can enhance the portrait almost like props: a bit of fresh kill, flies buzzing around the head, a bit of the branch gripped in a talon.

portrait-3

The mother elephants legs tell the story of  a baby protected and seeking closeness with its mother

African Wildlife photography tips - Photo safari techniquesThe carcass bits in this image add to the portrait explaining the look of bliss on the lion’s face and tail attitude

Animal in its Environment or with a Landscape

The goal here is to show the animal interacting with its environment.  In these images there can be more than one center of attention. The smaller the animal is in the frame, the more importance lies in the composition and its success at getting the viewers attention on the subject

wildlife photography in South Africa

This image not only describes the shape of the young lion, but it’s hunting conditions and challenges.  The eye goes from lion, then up and across the open space.

Place Elements Using Rule of Thirds

Position the subject in one of the strong points of the  Rule of Thirds grid.

environment-2

The subject should be walking, looking, or flying into the centre of the frame. If it is larger than the frame, there should be more space infront than behind it.  As the subject gets smaller the importance of correct placement increases.

africa photography safari and workshop

Lead the Viewer Around the Scene

Leading the viewers eye to the subject,  especially when the subject is smaller relative to the  rest of the image is achieved through careful composition.

Make the subject easy to spot : in contrast to the background

Look for and use leading lines: these are straight or curved lines that lead from a corner or edge of the frame to the subject (rivers, paths, tree branches).

African-wildlife-composition-tips-5

 

environment-1

Present a Story. Begin to think in terms of a still image as a story with  a beginning (where the viewer’s eyes go first), middle  (what they will notice next), and end.  Think about what other elements should be in the image to complete this movement and discovery.

environment-4

I have tighter shots of the cubs playing, but this wider shot tells the story of the nice cool rock they chose and the two lionesses closely supervising the surroundings.  

Leave some active space for the subject to move into.  Space also helps tell the story: it leaves the viewer space to use imagination to fill in off camera elements that complete the story . Space is good for anticipating and catching future action: leave the subject room to spring.

buffalo South Africa
buffalo on a misty morning

Light can serve as a leading line drawing a path from the light source to the subject.   The shadows that will result tell us what is not important.  If shaded items are important, consider using HDR techniques or open these areas in postproduction.

environment-6

The wary gaze and heavy step was important here and the angled late afternoon light highlights this. 

Resizing and Cropping is part of the toolbox. Don’t forget about vertical shots and consider how vertical can enhance the composition (emphasizing trees and giraffes).  Cropping can be done after the fact , but adding space back in to improve a composition is much harder so don’t squeeze your animal in a landscape images too much in camera or you will be removing creative flexibility.

You might have the urge to “fill the frame” but this eliminates the ability to do fine adjustments to the crops afterwards.  It also can cause problems when you go to print such as on a wrapped canvas which requires a few inches of non subject on the borders.

Depth and Vanishing points tell a story. Use depth to place story elements such that viewers are drawn into the 3d scene. Depth and the correct lens can create movement, record proportions and distances. An element in the background can make the whole composition more interesting as long as it is part of the story and not a distraction (a lion moving toward the viewer  or shade tree with a carcass  in the background).

African Photo safari

Animal Groups

These images are not tight enough to be portraits and do not show many elements of the environment. The center of interest is the group rather than any particular one animal.

Example of a Animal Group image

pride of lions with juveniles

Combinations of 3’s work well and have a harmonious balance. Symmetry  such as all looking the same direction or each in an opposite direction gives a balanced feel.  Odd numbers, odd shapes, triangles are more visually interesting and should be included.  This is a chance to show different poses and sides of the animal all at the same time (front, ¾, and side view all at once).  Mixing sizes (juveniles and adults) of animals  or species is  interesting content.

white rhino family rests in the shade

See the Negative Space. Negative space is the outline created by subject(s) as if it was viewed as a silhouette. African animals are perfect subjects for their interesting shapes.  Catch poses and groups that are creating an interesting shape and place them against neutral backgrounds for strong compositions.

African Wildlife photography tips

Composition Does not Stop after the Shoot

Once back in front of the computer you can still enhance composition.  The following are all useful tools for furthering your compositional goals.

–       Use creative cropping: You may wish to make several versions of an image each with a different crop.

portrait-1

crop-1

–       Use tonal adjustments to enhance the impact of the subject, downplay distractions, and otherwise lead the viewer as you intended through contrast and proper lighting.

–       Use color adjustment in a similar manner to lighting to  announce the subject (perhaps through saturation) and downplay secondary elements (desaturate or limit color variation and texture).

–       Use Blur to fade out distracting detail.

–       Clone or Heal elements that are really distracting and can not be cropped out.

Learn to quickly analyze a scene for story, interesting elements to include, what not to include, textures to highlight, light direction, and movement.  Good composition is mostly achieved in the field as you plan the shot and read the animal, but applying a creative eye after the shoot boosts your shots to the next level

Creative Black and White Treatments

high-contrastfinal

With the right image, black and white and monochrome effects can take the image to levels more striking and full of impact than color.  African animal portraits are often perfect candidates for experimentation and statement through black and white.

Black and white can envoke the classic and romantic notion of African safaris, but there  are some attributes that make some images better fuel for black and white than others.

Low Color Contrast:  Many animals have coloration that blends them into their surroundings and to be successful they must use this effectively.  An image of a lion in dry grass can be flat, but when treated in black and white, shape and texture that was previously washed out comes to life.

Neutral Color Subject: Elephants and rhino are more or less grayscale naturally and it is hard to make them pop out as a subject when surrounded by flashier colored skies and vegetation.  In monochrome they can stand out.

Animals with texture: Fur detail, skin texture, whiskers, and face features are often more apparent in a black and white. Details lost to our eyes because of color variations are easier to interpret.

Images with color or lighting issues: In many cases images with great composition and content that suffer from some lighting  or severe color cast problems can show better in monochrome.

Below I present 3 creative ways to use monochrome each of which goes beyond the desaturate slider.

Enhanced High Contrast Portrait

This style is characterized by  detail presented in an aged, almost studio style with a historic feel.

Features of this style include:

Portrait style subject with lots of texture and detail

Burnt edges

High contrast subject

Dark textured background

Start with a portrait with a neutral background.  Open in Lightroom Develop Mode.  This technique works easily in PS using layers and masks, but I will work on this in Lightroom.

 

high-contrast1

Crop if your subject’s face needs to be repositioned. Mostly desaturate the image with the Saturation slider and add high contrast using the Tone Curve or the other tone sliders.   We want a dark background so lower the Exposure a little bit and add a pretty large Vignette.

There are a few different ways to darken just the background: Using the Graduated Filter Tool to draw in from each edge toward the middle, or using the Radial Filter Tool  centered over the subject’s face.  Shape it to fit the face so the most possible background is set to dark tones.  On the tool settings, setting Exposure down while keeping Contrast high and Highlights way up will keep some texture in the darkened areas.

high contrast black and white safari image
image after applying a vignette and curve settings

Now we need to finish darkening the background and refine the  “spotlight” onto the subject so it pops.  Use the adjustment brush with a large feathered brush set at a low flow to darken background around the subject.  Decrease the brush size to get in close to the subject while leaving a slight halo effect around.

Click New to start an adjustment brush to brighten the subject.  Paint all over the face and use the sliders to intensify the effect.  Add final touches like a crop, Dodging effect on the eyes and nose and it is finished.  Use Split Toning to add a color tint to the monochrome.

high-contrastfinal

Duo Tone /  Split Tone

A duo tone image is one in which is printed in 2,3, or 4 colors. It is a way to get subtle richness to a monochrome image.  Lightroom supports using two tones (under Split Toning). The control allows you to set one tone for the Highlights and another for the Shadows and then lets you control  the balance between the two.  In Photoshop  the Duotone option lets you choose up to 4 colors.

In Lightroom, desaturate and correct the contrast of the image.  Under Split Toning , select a highlight color or use the Hue slider to set the Highlights. Saturation will control how subtle the effect is.   Next select a color for the Shadows.  Play with the saturation sliders and Balance until you are happy with the results.

duotones in lightroom
applying a duotone in Lightroom – this is overstated so that you can really see what this technique is about – you can make the effect much more subtle or dramatic

In Photoshop, open the tonally corrected image either already in black and white or in color then convert to grayscale.  Make sure the image is in 8bit mode then the option under Image – Mode – Duotone will be available.

In the control box you can browse through  the preset to get ideas or find one you like.  Make your own or begin with a preset and modify it.  To switch to 3 tones or 4 change the value in the Type box.  The curve will control which range of tones is affected.  The possibilities are endless.  When you find one you like you can save it for easy reuse.

using tritones in Photoshop
creating a quad tone combination in Photoshop – Again,  over stated with shocking color choices to demonstrate how it works
quad tone image
Final effect using quadtones with subtle effect  in Photoshop

Hand Tinted Effect

Start with a image and convert it to black and white.  For this technique I prefer a conversion to black and white that is lower contrast.  I like the Lightroom preset called Creamtone” .  It uses a range from a dark in the the gray-green range and a light tone in the beige range.  Open the image for editing in Photoshop to finish the hand tinting.

original

For this effect you will want to use just a few highlight colors applied to areas that are part of the subject.

In Photoshop, create a new layer for each color you will use.  Create the layer and rename it for the color.  You will want to keep the original luminosity fo the image as you add color so a good way to do this is to put each layer in Color blend mode.  This will ensure that you wont get any hard-edged opaque looking patches of color. You might also want to start with each layer at less than 100% opacity. Use the airbrush tool or a soft edged brush at low opacity: you can overpaint to add intensity.  Perfect application is not the style here. Use the eraser if you make a mistake.

For the final balancing you can change opacity, add a saturation layer,  even do a bit of dodge and burn to the color layers.

In the finished image I used one shade of red to color the meat, a bit of pink on the tongue, yellow in the eye, and two shades of green lightly applied to the grass in the foreground.

hand tinted effect
Final hand tinted image

Elephant Images and Stories

Elephants wonderful subjects that are usually at ease around visitors and offer plenty of character which I am happily challenged to capture.  One drawback is that they are not the most colorful creatures, but shapes and textures make up for that.

In Kruger we often enjoy lingering on a scarcely traveled dirt road in the middle of a family herd or close to a watering hole.  I love watching the hierarchy in action and the protection and caution enforced by the senior females.  They truly seem to enjoy simple pleasures such as the daily drink at the watering hole and a choice tree branch.   On the private reserves it is not uncommon to be so close that you can hear them breathing, smell them, and hear them chewing.  Often the herd is spread across the road: you can not see all the members because they have an uncanny ability to hide in the smallest of trees and walk silently but you can hear the destruction of trees.

elephant-1

Elephants are not shy to go about their business in the presence of the safari vehicle.  Our guides have to be very aware of the attitudes of the herd members and sometimes moves us away if something such as sparing gets out of control.

elephant-5

Parking at a watering hole is great entertainment: you never know what you might see.  Elephants cautiously approach with the matriarch leading the way.  The young ones are kept close and in the middle of the herd.  They love the water and spray and drink with the babies causing mayhem.  Some seem so young that they do not know how to drink properly.

elephant-7

This was a great day in Kruger.  The elephants were digging in the dry riverbed to make a mud and water hole.  The mother showed her juvenile how to dig – making him do most of the work while the baby got in the  way and enjoyed all the fun.  Mom got impatient and pushed the kids out of the way so she could drink.  On the other side of the vehicle was a large wallow full of mud and elephants – splendid.

elephant-4

 

elephant-3

I have decide that I want a trunk: it is such an amazing appendage and when used by a master such as an elephant it is remarkable what they can do.  Watching them strip bark, fling water, and caress their children evokes respect and wonder.

 

elephant-9

This is a very old elephant who lives on Thornybush Reserve (our neighbor). He comes very close the vehicle and casually demonstrates how to pick and eat a good lunch.  He was famous for breaking the fence to our reserve and camping out at our marula tree gorging on fruit until he was herded back to his own reserve.  Sadly he has now passed away.

elephant-6

This is one way to introduce color to a neutral colored elephant!

 

Interesting shapes and texture brings interest to photographs and elephants have it all that.  There is not a boring angle or detail on them.  When they get too close, I like to snap close ups of skin, tusks and eyes.  Elephant hair from their tails was once used to make a traditional  bracelet.

I hope you have been inspired and entertained by my elephant photos and stories:  join me on safari and experience this joy first hand.

In your Safari Bag – do not forget Binoculars

Even with a full bag of long lenses and other camera equipment,  binoculars are still a great thing to have with you on safari

Why Use Binoculars if I have a Camera

I find many benefits to having binoculars with me on safari

I use my binoculars for finding animals as they are easier to maneuver than my rig and they are great for spotting birds and animals hidden in the grass.  Often my camera is clamped down so the freedom of movement of the binoculars is just what I need.  Once I find something with the binoculars and the action begins, then I can get my camera set properly and aimed in the right spot.

During breaks in action, I like to use the binoculars to check the surrounding area and trees for other creatures.  I like to stay on the animal with binoculars watching for signs of some photographable action such as signals the cat is about to stand up.  It is also fun to be the first to notice the hyena sneaking up.

Since you bag is already full with cameras, make your binocular choice one that is worth the weight and space in your bag: A 10 x 42 powered set will be a useful strength with a 10 x 36 pair a nice alternative.

Choosing Binoculars

In general, the higher the power of the binoculars, the narrower the field of view, the less light is taken in by the lenses, and the harder it will be to hold and get a stable image.

This is why 10 x 42 is a good size: anything smaller and your image will be too dark at dusk and dawn lighting and any larger would mean too much weight.

When faced with a choice, go for the widest field of view.

Lens coatings for reflection, anti scratching, and water resistance are essential as is water and fog proofing, good eye piece design, lens caps, and balance in your hands.

Binoculars with Image Stabilization are great for people who can not hold weight steady.

Quality

Like lenses, quality matters.  It will be reflected in the price of the product as well.

There really is a difference between cheap sets and higher priced sets. The differences will be in quality of glass and the quality or absence of the essential lenses coatings that lead to better image.

I have a pair of Nikon Monarch Binoculars.

Nikon Binocular 10 x 42 Monarch 5

671383

I like these because they are compact and not too heavy.  The multicoated lenses give a beautifully sharp image.

 

 

I bought mine from B&H Photo Video    http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/910864-REG/nikon_7577_10x42_monarch_5.html

A Great Resource for Choosing Binoculars

This site contains reviews and rankings for hundreds of models compares them for different activities ; from sports to birding

http://www.bestbinocularsreviews.com/

 

 

 

Using Lightroom Metadata to Research Best Settings

I use Lightroom  primarily for organization and secondly for quick to medium difficulty adjustments.  My advanced work and preparation for print are still done in PS.  Many times LR  is all I need to select photos, prep them for use on the web, and export them.

With all of these features and with more integration tools, added image adjustment capabilities, and printing options going into the program, it is easy to forget that LR is a database. Like all databases, it is only as good as the data is complete and detailed, but if you manage the detail you can create a powerful learning and efficiency tool.

I am a wildlife photographer and a habitual photographer who photographs in the same location over and over and with the same subjects.  The conditions and sometimes fast action do not leave much time to fuss with settings and adjust.  I do get some chances to experiment, but I want to be in the ball park when I enter the water or get in the game vehicle.  This is where a little extra time in LR  provides me with a valuable learning tool.  I consult it before each trip and keep charts for each camera and lens as a quick cheat sheet based on real data.

Settings, time of image, flash use, and equipment are all recorded in the metadata automatically (make sure you adjust the time on your camera for time zones and daylight savings!) but I also enforce the discipline of  recording the location in detail  (for example: north corner or in canal), the sky and lighting conditions, and for underwater – the visibility.  Next I will try to add tides to that.  I also rate each photo before I do much adjusting to it and I keep all but the really embarrassing shots – at least until my disk gets full.

I have learned some surprising things such as all of my best manatee photographs happened between 9am and 9:30am.  There was a significant drop off in number of quality shots before and after this time and the golden time ranges later as it gets later in the season. This makes sense due to the lengthening of days and the sunrise getting later.  Knowing this, I no longer have to get up before dawn!

Using the Library Filter panel in LR I can use it like a query tool to see a count of images with the keywords I have chosen and combinations of the ISO, flash, rating, etc that I choose.  The tool is not a perfectly flexible query tool but you can be clever with your keywords and how you record data to get it to track and measure what you are interested in.  Maybe improvements to this will make it into a future release.

When I have my manatee workshop next week I will be able to look at the time, weather, and water conditions and recommend settings.  I prepared the following chart using meta data in LR.

7am to 9 am
Cloudy and/or  low visibility ISO 640 F2.8 1/80 – 1/100
Bright and clear visibility ISO 320 F3.2 – f5.0 1/60 – 1/80
9 am – 10 am
Cloudy and/or  low visibility ISO 640 F6.3 1/100
Bright and clear visibility ISO 400 F4.0 – 6.3 1/80 – 1/125
10 am – 11:30 Cloudy and/or  low visibility ISO 500 – 320 F6.3 – 8.0 1/80
Bright and clear visibility ISO 160ISO 250 F7.1 – f8.0F6.3 1/601/250

For use on my safaris, I am using the  data to come up with animal specific settings given lighting conditions.  Of course you can use the histogram on the camera screen and your experience to do the same thing, but many times I cant take the time to analyze and adjust in the field (while cageless with sharks or at a lion hunt) Thus is the nature of wildlife and sports photography.

If you needed another reason to keep you photos organized and properly loaded, taking this “big picture” look at a collection of images of your favorite subject  is very rewarding.