Category Archives: Photo Safaris

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

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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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

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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.

Manatee Photography Tips from my Manatee Photography Workshop

Cinemagraph of a Manatee

 manatee-cinemagraph

My next manatee photography workshop will be in February 2015

Get details

We will be in the water nearly all day with the manatees which gives you plenty of time to practice your techniques and get some really great shots.  Unlike other underwater creatures that are gone in one exposure, manatees are slow and linger. Take advantage of this by planning each shot and doing some in the field analysis and learning from images you just made.

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Getting a Great Shot of a Manatee Up for a Breath

The Situation:

There is a manatee asleep on the bottom near you.  Regulations say that you are not allowed to disturb them – especially diving down to get pictures of them asleep.  They can stay under for 10 minutes which is way to long to hover just underwater and wait. How do you get a good image of them coming up for a breath?

1) Choose a manatee who is facing such that there will be light on its face (not in the shade from a tree) and is preferably not facing such that you will be shooting into the sun.

2) Decide your angle; 3/4  shot, directly on, full side pose, vertical or horizontal camera position.  Scan what will be the background and plan to place undesirable elements like people behind the manatee or out of frame.

3) Get into position and float relaxed. Think about your settings, take test shots, adjust.  Take special note of the view of the sky through the water. The deeper you are the more sky will show. This may not be ideal.

4) When it is time, you will want to force some air out of your lungs which will make you sink a bit (you have already tested this and set your weights correctly). Push water up slowly but firmly with one hand to get you under – Do not move your legs or you will cloud your own picture and possibly freak out the manatee.

5) Watch the manatee. They usually have a “tell” when they are preparing to surface. Their body will rock a bit then begin to rise.  Exhale and sink, snapping pictures and keeping your body still and compact to limit movement.

6) snap shots  while the manatee is on the way up. Watch the framing of your shot to get the whole animal – nose to tail- in the shot.

7) Get a shot as he breaks the surface and takes in air. Then some on the way back down with the ripples on the surface.  The manatee may fall pretty fast.  Sometimes they dont get enough air and go right back up or linger.  Just hold your breath and be still .  Get the shot. You will have 10 minutes to rest and try again.

8) While you wait for the next breath examine your shots. Make a new plan.  Try a different manatee if this one is not in a good spot.

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Look for the Picture within a Picture

I have been playing around with cropping lately and practicing techniques to turn mediocre pictures into great pictures.

This elephant photo in its original form is not a great composition.  I was concentrating on the baby elephant hoping he would do something fun and cute and I didnt really pay attention to the very touching interaction between the large female and the juvenile elephant.

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Some lighting and color correction and a crop with a vignette all completed in Lightroom gives me a very nice portrait with lots of warm fuzzy motherly vib.

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Don’t disregard a photo before examining it closely for details and emotions you did not know were in there.

Four Very Nice Species of Hornbills

Southern Ground Hornbill
Southern Ground Hornbill

On my recent self-drive ride through Kruger National Park, I photographed three types of hornbills: Southern Yellow-billed, Red-billed, and the Grey Hornbill.  Not spotted this day was the ground hornbill.  These birds are frequently seen, except the grey which I see less often.  They like to grab bugs off the roads.  At the lodge they fight their own reflections in the mirror to my horror as I know one day they will break the glass with those tremendous bills.

Yellow Billed Hornbill
Yellow Billed Hornbill
Grey Hornbill
Grey Hornbill

Hornbills have a cooperation with mongoose in that the hornbills eat bugs dug up by the mongoose and in exchange the hornbills warn the mongoose of aerial threats such as raptors  which normally are of no concern to the hornbills.

Red Billed Hornbill
Red Billed Hornbill

Safari Clothing: Dress for Success and Comfort

 

clothing for safari

Over the years I have assembled a wardrobe of trusted and proven clothing favorites that go with me on every safari and many of my other trips. These shirts, pants, and shorts are comfortable to walk and ride in and stand up to the thorns and hand washing. Some of the pieces were not cheap, but they last forever. Here I would like to present themes for you to keep in mind when assembling your safari and travel wardrobe.

Go Neutral, not colorful
Camo is not necessary, but neutrals are essential.

Pack clothing in neutral colors: khaki, light brown/green, tan.

It might look  cliché, but neutrals serve an important function; bright  colors and white will distract and alarm the game.  We do not want the wildlife to see or react to us: nobody wants to face a curious leopard. White may not come clean after exposure to the red dirt. Dark colors usually blend into the bush, but they might start to feel too hot in the mid afternoon.

Continue reading Safari Clothing: Dress for Success and Comfort

Is a Photo Safari for Me?

 

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General Interest Safaris vs Photography  Centric Safaris

Wildlife travel is a very popular niche and many destinations offer both general tours and those with a skill based focus such as wildlife viewing or guided photography tours. Africa is one such destination that can be experienced as a wildlife photographic adventure or just as a resort destination with cultural experiences and activities.

On a photo safari you will most likely have a a professional photographer  guiding your adventure, applying their experience to present the most and best photo opportunities, and provide knowledge and advice about photography. The small group will be comprised of  serious  and amateur photographers.

Is a photographic safari right for you? Your decision to choose this route to Africa will depend on your goals and interests.

A general safari is designed for all types of guests. The tour operators plan a wide range of activities as part of the whole of experiencing Africa. The game drives and wildlife will only be one of many activities scheduled but  not necessarily the main focus. The itinerary will include time for relaxing,  shopping, and  luxury offerings.  The other guests are probably not serious about photography and may be only passively interested in wildlife; they might be more interested in getting to the hot tub than taking the time to photograph the perfect  fireball sunset.  This can be frustrating for those willing to put in the patience for great images.  Some general safari operators only allow small point and shoot cameras (no large lenses allowed!) on their vehicles and the vehicles might be entirely enclosed and you will have to shoot through glass.

On a photography specific adventure photo opportunities are the goal, not relaxation, entertainment, or shopping.  Many large lodges only want to show you as many species as they can on short game drives with no pause to watch the animal and wait for an excellent shot. A photographic safari will spend more time with each animal and teach you about the animal so as to anticipate a good shot and return you home safely with the best photographs and memories possible.

You do not have to have a camera to enjoy a Photo Safari : these wildlife intensive  adventures are perfect for Wildlife Lovers and those interested in Conservation.

Learn about photo safaris with Africa Wild Safaris hosted by Gregory Sweeney

Advantages of a Photographic Safari

  • The focus will be on finding and spending time with all of Africa’s charismatic species – not just the high profile ones.  A photographer group  leader can also design the game drives to suit special interests such as birds or wildlife you have not yet seen.  
  • The small groups and exclusive locations will afford the opportunity for bush walks and other special opportunities not allowed in other parks and reserves.
  • Photo safaris utilize smaller lodges on private reserves where the staff are dedicated to good wildlife encounters and providing a personal experience.
  • An experienced wildlife photographer guide has spent loads of time observing animals and knows an amazing amount about the animals you will see. The rangers and guides are also very knowledgeable and ready to pass on what they know.
  • You will have discussion, comparison, and collaboration with the other photographer guests in an open learning environment.
  • Being at the right place at the right time in order to catch the optimal lighting will be the driving force behind your daily schedule.
  • Photographers use open vehicles, and travel at the optimal times of the year such as when grass is short or animals are courting
  • Your photographer host will mentor you in photography topics that interest you and help increase your skills in taking pictures and processing them. 
  • You will come back with more and  better pictures than on a general tour

Disadvantages

  • Photo safaris are not for everyone because of the concentration on photography and the more active pace of your days together with the patience and tenacity necessary to find and photograph wildlife. 
  • You will stay in small, family owned, exclusive and comfortable lodges with lots of character and close to the best animals, but they will not be the large 5 –star resorts of the luxury tour operators and probably will not have  spas and extensive luxury facilities
  • You will not get much sleep. To get the best lighting and animal encounters requires you to operate on the animal’s schedule so morning departures are early.
  • You will have many photos to process so some “homework” time is required

Photo Safaris are really Wildlife Intense Safaris and are great for all levels of photographers and non photographer wildlife lovers

Photographic safaris are a bigger adventure than your standard African Safari and provide serious fun and learning for both professionals and amateur photographers. Your photos will tell the exciting stories of your life-changing adventure.
photo safari group
A photo safari group with both photographers and camera-less friends