Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Take me to the place where the white boys dance...

To kick off this post, I have to apologise to the band "The Killers", whose song title made a perfect title for this photo and its resulting blog post.

As you may know, we recently returned from an amazing family safari-camping-roadtrip through some of the most iconic places in Namibia. One of the destinations was the famous Etosha National Park. Though it was not my first visit to Etosha, this was definitely my longest to date. We stayed a total of 12 days in the park, to ensure we made the most of each of the main camps and its surrounding regions.

One of the photographic opportunities that has eluded me on my trips to Etosha prior to this one, has been to see and photograph the iconic elephant bulls caked in the white calcium-rich mud of this particular arid ecosystem. In my presentations and workshops, I always make mention of the fact that understanding animal behaviour is key to obtaining good wildlife photos. This particular photo is also the result of such understanding, and a bit of luck...

Nikon D3s  |  Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 VR-II @ 70mm  |  f11  |  1/1250 SS  |  ISO-560

We first saw these elephant bulls when we transferred from Namutoni camp to Halali camp. They were moving across the pan towards the mudholes at the Springbokfontein waterhole. Because we were busy moving camp and had our big trailers hitched, we could not maximise the sighting for us photographically. It was also in the heat of midday, which meant the heat haze affected the quality of our photos.

During our stay at Halali, I was tempted to see if these bulls perhaps frequent this particular waterhole. I made a late morning run to this waterhole (a 32km trip one way) - and lo and behold, they were there, albeit further from the road than what is ideal. I knew now that these boys were the locals, this was their pub, and they would probably be found here most days until the rains come.

We decided to return in that direction the next morning - and although they weren't there when we first arrived, they had made their way to the same spot far from the road by the time we got back from our brunch stop (we made delicious jaffels on the edge of the Etosha Pan, yum)...this time there were a total of 9 elephant bulls in the immediate area! The 4 we'd seen previously, and another 5. Photos were, again, hampered by the heart haze (it was upwards of 45 degrees Celcius by this time).

That hatched a plan for me. The next day we would be moving from Halali to Okaukuejo, and although the potential is there for the "white ghosts of Etosha" to be photographed around that area as well, I really wanted another crack at getting bankable photos of these boys. So we decided to scoot out to Springbokfontein one last time that afternoon, in hope that they would still be around the waterhole and possibly even close enough for decent photos. Man, were we right!! Some of them had moved off way into the bush, but 2 of the bulls were feeding right next to the road, and they were super relaxed...meaning we could work some really nice closeups and even wide angle shots of them. The golden afternoon light and some puffy clouds made for a very enjoyable afternoon of photography.

Are these photos unique - will they win me awards?
Does it matter?
Did my friend and I enjoy the culmination of my quest to photograph these white boys?

Go out there, and enjoy your photography!

Morkel Erasmus

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Returning to Namibia

For someone who feasibly lives merely a day's hard drive from the glorious expanse that is Namibia, I visit very seldom. I suppose that's the way it is - life gets in the way, other destinations beckon...but that will change soon.

We will be embarking on a 24-day camping adventure, with families in tow, across a vast portion of Namibia. That's something we South Africans love to do - overland camping, lugging everything along from a freezer to a portable shower to a mini-kitchen, "spending a fortune to live like a hobo", as the meme goes.

We were originally only going to go to Etosha for 2 weeks, but then we got thinking - we will be there already, why not add another week? So here is a quick rundown of our trip:

  • Etosha National Park
  • Spitzkoppe
  • Sossusvlei
  • Namib Rand Reserve
  • Quiver Tree Forest
  • Fish River Canyon

As you can see, it's a veritable bucket list of destinations.

We hiked the Fish River Canyon in 2009, and visited Etosha last in 2013, but I haven't been to the Namib desert regions since 1995!

To say we are excited is an understatement...

Camping with those you love under the immense stars in the wide spaces of Namibia for 3 weeks, cut off from social media and the political turmoil and all the drama in the world...eating good food, drinking good wine, taking some photos, reflecting on how God has blessed us...what more could you want?

See you all on the flipside...

Morkel Erasmus

Friday, 16 September 2016

Nikon Unveiled: Understanding Metering Modes

Today I bring you some more behind-the-scenes stuff from my time filming a series of short tutorial YouTube videos with Nikon Asia in Hong Kong back in 2015.

You can't visit Hong Kong and not go and brave the crowds (woah!) to see sunset and the city catch alight with nightlife from Victoria Peak gardens. Here is a photo I captured on this evening (I was even able to capture some photos to be used in the video as stills too):

Nikon D800  |  Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 @ 27mm  |  f16  |  15 seconds  |  ISO-200

Certainly not my preferred way of shooting a landscape (I prefer little to no hand-of-man elements), but it did come out nicely with the moving clouds in my opinion.

Here's a photo of me and my lovely wife on top of the viewing tower:

The video I am linking to this post covers the various metering modes used in Nikon's DSLR camera line-up.

I hope you enjoy these behind-the-scenes posts.
Until next time...

Morkel Erasmus

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Wildlife Photography with the Nikon D810 and 400mm f2.8

When Nikon in South Africa approached me  in September 2015 to test out the Nikon D810 and the new lightweight Nikkor 400mm f2.8E FL VR lens I was relishing the opportunity - you see, I was heading to the Mara Triangle in Kenya (part of the Maasai Mara ecosystem) to host a photographic safari in the Maasai Mara for the Great Migration for Wild Eye.

I was looking forward to putting this camera–and–lens combo through its paces in an environment where anything can happen at any distance from the vehicle. The in-camera crop factor (Image Area option) of the Nikon professional FX series provides a great option to extend the effective focal length of the lens.  

f8.0  |  1/2000 SS  |  ISO-280  |  EV -1

First off - the D810 is an amazing camera. I was blown away by its dynamic range and amazing image resolving capabilities. The D810 was improved.  Dynamic range and low light image quality (high ISO in other words), while offering a higher frame-rate for on demand shooting with an increased buffer capacity. The quiet shutter, intuitive feels and excellent build quality of the D810 makes it a joy to use.

f4.0  |  1/500 SS  |  ISO-2000  |  EV +0.3

Now for the lens! I have just traded in my Nikkor 500mm f/4 for the previous version of the 400mm  2.8 - so knowing what that beast weighs, the first time I picked up the new 400mm f/2.8 from its case which also looks quite different than previous Nikkor super telephoto lens cases, I was flabbergasted by just how light it really is. At first touch, it feels only slightly heavier than a 300mm f/4 would feel.  It is as sharp as you can imagine and the focus acquisition is snappy and responsive, making the lens a real pleasure to work with in the field.

f18  |  1/10 SS  |  ISO-500  |  EV 0

Coupling them and knowing how and when to use the aforementioned in-camera crop modes ("Image Area") you can really utilise this combo for a great range of scenarios. If you leave the 400mm f/2.8 on the camera without adding a physical teleconverter, you can achieve the effective focal length of 480mm f/2.8 at 25 megapixels on the 1.2x crop setting.  If you go to the DX crop setting you can get an effective 600mm f/12.8 at roughly +- 15.4 megapixels.  Some folks will say they'd rather crop in processing and you can - but what makes it a tempting option is that your continuous frame rate for action sequences increases from 5fps to 6fps in these crop modes. If you use the MB-D12 battery grip (also compatible with the D800/D800E), you gain another boost to 7fps in the crop modes.

f4.0  |  1/1000 SS  |  ISO-1250  |  EV 0

I always shoot my Nikon cameras in manual mode with auto ISO enabled. This allows me to select the shutter speed and aperture that I feel would contribute to the kind of image I am looking to create, while allowing the camera to select the  ISO automatically (hinged to my selected exposure   bias). I know I can implicitly trust my cameras to perform up to very high ISO and the D810 was no exception. Of course, having the option to go to an aperture of 2.8 when using varying shutter speeds helps! Read more on my preferred setup using auto ISO in THIS blog post.

f4.0  |  1/1250 SS  |  ISO-360  |  EV -0.7

I would highly recommend this combination to wildlife and sports photographers. Given the fact  that the D810 is the perfect landscape and portrait camera already, the added benefits of using it like I did for wildlife, pretty much makes it one of the best all-round combinations  I have ever had the pleasure to use. The lens is a dream. If the older 400mm f/2.8 always felt a tad heavy to you and that was the only thing holding you back – you need to get this lens in your hand and feel the weight difference. It is a strong selling point!

f22  |  1/30 SS  |  ISO-64  |  EV -1

Until next time, keep clicking!

Morkel Erasmus