Friday, 29 April 2016

The 5 billion star hotel

I'd rather sleep under this 5 billion star sky than in any 5 star establishment in the world...

Many folks who see these images want to know how they are captured.
Here is a quick run-down of the process used to capture this photo.

  1. Get to a place where there is minimal light pollution. Nearby towns and settlements exude enough light to feasibly affect your shot and the amount of stars visible.
  2. Scout around for decent compositions during daylight, bearing in mind your main compass directions and suitable compositional elements.
  3. Use a sturdy tripod.
  4. Use a wide-angle lens with a large maximum aperture (think 1.4 or 2.8).
  5. Make sure what time the moon rises and sets, and what phase it is in - this will also affect star visibility.
  6. If you want more stars - wait for there to be no moon or new moon.
  7. If you want more landscape illumination, shoot with a subtle moon at a low position in the sky.
  8. Use your torch and camera "live view" to pre-focus on a clear object at least 10 meters in front of you, or manually set your lens to the hyperfocal distance.
  9. Set your ISO to something between 1600 and 6400, depending on your camera's low light capability and your expected ambient light.
  10. Set your exposure time to somewhere between 20 and 30 seconds (anything more will start to induce "star trails" as the earth rotates around its axis.
  11. Use a strong torch to "paint" the foreground during the exposure. I find it works best to bounce the light source off your hand and use your hand to direct the light (your hand also diffuses the light and adds some warmth to colder/blue light sources).
  12. Check the resulting shot and make adjustments to composition, focus point or settings as you deem necessary.
The settings for this image?

Nikon D800
Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8 (focal length 14mm)
20 seconds shutter release

The Mountain Zebra National Park in the Karoo desert, South Africa.

Have fun experimenting!

Morkel Erasmus

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Nikon Unveiled: Getting Started with DSLR

Some of you might remember that my wife and I flew out to Hong Kong last year directly after I hosted a Wild Eye safari in the Mara Triangle. The purpose of the visit was not to be divulged at the time, but the cat is now firmly out of the bag...

I was selected as the video host of the newest "Nikon Unveiled" series of short tutorial YouTube videos released by Nikon Asia. This series is aimed at enthusiasts who want to delve into the DSLR genre but are unsure of what to consider and how to make the most of their new camera gear.

In this series of posts I will be pairing the tutorials I presented with some behind-the-scenes photos from our trip.

Behind the scenes shooting the video shown below, at Victoria Peak Gardens in Hong Kong

I'd love for you to have a look and let me know what you think?
This first video is an introductory overview of the camera-and-lens combinations you can consider when switching from your smaller camera to the Nikon DSLR system.

You can see the entire range of videos in playlist format HERE (all shorter than 3 minutes per video).

It was my fist visit to a proper "skyscraper-city" and the sights just about gave me vertigo! 

Nikon D800  |  Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 @ 24mm  |  Kenko Pro Circular Polariser  |  f5.6 | 1/640 SS | ISO-220


Morkel Erasmus

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

A day spent with a Lion Creche

Every now and again, you find yourself having a day on safari that seems hard to top.

The 11th of December, 2014, was one such a day. My wife and I were on a quick safari to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park that straddles South Africa and Botswana. If you've been following my photography for a while, you'd know it's a destination that's on my travel list most years.

After having a fairly quiet trip thus far when it came to big cat sightings (yet a trip to the Kalahari is always special and unique in its own right), we struck gold that day. It was all lions for us on this day.

It started with us being roared from our sleep at 3am in the morning while staying in the Urikaruus Wilderness Camp, and seeing those same lions drink from the camp waterhole later as the sun rose (see the photo HERE).

When it looked like this pride of 8 lions was going to flop down for the rest of the day like lions do, we headed north to the 13th Borehole waterhole to see what was going on there.

There then found a gorgeous-looking male lion and a lioness, having just drunk their fill from the waterhole, mating right next to our vehicle! To see images of that sighting, and that particular male, check out THIS POST.

This post, however, is about the other members of this particular pride. When the male and female had mated for another round, and their throws of passion died out, I looked across the Auob riverbed and saw this bunch approaching!

This lioness was guarding a creche of 7 cubs of varying ages (we later saw that she was the mother of the eldest bunch of cubs), and she was marching them to the water at a pace!

The cubs spent quite some time drinking and playing around the waterhole...

Nikon D810  |  Nikkor 400mm f2.8 VR  |  f8.0  |  1/1000 SS  |  ISO-360

After about 15 minutes the whole bunch moved across the road where we were parked and up into the dunes. We decided to proceed north to Mata Mata as we needed to refuel.

Seeing as we needed to return to Urikaruus anyway, we decided to check up on whether the lions had returned to the waterhole at 13th Borehole when we came back down at around 11am. Sure enough, the whole creche was lying up under a bush right by the waterhole again!

They were going to be there for a while, given the heat and the proximity of water, so we headed back to our camp (about 10km from there) to have some lunch and a quick rest. The plan was to get back to this spot by around 14h00 and see what they would do for the afternoon.

Upon our return they were still lazing about - but the incoming storm caused the temperatures to drop and the light to go nice and soft, which turned out great from a photographic point of view.

Nikon D810  |  Nikkor 400mm f2.8 VR  |  f6.3  |  1/1000 SS  |  ISO-720
The lions had some shade - we didn't!

At one point the smaller cubs began playing around in one of the camelthorn trees close to the waterhole...

Nikon D810  |  Nikkor 400mm f2.8 VR  |  f4.0  |  1/1000 SS  |  ISO-1100

Afterwards, a couple of the cubs tucked into the female for a bit of milk - and she certainly wasn't having a great time between their sharp claws and fangs!

The weather was turning ominous pretty fast, and I had a feeling the lion creche would be on the move soon...

Nikon D3s  |  Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8  |  f5.6  |  1/400 SS  |  ISO-360

Sure enough, all of them got up and moved down to the waterhole again...

Nikon D810  |  Nikkor 400mm f2.8 VR  |  f5.6  |  1/1000 SS  |  ISO-640

...filling their bellies with life-giving water...

The lioness then moved back across the Auob. Seeing that they seemed to have come down from the dunes on the Namibian side I concluded that they would head back there (their place of shelter) when the storm came in.

The cubs played around for a few more moments, and then followed after her.

Nikon D810  |  Nikkor 400mm f2.8 VR  |  f5.6  |  1/800 SS  |  ISO-560

We drove around to the main road leading over the Auob riverbank heading back north to intercept their approach as they made their way back up the dunes.

Nikon D800  |  Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 VR-II @ 180mm  |  f5.6  |  1/1250 SS  |  ISO-1800

As they moved away, we reflected on the special time we had with these 7 cubs and the lioness that took care of them. For the most part of the day, except for the morning session which was shared by about 10 vehicles, we had them all to ourselves because we stuck it out in the heat and spent time with them when everyone else was trying to relax in the uncomfortable hours of the afternoon.

It's worth putting the time in with wildlife photography! I always say - keep what you have.
Too often people see an animal, decide that it's too static for them, and move on in search of the next sighting...when much can be achieved by simply sitting, observing, waiting, and merely enjoying it for what it is - a privilege!

Morkel Erasmus

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Lion Man Love

It was a crisp winter's morning.
Francolins were calling, announcing the unavoidable dawn that was breaking.
The Land Rover engine was chugging along as we slowly crawled out of the lodge grounds of Leopard Hills Private Game Reserve in the Sabi Sand (South Africa).

Then the roaring of lions brought us on high alert.
We followed, and came across one of the legendary Majingilane coalition male lions, walking up the road ahead of us and roaring towards his brothers. His brothers answered!

Nikon D3s  |  Nikkor 500mm f4 VR-II  |  f4.0  |  1/200 SS  |  ISO-3200

Soon we were witness to a reunion of these males - they had all been patrolling various corners of their territory, and this morning was their bonding moment. It was gloomy weather, but as I always do I just push up the ISO and let my trusty Nikon capture the action.

Nikon D3s  |  Nikkor 500mm f4 VR-II  |  f4.0  |  1/200 SS  |  ISO-6400

A third male joined, and they started rolling over each other, rubbing their scent off on one another and just bonding like lion brothers often do.

Nikon D3s  |  Nikkor 500mm f4 VR-II  |  f5.0  |  1/250 SS  |  ISO-5000
Nikon D3s  |  Nikkor 500mm f4 VR-II  |  f5.0  |  1/250 SS  |  ISO-3200

And then...things got awkward. Very awkward! :)

Nikon D3s  |  Nikkor 500mm f4 VR-II  |  f5.0  |  1/250 SS  |  ISO-4000

And no, this is not proof that animals have same-sex tendencies (before anyone jumps on a bandwagon that this post is not intended to provide)...this is purely a display of dominance and is not all that uncommon in mammals. It's a gesture, no real action is taken by the instigator, and the purpose is to assert dominance in a setting such as this where there are multiple males in a coalition and some sort of hierarchy is ascribed to. It was over in a few seconds, and the males flopped down to do what kings of the African bush do during the day - doze off...

We moved on from there to look for a family of cheetah - but the sighting remains one that I'll remember for a long time...seeing these males and the affection they showed upfront, combined with that quick weird show of dominance from the superior ranking one, gave me a glimpse into the dynamics of these male lion coalitions that have so long been the staple of the Sabi Sands and Greater Kruger area.

Are you keen to experience the wonder of the South African bush?
Then be sure to check out the Wild Eye Wildlife Photography Seminar that I am co-hosting in April!

Until next time...

Morkel Erasmus