Wednesday 29 October 2014

Lying down with a Cheetah

I often extol the virtues of being able to photograph wildlife subjects at eye level.

There are a couple of ways to achieve this, and the most obvious question that comes up is what to do about cases where you are in reserves or national parks that restrict you to being in a vehicle at all times...

Through careful vehicle positioning, reading the lay of the land and predicting the positioning of the animal relative to that can go a long way to achieving that high-impact eye-level image. Good use of telephoto lenses and their compression factor can also aid you here (parking a bit further so the relative perspective to your subject appears lower).

The use of special underground bunkers are also a recent development that have ensured that photographers are able to get close to their subjects and shoot from a ground-level perspective.

The most special and electrifying way to do this, though, in my humble opinion, is to be on foot with the animals. There are a couple of places that allow you to be out and about, and with the right guide present you can have a magnificent wildlife experience (regardless of the photos you bring home). You've seen me post photos from Mana Pools in Zimbabwe, where walking safaris is a big drawing card...but there's a reserve that recently opened up in South Africa that boasts painted dogs and cheetahs that are quite habituated to humans on foot, and they are still fully wild and hunt for themselves. This place is called Zimanga Private Game Reserve, and the owner, Charl Senekal, has gone to great lengths over a long period of time to habituate his wild born free ranging predators to human movement and presence.

I captured this photo of one of the male cheetahs of Zimanga late one afternoon earlier this year. I was lying flat on my belly in the bush, a mere 15 meters from him. He was totally relaxed - until an elephant bull stumbled upon us, smelled him, and chased him up (as Charl and I made a careful retreat back to the vehicle, haha). These experiences always mean so much more to me than the actual photos.

Nikon D3s
Nikkor 500mm f4 VR-II
f4.0  |  1/320 SS  |  ISO-800

click on the photo to view at optimal resolution and sharpness

Here's a photo Charl took of me in action...

Those of you who are attending the PHOTO & FILM EXPO at the Dome in Northgate, Johannesburg this coming weekend, be sure to check out my talk at 16h00 on Friday afternoon (31 October 2014) where I will discuss the concept of context and creativity in wildlife photography. Come say hello!

Morkel Erasmus

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Waterbuck Wink

I was trawling through my archives tonight, making space for new files by deleting files that are now 2+ years old that I haven't touched yet, when I came across this photo.

The species depicted is a Common Waterbuck, found throughout much of Southern Africa. The photo was taken in the Kruger National Park late one afternoon in March 2012 - a few minutes after sunset.

There are two things I want to point out here. The first is obviously the pose - I had a couple that just showed this female's facial portrait outline. They were deleted. This one, a crucial moment in this sighting, is something quirky and I kept it. She was merely trying to ward a fly off by batting her one eyelid, but the photo takes on a whole new implied meaning with this expression, don't you think?

click on the photo to view at proper resolution and sharpness
The other thing of note - is the ISO setting. The light was pretty much gone, and to get sufficient depth-of-field I needed to stop down the aperture. For some reason I had a high shutter speed too, so this necessitated the ISO setting.

Nikon D3s
Nikkor 500mm f4 VR-II
1.4x teleconverter
f8.0  |  1/1250 SS  |  ISO-9000

I love being able to make images at these ISO settings, images that are actually usable! Just recently a photo of mine was accepted by Gallo Images, a high profile stock library in South Africa that's affiliated with Getty Images in the USA, which was taken at ISO-7200! The low light capability of the Nikon FX sensor enables me to really push the limits when it comes to photographing in the dusk hours of the day.

Some of you may be thinking that it looks better because it's a downsized and processed photo. There's some truth to that, as downsizing reduces apparent noise and I did run some selective noise reduction on the background - but the clincher for me is not whether there is noise/grain, but what amount of fine detail, contrast and dynamic range is captured at these settings and in these conditions. Here is a 100% crop of the eye, meaning it was cropped down to this resolution of just below 800px wide, no downsizing done and zero other processing done except for my RAW exposure adjustments in Lightroom.

click on the photo to view at proper resolution

Yes, there is noise present, but there's also oodles of detail for me to work with.
Folks - trust your cameras! Trust the technology that went into making the sensor and the electronics that convert the light captured into a usable image. Push yourself to make images at times that you previously put the camera down because of "lack of light".

Until next time!

Morkel Erasmus

Sunday 12 October 2014

The Handshake

Secret societies have it. 
Mob bosses have it. 
Elephants have it. 
Secret Handshakes...

My time spent in this research bunker at a very remote waterhole in +Etosha National Park will always bring back fond memories of really seeing and experiencing the daily lives of elephants up close and personal. 

Elephants are highly social creatures, and even though many of the bulls frequenting this waterhole arrived and left on their own, they never failed to interact with the other bulls around the waterhole, often spending long periods just standing close to others, making contact and rumbling off their tummies or drinking water. 

These two bulls were greeting each other and gently touching trunks. The giraffes across on the other side of the waterhole caught my eye and I tried to work them into the composition by shooting vertically. I just love the perspective here.

Nikon D3s
Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 VR-II @ 200mm
f11  |  1/800 SS  |  ISO-640

click on the photo to view at best resolution and sharpness

I wanted to share this image today as the day of announcing the winners of the BBC Veolia Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2014 draws closer. This photo of mine was a finalist in the "Black and White" category, and I had high hopes for it. Alas, it was not included in the final selection of winning images. It was a good year for me as far as the "final round" of the BBC WPY goes as I had 3 single images and a portfolio of 6 images through to the final round (none of which made it to the awarded images, unfortunately). I am looking forward to seeing the actual awarded images and seeing who walks away with the big honours this year after my friend and countryman, the legend Greg du Toit scooped up the grand title last year. I will try again next year, as it's always fun to enter images into this most prestigious competition in nature photography.

Thanks for viewing! What do YOU think of this photo? Let me know in the comments section below.

Morkel Erasmus

Tuesday 7 October 2014

Dawn of the Striped Ones

It's early on a summer morning in Namibia's +Etosha National Park.
The first summer rains have just started to fall - so everything looks and smells fresh.
There's still a lot of cloud cover overhead from last night's deluge...but there's a gap for the sun to rise into on the Eastern horizon.

As I drive out of the gate of the Okaukuejo camp with my wife and kids in the back of the SUV (kids still dozing), I head East towards the nearest waterhole, which is called Nebrownii

As the sun starts peeping over the horizon and through the break in the clouds, I find my first willing subjects - a small group of Plains Zebra.

Stop the car.
Fiddle to grab the nearest camera. Lens too long (500mm).
Switch to the other camera - this one has a better focal length (70-200mm).
Start snapping.
Check exposure.
Make adjustments.
Snap again.
Check exposure.
More adjustments.

Framing a rising sun and plenty of sky with wildlife at the bottom makes for a tricky exposure. This is where using your exposure lock function helps, as well as back-button focus to be able to focus and reframe.

Finally satisfied with my exposure on the D800 and 70-200mm combo, I contemplate swopping the 500mm on the D3s for a shorter lens, but realise the sun will rise behind the clouds in a few moments. So I grab my instamatic wide angle that is always with me (that would be the Apple iPhone 5, folks), switch on the HDR function, and snap a few images that way.

Here's the DSLR photo...

Nikon D800  |  Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 VR-II @ 70mm  |  f4.0  |  1/250 SS  |  ISO-800

And here is the photo taken with my iPhone...

Which do you prefer?

Sure, the iPhone version doesn't have the same high resolution quality, and it came out a bit over-the-top when it comes to the HDR effect, but it does make it look quite surreal. The perspective is definitely better for me at this wider focal length. Perhaps I should have switched lenses right away when I got there...but I will have to take that lesson into my next safari.

What's the old adage? The best camera is the one you have with you...

Morkel Erasmus