About Rich Laburn
Rich Laburn is filmmaker, photographer and writer who is based at Londolozi Game Reserve in South Africa. Spending his time capturing scenes of the wild and communicating the beauty of the African bushveld, he runs the Londolozi Blog as a way to entertain and engage people wishing to visit these wild lands.
Latest Posts by Rich Laburn
However, the feathered inhabitants in the African bush often get overlooked, and this is a real shame, seeing as how their sheer numbers and diversity are far greater than those of the mammals.
Where to start, though? That is the tricky part. It can be a daunting prospect setting out to try and identify a few hundred birds. But as Lao Tzu said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” So too should birding. Start with a few basics, learn ten or twenty different birds, and hopefully this will be enough to pique your interest.
Learn these and I can almost guarantee you’ll start to want to know more…
- Emerald Spotted Wood Dove
Photograph courtesy of Wild Eye View
The difference between a pigeon and a dove is pretty vague, so don’t even ask. Secondly, a number of them can look quite similar, so I thought I’d avoid those, also avoiding the green pigeon which, although beautiful, can be a difficult species to spot as it spends its time in the dense canopy of fruit trees.
The Emerald Spotted Wood Dove is an easily recognisable species. It spends much of its time on the ground foraging, and when startled flies off with rapid wingbeats. A patch of cinnamon is visible on the trailing edge of the wings at it flies.
The bird gets its name from the brilliant emerald spots seen on its wings, although the emerald is not as iridescent and is a little bit harder to make out when the bird is in shadow. In direct sunlight however, it certainly does look like two brilliant jewels are embedded in the wings. As DNA analysis and species classification has developed in recent years, so too have a number of birds had their names changed in order to keep up with the times, and the emerald spotted wood dove was changed to the emerald spotted dove, and then the far less romantic sounding green-spotted dove. Thankfully however, the powers that be reinstated the original name, and the emerald spotted wood dove is what it is today. You should see a number of these pretty little birds during your time here, whether in the camp or out on drive.
2. African Fish Eagle
Photograph by Sumeet Moghe
One Africa’s – more iconic birds, the African Fish Eagle is often to be seen (and heard) soaring above the Sand River in front of the camp decks. A pair of them actually nest on the opposite side of the river, and their courtship flights during the breeding season are something to behold. Although it’s difficult to tell male from female on appearance, they can be distinguished when calling in duet, as the male has a higher pitched call than the female.
The Fish Eagle obviously gets its name from the fact that it eats fish, and so successful is it as a hunter that it only needs to spend about 1% of its day actually engaged in the activity of fishing. Having said that, these large eagles often find it easier to simply steal from other birds, and on many occasions I have seen them watching and waiting for a heron or stork to snatch up a fish, and then swoop down to scare the rightful owner of the catch away.
Look out for fish eagles flying above camp in the day time, or perched above a waterhole in the morning or evening.
3. Giant Kingfisher
Photograph by Marco Valentini
Continuing the waterbird theme, we thought we’d introduce the Giant Kingfisher. As the name suggests, this bird also catches fish, plunging into the water to spear them with its powerful sharp bill. A highly vociferous bird, the giant kingfishers of the river can often be heard uttering their nasal chatter as they fly.
The bird in the picture above is a female, identified by the russet only starting low down on her belly. The male giant kingfisher has the russet patch higher up towards his chin. If you imagine the male wearing a russet shirt and the female a russet skirt, it makes it easier to remember…
4. Grey Heron
Photograph by J.J. Harrison
One of Africa’s more ubiquitous waterbirds, the grey herons are often found at large waterbodies, either wading in the shallows or perched on the bank or a prominent feature. Their colouration makes them almost impossible to confuse with almost any other heron here, except occasionally the black-headed heron, although since the black-headed heron is quite rare in these parts and doesn’t frequent water-side habitats as closely, the situation should not arise.
Looking at the photograph, it is easy to see how the body structure of the heron is perfect for stabbing at fish. The long neck provides the thrust and the sharp bill is the weapon.
5. Pied Kingfisher
Photograph by Marco Valentini
Another relatively ubiquitous bird, the pied kingfisher is significantly smaller than the giant (25cm vs 44cm) yet is far more numerous, with multiple individuals being found along most stretches of the river.
The pied kingfisher is difficult to overlook, as it fishes from a hovering position (flying stationary in one spot) above a pool, diving vertically onto its prey. Kingfishers (and other fishing birds) have a unique ability to compensate for the refraction of light through the water. In essence, the fish or prey species they are looking at under the surface is not actually where it appears to be, yet their brain makes calculated adjustments that sees them diving down to the right spot.
6. Purple Crested Turaco
Photograph by Richard Daniels
This is a bird that is heard far more than it is seen, but is worth including for its sheer beauty. A frugivore, it spends most of its time in the densely foliated canopies of the riparian trees that are found dotted throughout the bush, particularly the figs and Jackalberries. It’s loudkok-kok-kok call is usually the first giveaway of its presence, possibly followed by a brilliant flash of scarlet as it spreads its wings and flies to the next tree. The bright red pigment, Turacin, that forms this colour, is unique to the Turaco family, as is its counterpart, Turacoverdin, that gives some turacos their green hues.
7. White-Browed Robin Chat
Photograph by Dirk Human
Another bird that is heard more than it is seen, the white-browed robin chat has a beautiful melodious call, which we often associate with the robins. This bird has also changed its name, as it used to be called the Heuglin’s robin (after German explorer Theodor von Heuglin) but it is its distinctive white eyebrow that gives it its name today.
Size and body shape:
Although cheetah are taller at the shoulder than a leopard and therefore stand higher above the ground, they are substantially more slender in build. The weight of a male cheetah is about 54kg and a female about 43kg. Male leopards in this area weigh closer to 60-70kg and the females 30-40kg. These rather insignificant weight differences may make you think that they look very similar but this is not the case.
A cheetah is much more slender in build. Notice the small head, long body, thin stomach, high chest and exposed shoulder blades.
Notice the robust body structure of these leopards. Even the female leopard in the foreground of this photograph is stockier and stronger than the male cheetah in the photograph above.
Remember that a cheetah is the fastest land mammal and is built for speed. As such, a lot of their muscle has been sacrificed to make them more stream-lined. They have very long bodies with an unusually flexible spine to allow for rapid changes in direction when following prey and their head and forequarters are petite. These cats will capture their prey by tripping them using their dew claws rather than leaping on them and therefore do not need as much strength. A leopard on the other hand is a stalk-and-pounce predator and needs to get close to its prey before leaping on it. It often has to crouch, low to the ground, for long periods of time and is therefore much more stocky and strong, with much bigger muscles around the shoulders and neck.
A cheetah chases after an impala. The antelope that these cheetah hunt are incredible quick and so cheetah have had to evolve to cope with this.
A female leopard displays the stalk and pounce method of hunting described above.
Shape of tail:
A cheetah’s tail is also much more flat in shape. Almost think of it as a rudder that the cheetah can use to steer itself when it’s running at top speeds. A leopard’s tail is much more tubular in shape. The importance of the tail for a leopard is balance, particularly when they’re hoisting carcasses, climbing up and down trees or teetering on spindly branches high above the ground.
Notice the flat, wide, rudder-like shape of this cheetah’s tail.
The Mashaba young female uses her tail for balance as she ascends this Tamboti tree.
The tail of a leopard curled up. This photograph shows the tubular shape very clearly.
Cheetah have spots where leopards have rosettes. The spot of a cheetah is a clear, single, black spot separated from the other spots on the cat’s body. A leopard however, has smaller irregular shaped spots that group together in circles to form rosettes. Have a look at the photographs below to see the difference.
Notice the individual spots on the cheetah’s coat.
Notice the black spots that form a rosette on a leopard.
Another fairly obvious distinction is the markings on the face of a cheetah. Cheetah have black ‘tear marks’ that streak from the inner corner of their eyes and down their cheeks. We are not sure what the reason for these markings is but one theory suggests that it helps to absorb sunlight and reduce glare into the cat’s eyes while it hunts during the day. These markings are completely missing from a leopard’s face. A cheetah also has more amber coloured eyes as opposed to the more green-blue colour of a leopard’s eyes.
Leopards have bigger front feet than back feet due to their large heads and necks, necessary for hoisting carcasses. The front feet carry the weight of the heavy forequarters of the leopard and are therefore bigger to compensate for this. The cheetah on the other hand requires explosive speed and therefore has really big back feet that allow for massive acceleration.
This leads us onto their claw structure. Because cheetah require rapid acceleration and because they are turning at such high speeds, they have non-retractable claws to give them extra traction. Leopards on the other hand, do not need this as much and so their claws retract. Leopards will only use their claws when necessary, such as when climbing trees, jumping on prey or fighting for example. Even if you only look at the tracks of these animals, you should see this difference immediately.
Even though this cheetah is stretching and clawing the tree, these claws will be exposed at all times to allow for better traction when chasing prey.
A close up of a leopard’s paw, showing how the claws are retractable.
The track of a cheetah, showing the claw marks clearly on the ground
The track of a leopard, which lacks any claw mark indentations.
These animals also favour fairly different habitats. Because a cheetah hunts at speeds of 114km/hr, they need fairly open spaces to get to those speeds safely. Leopards on the other hand, hunt by using their camouflage rather than sheer speed and so they prefer to roam through areas that are much more densely covered and which make it easier for them to hide in. Although the habitats of these cats do overlap, there are definitely areas that are more suitable for one than for the other.
Cheetahs prefer big open spaces. This makes it easier for them to hunt as well as stay safe because they are more likely to spot larger predators from far away and can then make a hasty escape.
Leopards, however, prefer to hunt and spend time in much thicker vegetation.
Leopards also spend a lot more time in trees than cheetah. Although a cheetah can climb a tree, they are not nearly as strong as a leopard and certainly wouldn’t be able to hoist a kill into a tree. Sometimes they will leap onto fallen over trees or scramble into the lower, more sturdy branches of a tree to gain a good vantage point but they are not nearly as comfortable above the ground as leopards are.
A cheetah utilises this fallen tree as a vantage point from which to scan for prey.
A female leopard rests comfortable in the boughs of this tree, high above the ground.
Cheetah are diurnal cats meaning they move about more during the day than at night and leopards are nocturnal cats, moving about more frequently at night than during the day. Again, this is not always the case and cheetah may well be found hunting under the light of a full moon but typically they will avoid moving around when larger predators are more likely to be active.
Because cheetah are physically weaker than leopards and are lower down on the predator hierarchy, they also have a lower survival rate with their cubs. As a result cheetah normally give birth to 4-6 cubs, hoping that they will be able to get some of these to independence. Leopards on the other hand normally give birth to 2, sometimes 3 cubs because they have a slightly better chance of raising them successfully.
Four cheetah cubs rest below the stomach of their mother. Female cheetah can have as many as 6 cubs in one litter.
The Mashaba female and her most recent litter of two cubs. Although female leopards can give birth to three cubs, it is much more common for them to only have two per litter.
Relationship to humans:
Although both species are generally quite fearful of humans in the wild; cheetah are even more so than leopards. Although there are many records of leopards killing humans in the wild, there is not a single report of a cheetah having done so. In fact in the past, cheetah were even domesticated by Indian sheiks and kept as pets where this is not possible with a leopard.
The Mzanzeni female snarls as a hyena strolls past. In general, leopards are also more aggressive towards humans than cheetah.
For seasoned professionals and beginners alike, low-light photography can be frustrating. Be it in the dead of night or just before sunrise, or even on a cloudy day, the lack of adequate light can wreak havoc with your photographs. I know how frustrating it can be to not have a single photo come out the way I envisaged, especially when right next to me other photographers are producing crystal clear, razor sharp images. Some may argue that it simply comes down to better and more expensive equipment, and although I will agree to a certain extent, there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to capture at least a few decent photographs with some very intermediate camera gear.
Let’s look at a few situations in which light becomes a problem, and how you should handle them…
First and foremost, I want to say that low-light photography is like being in a relationship; you need to make a decision and you need to commit. Now while many will say that I’m the last person that should be dispensing relationship advice, and I’ll agree, that doesn’t mean the low-light thing is wrong. When confronted with a low-light situation, you need to decide what type of photograph you want to take and adjust your settings accordingly. The adjustments required can sometimes be minor, but most of the time they involve the manual manipulation of a number of settings, and switching back and forth between picture modes is going to be inconvenient and time consuming. Decide what you want, adjust your settings and go for it.
Please note that for the purposes of this blog, all settings discussed will be based on the camera being in Aperture Priority mode. That is Av on Canon Cameras and A on Nikon.
Low Light With No Movement
This is the easiest situation to have to deal with low-light in; when your subject isn’t moving. Stabilise, stabilise, stabilise, should be your mantra, so if you’re not shooting with a beanbag or a monopod, or at the very least resting your camera on something stable, you can forget about a decent picture. If the camera is dead still and your subject is also still, there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to capture a sharp image with even a slow shutter speed. Take a look at the following photo of the now-deceased Tu-Tones male leopard:
This picture was taken at 1/25s shutter speed at dusk. Any photographer will tell you that this is an abominably slow shutter speed for wildlife photography, yet because I had the camera stable and the leopard wasn’t moving, the picture came out sharp. This was also taken when I was just starting out with photography, and was using a Canon 1000D (the equivalent of the Canon Rebel XS in the USA), which does not have great low-light capabilities, yet it shows what can happen if you have decent stability of the camera and an immobile subject.
Low Light With Movement
This is now getting more into the tricky end of the spectrum. If you are reasonably familiar with the exposure triangle, you will know that a lot of photography is about compromise. To capture a sharp image of movement, you need a high shutter speed. If you want to maintain high shutter speeds in low light, you need to do two things; boost your ISO and widen your aperture. Higher end cameras these days perform superbly at high ISOs. Whereas a few years ago one would notice some serious noise creeping into pictures at anything over 1000 ISO, these days some cameras can be shooting at closer to 6000 without noticeable difference.
Secondly, by opening your aperture as wide as you can, you allow the maximum amount of light to enter the lens, thereby maximising shutter speed. The extent to which you can open your aperture will be dependent on the lens you are using. Most beginner to amateur lenses will have a maximum aperture of between 4 and 5.6, while more expensive lenses will go to 2.8, 2 or even wider in some shorter lenses.
Back to what we were talking about; a high shutter speed in low light will generally need a significant boost in ISO and the widest aperture possible to achieve. Your ranger will know how to make these adjustments for you. Of course, you want to have the camera stable again, so use a beanbag or some kind of mount.
A photo that doesn’t quite work. This was taken with a Canon 1000D at an aperture of f4. My ISO was on 1600, and the best shutter speed I could get with those settings was 1/15th of a second, which is nowhere near fast enough to freeze motion. No matter how still I held the camera, the movement of the lions as they fed on the kill was always going to make for a blurred and unclear image.
Eventually though, especially if you’re not shooting with top-of-the-line gear, you are going to run into a wall. You won’t be able to raise your ISO anymore, and your aperture will be as wide as it can go. Don’t despair, as you still have a couple of options, but we’ll only go into two here.
Your first option is to use a spotlight. A spotlight can be a wonderful tool to provide extra light even before darkness has fallen, or before the sun has come up. It can also be very effective on a cloudy/rainy day.
Even though the sun had not yet risen, I was able to get a reasonably sharp image of the Matimba males walking, thanks to Trevor McCall-Peat using a spotlight from the next vehicle to provide some extra illumination.
Another option is to change your metering mode and use the spotlight without a filter, although this is something one has to be sensitive about in order to not impact the animal(s) you are viewing. It is best used when there is still some light so the contrast between the ambient light and the spotlight beam is not too great.
Most of the time your camera will be using what is known as Evaluative Metering. This is when it looks at 90% of the image, asseses the amount of light available, and makes calculations accordingly as to what exposure to give. If you are using a spotlight on beam with Evaluative Metering, you will most likely get a picture with a completely blown out area where the light is shining, surrounded by blackness.
Spot Metering is different in that it only takes an area roughly 5% of the total image size and calculates the exposure required based thereon. This point will be where the little dot in your viewfinder is (your focus point for most cameras, unless you have customised your camera buttons, which is a post for another day).
Now, by pointing the beam of the spotlight on the subject and focusing your camera on where that beam is illuminating, the camera will disregard all the darkness in the rest of the photo and calculate a shutter speed based on the amount of light it sees at that point.
The various icons for metering modes on a Canon camera. Disregard the Partial and Centre-weighted Average for now.
This photo of the 4:4 male was taken using Spot Metering mode. The camera disregarded what was happening in the rest of the picture and only calculated shutter speed based on the amount of light coming off his head. My ISO was on 1250 and my aperture was as wide as I could make it (2.8), and from these I was able to get a shutter speed of 1/1000s – more than enough to freeze the action.
Note that the closer a subject is to the light source (spotlight in this case), the more light your camera will be able to pick up. Again though, sensitivity must be stressed. Using a bright spotlight beam can potentially be intrusive, so we minimise its use; a quick photo and then we put the filter back on, which casts a much softer glow on everything.
Apart from switching to Spot Metering, a Panning photo is a good second choice when the light is low, although this can be very hit-or-miss.
A panning photo involves a slow shutter speed, and the tracking of the animal with your camera, keeping th ehead in focus while blurring the background to create the impression of movement. This is what I was talking about at the start of the post when saying how you should choose what type of photo you want to get and stick with it, as switching from panning settings to spot metering and trying everything in between is only going to make things confusing.
For a decent panning shot, I recommend a shutter speed of between 1/50s to 1/80s, although if an animal is moving quickly you can still get decent motion blur at 1/125s and above. Focus on the face of the animal you are photographing and pan the camera along with its movement across your field of view. Take as many photos as you can to maximise your chances of capturing a usable one; if you have a Continuous Shooting mode on your camera, I suggest using it. Ideally, you should get at least one photo with this kind of effect:
A spotted hyena drags an impala carcass back to its densite. A slower shutter speed of 1/50s was just enough to keep the hyena’s face relatively sharp while blurring the background.
The beauty of digital photography is that you can snap away and not pay for extra pictures, so practice as much as you can. In the next couple of weeks we will delve a bit deeper into proper night-time photography and look at Manual Mode, in which you have full control of your settings.
Ultimately, it is important to recognise when the scene in front of you does not lend itself to photography in the slightest. At that point it’s important to put the camera down and just soak it all in…
After such a great festive season, many of you may have opted for a “dry January” of no alcohol consumption to try and cleanse the livers and start the year off fresh. Once you’re finished with all that, consider sparkling wine for a winter celebratory drink.
Every year sees various trends and fashions, with a whole year ahead one can only ponder what it will bring. Will we see a revival of the Tamagotchi? Will the Helix screw cork take off? What will the next fad diet be? One current focus and point of interest for the next year seems to be English Sparkling Wine. The terroir of France’s Champagne region is similar to that of Southern England; they have the same chalky soil and global warming has seen Champagne warm up and England cool down. In early December last year, Taittinger purchased vineyard land in Kent with the intention of producing premium English Sparkling Wines, the first time that a Champagne house has invested in the UK. So this is a very exciting time for the UK, but whilst they are starting up, there are already outstanding examples of Méthode Cap Classique (MCC) in South Africa produced by well-established wine farms.
A view over the beautiful Steenberg Vineyards in Cape Town. South Africa boasts some of the best vineyards in the world.
One such MCC I’d like to focus on is the Steenberg Lady R Méthode Cap Classique 2010, a stunning premium sparkling wine which was recently launched. Steenberg, founded in 1682 by Catharina Ustings Ras in the Constantia Valley, is a farm rich in history with many stories. One of the more popular ones is poor Catharina’s terrible luck at keeping husbands alive (she obviously never practiced with a goldfish as a child). She came to South Africa from Germany in 1662 as a widow, and as South Africa was a rather fierce and wild place back then she wasted no time finding a second husband, Hans Ras. Hans was unfortunately eventually killed by a lion. Legend has it that Catharina courageously fetched a gun, leaped on her horse and gave chase, shooting the lion herself. Her third husband, was tragically murdered and the fourth was trampled by an elephant. After four husbands she finally settled down with a German, named Matthys Michelse, who must have been hardier as I believe he outlived her.
The Steenberg Lady R is made in the traditional French method of second fermentation in the bottle and is a blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% barrel-fermented Chardonnay. After fermentation the wine was aged on the lees (dead yeast cells) for an impressive 55 months, just short of five years, each year representing one of Catharina’s husbands. The wine is low in alcohol at 11.5% abv as well as low in sugar at 4g/l (for a Brut (which is dry), the sugar needs to be below 12g/l). Hence it is the perfect wine for those “dry January” followers and weight watchers.
The Lady R is still extremely fresh and has beautiful ageing ability; it shows lovely crisp red apple and acacia blossom aromas with a mineral edge. The chalkiness carries on to the palate and the wine shows notes of honeycomb and brioche.
What wine do you think will be fashionable in 2016?
Written by Kim Drake.
The Sigma 35 mm f 1/4 lens is the archetypical telephoto lens that is widely used on Safari, to something a little more, well, little. In the wilderness, it’s not all about the tight close-ups of eyes, or the head-shots of beautiful big cats. Sometimes we need to take the whole landscape into consideration, or focus on the little things that cross our path. Variety is the spice of life, and today we are spicing things up with a review of the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art prime lens.
Nick Kleer headed out into the bush with this lens to play.
Amanda Ritchie: Being used to using the larger telephoto lenses for shooting wildlife photography, what was your first impression of the Sigma 35mm? Did you do anything differently as a result?
Nick Kleer: I paired the Sigma 35mm for Canon with my Canon 7D Mark II . It has been interesting using a short lens as I have never shot with one before. It has forced me to use my imagination a little more and has resulted in a few shots that I would normally not take.
AR: Being a smaller lens, how did it feel out in the testing conditions of the bush?
NK: I was happy with the feel of the lens as it is light enough to shoot free hand and felt sturdy enough to take a couple of knocks out in the field too.
AR: With an aperture of F/1.4, we would expect great things from this lens in low light. How did it perform?
NK: This lens performed really well in low light, letting in lots of light through the wide aperture. Similarly, it is also very effective at isolating subjects from the background due to shallow depth of field, beautifully rendering background highlights, also known as “Bokeh”.
This shot of a leopard tortoise approaching me as I lie on the ground shows a great soft blur with one of my guests in the background. ISO 400, F1.4, 1/8000
Another great example of the shallow DOF, and a beautiful soft blur as a spotted bush snake caught and ate a gecko on Varty deck one morning at breakfast. ISO 400, F1.4, 1/8000.
This is a good example of how my take on the wild changed using this lens. Again, this shot illustrates the typically shallow depth of field (DOF) one would expect from this lens as I captured a scorpion under UV light, glowing due to a reaction in its exoskeleton. ISO 2000, F1.4, 1/80
Here, you can see how well the lens does in low light. This was taken after sunset at a drinks stop. The amount of light and clarity that it was able to capture is impressive. ISO 320, F6.3, 1/15.
This shot shows the low-light capabilities again, but in a slightly different way. It’s not just at night that we are conscious of low light. Overcast days, where there is little (or flat) natural light is also a challenge for some lenses. The 35mm lens captured this low angle shot of the Munghene youngsters on an overcast day. The shot actually came out slightly overexposed, which I took further in post processing to accentuate the high-key effect ISO 1000, F1.4, 1/8000.
Here is a shot of the same lions put into black and white without being overexposed when shooting. You can clearly see how much light the lens was able to let through, even at an F-stop of 2.5. ISO 1000, F2.5, 1/8000.
AR: It seems that the Sigma 35mm lives up to expectations when it comes to DOF and definitely lets in lots of light. Not everyone wants to post-process their photos, so capturing the colour accurately is important. What was your experience?
NK: I found that the lens captured colour beautifully. It seems to capture colour extremely accurately and for that reason you really wouldn’t have to do much processing at all, if any for that matter.
I also wanted to show off the cameras abiity to pick up colours in this shot of the Munghene pride on a late sunny afternoon while they were out on the hunt. ISO 250, F1.6, 1/8000.
AR: Were there any other interesting things that struck you about this lens, or about the different ways you used it out in the field to capture scenes differently?
NK: I am a huge fan of close up shots and have always enjoyed zoom lenses, so having the opportunity to use a lens that has a much wider angle was both challenging and a lot of fun. It was nice to be able to capture the environment around the animals I was shooting rather than just close ups. The lens I found was fantastic at it and forced me to take shots that I would not normally take.
One of the Matimba males was recently mating with a Tsalala female in the Manyaleti and I found this lens was great at capturing a scene rather than just the animal. ISO 320, F1.4, 1/5000.
We were fortunate enough to have wild dog pups playing around the vehicle before they settled for a while below my feet. From this close distance the wide angle allowed both animals to fit into the shot and I would have never have been able to take this shot otherwise. ISO 800, F3.2, 1/5000.
The Mashaba young female lying up in a Marula tree. Once again the wide angle painted a beautiful scene for this shot. Normally it would have been a close up shot with her face on her paws, which can be a gorgeous photograph but I found that having the whole tree in this photo created something different. I chose to do a high key post process and a colour shot just to show the contrast the lens does provide. ISO 800, F5, 1/1250.
Once again the Mashaba young female lying up in the same Marula, this time showing a beautiful contrast of colour. ISO 640, F6.3, 1/1000.
AR: Final verdict?
NK: Overall I found the lens a pleasure to use and would highly recommend it in any camera kit. It takes clear, sharp and rich pictures and is very fast focusing as well. The shallow depth of field is also fantastic and provides an incredible effect and never allows the background to distract from the focal point of the picture. It was an absolute pleasure working with this lens!
Written by Amanda Ritchie, Photography Studio Manager and Nick Kleer.
Photographed by Nick Kleer
Lens Provided by SIGMA
If one looks at the portfolios of the world’s top wildlife photographers, you’ll see that they have one common thread – variety.
Conditions aren’t always perfect in the field. Difficult light, rain, un-cooperative animals that just don’t seem to face the camera when you want them to, the odd bit of grass covering the leopard’s eye… the list goes on. What is crucial therefore, is an ability to make the conditions work for you.
When the light starts fading, only the best and most expensive equipment can really handle it. Entry-level and even decent amateur cameras will soon start struggling, and increasing the ISO can lead to grainy images. One doesn’t have to have $10,000 worth of equipment to be able to take great shots in low light though. Trying something slightly more artistic can get you a photograph that has way more impact than a simple animal portrait. Although there are a number of creative roads to go down in low light, I’m only going to focus on one here, silhouette photography.
By ticking only a few boxes, you will be be able to take great silhouette shots with even entry-level camera gear.
1. Camera Settings.
Cameras have a certain idea about what type of photograph they want to take. You feed them the information by depressing the exposure/shutter butter button, the camera takes into account the lighting conditions and a few other factors, and makes a decision. The problem is that the camera was probably programmed in a studio a few thousand miles from where you are on safari, and has no idea that you now want to take a silhouette shot of a cheetah against the skyline, so it will be up to you to tell it what you want. The more you shy away from the Auto modes on your camera and start shooting in Aperture or Shutter Speed priority modes, the more control you have over what you want your camera to do, but this is something we’ll go into in another post.
The bottom line is that you want to let in less light than you normally would in order to capture a decent silhouette. This will mean that the the subject you are silhouetting stays dark, and no detail or colour emanates from it in the final shot.
To do this you have to dial down your exposure.
Pictured above is the exposure display on your camera. In order to get a great silhouette, you generally want to be shooting with a negative exposure (to the left of zero on the dial). How many stops (measured in thirds) you want to underexpose by depends on the situation, but the beauty of digital is that you can take a few shots to compare, at no extra cost.
How you change your exposure will depend on the type of camera you have, but your ranger should be able to help you with this.
A silhouette, as I’m sure most people know, is a photograph of an animal, or tree, or anything really, in which the subject appears as a simple black shape against a much lighter/more colourful background. The silhouette occurs because the camera is unable to read enough light off the subject to bring out any detail in it whatsoever.
In order to capture a decent silhouette shot, you therefore need to be facing the light source, which, in most cases in the bush, will be the sun. The rule I always heard when I was young was “always shoot away from the sun”, but rules are made to be broken!
The wonderful thing about silhouette photography is that you don’t need high drama to capture a great scene. An isolated tree against a colourful background can lead to a striking image in itself.
Ideally you want minimal clutter around your subject. The more you can make it stand alone, the more impact your image will have. Branches, grass or anything that cuts the subject’s outline are a no-no. If your subject is above the horizon (cheetah on log, leopard on termite mound etc…) it’ll make your job a whole lot easier.
On that note, the shape of your subject should be something distinct and recognizable. Textures and detail and colour are removed in a silhouette shot so the shape needs to speak for itself.
A pied kingfisher at dusk. The light was too low to shoot away from the sun with the camera gear I was using, but by moving to the other side of the waterhole and shooting back towards the light, the increased shutter speed was able to freeze the action.
This is what you DON’T want in a silhouette shot. Too much clutter around this cheetah’s head detracts massively from the impact of the photograph.
This IS what you want in a cheetah silhouette. Mike Sutherland has absolutely nailed it here. An uncluttered background, the cheetah isolated and pretty much level with the skyline.
Sometimes the stars align and present you with an opportunity that you know you’ll probably never have again in this lifetime. I’m cheating here in that this photo was actually taken at a salt pan in Botswana, but the isolation of the giraffes, the fact that they were on the skyline and the fact that they had the setting sun behind them made for an incredible photographic opportunity.
Next time the conditions don’t lend themselves to easy photography, try think outside the box and imagine what other ways there are to encapsulate a scene. You’ll be surprised by what you can come up with…!
Written and Photographed by James Tyrrell
Additional Photographs by Mike Sutherland
I have always been proudly South African, and by choice I would not want to live anywhere else. It was however wonderfully refreshing to hear someone speak positively about our country, to remind us to wear our green and gold shirts with pride.
I could continue this series for a long time to come… but for now, here are 10 reasons why I believe South Africa is so awesome.
The Biggest Races in the World
Sport is an important part of our national identity – we are a country of fine sportsmen and love any opportunity to test our strength and stamina. We have beautiful places that have become well known for their scenery and as the host destinations of big cycle, road running, swimming and canoeing contests. These events also happen to be the biggest races in the world in their sporting categories.
Every year as many as 35 000 cyclists take part in the Cape Argus Pick n Pay Momentum Cycle Tour, a tough 109 km cycle route that is made up for by the incredible diversity of scenery of the Cape Peninsula and surrounds. The cycle tour qualifies as the world’s largest individually timed cycle race and was the first event outside of Europe to be included in the International Cycling Union’s Golden Bike Series.
A beautiful capture taken during the 2011 Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour. Photograph by Greg Beadle, http://www.crank.co.za/
The Hansa Powerade Dusi Canoe Marathon is the world’s largest and the biggest canoeing event on the African content. Held over three days between Pietermaritzburg and Durban the 118 km canoe marathon attracts between 1600 and 2000 paddlers each year.
The 118 km Dusi Canoe Marathon. Photo credit: http://www.southafrica.net/
Athletes from around the world gather to compete in the Comrades Marathon, a gruelling 90 km ultra marathon. The race began in 1921 when it was run for the first time on 24 May. With the exception of a break during World War Two, the race has been run every year since. The direction of the race alternates each year between Durban and Pietermaritzburg. The Comrades is the world’s largest ultra marathon.
Thousands of runners take part in the Comrades Marathon every year. Photo Credit: comrades.runnersworld.co.za
The Midmar Mile
The Midmar Mile is a famous South African open water swim held across the Midmar Dam in Pietermaritzburg. The swim is officially recognised in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s largest open water swimming event. People of all ages, sizes, able and disabled bodied athletes as well as serious and recreational swimmers meet up in February each year to take on the challenge. The length of the swim is one mile (roughly 1.6km).
A aerial view of the Midmar Dam and start of the swimming event. Photo credit: www.midmarmile.co.za
Record Breaking Waves
The forces of nature have not stopped adrenaline seekers and sportsmen who live for the thrill of the ride. The waves at Dungeons, a surfing spot in the town of Hout Bay in the Western Cape, is recognised as one of 16 big wave spots around the globe. Dungeons is well known for the annual Red Bull Big Wave Africa surfing contest and for swells of up to 47 feet (14.3 m). Waves of up to 70ft (20m) have been recorded, a record breaking height!
A Diamond Nation – Rocks Fit for a Queen
It is well known that the largest rough diamond was found in South Africa. The Cullinan diamond is named after Sir Thomas Cullinan who owned the Premier diamond mine near Pretoria where it was discovered on 26 January 1905. The diamond weighing 3106 carats is about the size of a 330 ml soft drink can. The diamond was later cut into three pieces in Amsterdam. The Cullinan l is the largest of the nine diamonds that were cut and at 530,4 carats, it is the largest white polished diamond in the world. The gem is mounted in the head of the British royal sceptre. The second largest diamond, the Cullinan II weighs 317.4 carats and was set in the front of the circlet of the Imperial State Crown.
Glass copies of the nine diamonds cut from the Cullinan.
Walking in the footsteps of Dinosaurs
In 1977 an important discovery was made by the late professor James Kitching after he found a cluster of dinosaur eggs and embryos in the Golden Gate Highlands National Park situated in the Free State province. The Greater Karoo region of South Africa is another famous place for fossil findings and remains one of the richest fossil repositories in the world.
Golden Gate Highlands National Park. Photo Credit:http://www.southafrica.net/
The Oldest Mountains on Earth
The mountains around the town of Barberton are the oldest in the world and date back to 3.5 billion years. Some of the oldest gold and fossils have been found in these rocky mountain ranges and it is a wonderland for geologists who have claimed that these mountains contain the ‘greatest cross section of the Earth’s geology available on the planet’. Some of South Africa’s mountain ranges such as the Waterberg, Magaliesberg and Pilanesberg rank among the top 10 oldest mountains in the world.
Barberton is cradled by the Makhonjwa Mountains. Photo Credit: http://www.southafrica.net/
What do you love about South Africa?
CONTRIBUTED BY KATE COLLINS
Here are some incredible bird shots taken by Tony Goldman on a trip to the African bush. Enjoy!
One of the more colourful residents of the Lowveld, the crested barbet is able to call almost indefinitely by using one of its bronchial tubes to breathe in and out while using the other tube to vocalise.
Bright colours in flowers serve mainly to attract pollinators such as sunbirds. Pictured here is a collared sunbird, whose iridescent green head and yellow underbelly are unmistakeable.
Portrayed as harbingers of doom in many cultures, vultures still perform a vital function in the bush as waste removal technicians. Here a white-backed vulture hunches over as it anticipates the first thermals of the day.
Spring is here and the European bee-eaters should be arriving any day now, with the southern carmine bee-eaters following a month or two in their wake. Little bee-eaters, like the one pictured here, are resident at Londolozi all year and are a favourite subject for bird photographers.
Another collared sunbird, from a different angle this time. The blooming of many flowers around the camp has been providing a bonanza for these birds of late.
The lilac-breasted roller subsists largely on small invertebrates such as beetles, and vertebrates as well, as this unfortunate frog discovered.
A female paradise flycatcher. These beautiful inhabitants of riparian vegetation are estimated to occur at a density of one pair every 150m in suitable habitat. the male of the species looks almost identical but has a much longer tail.
The beak and eye colour of this red-billed oxpecker provides a wonderful contrast with the black and white tones of a Burchell’s Zebra’s coat.
Photographed by Tony Goldman