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
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
Let’s face it — as an enthusiastic wildlife photographer I am always interested in learning more techniques and styles of the art; I view every photo taken as part of a greater learning curve. Using a range of equipment is even more educational, however, opportunities are hard to come by. As an avid Nikon user I had very limited experience with Sigma products but was interested to hear about the newer range of lenses containing a Nikon mount. The huge range of this particular lens, from 150 mm all the way to 600 mm, caught my eye immediately and I couldn’t wait to put it to the test.
Sean: The presence of this powerful lens is immediately felt when first handled. As the SPORT edition of this large range lens has been outfitted with a weather-sealed protection and a solid hold to guard against knocks and rattles, it makes its weight known from the outset. This creates an impression of quality and sturdiness which is well received in the testing scenarios often faced in wildlife photography.
In warm morning light, this distant but slow moving subject could be captured at a decent shutter speed without needing to push up the ISO at all. 1/800 at f/6.3; ISO 250 (at 600mm).
The reversible lens hood also carries lots of weight, which pleased me as this front area of the lens would face potentially more contact and would hold up strongly if an improvised dead rest on something other than a beanbag were necessary. This hood can also be quickly secured or removed which is hugely advantageous during shooting. Additionally, the revolving mount with click-in-place junctions at 90 degrees is a clever feature, making the process of mounting a camera straight very simple.
A brilliantly included zoom coil lock has been included, which at first I incorrectly assumed would not be helpful. It proved to be a very beneficial mechanism and certainly made all the difference on some occasions.
In even stronger morning light, a slight increase in ISO allowed me to get this sharp moment as this young male lion briefly glanced up. 1/1600 at f/6.3; ISO 500 (at 600mm).
Again at full zoom, and even against harshly reflecting sunlight, a low ISO allowed for a high shutter speed, perfectly freezing this hunting hamerkop. 1/1250 at f/6.3; ISO 320 (at 600mm).
TMP: Having to handhold a camera is a common occurrence during wildlife photography especially in those ”in the moment” shots. How did you manage with the weight and handling of the rather large 150 – 600mm Sports lens?
SC: Any lens anywhere near the 600mm range is going to be a heavy one, and all forms of suggested use would recommend shooting from some form of a dead rest for sharp images. This lens is no exception. Initially, the weight feels manageable for handheld shooting. However, like any large prime lens this action gets strenuous very quickly and camera shake becomes an issue. Although this was no surprise, I found that a short burst of handheld shooting was perfectly adequate in the moment, particularly with fast moving subjects like a running animal or a bird in flight.
I couldn’t believe how sharp this Hooded Vulture came out as he soared past us. The sunlight lit its front and a higher ISO and open aperture allowed for a very sharp capture. 1/2000 at f/6.3; ISO 500 (at 600mm)
Three mode switches of autofocus on the side of the lens provide a quick focal range selection, to keep the lens working within chosen distances. They offer focal ranges of 2.5-10m, 10m-infinity, and full range. This is often very helpful, either in situations with very close subjects and a distant background or when subjects are partially covered by unfavourable obstructions such as leaves or branches. A great tool for the task of capturing a moment.
From the driver’s seat of my safari vehicle I was more than capable of quickly resting the lens up on a loose beanbag atop either my steering wheel or front dash. This gave me sharp results as well as a comfortable shooting position in a stable sighting. A quick handheld series of shots for an overhead eagle or a displaying roller was manageable as well. However, for optimum results I would recommend a movable mount such as a Wimberley Arm, providing both a dead still rest and a wide range of smooth movement for tracking fast motion.
During this dark and gloomy morning there was hardly any light on offer. A large beanbag held my setup dead still while I was able to capture this dark subject in tough conditions. The result was better than I had expected at such a high zoom for the situation we were in. 1/640 at f/5.6; ISO 2000 (at 300mm).
Another example where low light was an issue. However, a stationary dead rest along my dash board allowed this slow shutter at full zoom to capture this Dwarf Mongoose. 1/60 at f/6.3; ISO 1000 (at 600mm).
I have always enjoyed showing more surroundings in my photographs but this lens allowed me to explore the close and tight perspectives. Without revealing height or scenario, this moment creates questioning. This descending Leopard photograph came out very sharp for another quickly improvised handheld shot. 1/2000 at f/6.0; ISO 1250 (at 350mm).
TMP: I can imagine the wide range of this lens must make it exciting to use as there are a variety of different shots you could take. Did you find the range and zoom effective?
SC: Although the large 600mm zoom was a huge attraction for me, the range was what I found most impressive. There could be times during low light when possibly a wider aperture at 150mm would be desired, but f/5.0 can still produce great results.. While at full zoom, the lens produces amazing results with a very manageable f/6.3 to challenge many prime lenses. Again, low light may affect shutter speed at this high zoom but to have the range as an option is something special. For somebody shooting with only one body, as I have been doing, the ability to photograph an unfolding scene at 150mm and then to immediately hone in on a specific feature and frame a detail at 600mm, this lens offers wonderful versatility.
A low angle of these mating Lions not too far away was still manageable at minimum zoom, with the female’s paws in blur but the slower sand grains on the left frozen in the air. 1/320 at f/5.0; ISO 500 (at 150mm).
Although full zoom here would’ve nicely detailed this Cheetah, a middle range zoom included most of his surroundings as well as the beautiful band of sunset orange. 1/250 at f/6.3; ISO 2500 (at 230mm).
An opportunity I had wished for for a long time. This leopard cub in (almost) clear view painted with golden light is comfortably framed. The mid-range zoom did not let me down and even as a handheld shot the result was pleasingly sharp. 1/500 at f/6.3; ISO 1250 (at 360mm).
TMP: There is always discussions about aperture when it comes to lenses and the impact they have on one’s images. How did you find the aperture with this lens and what was the depth of field like?
SC: As dealt with throughout this review, the aperture plays an important role in the final result and is under a lot of scrutiny with any long zoom lens, particularly one with a large range like this one.
I found that this handled the pressure sufficiently and only began raising questions in really low light conditions when most other lenses would battle too. The tradeoff one would consider would be whether a smaller zoom lens managing f/2.8 would produce equal results, be it with a smaller subject in the frame, than this lens would while getting much closer; this may come down to personal preference.
I did find, though, that in normal lighting conditions at full zoom the f/6.3 aperture produced a very tight depth of field and beautiful sharp-to-blur results were possible. In most instances, a much smaller aperture was used to include only a few centimetres extra in depth. At 600mm the control of focal depth is precise, and one can really begin experimenting.
As this Hippo bull filled the frame, it was only from the smaller aperture that both the eyes and the ears could be in focus, while still retaining the faded back covered in scars. 1/500 at f/9.0; ISO 1000 (at 600mm).
While this subject was not very distant, a smaller aperture increased the depth of field, keeping his whiskers, wrinkled nose and teeth sharp while blurring his mane. 1/500 at f/8.0; ISO 800 (at 600mm).
SC: There are always going to be trade-offs when selecting different products, each with their own draw card. The new SPORTS 150-600mm is undeniably a heavy piece of equipment with an arguably narrow aperture. However, not only is its clarity superb, its image stabilisation system fine-tuned and effective, and its auto-focus surprisingly quick, but it will also withstand the inherently rough and testing conditions faced in wildlife photography. Rattles during the journey, bumps and knocks which may occur in the heat of the rush to get ‘that one shot’ or even dusty or wet conditions are not likely to phase this armoured lens.
The price to pay for its invulnerability will have to be in its shooting platform. Any form of a dead rest will prove more than adequate and an mount secured by the lens mounting arm would be a best bet. Handheld shooting is possible, but limited.
The range that this lens offers is not easily found elsewhere and it gives the user a great variety of photographic options by allowing experimentation and precision control; all while never needed to put down or change to an alternative or additional setup. The minimum aperture of f/5.0 is not very limiting at 150mm and expectations can still be achieved. Only in very low light scenarios may a wider aperture be desired.
In my opinion, the absence of such a wide aperture is outweighed by the freedom the user receives in the zoom range and the variety of shots available between 150-600mm. The sharp images obtained out in the field exceeded expectations and the lens is a product to be taken seriously in the circles of wildlife photography, whatever one’s skill level.
From less that 3 meters away I was able to focus on this minute Bark Spider at full zoom. I enjoyed the spectrum of colours scattered across her small web. 1/500 at f/9.0; ISO 800 (at 600mm).
The iridescence of Starlings makes for difficult photography. Luckily, this gentle light limited the shimmer and allowed me to expose correctly during a preening session. 1/500 at f/6.3; ISO 250 (at 600mm).
Another experimental shot, where opportunity is available at 600mm. A male lion’s front paws sweep over the detailed terrain. 1/1600 at f/6.3; ISO 500 (at 600mm).
One of my favourites produced with the lens; one can still capture great detail while keeping a bit of distance. 1/320 at f/6.3; ISO 1600 (at 600mm).
Written by Trevor McCall-Peat and Sean Cresswell.
Photographed by Sean Cresswell
If you haven’t been to South Africa and are eager to learn what kind of magic you’d encounter if you go, there are simply so many things to do and see and the country is so beautiful, that it would take a massive book to recount all the fabulous things the country has to offer. To start, here are fabulously fun and impressive facts about South Africa. Be sure to check out the rest of our South Africa coverage for more insights and photos.
The Greatest Shoal on Earth
The Sardine run occurs every year during May through July when millions of sardines spawn in the cool waters of the Agulhas bank. A cold northerly current causes the sardines to move north from the Agulhas bank up to Mozambique. While not much is known about this phenomenon, it is believed that the water temperature has to drop below 21 degrees Celsius in order for the migration to take place. The sheer numbers of sardines invites a feeding frenzy to take place and superpods of dolphins, thousands of sharks, whales and gannets find their place in the waters and chase after, gorging mouthfuls of fish.
The Cape Floral Kingdom – The Richest of the World’s Six Floral Kingdoms
With the beginning of spring it seems appropriate to mention that South Africa, namely the Cape Floral Kingdom, has the richest of the world’s six floral kingdoms. The Table Mountain National Park in the Western Cape has more plant species in its 22 000 hectares than New Zealand or the British Isles. It contains nearly 20% of the continent’s flora of which 68% of its species are endemic (plant species that only occur in this region and are not found anywhere else in the world).
From August through to the beginning of October, the Cape regions of South Africa have some of the best wildflower sightings. Popular places for flower spotting are along the West Coast of South Africa in the West Coast National Park and in the Northern Cape in the Namaqualand National Park.
The World’s Second Highest Waterfall
Image Credit: Copyright of Dom Wills / 500px
South Africa holds another world record with the second highest waterfall situated within the Royal Natal National Park in the Drakensberg. The Tugela Falls consist of five drops with the highest sheer drop at 441 meters. The highest waterfall in the world is the Angel Falls in Venezuela – there have however been many disputes as to which one is actually the tallest. The Angel Falls is universally regarded as having the tallest single uninterrupted drop of any waterfall in the world.
World Beating Wines
South Africa’s reputation for producing excellent wines is well known and this has been recognised with many wine awards, most notably in both the red and white single varietal categories that have regularly won top prizes in the prestigious World Wine Awards. South Africa also has the longest wine route (and we could also argue the most beautiful) in the world along Route 62 (850 km), stretching from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth.
There’s the Graham Beck Brut N/V, which is the same sparkling wine that First Lady Michelle Obama elected for her husband President Barrack Obama’s celebrations on his election night, and the same wine that Nelson Mandela used to toast to his inauguration in 1994.
World’s Best Land-Based Whale-Watching Spot
The seaside town of Hermanus on the southern coast of the Western Cape is a prime spot for whale watching and the best land-based spot to see the giants of the sea as they come to the waters of the Cape to mate, calve and nurse their young.
The whales can be seen from as early as June but usually depart by December each year – the most common whale to spot is the Southern right but you’ll also be able to see humpback and Bryde’s whales. The coastal town also has its very own Whale Crier – the world’s only one – who blows a horn when whales are sighted. The first whale crier Pieter Classen began at his post in 1992 and continued until 1998. His role has since been taken over but the job of the Whale Crier remains…
Written by Kate Collins.
No truer statement could epitomize wildlife photography than the one by Ralph Waldo Emerson below. The review of the Sigma lens below features Trevor McCall-Peat who has spent the past two weeks testing it out and here are his thoughts.
“Adopt the pace of nature: Her secret is patience.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
Trevor: I am working with the Sigma Team to bring two aspects of gear testing together: A range of new lenses and the most testing conditions in the wild. Our challenge was to put them to work. I took some time to read up on these Sigma products and the reviews available on various sites. My excitement to try them out for myself grew with each review. Over the coming months I will be heading out into the field, armed with a variety of Sigma lenses and sharing some of my thoughts.
I have read nothing but exceptional reviews and comments about the new range of Sigma lenses, and it certainly seems as though they have done an outstanding job in accommodating a photographer’s every need when investing in a lens. Having said this, I look forward to putting all of what I’ve read about these lenses to the test. I have a Canon 1D Mark IV and will be using the Sigma lenses with this body – the first of which was the 120-300mm F/2.8 DG OS HSM | SPORTS
Amanda: What was your first impression of the lens?
TMP: Taking this lens out of its case for the first time and attaching it to my camera, I was immediately struck by the sleek look of the new set-up. It is an impressively sized lens but has a very smooth and slick look to it. I have to say it is definitely a lens that is pleasing to the eye.
The Sigma for Canon 120-300mm F/2.8 is a sleek looking lens
This was the first picture I took using the new set-up. I was so excited to use the lens I simply could not wait to get out into the field. I have been trying to get this image for quite some time, which has now become a reality when I attached a 1.4x converter to the lens. From a dead rest, I was able to capture the moon rising. ISO 100, F/4, 1/200 at 420mm
AR: The 120-300 lens can be quite a hefty piece of equipment to carry around. How did you find the weight and handling?
TMP: Being a rather large lens, I expected that it would be a heavy one too, weighing in at about 3.9 kilograms. Even so, I found it manageable, even when hand-held, and over time (using it on a daily basis) the weight soon becomes less noticeable.
Working in the conditions that I do – whether it’s the bumpy roads or the potential of knocking it against the vehicle in the excitement of getting the shot – I always worry about protecting my equipment, but this lens has a solid, hardy feel which erased any concerns about its ability to withstand tougher conditions.
Beautiful light and a great photographic opportunity allowed me to hand hold my camera for a good ten minutes waiting to get this shot of the Mashaba female’s cub as he locked eyes with us after repositioning and feeding. Running on sheer adrenaline from an incredible sighting of this cub I didn’t even notice the weight of the lens. ISO 640, F/4, 1/800 at 300mm
Sitting with a herd of waterbuck, this young female stood rigidly right beside us. Normally, before I can even take my camera out of my bag, waterbuck change position or move off but on this occasion she stayed still. ISO 640, F/4, 1/1000 at 300mm
AR: With a longer telephoto lens, stability can often be a problem. How did this lens perform?
TMP: Being a larger lens, stabilisation is crucial and the two OS (optical stabiliser) modes come in very handy. OS 1 being vertical and horizontal stabilisation and OS 2 being better suited for panning(vertical). One really notices these modes on cooler cloudy days when light is limited and when shooting difficult angles where handheld is the only option.
Photographing in very poor light can be tricky at times in terms of quality of your image. On this afternoon there was thick cloud cover, but by using a bean bag to rest my camera and lens on I was afforded the stability to capture this image. ISO 1000, F/4, 1/200 at 300mm
Using OS1 mode gave me an advantage in capturing this beautiful backlit male lion. This male was marching towards his brother who was lying down behind us. In the heat of the moment (and with no dead rest) I turned my body and took the shot hand-held. In dark conditions I found myself extremely impressed with the lens’ capability. ISO 1000 F/2.8 1/200 at 250mm
AR: We often get so close to the wildlife here, what did you think of the range of the lens?
TMP: I have had issues in the past (while not major, but certainly noticeable) where other lenses on the market to date have been limiting at times. I have had to either change lenses depending on subject, distance and light or have two camera bodies and constantly switch between the two in sightings which can, and has, resulted in a good photographic opportunity being missed. Having the range of the 120 – 300mm I have had no such issues and I feel that in the moment of action, I have the ability to get the composition I am looking for and do so without battling to switch my lenses or equipment.
With a hyena moving around in the area and the remains of a kill hanging in a tree close by, the Piva male was very aware of his surroundings and was constantly changing position. The distance would have been just too far for a 200mm lens, but instead of having to crop an image or change lenses, the 300mm was the perfect fit for this shot. ISO 800 F/2.8 1/500 at 300mm
AR: Sharpness is always a huge consideration when using a telephoto lens. How did you find the sharpness and focus?
TMP: The focusing mechanism is smooth and fast, I was surprised at how quickly the focus locks onto its target. Not once have I struggled in terms of focusing. The focusing mechanism is also internal which, for someone who works out in the field every day, is a bonus as there is minimal space for dust to gather and potentially affect the working parts.
It is always entertaining to spend time at a hyena den and this time it was no different. This little hyena had us in stitches as it was still very young and shy but very inquisitive. With the help of the sharp, fast zoom I was able to snap this shot of the youngster as it popped its head out of the burrow to have a brief look at us. ISO 800, F/4, 1/500 at 300mm
AR: Here’s the big question: we have spoken about range, but how is the zoom on this lens?
TMP: The versatility and speed of this lens is incredible, focusing at 120mm from just 1.5 meters (5 feet) and at 2.5 meters (close to nine feet) for 300mm which is essential when photographing in a dynamic environment where your subject can be moving and shooting conditions are constantly changing. The ease at which you can go from 120mm to 300mm is great and when combined with the extremely fast focus, shooting moving targets becomes a breeze.
The beauty of having a long zoom lens with the luxury of shooting with an F-stop of 2.8 is that it creates a shallow depth of field which I used in this image. I wanted to emphasis the eye and by focusing only on the eye it creates blur in the surrounding areas. You can almost feel the intensity in his gaze. ISO 1000, F/2.8, 1/1600 at 300mm
A close up of the Mashaba female shows great detail but also adds emotion to the image, especially converted into black and white. ISO 800 F/2.8 1/640 at 300mm
AR: With an aperture of F/2.8, you would expect great things from the performance of this lens. What was your experience?
TMP: Even before my first shot with this lens the one thing that stood out to me was the aperture. Whether you are at minimal or maximum zoom, the aperture (ranging from F/2.8 to F/22) can remain the same. I found this incredibly beneficial when out in the bush and, with conditions being as unpredictable as they are, it meant that I had the freedom to change it accordingly and be one hundred percent confident that I would get the shot.
I was very interested to see how this lens would perform in low light – whether it be on a gloomy, cloudy day or using a spotlight in the cover of night. The results I achieved were phenomenal. Previously when lighting was tricky I would never be confident of capturing the photograph perfectly, and often on my return to the lodge, when downloading my images my concerns would be confirmed. I often found images soft or even slightly grainy even when using a low ISO. Using this lens I was confident that my image would be the standard I expect it to be without an element of doubt in my mind.
In tough light the lens still performs at a high tempo. The eye contact from this Matshiphiri male is enough to send shivers down anyone’s spine. ISO 800, F/2.8, 1/160 at 300mm
With overcast conditions photography can be tough, but I love the challenge. Wildlife photography is always unpredictable and so many outside factors control your image. A male cheetah stands tall, scanning the area for any potential prey. ISO 1000, F4, 1/320 at 180mm
AR: Your final verdict?
TMP: Having used this lens over the past couple of weeks, and really paying attention to its capabilities and handling in certain situations, I have been amazed time and time again. Sigma have done a phenomenal job in creating a truly remarkable lens and one that I have thoroughly enjoyed using. I realise this is a big statement to make but based on my recent experience, if I had one choice of lens when out in the field, it would be the Sigma 120 – 300mm F2.8.
Take a look at the rest of the images that Trevor has captured during his lens test:
The Piva male gave us great photographic opportunities to capture different angles. Once again the light was tough but the result is one that I’m very happy with. ISO 800, F/4, 1/400 at 300mm
Using the rule of thirds and a very tight angle I tried to capture a tight intimate feel with this beautiful Styx male. ISO 800, F/2.8, 1/160 at 300mm
Playing around in my garden one afternoon I had fun photographing this nyala as she groomed herself. It is a very unusual image with the focus being off centre, with rich contrasting colours. ISO 640, F/2.8, 1/1250 at 300mm
This was my first time seeing the Matimba males. They have been seen on our property over the past two weeks and I am in awe of their size. This male had just fed and his discomfort was noticeable as he constantly rolled around trying to keep weight off his full stomach. ISO 800, F/4, 1/400 at 300mm
Being able to shoot 300mm at F/2.8 allows for the same feeling and effect you would have with a fixed lens. I was able to take a close up image of this male cheetah smelling the tree for any past scents that may have been left by other cheetahs or animals. Iso 1000, F/2.8, 1/320 at 300mm
The second brother of the Matimba coalition. This male was passed out sleeping for a lengthy period of time and was awakened by a nearby vulture repositioning in the tree. The presence this male created with a single stare was instantly felt by all. ISO 800, F/4, 1/320 at 250mm
Positioning ourselves in the Sand River, we had a great low angle view while we watched a breeding herd of elephants move through the waterway. This young elephant separated itself from the herd temporarily to feed on the luscious vegetation growing in the riverbed. ISO 400, F/5, 1/3200 at 200mm
A lioness listens to distant nyala alarm call, possibly indicating the position of the rest of her pride. At 300mm this lens creates a fair amount of blur behind the subject which adds emphasis to the lioness’s face. ISO 800, F/2.8, 1/1000 at 300mm
With dark surroundings contrasting with the lighter golden colour of the Piva male’s coat, a black and white conversion really makes the leopard stand out. ISO 800, F/4, 1/320 at 235mm
This old buffalo bull stood dead still and gazed at us for a long time, and I couldn’t help but wonder what was going through his mind, what he thought of us and what he must have seen in his life. ISO 800, F/2.8, 1/2500 at 300mm
Leaving camp one morning we found the Styx males resting almost on our doorstep. They had been calling throughout the evening and the dry conditions remaining from winter aided in creating a clear image. ISO, 1000 F/2.8, 1/320 at 300mm
This young hyena was just looking for affection from its mother, who was just interested in catching a late morning sleep. Iso 800, F/2.8, 1/400 at 260mm
It is always a privilege to be able to spend time with these animals and to share intimate moments like this with them. ISO 800, F/2.8, 1/500 at 300mm
This is probably one of my favourite images that I have ever taken. What looks like a growl is the tail-end of a yawn by the Piva male – the backlighting of his teeth makes this image for me. ISO 1000, F/2.8, 1/500 at 300mm
Written by Trevor McCall-Peat and Amanda Ritchie and Photographed by Trevor McCall-Peat,
Disclosure: Lens provided by SIGMA.
I started the photographic journal series to allow the hobbyist photographic guides to share their photographic styles, techniques and stories. I thought this is a great opportunity for guides and staff, who don’t necessarily post on the blog on a frequent basis, to share their growth in the field of photography.
My photographic journey has had a beginning, a monotonous middle and now the forever and ongoing. When I arrived at Londolozi at the beginning of 2013 I took an immediate interest in wildlife photography as I saw it as an opportunity to express myself and share my experiences with friends and family.
I loved being able to look at a single photo, letting it take me back to the exact moment and the people I shared that moment with. Yearning to understand more about photography, I sucked the life out of one of my ex-ranger colleagues, Mike Sutherland. I harassed Mike a couple times each week with questions and he patiently taught and shared his knowledge with me. After a while I was content with what I knew and I kept on the same monotonous line. That line was suddenly erased when I had the privilege of guiding Sergey Gorshkov who took me on a completely new journey.
Sergey is a National Geographic Photographer and the founding member of the Russian Union of Wildlife Photographers. Among his many awards, Gorshkov has twice been voted Russia’s Photographer of the Year, and has won BBC’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year in 2007, 2009 and 2012.
Sergey’s accolades were one thing, but what really interested me was his journey as a photographer. Sergey’s career in photography began only 12 years ago. His birth as a photographer shared parallels to my upbringing, making the transition from hunting to eco-tourism in the late 60’s. Sergey’s life changed forever when he went on a hunting trip to Africa. He told me when he first saw a leopard it was in the cross hair of his scope and he froze. He was so captivated by the leopard’s beauty that he couldn’t shoot it. “My heart nearly jumped out of my chest. I knew at that moment that I couldn’t fire the gun, so I took up photography and began taking pictures instead. Photography became my opportunity to hear the roar of a leopard on the Okavango River, and the honking of geese flying over the Taymyr Tundra” Sergey says.
Sergey’s humility and manners can’t be faulted. He has a natural understanding of the world around him and his patience and passion is contagious. He has made it clear the he is not a professional, rather that he is a hobbyist, and that wildlife photography doesn’t bring him material gain. In fact, he has never looked at it as a way to make money, but the opportunity to communicate with wild animals brings him wealth beyond measure in the form of spiritual enrichment. “What I do is equal parts science, adventure and art, and I’m grateful that photography became my way of understanding nature and reflecting the world I live in. I don’t want to change that and turn it into a job, because the feelings of joy and freedom would be lost. I consider my lens to being the link between wildlife and the viewer, and to show the elusive beauty of nature — a beauty that is slowly disappearing”, Sergey says.
Sergey’s main focus is the Russian Arctic and bears, but when he comes to Londolozi for two weeks at a time we primarily focus on leopards. He has taught me to try and capture the unusual and he always says, “I never know when the shot will come, but when fate gives you a chance, you must be ready to act.”
Spending 14 days with Sergey has led to a brand new chapter in my photographic journey. I hope that this growth is depicted in the images below.
The Tail of Mashaba’s Cubs
The most incredible part of Sergey’s last trip was the insight we got into the new life in the heart of Londolozi. We spent over 50 hours looking for the Mashaba Female and her two new beings. It was the most I’ve ever followed an individual and by the last couple days the tracker I work with, Lucky, could almost precisely understand how, where and when she moved. Incredibly we were able to watch the development of the characters and confidence of the young male and female cubs – a very special time.
One of the first views we had of one of the Mashaba females cubs. ( f2.8, ISO 500, 1/600 sec. )
Affection was always shown to their protector and mother. (f2.8, ISO 2000, 1/800 sec)
The young male always seemed to show more confidence. (f.4, ISO 2500, 1/640 sec)
On our third last day the Mashaba female moved her cubs to another den. She moved them with extreme caution and we were fortunate to have a brief view of them in the open. (f2.8, ISO 2000, 1/200 sec)
Stalking with stature; already their movement is fluid, showing their instinctive nature. (f3.2, ISO 500, 1/600 sec)
Born to pounce. (f.5, ISO 250, 1/800 sec)
A special moment between the two that will eventually go separate ways once they reach maturity. (f2.8, ISO 800, 1/2000 sec). A glimpse into Mashaba’s Past
Along with seeing Mashaba and her two cubs, we were able to briefly follow her only surviving cub, the Mashaba Young Female.
Back lighting of the Mashaba Young Female. (f2.8, ISO 1600, 1/125 sec)
Underexposing at last light in some situations is better than increasing ISO to get the image in colour. (f2.8, ISO 400, 1/3000 sec)
The Struggles for Power
There is the constant battle for territory and power, both of which change shape and go through ebbs and flows. The Piva Male had battle wounds from a territorial fight over his territory. We believe the antagonist in this case was the Inyathini male, who was also found at around the same time with lacerations on his face.
The Piva Male has a defiant presence that he carries with him. It will be interesting to see if it lasts. (f2.8, ISO 400, 1/800 sec)
This was the last time I saw the Gowrie male. There were signs of wounds around his neck and his right eye was heavily swollen. Nevertheless, his eyes always made you feel as if he was looking into your soul. (f2.8, ISO 400, 1/800 sec)
We waited patiently for the Gowrie Male to move from the shade of a giant granite rock. Once it had cooled down, he moved and lay down on the higher bank of the Manyalethi River. This allowed us a rare opportunity to get an eye-level perspective. (f.5, ISO 800, 1/320 sec)
This was an interesting interaction of hierarchy and pure opportunism. Shortly after a cheetah made an impala kill, a hyena stole it. The Tutlwa Female was on a granite rock in the Sand River watching the story unravel. She smartly moved towards where the hyena was and lay in wait. There was a second when the hyena was distracted by a jackal; the Tutlwa Female didn’t hesitate, and she just managed to steal and secure the remainder of the kill in a Leadwood Tree. (f2.8, ISO 2000, 1/250 sec)
In true wild dog fashion we unexpectedly happened to stumble across a pack at just the right time of the afternoon. We saw them finish off a young nyala kill, chase hyenas and then get chased themselves by a dazzle of zebras. (f.4, ISO 2000, 1/200 sec)
Short but Sharp
In search for the naturally elusive leopard we managed to stumble across a number of other interesting photographic opportunities. This was one of the best times to learn and ask Sergey questions. It was often these shorter, smaller moments that left a crater of impact and memories that I will hold dear.
I recently did a blog on this incredible and shy animal. Spending over 30 minutes with a honey badger will go down as one of my fondest memories of the two weeks. (f.4, ISO 400, 1/400 sec)
Dust and golden morning light. (f5.6, ISO 400, 1/800 sec)
One of the only places at Londolozi where you can get clear sky with a low-angle perspective. This giraffe gave us a great opportunity. (f2.8, ISO 250, 1/6400 sec)
A kudu bull at sunset. (f3.5, ISO 320, 1/2600 sec)
The last photograph of the two weeks. An African Jacana walking on a thin layer of bright green duckweed. The fast shutter speed captured the movement of the water behind the large jacanas foot. (f2.8, ISO 250, 1/4000 sec)
What did you think of these images?
Written and photographed by Don Heyneke- Londolozi Ranger
There is nothing that I enjoy more than connecting with ‘foodie folk’ who are as passionate about food, wine and beautiful places as I am. So, you can imagine my absolute delight on meeting Aron Mullis, Head Chef of The Hand in Flowers in Marlow. We went to visit him and what a delightful establishment it is. Owned by Chef Tom Kerridge, this one Michelin Star ‘gastro pub’ is more than what meets the eye… Delicious food is served in an informal space where the emphasis is on comfort and quality of food. The food is distinctive and bold while retaining its simplicity, a style that resonates with our Londolozi food ethos of being ‘simply sophisticated’.
Pork Cracklings – a little appetizer to get the taste buds going! Washed down with their incredible homemade Pear ‘bubbles’ – wish I could have bought 2 cases!
Duck Liver Parfait with Orange Chutney and Toasted Brioche
Spiced Sweetcorn Soup with Spring Onion and Blowtorched Lime
Hand & Flowers Warm Gala Pie with “Matson” Spiced Sauce
Twice cooked fries with a delicious side salad of organic leaves
White Peach Soufflé with Tea Sorbet and Rosemary Custard
Next up was something new and exciting in London –NOPI is part of the famous Ottolenghi dynasty and has recently opened its doors. This Soho based restaurant still celebrates the traditional bold flavours of Ottolenghi, however, NOPI has a slightly different feel to its trademark delis. We ate downstairs in the informal communal dining area, which was a novel experience. Surrounded by all the ingredients used on the menu, it was fun to see the chefs popping out the kitchen to grab a litre of Virgin olive oil or a large tin of olives.
The informal communal dining area with a birds eye view of the kitchen right in the hustle and bustle of it all
Pio Tosini Prosciutto, Beer Piquillo – thinly shaved prosciutto with the sweet tastes of peppers and crisp tartness of the watercress was sublime – my ideal lunch!
Scallops, Apple, nettle and lemon puree – simply fabulous
Pork Shoulder Croquettes, kohlrabi, nashi pear & basil mayonnaise
Their signature – Courgette and manouri fritters with cardamom yoghurt – delicious!
After you’re done grazing through the incredible food, take a bathroom break and be ready to be multiplied! Pretty crazy bathrooms.
I always love meeting up with old friends, so when Dominic called up and suggested lunch at Baraffina, the answer was easy. I used to be Dominic’s private chef in Cape Town before moving to Londolozi, so we had lots of catching up to do. With Dom being an esteemed foodie himself, I knew the restaurant recommendation would not be disappointing. This two Michelin Star Tapas Bar is situated in the heart of Soho and is incredible. Don’t be later than 12h00 though, otherwise you won’t get a table!
Barraffina serves contemporary and traditional dishes from all regions of Spain – expect the freshest seafood and dishes that are prepared in front of you. We trusted Dominic’s suggestions as he knows Barraffina well and were definitely not disappointed.
Pimentos de Padron – a taste sensation extraordinaire!
Baby Grilled Artichokes with Aioli
Chipirones – deep fried calamari with chili and salt
Octopus with Capers – grilled octopus with the smoky aroma of capers
Green Asparagus with Romesco Sauce and Parmesan Shavings – another all time favourite of mine! One of my big foodie inspirations is that of Skye Gyllenhall.
Having moved from Petersham Nursery Café in Richmond– Skye has moved into a beautiful dining space set in the New Wing of the iconic Somerset House. The food is wholesome and produce driven (a lot of the ingredients come from their farm called Fern Yarrow). The interiors are peaceful and artistic with hundreds of paper flowers pasted to the walls and the staff are donned in different shades of green.
An appetizer – Fritto misto of sage flowers – deep fried sage flowers with a squeeze of fresh lemon
Pappardelle with Sage and Crème Fraiche – this for me was so heartwarming and delicious – the pasta perfectly cooked and draped with the subtle flavours of sage and citrus…. As you can imagine, I have recreated this delicious dish at Londolozi!
Pan fried Scallops with green tomatoes, fennel and sweet cicely
Hundreds of handmade paper flowers adorn the grass wall paper walls
In conclusion to my London Food Safari 2015 – I leave you hopefully wanting to get on a plane and experience these wonderful restaurants for yourself. If you have been to any of the past featured restaurants or markets, please let me know as I would love hear all about it.
Written and Photographed by Chef Anna Ridgewell