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
As amateur photographers, once you have come to grips with ISO, aperture and shutter speed we find ourselves craving to learn more in order to take our photographs to the next level. There are so many technical terms, complicated theories and concepts that can often sound too daunting to deal with.
What I have found easier with photography is not to attempt to learn everything at the same time but rather to take it step by step. So, the technical term that I will be explaining today is metering. Most cameras will have some subset of the following metering modes: spot, center weighted average (sometimes just called “average”), evaluative (sometimes called multi-segment or matrix) and partial (not found on all cameras so won’t go into this one).
In this article, I explain each one of these in a way that I hope will help you take your wildlife photography to the next level.
Different metering modes measure the brightness of an image in different ways according to what your subject is and adjusting the exposure accordingly. Cameras all differ in how to change the metering mode and what symbols are used for each one but the general symbol to look out for is one that looks like an eye. For the sake of attempting to keep things as simple as possible, I have only shown examples on a Nikon D300 and a Canon 7D. I recommend a Google search or the information booklet that comes with your camera to help you find yours.
This is a Nikon D300 and you can see the dial on the AE-L/AF-L button. It has three positions: Center Weighted, the circle on the top, Matrix, the rectangle in the middle and Spot, the dot on the bottom. The Canon 7D is shown differently in each subsection below.
Spot metering is the easiest to understand: The camera meters only a small area in the center of the frame. This mode is useful if there is a particular area of the frame that you must expose properly, even if it comes at the expense of overexposing or underexposing the rest of the image. Spot metering can be tricky to use properly. If the metered area is quite small, tiny camera movements can have dramatic effects on the metering, making it tricky to get the desired exposure.
On the Canon 7D the metering is changed by pressing the (o)-WB button and dialling left or right according to what mode you are looking for – here you can see that the camera is on spot metering, shown in the form of the dot.
The TOP image of a goliath heron is a good example of how to use spot metering. I exposed for the heron as the background was a lot darker and I wanted to keep the detail in the subject. Canon 7D, 100-400mm, AV mode, 1/500th second, f/8.0, ISO 200. Photographed by Kate Neill
This is a perfect example on how to lock your exposure when using spot metering. In this shot, James used Spot metering with a centre focal point, composed with the leopard in the focal point, locked his exposure (pressing down on the *) and then recomposed and shot. This enabled him to get a perfect exposure on the leopard without allowing the light background to have an effect on the exposure. ISO 1000, f 4.0 1/640th 200 mm. Photographed by James Tyrrell.
Evaluative Metering (Matrix)
Evaluative metering is the most complex metering method, even though it is often the default on most cameras. It samples multiple areas of the frame and tries to come up with a good exposure value that takes all of these areas into account.
The camera will seperate what it sees into different zones and will expose according to these zones taking into consideration the focal point that you have chosen. With this being said, it is the most commonly used metering in wildlife photography and is often the default on most cameras. The best time to use evaluative metering is when your composition does not have too much difference in the lights and darks and you will find that the camera exposes perfectly. For wildlife photography, I suggest using this mode as your default setting.
Evaluative metering is shown as per the image above on a Canon 7D.
A close up view of the Vomba Young Male.
One of my favourite sightings. A flap-necked chameleon during the day.
Center-weighted average metering takes an average over the entire scene, where, as the name indicates, the average is weighted more heavily towards the centre. This implicitly makes the assumption that the centre is the most important part of the image, but that you don’t want to completely ignore the edges of the image either. Different to evaluative in that it does not use the focal point to take the exposure from but rather only uses the centre of the image, making every shot on centre weighted the same in terms of where the exposure is taken from. If implemented properly, this metering mode usually works pretty well. Moreover, with some practice, it will be relatively easy to predict when it will fail and to compensate. In wildlife photography this is the less popular of the different metering modes.
Center-Weighted Average metering is shown above as per a Canon 7D
For this photo of Tamboti female, settings were as follows: Shutter: 1/800sec; F4; ISO 400, Underexpose 2/3. I also used center-weighted metering. What this does is evaluate the average light around the centre of the image. The camera makes a decision on shutter speed based on the light over the entire image but focusing mainly on the centre. In cases such as this with very bright corners, it ensures that the face and body are still properly exposed. If not used, the face would be much darker as the camera would compensate for the bright background. Photographed by David Dampier
I hope that I have helped you to understand this concept. If you have any advice on how to use these metering modes that I haven’t mentioned then please feel free to let us know in the comments section below.
Written by Kate Neill
Photographed by James Tyrrell, Kate Neill and David Dampier
Over the last week I have started feeling the chill in the evening air. Winter is around the corner! This makes some of the challenges the bush throws at us a little easier – less bugs on the decks in the evenings, no torrential downpours and the snakes go into hibernation… Without the 35°C+ sweltering hot days, there really is nothing like a great glass of red wine around the fire in the boma to warm one up from within.
With this in mind I have listed five red wines on our wine list that I believe are real crackers!
Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2012
This wine hails from the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley just outside the town of Hermanus. This area is very well known for growing Burgundian varietals. The farm has been owned by the Hamilton Russell family since 1975. Tim Hamilton Russell originally purchased the farm and sold it to his son, Anthony Hamilton Russell, in 1994. The winemaker, Hannes Storm, has been with the farm for 13 years.
The wine is 100% Pinot Noir, grown on low-vigour, stony, clay-rich, shale-derived soil. It was matured in French oak barrels, 39% first fill (brand spanking new barrels), 33% second fill and 28% third fill. It is a dry, full bodied, not overtly fruity, soft and “sweet”. It is spicy, with primary red fruit (lots of cherry) and earthy tones.
I’d pair this with a Pasta Puttanesca.
Kanonkop Pinotage 2011
Pinotage is a uniquely South African varietal. Dr Abraham Perold, the first professor of viticulture at Stellenbosch University, created it in 1925 by cross-fertilizing Pinot Noir with Cinsault (also known as Hermitage).
This Pinotage comes from Stellenbosch. Kanonkop is a fourth generation family estate, owned by Paul and Johann Krige, which has been handed down from father to son for over 40 years.
The name Kanonkop is derived from a kopje (hillock), from which a cannon was fired in the 17th century. The cannon was used to alert farmers in outlying areas that ships sailing between Europe and the Far East had entered Table Bay for a stopover at Cape Town. They would then load their wagons, span their oxen and set off to Cape Town to barter their produce, mainly fresh fruit and vegetables (and probably their young daughters), to the sailors and travelers who had spent many months at sea.
The wine is 100% Pinotage made from old bush vines (up to 59 years old!), grown on decomposed granite and Hutton soils. It was matured in French oak barrels, 75% first fill and 25% second fill. The wine is full bodied with luscious layers of blackberry, raspberry, cassis and plum which combine hints of banana and mocha.
A quote from Kanonkop that I just love: “Pinotage is a juice extracted from women’s tongues and lions’ hearts. After drinking a sufficient quantity, one can talk forever and fight the devil.”
I’d pair this with a Duck Casserole.
Hartenberg “The Stork” Shiraz 2008
The farm was established in Stellenbosch in 1962. In 1987 Ken Mackenzie purchased the farm and today his daughters continue a program of investment in the farm.
Ken Mackenzie was a tall lanky chap with long thin legs. So when joining the RAF as a spitfire pilot in World War Two, he quickly earned the nickname “Stork”. Hartenberg named their flagship wine in honour of him.
This wine was awarded the title of “Best Shiraz in the World” at the Syrah du Monde competition in 2012. Hartenberg has the largest privately owned underground wine cellar in South Africa.
The wine is 100% Shiraz which was grown on Kroonstad and Pinedene soil. It has been matured for 17 months in French oak barrels, 60% first fill and 40% second fill. This is a full bodied wine with rich black fruit flavours, dominated by cherries, white pepper and violets on the nose.
I’d pair this with a cauliflower and cashew nut Soup.
Vilafonté “Series C” 2010
With their winery in Stellenbosch and vineyards in Paarl, Vilafonté is the coming together of great wine experiences from California and South Africa. Vilafonté is a collaboration between Mike Ratcliffe (managing partner), Zelma Long (winemaking partner – one of America’s best known winemakers) and Dr Phil Freese (wine-growing partner – he designed and planted the first Oupus One vineyards).
Vilafonté is named after vilafontes, one of the more unique soil types in the vineyard. Vilafontes is one of the oldest soil types in the world and has been defined as being somewhere between 750 000 and 1.5 million years old. The age of the soil is important as it is rather barren and stripped of most of its nutrients. This encourages the vines to dig deep for any nutrients and so they can’t focus their energy on growing large leafy canopies but instead focus their energy on their berries (their precious children), which then produces lovely highly concentrated fruit.
Vilafonté only grows Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Malbec and the “C” in “Series C” is taken from the Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc Component.
The “Series C” is a Bordeaux-style blend of 75% Cabnernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 10% Merlot and 5% Malbec. It was matured for 22 months in French oak barrels of which 90% were first fill. The wine offers aromas of preserved black berries and currants, hints of licorice, notes of chocolate and espresso coffee.
I’d pair this with a lamb rack with mint jus.
Spice Route “Malabar” 2007
The winery is based near Malmesbury in the Swartland region. Purchased by Charles Back in 1997 (who established Fairview in Paarl as one of South Africa’s most successful and popular wine estates), the farm was then better known for its wheat than wine.
The winery’s name reflects what the vineyard, the wines and the people are all about. It recalls the ancient marines of the 15th century braving the tempestuous waters of the “Cape of Storms” as they plied their trade bringing exotic Eastern spices to Western Europe along the so-called “Spice Route”.
Malabar is Spice Route’s flagship wine which is a Rhone-style blend of 64% Syrah, 15% Mourvédre, 9% Petite Sirah, 9% Grenache and 3% Tannat. The vines are grown on Oakleaf, Koffiefkip and decomposed granite soils. The wine was then individually matured for 14 months in French oak vats. The best barrels were selected, blended and returned to the barrel for a further 12 months. The wine has layered and perfumed aromas of rich berry, plum, chocolate and violets.
I’d pair this with rib-rye with a green peppercorn sauce.
So while I huddle around the campfire with a good glass of red wine at Londolozi this coming winter, what will you be drinking? Which of these five is your favourite red? Do you have another red wine that you enjoy drinking in the colder months?
So we all know the rule of thumb when it comes to pairing food and wine right? White wine with fish, red wine with meat. Now this theoretically works for most dishes and in general satisfies everyone, but it’s not always that simple. If I have a fish which white wine should I use, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Viognier?
What if the fish is pink such as salmon? What if there’s a creamy mushroom and blue cheese sauce on top of the beef fillet, surely a red would clash?
When it comes to pairing wine with food, there really is no rule of thumb, just a few general guidelines which should be considered on how food changes the wine:
Sweetness in food:
- Increases bitterness, acidity and the burning effect of alcohol;
- Decreases body of wine, sweetness and fruitiness;
If you are serving chocolate brownies, a Sauvignon Blanc which is already an acidic wine would not work, but a sweet dessert wine such as a Noble Late Harvest would bring down the cloying sweetness of the wine and wonderfully complement the brownies. I highly recommend the Jordan Mellifera Noble Late Harvest made from 100% Riesling grapes.
Umami (savoury taste) in food:
- Increases bitterness, acidity and alcohol burn;
- Decreases body, sweetness and fruitiness;
Umami is hard to isolate as it tends to be present with other flavours, the easiest way to experience it is to eat a raw button mushroom and compare it to a cooked one; cooking the mushroom greatly increases the umami effect. Salt counters the hardening effect of umami on wine but on its own it is rather hard to pair with. Ie, asparagus, eggs, mushrooms and soft ripe cheeses, in general, these dishes should be paired with wines that are more fruity than tannic, such as a light bodied red wine like Pinot Noir. One of my favourites being the Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir from the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley.
Acidity in food:
- Increases body, sweetness and fruitiness;
- Decreases acidity;
A good example here would be a tomato soup. A full bodied Cabernet Sauvignon with a lot of tannin would not go well with this acidic dish, but an acidic Sauvignon Blanc is a match made in heaven. The soup will lower the acidity of the wine and bring out its fruitiness, a great one to try is the Strandveld Sauvignon Blanc from Elim.
Salt in food:
- Increases body;
- Decreases bitterness and acidity;
Salt is very wine-friendly and helps to soften the harder elements of wine. A lovely piece of beef fillet with rock salt and mustards would further increase the body of a Cabernet Sauvignon and bring down the potential bitterness experienced from the tannins in the wine. Waterford Wine Estate in Stellenbosch makes a great Cabernet Sauvignon.
A lovely piece of beef fillet with rock salt and mustards would further increase the body of a Cabernet Sauvignon. Photograph courtesy of Google Images.
Bitterness in food:
- Increases bitterness in wine;
While the bitterness in a dish may be at a pleasant level, adding to it is not ideal. Consider white wines or low tannin reds. Examples of bitter foods would be rocket, asparagus, sautéed broccoli and olives.
Chili in food:
- Increases bitterness, acidity and alcohol burn;
- Decreases body, richness, sweetness and fruitiness;
With a hot dish such as a Cape Malay chicken curry, I’d pair a fruity, off-dry white wine with low alcohol. As the chili effect increases the alcohol burn, the lower the alcohol percentage the better. The curry will bring down the sweetness and fruitiness of the wine, which can make some wines, which some people normally wouldn’t drink on its own, such as Gewürztraminer or Bukettraube rather delicious. I recommend the Paul Cluver Gewürztraminer from Elgin or the Cederberg Bukettraube from Cederberg.
When pairing wine to food always think about the flavours of the dish and the wine and how they could complement each other. Remember to take the weight of the wine (how full and rounded the wine feels in your mouth) and the food into account. Consider the flavour intensities so that neither the food nor wine overpowers one another. Always remember that food and wine pairing is about the food, one must pair the wine to the food and not the other way round.
But first and foremost, remember there really aren’t any rules, just guidelines. If you enjoy drinking a Sauvignon Blanc while eating lamb rack with mint jus then that is ok, there’s nothing wrong with it. Experiment to find your best match, it’s really the only way one finds that “oh my” moment, and when you find it, it’s magic!
So what would I pair with (Italian accent) Spaghetti Bolognaise? I’d naturally choose an Italian grape. Sangiovese, Barbera or Nebbiolo all go well with this tomatoey meat sauce. My recommendation is the Bouchard Finlayson Hannibal from the Hemel-&-Aarde Valley (translated from Afrikaans – Heaven & Earth) of South Africa, a blend of Sangiovese, Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo, Shiraz, Barbera and Mourvedre.
Spaghetti Bolognaise – photograph courtesy of Google Images
Below are ten top things to do and places to visit in South Africa.
1. Hike up Lion’s Head At Full Moon
This hike is a firm favorite of many travelers and locals who make the hour-long walk to the top of Cape Town’s iconic mountain peak. A full moon hike is one of the most popular ways to revel in the view and energy of Cape Town’s bustling cityscape. Situated between Table Mountain and Lion’s Head, the walk is easygoing and well worth the trip at any time of day, although nighttime offers the most romantic view of the sea of lights below.
Lions Head, Signal Hill
Other suggestions: Cape Town is home to many incredible hikes. Explore the rugged terrain of Silvermine or one of the many paths along Table Mountain.
2. Live Safari in the Bush
The Majingilane coalition opposite Varty Camp – Photo by James Tyrrell
3. Walk in the Kruger National Park
South Africa’s flagship park offers a number of walking trails where guides take visitors into the heart of the wild. Set aside five days and four nights to explore the Mphongolo and Lonely Bull backpack trails, two of Kruger National Park‘s most recently opened trails. You’ll immerse yourself in a true wilderness experience, sleeping in a tent and carrying your own provisions. You’re also bound to encounter some of Africa’s most famous animals along the hike and learn about birds, trees, and wildlife from knowledgeable guides.
A walk in the wild in the Kruger National Park. Photograph by Elsa Young.
Warning: Not recommended for anyone who isn’t willing to rough it for a few days.
4. Capture West Coast Wildflowers
Carpets of striking orange and white in the West Coast National Park. Photograph by Kate Collins
South Africa’s West Coast puts on a special show in the spring months of August and September. Masses of flowers in every shade—from fire orange to canary yellow, amethyst purple, and snow-white—carpet the area from the West Coast National Park to Namaqualand. Namaqualand’s famous bright orange daisies signal the beginning of spring in nature’s most beautiful way.
Remember: Check the weather report before making a day trip to these areas. The flowers shut up tight on days when it’s overcast and rainy. The best months for flower spotting are during August and September.
5. Drink Wine & Head to the Vineyards
No trip to South Africa is complete without visiting one of the Cape’s famous vineyards. The Waterford Estate, situated in Stellenbosch, is a personal favorite. This family-run wine estate produces some of the finest wines that the Cape has to offer, along with a wine experience that is hard to match. For a unique taste sensation, try the chocolate and wine pairing. While you’re in the neighborhood, hop on a safari Land Rover for the two-hour drive along the slopes of the Helderberg mountain range.
Other suggestions: Delaire Graff Estate, Constantia Uitsig, Steenberg,Beaumont Wines, and Vergelegen are also fabulous wineries worth a look and a sip.
6. Experience Great White Sharks
Great white shark cage diving
It’s the top experience of South Africa’s most popular adventures—the chance to meet one of nature’s most feared apex predators: the great white shark. Cape Town is known as the “shark capital of the world,” and here you have the opportunity to experience shark cave diving with a number of professional operators. This adrenaline-fueled experience is one to add to your bucket list.
For more adrenaline activities: Try the world’s highest commercial bungee jump off the Bloukrans Bridge along the Garden Route, or descend Table Mountain by abseil—what locals call rappelling—at 1,000 meters above sea level with Abseil Africa.
7. Explore Blyde River Canyon
The famous Blyde River Canyon. Photograph by Rich Laburn
South Africa has an impressive record for being host to some of the highest and largest natural wonders. One of these is the Blyde (Dutch for “happy”) River Canyon, located in Mpumalanga, which forms part of the northern Drakensberg escarpment. It’s not only one of the largest canyons in the world, but also one of the greenest. Among Blyde River Canyon‘s verdant landscape and unearthly rock formations you’ll find antelope, hippos, monkeys, bush babies, and even crocodiles. Its falcons and eagles are a birdwatcher’s dream.
Other attractions near the canyon: God’s Window, Bourke’s Luck Potholes and the Pinnacle.
8. Visit Cape Town, the Mother City
Cape Town is unarguably one of South Africa’s most beautiful cities. It’s the “city with the mountain” (Table Mountain), blue-flag beaches, a world-renowned harbor, fabulous Relais & Châteaux hotels, and some of the best restaurants around.
Every part of this city wows, from the historic District Six Museum to the night and day markets, the electric-vibe nightclubs on Long and Bree streets, and celebrity spotting in Camps Bay. There’s Chapman’s Peak Drive, the big surf spots of Muizenberg and Dunes, and the small seaside towns of Simon’s Town and Fish Hoek that each hold their own attraction. This is a city with a buzz.
Cape Town, Table Mountain
9. Robben Island - Head to the place where Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in prison.
10. Head to the V & A Waterfront, the penguin colony at Boulders Beach, Cape Point, Simon’s Town, Camps Bay, Lion’s Head, Table Mountain Cableway, and Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden.
Boyd Varty was born in South Africa on the Londolozi Game Reserve.
“Drawing with light” is a series of playful artworks by Simon Bannister, a visual artist practicing predominantly in the field of land art. He’s also the 2013 David Shepherd Wildlife Artist of the Year.
“The Digital Tree of Knowledge” and the “World AIDS Day Heart” are Simon Bannister installations that invite participants to experience art in a collaborative way in a very new (and creative) South Africa.
The Digital Tree of Knowledge
Plug into the Tree, download videos and educational games, and connect to the world wide web … all from a small village in rural Africa. When Simon began work on this installation, he invited the teachers at Hazyview Digital Learning Centre to write out their dreams and add them to the Tree’s “roots”.
A totem of access to world-class education at Good Work Foundation’s Hazyview Digital Learning Centre (HDLC), Terabytus Digitata has become famous the world over. This is a one terabyte tree that connects students to the world, but it does so much more, and, as Simon says: “We wanted to create a meeting place connected with the virtual, creating an infinite branching of minds, wires and ideas, held strong by the roots of our humanity. Exploring the growth of the human mindscape and environment, may this work provide a boundless resource of learning and sharing for many years to come.”
World Aids Day Heart
The World Aids Day Heart was a piece of living art “threaded” by hundreds of hands.
I spoke about “Drawing with light” at the beginning of this article because when I first saw the electric lines of Simon’s elephant, I loved the surprise. Simon is one of South Africa’s preeminent, award-winning artists who isn’t afraid to gather old wood, collect a bunch of stones, or, in this case, turn on a torch.
An elephant drawn with light.
More than that – and much more significant – for me the title, “Drawing with light”, sums up a large body of Simon’s work. Here’s an individual who is finding inspiration with nature, but who is keen to share that, and also, to help other people – people who perhaps do not consider themselves artists – find their creativity via a connection with the wild.
As Simon says, “self-expression is the essence of the individual’s journey. We are all creative, your nature just needs to be discovered.”
I realize this may sound like exaggerated hyperbole. But, until you’ve come face-to-face with an animal more than twice your height and 75 times your weight, it’s hard to fathom how the experience can alter your perception of humanity’s place in the Universe. For me, it happened during the first game drive on the first day of my Kruger National Park safari in South Africa.
This close up portrait shot was taken while sitting amongst a breeding herd.
He was a massive bull elephant, feeding on a tree about 75 yards from our open-air safari vehicle. As he noticed us, he slowly turned and ambled our way with a sense of purpose. When he got within 50 yards, I began looking at our guide nervously. By the time he’d reached the 30 yard mark, we asked if perhaps it was time to move the Jeep and give him some space. Solomon assured us that it was fine, as the elephant came closer and closer and closer.
Ranger Don Heyneke has a close encounter with a large elephant bull in musth. Often getting a bad reputation as being irritable and dangerous (although this can be true), large musth bulls, if approached cautiously , can offer wonderful sightings. This one was following the scent trail of a breeding herd of females that had recently passed through.
Finally he stopped, less than 10 yards from my side of the vehicle, his humongous face at my eye level. He lifted his trunk into the air and sniffed, his nostrils pointed right at me: I swear I could feel his breath when he exhaled. There was not a single movement– not a single sound– from the 6 passengers. After what felt like an eternity, the elephant turned, walked over to the nearest tree and pushed it over as if to say, “You see what I could have done to you?” I wept at the overwhelming beauty of the moment.
Written by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett
You can never predict the future, it is not a gift that is possessed by human kind. One can never wake up with an exact path described, planned and executed. There is too much in the world that can change your course and alter the way your path winds. The South African bush is the same. Each of us head out every morning with some sort of plan, however, we all know inside that nothing out here can be guaranteed. This is what we live for and what, as a guest, one experiences. This is what drives us to explore. and how we strive to live our lives in this wilderness. Taking each step with anticipation and with an open mind. Come and live our week of surprises with us.
A great way to start off a week in the bush. An African Sunrise. Trevor McCall-Peat
Successful week for the Cheetah residents. Trevor McCall-Peat
A rarity during the day, and is the most impressive spotting from any tracker. Chameleon in the day. Trevor McCall-Peat
Deadly stare. A Boomslang. Trevor McCall-Peat
The Mashaba young female, safe in the fork of a tree as the Tsalala pride lurk below. Travor McCall-Peat
A male Cheetah in the beautiful morning light. Josh Lee
A Sparta pride lioness rests in the Maxabeni after a big meal. Josh Lee
Backlit Vomba Young Male. Josh Lee
The Vomba young male stalks a herd of Impala unsuccessfully. Josh Lee
A morning together preparing for a night of battle. Josh Lee
Bonding time in the Majingilane coalition. Josh Lee
Showing off his protractive claws. Josh Lee
Amazing night photography on an ODP training course. Josh Lee
Some of the strongest in the sky. A Martial Eagle. Mike Sutherland
Great interaction between Lions and Hyena. Here the Sparta Pride chased this Hyena from their kill. Mike Sutherland
A quick glance up as the Tamboti female passes a vehicle on a morning territorial patrol. Mike Sutherland
More Elephant textures. Always room to play with crops and angles with these amazing animals. Mike Sutherland
My favourite of the week. A Tsalala cub with innocent eyes.
Written by: Mike Sutherland
Photographed by: Mike Sutherland, Trevor McCall-Peat and Josh Lee
In my short time of attempting any form of bird photography I have found it incredibly frustrating. With that in mind I thought I would explore the art of the possible and find out a few tips and tricks on how to photograph birds. Now, after doing some research I realised that it only gets less frustrating once you come to terms with the fact that patience is a virtue! So this leads me to my first piece of advice for the day…
Patience, patience, patience. Now patience with the birds is one thing, but patience with yourself is another. With bird photography, particularly with birds in flight, you need to be prepared for failure. Sometimes you can literally take three or four hundred photos and perhaps get one or two “keepers” at best. It must be remembered that every perfect shot of a bird in flight that you might see is invariably the product of hours of frustration and hundreds of blurred attempts previously.
Capture their behaviour
In order to do this, there is a certain amount of knowledge about the birds that is needed. For example, understanding the signs just before a roller is about to do his display, or reading the body language of a bird that is about to take flight.
Feeding birds, particularly those hawking insects, will often return to the same perch. Focus on the perch and wait for the bird to return in order to get a shot of it landing, wings spread. Sometimes a bird that has caught something and returned to it’s perch will toss it’s prey in the air in order to re-position it for easier passage down the throat – if you are ready for this you may get lucky with a well timed shot.
In this white fronted bee-eater shot, knowledge of the bird’s behaviour ensured Chris Kane-Berman captured this shot of it re-positioning it’s meal.
Nothing fascinates more than capturing a bird in flight, but if you’re not careful, you’ll only get a blur. To stop the action cold, you need to quicken the shutter speed to at least 1/1000th of a second. The fast shutter will be enable you to freeze the action. Consider also the species of bird you are shooting – a small, fast flying bird might need a shutter speed of over 1/2000th of a second, whereas a large, soaring eagle might only require 1/1000th of a second or less.
This photo of a juvenile yellow billed kite came out sharp thanks to a 1/4000th shutter speed. Although this is faster than required for a bird like this, rather too fast a shutter than too slow.
Check your reflexes
Compared to mammals, birds are not only small, but very fast. You have to be thinking in advance of what you are going to do – whether it is panning the lens with the bird, or pressing the shutter in time as it takes off. By the time you have seen the bird spread it’s wings to take off, passed the message from your brain to your finger and released the shutter, it is invariably too late – you need to constantly think of releasing the shutter before the bird flies – this will reduce your reaction time and help get the shot.
Quick reflexes ensured that Duncan Maclarty managed to freeze this image of a white fronted bee eater as it left it’s perch.
Settings are important
Everyone has their own preference when it comes to settings. The non-negotiable however, as mentioned previously, is a fast shutter speed. How you achieve that is up to you. Some important points to remember are:
- Up your ISO – this will help with a fast shutter speed and if you have good light, a high ISO won’t result in as much noise as a high ISO in low light – most modern DSLR’s will show up very little noise in good light with an ISO setting of up to 1000
- Up your aperture – although this will lower you shutter speed, so bear that in mind, it allows a bit more room for error in your focal point, as it brings more of the image into focus
- Continuous focus – this will help you track a bird in flight as your lens and camera will continually re-focus as you track a bird
- Continuous shooting – taking one shot at a time will limit your chances of success – set your camera to it’s highest rate of frames per second to improve your odds.
The right gear
Bird photography is one area where you can’t get away with anything less than top quality equipment. A decent camera body with a mega-pixel count that will allow for a significant crop is a must. Anything less than a 300mm lens will battle to capture a decent image – a fixed focal length lens of 400 or 500mm is ideal – not only are birds small, they will seldom let you get as close as mammals, so the reach of a long lens is usually needed.
With a big lens, the next requirement will be a support system. Most of these lenses weigh a fair amount so operating them hand-held can be tough. A good quality tripod or beanbag is a must.
A hyde or some sort of cover can be a useful tool in allowing you to get a bit closer to capture the image you are looking for.
Other than that, a fair bit of luck always helps! Please feel free to add to these tips in the comments below…
At nine days old and spending at least two hours a day, this was one of the only pictures I could get of these Ashy Flycatcher chicks
A Hammerkop fishes at the causeway
A White-fronted bee-eater takes off from its perch in search of prey. They are incredibly agile fliers with acute eyesight, allowing them to hunt on the wing with swift manouvers.
Pied Kingfisher whilst hovering above the water.
A lilac breasted roller just after take off
Written by Kate Neill