African Photography Blog

Taking Your Camera on an African Safari With You

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Taking Your Camera on an African Safari With You

Don’t you like going through your vacations photos? We all take pictures when we go on a vacation. It is a great way to perpetuate the experience and remember it for years to come. However sometimes taking pictures is not smooth. Unexpected problems pop up such as running out of film, running out of battery or just forgetting the camera in the hotel. In this article we will provide a few easy to follow tips that will help you in carrying your camera and taking pictures.

The first decision when taking a camera with you on a trip is which camera to take. One of the common mistakes people do when traveling is taking a camera that does not fit their needs. For example they take a high end heavy camera just to leave it in the hotel room since it is too hard to carry with them. It is important to take the right camera for the trip. For example if you are going to be walking a lot or trekking it is better to have a lighter weight smaller camera. If you are going to be driving a lot you can take heavier equipment and more accessories. You should also match the camera to the destination and to your photography level. If your goal is to capture memories a cheap small camera is more than enough. If your goal is to take high quality photos for future enlargements a professional high resolution camera is adequate.

Carrying the camera and its accessories is much easier with the right carrying bag. Most people are tempted to buy a bag specifically designed for their camera. These bags are easier to use and have the right compartments for the various accessories but they have a big drawback: they can draw the attention of a thief who is lurking for tourists. It is better to use a normal bag such as a backpack that does not look new or like a bag that holds an expensive camera.

Digital cameras have many accessories some are optional and some are not. It is a good idea to make a checklist and use it when packing for a vacation. Make sure that you take the battery charger, the right adapters for the power outlets in your destination, lenses, memory cards and more.

Two very important things to remember when traveling are batteries and memory. Always carry a fully charged spare battery with you. One of the worst experiences is running out of batteries just before a great photo opportunity shows up. Charge both batteries at least every night when getting back to your hotel. Even if you did not take many photos that day and you think the batteries have enough power in them it is better to make sure by fully charging them rather than to take the risk. Also remember that batteries slowly lose their power even when not used so always recharge your spare battery too even if it was not used.

The equivalent of running out of film in old cameras is running out of memory in digital cameras. Make sure that you are taking enough memory cards for the whole trip. Unless you have a laptop with you to dump the photos to you will need the memory to last the whole trip. Try to guess how many photos you will take daily and then get enough memory to hold double that number. Remember that with digital cameras it is easy to take many pictures. It is better to take a few smaller capacity memory cards than one high capacity card. When a card is full you can leave it in your luggage in the hotel room. If worst happens and you lose your camera with the memory card in it you will at least have some memories in a safe place.

If you are an experienced photographer and want to take a tripod with you it is important to find the right compromise between a good tripod and carrying ease. If the tripod is too bulky and heavy you will end up leaving it in your hotel. You can also decide to carry two tripods a miniature one for when walking or trekking and a heavier one when driving around and stopping for photo opportunities.

Taking pictures when traveling is a great way to capture memories. When you get back home dump the photos to your desktop computer make backups and enjoy them for the rest of your life.

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Mistakes Almost Every Photographer Makes

Having been actively involved in photography for a number of years now, I’ve been through many different experiences and behaviors and also taken note of behaviors from other photographers. It seems that at some point in every photographer’s career something shifts inside them and they feel they have to reinvent themselves and their photography. I’ve seen this trait in photographers from all walks of life right up to the top photographers in the world.

Why is it that when you have developed a recognizable style and have found the recipe for your success do you feel the need to change it? Personally I think boredom or a feeling of going stagnant are to blame and that’s just human nature.

Of every photographer I have seen or known who felt the need to reinvent themselves, virtually every single one spent several years “trying” to unsuccessfully reinvent themselves and after a lengthy frustrating journey they realize that what they were doing all along was the right thing and they go right back to doing things the way they have always done it. Sadly some seem to get stuck permanently reinventing themselves and end up getting very lost and even losing their audience or worse giving up photography.

Please don’t misinterpret this topic as me saying you should not improve or advance in your photography, that’s not what I am saying. I advance and improve on a daily basis, I thrive for creating new and interesting images, I learn new techniques all the time but I do not reinvent the way I do things, I perfect them. I have been down this road like everyone else I’ve known but I luckily realized it quite quickly and stumbled back onto the path I was already travelling.

Happy Shooting 😉

Backing Up Your Safari Photos and Memories

Whether you’ve grown your image collection into thousands of images or only have yourself a few hundred prized photographs and memories, just how securely backed up are those images of yours. Do you even have them backed up at all?

Everybody at some point in their life will experience the awful feeling of data loss. This normally happens on a day when you least expect it, when out of the blue your perfectly functioning computer system crashes and dies. You take the system to a technical person who then tells you the bad news, all your data is gone. What do you do other than nearly have a nervous breakdown?

First off there are data recovery labs that in many cases can get your data back, some of them are so good they can even take a hard drive that has been smashed into pieces and get data back bit by bit. This however is an extremely costly scenario, for the most part the charges are by the hour and it can literally run into hundreds of hours and there is no guarantee’s offered whatsoever.

“Oh why didn’t I backup my images” starts to play over and over in your head even haunting you in your dreams.

The answer is to avoid this scenario altogether, it’s not pleasant and I speak from experience. Once you’ve lost data once you spend the rest of your life making sure everything is securely backed up and sadly many people only learn this the hard way.

So what are your options for backing up your images?

Many people with a smaller image collection can get away using CD-roms for their backups. They are one of the most affordable forms of media around and this allows you to make multiple copies to store in different locations. But how safe are CD-roms? Many people mistakenly assume that a CD-rom will last for ever. This is a picture painted into people’s minds in the early days when CD-roms first came onto the market, they were marketed as indestructable. Well quite simply they are not. Simply dropping a CD-rom from a desk can damage the disc badly if it contacts the ground wrong. A CD-rom is nothing more than a plastic disc with a microscopically thin layer of foil material which is the recording surface. If you took a sharp knife and ran it quickly over the recording surface you’d see silver flakes (and data) come flying off. In modern times CD-roms are in mass production and the materials used to manufacture them are cheaper resulting in lower quality products. You can buy CD-rom discs for less than a Rand a disc and you can buyCD-rom discs for a few Rand a disc and there is indeed quite a difference. Cheap no name brand discs will become your worst enemy, they seem fine and seem no different than their more expensive counterparts but there will come a time when you take data written onto a cheap disc, put it into your Cd-rom drive and discover your drive cannot read the disc. You try in a friend’s drive to find the same problem and you eventually discover that disc no longer works ….. what happened …. your data is GONE? “This can’t be happening” you say to yourself. Well uh yes it can. There is major differences in the price of CD-roms due to the quality of the foil recording surface. Cheap CD-roms may only last 1-5 years, more expensive ones may last 5-10 years and then you can get what we call medical grade CD-roms which have a “claimed” lifespan of 100 years. The price between them is remarkably different, the cheap discs can cost R1.00 a disc, the more expensive “name” brands could cost you about R2.50 per disc and medical grade discs could cost you abour R20-R25 each. So depending on just how important that data is, the choice is yours. If you choose to use cheap CD-roms then every year you will need to re-record them and discard the old ones. Trust me this ends up being a tedious process and once your image collection starts requiring several discs at a time it’s time to look at another solution.

The next best solution which works very well is to use external hard drives to back up your image data. Having been personally involved in the high-tech industry for nearly 20 years I have been through just about every brand of hard drive and above all Seagate drives seem to have the longest lifespan and the least chance of failing. I have Seagate external hard drives that are nearly 5 years old and still functioning perfectly so I have standardised on Seagate as a trusted name. Seagate produces a variety of external hard drive solutions called FreeAgent ranging from 250GB drives upwards to 2TB. They also have a range called FreeAgent “Go” which are small enough to fit in your pocket. Using an external hard drive for your backups is quick and easy. You get yourself a program like Super Flexible File Synchroniser and set it up to mirror your images and other data and you can run it daily or once a week. Simply having one external backup is not enough. If you buy yourself one 500Gb external drive you actually need to purchase two and every time you do backups you do it onto both hard drives. One hard drive you can store in your safe (hopefully fire proof) and the other you should store off site at a friend or family member’s house, and preferably in their safe too. Having everything in triplicate stored in 3 different locations guarantees you that should trouble strike you have one totally safe backup. The cost of external hard drives have come down dramatically and they are by far the most cost effective form of storage around but you really need to refrain from saving yourself a few bucks considering cheaper external drives, stick with Seagate (no I do NOT work for them) do your backups in duplicate and store one off site and you’ll be good to go for many years.

When your image collection grows beyond the confines of a 2TB external hard drive it may be time to start looking for a more serious back solution. For this photographers are turning to the Drobo system because of it’s great offerings. Drobo has essentially taken very expensive RAID technologies which were out of the reach of the average Joe for many years and brought out a fully redundant raid product with a more affordable price tag. A basic Drobo which can house 4 hard drives could cost you around R12-14000 or thereabouts. Then you could move onto a Drobo Pro system which is a lot more expensive but can house 8 drives, it all depends on how much cash you wish to part ways with and just how serious you are about your data. Again, having one Drobo storing all your data, even though it has full redundancy, is no guarantee your data is safe. I know of several people whose Drobo’s have crashed on them so essentially like above with external hard drives, if you buy one Drobo, you actually buy two and one gets locked away very safely, preferably off site.

When it comes to data backups you need to have a plan, something you’ve invested some thought into and you need to stick to it religiously. It’s no good storing a backup off site and never updating it. If you formulate a backup plan you will thank yourself one day when things do go wrong, you will rest assured knowing your data and images are securely backed up. I’ll revisit this topic again one day. For now, get backing up.

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Photography on Night Safaris in Africa

Taking a photo is not as easy as focusing on the subject and then clicking the camera. It takes more than that. In fact, it takes a lot of intuition and a set of lessons. This is why amateurs in photography need not only experience but also lessons in techniques and of course in the basics.  One of the hardest thing to master is night photography, not only because the subject is hard to find but also because the shadows will make it more difficult for the amateur photographer to take a good shot.

One of the popular adventures in Africa are night safaris within several national parks in Africa. In Uganda, Semuliki Forest is one of the best destinations to enjoy night photography given yhat the park hosts several nocturnal animals that include primates, leopards etc.

Below are some tips that any amateur photographer can use to master night photography.

Safety

The first thing of course that amateur photographers need to remember is to choose the location well. Remember that if you are going to do the shoot, you will have valuable equipment with you. There are places in the country especially in the cities that are very dangerous at night. Safety is paramount. If possible, do your explorations with one or two people as you cannot very well conduct your shoot in daylight or under artificial lights.

Spares

Another reminder is that batteries often run out easily in cold conditions, so it is best to carry an extra or if you have none, try to fully charge your batteries before going out of the house and proceeding with the shoot. You should also bring a good case for your camera as moisture during the night can easily permeate to your camera.

Other equipment

The best camera to use for night work is actually the one with the manual exposure settings, preferably an SLR (single lens reflex). Automatic cameras are not often recommended, as they are not powerful enough to fight the darkness. Another requirement is a sturdy tripod with a rubber leg to minimize slippage. A cable release is also needed as this will enable you to hold the shutter speed open.

Exposures

One important thing that an amateur must remember in conducting night photography is the fact that longer exposures are needed for black and white photos compared to ordinary lighting. Color film, on the other hand, will produce shifts in colors.

Use of flash

With insufficient light from the moon, most photographers will supplement the light with a hand-held flashes, a technique known as “painting with light.” Other more sophisticated ones may also use movie lights and torches as additional lights.

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Great Tips in Photographing People

It is not common to take a safari in Africa and you take only the photos of wildlife without taking photographs of people. Unlike taking photos of inanimate objects, photographing people can be more difficult as they are dynamic. They move. They can think for themselves. This is the reason why it is much harder for one to anticipate their moves and their expression. One needs to be always in his toes when capturing people. A great deal of experience is needed to be able to produce a great picture.

Know your equipment

This is one tip that you should not take for granted when photographing people. Remember that with people, you have to know every trick of the trade and every part of your equipment to keep up with their spontaneity.
There is no time to look for clasps and buttons when dealing with people. Everything must be instinctual and bullet-fast. In fact, one famous photographer even advised amateurs to know their equipment so well that they will be able to find the parts even with their eyes closed.
This can be achieved by constant practice. Start with people in your family. Another great training is taking photographs of people in events where everything is spontaneous. Try to capture their various expressions and their actions.

Focal lengths

In terms of the focal lengths that you will be using, it is best to use lengths from 28-105 mm., depending on the subject of the picture. Taking close-up photos are better with pictures that deal with people because this way you will be able to show through your photograph the expressions on their faces or the look in their eyes.

Capturing movement

One of the most fascinating subjects in photography is the human body in motion. With a good eye and instinct for taking photos, you will be able to capture a moment that will otherwise be lost in time. One problem with taking pictures of movements is the fact that there are cameras that are not able to capture them.
Too much movement will only result in blurred photos. It is best to either use a tripod to minimize the shakiness or use a camera where you can manually adjust the shutter speed.

Focusing

In focusing, it is best to aim for the eyes of people. This will add a glint of light in their eyes as well as ensure that the expression in the eyes is captured clearly. This is one of the most important part of photographing people as expressions convey a story in itself.

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Lighting in Nature Photography

Lighting is one of the most important factors in taking photographs of natural subjects. Unlike with studio shots where you control the lights and the shadows, taking photos outside is a little bit more complicated. In addition to not being able to control your subject, you also have to take into consideration the elements especially the lighting.

Of course for the seasoned photographer, natural light is no longer a hindrance. In fact, most photographers use light to create great effects and put color into an otherwise drab picture. Hence there are photos that play up the shadows or those that capture the different colors of the sky. This is especially true with landscape shots or those that capture flowers and other objects in the environment.

Light can have a lot of sources. In the morning, there is the sunlight while in the evening, there is the moonlight. There is also what photographers call the natural light, which is not as direct as the two previously mentioned. One can use any of these sources of light. The trick is to know how to use it by angling the camera and the subject to achieve the exposure that you want.

This is often done by studying the effect of the light and its corresponding shadows to your subject.  For instance, if you want a more dramatic effect, some photographers will use shadows as their main light instead of the natural light.

There are four main directions that photographers must learn in order to take advantage of the light outside. Overhead light for instance has high contrast and harsh shadows. This is achieved when the light is directly above the subject like when it is noontime. Using lights at the front will result with a flat shot.

This is usually seen with shots that use flash in the camera. Often, pictures shot in this direction will lack depth and dimension. Light at the back, on the other hand, may require an additional fill or reflector at the back to bring out the color of the subject. Often, with a light at the back, the shadows may ruin the photo.

Shooting with the light at the side is perhaps the most recommended when it comes to the direction as this will bring out the texture and the shape of the subject that one is using. For instance, with a light on the side, there will be parts that will be highlighted and parts that are not.

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Discover the Beauty of Landscape Photography

Symmetry, repetition, contrast, asymmetry, coherence, symbolism, and a dash of irony—these are the major components that construct a beautiful photograph taken by exceptional photographer.  These are also the very same components that one needs balance when taking one of the easiest yet most difficult subjects to photograph— landscapes.

LOOKING BACK

Since they are permanent, familiar, accessible, and part of nature, landscapes have been one of the most favorite subjects by most photographers. Landscape photography can be traced as early as 1849 when the book “Egypte, Nubie, Palestine et Syrie” containing prints of paper negatives was published. In the 19th century, many eminent landscape photographers emerged which dominate large photography collections in museums and galleries worldwide. Today, many budding photographers continue to fall in love with nature. And as they pursue the road to landscape photography, more and more works and techniques continue to emerge.

FALLING IN LOVE WITH LANDSCAPES

Unlike other kinds and styles of photography, most people would say that it is easy to take landscape photographs because you don’t need to instruct you subject and you can choose whatever angle you want. On the contrary, most photographers believe that landscape photography is one of the most difficult because you will need an intense set of equipment and a very keen eye to make an “ordinary” scene quite extraordinary.

Imagine capturing the natural beauty of a majestic landscape with your camera and in your own preference. Here are some of the elements you need to pay attention to before you delve into the realms of landscape photography:

1. Camera, lens, and lens shade are great deals. Although you can use any camera, most photographers would recommend SLR or digital SLR because these give wider selection of lenses and ensure superior results. Wide-angle lenses are also advised because it gives a great view into any picture. In order to protect your lens, look for a good lens hood or shade.

2. Tripod is a must. This is a very invaluable and important asset for landscape photographers to avoid the blurred outcomes and to ensure the maximum depth of field.

3. Invest on film and filters. Any film today can be used because it can record nature’s color vividly. You just have to be wise in using the right ISO film to avoid grains in your photo prints.

4. Consider camera position. This greatly affects the overall quality of your photo because it requires your creative decision. (TIP: If there is a horizon line in your composition, keep it leveled so there is a room for greater possibilities.)

5. Set the direction and the type of light to be used. Proper direction accompanied with balanced lighting will make or unmake your landscape piece so make sure that you visit the location and predict the weather before your shoot.

6. Be hands-on in post exposure manipulation. To get the job done, try to learn mastering the do’s and don’ts in the darkroom so you’ll get the result you desire.

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Magaliesburg Photographer Trump’s Lunar Eclipse Photos

The Lunar Eclipse Over South Africa on 15 June 2011 captured as never before by South African Photographer Mitchell Krog
South African Photographer Mitchell Krog, based in the beautiful Magaliesburg region has once again pulled something magical out of his photographic hat. Mitchell, a multi award winning photographer, is no stranger to the night skies and has spent much of the last 5 years photographing them. On Wednesday evening the 15th June 2011 a lunar eclipse event occured over much of the Southern Hemisphere and had sky watchers all over the world outside to witness this magical event.

In South Africa it is currently winter and up on the highveld in the Magaliesburg region it gets especially cold at night. Braving the cold weather, Mitchell headed out to capture his 4th lunar eclipse and decided to try something different. Instead of just focusing on close up images of the moon, Mitchell decided to go much wider and set up one of his camera’s with an extreme wide angle lens.

What came out of his camera was nothing short of amazing and has certainly trumped a plethora of lunar eclipse images all over the web. Mitchell describes this effect, “A combination of heavy dew fall and misting from the very cold weather is probably what caused the camera to capture this, it is an amazing optical effect like I’ve never seen before and I’ve spent hundreds of nights out photographing the night skies. What I find amazing about this image is that, optical effect or not, it clearly shows the moon sitting in shadow surrounded by the blue glow of Earth’s light. It’s easy for people to jump out and say it’s manipulated but it most certainly is not, this is direct from camera to screen but I’m so accustomed to critics and competitors trying any avenue to demoralize or discredit.”
All we can say is we’re amazed with this image and it already seems to be circulating all over the web and being very much WOW’d.

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Bubbling Spacecraft UFO in the South African skies

The strange craft which fleeted across South Africa’s night skies on Sunday the 18th of October 2009 causing UFO reports to flood observatories and Radio 702. Most people in South Africa thought they had seen a UFO but this object turned out to be a Centaur rocket carrying out tests when they passed over South Africa. From Mitchell Krog’s Astrophotography Portfolio. (Copyright Mitchell Krog – All Rights Reserved)

Information from http://www.planetarium.co.za/ thanks to Claire from the Planetarium for doing so much research into this event.

Hundreds of South Africans saw a star-like point moving across the sky while emitting “haloes” or “bubbles” of light just before 9pm on Sunday evening October 18th. This strange sight turns out to have been a Centaur rocket carrying out tests as it passed over South Africa nearly three hours after launch. The mission (AV-017) is a project of United Launch Alliance – see ulalaunch.com for a nice video of the launch and a 23-page “mission overview”. The purpose was to launch a US Defence Force weather satellite (DMSP F18) into orbit.

Ground Track

Event timeline (all times are South African time)Atlas Centaur

6:12pm – Atlas V rocket launches from Vandenberg Airforce Base

6:16pm – booster rocket shuts down and is jettisoned over the Pacific

– Centaur main engine starts

– payload fairing jettisoned

6:27pm – Centaur main engine shuts down

6:30pm – satellite released

– Collision and Contamination Avoidance Maneuver

6:46pm – testing begins

8:57pm – testing ends

9:10pm – Centaur main engine fires for 4min to send the rocket away from Earth (into an Earth-escape trajectory)

9:17pm – “blowdown” of the fuel tanks

9:56pm – burn off of residual hydrazine

What caused the bubbles?

Possibly venting of fuel during the tests, or firing of “reaction control” motors used to change the orientation or spin of the vehicle.

Tests carried out on the Centaur

Since the DMSP satellite was relatively light, the Centaur rocket had fuel left over after completing its mission of putting the satellite into orbit.  The collision and contamination avoidance manoeuvre gets the rocket a safe distance from the satellite.

After this, the Centaur is in free-fall – a (almost) zero-gravity state that can be created on Earth for a short time by dropping something from e.g. a tall tower, or in a plane for a few minutes (e.g. NASA’s “Vomit Comet“).  The test phase of the Centaur lasted about two hours.

The tests carried out during this time were described by ULA as:

“zero-g, long-coast propellant management . . . we do zero-g settling by the very reduced motion of the settling thrusters . . . [and then] settle the propellants against the wall of the tank by spinning the stage with no settling thrusters . . . [and] some venting during zero-g.”

Before re-starting the engine, the engineers also planned “a pulsed chill down demo . . . then some experiments related to the depletion of [the engine]“

One interesting use for these tests is to see how feasible orbiting “filling stations” are.  These would be useful for future manned spacecraft missions to the Moon or Mars, that would have to carry large (heavy) amounts of equipment into space.  Some of the experiments that would be useful for the design of these orbiting “propellant depots” include spinning the spacecraft to settle the fuel against the sides of the container, and firing small rockets or venting small amounts of fuel to push the fuel against one end of the container.  A large fuel tanker in zero-gravity has problems that include leakage of the hydrogen fuel (hydrogen molecules are very small and eventually leak through the walls of containers), and keeping the fuel cool.

United Launch Alliance has a great collection of (fairly technical) publications related to the future development of space exploration – see their publications page, especially this one which mentions using the DMSP-18 mission for zero-g propellant tests.

“The mothership is watching us”. What many would love to believe was a UFO turns out to be something actually from this world. A centaur rocket is captured dumping excess propellant into the atmosphere as part of a testing phase of this rocket launch. From Mitchell Krog’s Astrophotography Portfolio.