African Photography Blog

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Using HDR in Wildlife & Landscape Photography

So you can HDR but can you do it in one shot and without filters? Blending, challenge, exposure, filters, HDR, high dynamic range, highlights, image, Landscape, midtones, ND, neutral density, Photography, shadows, single

High Dynamic Range or HDR in it’s shortened form has opened up many new avenues for photography. HDR is a process of blending multiple exposures together to better reproduce the dynamic range of the scene and for the most part it’s a very useful tool indeed. I myself have done many experiments into HDR using bracketing of frames to produce multiple exposures which I can later blend BUT all that blending does take up a lot of time in post processing.

Just doing one image blend with 7 exposures with some fine tuning and manual blending included you can easily spend 1-2 hours to get the image perfect. In some cases it might be worth it to take a very special moment you captured on film and to spend that time working the image to perfection. While this can and does produce some very special effects within images I still find HDR, no matter how well executed, to lack something truly special, an ambience that only a single shot exposure carries.

One exposure requires finding the perfect moment to capture the image.

While some may argue that we’re now in the digital world and we must all move to new and wonderful ways of processing images I say yes and no to that argument. I will use HDR when I find it necessary and with many shoots I will bracket exposures regardless but my primary goal is always to get it right with one exposure. I find simply bracketing exposures on every shoot with the intention of later blending and “fixing” it in photoshop makes one a rather lazy photographer because you tend to find a recipe, set up, compose, bracket and go home to fix. Guilty as charged.

While this approach may be perfectly okay for some I enjoy photography because it challenges my mind. I myself got into a trap for a short while of merely relying on bracketed exposures for nearly all shoots. There were many days when I was too lazy to get out filters and do it properly so it was much easier to just bracket my exposures and do the hard work later in Photoshop.

In the end I was just finding HDR was totally lacking something very special, HDR just looked too perfect and NOT at all how the eye saw it. HDR fanatics (myself included) continually fool themselves into believing that the end product they produce through HDR and image blending is a faithful representation of what they saw, but of the many many photographers I know only a few ever take real notice of what the scene really looks like. The others have their eyes stuck permanently behind the viewfinder relying solely on the camera to capture all the necessary bits of information. I make a point of studying very carefully the scene’s I record and do my best to etch them in my mind, right down to the tiniest details and by doing so I manage to find some very special elements of an image that HDR tends to over-produce and in most cases actually ruin. Shadow areas of an image, for example, are crucial to the depth and feel of an image yet HDR fanatics tend to, what I call rape the shadow areas, lightening them up much more than they appeared to the human eye and it’s so easy to fall into this trap with HDR. Again .. guilty as charged

In the last year I have slowly forced myself back to basics, getting exposures perfect with a single exposure, without filters and without bracketing. It’s not always easy depending on light conditions but actually a lot of the time it is and it all comes down to timing, planning and using all available and natural elements to control the flow of light into the camera.

I’ve enjoyed my journey with HDR and I do know I will still use HDR methods for certain work but with landscape, nature and some other forms of photography I’m finding the step back to basics to be producing very special images like none other and it’s made my photography all that more interesting and challenging again. The mental challenge has always been my driving force and it’s good to have that old friend back at my side.

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Basics of Macro Photography in Africa

Ever wondered how a photographer is able to get blown up pictures of a frog that is less than an inch long? What about a close up picture of living tissue or a postage stamp?

There is no magic to how this is done. An ordinary 35mm. camera can do this but if the hobbyist wants to get down on things, using something that is 100mm. or higher is better. This art is known as called macro photography or “photomacrography.”

Macro photography is nothing new. Before digital cameras were invented, people would shoot using a regular model then enlarge this according to the actual size of the object after it is developed.

This takes time and the new versions out in the market are better because images taken can be viewed on screen and deleted if this does not satisfy the photographer. This saves time and effort on the part of the individual who will have to have to this again if the picture isn’t that great.

The trick to getting these pictures is to shoot as close to the object as possible. Some people might say why not zoom in with the camera but the images are just satisfactory because the background just gets in the way. Photomacrography allows the user to shoot and have a larger image.

Even if people now use digital cameras, the rules for taking pictures are still the same.

1. The aperture must be adjusted to achieve the right frame during each shot.

2. The lighting must be balanced to bring out the true color of the image. If the lamps or the sun are not enough, perhaps having reflectors in the background can make this happen.

3. The use of flashes may at times be the only to get the right shot. The person can use a flash meter and test firing the camera a couple of times to be sure it is precise.

4. The object is usually taken in many angles to get the perfect shot. Those who don’t have steady hands then should use a tripod.

5. Equipment must be stored and cleaned properly to enable the photographer to use this again in the future.

There are books and seminars for those who want to learn more about photomacrography. It will be a good idea for the hobbyist to read and participant in such functions to be able to interact with professional photographers and excel better in this art.

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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.