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Advice

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What Makes Photography in the Kalahari Such a Good Idea?

The Kalahari is a prime spot for photographers. Mainly because photography in the Kalahari yields better results than many other places in the African wilderness.

So, what exactly distinguishes photography in the Kalahari from photography elsewhere?

– Crisp desert air
– Openness of desert savannah
– Good photo subjects on offer
– Thunderstorms in summer
– Low visitor numbers

I also discuss what equipment needed for quality Kalahari photography at the bottom of the page.

Crisp desert air

“Hazy? I am not sure I understand what that means…”

This is the typical reply you will get if you mention the hazy air almost constantly experienced in Cape Town, to a Kalahari resident. Why? Because the air here is crisp and clear.

Crisp desert air assures that photography in the Kalahari delivers high quality, sharp pictures. Period.

Openness of desert savannah

When talking to a fellow nature photographer while we were in the Kalahari, we discussed photography in the Moremi Game Reserve and Chobe National Park of Botswana. Northern Botswana is one of my favourite photography destinations, so it came as quite a surprise when this experienced photographer said he disliked this area because of the dense bush and its effect on nature pictures.

The Kalahari is an open, arid semi-desert, so no dense bush will interfere with your photography in the Kalahari. This is one of the main reasons why the Kalahari is a favourite among photographers.

Good photo subjects on offer

The Kalahari does not boast the big five, and this is quite understandable as it is a dry desert region. However, it offers you a very good chance for high-quality lion, cheetah and leopard sightings. The latter does require some luck, as always.

Some believe that the dry Auob riverbed between Twee Rivieren and Mata-Mata offers you the best chance of witnessing a Cheetah kill in the whole of Africa. However, lion numbers have increased in the past ten years, leading to a decrease of Cheetah numbers.

Apart from the big cats, you have a chance of seeing the African Wild Cat and the Caracal. The other main predators are Spotted Hyena, Brown Hyena, Black backed Jackal, Cape Fox and Bat-Eared Fox.

The birdlife is superb. Especially the Birds of Prey! These are plentiful and good sightings are almost guaranteed. We saw four different owl species, not to mention all the Eagles, Kites and Hawks.

The plains mammals also offer you good photo opportunities. Oryx or Gemsbok, Springbok, Blue Wildebeest and Red Hartebeest are plentiful. More importantly, they are constantly in good view. If you spend some time with these herds you will witness something special.

Thunderstorms in summer

During the time of our visit, there were thunderstorms on most afternoons, and even some mornings as well. This made for great dramatic skies in my landscape pictures (for pictures, see Kalahari Landscapes). This is a big plus for photographers for obvious reasons.

Low visitor numbers

In summer it gets so hot that the general public prefers to stay away from the park. This means that if you have an air-conditioned car, and can face some high temperatures, you will be one of very few visitors in summer. Visitors at this time are in any case mostly photographers.

The low visitor numbers also help prevent the notorious lion traffic jams that are so common in the Kruger National Park. One morning we had a kill site right next to the road with 7 lions, including Blondie, the enormous black-maned male. Yes, Blondie is not so blond anymore… I think there was about ten cars through five hours. Now that’s what I call low traffic! Needless to say, I took some marvellous photos.

What equipment to take

I took my Canon digital SLR camera, my favourite telephoto and wide angle zoom lenses, and sturdy camera support for inside the vehicle and a tripod (although you can only use it in rest camps and picnic spots). This setup proved sufficient for photography in the Kalahari, although I sorely missed a long prime telephoto lens. I bought the Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM since, and have not regretted my decision for one second…

My telephoto zoom, a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM proved to be a good choice except for a few shots where a longer effective focal length would have been preferred. However, I must warn you that it is not the sharpest lens, and if you are a fan of razor sharp images, steer well clear of this lens.

The 100-400mm lens offers 640mm effective focal length (efl.) on my camera (as a result of the 1.6x crop factor), and at times I wished I had an efl. of about 1 000mm to 1 200mm. It would be nice to have had a long prime with a converter. Photography in the Kalahari is great, but it would be even greater with a Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM lens coupled with a Canon Extender 1.4x II. Serious focal length!

Camera support inside your vehicle is very important for photography in the Kalahari, as you will not be allowed to leave your car and use a tripod except in the camps. I use a door bracket and a tripod head, and also the humble beanbag. These are highly recommended.

Obviously, if you are a digital photographer you would want to take sufficient memory cards and a laptop or other storage device. Since photography in the Kalahari yields such good pictures, I can assure you you will want to take plenty of pictures. I took almost 2 000 photographs in six days!

Final thought

If you are a serious nature photographer, and like African subjects, you should seriously consider visiting the Kalahari. If there ever was a perfect fit for photographers, this is it!

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How to Buy the Best Digital Camera for Photography

So which camera should you use to take your award-winning photographs? This digital camera comparison will help you make that important choice.

However, we are not actually comparing different models on this page, but rather equipping you to be able to do that for all models you are interested in. I tell you below what features to consider when doing your digital camera comparison.

I will assume that you have progressed to the point where you realise that top quality nature photography is not feasible using a compact camera system. Come on, you are way past that point, right?

Why digital camera comparison? Why not camera comparison, or film camera comparison? I assume that you are streetwise enough not to spend money on a new film camera this late in the game. We all know that the switch to digital is a reality, and even the most conservative and film crazy professionals have given up and bought a digital SLR.

Therefore this digital camera comparison page was written assuming you are in the market for a new digital SLR camera body (or second hand if you are lucky enough to find one).

That is not saying that film cameras are out, I have friends still winning salons with their Canon EOS 30 bodies. However, to equip most of my readers for their next digital camera comparison I am speaking to those wanting to get a new camera body. And digital SLR camera bodies should really be all they consider…

Features to consider in your Digital Camera Comparison

1. What brand?

I touched on this point on my Nature Photography Equipment page, and will not go into too much detail here.

I use Canon. Most other professionals I know use Canon. The rest use Nikon. That is about as much as you need to know…

Therefore, it is a simple choice between the two top dogs in the 35mm photography world, if you are clever… This choice will most probably be influenced by the lenses you already own.

Other manufacturers have some ground to cover before I will recommend their products. If your heart is set on a camera from another brand, at least take the time and do the digital camera comparison between that body and a similarly priced one by Canon for the same price. Then and only then make you purchase. I have wasted money with other brands, and I do not want you to make the same mistake.

The argument for Canon (or Nikon if you have to) is very, very compelling indeed, and to take your money elsewhere you have to have an excellent reason.

You can easily investigate the features listed here for any other digital SLR and see if it makes good photography sense to invest in such a camera body.

2. Price

The cost of a digital SLR body is a very important consideration. In fact, sometimes this is as far as you get with your digital camera comparison, because you can’t buy something you can’t afford. You need to have good glass (lenses) as well, and I always recommend rather going for a cheaper camera body and more expensive lenses.

There are currently fairly priced consumer digital SLR bodies available from both Canon and Nikon. Only the wealthiest among us (that definitely excludes me) will be able to afford the best camera bodies, like the Canon EOS 1Ds Mark II. The rest of us will have to be content with our Canon EOS 10D’s or 20D’s. Heck, I even have a Canon EOS 300D in my camera bag! However, I do think the Canon EOS 350D is a big improvement on the 300D.

The Canon EOS 350D (or similar) must be the perfect model for beginners. I saw it for the first time recently and was pleasantly surprised at how small it is. It is also priced right for a serious amateur photographer.

If price consideration is where your digital camera comparison stops, the EOS 350D is an excellent choice.

3. Megapixels and the RAW image format

Strangely enough, the amount of megapixels is not important at this level. All consumer and professional SLR bodies have sufficient megapixels to take on film images. The reduced noise in modern digital images also makes them more attractive than their film counterparts. However, I would say for any digital image to compare to a film image it has to be taken in some RAW format where you have all the data available for post shot settings.

It might be necessary to increase the number of pixels afterwards in Photoshop using the brilliant Genuine Fractals plug-in. This is what professional digital photographers do to match the high resolution of scanned images.

White balance settings on a camera works best if set to automatic in, lets say, 70% of the cases. The rest of the time, it is better to be able to alter this on your PC afterwards. That is another good reason to get a camera body with the capability of taking images in a RAW mode.

But wait! There is more… The size of the image sensor and the amount of megapixels it takes its pictures in could be a consideration. If you are not stocked up with a monster 600mm f4 lens and a 2x converter, then you are going to crop certain images. This is when having lots and lots of pixels can be a big advantage. It enables you to crop more of the image away afterwards, while still having enough data left for publication…

4. Possible ISO settings

I would recommend that you go for a camera body that can take pictures in ISO 100 mode or lower. When taking pictures in ISO 200 mode, I pick up visible noise compared to ISO 100. However, I would not decide between bodies on this point only. ISO 100 or lower is a nice to have.

5. Focus selection options

Focus selection options. This is something that almost drove me crazy with my Canon EOS 300D (especially back when that was my only digital SLR). When photographing a flying bird or other fast moving object, you need to have you camera body set to continuous auto-focus mode, agreed? Now that is not possible in any of the creative modes on the Canon EOS 300D, while these in turn are the only modes in which the RAW format is selectable.

BIG mess-up. You have a continuous auto-focus mode for the creative zones, but it is supposed to recognise automatically that your subject is moving and on the 300D that took way too long. I am afraid that the same problem might be prevalent in the EOS 350D, so be careful if you are considering that body.

I would rate this as a very important consideration in your digital camera comparison.


6. Mirror lock-up

This is again maybe a nice to have. I have not used it often but at a focal length of 800mm it might be necessary. That is the focal length (a massive 1280mm after multiplying by the crop factor) I will be using in my June 2005 Moremi and Chobe Botswana trip, so I will reserve judgement on the mirror lock-up till after then. Some of my pro buddies love using the mirror lock-up, so ask yourself the “Will I be using this?” question in making your decision.

7. Built-in flash

Some people get very upset if the built-in flash does not operate well. It is really weak on some camera bodies, so I will recommend buying a proper flash unit with your body if you will be using flash. However, if you plan using the built in flash, make sure it lifts up high. I was really disappointed with the height of my Canon EOS 10D body’s built-in flash. Almost any lens will get in its way…

I have a Canon Speedlite 420EX these days, but I operated for years without using any flash. Therefore, do not bash your head against the wall over this.

8. Focal length multiplier

This is a beautiful feature of digital camera bodies for the wildlife photographer. I was really excited when I saw Canon increasing its megapixels while keeping the focal length multiplier (also called the crop factor) unchanged in their EOS 20D and 350D bodies.

I love this feature because I want longer lenses, zooming in closer on my subject for wildlife photography. The focal length multiplier makes the focal length of your lens longer by 1.6 times for most Canon bodies. This makes a 400mm lens a very decent 640mm lens for bird photography. Now throw in a 2x converter…

9. Lens mount

Make sure that the body uses the lenses you want to fit onto it. This will generally not be a problem due to backward compatibility by big manufacturers.

10. Storage type

This will be a consideration if you have a micro drive but the camera cannot use those. Be careful to make sure you investigate this if necessary.

11. Number of auto-focus points

This might seem important, but all consumer and professional digital SLR bodies have a sufficient amount of auto-focus points. I tend to use the middle one most in any case. It gives me more control, enabling me to select exactly where the sharpest area of my picture should be.

Therefore, do not let this final feature count too heavy in your digital camera comparison…

Digital Camera Comparison – Conclusion

Is that it? Yes that’s it. So little? Yes, because that is all you really need to consider when choosing a digital camera body nowadays. Some people will want to throw me with stones for simplifying it this much (especially the EOS 1 fans), but in my opinion rather spend more time taking pictures than making you digital camera comparison an all consuming exercise.

If you carefully take the above features into account, you will be able to do a proper thorough digital camera comparison, and buy the right body for you. Once you have this body, think lenses, lenses, lenses. Lenses have a much bigger impact on the resulting photograph than the camera body used…

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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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Photos Look Better on a Dark Background

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve visited a forum and seen a photographer urging their viewers to view the image against a dark background because it looks better, I’d be a millionaire by now.

Black or dark backgrounds naturally enhance any and all colours, they can even make sub-standard images appear really good but ask yourself this …. are your walls at home painted black or charcoal grey?

I can guarantee that 99.9% of people will answer NO to that and I can also guarantee that 99.9% of your customers who you try and sell images and prints to also do not have dark black or grey walls in their houses.

If you truly want to visualise how an image will look in your house then view it on an appropriate background colour such as white or off-white shades or other neutral tones. As a photographer you should also think a little bit more about this and stop urging people to view it on a dark background, concentrate on making your images look good on lighter backgrounds, that is after all the conditions that 99% of your customers will use to display your print.

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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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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.