Trip Report: Exclusive Madikwe Photo Safari | July 2016

Andrew Beck Andrew 1 Comment

I always love returning to Madikwe and this time was no different. The recent re-branding of all of our safaris which cater to a maximum of just 3 guests to “Exclusive…” saw this safari receive a name change from its original “Madikwe Wildlife Photography Workshop” and whilst the name may have changed, the workshop element certainly did not.

The idea behind this, and all of our safaris really, is that we want to teach and share our skills and experience with our guests in a manner which helps them to improve their photography and post processing. In the spirit of teaching, and sharing some of the less obvious and less technical learning opportunities that we’re able to capitalize on whilst in the field, I thought I’d share some of the lessons learnt from some of the sightings we enjoyed during our 3 night stay in Madikwe.

Harsh Light | Its not the end of the world…

One of the fantastic features of this safari is that we have 24 hour access to an underground hide right in-front of the lodge. Whilst the action at the waterhole interrupted any work we did in Lightroom during the middle of the day, it certainly gave us some great photographic opportunities.

A lot of the action took place in the middle of the day when the light was at its brightest and most direct. Most photographers would have turned their noses up at the thought of pulling out the camera but, we were here to learn and grow our skills, and this was just another opportunity to gain a better understanding of how to shoot in these harsh lighting conditions.

Massive flocks of red-billed Quelea provided a lot of action and, even though the light was almost directly above the flock as they drank in-front of us at 14:15 in the afternoon, we were able to capture some decent images.

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Canon 5Ds R, Canon 400mm F2.8 @ F4.0, ISO640, 1/2000, +1 2/3

Overexposing by a full stop and 2/3 dealt with the harsh shadows whilst simultaneously exaggerating any highlights in the background – something I didn’t mind as that was part of the creative effect we were looking for in what was only ever going to be a high-key scene. The resultant reduction in shutter speed from the exposure compensation meant that we would need to increase the ISO value to bring the shutter speed back to a point which would render the movement of the birds sharp and in focus.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, an elephant herd drinking around the same time of day provided a opportunity to work with the backlit water droplets and splashes left as the elephants spilled water from their mouths back into the waterhole.

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Canon 5Ds R, Canon 400mm F2.8 @ F5.0, ISO160, 1/1600, – 1 1/3 EV

Underexposing to maintain the deep dark shadows cast by other members of the herd in the background resulted in a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the falling droplets of water and resultant splashes. The bright light and dramatic underexposure meant that the ISO could be kept as low as 160 and still result in a shutter speed of 1/1600 of a second.

The same time of day, two completely different images.

Golden Light | It just doesn’t get any better…

Photographers are always in search of “Golden Light” and on a each of our afternoon game drives we were fortunate enough to have been able to respond to sightings of the rare and endangered Wild Dog. Whilst these sightings always stir up a fuss with guests travelling across the entire reserve to see them, we hung back and bought our time, waiting for as long as possible before moving into the sighting.

Why you may ask?

The reasons are two fold.

  1. Sleeping dogs, as beautiful as they are, make for poor images. Knowing their behaviour we knew they would start to become more active as the afternoon wore on and we wanted to be there when they started greeting one another and started to head of on the hunt.
  2. Golden Light.

Our timing couldn’t have been any better…

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Canon 5Ds R, Canon 70-200mm F2.8 @ 130mm and F7.1, ISO640, 1/800, -2/3 EV

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Canon 5Ds R, Canon 70-200mm F2.8 @ 200mm and F4.5, ISO800, 1/1600, -2/3 EV

I’ve expanded on how important it is to understand and predict animal behaviour in this post but this was just another example of how getting into position at the right time made all the difference.

Low Light & Spotlight Photography

Photographing wildlife at night under a spotlight was a first for a couple of the guests on the trip and they couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity than what was provided by this Brown Hyena which we found scavenging on a carcass.

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Canon 5Ds R, Canon 400mm F2.8 at F2.8, ISO 4000, 1/250

Deconstructing A Scene

When you’re faced with a scenario where you just have to much glass, don’t always reach for a wider lens, think out of the box and start to deconstruct your scene.

Look for patterns, textures and some of the more abstract elements which define your subject.

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Canon 5Ds R, Canon 400mm F2.8 @ F5.6, ISO250, 1/250, -2/3 EV

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Canon 5Ds R, Canon 400mm F2.8 @ F9.0, ISO 400, 1/200, -1 EV

Given that we are usually VERY close to our subjects in these instances one needs to pay close attention to aperture values and the resultant depth of field. The closer you are to your subject the shallower your resultant depth of field. Use it to blur the backgrounds (as in the first image) or increase your aperture value to render all details and textures sharp and in focus (as in the second image).

Canon 5Ds R, Canon 400mm F2.8 @ F5.6, ISO250, 1/250, -2/3 EV

Canon 5Ds R, Canon 400mm F2.8 @ F11, ISO 500, 1/160, -1 EV

Capture the iconic shot, no matter how many times you’e seen it shared from someone else, its always good to have captured it for yourself.

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Canon 5Ds R, Canon 400mm F2.8 @ F6.3, ISO 640, 1/1000, -1/3 EV

Natural Framing

Its always best when we allow nature to do all the hard work for us and the use of natural framing to tell a story in an image can be very powerful.

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Canon 5Ds R, Canon 24-70mm F2.8 @ 31 mm and F13, ISO 320, 1/320, -2/3 EV

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Canon 5Ds R, Canon 70-200mm F2.8 @ 200mm and F4.0, ISO 500, 1/1000, -2/3 EV

Interaction

Having interaction between two individuals or even two species adds a whole new dimension to an image. Pay attention to your subjects’ behaviour and focus your attention on where the action is likely to take place.

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Canon 5Ds R, Canon 400mm F2.8 @ F5.0, ISO 800, 1/200, -1 EV

Sometimes things just are the way they are…

It is a bitter pill to swallow but perhaps the scene in-front of you is as good as its going to get. And it may not have much photographic value!

Whilst killing time before moving into the wild dog sighting we were fortunate enough to spend some time with two male cheetah. One was collared for research purposes which, from a purist photographic perspective, eliminated him from the fold. We sat waiting for the second male to raise his head, open his eyes, stretch, yawn… Do something!

When he did, this was as good as it got…

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No light in the eyes to reveal that rich amber colour. No yawn to reveal the teeth. This was it, and that was fine.

We cant have all the good stuff all of the time, wildlife photography wouldn’t be wildlife photography if this was the case would it?

I hope to share a gallery with some of the guests’ images when they’ve had a chance to send through their 10 favourite images to me for a constructive crit but am certain that they will echo my sentiments on how much they learned during our time in Madikwe!

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Yes, it gets THIS cold in Africa 😉

About the Author

Andrew Beck

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Very few people can tell you what their passion in life is. Even fewer will be able to tell you that what they do for a living is in fact their passion. My love for the bush and conservation took me on journey which would not only allow me to explore the continent which fascinates me so much, but to share my passion for photography and conservation with others. Be sure to check out my my website and instagram account.

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