I’ve just returned from a very productive 7 night stint in the Timbavati Private Game Reserve in the Greater Kruger National Park here in South Africa. 3 of these nights were spent hosting a guest who opted to extend his 4 night Timbavati Safari (trip report coming soon) with a privately guided safari.
As Gerry mentions in this post, all of our safaris are about helping our clients grow their photographic skills and banking great images, privately guided safaris allow us to take this experience to the next level with focussed one on one tuition.
My guest Nicolas knew the area well and had a pretty good idea of what to expect in terms of sightings and really wanted to focus on establishing a solid foundation in understanding of aperture, shutter speed, Exposure compensation and ISO as well as getting to grips with editing and cataloging in Lightroom. The 3 nights leading up to our scheduled 4 night safari gave us all this and more!
Rather than giving a day by day breakdown of our sightings I thought I’d do things a bit differently and share some images I managed to grab whilst coaching Nicolas and share the lessons I was teaching him in each instance.
Back Button Focus & Birds in Flight
This was something that Nicolas wanted to focus on as he had rented the Canon 200-400mm F4.0 lens and was really keen to capture decent images of birds in flight and taking off. Back button focus was an essential part of “upping his success rate” on this front and we spent quote a bit of time looking at practical examples of why using this method of achieving autofocus would benefit him.
It took some getting used to but the results were certainly there at the end of the safari!
Understanding how the camera uses various metering modes in establishing a correct “exposure” in Aperture priority is vitally important and we spent a lot of time looking at how light was falling across a scene and, more importantly, how the camera read the scene. From here it was a simple adjustment of exposure compensation to capture the scene in a manner which emphasised the story that we had set out to tell in the first place.
Light and Shadows
Its mid morning, the light is getting harsh and you have a leopard resting on the branch of a Marula tree. The harsh light casts dappled shadows and highlights all over her body. The bright sky behind adds to what can only be described as an exposure nightmare.
Luckily for us there were many patches of cloud and, as the sun was blocked by these clouds the light became more even, allowing us to capture some beautiful portraits as well as a couple of animal in environment images.
Even when the sun was out and at its brightest, by thinking out of the box and being a bit more creative, we were able to work with the harsh contrast and deep shadows to create some interesting images which, without an understanding of exposure compensation and paying attention to the rapid changes in light, would have been missed completely.
Depth of Field
A crucial part of the exposure triangle and for me, the starting point in every scene we capture. Do I want to isolate my subject or include more depth in the frame?
We used opportunities to blur foregrounds and backgrounds but also to understand how when there are multiple subjects in a frame that we need to increase our aperture value to ensure that our subjects are rendered sharp and crisp.
Of course, focal length, distance to the subjects, and distance between the subjects and the background are vitally important but you know this already right?
Spotlights and Manual Mode
Nicolas was very excited to shoot after dark, something he had never even tried on previous safaris! This opened up a whole new world as we switched into manual mode and dialled in a recipe which was sure to set a solid starting point depending on the intensity of the spotlight and the distance to our subject.
Even when a sighting was only a fleeting glimpse Nicolas was able to capture the scene with ease.
The foundation had been set with our attempts to capture birds in flight and Nicolas pretty quickly grasped the idea of manipulating ISO values and exposure compensation to achieve shutter speeds needed to freeze movement in a scene.
This young elephant calf gave us a bit of a show in great light and we used the opportunity to look at animal posture and positioning to choose the best image out of s sequence during our Lightroom session after drive.
Intentional Camera Movement
We were fortunate on a number of occasions to be the only vehicle in a sighting or have no pressure to leave a sighting and once we had bagged the key shots we started to play with more creative techniques such as radial blur and panning. These techniques also came to the fore when the light had dipped below the horizon leaving us with no other option but to fight the light or work with it.
Photography is art and art is a creative process.
It’s not random but always has intent and a final creative vision.
With the stock standard sunset shot in the bag I prompted Nicolas to try something different and paint the scene before us across the sensor. It may not be everyones cup of tea but to me, its far more interesting than the clean “carbon copy” of a Marula tree silhouette at sunset.
These sorts of images don’t always need to be linked to a technique, sometimes a slight change in composition can open up a whole new world, as was the case with the leopard in the Marula tree I mentioned earlier.
Nicolas had rented the 200-400mm F4.0 with a built in 1.4x converter and paired this with a 7D MKII given him close on 900mm of focal length. The opportunities were endless but not immediately obvious…
These are just some of the lessons learned and concepts covered over the 3 nights and 6 incredible game drives that we shared together.
Baring in mind that before our time together Nicolas was shooting JPEG and bracketing each image for fear of getting an incorrect exposure, the gallery below, all shot in RAW in Aperture Priority or Manual mode, shows incredible progress.
“Fantastic first experience with Wild Eye.
My knowledge on photography improved a lot during this trip and will be very useful for the Masai Mara in august!”
It really is amazing how much one can learn and grow in such a short space of time under the right conditions and guidance.
I had a great time helping Nicolas grow his photographic skill, knowledge and portfolio and look forward to seeing some of his images from the Masai mara later this year!
If you’d like to experience a privately guided safari experience for yourself hosted by one of the Wild Eye team, drop me an email and lets change the way you see the world of wildlife photography!