YOUR WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY QUESTIONS ANSWERED

Go Crave Rave’s photography question was picked out and answered by our favourite Safari Lodge… Thank you Londolozi!

Your Wildlife Photography Questions Answered

by on June 25, 2015

Last week we used the power of social media to gather some of your top wildlife photography questions. Take a read through my answers below from a selection of  the great response we had to our request.

1. What is the quintessential photo that encapsulates the whole safari experience? – @GOCRAVERAVE via Instagram

This is a tough question! Some shots will mean more to people than others, but I think that there are a few that really capture the essence of Londolozi, and the safari experience. There are too many, however, to talk about in one post, but these are my top six:

Sunset

In the same vein, a silhouette of an animal against a painted sky encompasses a quiet, reflective moment of the day.

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ElephantDrink

TsalalaCrossing

He's back! After the mother cheetah and her two sub-adults left, we began to get concerned that the male cheetah had followed suit, as he hadn't been seen for a couple of weeks. Apparently he was hanging out in the far west of the park, but Ranger Lucien Beaumont and tracker James Siwela found him down in the grasslands on Wednesday. let's hope he sticks around this time!

2. If you could take one lens with you, what would it be?- @afterangela via Instagram

The answer to this question really boils down to your photographic objective. You may be wanting to capture all the wonderful birds that the bush has to offer, in which case a big fixed telephoto lens is your best friend (anything from a 300 mm to a 600 mm, depending on your luggage allowance). Conversely, you may want to capture the landscapes and scenery. Here, a shorter, wider angled lens is your best bet. If I could take only one lens out with me, it would have to be an 80-400 mm lens, allowing me to get a really good range for capturing subjects both far and near.

3. What is the most difficult animal you have had to photograph?- @melukepl via Instagram

This, again, is a tough question to answer. Sometimes it’s not so much the animal that is difficult to capture (because that’s more about luck) as it is the situation that you find yourself in when you do come across those animals. Nocturnal animals are fleeting and can be very difficult to capture – particularly when the light drops. Here, the difficulty is more in choosing the right settings than it is in capturing the animal.

Fast moving animals (like birds, or animals in flight) are particularly difficult to capture.Again, knowing the correct settings and always being prepared are paramount.

Tutlwa Stalk 8

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Finally, from a personal perspective, I find photographing hippos one of the most challenging things. So often all you can see is a pair of ears, the top of a head, some nostrils and the body of water around them, and every shot seems to look the same. Here, I find that focusing on composition of the shot makes the biggest difference. By really making the most of your zoom, and getting into a closely composed shot of the details (the whiskers, the tactility of the skin and the way their eyes inspect you), you will more often than not get an interesting perspective that will make the shot.

A hippo bull rests while a red-billed oxpecker shouts noisily from his back. These oxpeckers will often use the hippos as platforms from which they can drink. Amy Attenborough

4. What post-processing technique do you use to isolate the animal and leave the background empty?- @travelingtulls via Instagram

This is a great question, and a chance for me to show you one of my favourite post-processing techniques using the burning and dodging capability of Lightroom. I love the subtlety of this technique, and how it really guides the eye to the part of the photograph that I want the viewer to be focused on. You can vary the degree by which you use this technique to suit the vision you have for your photograph.

Keep reading the blog for more post-processing tutorials to come in future.

5. What minimal megapixel on a camera do you need to shoot wildlife?- @momokatz11 viaInstagram

This is a great technical question which, again, needs to be governed by your objective for your photographs, and what you ultimately want to do with the end-result (printing vs online use). When we talk about pixels (short for picture elements), we are referring to the thing that captures and carries information about light and colour. A camera’s sensor is made up of a grid of millions of microscopic, light-recording devices called photo sites. Each photo site represents one pixel. When we refer to an 8MP camera, this tells us that the camera’s sensor has roughly 8 million photo sites. The need for a higher resolution image would vary depending on whether you want to use your photographs for printing onto canvas or photo paper, or if you wanted simply to use them to create an online album for sharing with friends and family on Facebook. For printing, it is always recommended to bring a camera that has a large sensor size. It’s important to know that sensor sizes vary enormously from camera to camera, which is going to impact the quality of your photos. A typical dSLR sensor will measure 23,5 x 15,7mm, which should provide a good quality image. For the best result, you are going to want to bring a camera with a full-frame sensor – in the region of 36 x 24mm. This will allow a much higher megapixel count, which will render the best quality shots in the varied lighting conditions that the bush has to offer, and the luxury of having more pixels to throw away if you need to crop into your photo. More megapixels, however, means more cost – which is another consideration. Chances are that your camera will already have a decent sensor size already, but a good guide would be to use a sensor with an average of 10-15 megapixels.

6. My favourite form of wildlife photography is having an animal walk away from me after a close encounter, as it lets you imagine “the journey from and to”. This means I’m photographing the animals from behind. Given this, what is the best positioning for the animal(s) in the photograph to give the greatest effect? – @gwest_captured via Instagram

Photography is an art form, and one that really lets us express ourselves to others using a frozen moment in time to tell a story. Capturing an animal’s journey as they wander through the bush is a fantastic way to tell a story, and positioning yourself behind the animal allows you to see the world from the animal’s perspective. I would always try and compose this type of shot with all of the elements that tell the story for you. Including a curving piece of the road or path that the animal is walking along always helps to give movement and flow to the shot, giving a sense of direction. I would also always try and include some part of the horizon (or surrounds) in your shot to give a sense of space as well. To finish off, I would always try and ensure that you have thought through your focus points – ensuring that either the back of the animal is sharp and clear, drawing your eye to it, and denoting the beginning of the photographic story, or you have chosen a similarly sharp part of the shot to grab the viewer’s attention. As always, photography is a highly personal practice, and should always make the most sense to you, first and foremost.

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7. What is metering and how do the different types work. – Ian Hall via the Londolozi blog

Thanks to Ian, who raised this question with me a few blog posts ago, we can touch on metering for new photographers who are often intimidated by their metering settings. Metering is simply a way for your camera to assess how much light is present in the scene that is being photographed. Historically, photographers used a light meter (which many still do) to measure the amount of light available on their subject. Nowadays, the dSLR cameras have a way of measuring the available light in order to decide how it is going to expose the scene. However, as we know, light levels vary quite drastically, creating a need for our cameras to have a number of different ways to measure light in order to correctly expose the shot. These are known as metering modes and are usually expressed in three ways:

Centre-weighted metering: Most common in digital cameras, the metering is biased or weighted to the centre of the viewfinder and then averaged out for the rest of the scene. The camera will then take the measurement of light from the centre and ‘guess’ how it will be spread across the rest of the scene. If there is a big difference between the darkest and lightest parts of the image, the camera will try and find the most appropriate setting to evenly light the whole image. Centre-weighted is most commonly used for portrait shots where the subject is standing in the centre of the shot.

Centre-weighted metering1

Spot / Partial metering: Here, the camera takes the reading from one specific spot and sets an accurate exposure for that part of the image only. No readings are taken from any other part of the image. True spot metering will measure roughly the inner most 1-2% of the image, where partial metering will take into account about 9-10% of the image as a measurement. This type of metering should be used when the subject has to be correctly exposed no matter what the lighting is like around the rest of it. This will ensure the most predictable exposure results, but can get tricky if the metering spot does not provide the best average, allowing for over or under-exposure across the rest of the image.

Spot or partial metering2

Matrix metering: This is the most sophisticated type of light metering, and is often the default mode for most cameras. It works by taking lots of different readings across the scene, while also taking into account the position of the main subject, the foreground and the background, any colouring, highlights, shadows or backlighting. The camera then takes this information and compares it to a database of similar ‘typical’ types of scenes and guesses what type of picture is being taken, exposing it accordingly.

What type is best: If there are no big differences between the light and dark areas of the image, use matrix metering. However, if you can see clear light and dark differences, it’s best to go with a spot/ partial or centre weighted metering.

These questions were a lot of fun to answer (and quite challenging at times!). Please keep them coming and I will feature yours in an upcoming post.

Written by Amanda Ritchie, Photography Studio Manager

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