Today we conclude the 2019 Complete Namibia Tour & Workshop travelogue series, as we head into the Etosha National Park for a final four days ending this year’s tour. As I mentioned last week, Namibia is having a pretty nasty drought this year, so the wildlife dynamic was somewhat different from a typical year, but I’m a firm believer in being presented with fresh opportunities when something is taken away from us, and Etosha this year was no exception, as you’ll see in some of today’s ten images.
Young Rhino Squabble
We started our Etosha experience with a game drive in our lodge’s private reserve, which is actually adjacent to the park, and they explained to us that they had made a decision to bring in some grass to feed their White Rhino population. They were worried about our reaction to this, but the way I see it, there are enough rotten humans out there taking these magnificent creatures away from us, that I’m totally OK with the good guys helping them to stay alive during this hard year.
You can actually see the grass in this image, with a young male Rhino getting feisty, and throwing his weight around with an older, more cautious, female Rhino. The last of the evening sun was still falling on the scene at this point, giving us that beautiful golden light, and I increased my ISO a little to 1600 to give me an 1/800 of a second exposure, which helped to freeze that line of grass that the Rhinos kicked up in their squabble.
Feisty White Rhino
As the sun continued on its path taking it below the horizon, the light lost its color, making this next image almost completely black and white. This is the same young male Rhino, who just kept running around, kicking up dust, and generally giving the other young Rhino a hard time.
It’s great to see these animals with their horns, as many reserves are dehorning them in a bid to keep poachers away, although there is now some debate about the effectiveness of this practice. Seeing these animals with their horns though is one of the major benefits of using the lodge that we stay at for the first two nights at Etosha. Of course, I support any measures that the people take in the fight against poachers, as long as it doesn’t involve rich people with guns.
Zebra in the Dust
In this next image from inside the Etosha National Park the following day, you’ll see that some parts of park were completely baron of any grasses for the animals. This same area was a grassy plain last year, so the animals are struggling, but the dust that these zebras kicked up adds a lot of atmosphere to this shot in my opinion.
This is one of the bonuses that I believe we were presented with, in place of the grasses that can also look very beautiful. I processed this is such a way that the dust is actually a little brighter than it was in reality, giving it a slight glow, complimenting the graphically stunning zebra. I just love it when there is something that helps us to see the air in a photograph. It really does literally add “atmosphere” to an image. The processing was just a few deftly tweaks to the Tone Curve in Capture One Pro. Nothing difficult, but very effective, in my opinion.
Another thing that I like to do is to get in close and try to make semi-abstract images of the young zebra among their parent guardians. I generally don’t like to cut off elements in the frame as I’ve done with the other zebra in this shot, but when the subject is so obviously the young zebra here, I think the tight crop can also work, even though the main subject is also cut off along his behind and back legs.
Note too that I was using an aperture of f/11 for most of these shots, to give myself a slightly wider depth-of-field than most people use for wildlife, giving separation between the animals, while enabling me to get a 1/1000 of a second shutter speed here, with ISO 1600. These are my golden settings for most of the work we do in Etosha, as I like that depth-of-field for wildlife. You might also notice that the zebra here are backlit, which some people will shy away from, but using the Shadows slider in Capture One Pro or Lightroom enables us to see nicely into the darker areas of the frame without making it look unnatural, and I love the rim-light on this young zebra’s back.
On our third day in Etosha, we drove through the park, from the East to the West side, and as you can see, there was more vegetation on this site. With that, many of the animals had made their way across the park, although water was still scarce, causing animals like these springbok to walk across the plains to the scattered waterholes.
In the background of this shot, you can hopefully make out a very faint pale-gray body of land behind the horizon of grass. That is the large salt flats of a now mostly dried up lake across the North of the park. The tree is also a relatively rare thing to see, with just a few of them out on these plains alone like that, so I thought it made a nice additional element.
I actually have a few other frames with many more Springboks in them, but I prefer this one with the spacing between fewer animals. It might not come across in the web-sized image, but I’ve had this shot as my desktop background on my iMac Pro since I got home and I really like the atmosphere, as though I’m back in Etosha, looking out across the plains.
Note that I changed my aperture to f/14 for this shot, to get just a little bit more depth of field, although at 234 mm that doesn’t give me pan-focus. I used a tool called RawDigger to check my focus distance and see that I was focussing around 110 meters out, and I can tell from my Photographer’s Friend iOS app that at f/14, that still has a limited depth-of-field of around 100 meters. My app also tells me that I would need to stop down my aperture to f/36 to get pan-focus, where everything from my focus area to infinity is sharp, but my lens doesn’t stop down that far, and I’d be struggling with diffraction at that aperture too. It’s really not an issue of course, as I feel that the distant subjects like the animals and lone tree being slightly out of focus, help to show us what the image is about, and provide a better sense of depth than we’d have if everything was totally sharp.
A moment or two after I shot the previous image, the last of these Springbok probably decided that we were a possible threat, and ran across the road behind our vehicle. I was able to photograph one of them in the air as it leapt probably the best-side of five meters in a single bound.
This is another reason why I like to keep my camera set up with a relatively fast shutter speed. Moments earlier I’d stopped down to f/14 for a little more depth-of-field, and because I shoot in Manual mode most of the time, I didn’t have time to change this as this Springbok took flight, but I had still kept my shutter speed relatively fast at an 1/800 of a second, in case something like this happened.
Bonus 3D Image
Although I like to keep my episodes down to ten images, I’m going to throw in a bonus image here, as I was also able to photograph another image pair while we were still moving as our vehicle came to a halt, resulting in enough parallax shift between the two images to be able to view in 3D. If you are able to go cross-eyed at the right distance, to the point that the two images align in the just the right way, please do give this a try. The distance that you need to be from your screen depends on the person and the size at which you are viewing the image. If you open this image in a wide browser window, you should be able to get it pretty big, and try moving your head closer and further away.
It can be tricky, and only around 50% of the people that I show these images to can actually align them perfectly to get a 3D image, but if you are able to go cross-eyed, please do give it a try. The degree to which you cross your eyes is also really important, but you can possibly actually see the images start to align as you adjust your eyes, until they fall into place. Note that I also added my logo, and had a bit of fun placing it in the foreground of the image, so that it looks like it’s almost in line with that foreground bush in 3D space.
The Lion Sleeps Today
Around mid-morning on our final full day in Etosha, we came across a pride of Lions that were having a bit of a rest. Another bonus of the dry weather is that this grass would usually be substantially higher, blocking our view of this mighty cat as he slumbers like a kitten. I think this is probably one of my favorite shots from the trip, simply due to serenity and peacefulness that I see in this image.
I’ve done a bit of cloning to remove some large dark clumps of vegetation from the foreground, and a rock in the background, and I’ve also brought out the shadows a little. I see from my EXIF data that I had the 1.4X Extender fitted to my 100-400mm EF lens, although I was only zoomed in a tad, to 420 mm. I’ve continued to be very happy with the performance and image quality of the EOS R as I’ve shot my entire Namibia tour with two of these wonderful new mirrorless cameras from Canon.
A Lion’s Pillow
A very close second favorite image from the trip is this shot of another lion that was using a fallen tree as a pillow for his morning nap. You can tell by the way his mouth has failed open that this lion was complete out of it, totally relaxed and unthreatened. He did wake up for a few minutes, and I have some shots of that too, but then he went straight back to sleep again for a while longer.
The vegetation in this shot was a little too busy to try and clean up, so I left this one as it is, but again, opened up the shadows a little with the Shadows slider in Capture One Pro. Although it’s nice to get action shots or dynamic poses, I have to admit, I’m often more attracted to photos like this, that give us a little bit of insight into what you might consider the private life of these awesome animals.
The Lion Awakes
If my memory serves me correctly, and there’s no telling if it does or not, I believe the lion in this next shot is the first one that we looked at, that was sprawled out in the grass when we found this pride. In fact, I seem to remember photographing the one using the log as a pillow right up until we drove away from this spot, so I think I’m correct.
Here again, we were on the shadow side of the subject, but the Shadows slider served me well, enabling us to see this almost regal-looking lion as he peers at something in the distance. I love how the color of his eyes matches his mane and also the grasses in the background of this shot. It’s not hard to imagine why Lion’s are the color they are when you see them in their environment like this. I had opened up my aperture to f/10, to allow the background to go a little softer in the shallower depth of field. I was also still using my 1.4X Extender fitted to the 100-400mm lens, but for this shot, I had zoomed in as far as it will go, to 560 mm.
Shortly after the lions, we passed by a waterhole with some elephants having a drink. This one was the last one to leave, and for some reason was purposefully stirring up the dark-gray mud from the bottom of the waterhole and drinking that.
Once again, I went back to my Etosha f/11 for this shot, and as you can see, that gives me a nice amount of blur in the background while keeping the entire elephant sharp. Speaking of which, I love the texture of this elephant’s skin and I had initially enjoyed the contrast between the gray the warm-colored background, but I eventually settled on this black and white version, which I feel reduces the photograph down to its more essential elements, rather than having my attention grabbed by background color.
So, that brings us to the end of the 10 photographs for this episode, and to the end of the travelogue series. As usual, at the end of the trip, I recorded a few comments from the participants, which I’ll play to you now. You’ll need to listen to the audio with the player at the top of this post to hear what each participant said about the trip.
We finished last week with a photo of a pride of weary looking lions. The male with a mane had a scared face and was really quite thin. There were three young male lions sitting on the ground near him, and the solitary lioness was sitting atop a small hill to the left of the scene from our perspective.
Weary Lion Pride
It was the lioness that initiated a move, as she stood and walked down the hill, and crossed the road between our two safari vehicles. This first photo for today (below) is just before the road came into the frame from the right. As you can see, the three young male lions quickly stood and followed closely behind.
Lioness Leading the Way
The lioness was the only one of the five lions that was not so thin that you could easily see all of her ribs. Our guide guessed that she was probably only hunting small animals, and was at this point only providing for herself. All four of the males didn’t look as though they even had the strength to hunt along side her, but as it’s often the lionesses that do most of the hunting, this pride seemed to be in a pretty dire situation.
I shot this at 400mm with my 100-400mm Mark II lens, and I had my aperture set to f/14 to get a bit of depth of field, but as you can see, at 400mm it’s still relatively shallow. My shutter speed was 1/500 of a second at ISO 640.
Our Safari Vehicles
The lioness led the pride to a waterhole, and the oldest male seemed to almost reluctantly follow. Here we see him walking across the road (below) with that safari vehicle to the right being my group’s second vehicle. I like this documentary photo, as it shows how we shoot, with the roof raised like that as well as through the open windows.
Lion in the Road
It also shows how close we were to these lions as they passed between the vehicles, and how scrawny this male had become.
As soon as this male had crossed the road, we drove around to the waterhole ahead of them and photographed them walking across the planes. Here (below) is a photograph of the lioness and the three young males drinking. You can see how thin the males are especially from the ribs and back leg of the left-most lion.
Lions Drinking at Waterhole
We also heard from our guide that it is not often you’ll see lions drinking at a waterhole. They generally get enough fluids from the blood of the large game that they eat. As he was also guessing that they were not getting any large game, this all works together to paint a rather glum picture for this pride. I had attached my 1.4X Extender to the 100-400mm lens now, and shot this at 560mm, at f/10, with a shutter speed of 1/640 of a second at ISO 400.
Lioness in Landscape
After a drink, the lioness jumped across the water between the larger water hole that you see in this photo (below) and where they’d had a drink, a little closer and to the left of the frame here, and she walked across and settled in the long grass.
Lioness at Waterhole
I can’t help thinking that as she looked out across the plane she was somewhat concerned about the fate of her pride. She may also just be wishing that a lame zebra would walk up and sit down for her to easily kill, or wondering how much longer she has to wait for the rest of the pride to die so she can go off and start a new life. Either way, it was a somewhat sad experience to watch this pride.
For this image, I had intentionally pulled back to include more of the environment, with the salt flats visible along the top of the frame, and that beautiful old tree to the left. There are some beautiful scenes in the Etosha National Park, but they really come alive when you can capture them with a majestic animal like this lioness in the frame as well.
Giraffes in Eden
After lunch, we visited an idyllic waterhole with lush grass on the banks and found some Giraffe and Zebra waiting for us, and some Springbok and Impala in the background. This scene looked almost biblical to me, with the animals seeming to take their turns to visit the water and drink, and the somewhat harsh, yet still beautiful light.
Giraffe and Zebra at Waterhole
I used my 1.4X Extender again for this, for a 490mm focal length, at f/11 and a 1/500 of a second shutter speed at ISO 400.
In this next image, we can see the trouble that the Giraffe go to just to get their heads down to the water to drink (below). I have a number of photos in which the Giraffe is actually drinking, but this to me shows the struggle a little bit better.
With it being daytime the Giraffes were much less nervous than the first one we’d seen drinking at night behind our lodge. I imagine the open space around them here also helps, as they can see any potential predators much better, and being in the group, they can rely on the others to raise the alert. I shot this at 450mm at f/14 for a 1/500 of a second shutter speed at ISO 640.
We move on now to our last full day in Etosha, and a shot of this beautifully colored bird called a Lilac-breasted Roller. This guy was just sitting up in a tree, so we stopped for a quick photo. I used my Extender again here and cropped in on the image a little bit, but I still have a larger photo from my 5Ds R than I would if I’d used my old 7D Mark II with its crop factor.
Because I shoot from the front seat of our safari vehicle, I had to lean over in a pretty awkward position to see through the driver’s side window for this shot, and as luck would have it, the moment I pulled back to take a short breather, this guy flew away. It would have been nice to get him as he flew, and I believe one of the ladies in my vehicle got him, and that’s great for her, but for me, that’s the way it goes.
We saw a number of Black Rhino during our time in Etosha but were able to photograph the one drinking and then flehming as you see here. Flehming, or the flehmen response is seen in a lot of mammals apparently, as they deeply inhale the air trying to detect pheromones and other scents.
Black Rhino Flehming
I actually chose this shot to share with you not just because of the flehmen response, but because it’s one of the only shots that doesn’t really show off the fact that this Black Rhino has been dehorned. From a photography perspective, it’s not great that the Rangers are forced to cut off the Rhino’s horns, but it’s a lot better than seeing the Rhino killed by poachers for that same horn.
Be a Rhino Hero!
Apparently a there are three Rhino’s killed by poachers every day for their horns, so at this rate, they’ll be extinct within a decade. Earlier this year a guy named Matt Meyer cycled 2,000 miles from Washington to New Mexico pulling a life sized model of a Rhino, to help raise awareness and money that will be sent to three charities that are directly helping to save the Rhino.
The ride has now finished, but they are still collecting, so if you’d like to make a donation, you can head over to rhinoride.org and donate any amount via credit card, PayPal or wire transfer.
Later in the day, we were driving along and saw a Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk in a tree, but as we slowed down to stop and photograph it, the Goshawk took to the wing and pounced on something in the brush. Our driver drove along a little further than he’d intended, and in hindsight, I vaguely recall raising my camera and trying to capture something as we slowed down again to see what was happening.
I photographed the Goshawk feeding on what we found to be a skink that he’d caught, but as I was concentrating on trying to photograph him feeding, I didn’t chimp to see if I’d caught any action as we pulled up. By the time I’d got back to the lodge later, I’d totally forgotten that I’d even tried, so I was pretty amazed when this photograph (below) popped up on my screen as I went through my images.
Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk Catching Skink
For a moment I was totally confused, trying to figure out how this image got on my memory card. I wondered if someone had photographed it using my camera as a joke, but my camera was in my hand or on my knee the whole time. Then I started to recall the split second reaction to raise my camera as we saw the Goshawk swooping into action. I think I’d ruled out the chances of actually capturing anything because it all happened so quickly and the car was breaking quite heavily to bring us to a stop as I photographed this.
Needless to say, I was pretty happy that my autopilot did a good enough job to get focus on the Goshawk as it jumped up into the air, then dropped the skink and some foliage that it had also grasped, before catching the skink again and eating it in front of us.
It’s a pity that the hawks face is in the shadow of its wing, and there is no catchlight in its eye, but I’ll live with that for this otherwise pretty cool action shot. Luckily I’d already got my camera set to 1/1000 of a second shutter speed at f/10, ISO 800, and my focal length for this image was 248mm.
The last three images that we’ll look at today to conclude this series of images from this year’s Complete Namibia Tour are from two separate elephant encounters. This first image was from the morning, as an elephant came out of the brush to pose for us for a little while before moving on (below).
Elephant with Curled Trunk
This is probably one of my favorite single elephant shots of the trip, as he almost displayed his trunk for us, with his ears flapping out wide as well. The light was a little harsh, but in a good direction, so I was pretty happy with this. My settings were f/11 for a 1/500 of a second at ISO 400, with a focal length of 188mm, so he was pretty close by.
Saving The Baby Elephant
For our last shoot in Etosha, we visited another waterhole about an hour from our Lodge, in the hope of seeing some more elephants. When we arrived there were no elephants, so my heart sunk for a moment, but as we stopped the vehicle and started to wonder what to do next, a huge heard of elephants came out of the bush to our right, walked across the front of our vehicle and made their way to the waterhole on our left.
It was a pretty amazing sight, and we got lots of great photos as they crossed. Although once the group was at the waterhole the light wasn’t great, coming from the back-left of the scene, I thought this next image was relatively interesting (below).
Baby Elephant Being Rescued from Waterhole
We heard a splash at first and then a lot of trumpeting as the elephants rallied around to help pull a baby elephant that had fallen into the waterhole back out. This image shows how the two cow elephants wrapped their trunks around the baby to help it out, and you can also see the concerned poses of the other two elephants to the left of them, and the dust that they kicked up in the rush to help.
With the high level of social interaction that you see in elephants, I almost felt that the commotion was at least to a degree a display of concern, showing the mother of the baby that the other elephants were ready and able to help. That’s probably my twisted mind at work as well, but it felt that way. My settings for this image were f/11 at 1/400 of a second, at ISO 800, with a focal length of 278mm.
We stayed with this group as they drank and wallowed in the mud for a while, and then, they all left, this time walking past what would have been the back of our vehicle if we’d stayed in the same place that we’d been as they arrived. We’d actually moved as they started to leave, to get a better line of sight and turn the vehicle around, allowing us to photograph shots like this (below).
Baby and Mother Elephant in Long Grass
The herd must have been between 30 and 40 elephants strong, and it was amazing to see so many babies too. The long golden grass provided a beautiful environment for this photo, which turned out to be the final photo that I selected, not only to share with you but from all of my Final selects from this trip.
The following morning we had a relatively short drive through the park to an exit that would start us on our drive back to Windhoek, for one last night before we all flew home. As the gate came into view, we jokingly asked our guide for a Leopard shot to finish with, and as if by magic, a Leopard actually walked across the road in front of us, and as we stopped, it walked into the brush.
I got a few shots of its behind, and a few from the side but there was grass in front of its face. One man in the group got a relatively clear shot from the back of the vehicle, which was great, and a final treat as we left the park.
That night, at our final lodge, I took my digital recorder around the table and recorded a message from nine of the ten participants and my friend Heath Carney, a talented photographer from Australia who I’d asked to assist me on this tour. One of the participants wasn’t feeling great and had skipped dinner. We were all a little conscious of the fact that there were so many other people in the room, and the group was pretty tired from our 17 days on the road, so it wasn’t the best time to record, but here’s what they had to say…
[Listen with the audio player at the top of the post to see what the participants had to say about the tour.]
Complete Namibia Tour 2018
I had an absolutely amazing time on this trip, and as we’ve now filled the first vehicle for our 2018 Complete Namibia Tour, I’ll be heading back next year. At the time of recording, we still have four places left, so if you might like to join us, please do check out the details and you can book from the tour page at https://mbp.ac/namibia.
We pick up the trail on day eleven of this epic tour, as we arrive at our lodge. For the next two nights, we are in perhaps one of the best lodges in Namibia. I’ve just been able to secure two nights here for the 2018 tour, which I’m really happy about, as our initial plans only included one night here. As we arrived, one of my guests said “roughing it with Martin Bailey”, which I thought was really nice. Tongue-in-cheek of course, as the place and the staff really are super-special.
Lion with Nicked Ear
This lodge is actually just outside one of the main gates into Etosha, and have their own private land on which they run safaris, and the entire group decided to take this optional drive some 40 minutes or so after we arrived. Within minutes of leaving the lodge, we had an encounter with a pride of lions, and we’ll kick off today with one of my favorite shots from this drive (right).
I shot this as the lions walked past our open safari vehicle. I was surprised at how little eye contact we had. Apparently, lions don’t really see a vehicle full of people, they just see a vehicle, unless you start jumping around and shouting of course, so they are pretty much oblivious to our presence.
In Capture One Pro I’ve taken brushed in a couple of layers to darken down what was a relatively busy background in along the right and top of this photo. It was out of focus, but much lighter, so I decided to take it down to almost black.
This is something I often do with black and white images, but I liked the warm color in this image. It was the background I didn’t like, so I got rid of it.
I shot this with my Canon 100-400mm Mark II lens and the 1.4x Extender fitted, for a little extra reach. My focal length was 450mm. I set my aperture to f/9 for a reasonable depth of field, to get the head of these large animals in focus, but as you can see the body is starting to go out of focus here. My shutter speed was 1/640 of a second at ISO 800.
Black Rhino and Giraffe
When we got back to the lodge and went for dinner, there was four black rhino at the waterhole right in front of the lodge. It was already dark, and they were lit by a very orange flood light, so photographically it wasn’t brilliant, but as an experience it was amazing.
Later that night after around half of the guests had turned in, and a few of us were sitting by the fire having a drink, a giraffe ambled cautiously to the waterhole. We were all in awe of this huge animal, as it kept looking around for predators, and after a number of aborted attempts was finally able to gingerly spread its front legs, to get its neck down low enough to take a drink.
The following morning, we got up bright and early and after a lovely breakfast on the raised deck overlooking the waterhole, and a Brown Hyena taking a drink, we headed out for our first drive into the Etosha National Park. The first waterhole that we visited had a large number of zebra hanging around, and one shot from there that I like was this one, with a bit of a scuffle between two of them (below).
I haven’t done anything to this in post, except adding +15 on the Clarity slider. Although I sometimes work portrait style wildlife photos a bit, like the previous image, most of the time I don’t do much to them. Probably the thing I do the most is to clean out droppings with the heal tool, but I didn’t do that here either. My settings for this were an aperture of f/10, again at 1/640 of a second, this time at ISO 400, with a focal length of 490mm.
If you recall that I own a Canon 200-400mm lens with the 1.4X Extender built in, you might be wondering why I didn’t take it on this trip. Although it would have been nice to have in Etosha, the 100-400mm lens alone gave me enough focal length some of the time, and when I needed the extra reach, the 1.4X Extender still works very well to take me out to 580mm when necessary. This, of course, is the same focal length that the 200-400mm gets me to with the Extender engaged.
The benefits of the 200-400mm are that I can engage the Extender with a flick of a switch, rather than taking the lens off, and then fitting the extender. I didn’t get any problems with dust from doing this though, and there weren’t really any times when I lost shots either, so it was a good decision. Of course, I only get autofocus with the center focus point, because the aperture is forced down to f/8, as opposed to f/5.6 with full auto-focus on the 200-400mm. I actually really like being able to easily pull back to between 100 and 200mm with the 100-400mm lens too, which, of course, could not do with the 200-400mm.
The main consideration though was weight. I was able to travel with an 18L camera back with space inside for a few other things as well as my two 5Ds R bodies with battery grips, my 11-24mm lens, my 24-105mm lens and my 100-400mm lens. I would have only really used the 200-400mm for the last four days in Etosha, so it really didn’t make much sense carting it around Namibia for the first two weeks just for this. I’m jumping the gun a little by talking about this now, but even after the next three full days of wildlife shooting, I still didn’t regret my decision.
The Second Waterhole
We drove on to the second waterhole which was in a small resort village in the park, so we were able to get out of our safari vehicles and stand behind a wall to photograph the animals. As we approached the waterhole, it was amazing to see so many different species of animals. To capture this I actually shot a number of video clips with my iPhone, and I’ll probably drop some of that footage into a slideshow at some point. Artistically wider angle still photographs didn’t really do it justice. Here’s a photo of a couple of groups of zebras drinking (below).
Zebras at the Waterhole
The framing can be a bit tricky when there are so many animals. If you go a little wider, you get a springbok in the foreground start to creep into the frame. It’s also sometimes difficult to cut off the back of the foreground zebra here, but if I was to pull back and include the back legs, the composition breaks down.
If you look at the top right you’ll see that I framed this to just include the head of that right-most zebra, and to the left, obviously, I didn’t want to crop off the head of that left-most zebra either. With the restrictions in place due to the various elements though, I’m relatively happy with the results. I shot this at 560mm, with an aperture of f/11 at ISO 400 for a 1/640 of a second shutter speed.
Sometimes, for no apparent reason, the animals at the waterhole get panicked and run away. Drinking at a waterhole make these animals very vulnerable to predators, so it probably only takes one twitch in another animal for the reflex escape routine to kick in, as you can see in this photo (below).
Zebras Fleeing Waterhole
It’s more difficult to compose to get the animals cut off at good places when they are all running like this, so I was just trying to be conscious of the heads of the rightmost zebras in this shot. The left-hand side worked out OK, and this is uncropped, so I’m pretty happy with that.
My settings were f/14 for a deeper depth of field to get more animals sharp, but that setting was for static animals drinking, so I’d left my ISO at 400 and dropped my shutter speed to 1/500 of a second. If I’d prepared for this, I’d probably have gone to ISO 800 for a 1/1000 of a second shutter speed, but there are only a few of the zebra that have a little motion blur, and I think that adds to the action, so it wasn’t a huge mistake.
We spent a couple of hours at this second waterhole, and I have photos of Wildebeest, Kudu, Springbok, and Impala etc. as I’m trying to complete this series in five episodes, we’ll move on for now.
The next image (below) was one of those moments that I shot instinctively. We saw these zebras in the brush, stopped our vehicle and as the young zebra turned its head to look at us, I raised the camera and shot without a lot of thought. Of course, my autopilot was on, so I composed quickly as best as I could, but there was so much in the way, if I’d have stopped to think about this, it wouldn’t have happened.
Zebra Through Long Grass
That look though is all that it took for me to want this image, despite the fact that there is grass over the zebra’s nose and all the twigs in the foreground. I probably zoomed to get this framing without consciously thinking much about it too. This has become one of my favorite shots from the trip though and has been set as my computer’s and iPhone background image since getting home. My settings were f/11 at ISO 400 for a 1/400 of a second at 490mm.
The same goes for this following image as well (below). It was a very quick moment, and I had to ignore some foreground elements to grab the shot while both of these young zebras had their heads in almost exactly the same position.
Two Juvenile Zebras
I keep zooming in on the image in Capture One Pro and looking at those velvet muzzles, and I just want to cup my hands around them and scrunch them up with my fingers. You know that feeling where you want to squeeze a kitten because they’re so cute? That’s how I feel when I look at this shot. My settings for this were f/11 at ISO 400 for a shutter speed of 1/640 of a second at 560mm.
Not All Zebra Shots
We photographed a lot of zebras, as you may have guessed, but there were, of course, many other species of animals. Here is a female Ostrich (below) that allowed us to get close enough to almost fill the frame at 560mm. Most of the time when we pulled up to photograph Ostrich they would all just run until they reach their safety zone. This one was a little less nervous and posed for us for a while.
I have another shot with the sole of her foot showing, which is pretty fun to explore visually, but as a photo, this one is a little prettier. With the sun in a position that sometimes threw this side of her face into shadow, I picked my moments when there was a bit of a catchlight in her eye, as that always makes the animal look more alive. I shot this at f/10, ISO 400 for a 1/500 of a second.
You aren’t allowed to go off road or get out of your vehicle in the Etosha National Park so the angle of the sun and the position from which we can shoot is sometimes a little restricted, but I still found myself with hundreds of shots that I simply couldn’t remove as I whittled down my final selection. This young Springbok (below) was one of these.
Juvenile Springbok in Long Grass
I was at the full reach of my 100-400mm lens with the 1.4X extender on, but that was fine. I was attracted to this because of that beautiful dry grass, and I wanted to show the Springbok surrounded by it. I was also attracted to this particular animal because of the tiny little horns that are just starting to develop. I would have loved it if the sun was a little bit further in front, with a catchlight in both eyes, but that’s OK. My settings for this image were the same as the last one.
Shortly after this, we were photographing some zebras again, surprise, surprise, when we got a radio call from the other car, and they’d come across a pride of lions that had just brought down a zebra, so we drove on a little way more to photograph that. Needless to say, we have a whole bunch of images just of this group feeding, but I chose this one to show you as many of the lions are standing up and we can see their faces.
Lions Eating a Zebra
It’s a bit gory to see the blood on their faces, particularly the male to the right, but this is nature. It’s the raw truth about what these animals do to stay alive. We photographed them for quite some time and saw some beautiful moments as a lioness licked the blood from the face of a male. It might seem strange to call that beautiful, but there was an unmistakable sensuality about it. I’ve seen lions feed before, and it also always strikes me when from time to time you can actually hear them purring.
Zebra Crossing – Sorry!
As we drove away from the lions, I couldn’t resist raising my camera and shooting this image (below) through the windshield of our safari vehicle. I know it’s cliche but it’s not every day you get to take a photograph of a zebra crossing, right?
I cloned out some zebra dung from the road, and straightened the horizon a little, as I was shaking around when I shot this, but I was happy that this turned out OK. I like the fact that the road winds off into the distance behind the zebra and that there is a car driving along kicking up a little bit of dust. My settings for this were f/14 for a 1/400 of a second at ISO 640, and a focal length of 230mm.
Filled My SanDisk SSD!
That was the last shot from our first full day in Etosha. I shot almost 2,000 frames on this first day of full on wildlife. That’s almost as many as I’d shot for all of the first eleven days of the tour. Because of this, I actually started to fill my SanDisk Extreme 900 portable SSD drive that I was hoping to store all of my 2017 work on, in addition to my final select images. You can see more about my setup and strategy in Episode 570, “The Mobile Photographer’s Image Management Strategy“.
If I’d have continued to shoot at the same pace, I’d have filled the drive by the end of the following day, but luckily that didn’t happen. I actually shot just under 1,000 photos per day for the next two full days in the park, and with just a few images from our final day as we drove out of the park, I went home with about 3GB of space on the 1.92TB drive.
With my Morocco Tour coming up at the end of October, and of course all of the other shooting for the rest of the year to put on this drive, I ended up buying a second drive the same as the first, and I’ve now moved my Finals folders and catalog to that. I should now fit all of 2017 on the first of these drives, and the second will last me many years as only my final selects from each year will be added to the second SSD.
Two of the Big Five in 40 Mins!
That’s not to say that the following two days were uneventful though. The reason we shot less was that the waterhole we’d shot so much at on the first day in Etosha wasn’t as lively when we swung by on the second day. That was because we were a little later than the first day because we literally had two of the African Big Five game animals and a giraffe to photograph in the first 40 minutes of entering the park.
One was a Black Rhino, although he was quite a distance away, so we’ll look at another Rhino which was closer next week. Here though is a shot from a beautiful encounter with an Elephant, as he walked alongside our vehicle for quite a way before crossing the road and disappearing into the bush.
Elephant in Long Grass
This was a beautiful animal, and an absolute thrill to photograph. After getting a lot of still photos that I knew I would be happy with, I grabbed my iPhone Plus, and with the zoom feature, I was able to shoot some slow motion video of him walking that is absolutely amazing, even though I say it myself. The slow motion feature really lends itself to large animals walking, and the zoom on the iPhone Plus meant that he wasn’t much smaller in the frame that you see here. I shot this at f/13 for a 1/500 of a second at ISO 500, with a focal length of 263mm.
On this day, we were shooting while driving through the park to get to a new lodge over by the salt-plains, where we’d spend the next two nights. On our way, we came across a pride of lions that weren’t anywhere near as healthy as the group we’d seen the previous day that had taken down a zebra. The large male that you can see standing in this photo (below) was scarred and thin. The three young males sitting down here were a little bit better, but not much.
The single female in the pride was sitting on top of a small hill to the left of this scene, probably looking out for some prey, but from the look of her, she was probably living on small mammals or large birds, which she would not be sharing with the males. None of the five lions in this group looked like they had the strength to bring down a zebra. My settings for this shot were f/11 for a 1/500 of a second at ISO 400, 560mm.
We’ll wrap it up there for today, and pick up the trail next week with a few more images of this pride of lions before a variety of species and some more elephant shots to round off this series next week.
Complete Namibia Tour 2018
If you might like to join me in Namibia on my 2018 tour, please do check out the details and you can book from the tour page at https://mbp.ac/namibia. For another culturally rich tour, you might also consider my Morocco trip from the end of October 2017, which you can find at https://mbp.ac/morocco. We now need just one more person to sign-up to make this trip a go.
This week I share a slideshow of photographs from my first two visits to Namibia with Jeremy Woodhouse, which contains around 80 photographs and a number of short videos to depict this beautiful land and her amazing people.
This episode is a little late because I got caught up in creating the music for this slideshow. I got tired of fighting copyright claims for music that I have paid a license fee for, first with YouTube and now also on Vimeo, so I’m trying to create my own music when possible, but it’s time-consuming, and this one ran away with me for a few extra days.
Anyway, it’s ready now, in glorious 4K video, so grab a coffee, kick up your feet, and have a watch when you have 8 minutes to spare. The music still isn’t perfect, but it’ll have to do for now, as I’m out of time to work on it anymore. Don’t forget to click that little full-screen button either (the four little arrows pointing outwards, between HD and Vimeo below) to enjoy this in full resolution.
To build the slideshow I used Boinx Software’s FotoMagico 5 Pro, which has just been updated to version 5 and now fully supports 4K video, and I think this is probably the most stable new release of FotoMagico that I’ve used so far, so it was an absolute pleasure to work with. You can buy FotoMagico from the Boinx Software web site or the Apple App Store.
I’ll do a video on using FotoMagico 5 Pro either next week or shortly after, so stay tuned for that if you are interested. For now, I hope you enjoy the slideshow.
If you enjoy the photography and see yourself shooting in Namibia, I’m running a 17-day tour and workshop in Namibia in June 2017, and there are a few places left if you’d like to join us. Visit https://mbp.ac/namibia for details and to book your place.
Continuing our travelogue style account of my recent trip to Namibia, I’ve selected the next ten favorites to take a look at today, and I’ll include a little background and my thought process while shooting. We pick up the trail on the morning of May 17, at the Himba village, that we started to look at photos from last week.
To give you an idea of where the Himba village is, let’s start by taking another look at the map that I included in part one of this series.
Namibia Trip Map
We started our journey in Winhoek, where you can see the number 35 in the middle of Namibia, and worked our way southward over the first couple of days, and then as we traced our route through part two and three, we’ve gradually worked our way up the country.
The flamingos were where it says 148 about half way up the country on the coast, and then we continued north, with the shipwreck shot where it says 96, and that was also where we shot the seals, that we didn’t look at. Where you can see the number 20, was an old abandoned oil rig, which I got a couple of nice long exposure shots of, and then the 1625 and 861 was were we started to shoot lots of wildlife that we were looking at last week. Otgendunda, is the name of the Himba village that we visited, and this is the furthest north that we went, and you can see it here where it says 228 on this map.
We looked at one shot of some of the Himba children before we finished last week, and I want to look at a couple more shots today too, but I’d like to start today by giving you just a little bit of information on the incredible culture of these proud people.
Festus, our guide, gave us a talk on the Himba people over dinner the night before we visited, to prepare us. I had thought the Himba people were nomadic, but they are only semi-nomadic, sometimes spending time away from their homestead to find good grazing ground for their goats and cattle.
The homestead is surrounded by a fence made of tree branches and sticks, and inside is a circular corral. This corral we were told is where the ancestors remains are buried, but also where the livestock are kept. In the Himba belief system, the livestock are closely links to their ancestors in the corral. There is also a circle of stones about 10 meters from the front of the corral with an ancestral fire that is kept burning by the fire-keeper. We were told that under no circumstances should we walk between the fire and the corral entrance. When we asked what the punishment for doing this is, we were told, “just don’t walk across that line”.
Young Himba Man
The Himba women wear their hair in two plaits and the men wear one plait, as we can just about see in this first photo of a young Himba man. We had many of the subjects sit in the door of their huts, as the light was way too harsh outside for flattering or artistic photos. I shot this with the 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, with an aperture of f/3.5 for 1/60 of a second, at ISO 400. I used a wide aperture because I wanted the focus clearly on the face but the rest of the man’s body is slightly soft.
I also reduced the blacks slider in Lightroom to -40 for this shot, because I wanted to plug up the dark background a little more. Here we can only really see the center pillar of the hut, but without this modification, there is just a little more clutter inside that didn’t really help the shot.
That was after we’d had them move a few water containers etc. as well. They were incredibly accommodating, and even broke into a smile for us every so often. I found the best photos were when they weren’t smiling though. Although they have beautiful smiles, there initial pose is always with a very serious, almost sullen look, so most of the photos I chose were with this look.
I was kind of surprised to see the Himba wearing plastic beads, but after our few hours of photography, when they broke out their craft market, we’d see that they use all sorts of modern material in their crafts, as well as traditional material. I guess for me this just reinforced how well these people are holding on to their rich culture.
They are surrounded by and exposed to western culture and materials all the time, but they choose to maintain their own values and way of life, which I applaud. On a very different scale, this is actually one of the things I like so much about Japan. They have taken on many western ideas and values, and yet you still see lots of tradition everywhere, on a daily basis, and this makes life a richer, fuller experience in my opinion.
Uapahongua – Young Himba Woman
This next photo of Uapahongua, a young Himba woman, was shot in the same doorway as the young man we just looked at. I think they were brother and sister, but I’m not sure. Another interesting factoid from Festus is that the Himba are not monogamous. The men will often marry up multiple wives. The guy that was helping with our visit and spoke really good English introduced us to his three wives.
What I though was even more interesting, is that, in Festus’ words, “affairs are tolerated”, so families can include brothers and sisters from multiple mothers, and although this usually centers around one father, because affairs are tolerated, there is no saying that he is actually the father of all the siblings.
We also heard were that most marriage partners are decided by the Uncle of the children. There are virtually no marriages where the couple choose each other. It’s always the uncle that decides.
Again, I shot this photo with the 24-70mm f/2.8 lens at f/5.6 at ISO 800, for a 1/60 of a second. I chose a deeper depth of field for this photo so that we can see better detail in all the decoration that the woman wear, honestly. Apparently the shell that the women wear means that they are eligible for or actually married.
The orange color on their skin is because they grind ochre stones and mix the powder with a type of butter fat, and smear that on their skin. This is both to protect the skin from the harsh sun, and for cosmetic reasons. From the decorations to the extensions in their hair, which as you can see here is also covered in ochre clay, the Himba women are very particular about how they look. After every photo Uapahongua here would ask to see the back of the camera, and then nod with approval if she liked what she saw.
We also heard that the Himba never bathe, which is pretty incredible when you consider the heat in which they live. The women actually sit in smoke huts, and smoke themselves as a way to keep clean. When we set off from their homestead, we actually two women with a child each about 10 kilometers down the road, to a place where they would travel in another direction to a hospital, as the children were sick. It was quite a surreal experience to be sitting in a safari vehicle with two Himba women and children on board, but I have to say, despite them not bathing, they actually smelled pretty good. The mixture of the butter fat and the smoky smell gave them an earthy aroma that was in no way displeasing.
We had lunch under a tree at the side of an almost dried up river on this day, and then spent the afternoon tracking lions that we would not find. The following morning, as we left the lodge and pulled onto the large gravel road running through the area, something large darted across the road in the car lights, and Festus our trusty guide, immediately recognized it as a cheetah. When Festus saw something like this he was incredibly gutsy with his off-roading. Within seconds we were being tossed around as we navigated the basalt boulders strewn evenly across all terrain in this area that had not been cleared as a road.
It was still dark, but the car lights provided enough light for us to be able to make out a mother cheetah and her three almost full grown cubs. I started with my ISO set at 25600, and was able to get a few shots. If that was all I got, I’d have missed the opportunity, because it was still way too dark, even with the ISO cranked up that high. The image was being recorded on the left side of the histogram, which meant it was grainy as hell. Even at 25600 though, as the light got up, the grain became much less of a problem, and the images would have been usable, again, if that is all that I got.
By the time I shot this image though, the light had increased to the point where I could drop my ISO down a stop to 12800, and I was now exposing to the right, so the amount of grain recorded was very manageable. Apart from adding +40 on the Clarity slider in Lightroom, this shot is straight out of the camera. We see one of the cubs sitting in front of a euphorbia bush, looking quite relaxed. This was shot with the 300mm f/2.8 lens with a 2X Extender fitted, giving me 600mm.
The aperture was set to f/6.3, so stopped down just a third from wide open, and the shutter speed was 1/125 of a second. We had raised the roof panel of the safari vehicle and were resting on the roof for stabilization. I had a bean bag with me, but no-one actually filled them. The vehicles were fine to just rest the lenses on our hands, and we weren’t doing enough wildlife work to make this tiring or uncomfortable.
This next shot was just a few minutes later. I called it “Stalking Cheetah” but that’s really just artistic license. The only thing this cheetah was stalking was it’s brother or sister. The sun was coming up, and I’d changed my settings to f/5.6 for 1/160 of a second, which is basically the same exposure value, but a little hazy cloud had covered the sun, so I increased the exposure of this by 0.1 in Lighroom. Because I was still over the right on the histogram though, this shot is still very acceptable on the grain front, and I like the pose, so I was happy to be able to include it in my selection.
We watched the cubs playing, and although I got more shots, these were probably my favorites. I will probably end up picking something else out later though, as I revisit my images in another six months or so, to see what I missed.
Mukaandora – Himba Girl
We were out tracking lions and elephants again, and the cheetahs were a lucky bonus. Once they’d headed off down the valley, we pulled back out onto the main road, and literally within a few more minutes, a leopard darted across the road in front of us, but this time he was too illusive. We saw where he went, but we weren’t able to find him again.
As we started heading back to the lodge for breakfast, we saw a small hut on a hill, with some Himba women sitting outside, so we decided to go and see if we could photograph them. Festus negotiated with them so that we could do so. Whether you agree with this or not, the thing to do apparently is to just pay them. The village we visited the previous day were paid a small amount, and given food provisions for their time. This group got fifty Namibian dollars, which is about $5 US. We photographed them all, for about 40 minutes, and after a while I set up this shot of a young girl named Mukaandora, looking out across her land.
I like this because it shows the decorative hair extensions, and the pelt that the the Himba women wear, almost like a skirt, but just at the back. Mukaandora did not have a shell on her chest, as she was too young to be eligible for marriage. They told us she was only 10 years old, but we reckon they’d lost count somewhere along the way.
An interesting experience here was that as we were leaving, one of the women started to complain about something. I asked Festus what the problem was, and he told me that she had not been part of the original negotiation, and wanted paying for having her photo taken. I hadn’t even taken her photo, but asked how much would be appropriate, and Festus told me $20 Namibian would be plenty, so I gave her a $20 note. This is like $2 US, so not a big deal for me, but the look on her face changed instantly. She snapped the note out between her two hands, clapped with it on her palm a few times, then started clapping at having received the money. I don’t think as tourists we should spoil the locals with large sums of money, and this is why we agreed at the start of the trip that all of these kind of negotiations would go through the guides, Festus and Jeremiah. They don’t want to spoil their people any more than we do, so I was happy with the amount, and if I can make someone that happy with $2, I’m happy too.
Later this day, we drove about 50k south, to our next lodge, on the rim of the Etendeka Plateau looking out across the Klip River Valley. In the afternoon we went out for a game drive around the basalt rock strewn plateau, but the main reason we were here was to track black rhino the following day.
After descending the steep road from the lodge down into the valley, we were immediately faced with three magnificent elephants. The foreground foliage actually made it difficult to get a nice shot, but here’s one that I quite like, of a large bull. This is the only elephant shot that I didn’t feel compelled to convert into sepia, because I quite like the sandy tones here, and the greens don’t get in the way too much.
This was shot with the 70-200mm f/2.8 lens with the 2X Extender, wide open at f/5.6 for 1/500 of a second at ISO 400. While shooting this, there was actually another elephant much closer to our right, but the foliage was really spoiling the shot.
As we stopped for lunch in the shade of a large tree again, three boys sped past on their Damara Ferrari. This was the tour leader Jeremy Woodhouse’s term for the carts that we saw quite often here, that were made of old car axels, and pulled usually by donkeys. Damara was the name of the area that we were in. Earlier in the trip they’d been Kalahari Ferraris.
After lunch, we caught them up, and asked them to wait as we set up a little further down the road to photograph them from the front as they rode past. This is one of my resulting photographs. We also shot some of them speeding down a hill a little further along, but one of our local guides decided that it would be dangerous for them to do that alone, and jumped on the cart with them to help them steer, which kind of spoiled the shot. It was a better action shot, but I think I prefer this one, with the boy in the center smiling broadly as they head towards us.
Three Boys on Their Damara Ferrari
For this I stopped down to f/8 to get a deeper depth of field, and selected a shutter speed of 1/125 of a second, at ISO 125. The boys aren’t quite in the depth of field here, as I focused on the donkeys, but they’re sharp enough to make this photo work I think. I’d prefer them to be a little soft than get too much of the background in focus, so I’m happy with the decision to go with f/8 for this shot.
We’d spend the entire day, literally around 10 hours of driving on the incredibly bumpy basalt tracks, and although it was enjoyable, we almost didn’t see any black rhino at all, but then, way past the time were were supposed to be back at the lodge, the guides from the lodge climbed a hill, and located two black rhino down-wind of us. The rhino apparently have terrible eyesight, but a very good sense of smell, and because we were down-wind, once they’d smelled us, they ran out of the valley where they were, further down into the valley, and we were able to get a few quick shots as they passed us on the other side of the valley wall.
Two Black Rhino
I did opt for a sepia toned image here again, as the color was getting in the way, but this is more of a trophy shot that something I’m really happy with. Again shot with the 70-200 with the 2X Extender, at f/8 for 1/250 of a second at ISO 400. I actually wished I’d gone to ISO 800 for a faster shutter speed because these guys were moving pretty fast, but the movement was adequately frozen, so I got away with it. I also of course wished I’d taken my 300mm lens, but we’d been told to bring just one lens, as there wouldn’t be room for more, though that turned out not to be true. I could have placed a second lens on the seat next to me, so I was kicking myself for not just bringing it, but there’s no use crying over spilt milk as they say.
After the rhino, we started to head out of the reserve, but we were still a good way from camp. Almost an hour and a half later, still driving out of the reserve, we came across the same heard of elephants we’d seen on our way in, and they were still eating very close to where we’d seen them in the morning. I’d love to finish with this shot today, but to keep the images in chronological order, here’s one of my favorite shots of an elephant’s ass.
The light was dropping, so I increased the ISO to 1600 for this, at f/5.6 for 1/200 of a second. I converted to this sepia tone in Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro, and added just a touch of additional structure on the elephant to accentuate the wrinkles in the skin, which I think is a wonderful feature of these magnificent animals. It might not be that obvious to shoot a butt shot like this, but I think they’re really effective, and I actually prefer this to this next shot, of an elephant from the side.
Elephant’s Curly Trunk
I like this because of the shape of the trunk as the elephant fed, and I’d included a bit more of the environment here. I ended up not choosing an even wide shot that I took of these, with some sky in as well, as I’ve switch around again to prefer these more intimate images, but I do like to have the surrounding in like this. Here by the way, I’d increased the ISO again to 2000, still at f/5.6 for 1/200 of a second.
The day after this, we would have another long drive to a place called Okonjima, where we’d shoot cheetah and leopard for the last few days of the tour. this is where you can see the number 995 on the map, just above the capital of Windhoek, where it says 35, right there in the middle of Namibia. I’ve selected 10 more photos from those last few days though, so we’ll conclude this travelogue series with one last episode, number five, next week. Remember that if you would like to see all of the images that I selected from this trip, you can see them on my Portfolios page here https://martinbaileyphotography.com/portfolio/namibia/.