Following on from the previous post about creating a slideshow using Boinx Software’s FotoMagico, although I was taken out of action for two days following my fourth COVID vaccination, I spent several additional days creating the background music for my slideshow, as I mentioned in that previous post. Slideshow music can be difficult because you don’t want it to be too prominent, but at the same time, it needs to compliment the images and content, so it takes more thought than simply sitting down to make a track just for the sake of it.
I’m not going to go into much detail, as this post is really at this point to point you to the video. Still, as the video starts, you’ll notice some simple Kalimba music, which is an African instrument that I have in one of my many plugins. I then spent some time finding chords that matched the subject matter, slightly sad sounding in places, mainly because of the feeling from the deserted diamond mines, and then I make it a little lighter with some flurries when necessary. We drop back to the Kalimba several times to break up the piano. After the initial Kolmanskop piano accompaniment, I switched to a hybrid traditional piano and electric piano played together. My wife thinks the flurries with the hybrid piano sound a little 70s or 80s, and she’s probably right because I was thinking Blade Runner as some of the notes and feeling of the music started to form.
Here is a screenshot of the final score in Ableton Live before I exported the music to embed into FotoMagico. If you click on the image, you’ll be able to see more detail if you are interested. Note that I designed the dark-teal theme for Ableton, as I don’t like the look of any of the actual themes provided with the software. The only additional thing to mention is that I also added some orchestral strings with brass and horns at various places, again, to add a little variation while changing the way I played some of the chords, hopefully making it a little less monotonous without having to compose and play each bar individually. This is to both save time and because too much variation can also get in the way of the slideshow if it starts to take the viewer’s attention.
I changed the timing a little, so although I’d say this would be around 18 minutes, the final video is 16 minutes and 30 seconds, which is still very long for a slideshow. This essentially represents most of my “keepers” from the trip, as the slideshow is designed to show you how much can be achieved during my 17-day Complete Namibia Tours. If you have time, do try to watch to the end, but I doubt with the number of images, it will be a video you’ll rewatch many times. Either way, though, if I can get my message across, that’s great. I hope you enjoy this. You can see this and over 100 other videos on my Vimeo Channel.
This week we conclude our 2018 Complete Namibia Tour travelogue series, with our Wildlife Extravaganza in the Etosha National Park, literally completing the photography of the main photography genres that Namibia offers visitors.
When I put this epic trip together and called it the Complete Namibia Tour & Workshop, I was very conscious that I wanted to make Etosha a part of it, and I am so pleased that I made this decision. Without Etosha on the Itinerary, you generally leave Namibia with a feeling that you didn’t do her wildlife justice. The thing is, there is wildlife across most of Namibia, and we had some beautiful opportunities before getting to Etosha, but you never feel that you’ve really done Wildlife until you spend at least a few days in this beautiful national park.
As I mentioned last week, we actually start our Etosha experience in a lodge with a private reserve adjacent to the park. The animals actually come and go as they please to an extent because neither the owners of the reserve nor the Etosha wardens can keep the animals from breaking down segments of the fences. The great thing about the private reserve though is that the guides know the place and the animals like the back of their hands. I don’t want to play down the knowledge that our two main guides and drivers for the trip have. They know the entire country like the back of their hands, but when in a small reserve, its often a good idea to take the game drives that they offer, as they can be very productive.
A Lion’s Fierce Yawn!
At the end of last week’s travelogue, I shared a photo of a lioness that I’d shot accidentally in 3D, and that was literally one of the first images that I shot as we started our first game drive with the lodge after lunch on our first day at Etosha. A few minutes later we came across a male lion lying in some beautiful long golden grass, as you can see in the first photo that I wanted to share for today (bel0w).
In my first few shots of this majestic young lion, he was just sitting in the grass. That’s great because it gives me a moment to check my exposure, but then as they often do, he rolled his head back and gave us a great big yawn! If you know lions you can probably tell it’s a yawn, but it also might look like an almighty roar. I love the detail in his mouth with those huge teeth and the rasps on his tongue. To focus I had been careful to not catch the blades of grass in front of the lion, as that would leave the main subject soft.
Back Button Focus
At some points, I think I manually tweaked the focus to ensure that he was sharp. Because I use the back button to focus after I’ve manually tweaked the focus, I can simply not press the back AF button again, and because I have also disabled auto-focus on the shutter button, the camera doesn’t try to focus again as I release the shutter. This is one of the most useful aspects of using back button focus. You can switch between manual and autofocus just by pressing or not pressing the AF button.
In fact, if you are in a continuous focus mode, AI Focus on a Canon camera, you also have access to continuous focus, by keeping your finger on the AF button, or One Shot focus, by pressing the AF button to focus then releasing it. It’s like having three focusing modes without changing anything on the camera. My other settings for this shot were ISO 1600, to get a shutter speed of 1/800 of a second at f/8, and I was using my Canon 100-400mm Mark II lens at 400 mm.
We’ll briefly hear from the co-host that I invited to help me with this year’s tour in the recorded comments that I’ll play you later, but I wanted to quickly give a shout out to Rich Dyson before we move on. Rich lives in Edinburgh, Scottland, and I’d traveled with him before on my own tours. Rich impressed with his professionalism and knowledge of photography, so I asked him to help out on this trip. I want to mention this now for a couple of reasons, but I was reminded of Rich at this point because when I showed this photo to Rich, he said: “You know when you show people this someone will pull you up for the grasses over the lion’s face.”
My reply to this was not really repeatable here, but the sentiment behind it was that if you can only see the grasses in front of the lions face in a shot like this, then you really need to develop a better appreciation for the artistic side of photography over the technical. This wasn’t directed at Rich of course, but anyone that might say that. I’m thinking people at a camera club, who have to find something negative to say because they aren’t able to talk in a positive way, and I think there are way too many people like that out there.
Anyway, before that develops into a full-on rant, I wanted to add that Rich was really good at helping people in our group that was struggling with some of the more basic aspects of photography. I often tend to start at a higher level and need to see some glazed over eyes before I realize that I’m talking over someone’s head, but Rich does short courses starting from beginner level in Edinburgh and is really good at it. Of course, he can help advanced photographers too, so if you live in or can get to his neck of the woods, and want a bit of help with your photography, get in touch with Rich Dyson at richdysonphotography.com.
Literally, just moments after I shot the previous image, as the lion closed his mouth, I got this next image (below) which looks to me like a scowl now, again, not really like a big frightening yawn! There is still grass in front of his face. More now than before in fact, and yes, I notice it, but I think these two photographs go beyond that and guess what, this is the sort of environment that lions like to rest in.
I don’t usually post two images of the same subject, but I’ve been going back and forth between these two photos for the last few weeks, and I simply can’t decide which one I prefer, so I decided to share both of them. They are both cropped very slightly, maybe 7% of the width of the image, so at 50 megapixels, the detail is absolutely incredible. I’m looking forward to getting fully caught up on business so that I can have an afternoon printing some of these photos out and just pouring over them. Having said that, I also now export my images at full size to the Apple Photos application, and because I have the 4K Apple TV, I can view them on my 55-inch 4K television as well, and they are really powerful images to see at that size and with this amount of detail. My settings were, of course, the same as the previous photo. It was not even a full second later. The EXIF data shows them as being shot at exactly the same time.
A Whittling Struggle
At this point, talking out loud as I prepare to record this episode, I’m struggling to whittle down my final selection of images to talk about. I like to keep each episode to ten photos, and I currently still have 14 in my selection, and that was a struggle. I could have easily done more episodes on this wildlife section of the trip alone, but I think we should move on next week, so there are some difficult decisions to make. What I’m going to say for now is that I will also be updating my Namibia Portfolio, and will no doubt include some of the images that I have to cut from my selection here, so if you are interested in seeing the larger body of work, please check out my portfolio at https://mbp.ac/namibiaportfolio or by following the Portfolios link in the menu above.
So, still pained by the photo I’ve just deleted from my selection, let’s take a look at some shots from a visit to a waterhole in Etosha on our second day there. I’m always amazed at the variety of different species of animals that visit some of the waterholes in Etosha, but trying to show them all in a single photo often doesn’t work for me. Although I like to show animals in their environment, especially when the environment is a beautiful landscape, when that isn’t the case, or when there is too much noise, I prefer to get in close and show the subjects in more detail, with as few distractions as possible.
When there are hundreds of zebra at a waterhole though, it can be somewhat difficult to decide exactly where to place the edges of your frame, as was the case with this next image (below). Although I’ve cropped this image on the top and bottom making it a 16:9 aspect ratio, the side edges are exactly as I framed this in the camera, to kind of make a point.
I’m relatively happy with the framing of this image, especially on the left side, but I will probably clone out the bit of a nose poking into the frame just below the young zebra’s head in the middle of the left edge. The right edge is more complicated, and although I considered cropping in to just after the nose of the head in the bottom right corner, because I slightly crop his eye, and there is another zebra just above him with only half a head, I actually found that the chaotic right edge looks better than the cleaner one that I created, with the temporary crop that I tried. I guess that comes from the feeling that there is a continuation of the herd. My settings for this were ISO 800 for a 1/800 of a second shutter speed at f/14, and a focal length of 400 mm.
At the same waterhole, 30 minutes later, I shot this next image (below) of two elephants bonding by rubbing their trunks together. Again, I went in tight on the composition, to reduce the image to what I feel are its necessary elements. This means that I have some animals across the top of the frame that are cropped off, but I opened up my aperture to f/9 to stop them from being too in focus. They still bother me a little bit, but the main subjects hold my attention enough for the blurred animals at the top of the frame not to be too much of an issue. I kind of like the zebra in the center of the frame, although it does fight for attention a little.
I have gone back and forth on this and many of my images as to whether or not I convert them to black and white. I think I prefer the zebra shot earlier in black and white, but this morning I went back to color with this image, as I like the earthy warm tones. With landscape photography, I generally know when I shoot the image if I will convert it to black and white or not, but for me, it’s not so clear-cut when it comes to wildlife. I generally have to convert it and then live with the black and white image for a while before I can fully decide. My settings for this image were ISO 800 for a 1/2000 of a second at f/9 and a focal length of 400 mm. I went to 1/2000 of a second because the elephants were jumping around a fair bit and I didn’t want them to be blurred.
That afternoon, we went back out for a game drive with the guides from our lodge and were treated with some more amazing opportunities. They asked us what we’d like to see, so we requested White Rhinoceros, as we knew there were some in their reserve. Sure enough, after an hour or so driving around, we were presented with a group of seven White Rhinos! I got some shots of the entire group, but here is one of my favorites shots, showing one of the Rhino in great light, allowing us to see the amazing texture in its thick skin, and there is a second Rhino looking in from behind the first (below).
Also, as the bushes and trees in the foreground added a nice oval frame to the image, I added a vignette in Capture One Pro, darkening down the edges by almost two stops, and that helps to draw our eyes to these magnificent creatures. It is of course really nice to get to photograph Rhinos that have not been dehorned in an attempt to prevent poaching. It turns out that a dehorned rhino still has half a horn that can be gouged out if you are an unscrupulous poacher, so that isn’t as effective as they’d hoped anyway. It was a real treat to see these animals though, in such numbers and with their young as well. My settings for this were ISO 1000 for a 1/1000 of a second at f/10, and only 148 mm, so you can tell how close we were to them.
Wide, Not White
Another thing to note is that these animals are called White Rhino based on a bit of a mistake, more than being related to their color. The White is a misunderstanding of the word “wide” which was used to describe the shape of their wide mouths. The White Rhino is a grazer, which eats grass and other low foliage from the ground. You can see how wide and square shaped their mouths are in the previous image.
In the following image though (below) we see a Black Rhino from the following day in Etosha, and you can perhaps make out his much more triangular shaped pointed mouth. The black rhino is a browser rather than a grazer which means he uses his hooked lips to eat leaves, branches, and roots. As the naming is based on a misunderstanding, these two rhino are also now sometimes referred to as the square-lipped and hooked lipped rhinoceros. You maybe can’t tell from these two photos, but the White Rhino is also up to almost double the size of the Black Rhino.
I had no trouble deciding on whether to stay in color with these images. With the rhino being basically large living grey-cards, they really lend themselves to black and white photographs, especially when the surroundings aren’t adding much color-wise. I think the conversion really helps to see the texture in their skin too. I added just over a one-stop vignette to this image as well, for the same reason as the previous image. I’m actually thrilled that we were able to photograph the two types of rhinoceros in Etosha, both with their horns as well. I had shots of them from last year, but none with horns. Now, of course, I fully support any attempt to stop the poaching of animals in Africa, but these were very special photography opportunities, that I was very grateful for. My settings for this shot were ISO 800 for a 1/800 of a second shutter speed at f/11, and I had my 1.4X Extender fitted to my 100-400mm lens for a focal length of 560 mm.
A Journey of Giraffes
The next photo (below) is another image that I have decided to overlook an imperfection for the greater good. As we headed for our lodge for the second two nights we’d spend in Etosha, we stopped to photograph this “journey” of giraffes. I love that collective noun for giraffes on the move. A Journey! How cool is that!? The imperfection might not be obvious in the web-sized image, but as with the Oryx image I spoke about in episode 623, the heat is causing the air to shimmer like a mirage, so the giraffes are actually all wobbly. We can, of course, see exactly what they are, and depending on how you look at it, the shimmer might even add to the story by showing us that the air is hot.
I toyed with the idea of cropping this down to a 16:9 or even 2:1 aspect ratio, but the foreground isn’t distracting, and I placed the giraffes at the top of the frame to emphasise the fact that they were in the distance, as well as minimize the boring pale blue sky, so I think I’m going to leave this in the original 3:2 ratio crop, at least for my base copy. I may crop it for specific uses later, but that goes for all of my work really. My settings for this image were ISO 800 at a 1/1000 of a second, at f/11, and a focal length of 400 mm.
Elephant at Waterhole
I’m really quite happy with the next image (below) as I’ve been hoping for a shot of an elephant looking straight back at me from the waterhole for a number of years. I’m particularly happy that the waterhole looks relatively natural because from a few paces to the right of the frame here the concrete edge of the waterhole starts to become visible and doesn’t look nice at all. I would have liked to have a bit more of the elephant’s reflection in the water, but this waterhole is very narrow, so if I pulled back any more, you start to see the bank on this side. Still, I like the way the elephant’s ears are spread out a little, but that he’s not really in a defensive pose.
I decided to convert this to black and white because I think it adds to the mood, and as with the rhino shots, it helps us to see the texture and detail in the skin of the elephant. I also think the shadows look better in black and white, and with the lack of color, I think we depend on the contrast between the shadows and the highlights a little more. My settings were ISO 800 for a 1/800 of a second at f/11, and a focal length of 271 mm. I have cropped in on this slightly in post.
The following day we heard from a few people and also checked the sighting log at a nearby park office, and there had been multiple sightings of both a family of cheetah and leopards in the same area. After looking around for a while, we figured that the leopard sighting was probably someone somehow mistaking the cheetah for a leopard, but we did indeed find the cheetah. In fact, despite us driving along the area of the sighting for a while, on our second pass, our driver and guide found the mother sitting on the edge of the salt basin so far away that literally no-one in the car would have thought it was any more than a stick or small bush. Surely enough though, I shot a photo of it at 400mm and zoomed in to 100% on my camera, and confirmed it was indeed a cheetah. In my photo, it was probably around 20 pixels tall.
We waited for a while, but she was obviously not going to come close enough for us to photograph her for a while, so we decided to go and get lunch, and hoped that she’d come back to the shade of the closer trees as the midday sun got the better of her. We also knew that she had to be hiding her cubs somewhere, and that may well have also been the shadow of the trees that we could see. This turned into a bit of a test of the group’s patience, as after lunch she did come a little closer to the road, and we started to see her with the three cubs that had been sighted, but we weren’t really able to get any great shots for a number of hours. We voted, in our car, and a little bit of persuasion on my part led to my group staying, and the second vehicle went off to try and find something else to shoot.
Personally, I’m pleased we stayed, because there were a few beautiful shots for the making shortly before 4 pm, as the cheetah family became a little active, as you can see in this photo (below). We can see the mother looking out vigilantly for any possible predators that might threaten her cubs, but also here we can see all three of the cubs up and about, with one of them catching some nice light on his face as he leans against the low bow of the tree. There were very few moments when all three cubs were visible like this, along with the mother, so I’m really pleased to have been able to shoot this.
The other thing that I really like about this shot is that it’s also a relatively nice landscape image, with the golden foliage and camelthorn trees, and the plain in the distance just visible through the trees. At 400 mm there was also an element of luck, as this image is clear of the shimmer that we sometimes see from the heat, but a few of my other images of these cheetahs were a bit wobbly from the heat, so I was really relieved to see that this one was fine. My settings were ISO 1600 for a shutter speed of 1/2500 of a second at f/8. I was set at a high shutter speed because the mother was also obviously hungry, and there were springbok in the area, so I wanted to be ready if she gave chase.
One of the great things about photographing in Etosha is that people are very open with their sighting information. They will sometimes stop and ask us what we’ve seen, but quite often if someone has seen something cool, they’ll just stop as they drive past and let us know. After we’d got what I believe were the best shots to be made of the cheetah, with of course the risk of missing a chase for a Springbok, a car stopped and told us that there were some elephants at the waterhole 10 minutes down the road from where we were, so we decided to go and check that out.
When we got there, the elephants were moving away from the waterhole, but one had stopped, and with one foot up on a rock or dirt mound, was picking up dust in his trunk and throwing it up onto his back, having a dust bath (below). With the sun behind the elephant, it was almost a silhouette shot until I opened up the shadows in post, but that also gave me some great backlight for the dust, highlighting against the side of the elephant, so I was happy with the camera angle.
We can also see a few springbok on the plain in the background, and that distant shimmer, a telling sign that we’re in Africa, even though it was towards the end of the day in the middle of the Namibian winter. It’s actually a really comfortable time to visit, as it gets hot, but not uncomfortably hot, and the mornings and evenings are actually quite cold, so we generally don’t have any problems sleeping etc. Anyway, my settings for this image were ISO 800 for a 1/1600 of a second exposure at f/11, and a focal length of 400 mm.
Our Galactic Core
OK, so that’s our ten photos Etosha National Park wildlife photos, but I wanted to share one last bonus image that I shot on our last night in the park before heading back to Windhoek to fly home. One of the great things about being in the desert is when there is no moon, the Milky Way looks spectacular. Before I went to bed, I decided to shoot a few frames of the sky, and although I shot some wide angle images with my 11-24mm f/4 lens, with the lights of the lodges at the base of the frame, I actually much prefer this image, shot with my new Canon 85mm f/1.4 lens, to just singled out a small portion of the Milky Way (below).
The f/1.4 lens is actually so bright with its wide aperture, that you can see the stars through the viewfinder, which is nice, as I have only ever done astrophotography with f/2.8 and f/4 lenses in the past, and especially at f/4, you just can’t do that. I took a few shots as I refined my framing, to show this portion of the Milky Way, and having checked on the NASA website after getting home, it seems that I had actually framed up the center of our galaxy, the Galactic Core, where there is a supermassive black hole called Sagittarius A-star, just slightly below and left of the center in this image.
The 500 Rule
Because I was able to see the points of the stars, I was able to focus manually until they were sharp, and I simply decreased my shutter speed over a few frames until I got to 5 seconds, which was the point where I could see that the stars were almost perfectly round, instead of being elongated by the rotation of the earth. Although I’ve heard of the 500 Rule I have to admit that I didn’t really know what it was, until I spoke about the photo the following day with a member of the group who is into astrophotography, and I learned that to get the shutter speed for an image of the stars without them becoming elongated, you simply divide 500 by your focal length. Some people use 600, but 500 divided by 85, my focal length, is 5.88 seconds, and because I’d actually seen a little bit more elongation of the stars at 6 seconds, I was happy that I’d used 5, and that the calculation gave me confirmation that I was pretty much spot on.
As I mentioned, the following day is really a drive back to Windhoek, where we spend one more night, before everyone flies home, so that really brings us to the end of this travelogue series. As usual, though, no trip would be complete without doing a roundtable with my digital recorder, to get a brief comment from each member of the group, which I have embedded into the audio and you can listen with the player at the top of this post.
As I mentioned at the start of this travelogue series, this really was a great group, and it’s lovely to hear their comments again now, just over four weeks after the tour finished. Of course, I’m fortunate that I have been able to travel with hundreds of really nice people over the eleven years that I’ve been running my tours now, but it’s not often that everyone gets along quite as well as this group did. It’s not just me, but really, everyone seemed to click beautifully, making it a pleasure to travel with these people.
Complete Namibia Tour 2019
If you might be interested in joining the 2019 tour from June 2 to 18, please check out the tour page at mbp.ac/namibia. It really is an amazing tour, so give it some thought and I look forward to getting a chance to travel with you in this beautiful land.
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.