We pick up the trail in this fifth and final part of my Complete Namibia Tour report for 2022 as we made our way into the Etosha National Park on a day that we’d traverse the entire park from West to East, and shortly after entering the park we noticed this Spotted Hyaena having a morning stroll. It was difficult to catch him as he walked quickly through the park behind the trees, but I managed to grab a frame or two when he was in a good clearing. The sun was behind him, so the lighting not great, but the shadows slider in Capture One Pro helped me to bring out a lot of detail in the Hyaena, so I’m pretty happy with this.
A large part of what I teach on my workshops is the importance of keeping your eye on your exposure via the histogram, and this shot shows the importance of that better than most. I almost always expose to the right, which means that I am manually changing my exposure so that the brightest part of the image, represented by the right-most data on the histogram, always falls just before or even just touching the right shoulder of the histogram frame. For many reasons, this will generally give you the best image quality, but in this image, it was key to gaining a well exposed image while giving me enough information in the hyaena to bring out the shadow details.
If I had left it up to the camera, the scene would have been recorded in the middle of the histogram, and the hyaena would have been so dark that the details would not have been recoverable from the shadows. Even as I shot this at my adjusted exposure, the hyaena was almost completely black, in silhouette, but I trusted my process and got a shot I’m happy with.
Shortly after our encounter with the hyaena, we headed to a waterhole where we found some zebra taking a drink, and they had pretty nice reflections, resulting in this image. Zebra are always great subjects, but those dazzling stripes getting doubled up in the reflections make for a striking image, and the sun caught some of their eyes, giving me some lovely catchlights.
The following image is a little bitter-sweet for several reasons. At first, I was really happy to find a leopard out in the open. Until now, I’ve only seen leopards in Namibia obscured by thickets or foliage or for just a few seconds before they took cover again. This leopard was sitting under a tree with what we thought was probably a springbok he’d taken down. The first problem with this, though, was that it was the middle of the day, and he was very far away. That means that even though I could use a 2X extender on my RF 100-500mm lens for a focal length of 1000 millimeters, the shimmering of the air from the heat takes away most of the clarity in the subject. It looks OK-ish when you view the full-frame image, but when you zoom in on the leopard, the image quality just isn’t there.
The second problem you may just be able to make out is that this animal has the wire of a snare wrapped tightly around its upper jaw. You might be able to see that the skin on the snout is pinched downwards between the nose and the eye, and also, the upper lip is pulled up a centimeter or so. Although the leopard was trying to eat, I guess that the snare was so uncomfortable or painful that he was having trouble making a start on his meal. As soon as I returned to Tokyo a few days after this, I sent this photo with GPS coordinates and the name of the nearby waterhole to our travel partner for this tour, and they, in turn, passed this information on to one of the vets that work in the Etosha National Park, so that they could locate, anesthetize and then take the snare off of this beautiful animal. I haven’t heard anything back yet, but hopefully, it won’t take long before we can remove that snare and give this guy a normal life again.
I should add that I was not aware of the snare when I shot this image. I was trying to make the best of the situation, using the tree to augment the landscape and show the leopard in its environment. I only saw the snare later when I zoomed in to check the lack of detail in the leopard.
Many years ago I photographed a Secretary Bird at the Ueno Zoo here in Tokyo and was amazed at how beautiful it was, with its long eyelashes and pristine headdress. I was still working in my old day job and honestly didn’t, at the time, even dream that my efforts as a podcaster and blogger would lead me to become an international tour and workshop leader, so this next photo has a special place in my heart. We came across a Secretary Bird in the wild, strutting through the grasses in the Etosha National Park. At first, it was far away, and the clarity was low due to the mid-day heat haze. This time, our subject continued walking towards us, so I was able to get this beautifully clear shot at 500mm as the bird continued walking, looking for lizards and other small animals, even snakes, to prey upon.
These are magnificent birds, and I feel so humbled that the life I’ve been able to make for myself through the podcast has enabled me to build a working business model that enables me to travel to such wonderful places on what I truly believe are life-changing tours for the guests that are kind enough to travel with me. Not to mention life changing for me too.
A little later in the day, we were in for another treat as we spotted a white rhino heading towards a waterhole. I can’t recall seeing any white rhino wild in the park here, with our sighting usually restricted to the ones at the Ongava Lodge, so I’m hoping this indicates that the poachers are being kept out. The fact that these animals are no longer having their horns removed is also very encouraging and makes for much better photographs.
Again, I love the scene that this rhino is in with the beautiful tall yellow grass that simply could not grow for the few years before the pandemic struck due to the drought that lasted seven years, and ended finally with the rains that Namibia got in December and the start of this year. I used my 1.4X Extender on the 100-500mm lens for this shot, giving me a 700mm focal length. I haven’t called out the settings for all of my shots today, but generally, I am aiming to get a shutter speed of around 1/2000 of a second to freeze the motion should an animal be running around, and that requires an ISO of around 1600 at ƒ/11, or as in this case, ƒ/13 because I wanted slightly more depth of field to show the landscape in focus. Also, note that if you click on images on my website, you can see the shooting data in the light box surrounding the images if you are interested.
I was happy with this next photo of a Lilac-breasted Roller bird in flight, until I saw a shot from one of my guests with the wings spread and a beautiful angle showing the top of the bird. Now I’m not so impressed with my own shot, but it’s great to see my guests get incredible work, and it always helps me to stay on my toes as well.
Again, I’m so impressed with the Canon RF 100-500mm lens, including with Extenders fitted, as it handles really well, and the image quality is out of this world. Being able to get out to 700mm with the 1.4X Extender is amazing, and I’ve gotten used to the fact that you can’t zoom out completely when you have an Extender fitted.
We don’t always need very long focal lengths, though. This beautiful, proud African elephant is pretty much filling the frame at 300mm. If I’m not mistaken, this is the one that shortly after this did a dummy charge at our vehicle as it walked in front of us. He wasn’t comfortable with the distance. He was so close that I’d switched to my iPhone to get some video, which I’ll include in the slideshow that I’m going to put together to showcase the trip after posting this concluding episode of my trip report series.
Next, we have a Journey of Giraffes, also shot relatively wide at only 223mm. I cropped this down to a panorama to emphasize the width of the group. We can tell from the pattern in their fur that these are Angolan Giraffe, and I also heard that the darker colored giraffe are the older animals.
We also saw a lot of scuffles and fighting between the zebra near the waterholes. I’m guessing that this is because the rains have provided more food, and that probably has the female zebra thinking more about having young and that in turn is making the males more likely to fight to find their pecking order within their groups. I returned with lots of shots of the zebra fighting and kicking each other, but this is probably my favorite. However, it is a somewhat brutal attack on the middle zebra, as we can see from the white of his eye as he receives a particularly hard blow from both sides of his neck.
The fiftieth and final image of this five-part series is an attempt at a panning shot. We saw some giraffe that had been frightened by something and started running from the waterhole, so I selected a slow shutter speed of 1/80 of a second and tried to pan with the giraffe to make the background a little blurry. I succeeded to a degree, and feel that probably with this number of animals and the distance to them, this is probably about as much as I can expect to succeed at relatively easily. Next time I think I’ll try around a 1/50 or a 1/40 of a second, as I do for my panning bird shots. Even though the success rate will be lower, if I can pull it off, it will give very beautiful results.
OK, so that’s about it for the images. We traveled back to Windhoek the following day, and before we all flew home, the group was kind enough to record a few comments for us, which I’ll add into the audio at this point.
<< PLEASE LISTEN TO THE AUDIO TO FIND OUT WHAT PEOPLE SAID >>
They were a wonderful group. Such a pleasure to travel with, and listening to them all again there made me feel as though we were still in Namibia four weeks ago, and in many ways, I wish we were. Life goes on here in Tokyo, though. Having thought about this often over the past six months, I’ve taken up archery since returning. I have joined a local club and enjoying it immensely. I don’t know how it will play into my photography, other than the fact that it’s getting me out and is more physical exercise than I expected it to be, but that is great because I’ve already started to lose a few pounds, so hopefully, this is something that I’ll be able to continue.
As I mentioned a few times during this series of trip reports, I will now set about the task of creating a slideshow to showcase the trip and what can be achieved on my tour. I hope to be able to share that with you in another week or so, alongside some tips on using the latest version of Boinx Software’s FotoMagico.
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.
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.
This is part four of a series of travelogue style episodes to walk you through my recent visit to Namibia, co-hosting an amazing photography tour with my friend Jeremy Woodhouse.
We pick up the trail on August 20, when we visit the first of two Himba villages that we visited during our tour.
The Himba are a nomadic people with a strong culture, and visiting their village is a highlight of the tour for many participants, including me of course.
This first photo that we’re going to look at is of a Himba boy, or maybe we should call him a young man, that posed for me in the doorway of one of their huts (right).
Direct sunlight is very harsh, so we generally ask the Himba to stand in shade or go inside their huts, like this. It really helps to reduce the contrast, although it does require a high ISO to get your shots, as you’ll see later.
As this was still in the doorway, I set my ISO to 320 for this first photo, at f/5.6 for a 1/100 of a second exposure.
I also used the Radial Filter in Lightroom to highlight the boys face, by reducing the Exposure of the rest of the image by 0.6. It’s not a huge change, but subtly changes the feel and atmosphere of the image.
There’s one thing with this photo that I can’t quite make my mind up about, and that is that if you zoom in on his eyes, you can see me crouching down in front of him with my camera. It produces a nice catch-light, but I would prefer it if I wasn’t there, so I might at least desaturate my shirt later.
Himba Lady Taking Smoke Bath
This next photo (right) is shot inside a hut, at ISO 6400, f/4, for 1/80th of a second. I know that this will have some of you cringing, thinking that it must be full of grain, but it simply isn’t, because I was exposing to the right.
I have actually reduced the Exposure by 0.55 in Lightroom to darken the lady’s skin to a natural level, but the original was brighter than this, with the highlights close to being over exposed.
This greatly reduces any grain that creeps in at high ISOs. Most people get scared of the grain and select a lower ISO, but that makes the exposure lower, recording the image data in the middle or on the left of the histogram, and that in turn ironically introduces more grain.
The moral of this story of course, is don’t be afraid to increase your ISO in situations like this, even if you reduce the Exposure later. Your photos will thank you for it.
The Himba lady here is actually taking a bath. When we asked her to go inside her hut, she quickly picked up a small pot with some dried twigs inside, and set light to them with the fire in a hearth near the center of the room, and then covered it with that ocher colored cloth which she draped over the smouldering twigs and her lower body. This is how the Himba people cleanse themselves, instead of bathing in water, which is too scarce in this areas to use for washing.
These next two photos are of the same Himba girl, with the one of the left also inside the hut. The only light in the hut is that which comes in through the doorway, so it really does light up the subjects face with a soft light, which I had the girl look into for this first shot (below, left).
I shot this as f/5.6, ISO 5000 for 1/80 of a second. I reduced the ISO for this one partly because she was closer to the doorway than the last image, but also because the white on her shells was starting to blow out, and I wanted to protect those highlights.
The photo on the right was shot at f/5.6 still, but this time she was in the doorway, so I had my ISO at 400, for a 1/100 of a second (above, right). Once again, I used the Radial Filter in Lightroom for these, to highlight the face a little, by reducing the Exposure of the rest of the image.
Himba Lady with Baby
This next photo (right) is of a young Himba mother, with her child. Jeremy, the tour leader, asked her to walk out into their enclosure for about 50 paces, and then walk back again.
This is probably my favorite shot. A view from the back, which has more story to it in my opinion. We can imagine them walking away to start something, and we think about what it is that they are going to do, or maybe they are leaving us, and we consider our feelings about being left behind.
We had actually left the village before lunch, and had returned with some supplies later in the afternoon, so here, the light is much warmer at this time than it would have been during the morning, so this was a nice opportunity to get some shots outside the huts.
I shot this with my 70-200mm f/2.8 lens, at f/4, for 1/400 of a second at ISO 100. This is one of the few times that I actually used my 70-200m lens during the tour, but I wanted the wider aperture for portraits, which I why I put it into my vest pocket before we entered the village.
There’s actually a relatively sad story attached to having the 70-200mm lens in my vest pocket. Most of the Himba people don’t speak much English, and yet there is one word that the children seemed to whisper to us often, and that is “Water”.
They’re having a dry year, and often the small children would point to my pocket, and get closer to my ear and whisper “water”. They thought it was a water bottle in my pocket. I felt terrible when I had to tell them it was a lens, which they had zero interest in. We did have some water in our vehicle though, which we gave them as part of our payment for their kindness in letting us into their village and their lives.
We continued shooting after this, as the Himba people kindly allowed us to photograph them herding their goats into the corral for the night, as we can see in this photo (below). The are hills behind this scene, so the sun goes behind the hill before it gets close to the horizon. This means that the light is getting warm, but not as warm as it would be later, if the hills weren’t there. There’s nothing we can do about that of course, and I still like the resulting photos a lot.
Himba Goat Herding
This image was shot at f/8, ISO 500 with a shutter speed of 1/320 of a second. I needed a fast-ish shutter speed to mostly freeze the action, which is what I did here.
The light did start to warm up more as it clipped the top of the hills, as we continue to shoot. The dust in the air also helped as it’s a brownish color from the dirt, as we can see here. I particularly like how we can see the sun’s rays in the dust in this photograph (below), which was shot at f/9, ISO 800 for 1/320 of a second.
Goat Herd in Sun’s Rays
After shooting the goat herding for a while, we joked with the ladies in this photograph, and then started walking back to the main enclosure, and to our vehicles which were outside. I walked back with two of the children, which I lifted up, one in each hand, time and again as they laughed, and seemed to enjoy the experience. I absolutely loved playing with the kids, and the cultural exchange that we had here. The girl of the two children even danced for me for a while, which I caught on video with my iPhone. I have a lot of clips from the trip, and will probably embed them into a slideshow at some point, as time allows.
The following day, we started another long drive to a place called Purros, where we would start the first of four nights bush camping. Not long into our drive, we came across these men herding long horn cattle to a bore hole for them to take their daily drink (below).
Herding Long Horns
Jeremy’s car drove ahead, and asked if it was OK to photograph them, and we pulled back a way and got out of our vehicles to do just that. This first photo was shot at f/8, ISO 200 with a shutter speed of 1/800 of a second. Here I shot at 286mm, and included the man on his donkey and the entire herd.
As the cattle grew near, I pulled back a little to 158mm, and captured a smaller number of long horns (below). I also adjusted the shutter speed to 1/500 of a second, to keep the data on the histogram over on the right, then I actually reduced the Exposure in Lightroom to -0.20 in this shot. Again, this is a subtle change, but keeping the information as far to the right as possible helps to keep the image quality as high as possible, so even when there is only a small amount to be gained, I tend do this by reflex.
Later that day, just outside Purros, we started to see lots of desert adapted giraffes, such as this one (below). I have a lot of giraffe photos from this trip. And I mean, a LOT! But this is probably one of my favorites, mainly because of the texture created by the tree in this image. The detail is amazing, and I’m looking forward to printing this one to see how it looks on paper.
Next week we’re going to wrap up this series, with one last episode of images, starting with a visit to a second Himba village, and then we drive around the riverbed of the Hoanib River. Although the results aren’t great due to the environment, we had came across a pride of desert lions that had just brought down a young giraffe, and some amazing encounters with desert elephants, so do stay tuned.
Music by the Staff of the Kulala Lodge in Sossusvlei – Thank you!