OK, so by the end of the previous episode I’d selected three sets of ten images from just over half of a total 320 images I selected from this year’s amazing Complete Namibia Tour. Today, with slightly under half of my selection left, I was going to try to select just ten more, but after a very picky look through my remaining images, I have 25 that I’d still like to talk about, so I’m going to whittle that down to twenty and do one more episode after this to finalize the series. It was such a productive trip, so this is a nice position to be in, and I hope you continue to enjoy joining me on my travels via the Podcast.
We pick up the trail as we made our first visit to the Himba village, where I found that the girl I’ve been photographing over the years was not there. She’d be 18 years old now, and I was looking forward to meeting her again, and was ultimately hoping to get a photo of her with her first baby at some point, but at least for this visit, it wasn’t to be. We did talk with the people that were there and will try to get her back for our next visit, but only if it isn’t too much trouble. The Himba haven’t been getting so many visits due to the pandemic, so there were a number of things that happened during our two visits, one at the start of this day, and one towards the end.
The first thing that I noticed was that the Himba did not seem to get tired of our presence. Usually, after we’ve been there for a few hours, they set up a shop, with most of the women and children in the village forming a circle, and sell bracelets, bowls, baskets, dolls, and other ornaments. Buying these things is one of a number of ways that we pay them back, but it’s also, in the past, been a sign to us that they are ready for us to leave. On this visit, they didn’t set the store up until I felt that the group and I were running out of things to do, so I asked them if they were going to set up their shop, through our guide of course. My understanding of the Himba language stretches to around five or six words, so I rely on our guide heavily for communication.
The other thing that happened was that we met the elder of the group for the first time when we went back in the evening. We don’t usually see many men, but the elder was sitting on a chair near the entrance to the outer corral and was surrounded by many young to middle-aged men. They asked to see my photos from previous visits, so we spent ten minutes or so looking through my photos of them. It was lovely to see their reactions as members of their group that had moved away appeared on my iPhone screen. I was also interested to find that they knew many of the people from the group that lives near the foot of a mountain near Puros, a few hours by car to the northeast from their village.
We were also thanked by the elder for taking so many provisions for them, and he asked our guide to make a note of what he’d brought along for them, and to spread the word that this is the amount of stuff they’d like when people visit. I was amazed to hear that some people turn up, take photos, and leave without giving them any provisions. An exchange like this has to be mutually beneficial, or it becomes tiresome for the people in the village. And for those that turn up and think that paying $10 for a doll will make up for spending one or two hours there, it’s really not. Let’s help people out a little more than that.
Anyway, to the photos… One of my first shots was this image of four Himba children in the back of a truck. This was only the back of the truck, just sitting in the dust, but it was a nice toy for the kids. I found it ironic that the boy in the center of the frame had a key around his neck, as though he was going to be letting himself in when he got home from school. The irony comes from the fact that none of their huts have doors, let alone a lock with a keyhole, so this was purely an accessory, which I thought was a nice touch.
By the way, if you are new to the Podcast and wondering how to see the images, note that they are embedded in the audio file, and applications like Overcast or the Apple Podcasts app will automatically display the images for you as the audio progresses. There is a page under the Posts menu with the title Viewing Podcast Images that has more information. Note too that you can simply type mbp.ac with a slash then the episode number to jump to the post for each episode, so you can see the gallery for this post at https://mbp.ac/783. If you support us on Patreon for just $3/month or more you can also see the full manuscript, and supporters for $10 per month also get a beautifully laid out eBook of each post, that can be downloaded for reading offline and it contains 4K resolution images.
We took a number of the Himba people inside one of their huts to photograph them and at one time had a mother and child inside, giving me the opportunity to get this next photograph of the child lit by the beautiful light from the hut door. Note that I actually use a few layers to darken down the background to almost completely black and feather in the shadow manually with the brush in Capture One Pro. To illustrate this, I’m including the finished image alongside the original image straight out of the camera and included the Capture One Pro interface so that you can also see some of the settings.
If you listened to the episode I did before leaving for Namibia, you might recall that I was planning to take my 50mm ƒ/1.2 lens along with me for these portraits, but I actually ended up leaving it at home, because my bag had simply started to get too heavy, and I was fine with shooting at ƒ/4 with my 24-105mm lens. It’s also nice to be able to zoom in and out as well, especially with kids, because they run around all over the place, making it difficult to frame them well with a prime lens. You can see that I shot this wide open at ƒ/4, with a focal length of 88mm and a 1/160 second shutter speed, at ISO 4000.
Next up, meet Tjiringa, a young Himba girl who I think may turn into my new project if we can’t get Makihoro back in the next few years. Tjiringa is very animated and can grimace as freely as she can smile, so it’s fun to photograph her, and I like the results. I zoomed all the way into 105mm for this, as she was sitting further away than the child in the previous shot. Although I do like a shot that I have of her from the doorway, I really like the serious, almost stern look on her face in this image, so it became my preferred image to share. So that you can see just the previous image as well, I’ll put both of these in together below.
I did, of course, process the photo of this little girl the same as the photo of the small child, using multiple layers to gradually darken the background, and draw attention to the subject’s face. This also simply removes the background, which I often find somewhat distracting.
As I mentioned earlier, we came back to the Himba village later in the day, to photograph the Himba bringing their goats back into the inner corral, and here is a photograph of them doing just that. In fact, this was one of the times when they were taking the goats back out again, and would then drive them back in for me and my group to photograph them once more. I just found this view, with the four ladies in full traditional dress, to be so fascinating, that I couldn’t help grabbing a few extra frames.
Following that, I got this next image which was probably my favorite of the session, with the sunlight catching the goat-dung dust through the wooden sticks that form the inner corral, and the ladies with their few children walking behind the herd again. There was a very relaxed mood, even when we had them do this a third time to increase our photographic opportunities, and one of the ladies thanked us for coming twice and spending so much time with them. I’m completely humbled by that, and as I have mentioned before, I’m so happy that we are able to have such valuable cultural experiences and exchanges on this tour.
The day after we visited the Himba people, we drove through the morning to arrive at our camp just outside the Etosha National Park, where we’d have lunch, and spend the next two nights. After lunch, we did one of their game drives, which I know to have a pretty good chance of seeing the subject of this next image, the amazing White Rhino. The last time I was here the owners of the lodge had bought a truckload of grass to feed the elephants and rhinos with because the drought had pretty much stripped the park bare. This meant that all of the rhinos were concentrated in a small area with the elephants, and that provided some unique opportunities, but it was so nice to see these magnificent animals simply reaching down for a mouthful of that beautiful golden grass.
We also had a few encounters with their lions, but the line of sight was very poor through the trees, so we only got a few shots as this male lion lifted his head reluctantly for a few seconds, before flopping back down to go back to sleep. The top left corner of this shot was very noisy, with heavily textured grass, catching the sunlight through the trees, and the right top corner was just grey dust, so the entire background was a source of annoyance. Because of that, I used a similar technique to that which I use to darken down the background of the Himba, but this was more difficult as the hair is really difficult to fade into the manufactured shadows. I think I made a relatively good job of it, but feel I’d like to revisit this again when I get more time.
I was also very tempted to convert this to black and white, as I enjoy that aesthetic, but I couldn’t bring myself to throw out these beautiful golden colors from the last minutes of the day, and it also looked too much like the work of my friend Christian Meermann. I’m fine with work looking similar to others, especially that kind of processing, as I’ve been doing similar processing on flowers and other subjects for many years, but in my mind, Christian owns the high contrast black and white lion space, so I decided to stay away for now.
The following day was spent inside the Etosha National Park. Not exactly big game, we spent a few minutes photographing these ground squirrels, which I thought were hilarious with their bot-bellies and that huge belly button. I have some hand-held video of these guys as well that I will include a few seconds in the slideshow I’m going to make soon, so stay tuned for that.
We also saw a black-backed jackal eating a snake, which I shot with my 1.4X Extender fitted to the 100-500mm lens, and still had to crop this to about half of the actual image size, but I’m pretty happy to have this. It’s a young jackal, so he did well to catch this snake. It took him a total of around 20 to 30 seconds to eat the snake, so I’d say he was happy for the meal.
Ten minutes later, we found a black rhino on his way to the waterhole. I know this is common knowledge, but if you’ve never heard how to tell the difference between a black and white rhino, here goes. If you look at the photo of the white rhino that I shared earlier, you’ll see that it has a very wide mouth for grazing, and the word White actually simply came from someone mishearing the work Wide, for the wide-mouthed rhino. The black rhino although markedly smaller, is about the same color, but it has a pointed mouth, using for browsing as opposed to grazing. He was apparently given the name black rhino simply to differentiate it from the wrongly name white rhino. True story.
And, as the sun went down on our second day at the Etosha National Park, we reached our ten images, so we’ll wrap it up there for this episode. We will finalize this series next week, but our final ten images, from our last two days in Etosha.
Today we conclude the 2019 Complete Namibia Tour & Workshop travelogue series, as we head into the Etosha National Park for a final four days ending this year’s tour. As I mentioned last week, Namibia is having a pretty nasty drought this year, so the wildlife dynamic was somewhat different from a typical year, but I’m a firm believer in being presented with fresh opportunities when something is taken away from us, and Etosha this year was no exception, as you’ll see in some of today’s ten images.
Young Rhino Squabble
We started our Etosha experience with a game drive in our lodge’s private reserve, which is actually adjacent to the park, and they explained to us that they had made a decision to bring in some grass to feed their White Rhino population. They were worried about our reaction to this, but the way I see it, there are enough rotten humans out there taking these magnificent creatures away from us, that I’m totally OK with the good guys helping them to stay alive during this hard year.
You can actually see the grass in this image, with a young male Rhino getting feisty, and throwing his weight around with an older, more cautious, female Rhino. The last of the evening sun was still falling on the scene at this point, giving us that beautiful golden light, and I increased my ISO a little to 1600 to give me an 1/800 of a second exposure, which helped to freeze that line of grass that the Rhinos kicked up in their squabble.
Feisty White Rhino
As the sun continued on its path taking it below the horizon, the light lost its color, making this next image almost completely black and white. This is the same young male Rhino, who just kept running around, kicking up dust, and generally giving the other young Rhino a hard time.
It’s great to see these animals with their horns, as many reserves are dehorning them in a bid to keep poachers away, although there is now some debate about the effectiveness of this practice. Seeing these animals with their horns though is one of the major benefits of using the lodge that we stay at for the first two nights at Etosha. Of course, I support any measures that the people take in the fight against poachers, as long as it doesn’t involve rich people with guns.
Zebra in the Dust
In this next image from inside the Etosha National Park the following day, you’ll see that some parts of park were completely baron of any grasses for the animals. This same area was a grassy plain last year, so the animals are struggling, but the dust that these zebras kicked up adds a lot of atmosphere to this shot in my opinion.
This is one of the bonuses that I believe we were presented with, in place of the grasses that can also look very beautiful. I processed this is such a way that the dust is actually a little brighter than it was in reality, giving it a slight glow, complimenting the graphically stunning zebra. I just love it when there is something that helps us to see the air in a photograph. It really does literally add “atmosphere” to an image. The processing was just a few deftly tweaks to the Tone Curve in Capture One Pro. Nothing difficult, but very effective, in my opinion.
Another thing that I like to do is to get in close and try to make semi-abstract images of the young zebra among their parent guardians. I generally don’t like to cut off elements in the frame as I’ve done with the other zebra in this shot, but when the subject is so obviously the young zebra here, I think the tight crop can also work, even though the main subject is also cut off along his behind and back legs.
Note too that I was using an aperture of f/11 for most of these shots, to give myself a slightly wider depth-of-field than most people use for wildlife, giving separation between the animals, while enabling me to get a 1/1000 of a second shutter speed here, with ISO 1600. These are my golden settings for most of the work we do in Etosha, as I like that depth-of-field for wildlife. You might also notice that the zebra here are backlit, which some people will shy away from, but using the Shadows slider in Capture One Pro or Lightroom enables us to see nicely into the darker areas of the frame without making it look unnatural, and I love the rim-light on this young zebra’s back.
On our third day in Etosha, we drove through the park, from the East to the West side, and as you can see, there was more vegetation on this site. With that, many of the animals had made their way across the park, although water was still scarce, causing animals like these springbok to walk across the plains to the scattered waterholes.
In the background of this shot, you can hopefully make out a very faint pale-gray body of land behind the horizon of grass. That is the large salt flats of a now mostly dried up lake across the North of the park. The tree is also a relatively rare thing to see, with just a few of them out on these plains alone like that, so I thought it made a nice additional element.
I actually have a few other frames with many more Springboks in them, but I prefer this one with the spacing between fewer animals. It might not come across in the web-sized image, but I’ve had this shot as my desktop background on my iMac Pro since I got home and I really like the atmosphere, as though I’m back in Etosha, looking out across the plains.
Note that I changed my aperture to f/14 for this shot, to get just a little bit more depth of field, although at 234 mm that doesn’t give me pan-focus. I used a tool called RawDigger to check my focus distance and see that I was focussing around 110 meters out, and I can tell from my Photographer’s Friend iOS app that at f/14, that still has a limited depth-of-field of around 100 meters. My app also tells me that I would need to stop down my aperture to f/36 to get pan-focus, where everything from my focus area to infinity is sharp, but my lens doesn’t stop down that far, and I’d be struggling with diffraction at that aperture too. It’s really not an issue of course, as I feel that the distant subjects like the animals and lone tree being slightly out of focus, help to show us what the image is about, and provide a better sense of depth than we’d have if everything was totally sharp.
A moment or two after I shot the previous image, the last of these Springbok probably decided that we were a possible threat, and ran across the road behind our vehicle. I was able to photograph one of them in the air as it leapt probably the best-side of five meters in a single bound.
This is another reason why I like to keep my camera set up with a relatively fast shutter speed. Moments earlier I’d stopped down to f/14 for a little more depth-of-field, and because I shoot in Manual mode most of the time, I didn’t have time to change this as this Springbok took flight, but I had still kept my shutter speed relatively fast at an 1/800 of a second, in case something like this happened.
Bonus 3D Image
Although I like to keep my episodes down to ten images, I’m going to throw in a bonus image here, as I was also able to photograph another image pair while we were still moving as our vehicle came to a halt, resulting in enough parallax shift between the two images to be able to view in 3D. If you are able to go cross-eyed at the right distance, to the point that the two images align in the just the right way, please do give this a try. The distance that you need to be from your screen depends on the person and the size at which you are viewing the image. If you open this image in a wide browser window, you should be able to get it pretty big, and try moving your head closer and further away.
It can be tricky, and only around 50% of the people that I show these images to can actually align them perfectly to get a 3D image, but if you are able to go cross-eyed, please do give it a try. The degree to which you cross your eyes is also really important, but you can possibly actually see the images start to align as you adjust your eyes, until they fall into place. Note that I also added my logo, and had a bit of fun placing it in the foreground of the image, so that it looks like it’s almost in line with that foreground bush in 3D space.
The Lion Sleeps Today
Around mid-morning on our final full day in Etosha, we came across a pride of Lions that were having a bit of a rest. Another bonus of the dry weather is that this grass would usually be substantially higher, blocking our view of this mighty cat as he slumbers like a kitten. I think this is probably one of my favorite shots from the trip, simply due to serenity and peacefulness that I see in this image.
I’ve done a bit of cloning to remove some large dark clumps of vegetation from the foreground, and a rock in the background, and I’ve also brought out the shadows a little. I see from my EXIF data that I had the 1.4X Extender fitted to my 100-400mm EF lens, although I was only zoomed in a tad, to 420 mm. I’ve continued to be very happy with the performance and image quality of the EOS R as I’ve shot my entire Namibia tour with two of these wonderful new mirrorless cameras from Canon.
A Lion’s Pillow
A very close second favorite image from the trip is this shot of another lion that was using a fallen tree as a pillow for his morning nap. You can tell by the way his mouth has failed open that this lion was complete out of it, totally relaxed and unthreatened. He did wake up for a few minutes, and I have some shots of that too, but then he went straight back to sleep again for a while longer.
The vegetation in this shot was a little too busy to try and clean up, so I left this one as it is, but again, opened up the shadows a little with the Shadows slider in Capture One Pro. Although it’s nice to get action shots or dynamic poses, I have to admit, I’m often more attracted to photos like this, that give us a little bit of insight into what you might consider the private life of these awesome animals.
The Lion Awakes
If my memory serves me correctly, and there’s no telling if it does or not, I believe the lion in this next shot is the first one that we looked at, that was sprawled out in the grass when we found this pride. In fact, I seem to remember photographing the one using the log as a pillow right up until we drove away from this spot, so I think I’m correct.
Here again, we were on the shadow side of the subject, but the Shadows slider served me well, enabling us to see this almost regal-looking lion as he peers at something in the distance. I love how the color of his eyes matches his mane and also the grasses in the background of this shot. It’s not hard to imagine why Lion’s are the color they are when you see them in their environment like this. I had opened up my aperture to f/10, to allow the background to go a little softer in the shallower depth of field. I was also still using my 1.4X Extender fitted to the 100-400mm lens, but for this shot, I had zoomed in as far as it will go, to 560 mm.
Shortly after the lions, we passed by a waterhole with some elephants having a drink. This one was the last one to leave, and for some reason was purposefully stirring up the dark-gray mud from the bottom of the waterhole and drinking that.
Once again, I went back to my Etosha f/11 for this shot, and as you can see, that gives me a nice amount of blur in the background while keeping the entire elephant sharp. Speaking of which, I love the texture of this elephant’s skin and I had initially enjoyed the contrast between the gray the warm-colored background, but I eventually settled on this black and white version, which I feel reduces the photograph down to its more essential elements, rather than having my attention grabbed by background color.
So, that brings us to the end of the 10 photographs for this episode, and to the end of the travelogue series. As usual, at the end of the trip, I recorded a few comments from the participants, which I’ll play to you now. You’ll need to listen to the audio with the player at the top of this post to hear what each participant said about the trip.
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.