Following on from the previous post about creating a slideshow using Boinx Software’s FotoMagico, although I was taken out of action for two days following my fourth COVID vaccination, I spent several additional days creating the background music for my slideshow, as I mentioned in that previous post. Slideshow music can be difficult because you don’t want it to be too prominent, but at the same time, it needs to compliment the images and content, so it takes more thought than simply sitting down to make a track just for the sake of it.
I’m not going to go into much detail, as this post is really at this point to point you to the video. Still, as the video starts, you’ll notice some simple Kalimba music, which is an African instrument that I have in one of my many plugins. I then spent some time finding chords that matched the subject matter, slightly sad sounding in places, mainly because of the feeling from the deserted diamond mines, and then I make it a little lighter with some flurries when necessary. We drop back to the Kalimba several times to break up the piano. After the initial Kolmanskop piano accompaniment, I switched to a hybrid traditional piano and electric piano played together. My wife thinks the flurries with the hybrid piano sound a little 70s or 80s, and she’s probably right because I was thinking Blade Runner as some of the notes and feeling of the music started to form.
Here is a screenshot of the final score in Ableton Live before I exported the music to embed into FotoMagico. If you click on the image, you’ll be able to see more detail if you are interested. Note that I designed the dark-teal theme for Ableton, as I don’t like the look of any of the actual themes provided with the software. The only additional thing to mention is that I also added some orchestral strings with brass and horns at various places, again, to add a little variation while changing the way I played some of the chords, hopefully making it a little less monotonous without having to compose and play each bar individually. This is to both save time and because too much variation can also get in the way of the slideshow if it starts to take the viewer’s attention.
I changed the timing a little, so although I’d say this would be around 18 minutes, the final video is 16 minutes and 30 seconds, which is still very long for a slideshow. This essentially represents most of my “keepers” from the trip, as the slideshow is designed to show you how much can be achieved during my 17-day Complete Namibia Tours. If you have time, do try to watch to the end, but I doubt with the number of images, it will be a video you’ll rewatch many times. Either way, though, if I can get my message across, that’s great. I hope you enjoy this. You can see this and over 100 other videos on my Vimeo Channel.
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.
I have just got back from Namibia and from today for the next three or four weeks will report on what we got up to, illustrated with around 10 images for each episode. This was my first tour in two and a half years, so it felt amazing to be out in the field again, and this tour was made even more special by the five guests that accompanied me on our epic journey around Namibia. I’ve been lucky to travel with many wonderful groups over the years, rarely meeting people that simply don’t mesh, but it does happen, so it was a huge relief to find that this group really was a complete pleasure to spend 17 days with. We’ll hear from the group in the final episode, as we recorded a short message from each of them on our final evening, but for now, let’s jump in and start to walk through the tour.
I actually went to Namibia a day early this year, in case the additional procedures in place due to the pandemic caused any problems. Shortly before I left Japan though, the requirement to get a PCR test within 72 hours of entering Namibia was lifted, which certainly removed a level of stress that helped to get things kicked off more easily. Wearing a mask for the entire journey over was somewhat taxing, especially because the first of my two outbound flights were extended from 12 to 15 hours as we couldn’t fly over Russian airspace. I also confirmed my general dislike for Lufthansa planes. Economy class on these planes has too little leg-room, with my legs having to be pressed against the seat in front of me for the entire flight. I’m just pleased that the flight between Tokyo and Frankfurt was an ANA codeshare, as ANA has much better planes and generally better staff as well.
I did hear at the beginning of the tour that Qatar Airlines have just started a direct flight to Namibia as well, which I’m going to try to book next year to avoid Lufthansa. I really don’t understand why their planes have so little leg room. It’s not as if Germans are generally little people, so maybe there are just trying to force more people into Business Class, which would be a shame, as I generally go by economy class.
Anyway, on my second morning, I went back to the airport in Windhoek to welcome the remaining four of our five guests as they also flew in from Frankfurt. Lufthansa had lost one of the guest’s luggage, which added an extra level of difficulty to the start of the trip. Luckily the guest rolled with it pretty well, and the case did get forwarded to us as we traveled, albeit around five or six days into the tour.
As usual, I timed the first photography day with a new moon, and we got into the Quiver Tree Forest relatively early in the afternoon after our drive down from Windhoek, so we had plenty of time to decide which trees we’d use for our sunset shots. My main goal as I look for a nice group of trees is to find one main tree with a pleasing shape, and a number of smaller or more distant trees that are nicely isolated. I also ensure that the main tree is isolated, without anything else overlapping it anywhere. In this case, that meant I had to lower my tripod to just over one leg section, to prevent that bow hanging down on the left side of the main tree from overlapping with the distant quiver tree below it.
I was happy with the results though, and although I’m not much of a sunset person, I do like this warm glow after the sun has dropped below the horizon when it happens.We went back to our lodge for a lovely dinner shortly after the sunset glow had died down, and then we came back out a few hours later to capture the Milky Way, and the Galactic Core which was to be still low in the sky, allowing us to place the silhouette of some Quiver Trees in from of it, as you can see in this next image.
This was actually the first time I was going to really get to use my Canon RF 15-35mm ƒ/2.8 lens, as well as my Canon EOS R5 in the field, and I was completely blown away all over again by this gear. The RF 100-500mm lens was also really getting its first field use, and I was really happy with that too, as we’ll see later in these trip reports. I used the 500 rule for my shutter speed, so divided 500 by 15, my focal length, which gives 33 seconds, and I rounded it down to 30 seconds. This gives slightly elongated star discs but in my opinion a good balance. My ISO was 1600 and my aperture was set to ƒ/3.2, stopping down just a fraction to ensure that the quiver trees were also sharp. Note too that I generally zoom in to 10X magnification on the electronic finder and manually focus on the stars. Just cranking your lens out to infinity is not always going to give you sharp stars, so when possible, zooming in and manually focussing gives better results.
The following morning we visited the Giant’s Playground before breakfast, and this shot was a hair under a four-minute exposure as the light on the horizon started to pick up. I just went to ƒ/14 for this to ensure that the nearby and distant rocks were sharp. The ISO was 100 and I was using my RF 24-105mm lens for this shot. Note too that I generally like to go to the cloudy White Balance preset for dawn and dusk shots as it makes the colors much richer.
Here’s another shot from the Giant’s Playground, in which you can see what almost looks like a comical Disney character silhouette on the right, and one of the few Quiver Trees that you can also find in the Playground. By this time the sun was almost on the horizon, so my shutter speed was now 1/6 of a second at ISO 100, still with an aperture of ƒ/14.
After breakfast, we drove over to the Atlantic coast to visit the deserted diamond mine at Kolmanskop. One of the houses that has lost its roof and the upstairs floorboards is great for this kind of high-contrast shadow shots, with the light shining through the slats in the ceiling. I’ve generally shot the other room on most of my visits, but there is now a well-formed sand dune in the second front room, which I really enjoyed as well.
I also had to visit what’s probably my second favorite room for this beautifully formed sand dune and lovely pale-blue walls. There seems to be more decay on the walls now though, giving this shot even more character than in previous years. I love that I’m able to watch these locations evolve over time.
As you can see in this next image, some of the building’s ceilings are now caving in, and some buildings are also close to collapsing. Some of the floors have also given way. The Mine Manager and the Accountant’s houses on the top of the hill at Kolmanskop have been cleaned out, almost restored to their former glory. We also heard that there is talk of renovating many more houses and restoring them to their former state, but this would be a grave mistake.
The appeal and beauty of Kolmanskop come almost entirely from the sand and the decaying building. If they are to do anything, it should be to prevent the buildings from becoming any more dangerous, while maintaining their current decayed state. If it becomes simply a museum of what the mine used to look like, they will destroy it completely. I don’t think I’d be the only one to stop visiting if that were to happen.
We spent the following morning in the mine at Elizabeth Bay, which is another diamond mine town, which actually still has an active mine area, so security is very strict when entering and exiting the area. Part of the charm of Elizabeth Bay comes from the fact that they used sea water to make the bricks for the houses, so many of the bricks have decayed away leaving just the mortar that used to hold the bricks together, as you can see in this image.
Elizabeth Bay has fallen more quickly into decay during the three years since my last visit. As you can see in this next image, many of the houses have now almost completely collapsed. In some ways, it’s getting more difficult to shoot, because so many of the houses are now just piles of rubble.
It’s also a rather harrowing place to shoot. I’ve shot what were essentially slave quarters many times over the years, with a line of tiny partitions on either side of a large room in which the workers slept. Now that the outer walls of some of the larger buildings have fallen away, as you see in this final image for today, we now see that there were some of these quarters that had a second row, making them even harder to look at, but I think it’s important to record this, and to this day, the current owners still say that the workers were not slaves, because they were paid. I’m sure that’s true, but they were also often chained, and not allowed to leave. That sounds a lot like a slave to me.
OK, so that’s our ten photos for this first episode. To make up for missing the last three weeks, I intend to release the following episodes in quick succession, so stay tuned if you like this sort of work. Also note that we do have some spaces still on next year’s tours, so check out our tour pages for details.
I’m proud to be a part of the Out of Chicago LIVE event that will take place from April 9 to 11, 2021, and today wanted to provide a sneak peek at part of what I’ll be talking about, and walk you briefly through some of the post-processing techniques that I’ll be demonstrating in Capture One Pro during my live session. My Live Session is entitled “Photography Nirvana Through Minimalist Introspection” and I’m going to talk about minimalist photography mostly illustrated with my Winter Photography from Hokkaido, Japan, and get into finding your style and learning to really love your photography. I’ve created a video that starts with a brief teaser about my talk, but then I provide a 20-minute demonstration of how I process two winter scenes in Capture One Pro version 21.1, and whether you will be joining us online for the Out of Chicago LIVE event from April 9 to 11, 2021, or not, I think you’ll get something out of the video. Check out details of the event at https://www.outofchicago.com/ and I really hope to see you there and would love it if you join my session on Photography Nirvana through Minimalist Introspection. Here’s the video. I hope you find it useful.
This week I’d like to start by giving us all a pat on the back. This is a milestone episode, as we just reached number 700! I’m pretty proud of the fact that I’ve been releasing this podcast almost every week for coming up to fifteen years now! I’m also incredibly humbled by the fact that many of you have been following my antics for most of, if not all of that time. Thank you so much for sticking around!
We’re going to do a regular episode though, and conclude my Japan Winter Wildlife Tour #2 travelogue series, with a visit to Lake Kussharo to photograph the Whooper Swans, and then on to Rausu to photograph the sea eagles. I once again have way more than 10 photos to discuss, so although we had some fun photographing the landscape a little after we finished at the sea eagles, I’m going to skip those photos and give preference to the wildlife work, because this is really what this tour is all about.
Let’s start with a shot from the Whooper Swans. As you can see, there was a slight mist over the lake, which was still not frozen, due to this being the warmest winter in Japan for thirty years. I love the graduated horizon line of the lake, caused by the mist and the swans here have an almost painterly look, due probably in part to the quality of light, but also the fact that I was panning with them with a 1/50 second shutter speed.
I wish I’d not clipped the wing of the swan on the right side of the image, but I’m pretty happy with this all the same. I also kind of like that it’s a grey cygnet that is leading the pack here, rather than an adult, which I think may have been a little bit too obvious as a composition. That was pure luck of course and totally a hindsight observation.
I’ve become quite partial to this next kind of swan-panning shot as well. As the swans start to waterski on the lake as they land, again, at a 1/50 of a second, the water makes some beautiful textures that I can kind of get lost in visually. I also really like the slightly ruffled feathers under the near-wing of this swan. The lake being thawed this year contributed to keeping the swans cleaner than they sometimes are when it’s frozen. I imagine it’s because they are not forced to sit around in the shallow water at the same location, rubbing against the algae and sitting in their own mess. Either way, this is a completely fun way to shoot these awesome, yet sometimes clumsy-looking birds.
In this same location the following morning I used an 1/800 of a second shutter speed to freeze the movement instead of blurring it, and fell lucky with this next shot, as four swans lined up with a mallard duck at the end looking as though they are just starting off on a race of sorts. The mist had cleared, though it was still overcast, and the faster shutter speed enabled me to freeze the mountains on the far side of the lake, so I consciously tried to keep my camera higher to include the top of the mountains in the frame.
Japanese Long-Tailed Tit
The little guy in the next image is a Japanese Long-Tailed Tit, and probably one of the cutest birds I’ve ever photographed. I’ve seen these before in the trees near where we stop to photograph the swans, but never managed to get a shot so far. Fast-movers though, at 1/1600 of a second, this tiny bird is slightly soft, so I increased my shutter speed for a few more frames, but I like this one the best, as he flew down from his perch, on which he stopped for a less than one second at a time. A very difficult bird to photograph.
Another fleeting moment in this next image, as a Northern Red Fox found something in the hole that it was digging that didn’t agree with him, so he ’bout turned and shot off like a bullet. I was not ready for that speed again, so his head is blurred, but I think that, along with his pose, adds to the dynamic feel of the shot, so I’m going to run with it, like the fox.
It was so nice to have snow, like this, until the end of the season. Just a week until the start of March at this point, the warm winter had taken its toll, but the occasional cold front had kept most of our locations topped up with snow, and from the number of hand-warmers we got through on the bus, I think the participants probably didn’t believe me when I kept saying that it was warmer than usual.
Indeed, as we got into our first morning photographing the Sea Eagles the next day, with the wind chill and the cooling effect of the sea-ice, even this mad-dog and ex-English-man didn’t have the nerve to call it warm. We did have sea-ice, but to be completely honest, I wish it hadn’t come down in the Nemuro Straits at all this year. The warmer conditions had meant that the Steller’s Sea Eagles were nearing the point where they’d find a thermal to climb to set them off on their way back to Russia for the summer.
They weren’t moving much at all, and the staff of all the boats were starting to wind down for the season as well. I would not accept that the birds simply wouldn’t move, and managed to talk the skipper of our boat to let us charter his second boat for the group for the second two days. This won’t always be possible, but it did give us the freedom to call the shots and salvaged the situation. The ice was closer on the second day, but we spent some quality time near the harbor wall as well, and got this next image, which is one of my favorite Steller’s Sea Eagle shots of the season.
Once again, I’m going to live with the clipped wings and tail, as I think the bulk of the shot is interesting enough to not throw it out. I love the detail in these birds, and those talons and claws look absolutely lethal! These really are magnificent birds.
White-Tailed Eagle Departs
Later in the day, we headed back down the Notsuke Peninsula, where I’d photographed the fox two days earlier, and although I don’t usually stop for sea-eagles out there, we did find the White-Tailed Eagle in this shot sitting in a more interesting spot than usual. We waited until he flew, and sure, it’s a butt-shot, but this is one that I’m happy with. The surroundings, with the driftwood and perch, and those beautiful distant mountains on the Shiretoko Peninsula made for an almost perfect scene for this proud raptor to start his journey from.
I actually pulled back to 366 mm rather than trying to go full-frame, to ensure that I included more of the surroundings. I also used the Advance Color Editor in Capture One Pro to warm up the orange tones, as I found it a little bit too bleak for the wood, which I somehow felt needed to look a little warmer.
Although it was difficult to set up and actually get them to go for fish in the water this late in the season, and the eagles were pretty much constantly flying away from the sun, we did manage to get a few images of them taking fish from the water, rather than off the ice. I was not going to give up on these photos on this trip, both for myself, and most importantly, for my guests.
Hopefully, it will look pretty natural to you, but I had to increase the shadows slider to plus 80 to bring out even this amount of detail in the dark underside of this Steller’s Sea Eagle. Definitely a rescuable image, and pretty much as good as it was going to get under the circumstances.
At almost exactly the same location, just 50 seconds later, I got this shot of a White-Tailed Eagle doing pretty much the same thing, but with much better wing positions. The shadows slider is up at 70 for this shot too, and for both of these images I warmed up the blues slightly, again, using the Advanced Color Editor in Capture One Pro. I just felt that it needed a slight saturation boost.
As I said, we’ll skip three landscape images that are sitting in selection in chronological order, as I like to keep my posts down to ten images when possible and finish with one last wildlife shot. It’s been a number of years since we’ve seen any, but finally, our luck was in with a sighting of a Great Spotted Woodpecker in the Shiretoko National Park on our final morning of the tour.
Although the foreground branch is slightly obscuring the back of her head, I really like how this woodpecker is peeking back at us through this window between the arch of a broken branch and a second branch that is holding it up. The smattering of falling snow is a nice added touch to help us wrap up this three-part travelogue series covering my last Japan Winter Tour for this season.
Before we finish though, I did my traditional walk around the bus to get a comment from the participants, which I’m going to play you now. Please listen with the audio player above, starting from 10:17, to find out what each guest had to say about the tour.