BEHIND THE LENS: THIS IS AFRICA!
This photo was taken in Thanda, a private game reserve in Bayala (KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa) where I was a wildlife photography, conservation & community volunteer in 2012. (ISO200, f6.3, 1/250s).
This was shot on a Canon EOS 50D with a EF 75-300mm f4-5.6 USM lens.
I remember we were on our afternoon game drive and our guide took us to a beautiful area of the reserve where we spotted a lot of wildlife. We arrived at a waterhole with some wildebeest and decided to stay for a bit, hoping the giraffes in the distance would come too. Finally the giraffes arrived and we enjoyed watching them drink from the waterhole. At the time they finished the sun started setting and the giraffes and wildebeest gathered in the African savannah to feed on grass, small plants and acacia trees. The warm golden sunlight made this scenery just perfect and this photo turned into one of my all-time favorite images of Africa. Sometimes taking a good photo requires a lot of patience and luck. I’m still very happy we decided to take our time and see what happens. This was taken on May 17, 2012 at 4:24 PM.
Lighting can make a lot of difference between an average image and top class photo. At the end of the day when the sun is touching the horizon the light gets very beautiful and warm. There is nothing as magical as animals under the golden glow of the last hours of sunlight; the golden hour. Because of the low sun I was able to backlight the giraffes with limited harsh shadows in their face and achieve some rim light. In this photo the light wraps around the hair of the giraffes and wildebeest which causes a golden outline of light. You got to love the golden hour in Africa. The beauty of the magical hour before sunset added a calm and peaceful feeling to the image.
The RAW file needed some level of processing to do justice to the scene I photographed. First I did some basic adjustments to the highlights, shadows, contrast, exposure, clarity and vibrance of the image. After those adjustments there still wasn’t enough detail in the white sky (because of the backlight) so I decided to crop the image by removing the sky and create a panoramic look. Normally I don’t like to crop images but in this case the sky didn’t do justice to the scene. Last I removed a distracting electricity mast in the background. I didn’t want my and other viewer’s eye to be pulled unnecessarily to something that doesn’t enhance the composition.
Before I started as a photography, conservation & community volunteer in South Africa I didn’t know a lot about photography. In Africa I learned the basics of photography and how to shoot in manual mode. I also learned a lot about wildlife and the African bush. I remember I was constantly thinking of how to set my camera to get the perfect picture, but at that moment I wasn’t thinking at all. I was enjoying the animals, the scenery and peaceful atmosphere of the setting sun and I felt myself connected to nature. I wanted to capture that magical moment as a lasting memory and that is what I did. The image reflected exactly how I felt at that moment – peaceful, calm, alive and free – and I guess that is why this image still gives me that special feeling… It makes me miss Africa a lot!
African dawns and dusks are the most enchanting times of the day where the indirect sunlight illuminates the land with a richer, warmer light. Shooting during that ‘golden hour’ can have a magical effect on your photographs. It occurs in the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset. Aside from the beautiful warm tones and golden glow, the low angle of the sun is also very flattering. An overhead sun causes harsh shadows and a low sun creates a softer light quality and longer shadows which bring depth, texture, and interest to your subject or scene without losing detail in harsh shadows. If you want to make most of the time you have you should calculate the timing for the golden hour. You can find several websites on the internet to calculate sunrise, sunset and the golden hour. One last tip: Make sure that your camera isn’t set to auto white balance. This can neutralize the beautiful warm golden light. Setting it to ‘cloudy’ will give you the most of the natural glow.
In my camera bag
Normally, the first thing I pack is my Canon EOS 7D including a battery grip with my Canon 17-55mm 2.8 and my Canon 10-22mm 3.5-4.5. I use my wide-angle lens a lot! Especially for landscape and architecture photography. The third lens I usually pack is my Sigma 70-200mm 2.8. I’m really satisfied with this sharp lens. Because I’m in love with the southern and eastern part of Africa and its wildlife I recently bought a Canon 100-400mm 4.5-5.6 L. The 70-200mm wasn’t always enough zoom, especially when you also want to capture birds or wildlife from a distance. I have a second body (EOS 50D), but I don’t use it very often since I got the 7D. Last I always carry my tripod (just in case) and a flash.