Jon Bryant Photography: Blog https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog en-us (C) Jon Bryant Photography (Jon Bryant Photography) Sat, 28 Nov 2020 15:41:00 GMT Sat, 28 Nov 2020 15:41:00 GMT https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/img/s/v-12/u288956281-o366364418-50.jpg Jon Bryant Photography: Blog https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog 120 120 The Lumix 200mm f2.8 lens: when to use it? https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2020/11/the-lumix-200mm-f2-8-lens-when-to-use-it One of the questions I get asked the most is, should I buy the 100-400mm f4.0-6.3 lens, or the 200mm f2.8 lens? That question is then often followed by: which is the sharpest lens?

Let's address the first question...

Whenever I am asked for recommendations of cameras or lenses, I always respond with a question: what type of photography are you doing? The answer to that question will always have the most impact on which choices of camera gear you will make. In the case of the 100-400mm f4.0-6.3 lens the answer is a relatively straightforward one. If you want an all round versatile wildlife or bird photography lens, which is both affordable and dependable, then this is the lens for you. Indeed it is a lens I have some sentiment around because it was the launch of this lens by Panasonic at the end of 2015, that began my journey to become a Panasonic Lumix Ambassador. It was a lens I had been waiting for in order to really start pursuing wildlife images with the Lumix cameras. I had the lens since 2016 and it has been the lens that I have shot most with since the past 4-5 years. 

When the G9 was launched in November 2017, the 200mm f2.8 lens was also launched together with the 1.4X and 2.0X extenders. I have the lens courtesy of Panasonic. Yet I have not used it as much. That doesn't mean to say it isn't a good lens. You have to consider that every lens has a place in your kit bag. And you have to work out whether this is a lens that has a place in your kit bag. The reason I don't use it as much as the 100-400mm f4.0-6.3 is purely a question of weight. I would love to travel with them both. However, to carry both, adds weight to my camera bag, and this is something I want to avoid when I travel to Africa. In Europe, I tend to always default to the 100-400mm f4.0-6.3 because of the versatility of the focal range, and the fact that I shoot smaller subjects in Europe than Africa, notably birds. Thus I need that extra focal length. 

The 200mm f2.8 Lens: Image courtesy of Panasonic. 

However, there is absolutely a place for the lens. The key is the fact it is a fixed focal length and aperture. With the aperture being at f2.8 this is an important specification of the lens. I recently spent time in a couple of specialist bird hides. It was mid to late autumn. The weather was overcast, and light was at a premium. The two hides I rented on consecutive days both had reflection pools, or sometimes known as "drink stations". Because light was at a premium not just at the start of the session in early morning, but throughout the day, I was struggling to get fast enough shutter speeds in aperture priority mode. Let's just hit the pause button...

Before we talk about why fast shutter speeds are needed, let's just remind ourselves of why it is best to shoot wildlife in aperture priority mode. It isn't the only mode we can use, but aperture priority mode is what the majority of wildlife photographers use. The principle is simple: you select your aperture. The camera then selects the shutter speed as a function of the sensitivity, therefore ISO setting. This means as the photographer, you take creative control by choosing the depth of field you want to shoot at (hence the F stop you choose), and then by adjusting your ISO (up or down), the camera takes care of the shutter speed. The higher the ISO the faster the shutter speed the camera selects to compensate for getting the right exposure. The advantages of this for the photographer are, you only need to monitor your ISO and exposure compensation. You don't have to worry about aperture and shutter speed and balancing these two as you would shooting in manual mode. It gives you less to worry about, and allows you to concentrate on what is often fast moving action with wildlife.

However, there is a downside with shooting aperture priority mode, and that is shooting in low light. When you have low light conditions, you have to push the ISO to be able to get fast shutter speeds. Now, a fast shutter speed is desirable if you want to freeze the action and get a sharp image. A slow shutter speed maybe a creative choice if you want to do a motion blur, or panning shot with the effect of movement. There is no right or wrong answer as to which shutter speed you chose. However when I shoot small birds from a bird hide, I want fast shutter speeds to freeze movement and get sharp shots. If I was out in the open and was photographing large birds of prey, I might try and do a motion pan at a slower shutter speed. But for bird hides, your ability to pan is limited from a fixed position. And in any case, small birds move at near light speed...I exaggerate for effect. 

The rule of thumb is that to get a sharp shot, you want a shutter speed 2X (twice) the focal length. So when I shoot with the 100-400mm f4.0-6.3 lens, I want a shutter speed of at least 1/200, at 100mm and at least 1/800 at 400mm. The G9 which is my main camera body has IBIS, and the lens has OIS. Therefore I know at 2X the focal length handheld, it will be unlikely my shots are soft. 

Panasonic Leica 200mm f2.8 Lens with the Lumix G9: 200mm, f2.8, ISO 1600, 1/250 -1EV

So back to my bird hide sessions: light was low, it was cloudy and overcast, and the hide had a glass window, restricting the natural light even further. You expect towards midday, your shutter speeds increase as there is more light. But in late autumn and winter, you can forget this theory! All day I struggled for light. And with the 100-400mm f4.0-6.3 lens, when I am at 400mm, the lowest available aperture is f6.3. There were times at ISO 1600, my shutter speed was as low as 1/40. This made conditions for bird photography extremely challenging. I did go to ISO 2000, but I don't like going higher as it introduces too much noise into the final image. 

Panasonic Leica 200mm f2.8 Lens with the Lumix G9: 200mm, f2.8, ISO 1600, 1/800 0EV

This is where the 200mm f2.8 lens comes into play. From a fixed position such as a bird hide, you are gaining about 2 stops of light at 200mm compared to the 100-400mm f4.0-6.3 lens. You also gain a little with the minimum focal distance, and so subjects that come closer to the hide are easier to focus on. This also allows you to manage ISO, and thus the amount of noise in the final image. Shooting with a fixed focal length requires you to anticipate the composition and framing more than with a telephoto or zoom lens. But the results are well worth it. At f2.8, you won't have too many depth of field challenges given this is a micro four thirds system. Focusing on the head or the eye of the bird, most of the body will be in focus. It only depends on the angle of the birds wings, body and tail as to whether focus drops off further down the body of the bird, but this is more than acceptable for a portrait image. 

Panasonic Leica 200mm f2.8 Lens with the Lumix G9: 200mm, f2.8, ISO 1600, 1/160 -1EV
 

During both bird hide sessions the 200mm f2.8 lens effectively saved me. Without it, I would have wasted my days. I would have been fighting high ISO, low shutter speeds, and blurred images with noise in them. In the end, at f2.8, I was often at ISO 1600, with shutter speeds of 1/100 to 1/400. This is more than acceptable if you have good camera craft and can anticipate the birds movement and pick your shots. 

Panasonic Leica 200mm f2.8 Lens with the Lumix G9: 200mm, f2.8, ISO 1600, 1/1000 0EV
 

To finish up this blog, let's address the second question. Is one lens sharper than the other. To my eye the answer is "no". Sharpness isn't just determined by optical quality. Sharpness of an image is determined by how you shoot; handheld or with a tripod. And whether you are using IBIS, OIS, or introduce camera shake. It also depends on shutter speed. If you look at optical tests there may be a difference. But in the field use, I would argue that the difference is indistinguishable. I would always argue to focus on your camera craft to make sure you are getting the best quality images possible independent of the camera or lenses you are using. 

Panasonic Leica 200mm f2.8 Lens with the Lumix G9: 200mm, f2.8, ISO 1600, 1/1000 -2/3EV

Someone once said "a bad workman blames his tools"

Until next time...

Jon

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(Jon Bryant Photography) Animals Bird Photography Birds Lumix Lumix Ambassador Micro Four Thirds Nature Outdoors Panasonic Photography Wildlife wildlife photography https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2020/11/the-lumix-200mm-f2-8-lens-when-to-use-it Sat, 28 Nov 2020 15:34:00 GMT
Having to work hard to get images https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2020/10/having-to-work-hard-to-get-images As photographers, sometimes we go through periods whereby we have to work harder to get our images. This can be for a variety of reasons; inability to access a location, lack of time when in the field, poor weather or light, or just plain bad luck. 

I think I speak for all wildlife and nature photographers when I say that 2020 has been beyond challenging. I don't really want to make this blog about the confinement many of us had to endure. However, I have found that coming out of confinement and getting back into photography has been one of the most challenging things I've encountered this year. When you go out into the field on a regular basis, things for the most part come naturally, and I tend to find I focus more on my field craft than my camera craft. However since June this year, the times I have been out with the camera I've struggled with almost every aspect of my photography. Every time I went out with the camera I failed. As a result, I didn't make any vlogs from the field despite intending to do so. When I returned and look at my images I was frustrated and disappointed. I was mostly frustrated by my compositions, but as a result I was making silly errors. This created a viscous circle...the more mistakes I made, the more I wanted to break the cycle and produce something I was proud of. 

Some weeks back, I decided to just stop. Put my camera down and stop thinking about photography. I think this was much needed. It was time to regroup, reflect and work out what wasn't working for me...

After reflection I realised two things were bugging me:

  1. I was putting too much pressure on myself to deliver something.
  2. I wasn't giving myself enough time when heading out into the field. 

Basically, I wasn't planning enough, when I did get out I was rushing, and expecting to produce something from nothing in poor light or bad weather. 

I therefore did some planning. I decided to book some time at a couple of dedicated wildlife hides in November. This does a couple of things. It blocks off a dedicated time where I just focus on photography. It also stacks the odds in my favour of seeing and photographing my chosen subjects. 

Autumn colours: G9/100-400mm f4.0-6.3, 100mm f8.0, 1/125, ISO 1600

To prepare, I recently went out to a local nature reserve with my Lumix G9 and the 100-400mm f4.0-6.3 lens. Even though this reserve was just 35kms from my home, I had never visited it before. And as a bonus, the reserve had a bird observation hide. The weather has been typically autumnal, with clouds and rain. So light has been at a premium. Armed with my camera I walked around the reserve before reaching the hide. This is a good practice as you start to "tune in". It helps me listen to the birds calling and gives me an opportunity to get my eye in and spot them. 

As I walked around the reserve it started to rain, and so I didn't break out the tripod to get some landscapes. Instead I headed to the hide. The hide was well constructed with good portals to look through. However, the position, as with many hides in public nature reserves was not the best. Situated between two ditches and not actually on the lakes themselves, meant you could not clearly see the water. There wasn't any waterfowl present, but if there had been, it would have been frustrating. I could hear birds all around me, but I couldn't see any. On one side there were plenty of reeds. But not a bird in sight. On the other side, a ditch with water, it was dark, and murky. Very difficult conditions photographically; poor light, and a lot of foliage and clutter. So I decided to sit a while and wait things out. This wasn't going to be easy. 

The hide, surrounded by foliage.

After some time, I spotted some movement. I caught a glimpse and flash of red. Sure enough I spotted a Robin down in the ditch. It was perched nicely. This is where the 100-400mm f4.0-6.3 lens comes into it's own. Shooting in aperture priority mode, I pushed the ISO up to 1600. This gave me a shutter speed of 1/160 at f6.3, at a focal length of 400mm. This is a shutter speed which is way under the ideal. At 400mm, ideally I'd like to be at 1/800 shutter speed for birds. But with the G9's in body stabilisation, and the optical image stabilisation (OIS) in the lens, I know I have a good chance at slower shutter speeds to get a sharp shot. It is all about picking my moment. Birds move fast. But you can anticipate when they will stay still. And the burst speed on the G9 helps me get 12 frames per second. More than enough to get a good shot. 

So how did I do? These were three shots I'm happy with. Using the focal length I was able to get a clean line of sight through the foliage and compose for the subject. You can see around the edges of the frame, just how much foliage and clutter I was contending with. The other thing to point out is how clean this image is. I read so much about how the micro four third systems, with small sensors suffer from noise when shooting at high ISO. Yes there is noise when shooting at ISO 1600. But this cleans up very well and easily using Adobe Lightroom.   

Panasonic Lumix G9/100-400mm f4.0-6.3, 400mm f6.3, 1/125, ISO 1600

Panasonic Lumix G9/100-400mm f4.0-6.3, 400mm f6.3, 1/125, ISO 1600

Panasonic Lumix G9/100-400mm f4.0-6.3, 400mm f6.3, 1/125, ISO 1600
 

The result was just 3 images. Ones that I had to work very hard for. Yes, I was sat in a hide. I was dry and relatively warm on a cold autumnal day. But there were very few birds present. And with such density of foliage, without a line of sight to the lakes either side of the hide, it was very hard to spot any birds. But these images were the result of be addressing my two points of frustration; giving myself time, and not putting pressure on myself. 

As I left the hide and headed back towards my car, I had that little bit of luck...

I spotted a bird that I've never seen or photographed before. A long tailed tit. I was quite far away, and the bird was above me, which isn't ideal. Still, with the 100-400mm f4.0-6.3 lens, I was able to frame the bird and get a proof shot. It's never going to win any awards (hahah!), but sometimes proof shots are good. In this case I was very happy to observe this bird and document it for my portfolio. 

Panasonic G9/100-400mm f4.0-6.3 lens, f6.3, 1/320, ISO 1600.

The long tailed tit is a stunning bird. I do hope I get to sight one again. This in itself is a reason to return, and if I'm lucky, I may get a closer sighting and a nice portrait image. 

Until next time...

Jon

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(Jon Bryant Photography) Animals Birds G9 Lumix Nature Panasonic Photography Wildlife https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2020/10/having-to-work-hard-to-get-images Sun, 04 Oct 2020 09:29:19 GMT
The story behind the frame https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2020/7/the-story-behind-the-frame

 

As camera technology progresses and we see more cameras launched in the mirrorless segment, I read more and more online about camera specifications. Yet it is very rare I actually see anyone explain how these specifications actually translate into actual camera craft. Even worse, when the cameras are launched and handed to the usual community of influencers, we get a whole bunch of videos reviewing the camera with titles such as "hands on with the ...." with almost no examples of images taken as a result of a key benefit of this new camera technology. 

I will step off my soap box...

What has this got to do with an African Jackass Penguin?

This image for me was a watershed moment in my photography. It was taken 3 years ago when I was visiting Cape Town to give a presentation at a Wildlife Photography event. I was fortunate enough to take a trip to Betty's Bay. Betty's Bay is a fabulous place, a stunning stretch of coastline, with a rocky beach home to a large colony of African Jackass Penguins. 

It was a gray overcast day, there wasn't much light. Up until this moment, the majority of my wildlife photography was shot using Aperture Priority mode and making sure my ISO was high enough to accommodate a fast enough shutter speed to render the image sharp.

However on this day, with limited ambient light, I was having to push my ISO higher and higher to get a fast enough shutter speed. I was watching these penguins navigate the waves, the tides and the sea splash over the rocks. I was shooting with the Panasonic Lumix GH5 and the 100-400mm f4.0-6.3 lens. Unlike the G9 which was launched just months after I took this photo, the GH5 does not have in camera body stabilisation. However, the lens does have optical image stabilisation (OIS). And the combination of the GH5 and the 100-400mm f4.0-6.3 lens is lightweight, it is easy to shoot handheld. As I observed the penguins I decided to do the exact opposite of what I normally do. I dropped the ISO to 100, and then increased the aperture to f22. The resulting shutter speed was 1/15 of a second. I focused in on one lone penguin who remained static just long enough for me to take the resulting image with the motion blur of the sea in the background. 

The resulting image was exactly what I had envisaged; an animal in its environment shot with a twist, the dynamic movement of the sea in the background. 

Very simply I would not have been able to take this image with a full frame DSLR camera and equivalent lens handheld. I would have needed a tripod, and a lot of luck. This image is an example for me of how knowing the features and benefits of your camera can help in taking more creative imagery. 

When the G9 was launched I was able to take similar images, but even easier as the G9 has in body camera stabilisation, and combined with the optical image stabilisation of the Lumix lenses, I know that for subjects that are static, I can reduce the shutter speed and have a good chance of a sharp shot. This not only allows me to shoot images of animals in dynamic moving environments, it allows me to shoot in lower light conditions without having to push the ISO up (and hence introducing more noise to the final image). 

Next time you see the specifications of a new camera at launch, as yourself one simple question "what will that mean for my photography?". It's a fundamental question that may help you avoid G.A.S (gear acquisition syndrome!) and allow you to focus on investing in a camera that will help you advance your camera craft.

 

Until next time,

Jon

 

 

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(Jon Bryant Photography) Animals Creative Lumix Nature Panasonic Photography Wildlife https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2020/7/the-story-behind-the-frame Sun, 26 Jul 2020 18:24:29 GMT
Minimalism - a trend for the current times https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2020/6/minimalism---a-trend-for-the-current-times

 

As I write this on the summer solstice, I am wondering where this year has gone. Lockdown has started to ease up, and it feels like we are now starting to accept, albeit reluctantly to the "new normal". These past months since lockdown began have been completely unproductive. Even if I could go out, unfortunately I have had a number of health issues which have prevented me from being active. I have therefore consumed more content than I've created. And what I've seen, especially on You Tube is some of the big name Landscape Photographers moving towards minimalistic images. This isn't anything new to me. In fact, being located in the heart of Benelux, I do not have the big vistas that many other locations are lucky enough to have. I often have to look at minimalistic, or intimate landscape scenes. This is something that I've been using to drive both my creativity and push my camera craft, especially on composition. Last year I went to the Dutch coast on a mission to visit a nature reserve that had a population of foxes. Before I embarked on this mission, the evening before in dull light, I went for a walk with my Lumix G9 and a lightweight tripod. Now I don't want to be disparaging about the Dutch coastline, but...there isn't a lot to it. Sea, sand and sky. Almost no interesting features, piers, sea brakes...nothing. But I decided I would work with what I had and create a minimalist landscape with just three elements; the sea, the sky and 4 small pieces of driftwood. Using a Lee circular polariser and a little stopper, I used a 4 second exposure at f5.6 to create a moody, ethereal seascape. The key was timing the shutter at the moment the wave would break to get an interesting pattern with the white sea streaking backwards. But the effect worked very well. It is a simple composition, and lacks vibrance, but that is due to the light conditions I had on that evening. The G9 is a camera I love to use in these circumstances. With the inbuilt time I just set it to 2 or 10 seconds and I don't have to worry about camera shake impacting focus. And I don't need to worry about an intravoltemer - the less kit you carry on the beach the better.

 

During lockdown I reflected on what I was going to do when I eventually got back out into the field. With limited travel, it feels like there are very slim pickings. But...

 

When life gives you lemons, you have to make lemonade. 

 

Now is the time to challenge yourself. 2020 as a year might be a write off. But why not try some new things, fail, and learn from them? You might have to shoot local, and that might not be what you want to do. It might not be what inspires you. But it might push your photography to a new level, but making you see a scene differently, and photographing it differently.

 

Above all, have fun, and stay safe...!

 

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(Jon Bryant Photography) blog landscape landscapes lumix minimalism nature outdoors panasonic photography seascapes https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2020/6/minimalism---a-trend-for-the-current-times Sun, 21 Jun 2020 15:33:44 GMT
Mes 9 meilleures images de 2019 (et premier blog en français!) https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2020/6/mes-9-meilleures-images-de-2019-et-premier-blog-en-fran-ais Alors que 2019 touche à sa fin, je réfléchis à ce qui a été encore une année difficile personnellement. J'ai décidé d'écrire un blog en français, et c'est parce que je voulais que mes amis de mon club photo puissent le lire. Et la raison en est assez simple. Je voulais remercier mes amis du club photo pour leur soutien. J'ai rejoint le club photo la première année de sa création. Mais cette année, je n'ai pas été aussi présent ou actif que je l'aurais souhaité. Beaucoup d'entre vous ont peut-être su grâce à mes mises à jour sur Facebook les raisons de cela, mais certains d'entre vous ne le savent peut-être pas. 

En 2018, ma mère est décédée de façon inattendue. Mon père à cette époque était handicapé et ma mère s'occupait de lui à plein temps. Depuis la mort de ma mère, j'ai dû prioriser deux choses, mon père au Royaume-Uni et ma fille en Belgique. Cela a eu des conséquences sur ma photographie. En 2018, je n'avais presque aucune inspiration ni motivation pour sortir avec mon appareil photo. Mais au début de 2019, j'étais déterminé à changer cela et à retrouver ma motivation. Ce n'était pas une chose facile à faire. Je revenais au Royaume-Uni pour mon père chaque mois. Malgré cela, j'ai décidé de me concentrer d'abord sur la sortie, quelque part dans la nature, et que la photographie était la priorité secondaire. Ce changement d'approche a bien fonctionné. Cela a pris la pression de la photographie et a concentré mes efforts et mes énergies pour sortir. Cela signifiait également que je pouvais l'intégrer à mes voyages de retour au Royaume-Uni.

En conséquence, 2019 a été beaucoup plus productif. J'ai voyagé aux États-Unis à quatre reprises. J'ai voyagé en Afrique du Sud et je viens de rentrer d'Islande. Mes images du sud-ouest aux Etas-Unis ont été ma sélection pour l'exposition cette année. J'ai finalement senti que je pouvais consacrer du temps à la photographie de paysage qui est l'une de mes plus grandes passions. Et les résultats ont été parmi les meilleures images que j'ai prises.

2019 a été l'année où je suis retourné à la photographie plein format. Je suis devenu ambassadeur Panasonic en 2016, l'année où je suis devenu professionnel. Ce faisant, j'ai adopté le format micro quatre tiers. Panasonic a lancé les appareils le S1 et le S1R. J'ai acheté le S1R au milieu de l'année car je voulais travailler avec une caméra qui fournissait des images haute résolution. Bien que ce ne soit que le début, j'ai été impressionné et satisfait des résultats. Pour la photographie de paysage, l'appareil photo est vraiment incroyable.
 

Avec ce blog, l'intention est de vous présenter l'histoire derrière chaque image. Comme je n'étais pas très présent cette année avec les activités du Club, ce n'était pas par négligence intentionnelle pour le Club. Vous verrez avec les histoires que je raconte avec chaque image, il y avait beaucoup d'images prises au Royaume-Uni.

Et avant de présenter l'histoire de chacune des neuf images, un élément de l'histoire doit être raconté, car il apportera le contexte nécessaire. 

Pendant toussaint, je suis retourné au Royaume-Uni avec ma fille pour rendre visite à mon père. Il a dû se rendre à l'hôpital le 1er novembre pour une opération. Il n'est jamais sorti de l'hôpital et est décédé le 11 novembre. Mon père était très fier de moi, son fils unique. Et j'ai la plus grande admiration pour lui, pour chaque sacrifice qu'il a fait pour moi et tout ce qu'il m'a appris. 

Ces 9 images sont-elles les meilleures que j'ai prises cette année? Photographiquement, probablement pas. J'ai choisi ces images en raison de ce qu'il fallait pour les obtenir;


...le temps et les efforts nécessaires pour trouver le sujet, 

...la difficulté d'accès à l'emplacement,

...le défi des conditions météorologiques ou d'éclairage,

...l'expérience du moment,

...la satisfaction personnelle que j'ai eue du résultat.

Aujourd'hui, nous sommes saturés d'images sur les réseaux sociaux. Mais on oublie beaucoup d'images car elles ne sont pas "spectaculaires". Je crois que la meilleure photographie est le résultat d'une bonne "field craft" (l'effort et experience que vous mettez sur le terrain). Et c'est donc souvent une influence plus forte sur ma sélection d'images personnelles que sa capacité à "épater" les gens ("the wow factor").

Ces neuf images, et tous mes efforts photographiques en 2019 sont dédiés à ma maman et mon papa, que j'ai perdu en l'espace de seulement 17 mois.
 

1. En haut à gauche
 

 

2. Haut milieu

 

3. En haut à droite

 

4. Milieu gauche

5. Centre du milieu

 

6. Au milieu à droite

 

7. En bas à gauche

 

8. En bas au centre

9. En bas à droite

 

A bientôt...

Jon

 

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(Jon Bryant Photography) blog Landscapes Nature Photography Wildlife https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2020/6/mes-9-meilleures-images-de-2019-et-premier-blog-en-fran-ais Sun, 21 Jun 2020 15:14:04 GMT
The much overlooked Panasonic 14-140mm f3.5-5.6 lens https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2019/11/the-much-overlooked-panasonic-14-140mm-f3-5-5-6-lens I am predominately a wildlife photographer. Yes I shoot landscapes and nature photography too, but most of what I shoot is wildlife. As a result I have always been very selective about which focal lengths I need, and therefore am prepared to invest in. I am asked quite often via my website "which camera would you recommend?". The answer to that question depends on what type of photography you do. And based on the answer to that question, I would then start to look first at which lenses you would need before choosing the camera body. Glass is an investment for the long term, and generally holds it value much more than camera bodies. 

I remember having a discussion with another of the Panasonic Lumix Ambassadors at Photokina in 2016. They were using the 14-140mm f3.5-5.6 lens and spoke highly of the versatility of the lens and how light and compact it was. In 2016 I had just become a Lumix Ambassador and so I was very much focused on the longer focal lengths such as the 100-400mm f4.0-6.3 and if I was going to invest in another lens, I was more inclined to look at constant aperture lenses. I pretty much dismissed the idea of the 14-140mm.

Fast forward to two months ago. I was preparing to head to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park in South Africa. Panasonic had released the mark 2 version of the 14-140mm f3.5-5.6 lens. They proposed to lend me one and take it with me to test it out. I knew it was lightweight and compact and wouldn't take up any room in my camera bag so agreed. The mark 2 is now dust and splash proof. It also supports the dual IS system. So how did it work out for me?

Focal length

It is the equivalent of a 10x focal range, which in 35mm terms is 28-280mm. I mentioned it's versatility...well, I confirm, this focal range is extremely versatile. Whilst on game drive in the Kgalagadi I paired it with the GH5. My principle body was the G9 with 100-400mm f4.0-6.3 lens. I found the 14-140mm focal length to be ideal for capturing images of animals in their environment: working at the wider to mid focal ranges. The focal range really does give the flexibility to decide what you want to keep in the composition and what you want to keep out. 

A male lion at 140mm.

The same male lion at 46mm, with the wider view: the lion in the shade of a tree and Oryx looking on. 

 

Variable Aperture

I will admit, I don't like variable aperture lenses. I prefer constant aperture, for the simple reason that I shoot aperture priority mode and at any given focal length I want to be the one that defines the aperture from a creative stand point. I want to be in control of the depth of field not the lens of the camera. The other issue with variable aperture lenses I dislike is in low light situations. If I zoom in and end up at f5.6 or 6.3 I loose at least a stop of light. In fading light you can do with out that. Having said that, being on game drive on safari the light for the most part of the day is enough to compensate for the variable aperture...with the exception of early morning and sunset sightings where you are always fighting the light no matter which lens you use. After using this lens, I am more than happy to accept the variable aperture for the other benefits it gives me.

Sunrise: 40mm, f4.7, 1/25 second, Iso 800, handheld. 

Sunset: 140mm f5.6, 1/320 second, ISO 1250.

Weatherability

What can I say? I arrived in the Kgalagadi to high winds, a sand and dust storm, and then a thunderstorm and rain. I didn't have to worry about this lens. It sat on my camera and just got on with the job. It is dust and splash proof and that I was I need when I go out into the environments I shoot with. 

The view on arrival: a thunderstorm in the distance with rain and dust: GH5/14-140mm lens

My first few days in the Kgalagadi were extreme with sand and dust storms: GH5/14-140mm lens.

Minimum focal distance 

This was the big surprise. The spec will tell you the minimum focal distance is 30cms. I didn't know this when I left for the Kgalagadi. But the minimum focal distance peaked my curiosity as I started to use the lens on coffee breaks during the morning game drives. The picnic sites we stopped at would be a table under a tree. We would stop under the shade of the tree. These trees would have weavers nests in them. And before long these weavers would descend on us, on the lower branches around the picnic table and on the picnic table itself. As I observed that these birds were very habituated with our presence I decided to try something. I took my GH5 with the 14-140mm lens, and placed it on the ground I used the articulating screen to frame my composition. I then placed a few rusk crumbs just in front of the camera. I tethered the GH5 with the Lumix Image Application on my iPhone. I then sat back and waited. The birds started to come. First the more boisterous glossy startling came in, followed by the weavers. I then started shooting remotely. The results were superb. The birds got really close to the lens and were in focus. This really surprised me. 

The glossy starlings: 14mm, f6.3, 1/1000 second, ISO 800.

The sociable weavers: 14mm, f6.3, 1/1000 second, ISO 800.

Image quality

This is an affordable lens. Yet, to my eye, there is no considerable loss in image quality or sharpness. Images I shot were all very acceptable and developed well in Lightroom. If you are reading this expecting a more in-depth technical opinion on image quality for the lens, then this is where I fall short. I suggest going to read a technical review of the lens. That's not my forté!

Versatility for wildlife

This is where the lens excels. Would I recommend it for wildlife photography? It depends. It really does depend on where you are going to shoot. In certain situations 140mm falls short, and you won't be able to fit the frame. That is where you will need the 50-200mm f2.8-4.0 or the 100-400mm f4.0-6.3, certainly the latter if you want to shoot birds. That said, there are certain situations this lens really excelled. Certain situations whereby we got really close to the animal, or had a sighting whereby the animal walked towards us. Having the ability to zoom out was extremely useful. When I first started out in wildlife photography I was shooting with the 12-35mm f2.8 and 35-100mm f2.8 lenses. But I was shooting on one body. If an animal came from distance towards me, I didn't have time to switch lenses. The 14-140mm lens gets around this problem. It can easily shoot the wider "animals in the environment" shots as well as the more closer tighter portrait shots when you get closer to the animal. The Kgalagadi is basically a dry river bed which allows animals to walk down to a series of waterholes. This means you can see the animals a far and they will eventually come closer in proximity. This isn't the case in other game reserves, you may not have a clean line of sight to the subject. I would say if you have experience in shooting wildlife, then the 14-140mm lens definitely has its place in your lens arsenal depending on where you plan on shooting. 

A herd of Springbok, nice and wide at 46mm focal length. 

A drive by of a well fed female lion: 40mm focal length

Final thoughts...

The 14-140mm f3.5-5.6 mkii lens has really changed my perception of these type of zoom lenses. Without a doubt I really liked the versatile focal length for my style of photography. Combine this with the ability to tether the GH5 of G9 to the Lumix image app for remote shooting, I found it a very creative lens that afforded me a range of different types of wildlife images without the need to change lenses for different focal ranges. Add to this the dual image stabilisation and the dust and splash proof weathering, it is really worth a look if you are just starting out with wildlife of animal photography, or if you are an experienced shooter and want a little easy of flexibility in your kit bag. 

Until next time

 

Jon

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(Jon Bryant Photography) Africa Animals Creative Photography Landscapes Lens Lenses Lumix Nature Outdoor photography Outdoors Panasonic Photography Wildlife https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2019/11/the-much-overlooked-panasonic-14-140mm-f3-5-5-6-lens Sun, 03 Nov 2019 19:49:37 GMT
A very personal blog: Mental Health and Photography. https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2019/9/a-very-personal-blog-mental-health-and-photography Watching the news media in the UK, there is lots of coverage about the visit of HRH Harry & Megan to Cape Town in South Africa and their support of mental health charities and causes. 

It is a stark reminder that mental health continues to be a very real issue for many people, and one which carries a great stigma. As the media has focused on driving that conversation, I felt compelled to write this very personal blog. 

Yes, I have suffered from mental health issues. 

That isn't an easy sentence to write. But I do not feel ashamed about it. The first step on any road to recovery is to face up to the problem and reach out for help. I am sure many of my close friends and family will read this blog, and they know what I've endured the past 6 years. I have been on a roller coaster in my life with more downs than ups. And when I take a step back, and I objectively look at the ups, one thing stands out: my photography. 

Canadian clinical psychologist, Dr Jordan Peterson, who over the past 2-3 years has rose to online fame with his best seller "12 rules for life, an antidote to chaos" has been quoted as saying: "life is tragic" and "life is suffering". He asserts that "happiness" is a pointless goal, and we must search instead for meaning, not for its own sake, but as a defence against the suffering that is so intrinsic in our existence. It is a brutal analysis. And if you stop to think about it, it can be daunting and grim to think about the concept that we live and therefore we suffer. But suffering is real but it is relative. Everyone who experiences suffering at a personal level will go through extreme emotions. And it's how to manage those emotions, the impact they have on our own mental health, and the lessons we learn from them, that will define our future ability to cope and traverse life's challenges. Where I live in Belgium, there is a saying in French which is equally brutal "what doesn't kill you, is good for you". The emphasis being, learn from the suffering and become stronger. But how?

So how has photography helped? What role has it played at moments in my life where I've had to endure challenges and suffering?

At a personal level I have to say that the photographic process is for me a means to an end. What do I mean by that? The fulfilment I achieve from photography is in me capturing a scene in nature, or of a wildlife subject and freezing that moment in time for posterity. But that means that first and foremost, I have to get to that scene. I have to get to a vista, a landscape, I have to get in to nature, I have to get in to an animals environment. That "means to the end", means I have to get myself outdoors. It is proven that getting outdoors and into nature has a positive impact on mental health. This can be as simple as doing some gardening, growing some vegetables or flowers. The very act of nurturing something else into life can bring immense meaning and purpose. After all, it resonates that if you can nurture something in nature, you can and should be nurturing and looking after yourself. And so photographically, the concept of "nurturing" translates for me into the "creative" process of capturing the image. 

Even at my lowest points, of which in recent years I've had many, I have turned to my photography. Have I created masterpieces? No. At times the photography has taken a back seat to the process of being outdoors. My previous blogs about searching for dune foxes in The Netherlands are a good example of that. Some of my first visits to the nature reserve early this year were at a time of immense personal difficulty for me. I would walk 8km to the area with immense hope of seeing the foxes....often ending in disappointment. I would then walk back with no images. And despite lots of potential to take images of other subjects (landscapes, deer and birds), I didn't have any motivation to take photos of those subjects. But at the end of that walk I felt better. I didn't feel exasperated at the failure of not getting the images I wanted. I felt a need to return on another day. The momentary disappointment was replaced by a sense of purpose and meaning that one day I would get the sighting I was hoping for. I was proven right. 3 visits later everything fell in place. And the upside? The time period between my first visit and thirds visit was about 7-8 months and I had grown stronger as an individual and was feeling much better in myself. During that period I continued to push myself to get outside with my camera in my hand, even if I wasn't capable of producing the images I was accustomed to. 

What I learnt was you have to have faith that the "creative" process in photography will return. It will come back. You just have to give it time, and you mustn't over think it. At times when you are feeling low, don't put pressure on yourself. One of the aspects of photography that is so powerful is it doesn't have to be a solo pursuit. If you don't feel you have the strength to fly solo, phone a friend and propose going out for a walk. If you are a photographer and have a friend who you think needs support, give them a call and propose a walk or outing in nature with the camera. Never underestimate your own ability to inspire others. Your presence in itself can immensely help someone who is suffering. It will help nurture them. 

Once I got out into nature, I often found that when my state of mind was right, and I was ready for photography, I went into auto pilot mode. I didn't think about things. Everything came naturally. And eventually I found that I started to produce some interesting results that were very satisfying to me. And once I off loaded my cards and worked with the images in Lightroom I had often learnt a lesson or two on how I had captured the image. It gave me immense satisfaction. I would always come away with a feeling of having put myself into a position that I created something, and something that resonated with me personally. That was what provided me with the satisfaction. And with that, the sense of nurturing, and fulfilment. It has an immensely powerful effect because it also gives you the feeling of self-worth. 

With that said let me share with you 3 images I took in the past 12 months at times when I was feeling low. With each of these images I will explain my thought process and how I feel about the outcome. 

Le Hourdel in France: This is a beach that covers the estuary at Le Baie de la Somme. It's known for the WWII German bunker that has toppled. When I arrived on the scene, I found the composition challenging. I realised there were more elements in the scene than the bunker itself. And whilst the water and estuary is more difficult to capture in the image, I decided to take some distance and accentuate the sky. I shot this with a black and white picture profile in both RAW and JPEG. But I shot the image with the intention to convert it to black and white using the selective colour sliders. I was very happy with the resulting image. So much so, that I chose it as one of three images I exhibited at my local camera clubs annual exhibition. Being on the beach, alone, on an early Sunday morning when I took this image was a very solitary experience. The connection that I was able to make with the scene with my camera gave me a strong sense of fulfilment. 

Zandvoort Beach, The Netherlands. I mentioned the dune foxes. Well this image was taken a day before I went on my long 8km walk to search for those foxes. I decided to stay in a hotel in Zandvoort the night before my planned visit to the nature reserve. It was the middle of February and it was cold and cloudy. The light was fading fast. I decided to go for a walk on the beach. Like most beaches in the Benelux region, they are featureless, flat expanses of sand, with no interesting features, cliffs, or landscapes. Basically you couldn't imagine a more uninspiring scene. As I walked the beach, I set myself a challenge: create one image. With a LEE little stopper and a circular polariser, I walked the beach looking for something I could include in the composition. I spotted a few pieces of burnt drift wood and decided I would try and use these as a feature. With just 4 elements: sea, sky, clouds and driftwood, I used a slower shutter speed to create a very ethereal image. This isn't at all my style of photography. This was something that was really pushing boundaries for me. Whilst the resulting image is very simple, I love the white swirls of water as the shallow waves would break and move back out to sea. 

Black headed tern: This image I took whilst taking a walk at Kinderdijk in The Netherlands. The plan was to take some images of the windmills there. However the weather wasn't that great. It was grey and overcast and the light was poor. There were a lot of black headed terns flying and skimming and hovering over the canals. The speed of movement was impressive and this was a critical factor. Observing their flight movement was mesmerising and you could see a certain pattern repeat. Bird in flight shots can be extremely challenging. Combine that with the fact that black headed terns don't have significant colours or markings, I gave a lot of thought as to what type of image I could potentially create. My mind turned to black and white again, mainly because of the sky and the fact I wanted to get some contrast with the subject. I waited for one of the terns to hover. The resulting image breaks many compositional rules. I've place the subject in the centre. And I am taking the photograph of the rear of the subject. But for me this just works. There is an echo of a silhouette without being a silhouette, there is some symmetry without being perfectly symmetrical. The head and beak are visible but give an indication of the birds purpose and intent (to dive downwards). This image isn't just one of my favourite images of this year, it's one of my favourite images of my entire portfolio. It was taken during another difficult moment in my life where I was feeling very low and struggling to cope. But I look at this image with an immense sense of pride. 

To finish, I don't want you to think that photography is the answer. If you are struggling with mental health issues, the first step is to recognise it and the second step is to talk to a medical profession (your general practitioner). Do not feel ashamed. The brain is like any other organ in our bodies. It is a complex entity, it is fragile and it requires care. We can't function without it. We can't find fulfilment in life if it isn't functioning correctly. There is no shame in taking time out and looking after you. But recognise that there are things you can do that will allow you to traverse the most difficult moments you are living through. Take a deep breath. Think about getting outside. And as photographers don't give up the "creative" process. You may not be feeling it in the same way as when you are on form, but I guarantee you that the concept of getting out there with your camera will give you a sense of purpose and perspective. And the results might even surprise and please you and take you to new creative spaces you didn't think you were capable of. 

Above all, look after yourselves and each other...

Until next time...

Jon  

 

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(Jon Bryant Photography) Animals Landscapes mental health Nature Outdoors Outdoors Photography personal story photography well being Wildlife https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2019/9/a-very-personal-blog-mental-health-and-photography Wed, 25 Sep 2019 09:19:43 GMT
Dune fox success! Getting up close to dune foxes with the Leica 50-200mm f2.8-4.0 lens https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2019/8/dune-fox-success-getting-up-close-to-dune-foxes-with-the-leica-50-200mm-f2-8-4-0-lens In my last blog post I shared my failed attempts at trying to find the dune foxes at the Amsterdamse Waterleidingdunen Nature Reserve in The Netherlands. I knew that it was a place I was going to return to. And I am pleased to announce that on my third trip to the reserve I had success!

On this third trip, I was simply lucky. I still haven't worked out when the best time to visit is, based on the potential to discover more active behaviour of the foxes. On this occasion however, and being a beautiful sunny day, there were a number of photographers that had gathered at the shelter where the foxes are normally seen. I typically suspect that foxes are more active in the early hours of the morning, but in these dunes I suspect that they are much more active late afternoon or in the evening.

Whilst I really enjoy visiting this nature reserve, I have to say the walk from the car park to the area where you are likely to find the foxes is a long one! And it feels even longer when you have a camera bag of kit on your bag. On this visit though, I decided to go with the Lumix 50-200mm f2.8-4.0 lens instead of the 100-400mm f4.0-6.3 lens. I decided to make it my mission to focus on the foxes and not bird shots. And by doing this, lighten the load on my back. That is one of the advantages of the micro-four thirds system cameras, the body and lens being smaller and more compact make the total weight compare to a traditional DSLR much lighter. However, wildlife photographers rarely go out with just one lens! On this occasion however, I took that risk and it paid off!

On arrival at the shelter I had a chat with some of the other photographers to see if there had been any sightings of the foxes. Unfortunately no sightings. However I spoke with one lady who showed me what she had been photographing that morning. To my amazement she had found some very small tree frogs and with a macro lens had got some amazing images. I made not of the location and added that to the list for a return visit, and a mental note to pack my macro lens!

I then waited a while. The weather was warm and sunny and so I found a nice spot to sit down and just take in the surroundings. One of the issues with the reserve is that it isn't easy to spot wildlife. It is easy to spot the deer. But the foxes are much more challenging. Even though the landscape is dunes, there is a lot of vegetation which can obscure the view. So you just have to play a waiting game and keep your eyes peeled. 

Then sure enough after about 1h, one of the photographers spotted something. And as if to prove my point, we found this...

Panasonic G9, 50-200mm f2.8-4.0 lens. 200mm, ISO 400, 1/5000, f5.0 -2/3EV

This fox was just meters from the bath, lying down in long grasses and in the sun. Nobody could see it. Until it raised its ears, obviously alerted to something. But this fox was not alone...

As this first fox was sadly crowded by a group of foxes and in the end decided to get up and make an exit, I became curious that there was potentially a second fox nearby sleeping. With a little field craft, I backed away from the main group of photographers and decided to explore another area.

Panasonic Lumix G9 with 50-200mm f4.0-6.3 lens 100mm, ISO 400, 1/500, f5.0 -1/3EV

Sure enough, under a small thorny bush, there was another fox curled up, not asleep, but sleepy. I very slowly approached making sure not to startle it. Sure enough he looked at me, and quite honestly was completely unperturbed by my presence. So I kept a good distance for my 50-200mm f2.8-4.0 lens and started to take some shots. I then just waited a bit to see if he would do anything. Specifically the tell tail signs of potential movement, is that the fox/animal will start to yawn. Yawning gets additional oxygen to the brain which is a signal they will get up and move. This fox didn't yawn. So it wasn't going anywhere. 

The first fox seemed to have moved on. And it was unfortunate that there were now about a dozen photographers who became aware that I was photographing something. Sure enough in no time at all I was surrounded. Quite honestly it was a circus. But I am happy to say, the fox was not stressed. I think the group of photographers got plenty of good shots. And then after some time, this fox finally stirred, got up casually and wandered off through the bushes opposite me. I slowly followed it. Clearly it had had enough of the attention. It crossed the low point in the canal to the other side of the embankment where I could not follow. And that was the end of the sighting. 

The G9 and 50-200mm lens combo was superb. The focal length is equivalent in 35mm terms to the classic 100-400mm lens. This is such a versatile focal length for wildlife photography. Furthermore the size and weight of the lens balance beautifully with the G9 body. The lens has image stabilisation, and with the G9's in body stabilisation, you can use this combo handheld without any issues. I was fortunate I was out on a bright sunny day. But if I had found these foxes in fading light I wouldn't have had any issue lowering the shutter speeds whilst the foxes were static, down to 1/20 to get well exposed shots. 

As I had done my research I knew these foxes were typically habituated to human's presence. Therefore I knew, if I were to spot one, and kept a respectful distance without stressing the animal, I would be able to get relatively close. So the 50-200mm f2.8-4.0 lens was perfect for these conditions. The 100-400mm f4.0-6.3 would have been too long a focal length, and the 12-60mm 2.8-4.0 would have left me a little short at the long end of 60mm. It pays to do your research ahead of time, and anticipate the type of focal range you need for your subject. 

I got a total of two compositions...


But that is the nature of European Wildlife Photography. You have to put the effort in and the returns can be minimal. I was though very happy that I got to spend time with these foxes. They are stunning animals. And I was happy to have been able to photograph them for some time in a very relaxed environment. 

Until next time,

Jon

 

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(Jon Bryant Photography) Amsterdamse Waterleidingdunen animal photography animals dunes foxes Nature Netherlands Outdoors Photography Wildlife https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2019/8/dune-fox-success-getting-up-close-to-dune-foxes-with-the-leica-50-200mm-f2-8-4-0-lens Fri, 23 Aug 2019 14:58:27 GMT
The search continues: dune foxes https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2019/6/the-search-continues-dune-foxes Living in the Benelux region, it's no secret we have a fairly robust population of foxes. They are one of my favourite animals. Yet, they are incredibly elusive. My relationship photographing foxes has been a roller coaster. I had some success in the Ardennes region of Belgium. However my adventure in the Ardennes was my very first experience in tracking foxes. And whilst I was fortunate to sight and photograph them, I realised I had a lot to learn in terms of tracking and approaching them. 

After that initial experience in the field, I turned my attention to my own locality: an urban environment. Sure enough, I found a fox den in the town where I lived, and plenty of signs of activity, but no sighting. This despite a friend of mine sending me a phone image of a fox cub sitting in the car park where the den was located! I put a call out to the local community and got some leads. I visited some residential back gardens. But no luck. Despite the residents confirming regular visits, when I showed up, the foxes stayed away. I persevered. I staked out an area in the streets behind my home on a couple of evenings. And I got lucky with a sighting of a mother and a couple of cubs, but they flew past me and went into the hedgerows between houses and there were no images to be had. 

Frustrated, I decided to do some more research. I discovered that there were some photography workshops available to photography red foxes in sand dunes in The Netherlands. The location of these workshops was not disclosed. Despite not speaking Dutch, I used google with some Dutch key words such as Vossen (fox) and Duinen (dunes) and the search results returned a number of blogs from Dutch photographers with a lot of information the said population of foxes. In fact in the Dutch photographic community these dune foxes are no secret. And I know some purists who say that these foxes are so habituated to the presence of people that it isn't really wildlife photography. I disagree. Whilst I don't condone over habituation of wildlife, I believe we need to understand that the limits between human population and wildlife habitats will always infringe on one another, and we should respect and preserve those limits. So where are these dune foxes?

One of the images from my first visit in August 2018

The population of dune foxes is in a nature reserve owned by the Dutch Water Company in a location called Amsterdamse Waterleidingduinen. The dunes filter the rainwater in a natural way which is the first step in creating fresh drinking water for the city of Amsterdam. It is located between the seaside town of Zandvoort (where there was once a F1 Grand Prix in the 1970s and 80s) and Schipol Airport. If you look for this reserve on Google Maps do not be fooled. This is one big reserve! It is about 40 square kilometres in size. It is also home for the largest population of deer in The Netherlands, with an estimated 2000 deer in the reserve. So given those statistics, how do you find the foxes?

Well in my case - you don't!  

My first attempt to find, and photograph the foxes was in August last year (2018). I had done my research and I knew roughly the foxes are located in the central area of the reserve. So on my arrival I parked in the east car park and walked to the information centre. There I bought a map (highly recommended) and asked where the foxes were. I was shown where on the map and told not to feed them! This was a good indication that they were present and habituated and there was a good chance I would see them. So I set off....and promptly got lost. This is not like me. I am very good at orientation and map reading. However, on one occasion I didn't take the right path and this sent me far south. I had to ask some other walkers where I was. When I realised I had deviated from the route I tried to make my way back to the centre of the reserve. However I'd walked about 8kms at this point, was very tired and still had about a 4km walk back to the car park. So I abandoned my mission. I had some landscape images and a few good deer shots, but no foxes. 

In February I decided to try again. This time I did a little more planning. I drove up the night before and stayed locally in Zandvoort. The plan was to rise early and park in the north car park. Looking at the map, the north car park had a much simpler access route to the central area of the reserve where the foxes are located. That afternoon I took a walk on the beach at Zandvoort. It was a grey overcast afternoon and the beach was featureless. I took my tripod, kit lens and filters and I decided to push myself to create an image. I was pretty happy with the result.

 

The following morning, the weather had cleared. The forecast was great and looking out from my room I could see clear skies at dawn. When you arrive at the reserve you must pay a €1.50 entrance fee which is via an automated machine and you can pay by card. The entrance to the reserve is through an automatic gate. I wasn't sure what time the reserve was open, but in fact I arrived at 8am and the automated gate was open. So I assume if you wanted to visit earlier, which for foxes may be a good plan, it should be possible. It took me about 40-50 minutes to walk from the car park to the area where the foxes are located. On the route I did discover the odd distraction, and it isn't always easy to let a photographic opportunity pass you by in favour of focusing on a goal (the foxes) that may not come to fruition. Knowing this, I decided that if I saw something interesting I would pursue the image and delay my fox mission. And with the morning light, the sun low in the sky, there was a golden sky. I was rewarded with a couple of incredible compositions. 

 

Golden hour over the nature reserve

A young fallow deer in the woodland with golden side lighting


A stag grazing as the sun illuminates the sky and the mist enrobes the trees behind

The reserve is also well known for birds. There are a wide variety of bird species in the reserve. However as the reserve is very large in surface area, you need a little bit of luck. Birds are everywhere, but the distances between them and your lens can be great. Because I shoot with the Lumix G9 and 100-400mm f4.0-6.3 lens, I am fortunate that I have a good chance at distance of getting a shot. Even so, you need to have your wits about you. Using your eyes and ears as you walk, you can observe where the birds are, and with a little field craft, you can make an approach to get you closer. On my first trip to the reserve, I was rewarded in this way with some great images of nuthatches, one of my favourite birds. They aren't all that common, but in certain areas can be abundant. I spotted a couple and then found an area where there were multiple nuthatches on some trees. I've also seen great spotted woodpeckers, these proved a little more elusive. There is plenty of waterfowl because there are so many waterways and lakes within the reserve. The usual suspects of swans, geese, canadian geese are always present. There are plenty of cormorants that are usually airborne! Lots of crows too. I've also seen a couple of kestrels hovering. And of course you see the odd grey heron. If you are really into your birding, I would recommend visiting, but advise that binoculars are a must, and if you want to photograph the birds, be patient and make sure you have a long lens. As I was walking I spotted at distance a bird I didn't recognise on some reeds. In fact there were a total of 3 birds on the reeds. I decided to try and make an approach and slowly but surely got within proximity. I'd spotted some female (pictured) and male reed buntings. I was able to spend quite some time with these birds and watching them feeding. Despite a strong wind blowing the reeds, I got some great images. 

 

A female reed bunting balancing on reeds in windy conditions
 

I continued my walk to the site where the foxes were expected. The walk itself shows just what an incredible natural space this reserve is. And despite public access, it remains relatively calm and peaceful. I eventually came to the intersection on the map which I was looking for and was presented with the following scene indicating I was in the right spot. 

 

Fox feeding is forbidden!

The sign said it all. I arrived, and there was a small shelter that you could sit at. There were just two other walkers there, one with a camera. The photographer was clearly there for the same reason as I. He wasn't hanging around though and took one of the tow paths alongside one of the waterways. I decided to follow him, assuming he might be a local and have better knowledge than I of the location. I explored the dunes and embankments in the surrounding area and returned back to the feeding sign post. I then did the same exercise in 4 different directions. Each time walking about 20 minutes or so to see if I could see any signs of fox activity, digging or even a den site. I found nothing. On returning to the intersection, I sat at the shelter and now found that I was joined in the area by another 5 photographers. All were in for disappointment as was I. No foxes today. I sat in the shelter for about an hour, in the hope that maybe a fox might show itself. But it wasn't to be. 

One of the canals close to the area where the foxes supposedly reside.

A pair of swans in flight as I headed back towards the entrance and car park

One of the many canals in the reserve

Despite my disappointment, the reserve is a very special place. It has a very unique flora. There are parts of the reserve that remind me of Les Landes in the South West of France with sandy soil and tall pine trees. Other areas remind me of Africa, small watering holes surrounded by thorny bushes and short shrub trees. Then there are the areas of pure sand dunes with long grasses. It's a stunningly beautiful domain and it is incredible to think this is just west of Amsterdam and close to Schipol Airport. It is such a large domain I will be returning again and again. The foxes are my main draw, but I do want to take sometime and explore the southern part of the reserve and in order to do so, I probably need to use a bike which will be a much more efficient way to get around such a large domain. For the foxes it was a no show, but the beauty of the domain makes it well worth the visit.

Until next time...

Jon 

 

 

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(Jon Bryant Photography) Animals bird photography Landscapes Nature Outdoor Photography Outdoors Photography Wildlife wildlife photography https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2019/6/the-search-continues-dune-foxes Sun, 23 Jun 2019 18:35:25 GMT
A day spent in mid-Wales with red kites and the Panasonic G9 https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2019/6/a-day-spent-in-mid-wales-with-red-kites-and-the-panasonic-g9 The last place I lived in the UK before I left for mainland Europe was Wales...and it was good to go back, because quite simply it is an absolutely stunning country to visit. 

 

But when visiting Wales, you have to be prepared for one thing: the weather. As beautiful as it is, it rains a lot. And that means dark cloud, grey skies and not a lot of light.

On a return trip to the UK I decided to spend a day at the Red Kite feeding centre in Rhayader. It's a very well known spot in the UK wildlife photographic community. However this was my first visit and despite the gloomy weather I was keen to see what was on offer. I knew that I was guaranteed to see Kites, a feeding centre after all, is going to draw a crowd...or flock...more on that later. 

 

Centre of Rhayader town centre

 

On a practical note, once in Rhayader town centre you turn left at the town centre clock and you'll soon see the signs to the feeding centre. Keep in mind that the feeding centre opens at 2pm, so if you get there early, the gate is closed and you won't be able to drive up to the farm and park. And there is nowhere to park at the gate so you'll need to do a U-turn and wait it out in the town centre. That's the reason I took this photo!

 

The centre really caters for photographers. When I arrived there were a couple of togs hanging about. These were the types dressed in full camouflage with large camera straps and big lenses. Not that I want to be too disparaging about the types of togs in the community, but the whole SAS get up, I just don't get unless you are actually out in the wilderness and on a stake out. Rocking up to a feeding centre that is well equipped with a series of viewing huts and hides in camo, is, in my opinion...a little OTT. I digress...

The feeding centre has a number of viewing huts, from general viewing huts to more specialised photographic hides. I decided to pay a bit extra and go in the elevated photographic hide. There was a reason for this. I figured that I'd have a better view to capture birds in flight than if I was in one of the hides a little lower to ground level. 

 

Because the photographic hides are at a premium price, I think from memory I paid around £20, you get a ticket with a code to enter past the gate. You go up the steps and settle in. I had the place to myself, and this was my view...

 

 

I was very pleased with my choice. I had an unobstructed view. You can see in the photo the roofs of the huts below where I was located. And you can see that in the clouds above the trees there are a number of Kites that are already airborne. 

 

Intermittent rain, blue sky and some sunlight cast a full rainbow with grey clouds as a backdrop.


There was a bit of a wait before the actual feeding began. But that's a good thing, it gave me a chance to get use to the light. My weapon of choice for this shoot was my trusty Panasonic Lumix G9 with the 100-400mm f4.0-6.3 lens. This combination is without doubt my "go to" for bird photography. And the more I shoot with it, the more I realise just how powerful it is. With a full frame equivalent focal length of 200-800mm you can't really go wrong, and it is fairly easy to fill the frame. 

After a little wait, I was amazed to see the kites start to circle at the mere sound of the tractor moving in the distance...

The tractor on its way to drop the scraps in the field

Feeding time

The circling

With so many birds circling and the food laid out on the ground it was an absolute frenzy. My photographic interest was more aimed towards bird in flight images than actually capturing the kites diving in to pick up a piece of meat in their talons. This was just swell because after a while I thought I would give it a go from a camera skills perspective and failed miserably! The speed at which they swooped in was phenomenal and it was hard to pick one bird up as they often criss crossed when diving to ground level. I'm a fairly proficient bird in flight photographer but this was one specific scenario I will have to come back to another day...but I would say, if you are planning to photography Osprey or African Fish Eagles on the hunt, then this would be a great place to practice before you get out into the real world!

This was the closest I got to a good shot of the Kites as they dived towards the food laid out on the ground.

 

Many of my blogs have described how I shoot birds, so I will summarise how I set my camera up. With the G9, I used single point Auto Focus in AFC mode and I have set up through the custom menu back button focusing. This dissociates the focus function from the shutter button and I find it to be more reliable and accurate. I shoot in Aperture Priority mode (Av) and with the 100-400mm f4.0-6.3 this means at 100mm I have access to f4.0 and at 400mm I have a minimum aperture of f6.3. I mentioned that the weather the day I visited was cloudy and dull. One of the draw backs with almost all affordable telephoto lens for wildlife is that the variable focal range means a variable aperture across that focal range. And so f6.3 isn't ideal in grey cloudy conditions because that means having to push the ISO up to a higher level to compensate for a fast shutter speed. Ideally at f4.0 you gain an extra "stop and a bit" over f6.3 and that means you can work in with an ISO range of 800-1250 and easily get a good shutter speed for bird in flight photography. The rule of thumb is to have a shutter speed of two times the focal length for a sharp shot. If you want to get creative and do a motion panning shot, then increase the aperture and then switch to Shutter Priority mode (P) and set the shutter speed to 1/25-1/50. This works well on dark cloudy days when there isn't much light as the slower shutter speed won't over expose the image too much. On a normal day with good light at apertures greater than 16, at 1/25-1/50 your images will be blown out. The downside is that in low light contrast based auto focus systems have a hard time picking up focus especially with fast moving birds. So your panning technique has to be spot on. 

 

 

On this day I decided to stick to good quality sharp shots. I did not try to do anything creative with panning and slow shutter speeds. Where possible I was trying to also get good clean backgrounds. This was also a challenge because being in the Welsh countryside and at the end of winter/beginning of spring, you had a lot of leafless trees that naturally were going to find their way into the compositions at some point. 

 

But as long as those compositional elements didn't overlap with the subject, and there was still some subject separation with the background, I got some good results. I was particularly happy with the images where I got multiple birds in shot with a nice shallow depth of field and even spacing in the frame to give a good balance of composition. 

 

 

Even when I couldn't quite get the clean background I wanted, I still got a couple of shots I was pleased with. This image (above) with the tree line, fence posts and sheep bring a real sense of context to the environment of the kite. The additional colours on a grey day were also very welcome in this image!

 

 

All in all it was a great day's photography, despite the gloomy weather...towards the end of the afternoon some of the clouds started to break up and a small patches of blue sky started to peak through the clouds. Would I return? Yes. I think this is a very inexpensive way to practice bird in flight photography, especially if you are a beginner or intermediate wildlife photographer. You are guaranteed birds. This is not like some other wildlife experiences where you may have to sit and wait hours before spotting your subject. The you have a matter of seconds to get the shot. Whilst you need the skills to be able to bank those shots in the moment, they aren't easy to acquire. Places like the Red Kite feeding farm have excellent infrastructure that will allow you to hone your skills. And for me there is no better skill in wildlife photography than learning to pan and fix focus on a bird in flight. If you can do that with birds, you'll be able to do it with any animal. 

 

The view as I left the photographic hide and returned to the car park

Until next time...

Jon

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(Jon Bryant Photography) Animals Bird Photography Birds Lumix Nature Outdoors Outdoors Photography Panasonic Photography Wildlife Wildlife Photography https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2019/6/a-day-spent-in-mid-wales-with-red-kites-and-the-panasonic-g9 Tue, 18 Jun 2019 20:31:39 GMT
Creativity in Bird Photography - knowing your cameras features https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2019/5/creativity-in-bird-photography---knowing-your-cameras-features

 

One thing I learnt very early on in Wildlife Photography was using fast shutter speeds to get sharp shots. The easiest way to do this is to shoot in Aperture Priority. By using Aperture Priority mode, you set your aperture, based on your own choice for the scene; the depth of field you wish to use. Then you change your ISO and in doing so the camera compensates the shutter speed based on the exposure reading. You can then use exposure compensation to under or over expose as necessary. By increasing the ISO, the cameras sensitivity to light increases and the cameras shutter speed increases. This allows for sharp shots. By using a fast shutter speed, it also helps avoid camera shake which can occur when shooting handheld, especially with heavier camera bodies and lenses. This is why you will often see wildlife photographers using large tripods and gimbal head mounts to be able to stabilise the camera and eliminate camera shake and gain greater stability. Because wildlife photography is so dependent on natural light, it may seem counter intuitive to shoot in aperture priority mode, but in fact, most telephoto lenses have variable apertures, typically ranging from f4.0 to f6.3. In low light scenarios opening the aperture helps gain more light, but has an impact on a shallower depth of field. However at the long end of a telephoto lens, you will always be limited to the threshold (typically f6.3), and hence your are forced to increase the ISO to increase the sensitivity and have a chance of taking an image. The rule of thumb for sharp shots is that the shutter speed should be 2X the focal length. So for a 400mm focal length, the shutter speed needs to be at least 1/800 of a second. 

So what happens if you slow the shutter speed down? First more light will enter the sensor and so the image may be over exposed if the aperture isn't closed down. And for moving subjects motion blur will occur. And as most wildlife subject will move, the result is normally a blurred shot. But is there a way we can use this dynamic to our advantage creatively? The answer is yes. But you need to know your cameras features.

Shooting micro four thirds (MFT) with the Panasonic Lumix system has some distinct advantages. I shoot with the Lumix G9 which has 5 axes in body stabilisation. The other advantage is that with the smaller sensor, I get more focal length "throw". Meaning that an MFT lens focal length is 2X the equivalent full frame focal length. So at 400mm with an MFT lens, I'm effectively at 800mm on a full frame camera. That means I can fill my frame much easier. Now add to that the Lumix lenses have Power O.I.S - image stabilisation in the lens, you have two stabilisation systems. So what? Well take the image at the top of this post. What do you notice about it? The water in the stream has motion blur. Instead of shooting Aperture Priority, when I saw this Grey Heron, which was static on a rock, I switched to Manual mode. I lowered the ISO to the minimum (100), I increased the Aperture to the maximum f22, and I dropped my shutter speed to 1/13th of a second. Because I had a static subject, with a moving back drop (the water), and two stabilisation systems in the body and the lens, I was able to take this image handheld. I used the excellent 50-200mm (100-400mm equivalent) f2.8-4.0 lens. This lens combined with the G9 is a very lightweight system, and easy to hold in the hands. It is considerably lighter that traditional DSLRs allowing minimal camera shake when shooting handheld. The result is a pin sharp subject, with a dynamic moving background. 

Whenever I see a scene with a static subject and secondary moving elements I immediately think creatively. Knowing that my G9 and Lumix lenses have image stabilisation, I am very confident that I can shoot a creative image handheld with the combination of static and moving composition elements. The camera system opens up creative possibilities other camera systems just don't allow. 

Not ever wildlife image needs to be pin sharp throughout. If you know your camera features in depth, you can use them creatively to take more interesting and compelling wildlife images.

Until next time...

Jon

 

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(Jon Bryant Photography) bird photography birds creative photography creativity lumix lumix g9 panasonic wildlife wildlife photography https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2019/5/creativity-in-bird-photography---knowing-your-cameras-features Thu, 02 May 2019 09:26:31 GMT
Birds in flight photography with the Lumix G9 https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2019/2/birds-in-flight-photography-with-the-lumix-g9 Since the launch of the G9 in November 2017, the area where I have put the camera to most use is with bird photography. In particular continuing to strength my skills with bird in flight shots.

Starting out

Photographing birds in flight is without doubt one of the biggest challenges as a wildlife photographer. It can be an incredibly rewarding endeavour when you get it right. Equally it can be very frustrating when you miss out. They key, as with most things, is to practice, practice, practice. The advantage of shooting images of birds is that no matter where you are in the world, you will have an abundance of birds around you. The key is to find a local spot that will afford you the best chances of getting a bird in flight shot. If you are just starting out in this area then I would recommend that you try and find a local lake. Lakes will always be an attraction to some of the larger species of birds and water fowl such as swans, ducks, coots, geese, and if you are lucky grebe's and heron's. Larger birds are much easier to track and pan than smaller birds. So as you start out, you give yourself a better chance or success than trying to chase after much smaller birds. The other advantage with a  lake is that birds without doubt will take off and land on the lake at some point, and with good observation, and a little anticipation you will be able to start to track and follow their flight paths. The birds should fly in and land at eye level, which makes things easier. Birds that are over head will often suffer from challenging exposures due to the light, the underbelly of the bird being in shadow, with a loss of detail. With birds on a lake, you may have some reflections to contend with, but with good positioning you should be able to find a good location. And sometimes a reflection can be an excellent compositional element to the image!

Panning Technique

As with all wildlife photography, the key challenges are to balance, aperture, shutter speed and ISO, and to lock focus and track the subject. But with birds in flight, the additional challenge is that you have to use a long lens, pan with the flight path of the bird, and keep the subject in the frame, then lock focus and take the image. It is much easier written than in practice! With traditional camera systems such as DSLR's a heavy long telephoto lens is required. And so in order to pan effectively, it is much better to use a tripod with a gimbal head. However with the Lumix G9 being a smaller form factor, combining the camera with either the 100-400mm f4.0-6.3, or the 200mm f2.8 (with the option of the 1.4x teleconverter) you have respectively the full frame equivalent of 200-800mm, or 400mm focal length in a much lighter package. This very simply means you can pan hand held. Furthermore both the G9 body and the lenses have image stabilisation. This technology from Panasonic has been a game changer for me for wildlife photography in general. Not only has it allowed me to use slower shutter speeds, in low light, and hand held, but it has allowed me to explore more creative techniques with slow shutter speed pans both in wildlife and bird in flight photography. The theory will tell you to have a shutter speed at twice the focal length to get a sharp shot. So for the 100-400mm f4.0-6.3 lens, you would need to be at 1/800 shutter speed as a minimum at 400mm. And unless you live somewhere with great light all year round, it is unlikely you will be at f6.3 without having to push the ISO up in order to get that shutter speed in aperture priority mode. So the image stabilisation really does give you a wider shooting window. However, I would add that just because the theory tells you to have a high shutter speed, creatively would you want to always shoot like that? One of the key learnings for me is that it is important to know how to use the lighting conditions to your advantage. 

As you beginning practicing your technique, try not to fill the frame with your subject. With the 100-400mm f4.0-6.3 lens it may be tempting to use all that zoom to fill the frame with the bird. However the field of view will narrow and it will become even more difficult to find and focus on the bird. It is better to start out with a wider field of view and allow the bird to enter the frame making it easier for you to follow and compensate for the birds flight path. As you improve, you will be able to use narrower field of views, but I would still recommend first going wide and practicing a smooth panning technique. Handheld my advice is to keep your elbows tucked close into the body and use your waist to pivot.

Getting the right balance - Settings

With regards to settings, I shoot aperture priority mode when shooting wildlife and birds in flight. Generally if we want to freeze the action, we have to start with an aperture that is going to enable getting the head of the bird sharp. So I normally aim for f7.1 or f8 with the G9. Occasionally if I have cloudy conditions and dull light, I'll drop to f6.3 which with the 100-400mm lens is the default lowest aperture at 400mm. If you are anticipating a bird taking off, then I would recommend an aperture of f8 or f9. The reason for this is because the split second that the bird takes off, if the bird moves towards the lens i.e. out of the focal plane, then the depth of field from the movement creates the risk of soft focus. At f8 or f9 you have slightly more room for manoeuvre and if you react quickly, you are likely to get the shot of the bird taking off, wings extended in focus. As you start out stay positive. Don't feel too disappointed if your images aren't pin sharp. It takes time and practice and the more you perfect your panning technique the better you will get at locking focus and getting the shots. 

Focusing

I've seen a lot of discussion online about which focus setting to use on the G9 for moving subjects. The G9 has a much more powerful auto focusing system than the other cameras in the Lumix range. And with the fast burst speed mode, it is ideally placed to be able to shoot very fast moving subjects. A lot of the online discussion I read were users who were disappointed at not getting sharp shots. I maintain that it is not just the focus system that is responsible for getting a sharp shot. There is a reason that I've spent the first half of this blog talking about the importance of good panning technique! If you can't pan with the subject effectively, your camera's auto focus cannot work miracles! Likewise if you are at a focal length of 100mm and have a shutter speed of 1/50, don't expect sharp shots. In order to focus I have my G9 set up with back button focusing. This gives me much more control and the ability to anticipate between static birds/subjects and those in take off or landing mode. It dissociates the focus from the shutter button, so that the shutter button does only that, activate the shutter. This is so important for tracking fast moving subjects. The advantage here with the G9 is that the shutter button is sensitive. I use the AFC mode, and single point focus. The reason I use that combination is that my panning technique is to try and keep the subject in frame but where possible with some negative space for the bird to fly in to (it doesn't always work!), and so a single point focus allows me to place the focus point on the birds head, lock focus with the back button, pan and shoot, allowing me to get a few shots in before I inevitably loose the subject. 

Creativity

It isn't always about getting sharp shots. Whilst there is a lot to be said for good solid images of birds in flight with high shutter speeds that freeze the action, sometimes it pays to think a little more creatively. Once you feel comfortable with your panning technique and you have some images of birds in flight, why not try slowing the shutter speed? By slowing the shutter speed you will create some motion blur in the image. As birds are relatively fast moving subjects, the inclusion of motion blur in the composition can add some drama to the image. Personally I enjoy the challenge of slower shutter speed bird photography. It doesn't always work out, it is a more high risk technique but when done right it can provide greater rewards in your photography. I recommend playing with slower shutter speeds at 1/30 or 1/40. It is a question of trial and error before you find a shutter speed that gets the balance of movement, blur and focus. But don't be afraid to play!

Above all don't be afraid to practice. Without doubt, birds in flight is one of the most challenging areas of wildlife photography. But the more you practice, the rewards will eventually come. And the techniques you will learn by shooting birds in flight will transfer to other areas of your wildlife photography. 

Until next time,

Jon

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(Jon Bryant Photography) Animals Birds Lumix Nature Panasonic Photography Wildlife https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2019/2/birds-in-flight-photography-with-the-lumix-g9 Fri, 15 Feb 2019 13:07:49 GMT
Travelling light, seascapes with the Lumix GX8 https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2019/2/travelling-light-with-the-lumix-gx8  

Yes, I know...Panasonic already launched the GX9. But I bought the GX8 a while back, and for the moment I have no need to update to the GX9. 

Why did I buy the GX8? Well it actually took some convincing. In my role as an ambassador for Panasonic, I'd had discussions with them back in 2017 on various projects and they suggested I take a look at the GX8. At first I wasn't convinced, mainly because I had the preconception of larger size bodies and the ergonomics required for wildlife photography. However, a cash back promotion changed my mind and I decided to take the plunge and add the GX8 to my arsenal. I am glad I did. 

When it comes to travel, and I don't mean the type of travel I do for wildlife photography where I do need my full kit, I mean a vacation, short trip, cultural excursion, my dilemma has always been size versus functionality. There are plenty of small compact cameras on the market that take great photos and 4K video. I have the LX100, which I love as a general all round travel camera. Last year I added the LX15 to my collection. The LX15 is the ideal camera for me for family trips and vacations, there is so much functionality in that camera that makes it teenager friendly as a selfie and vlogging camera. But there are times when you need a little additional functionality such as a choice of lenses or the possibility to add filters. This is where the GX8 (and GX9) comes in. It is small enough, and compact enough to be lightweight to throw in your hand luggage, and gives you the option to take a couple of lenses with you. And with those lenses, you can always put a couple of filters in the bag with you, and suddenly you have a very powerful, small, compact creative package. 

So rewind to mid January 2019. The start of the year saw me head to Miami Beach of all places, for a non-photography trip. I went there for a conference, and that meant I was hotel bound for 4 days. So I knew I wouldn't have much time for photography. However, researching the location it seemed a shame to go all that way, exchange freezing European temperatures for 25C, and not take a camera with me. Although I will admit, my research didn't convince me that it was a location for my style of photography. After all Miami Beach is well know as a tourist/party destination. Given the beach was right on the hotel property I decided to take the GX8, 12-60mm f2.8-4.0 lens and my Lee filter kit with me. In my suitcase I threw in my very lightweight Manfrotto travel tripod. It's not the best tripod, but it does a job, especially for lightweight cameras.

 The view on Indian Creek just behind the beach.

I arrived at the hotel at 8pm, which was 2am for me (European time) and of course with jet lag, you wake up at ridiculous-o'clock. I knew this was going to happen. So before going to bed, I prepared my kit, with the intention of wandering down the beach for sunrise just around 7am. 

Sure enough that morning I was wide awake from 4am onwards. I was able to get down to the beach, and I was confronted with a very long strip of white sand and sea. That was it. In terms of compositional elements to play with, it was slim pickings. Now with that said I should give a shout out to another photography who I find inspiring. If there is one photographer who can take incredible coastal/seascape images with emotion and minimal compositional elements it is Rachel Talibart. If you don't know Rachel's work, I recommend you check it out here and follow her on Instagram. It is Rachel's work that I had in mind when I was confronted with this very minimalist beach in front of me. I had three, maybe four compositional elements in front of me: beach, sea, sky, and at a push, the seaweed on the beach!

My challenge was to use these very minimalist elements to make a compelling seascape/landscape image(s). When I arrived on the beach the sun was still below the horizon. This gave me some time to work out the relative position of the sun rise, look at cloud formations and then start to look for areas where waves were breaking in the shoreline. Having a little extra time is always worthwhile because once the sun rises, it does so much quicker than you think. 

I found my spot, I set up and the started to look at my settings. With limited natural light, I started with just a circular polariser, which is one of my favourite filters for two reasons; managing reflections, and bring out more colour especially in the sky. I then started to test shutter speeds with the ambient light I had in order to try and get movement in the waves and the sea on the shoreline. 

12mm, f13, 0.8 seconds at ISO 100

I could already see with these first few images, I was going to be in for a real treat. The subtle yellows and oranges started to show themselves behind the clouds and these same colours started to reflect in the water. With this type of sunrise photography, I can't emphasise enough to keep shooting images, because the colours will change and give you a spectacular sequence of images. 

15mm f16, 0.8 seconds, ISO 100

Whilst I was waiting for the sun to rise, I was watching the patterns from the waves breaking and spreading out on the shoreline. This was the moment for me to experiment with compositional orientation. We always think of landscape images to be taken in landscape orientation. But sometime switching to portrait can create more depth and perspective in the scene especially with elements that are moving. 

14mm f16 0.9 seconds ISO 100

14mm f22, 0.8 seconds, ISO 100

12mm f5.0 1.0 second, ISO 320 (Lee Little Stopper, 0.3 grad ND)

As the sun rose, obviously there is a lot more light. The challenge becomes balancing the exposure in the composition between the sky and the foreground sea and beach. As the sun came above the horizon and for the last couple of images in my sequence, I decided to put the Lee Little Stopper on my foundation filter kit together with a 0.3 grad ND filter. This allowed me to hold the light back in the sky. And with the GX8 I am limited to f22. To be able to keep slow shutter speeds I needed to stop down further, which I couldn't do. Another tip, remember that when you go to f16 or more, you are more likely to show up dust spots on your sensor. This has happened to me a lot, and it can often show you just how dirty your sensor is...so take care and be aware of that! With the little stopper in place and increasing the iso slightly, I was able to get a balanced composition and reduce the "dust bunnies" I knew were going to show up on my image if I stayed at f16 or more. 

Compositionally, I did try and use the seaweed as some foreground interest to break up some of the simplicity of the three layers of beach, sea and sky. However, when the sky is as spectacular as it was that morning, there is a lot to be said for keeping compositions clean and simple and let nature do all the work for you.

For my last composition in the sequence, I decided to change the angle of view.

12mm f10 0.8 seconds ISO 320.

I've been shooting wildlife for nearly 6 years now, and I've been shooting landscape for about 2 to 3 years on and off. Of the two genres of photography, without a doubt I find landscape photograph the greatest challenge, but potentially the most fulfilling. The reason is simple. You need to have weather and light on your side, always. Those two combined can make or break and image and they are things you, as the photographer have no control over. This is why, despite 2-3 years of putting myself in some incredible locations around Europe...these simple coastal seascape for me represent some of the best landscape imagery I've taken over that period of time. Unexpected? Absolutely. But very happy I took the GX8 with me on my trip. An inexpensive, compact camera that packs a punch well above it's weight. Next time you go on a trip, always think about having some form of travel camera with you. You never know when light and the weather will deliver one of natures incredible spectacles. 

 

Until next time...

Jon

 

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(Jon Bryant Photography) Landscapes lumix Nature panasonic photography seascapes travel https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2019/2/travelling-light-with-the-lumix-gx8 Sun, 03 Feb 2019 10:14:39 GMT
Photographing the Northern Lights in Iceland https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2018/12/photographing-the-northern-lights-in-iceland If you ask any landscape photographer what there top 5 bucket list locations are, without a doubt Iceland will be in that list. And then if you ask that photographer to drill down on the "what do you want to photograph?" - the Northern Lights will most likely feature quite high on that list. 

The internet is a wash with incredible images and videos of the Northern Lights - those green streaks of wavy lights. You would be forgiven to think that it was easy. You just turn up to somewhere far north, Iceland, Scotland, Canada, Norway etc, point your camera skywards, and away you go - incredible images that will get you hundreds of likes on instagram. 

Well the reality is very, very different.

For a start, you need to be in a location where the northern lights occur, during the period in which they occur. In Iceland this is between October and February. It had been a 20 year ambition for me to visit Iceland. I won't bore you with the story as to why it took me 20 years to get there. However, when I finally did pull the trigger on going, I was absolutely certain I wanted to go during the period when the northern lights were visible. I chose November, and friends and family thought I was crazy to take a vacation during a period of the year when it was likely to be cold, wet and windy. And indeed the conditions were exactly that, cold, wet, windy, with sleet, ice and snow on occasion. Not to mention the fact that what was left over of hurricane Oscar hitting south to south eastern Iceland a day after I arrived. 

The view over the Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavik tells the story - stormy clouds, rain and cold. 

The lake at the park had started to freeze over.

I was in Iceland for just 6 days. This isn't enough time to really do any justice to a country the size of Iceland, and with the incredible natural beauty it has on offer. And given I was there in November, with such variable weather, the chances of seeing the Northern Lights were really in the hands of the Viking Gods! So I decided to try and stack the odds in my favour by going on a dedicated tour to see the Northern Lights. There are some advantages and disadvantages to taking a tour and I will explain in this blog. However the overwhelming advantage of taking a tour is that they are experts, they run the tours on the nights they think you will have a good chance of seeing them, and if the lights do not deliver, they rebook you on another tour the following night, or another night on the duration of the stay to get you a chance of seeing them. 

With that decision taken I got my kit together and headed out on a dark Reykjavik night to the number 10 bus stop in the centre of the city to be picked up by my tour operator at 9pm. The average yearly temperature in Iceland is -1C, which maybe higher than you expect, but this is only the average. Whilst I was there in November the one factor that made the temperature feel colder was the wind chill. I therefore layered up; thermals, thick socks, long sleeved t-shirt, fleece polar top, thick coat. Then hat, scarf and my photographic gloves, which are one of the best investments I've ever made! The finger and thumb tips fold back which allow me to change camera settings without my hands becoming blocks of ice. In terms of kit, I went out very lightweight with just the Panasonic Lumix G9, 8-18mm f2.0-4.0 lens, the 12-60mm f2.8-4.0 lens and my tripod. 

Before I set out from the hotel I checked the forecast at the following website, which is the Icelandic Meteorological Office. To see the Northern Lights, you need dark and partly clear skies. The website gives the forecast in terms of sky visibility by cloud level (low, middle and high clouds), together with the potential strength of the lights on a 10 point scale. The night I went out, the whole of Iceland was covered in low and middle clouds and the strength level was 3. I wasn't optimistic.

Once on the bus however, the tour operator was optimistic. The night before the strength level was 4, and they had a good sighting. However the issue for me was that this night, there was a lot of cloud. This is one of the advantages of going with an operator. They'd looked at the forecast, they were in constant communication with their central office who were monitoring the forecast, they guided us to an area South of Reykjavik, where the skies were clear. Around 9.45-10.00pm we parked in a lay by at the side of a road. There were a few other buses parked with tourists and the odd car that came along the road from time to time. I had no idea where we were. It was pitch black and difficult to see the surrounding area...

As a photographer the first thought in my mind was "is there any foreground interest?". There wasn't. It seemed for all it's landscape glory in Iceland, we were parked up next to a flat area in all directions. The first 45 minutes or so was utter chaos. With two bus loads of tourists, of which I was one, but the majority of whom had limited photographic expertise, it was a free for all, as everyone walked down to a small rest area and tried to jostle for a space to start shooting the start of the light show, which at that time was relatively week. During this initial phase, people were walking in front of each others lenses, using their phones as torches, and then more cars and vehicles parked up shining their lights in the direction of where we were set up. I decided to abandon ship. I walked back up the path to the car park. I decided that there were less people up there in the car park, and if there were drivers with their lights on, at least I could politely explain that there were lots of us trying to get a photo with no light pollution. In the end, the vehicle lights were turned off, I found myself a good spot and I started to really soak up what was in front of me.  

Now down to the technicalities. How can you photograph the lights? Well for a start, when I looked up in the sky, I couldn't see any green lights. The strength forecast was 3 on a scale of 10. And whilst the lights were certainly there, they were not these green luminescent waves I was expecting. Instead the sky had these milky white streaks. So that was the first surprise. But at least I could see where to point the camera lens! I decided to use the 8-18mm f2.8-4.0 lens to give me as wide a view as possible. One of the challenges with the Lumix systems is that the lenses do not come with a manual indicator to show infinity focus. Infinity focus is really important because you are photographing in the dark, and your camera (normally) cannot focus on a specific subject in the dark. Panasonic has a way around this which I will mention in a minute. The way I work is that I use manual focus and then in live view on the screen, I use the focus bar and set focus to the point the focus bar colour changes. This is the point between the red and white (with the red being on the left side of the bar). Now the Lumix G9 has another trick up it's sleeve. If you have a G9 and go to page 87 of the manual you will see the following displayed...

"The focus indication is displayed as [low] in a dark environment, and focusing may take longer than usual.

If the camera detects stars in the night sky after displaying [low ], Starlight AF will be activated. When focus is achieved, the focus indication [star] and AF areas in focus are displayed. (Starlight AF cannot perform detection on the edges of the screen.)"

So there is an option, if you put the focus point in the centre of the frame, to allow the camera to automatically detect and focus in Starlight AF mode. But this is automatic. I discovered this feature after returning from Iceland. When I received my G9 I didn't get a manual, because the G9 was part of the launch kit from Panasonic do I got the bare body and that's all. So I was always learning "on the go" with the camera in hand. But after doing some research online I found out about this Starlight AF mode. I intend to give this ago for my next astro project and to see how well it performs. At the very least this gives an alternative option to trying to manually focus the lenses using the MF bar, rather than an infinity meter on the lens itself. Once I felt I'd achieved good focus, and this was through firing off some test shots, I made sure there was no way I was going to disturb the focus ring on the lens. I then put my camera into AWB (auto white balance - yes, I chose to use an auto mode and let the camera chose the white balance...I know I can correct this in Lightroom as needed after the event), and into Manual shooting mode. I varied my ISO between 800-1250, and a shutter speed of anything between 6-10 seconds. I did some experimentation on shutter speed and found that even at 6 seconds there was a very good balance between picking up the lights and the stars. The fact that the stars came through in the image at 6 seconds really surprised me, because from previous experience of shooting astro photography, I'd always worked at around 15-20 seconds to get a good exposure of the stars. I'm no expert, but I would guess that the fact we were in a very remote location with very little light pollution most likely contributed to the good results at 6-8 seconds. I didn't have a remote shutter release, so I used the G9 in built 10 second timer mode. This allowed me to press the shutter and allow the camera to stabilised before the image was taken to avoid any camera shake. The camera was of course strapped down to a tripod, and on that tripod I have a hook which allows me to hang my camera bag, providing extra wight and stability onto the tripod legs. Finally, in camera noise reduction (NR) on of off? Well, I leave it on. It does increase the wait, if you have an 8 second exposure, the noise reduction kicks in for another 8 seconds, but it does a good job and I would say is important for shooting astro images with a small sensor camera such as the G9. 

With the technicalities explained, here are the best results:

I am particularly happy with the last image in the series I have shared here. There is a really good combination of green lights, with red lights, clouds, stars and a couple of trees on the very flat landscape we were surrounded by. I am by no means an astro photography expert. I have some experience and I would say that my skill level is "above average". A few years back I spent two successive years in the South West of France shooting the perseid meteor showers and doing astro timelapses from stills. This allowed me to cut my teeth in astro photography, so to speak. But I realise I have a long way to go to perfect the art. 

I also think the results really dispel the myth that small censored cameras are no good in low light. Yes having a small sensor camera does mean there are certain challenges when shooting night skies and stars. However, with a little knowledge and camera craft the results are very very acceptable in my opinion. Whilst I am disappointed that the foreground composition is relatively dull, and that's due to the fact we had very limited choices in our shooting location, the results of the lights themselves I am very happy with. I am looking forward to returning in 2019 and hopefully shooting the Northern Lights again with the Lumix system. 

Until next time...

Jon

 

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(Jon Bryant Photography) Astro Photography Iceland Landscape Photography Nature Nighttime photography Northern Lights Photography https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2018/12/photographing-the-northern-lights-in-iceland Wed, 19 Dec 2018 11:35:06 GMT
Part 2: Landscape adventures with the Lumix 8-18mm f2.8-4.0 lens https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2018/11/part-2-landscape-adventures-with-the-lumix-8-18mm-f2-8-4-0-lens In part 1 of the blog I talked about the experience of visiting Les Aiguilles de Bavella in Corsica with the Panasonic G9 and 8-18mm f2.8-4.0 lens and making a landscape photography mission. 

In part 2, I'll share with you the other two locations I visited which were equally stunning but very challenging photographically for different reasons. 

After a long drive to Les Aiguilles de Bavella, I was conscious that it wasn't easy to get around in Corsica. I decided to head to Les Calanques de Piana. It is a Unesco World Heritage site, and is situated between Ajaccio and Calvi. The good news for this locations is that the roads heading north once you espace Ajaccio were a little wider and easier to drive on. At times they prolonged the coast which afforded some spectacular views, although again the options to safely stop the car and get a photo were few and far between. One of the few spots you could stop was a cliff top bar with a car park that afford a view on the Golfu di Liscia. I jumped out the car and took a very quick shot with my LX15 point and shoot. As it was a car park that served the bar, I didn't want to overstay my welcome based on not being a patron. But I did want to get a shot of the view...

View over the Golfu di Liscia

The other side of the bay, there is a small village called Tuccia and a long stretch of beach. Eventually you reach a bridge that goes over a river that runs to the sea, and there was another parking spot to be able to get a quick shot of the river and the mountains. 

River north of Tuccia

Now with those two photos I took on route you see the issue I faced. The skies were absolutely blue. No clouds, nothing. And the light was very harsh. This created a lot of challenges in trying to achieve balance between foreground and background subject interest. But these were just two opportunistic shots. I was still hopefully to get some good shots on arrival at Piana. 

The "gateway" to Piana is Cargese. I would have liked to have spent a bit more time in this village, but unfortunately it wasn't to be. On the north side of the village as you head on the road towards Piana there is a vantage point where you can park and get a sneak peak as to what lies ahead.

View at Cargese: to the lower left you can see a pathway down to the coastline

Not far after Cargese, you arrive at the entrance to Piana. The road is narrow. Very narrow with blind corners and very few stopping places. It is very touristy and as a result you have cars trying to park and people walking on the road. Add to this coaches trying to pass and you have quite the dog and pony show. It's far from ideal. However there are rangers on mountain bikes at the start and the end of the road. They patrol, and do a good job in moving people along and managing the sticking points which are often coaches trying to turn a blind corner and being confronted with a car taking up the width of the road. I was lucky. I was able to find place to park the car along the route at most main sections. So I could get out and explore and set my tripod up and start looking for compositions. The site itself is absolutely stunning. I have no regrets whatsoever in visiting there. However, photographically it was really a mixed bag. As mentioned before, the light was very harsh. And so this gave very high contrast images. I used my soft ND grads as appropriate and my circular polariser to try and increase the saturation and control the exposure in the skies. The filters were attached to the 8-18mm f2.8-4.0 lens through the Lee filters foundation kit. 

A quick iphone photo of my set up: Lumix G9 with the 8-18 mm f2.8-4.0 with the Lee Foundation Kit attached. 

First view on the Piana coastal road: Taken on Lumix G9 with 8-18mm f2.8-4.0 lens

Second view on the Piana coastal road: Taken on Lumix G9 with 8-18mm f2.8-4.0 lens

Second view on the Piana coastal road, with a wider view to show the road to the left: Taken on Lumix G9 with 8-18mm f2.8-4.0 lens

Third view on the Piana coastal road: Taken on Lumix G9 with 8-18mm f2.8-4.0 lens

The 8-18mm lens was perfect for this type of landscape photographer whereby control of composition was very limited. As I was restricted to certain access points on a road, it wasn't easy to reposition in order to include or exclude various compositional elements. So having the focal range available allowed me to zoom to exclude elements as needed, and then make slight tripod repositions as needed. This type of photography is far from perfect, but you have to work with what you've got. There were many compositions, and some I've included where I would have loved to have moved into a different position specifically to change the angle, but was unable to. The other issues I already eluded to was the light. Unfortunately I couldn't arrive any earlier. But a softer and more reflected light on the cliffs would have made for much more compelling and ambient images. Being there in the middle of the day with clear blue skies and harsh light created very contrasty images and I must admit I have mixed feelings about the end results. But that's the risk with landscape photography, you win some you loose some...but I'm not a photographer who will show up, not like the conditions and not take a photograph. When I show up, I try and make things happen and then decide on the results afterwards. I'm always amazed when I see Landscape Photographers, especially those who vlog declare they didn't take a photo because the conditions weren't working for them. I believe that you can always learn something in the realms of camera craft independent of conditions. 

The final location I visited was La Tour de Parata. This is located west of Ajaccio, and was visible from my hotel balcony. As I watched the sunset light up the sky most evenings, I became increasingly impatient to get over there and do some golden hour sun set photography. 

The view of the Tour at sunset 

When photographing any location at sunset the number one rule is: get there well ahead of time. And of course on this occasion I didn't! I'd left it right down to the wire. And on arrival I wasn't sure what the best approach was. I decided to climb the hill to get an elevated view. This on reflection was the wrong decision. And it reflected on the fact I hadn't really done enough planning in the location. So once I was at the top of the hill I realised I wasn't where I wanted to be to get the image I had in my mind. I thought I could get the three islands in the composition, with good separation, but the reality was very different.

Quick iPhone shot of my G9 with filters looking down on La Tour de Parata. Yes the Horizon isn't straight ;-)

Even so I decided that after a speedy hike up this hill, it was worthwhile taking an image anyway and then hot footing it back down and around to the right side of this hill, but at the base of the hill to be able to get a different angle on the subject. Because of the service road in the foreground I had to switch lenses from the 8-18mm to the 12-60mm f2.8 to eliminate the foreground and close in on the subject. I used a Lee big stopper to try and smooth out the sea, however this didn't work as well as I hoped. The resulting image was acceptable but not what I was hoping for. 

Image shot on Lumix G9 with 12-60mm f2.8 lens

Once I was lower down and in the right place things were much better and easier. I can't stress this enough, even though I don't always put it into practice; getting yourself in the right spot to work the light rather than the location is a better strategy than trying to run around and get multiple compositions in fading light. 

Quick iPhone shot of my G9 in the right location for the shot I was looking for. 

The sun had by now just started touching the horizon, but it was too my right. This I expected because from my hotel the sun set behind the peninsula and so I knew that at the location I would be shooting away from it. The question was, how much colour would I get in the sky. The sky was clear with no cloud interest. So as the light faded I decided to wait around 20-30 minutes or so to see what changes in colour I would see. It was worth the wait because the sky did indeed change colour. 

Shot on the G9 with 8-18mm f2.8-4.0 lens and Lee Filters

Now with the fading light the Lee Filters came into play, especially the Little and Big stoppers which allowed me to smooth the sea out. I am very happy with the resulting composition. There are some foreground elements which I could not eliminate and had to work with. Ideally I would have had access to the pebble beech below which would have given me a strong foreground anchor. However this was inaccessible as it was a cliff drop down to it. In the end you have to work with what you have and not take unnecessary risks to get an image. 

I have been very impressed with the 8-18mm f2.8-4.0 lens. It is really wide and the perfect lens for what I call "big vista" landscapes. It accompanies the 12-60mm f2.0-4.0 lens very well with good focal range overlap. The two lenses combined with the G9 would give me a great range of versatility for landscape and nature photography. The added bonus is that these two lenses are light and compact and that is always a bonus when travelling, walking or hiking into a location. Both have front filter rings which with some adaptor step up rings allow me to easily fit my Lee foundation kit, giving me additional options based on lighting conditions. 

Until next time

Jon 

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(Jon Bryant Photography) Corsica Landscape Photography Nature Nature Photography Outdoor Photography Outdoors Photography https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2018/11/part-2-landscape-adventures-with-the-lumix-8-18mm-f2-8-4-0-lens Sat, 24 Nov 2018 09:37:46 GMT
Part 1: Landscape adventures with the Lumix 8-18mm f2.8-4.0 lens https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2018/9/landscape-adventures-with-the-lumix-8-18mm-f2-8-4-0-lens The summer has come and gone and what a summer it was. Here in northern Europe we had a heatwave. And so I decided to head somewhere even hotter: Corsica. 

Corsica had been a destination on my list for a long time. However this summer I had to make some compromises. Whilst I wanted to go to Corsica purely for photography, the trip I organised was also a holiday for my daughter and I. So that meant I had to compromise between the swimming pool and beach for her, and the mountains and coast for me. Life can be hard as a photographer sometimes!

Now having said that, Corsica does provide huge photographic potential, but it is a logistical nightmare. Why? Well it's very simple, infrastructure. The roads in Corsica are a nightmare. Do not be fooled by this island. It has dramatic coastline and incredible mountains. But it's a small island with a small population compared to mainland France and the result is that the roads are very narrow and wind round tight blind corners and bends. 80kms can take you easily 3 hours or more. And in summer with long days, this meant that any location you want to shoot in golden hour means either a very early start, or risk driving back at dusk or night on very dangerous roads. With my daughter, I wanted to do neither. So it was going to be day time photography only. Not ideal, but again this was a trip of compromises. And in any case, I'd already made my mind up on the first day that there was so much potential that I would return. 

So what was the plan? Well I had four destinations in mind and I only managed three of them:

  • Aiguelles de Bavella
  • La Tour de Parata (the west side of Ajaccio and not far from our hotel base)
  • Bonifacio
  • La calanques de Piana 

The first destination was Les aiguilles de Bavella, or Bavella Needles. This was about a 2 hour 45 minute drive from our hotel base, and was a challenging drive. But there were lots of incredible views to see on the way. 

The goal was to get some great landscape shots with the Lumix 8-18mm f2.8-4.0 lens on the Panasonic G9. I've had the G9 for just under year and found it a superb camera for wildlife photography. But I've not really put it through its paces as a landscape camera. With Panasonic's support they provided me with the lens on loan and with some adapter rings I was able to use my Lee 100mm foundation filter kit. Most of my previous landscape work I had been using the Lumix 12-35mm f2.8 or the 7-14mm f4. The 12-35mm lens is excellent, probably my favourite and most used, but I knew that I needed something a little wider. The 7-14mm f4 is a good lens, but it has a front element that means there is no filter ring allowing filters to be attached. 

One of the views on the way to Les Aiguilles de Bavella

The drive to Bavella was challenging but once up in the mountains every corner had a view...but no where to stop. It was beyond frustrating, but a blessing in disguise. If there had been places to stop I don't think I would have ever reached the destination! On route you would pass these small mountain villages. Each one very characteristically Corsican but with their own distinct charm. 

The further we climbed in elevation we started to see a distinction in the weather. The blue skies and sunshine were behind us and the dark storm clouds were in front of us. Finally we came to one of the last villages and we could see the Bavella needles in the distance with storm clouds and thunder in the distance. I found a place on the side of the route and was able to grab a very quick handheld shot before the rain started falling. 

 

Les Aiguilles de Bavella in the distance with menacing storm clouds.

On arrival we were able to park relatively easily, and despite being in peak tourist season there were not too many people visiting and just one or two tripods present with other photographers. The views were spectacular. But due to the long drive to get there, it was important to work the scene relatively quickly because I didn't want to have to drive the challenging roads at dusk/fading light. 

The road towards Les Aiguilles de Bavella.

View from a vantage point, you can see a small vantage point on the road to the right. 

The main view of the mountain range. 

A photo of me in action taken by my daughter when I wasn't looking!

Another photo of the mountain range from the approaching vantage point.

The occasional ray of light would illuminate the range and cast highlights and shadows. 

Shadow and light: the contrast as the clouds moved allowing light patches to highlight certain contours of the landscape. 

Working fast requires concentration, and being in a mountain range you must think safety first. It can be tempting to put yourself in a specific vantage point to try and eliminate a certain compositional element, especially foreground elements or trees. My advice is to think before you move your tripod. Observe your surroundings and stay safe, make sure you have good footholds. Wear good shoes with a good sole and ankle support. Do not climb on to rocks if you can't see your route up or down. No photo is worth your own personal safety. The good news is as Bavella is a tourist destination, for the most part the views are very accessible, except in a couple of instances where I saw people climbing on rocks or descending inclines in order to get a better view. My G9 was locked on to the tripod and I had the foundation filter kit attached to the 8-18mm lens. I would carry this over my shoulder from spot to spot. The only filter that was permanently attached was the circular polariser. Once I had spread the tripod legs, I would determine using the exposure meter, and also my own eye, if I required and ND grad. ND grads are often a necessity when shooting during the day, especially in good light where there are significant clouds. The clouds just diffuse light and create blown highlights. ND grads can hold that back and allow you to better expose (nor correctly but better!) for the foreground elements. This will give you balanced exposures. But it is always worthwhile looking at how the light is interacting with the landscape. The last image I posted in the sequence above, I exposed for the key light, allowing greater areas of shadow which helps accentuate the contours in the landscape. 

With Bavella done, it was time for the return trip. Another 2 hour 45 minute drive but via a different route. About 1 hour in, we passed a national park which was a world heritage site (shame on me, I forgot the name), but there was a stopping area which afforded an incredible view towards the Bavella needles we had just photographed.

The spectacular view of the Bavella Needles, with foreground village in the mountains.

The whole experience from hotel to Bavella and back again took around 8 hours. This was no mean feat with my daughter in tow, and she was incredible patient with me. I am glad at least she got to see some of the real Corsica beyond the swimming pool and beach. But as a Dad I realise that these types of trips can be very boring for a young teenager. It was after arriving back at our hotel village just as the sun was setting that I decided to not try and attempt Bonifacio. Looking at the map, it was going to be a very long haul again from Porticco where we were based just south of Ajaccio, to do a full day turn around. I decided I would leave Bonifacio for another trip when I would return alone. 

If you are travelling to Corsica purely for photographic purposes my advice would be to pick 2/3 locations and stay locally. Work those locations and then move on to the next location during the day. Like this you will free up golden hour at sunrise and sunset. 

In part 2 of this blog I will cover the other two locations I visited: Les Calanques de Piana and La Tour de Parata. 

Until next time,

Jon

 

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(Jon Bryant Photography) Corsica France Landscape Photography Landscapes Lumix Mountains Nature Nature Photography Outdoor Photography Outdoors Panasonic Photography https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2018/9/landscape-adventures-with-the-lumix-8-18mm-f2-8-4-0-lens Fri, 28 Sep 2018 09:42:31 GMT
High speed burst shooting for wildlife with the Panasonic Lumix G9 https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2018/7/high-speed-burst-shooting-for-wildlife-with-the-panasonic-lumix-g9 When the Lumix G9 was launched back in November last year it boasted some flagship features which were designed with the wildlife photographer in mind. I recently booked a hide and took the G9 and the 200mm f2.8 lens with me to test out the feature with a specific goal in mind...

June and July is little owl season. These are incredible birds and one of my favourites to photograph. The window of opportunity to photography them is relatively short. The adults give birth, and then the young start to fledge and within a space of 2 months the fledglings have left the nest and are gone. So there are only a certain number of available days to photograph them and they are more active early in the morning of late afternoon and evening. 

The little owls nest is in the middle tree of the three trees shown in this iPhone photo. The fledglings would fly down to the base of the tree and wait for Mom to come in with food. This would be a repetitive cycle and allow good photography as the behaviour is easy to anticipate. 

The hide (with space for 4 photographers) is just in front of the 3 trees and is well camouflaged. Given the position of the hide to where the owls are positioned I chose to use two different lenses. The first lens was the 100-400mm f4.0-6.3 lens, and the second was the new 200mm f2.8 lens with the 1.4X teleconverter. There was a good reason I chose these two different lenses. The 100-400mm f4.0-6.3 is a great lens for getting tight portrait shots, zooming in on the detail. However as the owl activity is late afternoon/early evening the light slowly but surely fades during the session. Therefore the 200mm f2.8 gives me a little more flexibility with some extra stops when shooting in aperture priority mode and at high iso's. 

Once set up, it was a waiting game. And it wasn't long before the owl's started to come in to the fixed positions just in front of the hide. 

Little owls fly incredibly fast, and because of their size and weight they do not have the same flight pattern as a larger owl. They don't dip significantly on take off, but they do arc on landing. After watching the owl come in and land I decided I wanted to try and get a fast burst sequence of images to show the flight and landing of the owl on the fence post. 

To do this, I put the G9 into it's dedicated high speed burst mode which is located on the dial switch with the red ring. It is the function marked with "II". I then selected an aperture that would give some latitude for when the owl would actually land. Knowing that the owl would probably land at a very slight angle and outside the focal plane of the fence post, setting to an aperture of f7.1 or f8 gives some room for manoeuvre with regards to the focus point. I then used the live view mode. This allowed me to keep an eye on the action, the trees to the left of my position where I could pick up the owl flying in. Once I saw the owl was incoming I was able to time my burst to get a series of frames when the owl landed. So what did the results look like? Well here are 15 frames of the 20 frame burst where I was able to pick the owl up in frame.

The results are impressive. There are many scenarios I can think of where the high speed burst mode can be used in wildlife photography. Obviously any scenario where there is action or interaction between species this shooting mode will really excel. But what makes it even more powerful is the ability to capture a sequence of 20 images in super fast succession, allowing for plenty of options in post development. Not only does this mode allow me to have options in terms of selecting one or more images from a sequence, but I have the option of providing a full sequence itself. And in instances where there is fast moving wildlife, this is a powerful tool to have as many picture editors in particular are looking for that one moment that defines a specific wildlife interaction. The challenge using this mode isn't the camera skill required to use it, but the anticipation at any sighting to know when to use it and execute. It is important to remember that as it is a very processor intensive activity, using high speed burst will fill the buffer. And so you will have to first use a very fast SD card, and secondly be patient that the buffer clears before you can start shooting again. The mode works great for situations where you know and can anticipate the behaviour of the animal. Like the little owl, I knew the flight was going to be fast, followed by a period of inactivity on the fence post. However if you had something more exciting like a lion fight, this might be an interaction that continues over a much longer time than the burst speed represents. So as the buffer clears you might miss parts of the action. So this is something to keep in mind, and like all features of a camera, recognise that it is a tool for a specific purpose and job and so should be used accordingly. 

 

Until next time!

Jon

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(Jon Bryant Photography) Animals bird birds Equipment Lumix Outdoor Photography Reviews Wildlife https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2018/7/high-speed-burst-shooting-for-wildlife-with-the-panasonic-lumix-g9 Tue, 03 Jul 2018 16:29:17 GMT
First impressions of the NEW Panasonic Lumx G9 https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2017/11/first-impressions-of-the-new-panasonic-lumx-g9 The past two days I have been in Cascais, just outside Lisbon in Portugal supporting the product launch at the Panasonic Digital Imaging Seminar of the new Lumix G9.

(iPhone snap of the event)

As with all product launches there is an embargo, but as this embargo is lifted as of 09:00 on 8/11/2017, I can now start to give my first impressions of the camera. 

Panasonic LUMIX G9Panasonic LUMIX G9Panasonic LUMIX G9 (PRNewsfoto/Panasonic Consumer Electronics)

G9 - form factor: a camera built for serious stills photography without compromising the compact heritage of mirrorless cameras.

Let me start with some of the highlight features before giving my first impressions having shot with the camera:

  • The G9 is marketed as having the "highest-ever" picture quality in a Lumix camera, 20.3MP with no low pass filter on the sensor 
  • The G9 has increased processing power with a New Venus Engine at its core
  • Increased in body stabilisation with 6.5 stops, 5 axis and dual I.S.
  • A high resolution shooting mode which produces 80MP images
  • Increased AF speeds of 0.04 seconds
  • Increased burst shooting speeds, in AFS mode the camera shoots at 60 fps, and in continuous auto focus the camera shoots at 20 fps
  • A large 0.83K 2680K OLED LVF
  • Splash/Dust/Cold proof with a magnesium alloy body
  • 200,000 shutter count life
  • A double SD recording slot which can be customised for recording configurations and back up
  • 6K photo feature
  • Video
    • AVCHD Progressing MP4
    • 4K 60/50p (4:2:0 8bit) 150Mbps

    • 4K 30/25/24p (4:2:0 8Bit) 100Mpbs

    • 4:2:2 8Bit output & 4:2:0 8Bit internal recording (except 4K 60/50p)

    • 4:2:0 8Bit output & 4:2:0 8Bit internal recording (4K 60p/50p)

  • The camera includes a status LCD on the top of the camera
  • Increased customisation with a front located custom function lever
  • USB connection allowing direct charging of the camera with a power bank.

(iPhone snap of the event)

In addition to the G9, Panasonic announced a new lens, the Leica DG Elmarit 200mm f2.8 power O.I.S. The lens comes as a kit with a 1.4X teleconverter. This lens represents a 400mm focal length equivalent in a full frame camera, and with the 1.4X teleconverter a 560mm focal range equivalent in a full frame camera. The lens has Image Stabilisation and is weather proof.

Both the camera and lens have been clearly been positioned in the wildlife, nature and outdoor photography segments. At the launch Panasonic executives acknowledged the role of the ambassadors in providing feedback during the camera design phase and I am very product to have been part of this process of the last year. Given that wildlife photography is my main focus, it was an incredible opportunity to share my shooting experience in the field with a major brand and to have that brand listen and take action in developing the final product. 

 

(iPhone snap of the event - showing the Ambassador program)

So what are my first impressions? 

Given I was supporting the launch and guiding different media groups through the project launch, I had limited time to get to grips with the camera. Panasonic organised a shooting tour with different stations to allow visitors to try out some of the new features. This included both indoor, model and still life shooting, and outdoor nature and sports shooting. Of all the shooting possibilities on offer during the launch I was drawn to the outdoors and the natural light. Portugal has the most amazing light, and coming from Belgium I just had to take advantage of this. I was also keen to see how the camera could hold up shooting directly into the sun, or with the sun as a back lighting source, and even looking at possibilities for contra-jour silhouettes and rim lighting subjects. These are all creative skills I use in wildlife photography. 

 

G9 Panorama shot pre event on the Sunday (5/11/2017) of the shooting location near Cascais.

The main camera I shoot with is the GH5 and I have the GX8 as a "B cam" which I have really been enjoying due to its smaller form factor. The G9 sits in between these two cameras in terms of size and with the 200mm f2.8 lens feels very well balanced in hand. Panasonic now has two lenses that are really suited to wildlife photography, with the 100-400mm f4.0-6.3 being the other lens. Both lenses feel balanced and comfortable on the G9 in hand. The camera is still a true mirrorless in terms of size and form factor. The design has a number of key features which places the camera much more in the stills photography segment, and these features are ones that professionals will be very familiar with; a new dedicated on/off switch, and intelligent design of shooting mode, and shooting drive dials integrated on top of one another, and a dedicated top camera space for the LCD display. 

G9 with 200mm f2.8 lens - the camera did a great job with harsh contrast light.

G9 with 200mm f2.8 lens

Another very smart feature is the addition of a custom function lever at the front of the camera. This differs slightly from the Custom Shooting Modes; C1, C2, C3. The custom function lever can be completely set up with shutter speed, aperture, iso, and in addition, picture profile, auto focus mode and so on. This can effectively mean you can "program" these custom settings to have almost two completely different cameras. As a wildlife photographer that shoots with two bodies (often one for stills and one for video) this means at the flip of a switch I can change my camera from a stills shooting camera set up to a video shooting camera set up. Or I could have a colour shooting mode set up, with a black and white mode set up. Or I could have the camera set up on one mode to pinpoint focus with slow shutter speeds for creative shooting and the other mode to AF tracking mode and fast shutter speed for action or sports. These modes accessible instantaneously by the flip of a lever. This is seriously impressive. 

G9 with 12-60mm f2.8-4.0 lens

 

G9 with 12-60mm f2.8-4.0 lens

G9 with 200mm f2.8 lens

During the outdoor shooting session what stood out for me is the improved speed and accuracy of the auto focus system. The camera now has 4 dedicated autofocus modes when in continuous autofocus mode. This is really on a par with many professional end cameras. What Panasonic brings to the table is a more intuitive was of setting up the modes both in the menus and via the rear screen or viewfinder, and the fact that in AFC mode the burst speed is now an impressive 20 frames per second. As a wildlife photographer I am really keen to put this through its paces for bird photographer, with birds in flight which are notoriously difficult to photography. In the outdoor shooting session I had a play with the Autofocus tracking with a surfer and it performed well, locking on and tracking the subject as he surfed along the wave. 

G9 with 200mm f2.8 lens

G9 with 200mm f2.8 lens

G9 with 200mm f2.8 lens

G9 with 200mm f2.8 lens

One area I am really excited is to try the high resolution mode out for Landscape Photography. However there may be a slight wait before Lightroom will play catch up in order to import and develop these RAW files. The high resolution mode requires a tripod and is best suited to static shots. I'm really keen to put this mode through it's paces and also using my Lee foundation filter kit and try to understand how far I can push the resulting image all the way through to print. 

The dual image stabilisation is now at a level which I believe will start to push the creative boundaries for both wildlife and landscape photography. With 6.5 stops of image stabilisation, this means that a shot at 1/400 shutter speed can effectively be shot at 1/4th of a second hand held (in theory). I am keen to put this into practice. I have already seen incredible impressive results shooting vervet monkeys in South Africa in low light with the GH5 at 1/15 and getting everything sharp. Having this level of image stabilisation is a great asset with a small sensor camera for low light shooting. It allows us to have confidence in slowing our shutter speed in certain situations and with static subjects and get a well exposed shot. 

For such a short time shooting my first impressions are very positive. There are all the characteristics there in the camera which made me move to a mirrorless, micro four thirds format, but with a feeling that this is a much more serious and powerful offering. There is clearly much more processing power in the camera and I can only imagine, but yet have to test thoroughly, that this will positively impact overall image quality. It is an exciting time and I am hoping to get out and about with the camera, pending the weather to shoot some local landscapes very soon.

Stay tuned to this blog as I will be developing my thoughts further on this camera as I shoot more with it in the field.  

Until next time...

Jon 

 

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(Jon Bryant Photography) animals g9 lumix nature outdoors panasonic photography wildlife https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2017/11/first-impressions-of-the-new-panasonic-lumx-g9 Wed, 08 Nov 2017 14:47:16 GMT
Blurred lines...the state of photographic competitions. https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2017/10/blurred-lines-the-state-of-photographic-competitions It has been an absolute age since I last wrote a blog. 2017 has been an immensely challenging year for me personally and unfortunately I've had to prioritise my life over my passions. I've still been out with the camera and recently had some fantastic projects to work on. But the social media and content generation has had to take a back seat. I am hoping "normal service" will be resumed towards year end. 

In the interim I feel compelled to write a blog. No images, just words. This is a topic that that has been bubbling deep inside me for about a year now. However, photographic etiquette kind of has this unwritten rule...you don't criticise photographic competitions. 

I don't want to criticise for the sake of criticising. But I do want to highlight some observations. And these observations are fair. 

Let me start by stating: yes I have entered photographic competitions. And yes, on occasions I will continue to enter photographic competitions. 

Let me now qualify that last paragraph. Why? Do I expect to win? No. So why do I enter? Because for me the idea of a competition is as a "stress test" of my own photography. Think of it as a barometer. I like to know where my photography sits, how it fairs, is it capable of passing a stage gate process i.e. the judging panel. To date I've entered 5 competitions over 4 years. I've been shortlisted in 2 competitions: European Wildlife Photographer of the Year, and Outdoor Photographer of the Year. My images did not go further in those competitions. But it was satisfying to see which images judges were drawn to. 

Now I have to qualify the last paragraph (again). Are competitions CONSISTENTLY a benchmark of good photography? They should be. But it depends. A competition assembles a judging panel of "people". These people may be magazine editors, photographers, or even a director of the competition sponsor. These judging panels might be a very well experienced group or a completely random selection of people. In either case the bottom line is, in a competition you are trying to pass your images to the next stage based on multiple people's perceptions. And those perceptions will differ a huge amount person to person. You know the old saying "you can't please all of the people all of the time". So behind closed doors, how do you know that a judge who likes your image will have a strong enough voice to convince the other judges it is worthy of advancing OVER another judge who does not believe your image is worthy? So not only do perceptions of judges differ, their ability to influence a group plays a huge role in the process. And this is why at the end of the day competitions as they currently stand are nothing more than a PUNT (if you don't know what that word means, go google it!). 

With this weeks announcement of the WPY winners, I've felt compelled to write this blog about competitions. This years WPY results have been the catalyst for me to break silence publicly, although I've had a number of private discussions with close friends (also wildlife photographers) about the state of competitions. I won't repeat those discussions, but I will say that I am not alone in feeling discouraged at the current state of affairs across the board for wildlife, landscape and nature photographic competitions. 

I said at the top of this blog I wanted to highlight observations rather than criticise any one specific competition. And as I've explained I have some experience in submitting to competitions so I am qualified to highlight these observations, and I do so with the simple premise of trying to level the playing field for all photographers. 

Let me start with a general observation for what is marketed as "the most prestigious wildlife photographic competition", WPY. WPY is the short acronym for The National History Museum (NHM) Wildlife Photographer of the Year. In some circles it is still called "BBC" which is it's older name. Let me be clear, it is called NHM, WPY. What I have observed with WPY over the past 5 years is the following:

  • A clear emphasis on images being finalists based on a conservation angle/message/story first, over the actual field and camera craft involved in taking the image.
  • No real evolution of the categories to take into consideration a rapidly changing technology landscape (remote control cameras, drones and other camera technology innovations).
  • A reticence to highlight issues relating to photography ethics in obtaining images, including a lack of transparency or terms and conditions in accepting images. If you don't understand this last sentence I am referring specifically to baiting, or staging of a specific image. 
  • A very slow but sure lack of understanding of the photographic skill involved behind the images that are submitted. This combined with a lack of understanding of how post development can drastically change the final image from that which is taken in camera. 

These are my observations. If WPY is to continue to claim that it is the most "prestigious" wildlife photographic competition, it needs to readdress the emphasis on photography FIRST. What I see, year on year, is that winning category images, and many highly commended images have a big emphasis on conservation. Don't get me wrong conservation of species should be on the top of all of our agendas. This is why I believe WPY should have a separate category that is dedicated to images with a conservation theme. Another observation I am seeing is that year on year the same photographers are finalists, and many, even the majority are professionals. "Ah! Well that's because they are consistent in taking quality images" I hear you say. Maybe. But the only difference between a professional and an amateur photographer is the former earns money from photography. Being professional doesn't necessarily mean they take better images than an Amateur. And with that in mind I was more than overjoyed to see in 2015, Don Gutoski winning the competition for an image which showed a huge commitment, field and camera craft...and Don was an Amateur when he took the image. I'm not anti-pro, but my point is simple. Pro's get commissioned...by editors...and what do editors want? Stories on conservation. So pro's are already working in that domain. How many amateur's are taking incredible images of everyday species and behaviour where no conservation story exists? Many. So is the competition really embracing the full spectrum of photographic and field craft? Personally I don't think it is. I think what it comes down to today is that a "proof shot" of a conservation issue will trump a skilled composition combined with real field craft. And for me that skews the whole playing field for what is supposed to be the most "prestigious" competition. Prestigious maybe, representative? I'm not so sure.  

And as for other competitions?

Well yes, there are other issues I've observed. There is one competition in particular, I won't mention, but I have had a really bad experience with. Here's a summary of the observations:

  • A relatively new competition that has focused heavily on the commercial aspects of the competition with both sponsors, and publicity. These aspects for me question the credibility behind the basis of the competition. The competition entry fee is the most expensive of any wildlife competition (more expensive than WPY). 
  • The judging panel that has been inconsistent in its selection and shortlisting process. The judging panel has consisted of high profile personalities, personnel from the sponsors, picture editors and in the end maybe...a photographer. 
  • Images from the same sequences submitted from a photographer have been shortlisted across multiple categories!
  • The categories have been poorly defined, and in the last running of the competition, changed mid competition in order to justify and encompass the judges decisions (a shocking moving of the goal posts). 
  • The category winners and finalists are more or less the same photographers. At the awards ceremony which I attended I counted at least 4 photographers that had multiple category wins or were placed in the top 3. This to me raises questions on the judging panel being sensitised to a specific group of photographers or a specific style/aesthetic of photograph.
  • The head judge at the awards ceremony admitted that he would look daily at one of the category winners Instagram account. How can this head judge then be seen as impartial and unbiased if he has a specific preference for the photography of one photographer? (side comment - this competition is a specific species sub category within Wildlife). 
  • Again, significant question marks on the ethics behind certain images submitted with regards to staging and/or baiting. Nothing in the terms or conditions at the time of entry submission for the photographer to make a disclosure.  

These observations come from entering this competition two years in a row. And fundamentally my concern remains that PHOTOGRAPHY is not at the heart and soul of this competition. And more broadly I am seeing the same issue over and over with many other competitions. There are other agendas which are taking centre stage over and beyond the core competencies of camera and field craft. So what is the result of this?

Well it's simple. Lack of credibility. 

I know many acclaimed photographers, many professionals who no longer submit to competitions. They have their own reasons and I don't want to put words in their mouths. But if I don't feel like it's a level playing field then some of my fellow photographers who have been in the game a lot longer than me, and take incredible images, must have the same feeling. 

I don't want to tar all competitions with the same brush. There is one competition that I commit to entering each year because it is an outstanding competition and I believe it is well established and stays true to the roots of the photography it represents. It is also progressive and embraces new trends by evolving it's categories. So there are some gems out there. 

But what needs to happen is that photography needs to be judged based on photography. Think about it, no matter how pretty a plate of food on Masterchef looks, if it tastes like crap, it's going to get eliminated. Judging panels need to look beyond the frame and have a better understanding of the craft involved to serve that image up on a plate.

Until next time...

Jon

 

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(Jon Bryant Photography) nature photography wildlife https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2017/10/blurred-lines-the-state-of-photographic-competitions Thu, 19 Oct 2017 09:11:30 GMT
So you joined a photo club...what next? https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2017/7/so-you-joined-a-photo-club-what-next

A photo club meeting where I give a short presentation on how to shoot panoramic with a telephoto lens.

 

Joining a photo club can be one of the best things you can do to advance your photography to the next level. But being a member of a photo club isn't just about your skills as a photographer. It is as much about your skills as a creative individual and all round good egg/human being.

 

Let me explain...

 

When you join a photo club you will surround yourself with different people from all backgrounds in life, first and foremost, and then with a varying degree of photographic capability. You will somewhere fit in amongst this demographic.

 

At the photo club meetings you might be sitting next to a complete beginner or an "award winning photographer". Either way, they way you interact with them will pretty much determine your own fate as a photographer. So it's time to take a reality check. Your ego. Where is it?

 

I joined a photo club initially for one sole purpose. To be inspired creatively. I have a good technical knowledge but because I specialise in a couple of genres, notably wildlife and landscapes, I was keen to mix with other photographers and see how they approached other genres and take images. I was hungry to watch, interact and learnt. 

 

The photo club I belong is relatively new, only in its second year. The club has a lot of potential with some real talent and a lot of people who are very keen to learn and evolve. But we find ourselves with a very broad base of photographer, many have a varying degrees of knowledge meaning their is a disparity in skills. But that's ok. It is to be expected. I've always said there will be always a photographer better than you, there will always be a photographer inferior to you. What's important is to recognise that and then ask yourself one question: what role should I play? If you ask this question you are half way to keeping your ego in check. 

 

Over the course of the first year it became evident some members of the club needed a helping hand. We organise 1 outing per month and this is completely voluntary. You can pick and chose to go depending on the location, theme and so on. This year has been an incredibly turbulent year in my personal life and things have been very trying for me. I've had limited time to dedicated to content generation, blogs, vlogs, videos, and photo outings etc. However I decided to make an effort and go to as many of the photo outings as possible even the ones that didn't personally inspire me. Why? Well first to continue to build a sense of community. Second to see others at work and learn. Third, to help others out. For those who wanted and needed support on some occasions I offered to lead a photo walk within the context of the outing. I didn't take many photos, just a few to show examples of what I was thinking. Mostly I was there to answer questions on how I worked, but also ask some key questions to get the brains working about techniques and skills. 

 

Part way through the year members also asked for more formal presentations on topics to advanced skill levels. I volunteered to deliver a couple of presentations. Nothing fancy, I presented my knowledge on shooting Aperture Priority Mode, and shooting Panoramic images. Both techniques I regularly use because as a wildlife photographer I am using a long lens and these techniques are part of my tool kit. I'll be doing others on an as needed basis.

 

So why did I do these things? 

 

Simple - to give back. To help. To share my knowledge as best as I could to others who were hungry to learn. This meant I had to put a little extra effort in from time to time in preparing presentations and content. 

I'm a self taught photographer who has worked really hard the last 5 years. I've put a lot of dedication in and it has started to pay back. But I had to put the effort in. I had some set backs and many disappointments along the way many of which damaged my own ego. 

 

But the pleasure in giving back to the club has been seeing great images coming from the photo outings were we walked together and shared the knowledge and techniques. It has helped me bring perspective to my own photography and more importantly my own behaviour as a photographer.

I recognised that in the club I was one of a few advanced photographers. What I didn't do is use the photo club meetings to position my photos in front of the club for adoration. What I didn't do is criticise others work, when asked I gave positive and constructive inputs, and on many occasions I asked how the image was taken so I could understand and learn. What I didn't do is blow up my own ego for my own visibility. I didn't need to and it should never be the purpose of participating in a photo club. Remember it doesn't matter how good you think you are...there is someone better - go seek them out, be humble and ask for their help. Then when you've got the knowledge, go help others, and stay humble. 

 

So if you are thinking of joining a photo club, I'd advocate it as one of the best things you can do. Don't be intimidated by other photographers, engage constructively and positively with your own community. Give back when you can and encourage those around you. We are all on a journey to advance our photography and like most journeys it's better when you are not alone, and have like minded helpful people as company to support you on the way. Most of all enjoy it and have fun. 

 

Peace

Jon

 

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(Jon Bryant Photography) Club Ego Learning Photo Photoclub Photography https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2017/7/so-you-joined-a-photo-club-what-next Mon, 10 Jul 2017 13:48:48 GMT
First thoughts on 6K Photography for Wildlife https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2017/2/first-thoughts-on-6k-photography-for-wildlife When the Panasonic GH5 announced one of the headline features was "6K Photo". At the time of the announcement it was not clear how the feature would exactly work. Panasonic have pioneered the concept of "4K Photo". My fellow Lumix Ambassador Ross Grieve has been at the forefront of this innovation in photography - he has used it commercially and even won awards for images from the 4K Photo feature.

What is 4K Photo? Well you can take a short burst of video and from that video clip, you can the select an individual frame in camera which saves to an 8 Megapixel JPEG file.

Since working more with Panasonic I saw the potential of the 4K Photo feature but I hadn't fully embraced it. There was a very simple reason for this: time! I've been very focused on multiple projects and portfolio building with the Lumix GH4 and the 100-400mm f4.0-6.3 lens. My initial experiences with 4K Photo feature were not that successful, and this was purely down to me not spending more time on fine tuning the camera settings to make it work. I was also focusing in a very challenging area - trying to use it with wildlife subjects!

A couple of weeks ago, Panasonic loaned me a GH5 and the new 12-60mm f2.8-4.0 lens. I started to take it out on a number of planned landscape and wildlife shoots. During the wildlife shoots I decided to put the 6K Photo feature to the test.

What is 6K Photo?  Well it is very similar to the 4K Photo feature but at higher resolution. The short burst of video is at 6K and the selection of the individual frame from the clip results in an 18 Megapixel JPEG still. This is more than double the resolution of the JPEG from the 4K Photo feature and that really excited me.

Back of the camera iPhone snap: 6K photo mode allows you to record 30 frames per second. You then access the clip via the playback function and can access and view the clip frame-by-frame.

 

Back of the camera iPhone snap: With the touch screen function you can slide across the frames with your finger until you find the preferred frame.

 

Back of the camera iPhone snap: Pressing the assigned function button allows you to save the frame as an 18Megapixel still JPEG to the SD card in camera.

 

The reason I am excited about this technology is because of one simple thing: I no longer need to compromise!

I have had so many examples in the field where I have had to make compromises between video and stills. There are moments when you are confronted with a sighting, one of my most memorable was a lion roaring last year in Madikwe South Africa. With anticipation, I could see what was about to unfold in front of me and I had to make a decision, did I want to capture this on video or with stills? In the end I opted for video as it is a very dynamic and moving moment to witness a lion roar. But as he did so the cold of his breath rose and I sat there gutted I couldn't capture still images of that moment. 

With 6K Photo on the Panasonic GH5 I know longer have to make those compromises. It allows me the best of both worlds. And when travelling this is even more important because it means I can keep kit and weight to a minimum with just one camera which can create incredible broadcast compliant 4K video and 20 megapixel stills, with the 6K photo feature allowing me to capture every moment I want on video and extract the still in camera afterwards. 

As I use this feature more and more I will probably blog about it further. For now here are my initial thoughts and some results from the field.

  • It may be a video clip, but you still have to think like a photographer!
    • In order to get best quality results, you still need to use settings that would be suitable for stills photography not videography. This means for fast moving action, shutter speeds need to be fast to freeze the action.
  • The video clip is the digital negative!
    • One of the mindset changes needed is to think of the video burst as like images developed on film negatives. Where the video clip gives you a series of still images you can chose from, in the same way an image would be developed from a film strip negative.
  • Knowing when to use 6K photo versus stills and a high speed burst of stills...?
    • I am still collecting my thoughts around this, but for wildlife photography it is as much about field craft and anticipation of the sighting as choosing the 6K photo or stills mode itself. There will be sightings when 6K photo will give a distinct advantage over stills. But there will also be times when still image mode (especially high frame rate bursts) will be better suited to the sighting and behaviour. See my thoughts on the fox image below...
  • Do not be put off my JPEG!
    • I know the idea of having a JPEG image as the final format might not appeal to many advanced shooters who are used to shooting RAW. From what I've seen so far I have been very impressed. This is a tool that you should consider as another string to your bow, not a replacement or competing with shooting RAW. 

My first real test of 6K Photo was shooting wild foxes close to the Belgium Ardennes a couple of weeks ago. I didn't use 6K photo a lot because the approach to get in position to photograph the foxes was very challenging and required a lot of stealthy moves! Therefore I didn't want to miss my shots and shot mainly stills. But on a couple of occasions once I was in position and the fox was unaware of my presence I was able to try the 6K photo feature out.  

Fox photo 1: The Hunting Fox.

The final result is ok. There are some issues with the image, notably it isn't perfectly sharp. This is my fault and my fault alone. If you take a look at the photo below you will see why!

As you can see I am lying down with very little cover and I am shooting handheld. You can also see it is fairly overcast and so the light was not the best. I am convinced if I'd had a tripod, or better light for higher shutter speeds the final JPEG image would have been perfect. 

Fox Photo 2: The attentive vixen.

 

 

Fox Image 2: The attentive vixen.

This vixen was asleep when I approached and I got within 3 meters behind a fence and with good cover. After spending some time with her, she eventually woke up and slowly became aware of my presence. At this point she was looking at returning to the den and I was between her and the den entrance. I took this 6K Photo as she was moving, before slowly retreating to allow her access and reduce any stress. This image is much better because I had a better position lying down on a fence embankment and was able to rest my camera on the ground and get some stability (see below). 

The second real test of the 6K Photo feature was in a specialist bird hide. This was a much more challenging scenario. It is still very dark at the moment as we are in winter and even when the sun is up, on an overcast day, light intensity is low. This simply means high iso's and shutter speeds slower than you would really like. For bird photography fast shutter speeds really are essential. But close to the middle of the day at peak light I was able to start experimenting with the 6K Photo feature. On this occasion I was much more happy with the results and started to get used to using it more consistently. Here are 4 examples:

Eurasian Jay

Great spotted woodpecker (landscape orientation)

Robin red breast

Great spotted woodpecker (portrait orientation)

The bird images came out really well. I've been super impressed with the results. It is especially nice to be able to choose the frame of the Eurasian Jay with the nut in its beak. This is where the power of the 6K Photo mode really comes in to play, because I am able to select the exact moment frame by frame. 

My next attempts with this feature will be to continue to understand the focusing. One of the challenges with fast moving wildlife subjects is focusing during the 6K Photo activation. If subjects even move slightly out of frame certain areas of the image will be soft or even out of focus. So I need to experiment a little more to understand the limits of focusing when in 6K Photo mode. 

Overall it has been a great first start with this new technology, and as I work more with this mode I will be expanding my thoughts further in other blogs, so be sure to stay tuned.

Until next time,

Jon

 

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(Jon Bryant Photography) 6K Animals GH5 Lumix Nature Panasonic Photo Photography Wildlife photography https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2017/2/first-thoughts-on-6k-photography-for-wildlife Wed, 22 Feb 2017 11:05:58 GMT
Who are you shooting images for? https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2017/1/who-are-you-shooting-images-for It has been a while since I wrote a blog. My apologies - I've been very busy generating video content for my You Tube channel and that has taken precedent over actually writing. But i decided to get back to it today because of an interesting experience I had and I wanted to share some thoughts on that...

Second apology...this is not intended to be a rant...

I am a member of a photography club. A very young club, but an excellent one. We have been in existence just one year and it has been a very fulfilling experience for many reasons; having great excuses to get out more the camera, meeting new people from all backgrounds, sharing a passion, but most of all exchanging experiences of camera craft whatever your level.

The last point is something I am passionate about. I am very self aware about my strengths and weaknesses as a photographer. And I don't always play to my strengths, I often (probably over) focus on my weaknesses. One of those weaknesses is that creativity does not come naturally to me. Every individual has a personality type - if you have every done a Myers-Briggs test, then you will know that people have different ways of seeing the world. Some will see things factually and logically. Others will see things emotionally or with a higher degree of sensing. I am someone that sees things logically or factually. I can't help it, it is the way I am wired. How does this translate to my photography? I tend to be a technical shooter. I know my camera. And that is a good thing, because I advocate that if you know your camera you have a much higher chance of being able to apply it in certain photographic situations that increase creativity. If you don't know your camera then you are more likely to be limited in the type and style of photography you can achieve. 

The winter months in Europe can be barren periods for wildlife photographers. Animals go into survival mode and many in to hibernation. It is still important to get out with the camera thought, even with colder and more harsh conditions which may make you want to stay at home in the warm. This week we had a snow storm. I decided to go to a small local lake that I was told had frozen over. This lake I know has a small population of waterfowl; geese, ducks, coots and on occasion the odd heron. 

A heron looks on as one of the skittish gulls lands around the frozen waterhole.

When I arrived there was a large flock of black headed gulls. Not the most photogenic bird. I spent sometime watching them. What I observed was the odd fight over food, space at the waterhole to get a drink and the occasional flight. When a dog water came past, the gulls flew up, circled and landed. The perfect opportunity to practice some birds in flight images. 

A gull tilts its head back to swallow some water after drinking. More deliberate slow shutter speeds to create a sense of movement.

So I decided to start playing with slow shutter speeds and intentional camera movement. I have >50,000 bird photos from last year, and thousands of photos of gulls. The lake is an artificial one, and surrounded by a nice woodland, but it isn't the most natural or pretty place to take wildlife photos. But I have to work with what I've got. So with this in mind, I decided to push my creative boundaries.

I started taking my images, and what was great is after the first few bursts I started to not think about what I was doing and just have fun. I was getting shots which looked like nothing I've done before and this I felt was liberating. 

Fast shutter speed - flying gulls in a snow storm.

Back to the club...one of the most frequent questions I am getting is "what settings do I use for a slow shutter speed pan?". The issue with this question is it isn't just a question of dialling in settings. You have to be comfortable shooting in Aperture Priority mode, and ideally set up back button focus. These two things are a prerequisite to slow panning shots, along with lots of practice. As I get this question a lot, I decided to share some images on the clubs Facebook page to show examples of fast shutter speed pans and slow shutter speed pans.

 Getting creative with slow shutter speed pans. 

I then posted a very creative abstract image. When I posted it, I made a very specific note saying "this is a creative abstract image". Quiet a few members like the image and a few asked how I managed to take it (that is the objective, stimulate curiosity and create exchange).

Creative abstract - just enough blur, able to see the detail in the trees, winter colours and snow and the birds flying as ghosts.

One member made a comment that they didn't like it. Which I respect. But I did remind them it was a creative abstract and not everyone will like creative abstracts. I get that completely. Remember my point about how different people see the world earlier in this blog? It is exactly that. Subjectivity. I showed my wife the image. She hates it. She doesn't like anything I do that is a slow shutter speed motion blur!

However when I made this reply, that abstracts will never please everyone, that club member, for some reason wasn't happy and said "I see, you either like it, or say nothing, I will refrain from making any non positive comments in the future". Oh dear. They are missing the point. Big style. Here was my reply:

  • Everyone has the right to like or not like a photo - they also have the right to say so.
  • It wasn't my intention when I took these series of photos to get proof shots. I went out intentionally to create imagery. And I wasn't afraid to potentially fail. If I had come home with bog standard shots of gulls that would have been nothing more than a waste of hard drive space.
  • I do not care if people like or dislike my photos. If people like them great, I feel happy. But I don't share for likes. I share to hopefully inspire others to make their own photographic journey. If people don't like some of my images it is to be expected...but the day I start shooting images in order to conform to what people are preconditioned to thinking is a good image, THIS is the day I will stop photography.

This got me thinking. Who do you shoot images for? 

If you are going out with your camera trying to make images because they conform to the pressure of the social media "like", or what others say makes a "good image" - then there is something wrong with your photography. Worse, you just won't grow as a photographer. I'd rather make a ton of mistakes, as I did this week shooting black headed gulls with the hope I might get the odd image that stands out from the crowd, looks and feels different and begs the question from the viewer, how did you photograph that? I wanted to take a common and ordinary subject look extra-ordinary, different. 

That is a far more enriching process photographically than another proof shot of a gull, or any other subject. The bottom line: shoot for yourself, have fun, enjoy the process. And if you are in the business of giving feedback, keep it constructive and play nice. It makes the photographic community better for everyone.

Peace & light

Jon

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(Jon Bryant Photography) https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2017/1/who-are-you-shooting-images-for Wed, 25 Jan 2017 09:19:03 GMT
The GH5 has arrived - my thoughts as a wildlife camera. https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2017/1/the-gh5-has-arrived

Panasonic announced the GH5 at Photokina in Germany in October last year, but yesterday at CES, Las Vegas, there was a press event where Panasonic announced the full specification, something many photographers and videographers were eagerly anticipating, even speculating about. 

I was fortunate enough to have a "hands on" with the camera at Photokina in October, and then shoot with it in Japan in late November when Panasonic invited their ambassadors to Osaka to get familiar with the camera and do some pre launch shooting with it.

So what do I think?

The GH5 is the natural evolution to the GH4 without making the GH4 redundant. When I bought my GH4 just after launch I was so blown away by it, I didn't feel the need to keep my GH3 and therefore decided to sell it. With the GH5, I see that becoming my A camera with the GH4 a worthy B camera as a back up for shoots and trips. Why?

For a long time now, I was frustrated that there wasn't a camera out there that was truly delivering quality stills and broadcast quality video with 4K acquisition for wildlife photography. The GH4 comes close, ad certainly is a great camera for video, but requires a few caveats to maximise it's potential. When I travel to Africa I want one system with a range of focal lengths that allows me to shoot stills and video without having to make any compromises. The launch of the 100-400mm f4.0-6.3 lens by Panasonic has been an absolute game changer for wildlife photographers. Now with the GH5 the bar is going to be raised further, and whilst the video specs will get the lions share (no pun intended) of attention, I am even more excited about what the GH5 can do as a stills camera.

Key specifications for the GH5

  • 5-axis Dual IS
  • No Crop factor in 4K!!
  • 3680k 0.76x OLED EVF
  • 1620k 3.2” RGBW rear monitor
  • Improved AF speed using new DFD tech
  • No Low Pass filter
  • Unlimited recording time
  • 4K 60/50P (150mbps, 4:2:0 8-bit)
  • 4:2:2 10-bit (DCI and UHD up to 30p + HD 60p*)
  • 400mbps All-intra (DCI and UHD up to 30p**)
  • Variable frame rate (up to 180fps in HD)
  • 4 and 6K photo mode
  • Full size HDMI Type-A
  • USB-C
  • Dual Card Slots (UHS-II U3)
  • LUT display
  • Simultaneous recording internal and external
  • Freezeproof down to -10C

From that long list what really caught my eye when in Japan was the following:

5 axis dual image stabilisation - this makes handheld shooting in video mode an absolute dream. Something that has always been a challenge for me when sitting on a bumpy game drive vehicle in the bush. I've spent a lot of time and money developing a suitable transportable mounting system for when I travel to shoot video and with the dual image stabilisation this is going to make things a lot easier. This will also be a game changer for handheld stills shooting in wildlife photography. The image stabilisation on the 100-400mm f4.0-6.3 lens is already impressive but to have camera body stabilisation combine is going to mean a wider window of opportunity to shoot stills, especially in lower light conditions. Morning and evening game drives always present challenging lighting conditions, with the image stabilisation it will mean I'll have more confidence to drop my shutter speeds without compromising camera shake and focus. 

3680k 0.76x OLED EVF - this really has to be seen to be believed. When looking through the viewfinder it makes going back to the GH4 and other cameras difficult. The resolution is so crisp, it makes you feel like you are actually in the frame. It's an incredible addition.

Improved AF speed using new DFD tech - this only tells half the story. The design of the GH5 is slightly changed. There is now a joystick included next to the focus lock button. This means I know have the ability to control the focus point via the joystick. I shoot with back button focus, so with the GH5 I know have a truly pro-end focus system at the tip of my thumb. I think one of the reasons why for so long mirrorless systems have struggled to gain adoption in the wildlife photography segment is because they have been perceived to lack the pro features. With the addition of this joystick button and the increased number of focus points (225 auto focus points) the GH5 is more than capable of competing with the big boys when it comes to a pro end level stills camera fro wildlife photography. 

Dual Card Slots (UHS-II U3) - a great addition especially for those of us who travel and want to back up, but also if we want to partition our stills and video clips to different cards. 

6K photo - this feature pushes the boundaries of the 4K photo mode that Panasonic have already pioneered. In Japan I didn't use this feature at all as I played more with the stills and video. However I am very keen to get hands on with 6K photo, this enables the extraction of an 18MP still image. From experience I know that there are certain situations where I have had to make a decision on whether to shoot video or stills at a sighting. Now with the ability to hit the record button and come away with a video clip and the ability to extract a still (/stills) image(s) from that clip, I no longer have to compromise. 

There is an optional XLR unit which also allows professional XLR audio microphone input. This is a great addition and the design is superb, sitting just on the hot shoe of the camera. The smart bit from Panasonic is this adaptor is compatible with the GH4, so GH4 shooters that want an elegant audio solution now have that option.

Final thoughts

Although I had limited time with the camera in Japan, I was seriously impressed. In fact I would go so far as to say it's the camera I have been waiting almost 2-3 years for. The price point makes it extremely attractive compared to other cameras offering a similar level of specification. The form factor is more or less the same as the GH4, slightly bigger but not too much...but compared to the other go to wildlife cameras such as the 5dmkiv/D800, the form factor of the GH5 remains liberating. Put this into context, my GH4 with 100-400mm f4.0-6.3 lens comes in at around 1.3-1.4kgs. The GH5 with that lens isn't going to weight much more. That means that handheld shooting with a 200-800, 35mm equivalent focal length is still going to be a doddle compared to Canon/Nikon equivalents. For me this is a camera that will once again be enthusiastically embraced by video shooters. But I believe that as a stills or wildlife photographer you would do well to give this camera a good look. It packs a serious punch, and whilst I expect in the coming months much of the noise will continue around the video feature set, I'm excited to put it through its paces on the stills/hybrid video side of things. 

If you have a question about the camera feel free to leave a comment and I will do my best to answer.

Until next time,

Jon

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(Jon Bryant Photography) GH5 Lumix Nature Panasonic Photography Wildlife photography https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2017/1/the-gh5-has-arrived Thu, 05 Jan 2017 09:38:02 GMT
OPOTY 2016: Shortlisted! https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2016/12/opoty-2016-shortlisted Well it seems like the competition season is upon us. There are a whole plethora of wildlife/landscape/nature competitions that have opened and closed for entries during autumn. 

I decided to have a punt in a couple of competitions this year. But honestly speaking I don't take competitions too seriously. I think the process of looking at, and reviewing your images is a good and productive exercise. However, it is always really difficult to know how a panel of judges is going to perceive your work especially when entering into any specific category. The other major issue with competitions is that you are always up against other great photographers. 

One competition I did focus on was Outdoor Photographer of The Year. I am a subscriber to the magazine and without doubt it is my favourite photographic publication. It is so well put together and so relevant. I think for me this was the competition that my photography resonates the most with. 

I submitted in 3 categories, and you could submit up to 8 images in each category: Light on the Land, Wildlife Insights and Small World. I am happy to say that I had 8 images shortlisted across 2 of the categories; Wildlife Insight and Small World. I didn't get any images shortlisted in Light on the Land Category (note to self: must work harder on landscapes in 2017!). I had 5 of my 8 submissions shortlisted in the Wildlife Insights category. This was very pleasing given so much of my focus the last 3-4 years has been on Wildlife photography.

Alas my competition journey was to end there as I didn't get the follow up email to notify me I'd made the final round. That part was slightly disappointing, but when you put it in context that you have wildlife photographers such as David Lloyd submitting, and Landscape Photographers such as Thomas Heaton...then getting 8 images shortlisted is an achievement in itself...

It's an achievement, because in todays world of social media, where we are bombarded by images, where people take only a few minutes even seconds to view an image, I managed to submitted images that were judged worthy of a second look. That I think is something to feel satisfied about.

Below are the screen shots of the images that were shortlisted:

Wildlife Insights Category

Small World Category

I will finish this blog with one anecdote. For the small world category I had 7 images. I was missing 1. As you pay per entry it seemed a shame I didn't have 1 more image to complete the submission. So a few days before the deadline I went out to my local woodland and scoured the woodland floor for anything that was small. I found some tiny mushooms/fungi. Armed with a macro lens, and a light, I spent about 1 hour shooting around a dozen images. After the hour, I returned home from the cold for a hot drink and a Lightroom session. I made my selection and completed my submission. Amazingly the image was shortlisted.  

Now, if I'd even had tried this 1 year ago, I don't think I would have been able to pull it off. But the fact I went out within 1 hour and came back with an image worthy of a shortlisting tells another story as to how far my photography has come. And I think this is another good example of why from time to time competitions are worth a punt. They say you have to be "in it to win it" but I would say you will learn a lot about yourself as a photographer by taking part.

Until next time!

Jon

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(Jon Bryant Photography) Competition Nature Outdoor Outdoor Photography Photographic Competition Photography Wildlife https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2016/12/opoty-2016-shortlisted Mon, 05 Dec 2016 14:44:21 GMT
Salon de la Photo: France's biggest photography show https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2016/11/salon-de-la-photo-frances-biggest-photography-show Despite living in continental Europe for well over a decade, this year was the first year I attended Le Salon de la Photo in Paris. It is the largest annual photo show in France and second biggest after the biannual Photokina in Germany. So why haven’t I visited before?

Well a few reasons; notably it falls on a bank holiday weekend in November, and I am normally on holiday with the family.

But I also have other options locally if I need to attend an exhibition, look or try out new gear. I have an excellent local Photo Show at Tour & Taxi’s in Brussels. I also have  The Photography Show which is in my home town of Birmingham in the UK.

So Paris was a first for me and with good reason. Panasonic France had asked me to attend the show and give a “Masterclass” on European Wildlife Photography. Now this was quite a challenge. The  first challenge is that European Wildlife Photography is a very diverse. I’ve been a Panasonic Ambassador since May 2016 and my main focus this year has been bird photography. So my portfolio of diverse European species is not yet there. The second challenge was that despite speaking French, I have never presented in French. Speaking French for a native English speaker is very challenging. I won’t go into all the details, but pronunciation (amongst other things) doesn’t come naturally to us English speakers. Add to that the fact that I don’t have a good grasp of a lot of photographic and creative vocabulary. The “Masterclass” was a full hour. I had to put some preparation in.

A good crowd attended my "Masterclass" presentation on wildlife photography

The first thing I decided was to keep things simple. I decided to first and foremost focus on two species because by their very nature they are the most accessible species to photograph in Europe; Birds and Deer.

Then I decided to build my “Masterclass” on some of the basic principles of my own photographic journey in Wildlife Photography and how the Lumix Camera Systems have helped me on that journey.

Finally I added a lot of images into the presentation. They say “a picture paints a thousand words”, so with a good selection of well thought out images, getting my points across should be easy.

Explaining some of the basics of composition

I didn’t have the best preparation for the “Masterclass” on day 1. Public transport conspired to put me under pressure with late trains and subway works which saw me getting in at the show just 45 minutes before my presentation time. But on my arrival at the Parc d’Expositions de Versailles, I made one simple observation: all of the major brands had stages and presenters. There were so many presentations taking place that there was a cacophony of microphone noise. I did not have this impression at Photokina in Germany. But I do feel that this was a very cultural situation; that French people are hungry to learn and improve their overall knowledge. I also think that companies and brands see these types of presentations as a key marketing tool that draws traffic to their stands.

I gave my “Masterclass” and it went well, much better than I expected given it was a first presenting in public in my second language. The audience were kind enough to give me applause and at the end there was a lot of engagement from members of the audience who had follow up questions and wanted to know more about what I do and the kit I use. This for me was what a photo show should be all about.

You see about 5 years ago, I’d go to photo shows/exhibitions and spend hours looking at cameras and lenses, looking at gear and accessories I thought I needed to take photographs. Over those 5 years I’ve invested in the kit I need, I’ve sold some of it on, and replaced it with other kit. But overall I have what I need to do the job. In the last 2-3 years my focus has been almost entirely on camera and field craft. So when I go to exhibitions the displays of the latest camera equipment is not as relevant to me. This has become more so as I became a Panasonic Ambassador as I know and am very happy with the cameras/lenses I use. But I still observe many visitors spending almost 95% of their time with kit in their hands trying things out and 5% of their time talking with other photographers. This for me is the opposite of what it should be. I believe there is far more value in engaging with fellow photographers than it is in trying out gear. Yes, by all means try out gear if you are thinking of investing. But I would argue that it would be good to talk to other fellow photographers about their experiences with field and camera craft before you start looking at your next camera investment.

Talking with some of the visitors after my presentation and answering questions.

Whilst at Photokina, I met for the first time the other Panasonic Lumix Ambassadors. In very short but valuable conversations with them I learnt a huge amount. I learnt how other Ambassadors use their tools, apply their craft and create images with their vision. Equally when they asked me how I shoot and I explained some of the intricacies of wildlife photography they were surprised at some of the techniques I used to shoot with. 

For me the exchanges with other photographers was the more valuable element of the show. The basic analogy is that you wouldn't buy a car if you didn't know how to drive it. And the issue with photography shows is that the emphasis is so often placed on the gear and not the craft. Now that may seem a strange sentiment coming from an ambassador of a major brand. After all brands want to sell you, the consumer, the gear. Yes, but...that is the whole rational behind the idea of ambassador programs. My role is to share and educate my experience and engage with visitors. For me this is a 2-way process. I listen as much as I answer the questions. And I find that a very rewarding element. If I can help someone with a tip, trick or technique then I am happy. Likewise if I learn something I'm even happier!

For this year most of the major photography shows are done and dusted. There are a couple of regional nature/wildlife shows still to be held. But if you are planning on attending a show in 2017, have a look at the education and engagement opportunities on offer. Take advantage of the photographers that are there and engage with them. I guarantee it'll make the whole experience much more rewarding than if you were to just play with the cameras!

Until next time!

Jon

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(Jon Bryant Photography) https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2016/11/salon-de-la-photo-frances-biggest-photography-show Mon, 21 Nov 2016 16:04:33 GMT
Waiting to photograph Raptors https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2016/10/waiting-to-photograph-raptors At the end of August I hired a specialist raptor hide on the Belgium-Dutch border. I wanted to get some more diverse shots of birds of prey for the presentation that I would be giving for Panasonic on Bird Photography at Photokina. 

From what I had seen prior to my day in the hide, this hide had been delivering some fantastic images of Sparrow Hawks and Buzzards, as well as Great Spotted Woodpecker and Black and Green Woodpeckers. So it was certainly a great time to have the hut reserved and at the end of August the weather was really great too. 

When I arrived at the hide I was full of enthusiasm and optimism that I'd be getting raptor sightings. The hide owner warned me a little extra patience was needed and I was more than prepared for that. After all the key requirement of a wildlife photographer is patience. If you don't have patience you'll struggle to be a wildlife photographer.

But as the day unfolded, the wait continued, and continued and continued. You can watch what happened in the video I made for my You Tube channel here:

 

In the end here were the shots that stood out...and I kept myself amused and my photographic mind occupied with the frogs!

 

A very tough day, but that's how wildlife photography sometimes goes. 

Until next time...

Jon

 

 

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(Jon Bryant Photography) https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2016/10/waiting-to-photograph-raptors Mon, 24 Oct 2016 14:28:20 GMT
Bird Reserve Photography at Le Teich, France https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2016/10/bird-reserve-photography-at-le-teich-france 2016 has seen me focus significantly on bird photography. There have been a number of reasons for this. After spending nearly 3 years building a portfolio of images focused on African wildlife, I need to focus on things closer to home. The most accessible route to go was birds. I also strongly believe that bird photography is probably one of the most challenging sub genres of wildlife photography. The subjects are small, fast moving, and difficult to approach without disturbing them. You need a longer focal length than normal because most birds tend to be quiet small. Above all else you need patience, skill and luck. 

Within my roll as Panasonic Lumix Ambassador I've been working a lot this year with the 100-400mm f4.5-6.3 lens. This lens has really been a game changer for wildlife photography. With the micro four thirds sensor this lens has a 35mm equivalent of 200-800mm. This scale of focal range is ideal for bird photography and so after becoming a Lumix Ambassador it was really a no brainer for me that I would focus in this area and put the lens to full use.

July and August have been very busy months for me with lots of shooting projects both in the landscape and wildlife domains. This has been great and I've loved getting out in the field more often and regularly. This has seen my content creation be a little tardy as a result. But better late than never...today's blog/vlog goes back to a day I spent at Le Teich Bird Reserve close to the Basin d'Archachon in the South West of France.

The entrance to the reserve, complete with cafe/restaurant for refreshments.

The reserve is based on a pathway that loops round a series of ponds and lakes. Some larger than others. The route is around 7kms in total and there are a total of 20 observation cabins around this route. More detailed information in English and French can be found in this fact sheet here. The day I went it was clear blue skies and sunshine and in the middle of a heat wave with 35C temperatures. The reserve has information on their website which recommends the best hours to visit the park on every day that the park is open. The day of my visit they recommended visiting in the late afternoon. However I arrived at 1pm because I knew that with a 7km route and stopping to take images along the way I would end up taking a lot more time. Indeed that is exactly what happened as I took around 6 hours to complete the full loop and stop at each of the 20 cabins. 

One of the waterside observation cabins with observation windows at different levels.

The observation cabin that overlooks the Basin d'Archachon, it has a more elevated position than the other cabins.

The view from the elevated cabin showing the habitat available.

Zooming in from the observation cabin shows the number of waders within the reserve.

The geographical location of the reserve means it is a stepping stone for migratory birds between Europe and Africa. However mid August isn't a migratory season, so I wasn't expecting a huge amount of diversity. However, as I ventured deeper into the reserve I started to uncover some new species I'd not seen or photographed before. And amusingly these species were located at the cabin that had the most photographers present of all the cabins in the reserve. 

I was highly impressed with infrastructure. The cabins were well thought out, the positions were excellent. Each cabin had both low and high window openings allowing for different photography angles. Benches were also available at both levels and a bench top to place your equipment. The cabins were a sanctuary against the heat of the day. I really appreciated how close the cabins were to the waters edge too. Having been to Zwin on the Flemish coast which is my nearest Bird reserve I was frustrated at how far the observation points were to the waterside. It made photography practically impossible and you clearly could only observe with binoculars or a digiscope. That's not the case at Le Teich. In the first few cabins they had also included poles in the water which allow the birds to perch. Not only did this attract the birds but it create some great interest compositionally. 

A rough panoramic to show the number of birds on the perches.

I documented my visit on video which can be watched via my You Tube channel. This will give a much better sense of what it is like to spend a day at a bird park like this one and what type of images you can expect to add to your portfolio. 

Whilst bird parks aren't as controllable for the subjects environment as private bird hides, they do provide a great playground if you want to increase your portfolio, photography birds you might otherwise not see in other environments and focus on capture birds-in-their-environment type images. 

Until next time...

Jon

 

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(Jon Bryant Photography) https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2016/10/bird-reserve-photography-at-le-teich-france Wed, 12 Oct 2016 09:02:10 GMT
Mirrorless: A viable option for wildlife photography? 3 years on... https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2016/10/mirrorless-a-viable-option-for-wildlife-photography-3-years-on 3 years ago I wrote a blog about my second safari experience and using the mirrorless Panasonic system (GH3 at that time) on safari mainly with the 100-300mm variable aperture lens. 

Back then, I was using my Panasonic GH3 as my go to for video work. And it was a fabulous camera to use for video. Where I was struggling was with the lens options for wildlife photography. The 100-300mm lens (the longest focal range at that time) from Panasonic had a number of issues for me. I don't know if I just happened to have a lens with a problem, but the lens didn't seem to want to image stabilise with the camera. This meant that 3 years ago, I used the mirrorless GH3 almost exclusively for video and some stills when the 35-100mm f2.8 lens (70-200mm full frame equivalent) was good enough to shoot wildlife depending on the proximity of the sighting.

After my recent visit to Photokina in my role as Panasonic Ambassador, I decided to revisit the question: "Mirrorless: A viable option for wildlife photography?". 

So what has changed in those 3 years to make me start shooting stills with the GH3's successor the GH4? Well there are two main reasons:

  1. I want one camera that shoots 4K video and quality stills - I don't want to have to make a trade off of one versus the other.
  2. Panasonic's lenses for the micro four thirds system, both current and future.

Without doubt the release of Panasonic's 100-400mm f4.0-6.3 lens at the end of 2015 has been a game changer in my mind for the Lumix system for wildlife photography.

My photo talk at Photokina for Panasonic focus on bird photography with the 100-400mm f4.0-6.3 lens.

At the Panasonic stand at Photokina I gave a daily talk on European Bird Photography and I talked about this lens having 3 incredible features:

  1. 100-400mm focal range which is a full frame equivalent of 200-800mm
  2. The lens is image stabilised
  3. The lens weights 985g (!)

This lens has not only unlocked the potential of my GH4 for wildlife photography, but for a whole range of Lumix cameras (GX8, GX80, G80, G70 etc). Remember that this lens retails for under €2000. That's a full frame equivalent focal range of 200-800mm for under €2000. And the glass is from Leica, so it's a lens of the highest quality. You cannot get anything close to that, for that price with brands such as Nikon and Canon. This lens for me has pretty much democratised wildlife photography to a whole new demographic of consumer that may have simply not had the budget to outlay on kit required to get a foothold in the genre. The Lumix camera systems use the micro four thirds lens standard and so other brands with micro four thirds can use the Panasonic lenses. It has been this lens and the potential to push the boundaries of the Lumix cameras that led to my relationship with Panasonic. 

Panasonic's range of mirrorless "DSLM" cameras on display backstage at Photokina.

Talking with other wildlife photographers I am often confronted with some stereotypes and myths around the mirrorless/micro four thirds system, here are the most common ones:

  • "That's not a professional/high end camera"
  • "Lens options are limited"
  • "It has a smaller sensor and so image quality is less"
  • "It has a smaller sensor and so you can't get shallow depth of field in the images"
  • "It has a smaller sensor and is poor in low light conditions"

Let me address these one by one....

"That's not a professional/high end camera"

Really? If you hear that from any photographer then there is something clearly wrong with their photography. Cameras are tools. Put any tool in the hands of a master craftsman/woman and they will make it sing. Same goes for a camera. The images taken from a camera are only as good as the photographer looking through the lens. Whilst I agree that brands such as Panasonic/Lumix, Olympus, Fuji etc may not have the same perception in the professional/high end as Canon and Nikon, I can tell you from personal experience, that this is nothing but a misconception. 

"Lens options are limited"

False. Take a look here at all the micro four thirds lenses available. There are plenty of choices, including third party brands, which cover almost all genres of photography, from primes through to zooms. Panasonic have just announced a lens roadmap in partnership with Leica which means in 2017 things will only get better. The road map has already delivered a 12mm f1.4 prime this year. And the announcement of three new lenses in the line up should have wildlife and landscape photographs salivating at the prospect:

  • 8-18mm f2.8-4.0 (this is the equivalent of a 16-35mm full frame lens)
  • 12-60mm f2.8-4.0 (this is the equivalent of a 24-120mm full frame lens)
  • 50-200mm f2.8-4.0 (this is the equivalent of a 100-400mm full frame lens)

Add the 100-400mm f4.0-6.3 lens to the list above and you have my "ideal" lens line up in my camera bag. 

Panasonic's roadmap of Leica lenses.

"It has a smaller sensor and so image quality is less"

Yes, micro four thirds mirrorless cameras have a smaller sensor compared to APS-C and Full Frame sensor cameras. But does that mean that the image quality is worse? Let's take an objective look of two images I've taken from the GH4 and the Canon 5Dmkiii:

A female Stonechat taken with the Canon 5dmkiii, 120-300mm f2.8 Sigma Lens.

The same female stonechat taken with a Panasonic GH4, 100-400 f4.0-6.3 lens

The aesthetic of the two images are indeed different. But this is completely normal given the difference in colour science of the two brands, and of course because with the Canon camera you have a much larger sensor than the Panasonic camera. But in terms of image resolution and detail, you'd be hard pushed to tell me that the image from the Panasonic camera is of lower quality than from a full frame camera. For me the image quality is extremely good given the smaller sensor and form factor of the camera. Furthermore with the extra focal length I am able to get closer in on the subject which is really important for bird photography. 

"It has a smaller sensor and so you can't get shallow depth of field in the images"

Nonsense. Any photographer who quotes this to me, is admitting to me indirectly that they do not have an understanding of the impact that subject separation has on depth of field. The other one I get is "the lens is variable aperture, I really need a constant aperture lens to shoot wildlife". Again, total nonsense. In order to be in creative control of your depth of field you need to have a in-depth of understanding of the relationship between aperture, shutter speed and iso when shooting in Aperture Priority mode. If you aren't shooting your wildlife in aperture priority mode, my tip of the day is to go google it and change the way you are shooting your images. 

Canadian geese: understanding the impact subject separation has on depth of field is the more important than the f stop. This was shot at f6.3!

"It has a smaller sensor and is poor in low light conditions"

See the Canadian geese image above. This was taken on a cold and dark day in Belgium with poor light. I shot this image at ISO 2000. When I used my Canon 5dmkiii in Africa in low light conditions, rarely would I shoot above iso 2000. Nuff said. 

Is it the perfect camera system?

No! But I don't think there is any brand that is delivering a perfect camera system. It's horses for courses and there will always be trade offs to be made.

However, this year in my role as Panasonic Ambassador I've been shooting 90% of my time in the field with the GH4, the 100-400mm f4.0-6.3, 35-100mm f2.8, and 12-35mm f2.8 lenses. During this time I've been shooting far more stills than video...which wasn't the case 3 years ago with my GH3. The image quality I am getting is outstanding for a camera with such a small footprint and form factor. I've set the GH4 up for stills in a way that I would shoot previously before becoming an ambassador, with my Canon system and I am left with almost no compromises in terms of shooting style and ergonomics. I've found my photography to be liberated from weight. I can carry 4 lenses, one body, filters and a tripod at a fraction of the size and weight if I were to be shooting with Canon kit. This is an important factor especially for landscapes where every gram on a hike counts. And for long haul trips when I travel to Africa, there are no headaches with hand luggage allowances. At fast enough shutter speeds I am able to shoot wildlife handheld without any camera shake issues due to the light weight of the system. Panasonic's 4K video capability and ground breaking 4K photo mode mean more importantly I make no compromises between video and stills. I've been in the field and confronted with incredible sightings, such as a lion roaring where I had to make a call to video it or take still images. One or the other. That was a trade off I always felt uncomfortable making. Now with Panasonic's 4K photo mode, I just have to hit the record button, capture glorious 4K video and I'm able to extract an 8MP still image from the resulting clip. At Photokina in September, Panasonic announced the pre-release of the GH5 which will have a 6K photo mode, which will allow an 18MP still to be extracted from the 6K burst. 

A stunning Kingfisher: GH4 with 100-400mm f4.0-6.3 lens.

This is a camera system that continues to grow. That's an important statement I am making there. Growth. That means Panasonic are listening to their users, the customers. They've shown that previously when they launched the GH4 to supersede the GH3. With the announcement of the GH5 the direction is becoming more and more exciting. The announcement of the Leica lens roadmap also shows a commitment to the types of focal lengths that professional photographers have come accustomed to using. 

3 years ago, I had no doubts that mirrorless cameras were delivering incredible moving images from their video capability. But I did have doubts and frustrations (hence my original blog) that they would deliver an "all in one" package I needed to shoot close up wildlife with wildlife photography focal ranges and incredible video quality. 3 years on, my doubts have completely dissolved. And I'm not writing that because I became a Panasonic Ambassador, I became a Panasonic Ambassador because I saw the potential for wildlife had opened up and the landscape for mirrorless has completely changed. Not only can I get 4:2:0 8 bit 4K from the GH4, I can get incredible close ups on difficult subjects such as birds, which has been my focus this year. In 2017 the launch of the GH5 is going to maintain that incredible still image quality with creative tools such as 6K photo and 4:2:2 10 bit internal 4K recording that is broadcast approved. The future is incredibly bright and exciting and I'm pleased I can play a small part with Panasonic in pushing the boundaries for their Lumix mirrorless systems in the Wildlife genre.

Until next time

Jon 

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(Jon Bryant Photography) GH4 GH5 Nature Photography Wildlife cameras micro four thirds mirrorless panasonic photography https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2016/10/mirrorless-a-viable-option-for-wildlife-photography-3-years-on Wed, 05 Oct 2016 06:58:57 GMT
The Isle of Skye with the Panasonic FZ1000 (Part 2) https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2016/9/the-isle-of-skye-with-the-panasonic-fz1000-part-2 Part 2 of a 2 part blog

If you have not yet read the first part of this blog then you can do so here.

Day 2 of the Isle of Skye shoot became challenging as the weather set in. Despite setting my alarm for 5 am, a quick look out the B&B window made me turn around and go back to bed. It was raining with very strong gusty wind. There was no point going out until there was some window of opportunity for dry weather. I went and had breakfast, and by the time I had finished the weather had become drier. 

It was time to head up towards The Old Man of Storr. As I headed up the eastern coast road, I was confronted with low lying cloud. It was obvious that visibility was going to be zero. As I got within distance of the car park to hike up to The Old Man of Storr, I spotted a waterfall and a convenient parking space on the road. So I parked up and walked up to the waterfall. It was another decision driven by trying to bank my shots given the changing weather conditions.

After spending sometime getting set up at this location I was amazed to find that I was the accompanied by a bus full of tourists, who then climbed up the fell towards me with mobile phones and self sticks. I found this mildly amusing. No sooner as they had arrived the left and retreated to the warmth of their bus.

I was starting to battle the elements. The wind picked up and the rain came in and finally I too had to make a hasty retreat to my car as the rain started to fall more heavily.  

The frustration was that over the sea the cloud seemed less thick and there was more light. But on land the rain and visibility was deteriorating. I decided to head up the coastal road and see which other spots I could scout with a view to grabbing an image. I was headed to Kilt Rock and Mealt Waterfall and I stopped off at Rigg Viewpoint which is a fairly dramatic view with a steep cliff dropping into the sea. In better conditions there was definitely photos to be had here. But in the rain there was no chance. I continued on. The next stop was Lealt Falls. This was a short walk along a coastal path from a car park, but now the wind had picked up and conditions were really tough. This again would have been a location with 3 or 4 compositions, a couple of them coastal and a couple of them looking backwards in land to the epic waterfall. As it was with the wet conditions the walk down to the waterfall itself would have been treacherous. But this is a location I definitely want to return to in dry and warmer conditions! When I got to the view point I did try and get the tripod out, (you'll see this in the video) I was determined, but the horizontal rain just kept hitting the lens and this was even before the filters were out of their case. I was fighting a loosing battle. I returned to the car and at this point I was quite dispirited and thought about returning to the refuge of the B&B.

In the end I didn't. I continued up the coastal road to Kilt Rock and there I sat it out in the car at the Mealt Waterfall viewpoint. Because the cloud was light of the sea I was absolutely certain there would be a break in the rain at some point. After about an hour of waiting, the rain didn't stop, but it did hold off just enough to be spitting the odd drop...I ran out and didn't waste any time. No tripod. No filters. I went handheld. I got three shots. The two portrait orientation shots are of the view north onto Mealt Waterfall, and onto Kilt Rock. The landscape orientated shot was facing south opposite the waterfall. 

Leat WaterfallLeat Waterfall

Mealt Waterfalls Kilt RockKilt Rock Kilt Rock

View south of Leat WaterfallView south of Leat Waterfall

Of course I would have loved to have got my filters out and done this spot justice, but I had to bank my shots first and foremost due to the weather. You can see with the photo above just how choppy the sea was. You can see the dark and dramatic skies. What this image doesn't tell you is the strength of the wind (again you'll get a sense of that in the video!). 

Ever the optimist I continued up the coastal road. I decided that even if I couldn't get good quality images I would do some location scouting for the day I'd return. This is important as a landscape photographer. If you have a sense and a knowledge of a location when you return you can really speed the photographic process up, by knowing exactly where to go and at what time. I headed first to Staffin and the Brogan which has a stunning view onto the bay and coast. Again I jumped out the car for another handheld shot.

The view from Brogaig

The image from Brogaig I think sums up the entire day. Grey, misty non stop rain and constant wind. This is as far as I was going to go for the day. Despite my waterproofs I was soaked and decided to retreat to the B&B for the afternoon. By early evening the weather broke just slightly and I headed down to a private beach in Portree to get one last image of the day.

PortreePortree

View on Portree Bay

Having learnt my lesson, I got an early night and set my alarm for 5am. I looked at the weather forecast and saw that the rain was mostly likely to hit from 10am onwards. I wanted to get to Talisker Bay, ideally at low tide which would have been in the evening, but I had to hedge my bets and get there when it was dry.

So the next morning I headed straight to Talisker Bay.

On the drive towards Sligachan I noticed the Cullins in front of me covered in dark cloud. I could see the potential of the road acting as a lead in line, so I parked up and trekked off road to get a vantage point. This afforded me an opportunistic couple of shots which got the day off to a good start.

Road to SligachanRoad to Sligachan

The road to Sligachan.

Road to SligachanRoad to Sligachan

The road to Sligachan.

After this unexpected success, I continued towards Talisker Bay. I am going to write a completely separate blog about Talisker Bay and the morning I spent there because I learnt a huge amount about being a photographer during a couple of hours at this location. Suffice to say, there was a long walk involved, it was remote and isolated, it was hide tide, the beach was full of slippy boulders and despite my best efforts I came away with images I was frustrated with. I just couldn't get into the position I wanted and had to compromise and I hate compromising my creative vision.

Talisker Point

This image wasn't what I was going for. I wanted to get closer to the water's edge and include more of the sea with a slower shutter speed. However inappropriate footwear (wellies) saw me doing a rather precarious rock dance which had the potential to be an ankle breaker at the very best. This is as far as I could get confidently. The bleak contrast meant I decided to go for a black and white conversion. 

With rain drops starting to fall again, I made the long walk back to my car and headed back towards Sligachan. On the first afternoon I'd got some easy shots from the bridge area, but I wanted to explore further and try and get a shot of the Glamaig mountain with river as a leading line towards it. I started my trek riverside in the dry. As I crossed the bridge I could see the fork in the river where I wanted to be but I couldn't get there. The whole area was just a bog. And this time to assure my footing I had my walking boots on, but they aren't water proof. I needed my wellies. Again another poor selection in footwear! So I decided to retreat back the other side of the foot bridge in order to get to a point where I saw another photographer. However I got distracted. First the sun came out. So I did a panoramic.

Cullins PanoramicCullins Panoramic

The Cullins.

Second, I found a stunning small waterfall and pools.

Small brook next to SligachanSmall brook next to Sligachan It was dry enough to get my polariser and little stopper on, and finally I felt I had some control on my photography. I was able to bring the detail out in the water and show the contrasts in the purple heathers and green grasses. I was very happy with this image.

I then trekked back over toward the fork in the river via the foot bridge and the weather turned. The wind got up and the rain started coming in. This was only about 30 minutes after taking my sunny panoramic of the Cullins. By the time I'd trekked back to the vantage point on the river fork, I was once again fighting a gale. I persevered and finally got my last shot of the shoot.

SligachanSligachan Just after I took this shot the rain came in and it was torrential rain. I headed back to the car and subsequently to the B&B. It rained all afternoon. The weather broke again slightly and I rushed out again trying to get up to The Old Man of Storr again, but by the time I hit the road it started raining again. 

I had a good set of images and at least the 10 images that met the brief for Panasonic. The FZ1000 had performed admirably. I'd put it through a punishing 3 day shoot in the worst conditions imaginable. I'd got it soaking wet. It never let me down. For a 1 inch sensor camera in tough lighting conditions the images coming from it were remarkable. As I stood next to Sligachan river I reflected on the mission, and I had a new found respect for fellow landscape photographers. 70% of my work is wildlife and 30% is landscapes. This is slowly changing and moving more towards 60/40 this year. I've been out in remote areas before in search of landscape images. But I'd never experienced somewhere where the elements and weather changed so quickly and so frequently. Despite all my planning, I'd learnt a huge amount not just photographically but about myself as a photographer....how to deal with the frustrations, how to work quickly in tough conditions, how to bank shots first before getting creative, how to endure what's thrown at you, be flexible and resilient.  

The whole experience is documented in a You Tube video below. Please accept my apologies for the varied sound quality due to the wind in the video. It is subtitled at certain points so please stick with it and I do hope you enjoy it. I'm working on an improved audio workflow for future videos. 

Until next time...

 

Jon

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(Jon Bryant Photography) Blog Isle of Skye Landscape Landscape Photography Landscapes Nature Photography Scotland Vlog https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2016/9/the-isle-of-skye-with-the-panasonic-fz1000-part-2 Mon, 19 Sep 2016 12:23:12 GMT
The Isle of Skye with the Panasonic FZ1000 (Part 1) https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2016/9/the-isle-of-skye-with-the-panasonic-fz1000 Part 1 of a 2 part blog

Panasonic asked me to go on a mission with the FZ1000 bridge camera. The mission was to get 10 landscape/wildlife images from a dramatic and rugged location.

I started to plan my trip and I decided that I would visit the Isle of Skye in Scotland. This is an iconic location for landscape photographers, but I had never been there and I was very keen to discover some of the locations I'd read about such as The Fairy Pools, The Cullins Montains, Kilt Rock waterfall and so on. The other advantage of the Isle of Skye is that with a carefully planned boat tour I would be able to view and photograph species such as Puffins and Seals, which would help meet the brief. 

Due to other commitments I could only dedicate 3 full days to the shoot which meant things were very tight and I would be relying on the weather to be my friend....which in the end, it wasn't. So planning would be critical. 

You can watch that planning and preparation in the first of what I hope will be a three part vlog about this shoot, here:

Due to a low pressure weather front hitting Skye around the time of my arrival on the island my planning was pretty much thrown out of the window.  From the airport I had do my best to get on the Isle as quickly as possible to take advantage of what dry weather I had. The light was ok, but there was still a lot of cloud in the sky, so most of the light was being diffused. I decided to plan on heading to The Fairy Pools soon after checking into the B&B and focus on this location for the full afternoon/early evening. This turned out to be the right thing to do. My only regret was not heading The Old Man of Storr once I'd finished at The Fairy Pools. The Old Man of Storr was visible as I drove towards Portree, but after a long days travelling and shooting I opted to get to the B&B and some dinner and rest. That in hindsight was a mistake. If I had just continued up the road from Portree for 15 more minutes I would have had a visible shot of The Old Man of Storr. The rest of my time in Skye, it was covered in cloud and could not be seen. 

On the way to The Fairy Pools I stopped at Sligachan which was on route. This is a spot very close to a hotel and so has a lot of visitors there. It was a fairly easy photo to get in so much as I parked up, walked over to the river and started to set my tripod up for the composition. However it was a waiting game in terms of the number of tourists that would amble in to shot. Once Sligachan was in the bag, I was headed back to the car to get to The Fairy Pools.

SligachanSligachan

Depth and space: The river is surprisingly wide and you don't get a sense of that until you set your feet and tripod in it. You are spoilt for choice in terms of composition. 

One of the things on Skye is that it is stunningly beautiful and the temptation is stop every 5 minutes to get a photo. This is always the dilemma with landscape photography, when to stick to the plan and when to deviate from the plan. As I was driving towards Carbost, I spotted some old boats on the beach of a loch. There was a small track to get down towards that beach so I headed down there. This was an unexpected highlight. I was confronted with a stunning back drop and this old derelict boat as foreground interest. I couldn't have wished for a better scene. I set the camera up and got to work. The weather was very static. There was a lot of wind but a total blanket cover of cloud as far as the eye could see. There was no point hanging around hoping for a better sky. I could have waited all day and it would have still been overcast and cloudy.

Cabost Old BoatCabost Old Boat

Anchor elements: the textures in the boat create interest and the location in the frame is a good foreground anchor to the image. I used the waterline with seaweed as a leading line in to the frame from bottom left to the boat.

I hit the road again and headed down the single track towards the Glen Brittle forest and the car park for access to The Fairy Pools. It is an interesting drive on a single track road with the odd passing place. I can imagine in great weather this would be a tricky drive with lots of visitors. It was surprisingly quiet and I didn't meet much traffic, and I was hopeful then there wouldn't be too many people.

On arrival towards the car park there were lots of cars parked up on the road which was an indicator of the amount of visitors present. On parking up and getting my gear ready the walk was clearly indicated and deceivingly long...​

The path way can be easily seen from the car park, but you don't really get a sense of the pools, the waterfalls or the scale. The view makes things look like they are in miniature, but as you start out on the trail you start to see that the river and waterways cut through a series of pools which are very well hidden until you actually are on top of them. 

The complete walk is long. I have no idea how long in distance, I would estimate at least 3kms if not more. But there is plenty to view on route and again as a photographer this is one of the big challenges. Which compositions do you focus on? And as a first time visitor, every time I continued walking I came across another pool and another composition. That's a good and bad thing. Good because there are so many options. Bad because it can really slow you down, especially in the high season when you have lots of visitors and they tend to roam free in and out of your frame. 

I started out from the car park at around 3pm and I returned to car at 7.45pm. I spent a big chunk of my day here simply because I wanted to really bank my shots at this location and given the dry weather I had. Knowing the forecast for the next two days of my trip was 90% chance of rain, I was determined to capitalise on the dry weather. 

Because of the overcast skies the key filter for me to use with the camera was the soft ND grad. This was to makes sure I could control the highlights. Whilst the majority of the cloud was overcast, gusts of wind on the backdrop of the mountain would create small cloud gaps where light would leak in, and thus create highlights. Using the soft ND grad helped me hold back these highlights and expose correctly for the foreground. The other filter that was essential, given I was working during the day was the circular polariser. This was to cut the reflections from the water and create a much deeper colour in the waters. The other benefit of the polariser is bringing out saturation in skies, especially when you have an overcast day with patches of blue. The polariser will help make that blue pop, and hold back the clouds contrast. The final filter I was using was the little stopper. This was to be able to slow my shutter speeds and blur the waterfalls and create a sense of movement. The little stopper is used a lot for this type of image and can come across as a little cliché with waterfalls, but I like that soft movement look in these type of images. I think they work well. 

Fairy poolsFairy pools

Layers and colours: what stood out to me with this composition was the overlapping rock layers. Whilst it was difficult to get a clear shot of the waterfalls, and position them in a central position of the composition, the copper coloured rock face on the right was an essential inclusion in this composition. 

Fairy poolsFairy pools

Depth: the challenge was often which elements to leave in and out of the scene. This large rock I used as a central focus point, I liked the fact that you see the clarity of the water in the foreground and the light and shadows around the disruptive water pools. 

After a long session of at The Fairy Pools and with light starting to slowly but surely fade I decided to retreat back towards Portree. As I mentioned, my regret was not heading to The Old Man of Storr straight after The Fairy Pools. But sometimes you have to live to fight another day! After a long day travel and a long day in the field my brain was telling me to get some much needed refreshments and rest ready for the next day. There's nothing worse than trying to shoot when you are tired mentally and physically, it just means errors creep into your work. 

Once I returned to the B&B I received a text message from the boat tour skipper. He had to cancel all sailings for the next 3 days due to the weather. So there would be no Puffins or Seals...and this text message confirmed that the next couple of days would be a huge challenge.  

In Part 2 of the blog, there will be a second video which documents all the photography in the field and I will describe the challenges I faced shooting when the weather was against me. 

Stay tuned.

Until next time...

Jon

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(Jon Bryant Photography) FZ1000 Isle of Skye Landscape Landscape Photography Landscapes Mountains Nature Panasonic Photography Scotland Waterfalls photography https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2016/9/the-isle-of-skye-with-the-panasonic-fz1000 Thu, 08 Sep 2016 14:49:48 GMT
Little Owl: New Video https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2016/8/little-owl-new-video Another July outing in the North of Belgium, this time to a specialist Little Owl hide.

Little Owl's are seasonal, and this hide is very popular with Belgium bird photographers. I had to book it for July way back in February with no guarantee that the owls would nest. My first session was booked in early July and I also booked a second session in late July to get some images with the FZ1000 for Panasonic. Unfortunately by mid July the owls had fled their nest and the hide was shut for the rest of the season. Normally they stay in residence for the whole of July but this year for some unknown reason they took off early. It has been a mixed bag for weather this summer, and so on a rather damp and dull early morning I headed to the hide with a hot flask of coffee and my camera bag. 

Here's what happened:

All still images in the video captured with the Panasonic GH4.

Until next time...

Jon

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(Jon Bryant Photography) Animals Nature Photography Wildlife Wildlife photography bird photography birds photography https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2016/8/little-owl-new-video Thu, 04 Aug 2016 15:40:40 GMT
A visit to Zwin Nature Park with the Panasonic FZ1000 https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2016/7/a-visit-to-zwin-nature-park I am a member of a local photography club and the club arranges regular outings and events. These outings are very diverse and are designed to cover a range of different genres so that the all members of the club can get something out of attending one of the events. Naturally the events I like the most are the ones based around nature and wildlife, although I do enjoy some of the other events focused on other genres as it gives me chance to explore other aspects of photography I don't normally cover in my own work. 

Over the summer months two dates were fixed to visit Zwin Nature Park on the Belgium coast right on the border with The Netherlands. Two dates were fixed to accommodate the fact that members would be taking their summer vacations in July and/or August. Therefore the first visit was fixed in July and the second visit is fixed for the end of August. 

As Panasonic had asked me to work on a project/assignment for them in the coming weeks with the FZ1000 bridge camera, I decided that it would be a great opportunity to take that camera with me to Zwin and get to grips with it before the assignment.

The visitors entrance is very modern, with a restaurant/cafe and a visitors/information centre. Entrance for adults is €12, which in my opinion is good value for the day. The domain is large, around 190 hectares and spans across the border into The Netherlands. It spans a 2.3km section of the coast. This gives the park a significant amount of diversity in a relatively concentrated area, with standing lakes and ponds, dunes, a tidal plain and the dunes and the beach. Scattered at regular intervals around the park are observation cabins, including spotting scopes and a member of staff who will happily assist you with some bird spotting. Visiting in summer obviously excludes some of the migratory bird species you are like to see when the seasons change. The main lake area was fairly impressive with a wide range of bird activity. You are first struck by the noise of the birds. There is a small island set in the lake where most of the activity was concentrated. Unfortunately for me the observation centre was just too far away from the edge of the lake to get any worthwhile images. As well as the FZ1000 which has a 25-400mm integrated lens, I had my GH4 with the 100-400mm lens. This has a 35mm focal equivalent of 200-800mm. Even with this lens I struggled to get images. I did observe a Grebe, one of my favourite birds and I was frustrated I was unable to get a shot. The observation centre is just too far away from the waterside for photography in my opinion. It is a shame the Nature Park didn't put the observation centre closer to the water, this would have facilitated better photography for visitors. So it was time to change tactics. I decided to follow the path further and head down towards a couple of the waterways which allowed access into the grass plains area. 

It was here I had some more luck, notably with common gulls, black headed gulls, and common terns. It was interesting to watch the flight of these birds and if you anticipated their behaviour there were some interesting images to be had.

Common gull fishing for a crab.

Black headed gull.

Common tern in flight.

The FZ1000 handled very well. I've very little experience shooting with bridge cameras as I've always shot with DSLRs. I was impressed with the focal length. As a wildlife photographer we often want to have the flexibility of choosing our lenses and focal lengths. I have to say that the 25-400mm for this type of day out worked a treat in 80-90% of situations. I couldn't get images in the observation centre, but I couldn't get an image with my GH4 and 100-400mm lens - it was NOT the fault of the cameras! But once I was down at the waterside and with my experience of bird photography I really didn't think twice about the integrated lens. The burst speed of the camera was also impressive, although the buffer write speed was often the rate determining step, but that is to be expected with this type of consumer camera. 

Landscape of the water channels and grasslands area where you can walk and get closer to the birds.

Even using the cameras with filters, the images held up really well. This after all is a 1 inch sensor camera. As a first try out, I was surprisingly impressed with what it was delivering. I actually enjoyed the fact that I didn't have to worry about changing lenses for different focal lengths. With a bridge camera you just have to change your mindset, and use your feet and position yourself well to get your composition. And I think this is a good thing. So often I think as photographers we get lazy, and default to switching lenses rather than actually scouting locations and positions for the best composition. It is a little different for wildlife, as we can't always control our proximity to the subject. But even with the birds, some anticipation and movement I got into the right positions to make the camera do the rest of the work. 

Getting into position: by observing the common terns I was ready to anticipate the shot. Many thanks to Valerie Sanguinetti for the photo of me in action!

Unfortunately on this particular day I had to cut my visit short. I therefore didn't get chance to head over to the dunes and the beach which I was keen to do. That gives me a good motivation to return on another occasion. I'm particularly keen to go for a walk on the plains, and especially during migration to see what diversity of bird species is on offer.

As I returned to the visitor entrance and car park, you walk past a series of stork nests and just as I was leaving a couple of storks decided to put on a bit of a flight show for us. That enabled me to get my last images of the day. 

Stork in flight.

Stork landing on a nest.

There was something actually quite liberating about going on a shoot with just one camera in hand, a bag full of filters and nothing else. For a start your back back is significantly lighter! But to be able to get great landscape shots and birds in flight was a testimony to what a great all rounder the FZ1000 is. For a day trip, a day hike, or an outing in good daylight, this type of camera definitely has it's place and in my experience turned out to be a super versatile camera. And for those shooters keen on video it shoots a pretty mean 4K image too. 

Stay tuned as in the coming weeks I'll be reporting back on my assignment with this camera for Panasonic.

Until next time.

Jon

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(Jon Bryant Photography) Animal Photography Animals Birds Bridge Camera Landscape Photography Landscapes Lumix Ambassador Nature Nature Images Panasonic FZ1000 Photography Wildlife Wildlife Photography photography https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2016/7/a-visit-to-zwin-nature-park Sun, 31 Jul 2016 17:40:43 GMT
Another bird hide session! https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2016/7/another-bird-hide-session Its been an interesting few months. I've continued to focus on bird photography of late. The bird hides I've been using in the north of Belgium have proved to be a very fruitful experience not just in the diversity of species but in terms of continuing to learn the boundaries photographically of bird photography. If you've been a regular reader of my blog you will have read my opinion that of all the disciplines in wildlife photography, I maintain bird photography is the most challenging. If you get good at bird photography, you'll get good at all wildlife photography. So I make no apologies for sharing another bird hide experience. 

Great Tit

This was a session at the end of June and as it was the middle of our supposed summer that meant that there were many common species active around the hide. I was hoping for some species I hadn't photographed in Belgium notably kingfishers and reed warblers. Alas it wasn't to be my day, neither of those birds were active around the hide. But I was gifted a lot of greater spotted woodpecker activity and a greenfinch (new to me). 

I took the time to film a vlog of the experience which you can watch here:

 

 

All of the shots in the video were taken with the Panasonic GH4 and the 100-400mm lens. This combination is proving itself more and more each time I use it. The incredible focal length just lends itself so well to bird photography. I've been really impressed with the level of detail I've been seeing in the images too. Here's a selection of my favourites from the day:

 

Wren

Robbin

Chaffinch

Great Tit

Greater Spotted Woodpecker

It is going to be interesting to see what these hides will deliver during the seasonal migration. They are very popular with local photographers and often booked months ahead in advance. I plan on returning as there are 8 different hides to choose from with different settings which deliver different species and of course with migration I suspect this will increase the diversity.

Until next time.

Jon

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(Jon Bryant Photography) Nature Photography Wildlife Wildlife Photography bird photography birds https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2016/7/another-bird-hide-session Mon, 11 Jul 2016 08:02:54 GMT
Bird hide photography session https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2016/6/bird-hide-photography-session At the end of May I returned to Nothern Belgium to a specialist bird hide for some bird photography with the Panasonic GH4 and the 100-400 f4.5-5.6 lens. After my first test shots at my local lake which I blogged about here, this was the combo's first real test in a specialist wildlife environment.  Despite great weather in the early part of May, late May and early June have been rather drab and dull affairs, with cloud, colder temperatures and rain. My hide session was booked a little too late in the month of May to take advantage of some of the migrant species, but I did get to photograph some new birds for me, notably, Linnet, White Wagtail, Stone Chat, Northern Lapwing (I've photographed many other types of Lapwing in South Africa) and Oystercatchers.

The big challenge was, as always in Belgium...the light. It was a cloudy day with very low light for the majority of the day so it was a real challenge shooting in Aperture Priority mode and pushing ISOs around 1600-2000 to try and get shutter speeds up to where they should be for bird photography. The GH4 performed admirably. Early doors some noisy geese arrived, clearing the pond and this was during a period with particularly low light. I shot this image at ISO 2000, and with the shallow depth of field and subject isolation, I was seriously impressed.

400mm f6.3 1/1000 ISO 2000
 
Rather than write a lengthy blog on the whole experience, I've shot another vlog style video of the experience which you can view on my You Tube channel. As a side note I've now passed 100 subscribers on my channel since first posting one of these vlog style videos around the end of April. Thank you so much if you have subscribed, watched or commented on a video. I do appreciate your support! Just below I've included a selection of images from the day which stood out for me. Enjoy!
 

 

A selection of images from the day all shot with the Panasonic GH4, 100-400 f4.5-5.6 lens

Oystercatcher

Linnet

Northern Lapwing

White Wagtail

Male Stonechat

Female Stonechat

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(Jon Bryant Photography) https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2016/6/bird-hide-photography-session Mon, 06 Jun 2016 11:23:46 GMT
A springtime case study: Coots https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2016/5/a-springtime-case-study-coots In the last 6 months or so I've become a strong advocate of getting out locally in search of wildlife. I've found that my local lake has provided a great platform to birding photography. I've noticed that there is an incredible diversity across the seasons. In winter I was shooting heron's, Canadian and Egyptian geese. Then at the end of winter I was starting to see the odd fast moving kingfisher, robins jumping out on the path in front of me, and the blue and great tits in amongst the trees. Now as spring has well and truly sprung, I decided to head out again over several days to see what species were present armed with the GH4 and 100-400mm lens combo.

On arriving at the lake I discovered tufted ducks have joined the community alongside the ever present mallards. 

The beautiful and striking Tufted Ducks.

300mm, f9.0, 1/200th ISO 250.

But what has surprised me more than anything was the arrival of a Great Crested Grebe. This got me truly excited. 

But with its arrival, as well as the warmer weather a number of fishermen frequented the lake. Their presence did one single thing, put the wildfowl as far away from the banks of the lake as possible. That meant that I could see the Grebe but I couldn't fill my frame. 

Therefore I returned to the lake several days in a row with one clear mission in mind - getting a great shot of that grebe!

As I walked around the lake I noticed more and more nests. These nests were coot nests. On the first day each nest had a coot sat securely on top of it not moving.

Many nests were sighted around the banks of the lake at various levels of incubation.Many nests were sighted around the banks of the lake at various levels of incubation.

A number of nests were visible at different areas around the lake a few meters from the banks. 

250mm f6.3, 1/1000th ISO 400

Then on the second day I noticed in one of the nests little balls of fluff.

Then on the third day these little balls of fluff had enough confidence to go for a swim.

My Grebe mission started to take a back seat! In fact I saw so much activity with the coot's that I decided to focus on capturing different elements of their behaviour. They are challenging birds to shoot because of their black plumage, it is very hard to get shots of them where you clearly see their eyes. But the coots were putting on much more of a show from a behavioural perspective than the Grebe and so over the 3 or 4 days I walked the lake in search of the Grebe shot, I built up a collection of different images documenting this important season for the coots.

Some of the behaviour is what you would expect from parents feeding their young.

After the third day the chicks left the nest and started to swim.After the third day the chicks left the nest and started to swim.

The balance between being the first fed and safety in numbers. There's always a small group of chicks that works hard to make the approach to get fed first. 137mm, f6.3, 1/2000th ISO 640

But at other times you'd see brutal reminders of the pecking order where one of the parents would attack a certain chick, pecking at it's head and even twisting it in its beak. 

What at first looks like an innocent hand over of food...(see next image)What at first looks like an innocent hand over of food...(see next image)

Some coots have difficulty raising a large brood, and the constant feeding that is required. The chicks will often constantly beg. 

1st Frame: 364mm, f6.3, 1/2000, ISO 800. 

...sustained attack on its own chick...sustained attack on its own chick

The parental attacks concentrate on the weaker chicks and can bee very viscous as seen here. Taking the chicks neck by the beak there is some tousling of the chick. 

2nd Frame: 364mm, f6.3, 1/2000, ISO 800. 

...can sometimes become a brutal attack...(see next image)...can sometimes become a brutal attack...(see next image)

The brutal reality of nature is that of a brood of six as was witnessed with this coot, only one or two may survive. 

3rd Frame: 364mm, f6.3, 1/2000, ISO 800. 

With different coot nests spread out around the lake it wasn't uncommon for territories to overlap. Coots can be very aggressing birds at the best of times often chasing after each other with one giving flight almost walking on the water whilst fleeing. But in one instance a lone coot strayed into waters where a breeding pair were actively feeding their brood. It didn't take long for a viscous battle to kick off, and it was amazing to see just how far out of the water these coots could get when in attack and defend mode. 

Coots in flight run across water, panning at speed with some foreground foliage bokehCoots in flight run across water, panning at speed with some foreground foliage bokeh

A panning image of a coot in flight. As I panned the camera and took the shot I panned with foliage in-between my lens and the subject giving the slight softness to the image and the green foreground bokeh. Despite that I like the effect.

400mm, f6.3, 1/800, ISO 640.

Territorial fighting becomes more intense during egg laying and hatching.Territorial fighting becomes more intense during egg laying and hatching.

The coot to the left of the frame came in to the territory of the two coots to the right of the frame and incurred the wrath! 

100mm, f6.3, 1/1000th ISO400.

With each day I had different lighting conditions and on one morning in particular I shot an image which was much more about the light and the environment than the subject itself. This image could have been of any bird that happened to swim into this section of the lake at the moment these twinkling sun light reflections were occurring - but for me it happened to be a coot! So this image got added to the project!

Early morning light reflecting off the lake.Early morning light reflecting off the lake.

An early morning shot and shooting for the light and subject:

400mm, f6.3, 1/1600th, ISO 500.

Whilst some of the chicks from the nests were out swimming and feeding on the lake, other coots were still sitting on their eggs and tending and defending their nests. With a little patience and sitting tight, I was able to get the moment that the coot decided to do a little nest management, giving an insight into the eggs within the nest.

With a little patience the coot lifts revealing the eggs.With a little patience the coot lifts revealing the eggs.

With a little patience and a focused lens, you might get lucky to glimpse the eggs.

400mm, f6.3, 1/500th, ISO 400. 

Other coots had clearly had their brood much earlier and probably some had already succumbed to other predators. This coot I spotted with one youngster who had clearly hatched earlier and was older than the other chicks I had photographed, however he was the only one feeding from one of its parents.

In other sections of the lake some of the coot chicks were bigger having hatched earlier.In other sections of the lake some of the coot chicks were bigger having hatched earlier.

This coot was feeding one slightly older and larger chick, but only the one. Probably the only survivor of the brood. 

400mm, f6.3, 1/1000th, ISO 500.

As I had collected a number of images showing the different behaviours of the coots at this lake, I've built a specific photo gallery which can be viewed here, showing more shots that I took.

So what happened to my Grebe?

Well you can watch the story unfold here in this video I posted on You Tube:

I did get the shot in the end! But a few days later he was gone...

The grebe shot I spent 4 days trying to get!

364mm, f6.1, 1/1250, ISO 800.

Until next time

Jon

 

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(Jon Bryant Photography) Animals Birds Coot Coots Grebe Grebes Lake Nature Photography Spring Springtime Wildlife https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2016/5/a-springtime-case-study-coots Tue, 17 May 2016 18:52:32 GMT
Becoming a Panasonic Lumix Ambassador https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2016/5/becoming-a-panasonic-lumix-ambassador

It is with great pleasure that I am able to announce that I am now a Panasonic Lumix Ambassador. 

For those of you that have followed my photographic journey and this blog you will know that for a number of years now I have been using Panasonic cameras to shoot HD and 4K video. In fact I have been using Panasonic video cameras since the year 2000 when the world was shooting in SD! My very first camcorder was one that I bought when I first arrived in Belgium and I wanted to document my new life in Europe and the travels that I embarked upon. 

In 2009/2010 I bought a Panasonic GF1 camera which I still own and use, and even though Panasonic have superseded it and discontinued it, I love it. It is probably one of my favourite cameras. It only shot 720p HD video. But the interchangeable lens and the fact it had a intervalometer connection meant I could use it for timelapse. The GF1 was my default travel camera. 

In 2011 I was in Japan and at Yodobashi camera in Tokyo. I was ready to buy the Panasonic GH2 but the sales person in the store told me that the camera menus were in Japanese and Japanese only. That stopped me from buying one. By the time I was ready again to purchase Panasonic had launched the GH3 which I bought at the end of 2011. Since then I have been shooting video with the GH3 and then I traded up to the GH4 in 2014 in order to move to a 4K acquisition work flow. 

My first African Safari with the Panasonic Lumix GH3 where I shot primarily video for my film "Sabi"

2013 was the year that I started to do more and more wildlife stills photography. The past 3 years have seen me regularly travel to South Africa, and I have taken both the GH3, GH4 and of late the LX100 to shoot both HD and 4K video. The one element of the micro four thirds camera system that was holding me back from shooting stills was the lack of a native telephoto lens. And this frustrated me a lot. Why? Because I loved shooting 4K video on my GH4 and I wanted one camera system that could shoot 4K video and stills in a very simple package. Without the telephoto lens, I was unable to really unlock the potential in the wildlife genre. For 4K video there are various tricks and work arounds, like taking advantage of the crop factor on the sensor and also cropping in on subjects in post production. That meant for 4K video a 70-200mm (equivalent) focal length was more than enough. But for stills there was a need for a focal length equivalent >200mm. Various adapter solutions existed but for me I was looking for a native micro four thirds solution for simplicity and ease of use when travelling and on safari. In the back of a moving vehicle you want to minimise time spent switching lenses. You want to have your camera at the ready to capture the action! With travelling to Africa the other inconvenience faced was that airlines continue to reduce hand baggage allowances more and more. Every kilo counts! With the Panasonic GH4 and LX100, I've never had to worry about hand luggage weight. At the end of last year when Panasonic announced the 100-400mm f4.0-6.3 lens suddenly things changed. This was the product release I'd been waiting for and I was really excited at the prospect of being able to unlock the potential of the GH4 not just as a 4K video camera but as a wildlife stills camera too. 

Africa's Big 5 with the Panasonic LX100 from Jon Bryant on Vimeo.

At the end of March I started to discuss with Panasonic the potential to collaborate with the GH4 and the 100-400mm f4.0-6.3 lens with a view to showcasing the camera systems potential in the wildlife and nature genre. After many discussions I was excited that Panasonic showed a keen interest to position their products into the wildlife photography genre and they were excited about getting me on board. I've been so impressed that Panasonic have listened to my experiences to date with their cameras and systems, and have taken them on board in a really constructive way. I feel excited that I can provide input and explore the possibilities to create wildlife imagery with Lumix products. I think that we both feel there is a very good fit and we are very much looking forward to working together.

So what does this mean going forward?

Well obviously as an Ambassador I will be working primarily with Panasonic Lumix products. But as a wildlife and landscape photographer I also have other tools available to me that I may chose to use depending on the project, assignment or type of photography that I am pursuing. Panasonic have been very fair in recognising that need with Photographers. It is therefore important that with any blog, vlog, review or gallery I publish, that I disclose my use of those camera systems and tools (whether they are Panasonic Lumix products or other brands) together with an ethics statement so the readership of my website is fully aware of my point of view and perspective and can take that in to full consideration. Obviously my historic wildlife portfolio has been shot with another camera system and I will be sure to highlight that when I share those images going forward via photo sharing platforms or social media. The majority of my website galleries were shot not on Panasonic cameras for the very simple reason that for wildlife the 100-400mm lens did not exist until very recently. Does that mean my portfolio and work to date ceases to exist or be relevant? No! It means I start on a new exciting phase on my wildlife photographic journey.

I've been out shooting recently with the 100-400mm lens that Panasonic have been kind enough to loan me. It has been great to get my hands on it and take it down to my local testing ground; my local lake! With the warmer spring weather I've been able to take the camera with me and capture nature at work. The coots at the lake have been nesting and I've been documenting their hard work in building and protecting their nests, defending their territory, feeding their chicks and keeping them in order! I'll be writing another blog very soon on my experience and coot 'case study' with the 100-400mm lens, so stay tuned.

Until next time.

Jon

 

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(Jon Bryant Photography) https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2016/5/becoming-a-panasonic-lumix-ambassador Fri, 13 May 2016 09:49:59 GMT
Landscapes and Seascapes on the Belgium-French border https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2016/5/landscapes-and-seascapes-on-the-belgium-french-boarder In my last blog I wrote about visiting a Wildlife Photography Exhibition of a friend (Carole Deschuymere) in DePanne, Belgium. As I left the exhibition I quickly stopped by the beach to catch an amazing sunset. In fact I was late and the sun had already set. But I was impressed by the colours and that inspired me to return. So two days later I did. It was as always, all dependent on the weather. May day fell on a Sunday this year and so I gave a shout out to my photography club colleagues that I had 3-4 spaces in my car and for those who were keen to be ready to get the nod late on Saturday afternoon. Whilst some members of the club expressed a keen interest, the timing didn't suit. My friend Marco was the only one who could join me at a drop of a hat. Rule number one in Landscape photography is that you have to be flexible and be ready to go based on the weather.

This flexibility is so important because the coast is a 2 hour drive from where I live. The worst case scenario would be driving all that way to find a thick layer of dense grey cloud obliterating all hopes of a gold hour sunset. This can so often be the case in Belgium and that would have meant a 4 hour wasted round trip. 

I did some homework before setting off thanks to Google maps and the satellite feature. The beaches in Belgium and northern France aren't the most spectacular in terms of features. There are very few if not any areas where there are cliffs. For cliffs you have to travel about 3-4 hours south to the Baie de la Somme. The beaches on the Belgium coast are relatively flat and sandy. So with that in mind the plan was to try and find some interesting foreground features that we could compose for. My first idea was to head to the French side of the coast to Bray-Dunes where there is an old boat wreck submerged in the sand, and exposed at low tide. It is very well submerged but would have created some foreground interest. Of course that composition is dependent on a low tide, and sunset time coinciding. Which was the case, but I decided to save that for another day. Instead, discussing with Marco we decided to head for the Nature Park "Westhoek". We arrived well ahead of time and parked up, heading straight into the nature park. After 10 minutes we came to a very striking conclusion. In fact two conclusions. The first we couldn't see the beach or the sea. The second, there was no access from the reserve to the beach. Now I understand that the local authorities want to avoid people walking through the dunes and damaging them. I completely get that. But what is the point of having a nature park built on the dunes if you can't actually access them to view their beauty? It would have been great if there had been a boardwalk from the nature reserve to the beach that gave a nice elevated walk to view them. I understand why it wasn't built...it would attract people who wouldn't respect it, who would jump over, create litter and so on. 

I captured the whole 'mission' in my second vlog style video which you can watch on my You Tube channel here (below), whilst the rest of this blog shows the images I captured with some basic explanations. 

With our first plan scuppered, we headed to the beach. We walked the fence line along the beach and the nature reserve. At points the sand actually engulfed the fence posts and barbed wire and it would have been easy to hop over and walk in. Let me say categorically that is the wrong thing to do. Fences should be respected, they are there for a reason, and in this case it was to preserve the grasses and flora growing in the dunes. Instead we explored the fence line where the dunes blended into the beach looking for some foreground interest. 

I liked the shadow and light, and the contours of the sands speckled with sea shells and stones in the foreground. This was shot handheld with the 70-200mm f2.8 lens, lying down with the lens just under the barbed wire fence.

 

Walking the fence line I liked how the top of the dune gave a lead in line to rest of the scene. I exposed for the foreground to emphasise this. I shot this handheld with a 24-70mm f2.8 lens.

After exploring and walking for sometime our GSMs beeped. We'd both got notification we'd crossed over from Belgium into France. Or at least the French mobile phone companies signal was stronger than the Belgium one!

My first image was a surprising one. And unexpected. And opportunistic. I'd set up a composition to make some test shots ready for when the sun hit the horizon. Whilst doing so, a couple of gyro-glidders (I think that's what you call them), took off right in front of me. I've heard many a photographer say, "never shoot directly into the sun". I would always challenge some of these "rules" if it means you can get a creative composition.

I had set up to do a couple of test shots to see what I could get compositionally from this small dune and the ripples on the sand, when suddenly this gyro-glidder took off in front of me. In fact there were two, and I managed to get an image of the second one just after he passed the sun. Unplanned, unexpected, but an effective result!

Whilst waiting for the sun to set we went closer to the waters edge originally with the intention to create a seascape with two yacht's. The yacht's moved quicker than we anticipated and were directly under the sun as we set up our tripods. However I noticed a bird on a pole in the sea. It was quite far out and I wasn't able to identify it by eye. Later when I imported my image I was able to see the distinct silhouette of a cormorant. I was really happy with this composition as it combined wildlife with landscape photography. I only had a 70-200mm f2.8 lens with me, and if I'd had my 300mm with 2X teleconverter I would have got a great shot, but had to sacrifice my filters. Sometimes in photography it is better to keep things simple and stick to my personal wildlife photographic philosophy of "animals in their environment". The result image for me was a real surprise and proof that sometime in photography it pays to stay flexible in your surroundings and create imagery. 

My favourite image of the day. Totally unexpected. Having observed the poles from the beach my technical brain was telling me they were too far away for an effective composition. As I approached the shoreline my creative brain kicked in. Spotting the bird, I realised that if I got pin sharp focus on the subject with a slight crop in Lightroom this image would work. The key to this was to expose for the sea and sky, and the resulting silhouette is very striking. Bird experts will easy i.d. it!

Staying next to the sea the wait continued and once the sun had gone behind the clouds I captured one 'seascape' before quickly retreating to the dunes to get set up ready for the actual sunset. It is always good to get set up ahead of time. Sunsets happen in the blink of an eye when you are photographing them. I always remember the first time some years ago I tried timelapsing a sunset and I remember being so frustrated I hadn't arrived sooner. I'd set my camera up and within 5 minutes the sun had disappeared. That was a very valuable lesson in landscape photography!

 

Using a soft grad and polariser, the sun provided the most intense colours when it went behind the cloud cover. The white glare on the sea shows that the light was still intense at that time. Underexposing was key to creating this image. On the left of the frame you can see another one of those poles. I decided to leave it in the composition.

Retreating back to the beach, I set up with a small dune and grasses as foreground interest. There is a large section of beach between the dune and the sea and the element I was debating was lowering my camera further to try and eliminate this. After a few attempts I realised that it just skewed the composition in terms of the shoreline and the horizon. As the angle of the shoreline was not perfectly horizontal, having some of the beach in the composition helped the viewers eye. Without it, the horizon and shoreline for me were conflicting. I took two shots with different exposures, one exposed for the foreground and one exposed for the sky and blended them to get the final image of the day.

The final composition of the day proved the most challenging. The dune was cast in shadow with very cold light. I chose to shoot two exposures for a blended final result to get some foreground detail with the patterns in the sand. I debated lowering the camera angle and tried it, but felt the shoreline angle was better composed by including some of the beach in the composition (despite all those footprints!).

What amazes me each time I photograph sunsets is just how much the colours change as the sun drops and how much the cloud also impacts the colour strength in the image. As the sun just dropped behind the cloud in my seascape image, the shadows and colours are more intense. Once the sun was just above the horizon the light softened considerably with less harsh shadows in the clouds. 

 

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(Jon Bryant Photography) https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2016/5/landscapes-and-seascapes-on-the-belgium-french-boarder Sun, 08 May 2016 10:39:46 GMT
A little piece of Africa in Belgium: Carole Deschuymere Exhibition https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2016/5/a-little-piece-of-africa-in-belgium-carole-deschuymere-exhibition On Friday 29th April I was invited to the opening of Carole Deschuymere's Exhibition opening "Wild van Afrika" in De Panne, Belgium. It was an absolute pleasure to be invited to the opening.

For those of you who may not know Carole's work....where have you been? :-) No, seriously, for those of you who haven't come across Carole's work I highly recommend that you check out her social media streams and website. Carole's journey started (if I am not mistaken) in 2010, and for the past 6 years she has built a seriously impressive portfolio of wildlife images from across Africa; Botswana, Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa. As a fellow wildlife photographer what strikes me when you view Carole's work is that there is a very distinct photographic style, when I view Carole's work, I know it is hers. And I think that is probably one of the best compliments you can give a fellow wildlife photographer. 

Carole's images are on display in De Panne a town located on the Belgium coast, at the Dienst Cultuur (Culture Centre, Zeelaan, 21, De Panne, Belgium), from 30th April through to 21st May. All the details can be found at the following website (which is in Dutch, but the opening times are easy to figure out Monday-Saturday 9:00-noon and 14:00-17:00). 

Carole has a range of images on display from many different reserves in Africa. In recent years Carole has been focused on Mana Pools (Zimbabwe) which is one of the few game reserves that allow walking safari which has generated some very unique sightings that Carole has captured. If you like big cats you are in for a treat too as Carole has some truly amazing Lion and Leopard images on display. As a fellow wildlife photographer I know it is with pride and a great sense of satisfaction that Carole has been able to put on an exhibition. There is nothing like seeing the images you've captured, all your hard work, in print and on display being admired by the public. 

If you are in the area, or happen to be visiting Belgium in the next month I recommend taking time out to visit the exhibition. De Panne is a really nice seaside town and it would make a great day out to combine with a visit to the dunes and the beach which themselves make for great landscape images!

Congratulations to Carole on what will be a successful exhibition!

 

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(Jon Bryant Photography) Africa Animals Belgium De Exhibition Nature Panne Photography Wildlife photography wildlife photography https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2016/5/a-little-piece-of-africa-in-belgium-carole-deschuymere-exhibition Sun, 01 May 2016 08:01:56 GMT
Spring time landscapes and new content! https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2016/4/spring-time-landscapes-and-new-content It has been almost 1 month since my last blog. 

I will admit things have slipped in April! Since my return trip to the UK for the photography show I spent two weeks with the family on vacation in North America. I made a deliberate decision to disconnect from social media for that time; no Facebook, no Instagram, no Twitter. I needed the mental disconnect and time to reflect. 

It has felt like a very long winter and a very wet one. We have not had the cold weather and snow we normally expect, but instead a mild-cold fluctuation which saw unprecedented amounts of rain. I have been feeling very frustrated photography wise due to this constant "monsoon". My last serious outing with the camera was in February at the bird hide. But since then despite all my planning I've not got that window of opportunity weather wise when the time would allow.

This week has been a frustrating one, yet I finally got some rich rewards! Each spring a local woodland located just south of Brussels explodes with an incredible bloom of woodland anemones and bluebells. It lasts from early/mid April to around mid May. There is a 4/5 week window of opportunity to get some spectacular nature images. I'd gotten word on my return from North America that the bluebells had just started to bloom at the beginning of last week. So I checked the weather forecast looking for a dry day with good sun light. We don't get a lot of blue sky days in Belgium so I have to be happy with partly cloudy. Looking at the forecast however was an exercise in frustration itself. Every day the 3 day forward looking forecast was different. Every day predicted to be sunny, the next day it should it would rain. So I just had to go and take a punt...

One of the things I spent time reflecting on when I was on vacation is my focus. For sometime now I've been wanting to move more and more into landscape photography. I have always focused on landscape photography but it has been about 10% of what I do, the rest being wildlife photography. I have all the kit needed since some years; lenses, filters, the lot. So I've decided to try and put more effort into doing this, and by blogging about it, I make the commitment that I'm going to do it! No turning back.

In addition to that I also wanted to explore how I can create content as I make this shift in focus. I'm not stopping wildlife photography. No. I am making a shift that will mean I'll try and get a balance between the two genres. I enjoy watching You Tube videos created by landscape photographers as they create their images. I find the videos not only inspiring but educational in a sense that it shows the planning and commitment in finding the locations and the timing needed to create images. I come from a background in video and filmmaking but I tend to be the one always behind the lens. But if I enjoy watching such content I asked myself "why not create it?". 

So time to put a plan into action...

On my first trip to the woodland I decided to make a video about it. The video format is inspired by an extremely talented landscape photographer I follow, so I take no credits for developing anything original in the format, other than me, the location and my thoughts. But I wanted to use a format I enjoy watching. A talented photographer friend of mind always tells me "don't over complicate or reinvent the wheel"! 

Over time when I hit my stride I will look at how I can use my video making skills to evolve the format as best I can and try and continue to make videos.

So with that said, here's my first outing this spring time season and my experiences trying to get some decent landscape/nature images. 

 

It has to be said that this woodland is extremely popular. Since making the video I have returned on two occasions; early mid week and very early on a Sunday. The Sunday proved very popular, I counted no fewer than 40 photographers in the small areas I was concentrating on. And it is important I emphasise this "small area". The outing on the Sunday saw the first opportunity to photograph in good sunlight just after the sun had risen. This is where I think you can tell the calibre of a photographer. I walked into the woodland, just far enough from the parking area to obscure that from view, but close enough to the woodland to take advantage of the suns light. There was some cloud cover so it was a question of waiting for the sun to come out to play. This gave me time to compose one or two compositions, with two different focal lengths so when the sun did come out I'd be ready to go. As I was waiting, it was interesting to watch other photographers walk past me, snapping away. Some gave me puzzled looks as I stood there, kit bag open, just waiting and taking no images. Experience has taught me you can only take so many photographs of bluebells! This was a waiting game...

I'd been up at 6am on a Sunday. Sunrise was just before 7am and there was light cloud cover. Around about 8am, the magic happened. I had this composition in my mind all week, and my previous two trips hadn't yielded anything close. I'd ended up playing about in poor light, and using a macro lens doing close ups to at least have something in the bag for my efforts. In photography when you get the light, it changes everything! So as a postscript to the video - here are the four compositions I got in those glorious 2 hours on a Sunday morning surrounded by a score of other photographers.

I've heard a lot of photographers say you should never shoot into the sun. I couldn't disagree more. For sure it isn't the preferred way of shooting, but for the images I wanted to create; a contrast of shadow and light, I had to shoot directly into the sun. My technique was to use the suns rays on the blue bells as a "key" light and exposed for that. One of the challenges I had was eliminating lens flares from the sun in the composition, especially flares close to the centre of the sun. I made a rooky error and at 6am left home without the lens hood for my 24-70mm f2.8 lens. Note to self - always pack your kit bag the night before! These things happen, no point in dwelling on them. I took the lens hood from my 70-200mm f2.8 lens and whilst it doesn't fit I attached it anyway and cobbled together something that would help. The sun didn't show itself for very long so it was important to work very quickly and also change the angle of the lens so that the trees trunks would shelter the sun itself reducing the effect. 

This is the 5th year I've been to this woodland to photograph it. Last year I didn't go. I didn't go because I was struggling for inspiration on how I could take an original composition. A year on, with more experience and a clear vision of what I wanted to achieve, I was able to go with a clear plan of how to execute the photograph. I'm very happy with the results and that in planning and executing a creative vision of an image, I've accomplished what I hoped for. It is very satisfying despite the fact I had to preserve with the Belgium weather. Essential lessons in photography; planning and perseverance.

Until next time... 

Jon

 

 

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(Jon Bryant Photography) Bois de Hal Bois de Halle Countryside Photography belgium landscapes landschap nature photography https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2016/4/spring-time-landscapes-and-new-content Fri, 22 Apr 2016 13:38:11 GMT
Sadness https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2016/3/sadness

(Thank you to the originator of this image on Facebook: no copyright infringement intended).

A very different topic for my blog today. It is difficult to know where to begin. 

Belgium has been my home for many years. It's a place I chose to settle in, and start a family. My family is a mixed nationality family; I am British, my wife is French and my daughter was born in Belgium. In all the years I've lived here one of the biggest attractions has always been that there was such diversity here. Many of our friends are from multinational families, races, and religions. Belgium despite it's linguistic divisions, for me has always been a country on inclusion.

Yesterday's attacks in Brussels leave me with a huge sense of sadness. Brussels Airport is somewhere I am very familiar with. In fact I was there just 36 hours before the attack. I walked past the departure hall. I walked past those check in rows, I walked past the Starbucks. I was greeted at the "Kiss and Drive" by my wife and daughter. We were everyday people, going about our everyday business, just like those people killed and injured yesterday in the attacks. 

Just like Paris in November, Brussels and Belgium will go through much soul searching in the coming days and months. I come from a country and a generation that had to endure the threat of domestic terrorism. Belgium is having to learn very fast. But believe me when I tell you, don't underestimate Belgium or the Belgiums. They won't stop living. They won't give in to fear. This is the country that loves it's beer, french fries, and chocolate. It is a country where strangers will share a joke whilst queuing at the checkout. It is a country where "Carnival" is a national holiday. It is a country where the people have no heirs or graces...and its a country where fundamentally the people look out for one another and are good neighbours. My passport may same I'm British, but my heart is with my extended Belgium family. 

You are in my thoughts and and I am deeply saddened. 

 

Jon

 

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(Jon Bryant Photography) https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2016/3/sadness Wed, 23 Mar 2016 11:10:35 GMT
The Photography Show: My top 3 highlights https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2016/3/the-photography-show-my-top-3-highlights I had a very hectic weekend in Birmingham at The Photography Show. It was great to be back in my home town, and representing two of the things I have a true passion for; Africa and Wildlife Photography.

My main reason for being at the NEC was to support the Jaci's and Pangolin stand at the show. As a frequent traveller to South Africa and someone who has been part of the recent launches of the Terrapin Hide and the Jaci's Photographic vehicle, it was an honour for me to be invited to the show and talk as an independent traveller/photographer about my experiences with Jaci's. My number 1 highlight was meeting many of you who came to visit the stand. Thank you! It was such a joy to talk all of you that visited the stand about your interest in Africa and Photography. I hope many of you will visit South Africa and take a safari of a lifetime with Jaci's/Pangolin.

From left to right: me, Janine Krayer (Pangolin Photo Safaris), Jaci Van Heteren, Jan Van Heteren (Jaci's Lodges), Guts Swanepoel (Pangolin Photo Safaris).

With so many visitors to the Jaci's/Pangolin stand, I had very little time to walk the show myself. However as a Panasonic GH4 shooter I was very very keen to get my hands on the new 100-400mm f4-5.6 lens. I've been using the GH4 for nearly 2 years now and have shot many videos in 4K on it when travelling to Africa. I love the form factor, the video friendly features and the 4K image on this camera. The files are a dream to edit with, acquire in 4K, and drop into a 1080p timeline and you have an image that sings! The one element to this camera system that has been missing for me is a quality lens that would allow me to take wildlife images with it. Well at the Panasonic booth they kindly allowed me to put the lens on my GH4 and have a play. This was my number 2 highlight of the show. This is a serious piece of glass. It feels the most sturdy and well made of all of the Panasonic native micro four thirds lenses, of which I own many! But the zoom range is phenomenal. At 100mm I seemed to be projected to the opposite end of the exhibition hall. At 400mm, I was on the main stage! With the GH4 in 4K mode having a 2.3X crop factor the 100-400mm lens becomes a serious contender for wildlife as it is effectively a 200-800mm lens. Did I mention 4K? That's 200-800mm in 4K! That's insane! Think of the potential!!! This lens retails at around £1300...and if you think of Canon or Nikon equivalents in that category we would be talking some serious money. I was so excited playing with the lens and chatting to the Panasonic folks about it, I completely forgot to take a photo of it! So here's one of the press photos from launch. It's a beautiful piece of glass and will be a welcome addition to my GH4 camera system finally unlocking the power of stills for wildlife photography with this camera. 

On the Saturday I had 30 minutes spare to watch Canon Ambassador Andy Rouse present his experiences with another 4K video-stills hybrid, the Canon 1DXmkii. This 4K-stills camera is another category altogether. It costs £5199 on launch. Personally I still think compared to other 4K mirrorless cameras on the market it is a little on the steep side. I actually think Canon would have done better to price it around the £4000-4500 price range. Like this it would have slotted nicely into the market just above the Sony A7Rii and Sony A7Sii offers. But Canon do their own thing, as we well know. Rouse pitched the camera quiet hard. I wondered just how many pro's were sat watching him in the audience that had a budget of 5 grand? Probably very few. It looked like there were quiet a few of his FotoBuzz community in the seats and I don't think many of them could justify the cost of such a camera. Rouse did a fine job of explaining the value proposition of the camera. It's all about high ISO low light shooting and getting your shutter speeds up without worrying about noise. And that means that you can put extender on long lenses and even at f8 (so 2X an f4 fixed focal length), you can pump the ISO so high, your shutter speeds are high enough to shoot wildlife and aviation with next to no noise. Oh, and then there's also some Auto Focus fine tuning going on, 4K "at the touch of a button", 100 frames per second 4K slow motion, and the AF tracking feature with the touch screen. Even if the price point is on the steep side, I tip my hat to Canon, there's some serious technology in that body.  This for me was my number 3 highlight. The only cloud to it, I couldn't get close to the camera at the Canon booth there were so many people.

Andy Rouse, Canon Ambassador talks about the new 1DXii.

As a bonus, I finally subscribed to my favourite photography magazine: Outdoor Photography. Not living in the UK, I can't get hold of it, and never really got round to subscribing. It's a truly fantastic magazine which is really up my street for the type of photography I do. I will now get it delivered to my door monthly and by way of subscribing I got a free edition of the Outdoor Photography book with the winners and finalists from the 2015 competition. 

Now all that's left for me to do is sign up for the Adobe Creative Cloud offer for the Lightroom and Photoshop package and my Photography Show for 2016 will be done.

See you next year :-)

Until next time.

Jon

 

 

 

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(Jon Bryant Photography) Canon Lightroom Outdoor Photography Panasonic Photography Photoshop https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2016/3/the-photography-show-my-top-3-highlights Mon, 21 Mar 2016 18:42:45 GMT
Canon: exciting times! https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2016/3/canon-exciting-times I'm not a fan boy. I have a very healthy love-hate relationship with the three brands that I choose for my creative tools. Namely Canon for stills photography, Panasonic for videography, and Apple for photo development and video editing. These 3 brands have the capability of delighting me and frustrating me beyond belief in equal measure...

As I prepare for a return trip to the UK, and my home city of Birmingham for The Photography Show at the NEC, I have to say for once I am excited about some of the cameras that Canon are finally getting out in to the market. I have been critical of Canon's desertion of the hybrid stills-video shooter market, after they originally created it with the Canon 5dmkii. Their high end positioning for 4K with the so called "Cinema" line has put their 4K products way out of reach for many an enthusiast and one-man professional shooter. Sony and Panasonic have jumped on this with much more affordable offerings, but with the caveat of different lens systems. Whilst adaptor work arounds are now the mainstream, for me when I am shooting wildlife, I just want one camera system and one set of lenses and the ability to flip a switch from stills to 4K. 

With the launch of the Canon 1DX mkii, it would seem that the camera I have been wanting has now finally arrived. It is a shame that Canon still won't cascade 4K down to the successor of the 5Dmkiii, although I suspect that is coming later this year. I believe Canon will wait until they have healthy sales of the 1DXmkii and retiring the 1DXmki completely before bringing a more consumer oriented 4K stills-video offer forward. 

When Nikon launched the D5 and D500, I wrote a blog that they had basically launched two game changing cameras. I still believe that. I even said to photographic friends that if Canon didn't get their a*ses in gear this year I would be switching brands. I can't keep going back to Africa with two camera and lenses systems in my camera bag. Not long after I made that bold statement, Canon announced the 1DXmkii. 

I'm not a huge fan of walking photography shows and drooling over gear. I'm pretty much beyond that phase in my photographic journey. But I will admit there is a part of me that is hoping the 1DXmkii will be on display. I'd like to really get a feel for this camera, because I do intend to purchase it. And given the price it is a major purchase. But I don't need to justify it, because I've been waiting since pretty much the launch of the 1DC for Canon to address a more affordable offering for the hybrid 4K video-stills shooter. The 1DXmkii isn't cheap, but it is cheaper than the 1DC, and it does have the coveted 4K video mode (albeit with the usual Canon caveats!). This will be the one camera that allows me immense flexibility in the field to switch between stills and 4K video seamlessly. 

There are a few 1DXmkii out in the wild. Vincent Laforet has put one through its paces for surfing photography, and closer to Europe, Andy Rouse has had one. Rouse will be giving a presentation at The Photography Show about his experiences with the camera. Interestingly, he has also been part of a promo video for Park Cameras (UK) which gives a good general overview of the camera. As with all camera reviews/endorsements, my advice is to take them with a pinch of salt. Solicit multiple reviews and opinions with any purchase of this magnitude. It's always better to actually try before you buy (including renting) to make sure the camera is really for you. I'd also advise against pre-ordeing one. I've had experience with pre-orders (another Camera brand) and getting batch 1.0 from the manufacturer to find a whole plethora of teething problems that have caused lots of headaches and a lot of wasted time with firmware upgrades, and arguments to get warranty fixes done. I think it is best to wait for others to buy and fully test the cameras and report back. If teething problems are found, you won't have to be part of the painful solution as a consumer! Subsequent models manufactured should ship with revisions to give you peace of mind when using the camera. Unfortunately it is the way of the world today that camera manufacturers will launch products that simply haven't been fully tested, and so they update and fix post launch. It is what it is. Be savvy about this.  

 

Another Camera I have been very surprised by is the 7Dmkii. When that was launched last year I was like, "Meh". It seemed underwhelming to me. As a 7D owner since 2009, I've worked with that camera for the bulk of my work and it's now seen better days. Whenever I pick the 7D up, the biggest frustration is the ISO performance in low light which at times is just unworkable. When I bought my 5Dmkiii it was a revelation in low light compared to the 7D. During my last trip to South Africa I was fortunate enough to shoot with the 7Dmkii. Now for those of you who aren't aware the 7Dmkii is an APS-C sensor as opposed to a full frame sensor in the 5Dmkiii. This means that images from APS-C cameras don't have the same level of depth of field, especially wide open, and overall have a slightly different image aesthetic compared to full frame cameras. After spending a week with the camera I was seriously impressed. This is nothing like it's predecessor the 7D. It has a new sensor, and the auto focus system from the 1DX. Even though I had the 5Dmkiii with me, on my last shoot in South Africa, 80% of my images were with the 7Dmkii. The main advantage of the 7Dmkii is the APS-C sensor which gives you an effective crop of 1.6X. This means that with the 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 lens, you have a 35mm focal equivalent of 160-640mm. For wildlife that is an incredible focal length range to have, but for birding it's an essential focal length range. I also played with the camera at higher ISOs and in low light. For me the Canon 5Dmkiii still comes out tops, which is normal given it is a full frame camera. However the 7Dmkii was miles ahead of its predecessor the 7D. I was very comfortable raising my ISO to 2000 on the camera and being able to easily treat the noise without any issue in Lightroom. The other aspect of the camera that really surprised me was the image aesthetic. If I look at images I've taken on my 7D versus my 5Dmkiii, there is really no comparison. Aesthetically the 5Dmkiii images win hands down. But when I did the same exercise with the 7Dmkii, for me the image aesthetic was well on par with the 5Dmkiii. After shooting with the 7Dmkii for one week I was very very impressed. If you are just starting out in Wildlife Photography, I would say that in terms of price point and the features the 7Dmkii packs in, you can't go far wrong. I am hoping that there will be a deal on the 7Dmkii at The Photography Show because I'd like to add one to my kit specifically for birding, taking advantage of that 1.6X crop. 

Stay tuned next week where I will report back on my experience at the show and if I get my paws on the Canon 1DXmkii I'll share my thoughts.

Until next time...

Jon

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(Jon Bryant Photography) Cameras Nature Photography Wildlife photography https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2016/3/canon-exciting-times Wed, 16 Mar 2016 09:49:18 GMT
Biting the hand that feeds you https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2016/3/biting-the-hand-that-feeds-you

In chatting with a fellow photographer about recording audio when shooting video on a DSLR, I was reminded of an experience I had some years ago when the video-dslr movement had started to take off (around 2009). I wanted to find some educational content on how to record audio when shooting video to share with them, and this brought back memories of an experience I had. 

When Canon released the 5Dmkii it allowed filmmakers and photographers to shoot cinematic style video. It was a game changer. Professional quality looking video was available in a $2000 package. It created waves in the industry. 

There were professional video shooters who were adopting the technology very quickly and realising that there were many caveats to getting video enabled DSLRs to work on professional shoots.

There were amateurs who were buying these cameras and suddenly creating amazing looking, cinematic, independent productions.

These two worlds were about to merge and the lines between amateur and professional became blurred fairly quickly.

But because making the most out of shooting with these video-enabled DLSRs required some camera craft, not all of the amateurs using these cameras were able to get to grips with them quickly or sufficiently well. Some professionals in the industry saw an opportunity: education. 

There were suddenly a lot of educational offers on the market, in many different guises. I bought into one, a video training series. The brains behind the series was a professional filmmaker. He'd identified the opportunity and put the production in place for this educational series of videos. After I'd bought it I was an advocate. It was a great video series and well produced. It was a huge help to me and the quality of my own video productions improved significantly. The dslr video filmmaking community was relatively close-knit at that time and I was advocating the video course I'd bought. I was saying good things about it, and the person behind it.

The video-enabled DSLR filmmaking revolution continued and created a filmmaking 'democratisation'. Amateurs were turning pro. Professionals were ditching traditional video cameras and seeing the value in DSLRs and they were charging clients more money as a result.

Many pro's were sharing their experiences through social media, blogs, websites and video webcasts. A small concentration of filmmakers had become recognised experts in DSLR filmmaking and had quiet a following. The brains behind my educational video had also built a series of DSLR filmmaking workshops and was specifically targeting amateur filmmakers looking to increase their skills and knowledge.

This professional took part in a webcast video that I watched. I was considering paying to attend one of his workshops (they weren't cheap!) and so I decided to watch the interview live as I wanted to learn more about this professional and understand a bit about them.

It was during this interview he made a mistake.

During the webcast video the interviewer asked him a question about the impact that video-enabled DSLR cameras were having on the industry and the fact that filmmaking was becoming more accessible and democratised beyond professionals. 

His answer was that the amateurs now turning pro and now working as independent filmmakers would never be able to match the production levels of a professional, and that much of the independent work being produced lacked quality. 

This answer simply wasn't a true reflection of the reality of what was happening in the industry. Many newly turned pro's and independents were producing incredible work and it was being viewed extensively on video sharing sites for all to see. On another social media video this "professional" had said that as a result of one of his workshops some amateurs had turned professional and were charging clients "$'000s a video" based on what they had learnt with him. He was telling his target audience that he was the guy that could help them turn pro and create a business.

With this one statement he'd basically trashed a large percentage of his target audience: amateur and enthusiast filmmakers. He was totally contradicting himself. On the one hand he was ready to take money from the small guys trying to make a step up in the world looking to attend his workshops, but on the other was saying how their work would never be as good as the pro's!!!

This "professional" clearly wanted to protect his own business and client value without understanding he had another target customer audience he was pulling revenue from. That very customer base he had been targeting was now being perceived as a threat and he made the mistake of trashing the work that group were capable of producing. However, this didn't stopping him from pitching his workshops to that target customer group.

It was just stupid business practice. 

The result was I didn't sign up for  his workshop.

I also no longer advocated him and his courses or methodologies, including the one I'd bought.

His actions and behaviours through social media streams were poorly thought through and lacked an understanding of his own target market. He'd let his ego and status as a professional get the better of him. He felt threatened that his own video production business was at risk and prices might fall by new entrants coming into his market. These new entrants were the very market he was targeting with his workshops.

He was biting the hand that fed him.

It was stupid, just plain stupid.  

What I learned from that experience is that real professionals tend to get on with things quietly and deliver an outstanding customer experience. Professionals think things through and understand the impact their profile and behaviour has on their business, brand, reputation and credibility through every stage of the buying cycle, from consideration to purchase through to advocacy. Professionals understand the importance of prospective clients, current customers and historical customers in equal measure. 92% of customers trust recommendations from people they know [1]. A word of mouth recommendation is the primary factor behind 20-50% of purchasing decisions[1].   So as a professional, how you treat historical customers is just as important, if not more so, than how you treat prospective customers. Statistics will tell you it takes an average of 7X more cost to convert a new customer than retain an existing one [2]. Existing and historical customers are low hanging fruit. Treat them well, they'll repeat purchase. And they'll probably advocate to others. However 68% of customers leave a company or brand because of the treatment they have received [2]. Worse, if you behave in a way that looses a customer, you are more likely to push them towards your competition. Not only will they potentially become an advocate for your competitor....they won't be saying good things about you along the way either. 

It is easy to think that with the social media we have at our fingertips, we have all the tools necessary to become marketing savvy and present ourselves, our business and our brand to prospective customers. But if you take to the airwaves with agendas, gripes, or worse saying or doing something that negatively impacts even one customer....you need to seriously rethink your business practices. At the very least you come across as inconsistent and lacking credibility. At very worse you are loosing customers. 

In whatever business you are in, it never pays to bite the hand that feeds you. 

Until next time.

Jon

 

 

 

 

 

Source 1 - http://www.business2community.com/infographics/statistical-argument-customer-advocacy-0837692#6j7VXjOtU5IqkVKa.97

Source 2 - https://blog.kissmetrics.com/retaining-customers/

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(Jon Bryant Photography) https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2016/3/biting-the-hand-that-feeds-you Tue, 08 Mar 2016 19:51:53 GMT
Owls in winter https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2016/2/Owls-in-winter Winter this side in Northern Europe for the most part has been a mild and wet affair. We've had a ridiculous amount of rain fall in December and January, and temperatures that have stayed north of zero. The past few weeks we've seen the clouds move on and cold fronts come in. With the lack of a real winter season this year its felt like a long long winter. And on this day - the 29th February - a leap year, my thoughts are happily turning to warmer spring weather already!

Keeping the camera skills sharp is important. The town where I live has just set up a photography club. Friends of mine are founding members and I decided to jump on board. In all honestly with the current projects I have on my plate this year, finding time to spread my wings into other genre's will be difficult. But I decided to join the club because I felt I could benefit from it. First I think that I can learn from others independent of photographic experience. I've seen that already with many club members having an incredible amount of creativity and creative vision. Second, I think I can contribute to others who want to learn more about camera craft and post processing, where I have the most amount of experience.

A few of our photo club members, wrapped up warm and taking aim at a Kookaburra.

Every month the club has an photography day, an outing to an agreed event, or place and a photographic theme. I've been a little spoilt already as two of the themes have been around animals and nature and this was the case with yesterday's outing.. Some members of the club hesitated with this outing. I think the idea of wildlife photography still conjures up ideas of having long lenses and expensive equipment. Prior to the outing I did my best to reassure members based on a previous experience I had at the International Birds of Prey centre in the UK. I shared my gallery of images from that experience, and I explained that I had just a 70-200mm lens with me which I used for both portraits and the flight demonstration without any issues. I also reinforced the point that it wasn't the equipment that was important but the way in which we as photographers used our current cameras to create images. Some of the group are into macro photography and I encouraged them to think about the finer details with birds to focus in on things like eyes, beaks, talons and feathers. Despite sub zero temperatures, we had a great turn out, heading south to the Ardennes to an Owl/Birds of Prey centre, there were about 25 of us present. 

These types of centres are great practice grounds for wildlife photographers. Some will argue "it's not wildlife, they are captive animals". At the end of the day, these animals are wild, but live in a controlled environment. Of course they aren't truly wild and free, but for me they represent species that are wild. For those of us who don't have an abundance of accessible wildlife these centres offer a great day out, much needed shooting practice and a lot of fun. Not that it matters one bit, but if you are interested I had the 5Dmkiii with the 100-400 f4.5-5.6 mkii, and the focal length on a full frame was more than adequate.  

The day consisted of a first session shooting portraits of owls, buzzards and hawks. The handlers introduced us to the birds and we all flocked (sorry for the pun) around eagerly taking images. One of the things I try to do in my own photography at these centres is to create the feeling that these birds are in fact wild. Why? Because I think that creates a challenge in itself in how to frame a composition and the timing of when you take the image. You don't have the luxury of creating an image of an animal in its environment, so you have to think outside the box. 

A stunning owl, time to look for something a little different than the conventional portrait.

After the first session we retired to the cafe for a much needed hot drink, before heading out with 3 owls to a woodlands area. This was the first flight demo. despite it being mid morning, cloud had rolled over and the light had gone. I was pushing ISO 2000/2500 and still getting inadequate shutter speeds for birds in flight shots. This meant I had to be very selective. I did come away with a couple of shots I am very pleased with.

A grey owl just taking off. Timing was critical for these types of flight shots when the owl is reading directly towards you.

The big challenge with flying owls or birds of prey are the talon leathers, or even radio transmitters. This immediately tells you that it's a captive bird. There are certain flight positions where the owl's talons go up, and that's when they launch off a perch or a branch. After that, in mid flight, the talons come down and you see the leathers. So timing the shot is key. 

A barn owl named "Stella". At just 480g in weight, with a wind she had to work a little harder during the flight demo. 

After this flight demo, we retired again to the cafe to defrost and have a bite of lunch before heading back out to another flight demo this time with Kestrel's. Kestrel's fly crazily quick and for me I just couldn't pick them up in my lens quick enough to get a shot. The handlers brought out a bigger bird, this time a red-headed vulture. However, this one didn't want to go very far from his handler and so that made flights very short and not very high! We then moved to another area where we were able to witness and owl flight demo. This was a lot of fun to watch, especially the barn owls, which at just 480g in weight and with a reasonable wind on the day, struggled to get any air speed. For most of the photographic group this provided a good opportunity to get shots in flight. 

Being able to spend some time with different birds meant going beyond portraits and looking for details. I loved the blue flecks in the feathers of this Kookaburra.

The final flight of the day was a yellow headed caracara. This was a native South American bird and as he walked out his cage without any tethers on his talons I was amazed to watch how this bird was so relaxed. He put on an incredible flying display and rarely wanted to come back to the handlers for a food offering. Instead he seemed happy to do some wide loops before landing on the two perches on offer before heading off again. His flight speed was good, but direction was a little unpredictable, especially with the wind. Even so, he gave me one of the best shots of the day.

One final shot of the day, a yellow headed caracara.

Despite the cold, it was a great outing and one that reaffirmed my passion for all things wildlife, nature and outdoors. Belgium may not be the centre of the universe as far as wildlife is concerned, but its great to make the most of what we have on our doorstep.

Until next time.

Jon

 

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(Jon Bryant Photography) https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2016/2/Owls-in-winter Mon, 29 Feb 2016 20:21:02 GMT
Adventures in bird photography https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2016/2/adventures-in-bird-photography As much as I would love to be able to jump in my car and with a few hours be self driving in a big 5 game reserve on a weekend, unfortunately the reality of where I live means I have to adapt to the local conditions!

Ever since I started wildlife photography I have maintained that bird photography is one of the most challenging disciplines. For a start it requires very long (and sometimes heavy) lenses with focal lengths of 500mm plus. It requires incredible patience, a very keen and sharp eye, and incredible camera craft and skill. Of all wildlife photographers out there, the ones that get my respect the most are the bird photographers. They are a dedicated and highly skilled group of photographers. Having tried to capture birds in flight, I know just how difficult it is to get the shot. So when I see incredible images of birds of prey in flight, kingfishers diving and coming up with a fish, or an african fish eagle with a successful hunt, I am astounded at how the photographer has captured the shot. 

A soggy field & winter woodland in the north of Belgium - from this view you would never know of the photographic potential lying within (iPhone pic).

I've become increasingly more interested in bird photography the past 12 months. During last years trips to Africa I was coming back with more and more images of birds. The challenge was always trying to remember the name of the bird you shot once you get back and start to look at your images! But given birds are something I can easily find on my doorstep, I've started to put more effort into bird photography. I will admit, that my knowledge of birds is very low. I think this is something that attracts me to do more bird photography, identification. One thing I did at the end of last year was invest in a good birding book. I've bough the Collins European Guide to Birds, pretty much the authority for birding in Europe. 

This winter I had a plan to actually set up a hide in my garden. I had observed both Blue tits and Great tits, Robins, and even Jays visiting on more than one occasion. The plan I had in mind was to set up some bird boxes in the the trees and then some feeders along with various perches that would allow me some control to the subject location and the backdrop. The backdrop which would impact the depth of field and bokeh of the image is so important given I live in an urban area with a small garden. In the end I postponed my back garden hide for a very simple reason, weather. This winter has been so mild we have had record levels of rain water. This in turn has mean that our garden is more of a marsh bordering on a lake! So I have postponed plans until Spring/Summer when the weather drys out a little.

The view from the outside of the hide. Inside you have to work on your knees, but it is still very comfortable and heated (iPhone pic)

In place of this back garden project I found some bird hides in the north of Belgium. They are operated by a local land owner who has a total of 8 hides and is constructing a 9th. Having that number of hides gives an incredible diversity, including a grassland/marshland hide, and a little owl hide starting from April/May each year. I decided for my first hide session to reserve one of the more general hides which had a small reflection pool. This hide was well known to be very productive with several species of birds and so I envisaged coming back with some diversity of images which would be a good first initiation to bird hide photography. 

The hide was situated in a secluded woodland, and given all the rain we'd had, it required a soggy walk to get there. But inside it was very comfortable with good seating and heating. There was a window, meaning the hide was closed, with the exception of two low floor level portals which could be used to get low angle and reflection shots. My reservation started at just after 8am. 

The first thing you noticed was the lack of natural light shooting in winter. I had my Canon 5Dmkiii with the Sigma 120-300mm f2.8 and the 2X teleconverter, giving me a focal length of 600mm and a lowest f stop of 5.6. I set up my camera in aperture priority mode and dialled in my "go to setting" which were f6.3 and ISO 800. I pointed the lens out of the window, took a look in the viewfinder and saw a shutter speed of.....wait for it....1/25th. WHAT?

Now, I've shot wildlife at 1/25th before, but normally when I'm in creative mode, panning shots and so on. I use slower shutter speeds after I've banked my shots. I never start a days shooting at 1/25th of a shutter speed! I needed at least 1/320, preferably 1/600 of a second with the focal lengths I was using. Ideally I wanted 2X the focal length of 600mm so 1/1200th. I was using a tripod so I knew that pushing the ISO up would help the shutter speed. But even going to 1600, I was getting 1/125th. I dropped to f5.6, my 5dmkiii now showed a shutter speed of 1/160.

"Right" I thought. "This is going to be a waiting game"!!!

My view during a 6 hour session (iPhone pic).

As the birds landed in front of me, I poured a hot coffee from my thermos flask and watched and waited. It was a grey, dull, windy day and the surrounding tree cover (even without leaves) held back what little light there was. I needed just a little more light to get a shutter speed that meant I was going to get sharp images. Observing birds you realise that they have very erratic movements. They move very quickly, even their heads seem to move in a staccato movements, almost twitchy, micro movements...and if you don't have a fast enough shutter speed, you won't get your subject close to being sharp. However with all the bird activity outside, the temptation to start shooting even with such low light took over. The arrival of a red squirrel was a welcome distraction. Even though this red squirrel moved quickly, compared to birds this was a subject I could photograph at lower shutter speeds. 

Around 10am the cloud thinned and light started to come through. Fortunately there was a constant turnover of birds visiting the hide. Most notably a pair of great spotted woodpeckers. With their striking black and red plumage they were frequenting two tree stumps which straddled the hide just in front of me.

Great spotted woodpecker

At one moment I had both the woodpecker and the squirrel in the same frame. That made for an interesting and unusual shot, both subjects seems completed unperturbed by each other presence. Because of the lighting conditions I decided to use a shallow depth of field and focus on the foreground subject of the woodpecker. The subject separation could have been slightly better, but under the circumstances I am happy with the shot.

The woodpecker and the squirrelThe woodpecker and the squirrel

The woodpecker and the squirrel. 

There were plenty of Chaffinches that came to visit, along with Bramblings. The Bramblings were particularly striking with orange plumage. I was hoping to isolate one on a perch, but unfortunately I didn't get that shot. They tended to be flock ground feeders and I could never really isolate one in the way I wanted. The Chaffinches on the other hand were pretty aggressive and tended to force their way in. 

ChaffinchChaffinch

Chaffinch

It was a pleasure to see birds that I was very familiar with from my home in the UK, notably the Robin, Blue Tit and Jay. The Jay is one of my favourite birds, but interestingly when the Jay arrived all other birds fled. The Jay seemed to have a formidable presence amongst the other birds and even the opportunistic Chaffinch or Great Tit that flew in hoping to ground feed would do an about turn as soon as they spotted the Jay. 

RobinRobin

Robin

Blue TitBlue Tit

Blue Tit

JayJay

Jay

As a first foray in to bird photography goes I was very happy with the session. I stayed a total of 6 hours inside the hide and only left when I found that the turnover of birds was repeating itself and I was getting many of the same shots as I had earlier in the session. The one exception was an unusual bird who'd visited twice, moved extraordinarily fast, and I managed to get a shot of just as I was packing my gear up. It was the last shot of the day. I had to identify the bird with my guide when I returned home but found it was called a Tree Creeper. 

 

Tree CreeperTree Creeper

Tree Creeper

As a result of my first experience with bird hide photography, I've now made successive bookings for some of the other hides in May, June and July. I may even make a return to the same hide in April to try and work in better spring day light and see if I can get that elusive Brambling on a perch shot. I think it will help me continue to hone my camera skills in between trips when I am shooting larger animals in Africa or elsewhere. I have a theory that if I can get good at shooting birds, it can only make me a better wildlife photographer. Only time will tell if my theory holds. 

 

Until next time.

Jon 

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(Jon Bryant Photography) Animals Belgium Bird Birds Nature Ornithology Photography Wildlife photography https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2016/2/adventures-in-bird-photography Sun, 14 Feb 2016 17:31:32 GMT
Free videos for exposure https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2016/2/free-videos-for-exposure Peter Delaney wrote an excellent blog entitled "Free photographs for exposure" - please go and read it. It is an excellent blog and I agree 200% with Peter's view.

Why?

Well, for those of you who follow my blog and know my background, I was much more involved in video prior to moving into wildlife photography. Video is my background, it's where I come from, it is where I found/find my creativity. 

I joined Vimeo, 7 years ago. At that time I was transitioning from traditional video camera to video enabled DSLR. Back in 2008-2009 Vimeo had a thriving community of very supportive amateur, semi pro and pro filmmakers. I've made good friends via Vimeo. I've collaborated via Vimeo. It was a great place in those early days. Slowly that community has diminished in my opinion, as Vimeo moved towards business models that were focused on their own revenue generation. I've felt in recent years Vimeo have focused on raising the bar of their platform to pro filmmakers at the expense of aspiring filmmakers. The small guys can no longer get the exposure they once used to on Vimeo and that I think is a real shame. My relationship with Vimeo has changed of late and I use it very differently today than I used to. I no longer spend time consuming content, commenting, engaging and so on. Today I use Vimeo as a platform for housing my own videos for personal viewing at home to share with friends and family.

But I still have a lot of videos that are public to view and people can like and comment and add them to their own groups as they like. If other filmmakers are inspired by some of my films then I'm happy about that. I have over the years had a number of approaches from various entities asking about my videos, including mainstream television. Some were informal enquires for embeds, others were agencies looking to "acquire" my video without any monetary exchange. I'm not that foolish. 

Since my safari trips to Africa starting back in 2013, the number of enquiries about has increased. I've made 3 or 4 separate videos about my travel experiences in Africa and my journey as a wildlife photographer. These videos seemed to have gained much more interest. They are not meant to be production quality videos. At the end of the day I've been travelling to Africa for photography, so juggling a DSLR with a heavy lens, and a video camera isn't easy! However my videos are of a high quality and they are designed to give the viewer an insight to what it is like to go on safari, and what you are likely to see and experience. The video that has gained the most interest is the very first video I have made: Sabi. It's one of my most successful videos and most viewed on my Vimeo account with almost 8000 views. That is a high number of views for my profile and my video portfolio on Vimeo. What I found was the video, Sabi, had been embedded on a couple of commercial websites where it was used for promotional purposes. I have had to issue a couple of take down requests, because a) the video was never made for commercial purposes and b) they were taking without asking. And that is where I take issue: when people don't ask. Asking to use the video is ok. Because it opens dialogue and a discussion about a win-win. And it's that win-win I want to discuss in this blog, building on what Peter wrote about. 

 

Sabi from Jon Bryant on Vimeo.

The video in question, from 2013 - "Sabi"

As a wildlife photographer and videographer, I've spend the past few years building a portfolio of images, and there is a cost associated to that. The cost of equipment, the cost of insurance and the biggest ticket item, the cost of travel. Then there is the cost of my time. 20% of making a video is when you are in the field. 80% of the work is in the edit suite. Videos don't just make themselves. Stories and experiences are crafted in the editing process. Then there is music. As a non commercial filmmaker, I use license free music. That costs me money. It isn't as expensive as commercial use music licenses, but it takes a huge amount of time to find the right music, and then you have to pay to use it. That 6 minute video you are watching and enjoying...that cost me a lot of time, effort and money to make.

A couple of weeks ago I received an email from a Travel and Tourism Magazine. The email stated that they were "...one of the world's leading travel websites and we are about to embark on a major transformation of our website"...they continued...."this <website> will soon offer a selection of high quality video content - images, information and commentary - of countries throughout the world".

Sounds good doesn't it?

Then came the pitch...

"We have viewed your work and would like to invite you to include it in our upcoming catalogue <on our website>.....If you would like to come on-board and further expose your work on Sabi, your website and your blog to our global travel audience, all we require is permission from you to do so – in an e-mail confirming that you agree to the inclusion of your video"

With this email were a range of links to their website video platform showcasing these travel videos and a copy of the latest published (paper and electronic version) magazine edition. Both of which were monetised with advertising.

In a nutshell: Free videos for exposure!

The email originator was part of the editorial team at this magazine. I composed my reply:

"Many thanks for outreaching regarding my video "Sabi". It is always flattering when someone enquires about my work. In your email there was no mention of your terms and conditions regarding remuneration for such content appearing on your website. Could you clarify that in more detail?"

The reply I got was interesting. I won't go into all the details. I had a couple of email exchanges with the magazine making my point. Finally I got an email stating that they were just a small boutique publisher and didn't have any budget to pay content creators. This was a complete turnabout given the first email I received opened with "our <magazine> website is one of the worlds leading travel websites"!!!

What I was shocked about is how many videos they have already secured via this tactic. People really are signing up for this.

But they should not!

Amateur or professional, asking for videos for exposure is not a win-win. What this is, is a magazine asking for free content for their revenue generating website and magazine. They make money, and they are not prepared to offer a share to you for your hard work in using your video content

Don't sell yourself short. The video YOU made isn't worthless! "Exposure" will not fund your next video project. Giving these types of magazine will help them secure content and advertising revenue!

Ultimately, giving any form of your content away is devalorizing photography and videography, and I don't want to be a part of that process because there are many pro's out there who earn a living from this craft that I love. 

I won't be identifying the magazine in this blog. The fact that this magazine is asking to use my video on their website means it has a value to them. I am not going to sell myself short and neither should you! 

 

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(Jon Bryant Photography) https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2016/2/free-videos-for-exposure Thu, 04 Feb 2016 16:00:11 GMT
Nikon just changed everything https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2016/1/nikon-just-changed-everything

The new D5 launched by Nikon

It is rare I blog about camera technology. There are other websites that do that much better than I can. However, overnight, Nikon announced two new camera bodies, the D5 and the D500. I believe one of those cameras is a game changer. 

Before I get going, let me state I am a Canon shooter. I have owned a 600D, a 7D, and now a 5Dmkiii. I also am a Panasonic shooter and have owned a GH3 and currently own a LX100 and a GH4. The question is why I have spread myself across two different brands?

Well the answer is simple: hybrid video-stills capability. 

Canon were the pioneers of video on DSLRs with the Canon 5dmkii. If I tell that story I will turn this blog into a rant. But fast forward from those early game changing days of hybrid stills and video and 4K video is now the acquisition technology of choice. It just is. People say you don't need it because little is broadcast in 4K but the bottom line is that as an acquisition technology, everyone is moving to 4K. If you want to sell stock video clips, the criteria is often stated "preferably 4K". There you have it in a nutshell. Canon's offer for hybrid-stills 4K video was the 1DC, a camera launched at $15000 which took a hefty price drop in 2015 and is now retailing around $8000. Meanwhile the successor of the 5Dmkii, the 5Dmkiii was underwhelming in terms of video performance. The 70D added a useful auto focus feature in video mode, but not much else. Canon have continued to saturate their DSLR line up with the 500D, 550D, 600D, 650D, 60D, 6D, 70D, 7D, 7Dmkii and so on. With all these DSLRs did the video capability improve? Not so much. Did they include 4K video. No chance. 

So customers like myself who have a need in wildlife photography to shoot stills and 4K video have been left waiting and frustrated. It has been clear that since their first success with the Canon 5Dmkii, Canon have pretty much abandoned the DSLR-video hybrid market and focused on their pro end video business by segregating 4K video as a very expensive feature. 

This is why I bought into the Panasonic system. It's far from perfect, but it is affordable, and with a few tweaks here and there the camera can be set up nicely to deliver a high quality 4K image. The downsize is the lens system; micro four thirds. The lenses are limited for choice especially at the long end, and with the micro four thirds sensor, your creativity is stifled though limited shallow depth of field. The stills capability on the GH4 still isn't for me. The aesthetic of stills from the GH4 just doesn't come close to my Canon 5Dmkiii. But the GH4 does come with a whole bunch of video friendly features; focus peaking, zebras, audio monitoring etc. All things still lacking on Canon DSLRs. You can use Canon lenses on the GH4 but this requires an expensive adapter from Metabones (other adapters are available!). It's a workable solution, but not as good as a native lens solution. I previously wrote a blog on mirror less systems for wildlife here.

What I have needed for nearly 18 months to 2 years is a Canon native lens DSLR that shoots stills and 4K video...under $4000. Sony have made leaps and bounds in this area with their A7Rii and A7Sii. Those are full frame 4K capable hybrid cameras, but again require buying into a new lens system or relying on adapters. I don't want to do that.

And the reason I don't want to do that is I want my kit bag to contain 2 bodies and 3 lenses maximum. Having 2 camera systems and two lens systems means more kit, which means more weight and more insurance when travelling. 

The D5 - rear view

Nikon have just announced their high end D5 camera with an indicated price of $6500. The specs of the D5 are below:

  • 20.8 MP CMOS sensor with Max Resolution of 5,568 x 3,712
  • EXPEED 5 Processor
  • Flat Picture Profile, Zebras
  • 3,840 x 2,160 1.5x crop / 30 fps / 25 fps / 24 fps
  • 1,920 x 1,080 Full-frame / 60 fps / 50 fps  / 30 fps / 25 fps  / 24 fps
  • 1,920x1,080 3.0x crop / 60 fps / 50 fps  / 30 fps / 25 fps  / 24 fps
  • 1,280x720 / 60 fps  / 50 fps 
  • High quality available at all frame sizes, normal quality available at all sizes except 3,840 x 2,160
  • Recording Time: 
    • 4K/UHD 3 minutes (HQ only)
    • 1,080 50/60p 10/20 minutes (HQ/Norm)
    • 1,080 30/25/24p and 720 50/60p 20/29:59 minutes (HQ/Norm)
  • Video Format: MOV — H.264/MPEG-4 Advanced Video Coding
  • Record Uncompressed 8-bit 4:2:2 3840 x 2160 from the HDMI Port
  • Phase Detection AutoFocus: 153, 99 cross-type
  • Native ISO: 100 to 102,400
  • Expanded ISO: 50 to 3,280,000
  • In-Camera 4K Time lapse
  • Memory card slots: Dual XQD or Dual CF (this card slot is apparently interchangeable)
  • Continuous Shooting: Up to 12 fps at 20.8 MP for up to 200 frames in RAW format14 frames per second with mirror up
  • Shutter speed: 30 seconds to 1/8,000 sec
  • 3.2" 2.36 million dot LCD (Touchscreen only for certain functions in Live View and Playback)
  • Viewfinder: 100% full-frame, 
  • 1/8" Headphone, 1/8" Microphone, HDMI C (Mini), Micro-USB, Nikon 10-Pin, USB 3.0
  • Built-in Stereo Microphone, WiFi with Optional Transmitter
  • Battery: EN-EL18a
  • Weight: 3.11 lbs. / 1415 g with battery and memory cards for CF version (XQD slightly lighter)
  • Availability: March 2016

With the D5 there are some caveats when shooting 4K and so it seems Nikon has added this to a D4 upgrade as a "nice to have" feature rather than a serious film making tool. Notably a 3 minute recording limit in 4K. That's ok for stock footage, but for interviews and other video projects it will be very limited. 

But it is actually the Nikon D500 which I think is a game changer. Here is the presentation video from Nikon:

 

And here are the specs:​

  • 20.9MP DX-Format (APS-C) CMOS Sensor with Max Resolution of 5,568 x 3,712
  • 23.5mm x 15.7mm Sensor
  • EXPEED 5 Image Processor
  • Flat Picture Profile
  • 3.2" 2,539k-Dot Tilting Touchscreen LCD
  • 100% Coverage Optical Viewfinder
  • 3,840x2,160 / 30 fps / 25 fps / 24 fps 
  • 1,920x1,080 / 60 fps / 50 fps / 30 fps / 25 fps / 24 fps 
  • 1,280x720 / 60 fps / 50 fps 
  • High quality available at all frame sizes, normal quality available at all sizes except 3,840 x 2,160
  • Recording Time: 29:59 in 4K/UHD and HD
  • 153-Point AF System, 99 Cross Type
  • HDMI Recording: Uncompressed UHD 4:2:2 8-bit
  • Electronic Vibration Reduction in 1080p
  • Native ISO: 100 to 51200 
  • Expanded ISO: 50 to 1,640,000
  • 10 fps Shooting for Up to 200 Frames
  • In-Camera 4K Time lapse
  • Shutter speed: 30 seconds to 1/8,000 sec
  • Dual card slots: one XQD and one SD 
  • Built-In Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and NFC
  • In-Camera Time Lapse, Up to 9999 Frames
  • 1/8" Headphone, 1/8" Microphone, HDMI C (Mini), Micro-USB, Nikon 10-Pin, USB 3.0
  • Weight: 26.9 oz. (760 g)
  • Availability: March 2016

 

Nikon's new D500 - front view

The D500 can recorded uncompressed 8 bit 4:2:2 from the HDMI in 30/25 and 24 frames per second. It's a world camera!!! However there is also a caveat with shooting 4K on the D500 and that is that it records 4K as a crop. Already the D500 is an APS-C sensor and so has a 1.5X crop, and in 4K mode there is an additional 1.3X crop of the sensor on top of that. However this should allow a very robust and clean 4K image. The proof of the pudding is always in the eating and I will be keen to see some first 4K footage from the camera. 

Nikon have release a showcase video shot in 4K on the D5 as an example. It's certainly a beautifully crafted piece:

So why do I see the D500 as a game changer?

The price.

Nikon have launched this at $1999. That's a APS-C stills camera on a par with Canon's 7Dmkii with 4K video included under $2000. Remember that the D500 will open up a whole range of creative possibilities with their wide range of lenses, including long telephoto lenses for wildlife photography and cinematography. The D5 is launched at $6500, so very much a high end pro camera, and the successor to the D4. But the D500 is really putting 4K to the masses and now giving Sony a run for their money in the more traditional DSLR space over mirrorless. I believe this camera will be as ground breaking as the Canon 5Dmkii was. It will once again democratise filmmaking at 4K and allow a whole range of photographers and videographers to shoot both stills and video. 

D500: A smart move by Nikon to include an articulated rear screen which video shooters love to use.

Nikon has long been Canon's number 1 competitor. Canon can no longer sit back apathetically. I suspect that Canon have something cooking for NAB 2016. I don't like rumours, but I've heard various rumours along the lines of a 4K capable DSLR in the 5Dmkiii space and a 1DX mark 2 with 4K included. I dismissed these rumours when I heard them. But now having seen what Nikon has launched, it makes me wonder how Canon are going to compete by not having a camera in the D500 or D5 space. I hope Canon wake up. It's time for a 5D stills camera (full frame) to have 4K video on it including 24 and 25p to make it a world camera and focus peaking and a headphone jack for audio monitoring. That's the minimum requirement now. As for pricing...well Canon can no longer play the "Cinema" line game and keep pricing high. Panasonic, Sony and now Nikon have made 4K affordable and Canon need to wake up that 4K is no longer a "professional" capability, but a mainstream consumer demand. They have to come in under $4000 for such a camera. 

The next quarter is going to be interesting. If Canon don't deliver something by mid year, 2016 might well be the year I switch to Nikon. I'm done with Canon's marketing games between their cinema line and DSLR cameras. I invested in them and their system, and I strongly believe when they have customers locked in for a serious amount of money, they have a commitment to bring technology forward in a timely and affordable manner. To date they have been more than tardy. Let's hope in 2016 they finally catch up and make their customers happy again.

[Nikon photo credits: Nikon Press Centre]

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(Jon Bryant Photography) https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2016/1/nikon-just-changed-everything Wed, 06 Jan 2016 12:28:23 GMT
First blog of 2016: Best wishes for the year to come! https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2016/1/first-blog-of-2016-best-wishes-for-the-year-to-come I ended 2015 with a blog which reviewed my year. It was good to look back and reflect on the photographic accomplishments and experiences from the year. Over the holiday period, like many, I spent the time with family and friends. This year we were in France on the Normandy coast. One of my reflections from 2015 was how I'd wanted to shoot more landscapes, but didn't really manage to. I think this was in the back of my mind on my arrival in Normandy. 

I had about a 2 week period off and did very little. After a very hectic year with travel, the end of the year is a period where I prefer to put things on hold and recharge my batteries. However, I do take a small camera bag with me for recording family events and alike, and so the temptation to go out and photograph is always there. We have had an unprecedentedly warm winter in northern Europe this year. Most of December has averaged between 10 to 15C. So the temptation to go out with the camera was there...and with the northern Normandy coast on my doorstep, one morning I succumbed!

The view from the cliffs overlooking Arromanches-les-bains, Normandy.

I got up at 7.30am and drove down to Arromanches-les-bains on the coast. This is a small coastal town with a lot of history due to it's strategic position in the second world war and the construction of the Mulberry Harbour, an artificial harbour used to support the Allies ground offensive in Normandy. Parts of the harbour remain today, and can be seen and even visited at extreme low tides. Arromanches is also the location where the Normandy cliffs more or less start. Further to the east the coast is relatively flat with sand dunes and open expanses of beaches, but from Arromanches onwards further west, the cliffs are dramatic. When I arrived at the 360 degree viewing point there was a howling wind. One which toppled my tripod as soon as I placed it in position. It was dark, and even though the sun had risen the light was not yet fully up. I took just two shots, one which is a panorama stitch and the other which is the image above, slightly zoomed in on the cliffs. I actually like this image better. Those blocks in the sea are the remains of the harbour. Looking at the sea wall, I decided to head there and see what I might find.  

By the time I'd driven into the town and parked the sun was up and the light had completely changed. There was a small wave coming in on the harbour wall and so I used a ND grad filter and a slow shutter speed to take this coastal image.

Look at the horizon of this image to the right and again you will see some of the old harbour blocks sitting out at sea. The light was now golden, the wind had removed the cloud cover and the scene looked like it was summer and not mid December. 

Before leaving I hesitated over one final composition. A small jetty was being washed over by a hide tide wave. I had to walk past it to get the coastal shot above, or should I say, run past it, at the risk of getting wet. I was hesitant because I knew I wanted to show the shutter speed down to capture the movement of the wave and would have to put the camera in the impact zone of the wave. I put a vari-ND filter on the lens, which allows me to reduce the amount of light entering the lens, and still slow the shutter speed. I had 3 or 4 attempts each time having to grab the tripod and bail before the wave flooded over my position. Here is the end result...

The jetty at Arromanches-les-bains using a slow shutter speed.

Whilst I like the motion projected in the wave, the end result doesn't really work for me. I should have changed the orientation of the camera to portrait and created a better lead in line with the jetty. I should have also used a slightly wider angle, here I was at 70mm due to keeping my distance. I should have tried to have got closer and gone for a 35-50mm range. Alas, I had no wellies with me, and my ball head isn't ideal for holding portrait positions. I also think that if you have a doubt in your mind how to execute an image you just won't execute that image. Here my focus was not to get wet, and hope to get the image. If I'd been in a position to focus on getting the image without the worry of getting wet, then I would have got the image. A lesson in landscape photography for sure! Build the composition in your mind and execute on it, don't hesitate. It would seem then for 2016 I've identified two areas for improvement! A new ball head and a pair of wellington boots!

Anyway, I think 2 out of 3 isn't a bad hit rate for landscapes, especially when you are really out there just for the fun of it. I realised something that I already knew...if I'm going to increase the number of landscape images in 2016, I will need to plan carefully and dedicate much more time to it. It isn't a genre that is going to provide you multiple images in a session. It's a genre that requires a huge amount of dedication, planning and effort. It's going to be interesting to try and make it happen in 2016!

So wherever you are, I hope you had a restful and peaceful end of 2015 and wish you all the very best for 2016!

cheers 

Jon

 

 

 

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(Jon Bryant Photography) Coast France Landscapes Nature Normandy Photography Seascapes https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2016/1/first-blog-of-2016-best-wishes-for-the-year-to-come Mon, 04 Jan 2016 08:51:21 GMT
2015: My year in review https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/12/2015-my-year-in-review At the beginning of 2015 I sat down with a piece of paper and wrote "2015 Photographic Plans". I then wrote a series of goals for the year in front of me. I filed this away and then came back to it a few weeks later. I then looked at it again and asked myself "which of these goals support my photographic journey?". Any goals that didn't, I scrubbed them off the list. Why did I write such a plan in the first place?

Focus.

I think it is really important to have focus. I also think it is really important to have some goals in mind that you want to aim for as a photographer. By setting goals, I think we set a course, a path, a journey. And for me that journey is the most important thing, irrespective of whether I actually achieve the goal(s). If I hadn't of sat and wrote down a list of goals, I think I would have lost focus, even become complacent with my own photographic journey. And as a result I probably wouldn't have learnt as much as I did this year, and certainly my photography wouldn't have progressed as much as it did. 

The last thing I am going to do is list my goals and review them on this blog! But I do want to share a number of my highlights. I actually broke my goals into a number of categories: 1) Craft 2) Presence/Exposure 3) Competitions 4) Gear. So what were the highlights?

1) Craft

Without doubt this years highlight was the photographic safari to Amboseli and Tsuavo in Kenya with Andrew Beck (Wild Eye). Not only was this an incredible destination, but this was exactly what I needed at exactly the right time in my own photographic journey. I'd made strides in my photography during my trips to South Africa in the previous couple of years, but I had started to produce the same types of images. I needed a completely new "canvas" and some critical insights into my shooting. Kenya and Andrew provided that. The wide open landscapes of Amboseli meant I got my first real test of shooting at longer focal lengths (upto 600mm). I was able to start composing the sorts of 'wildscapes' I'd longed to shoot and alongside a photographer who's work I admire. Being among like minded photographers was also a very inspiring aspect of the experience and to see how different photographers approach the same scene. This single experience helped me raise my game. I came back with incredible images, incredible memories and an immense amount of enthusiasm and motivation to continue my photographic journey. 

Literally "our home" in Kenya - these photographic vehicles were where we shot the majority of our images whilst in the reserves.

2) Presence/Exposure

This was an interesting category to write goals around. As photographers we are surrounded by social media and the sharing of images on a daily basis. I had to ask myself a simple question when planing 2015. What should my presence be? Not all exposure is good exposure. Social Media comes with many pitfalls. But I recognise that having a presence online is very important, especially if you want your work to get noticed, but also benchmark where your work is, to see if your craft and your photographic vision is evolving.

I had to remind myself that there will always be photographers better than you and there will be photographers who are not so good as you, but the importance is not to be "the best", but to create images that represents your vision. So with that in mind, in 2015 I decided that I wanted my Facebook page and Website to be focused on sharing my experiences, my learnings and my vision of wildlife photography. If someone were to ask me to describe my photography I'd give a simple answer "I'm an accidental wildlife photographer". I never set out with the intention of shooting wildlife. I fell into this genre by accident and by circumstance. And I'm glad I did, because I have a passion and a love for it. But if you were to ask me what my perception of wildlife photograph was before I started practicing it, I would have said that it was a realm of intimidating photographers with long lenses and attitudes. That is the perception the genre had. Now I'm practicing it...well yes there are egos...but there are some incredible pro's out there who are open, approachable and supportive. I've been lucky enough this year to engage with quite a few of them. The ones I admire the most are the ones who recognise how and when its appropriate to give a helping hand for the good of the genre overall...and do not feel threatened by that. And to that end, the content I produce I hope benefits the community, whether you read this as a beginner or a pro, I hope the content I create helps to some degree.

This year I've written 30 blogs with a total of over 3500 views. On this website. I've written two guest blogs for Wild Eye in South Africa. I've written an article for Africa Geographic. However, I still maintain I am a small fish in this domain! To all of you that have read one of my blogs or articles, and who have; agreed, disagreed, commented, engaged, been inspired to responded with your own content as a result of me provoking a thought, or got something/anything from it....THANK YOU. 

An article I wrote which was publish in Africa Geographic focusing on hide photography at Jaci's Lodges in Madikwe, South Africa.

3) Competitions

Was there a highlight in 2015? My only goal was to go through the experience for the first time of submitting to the Wildlife Photographer of the Year award along with >40,000 other entries. For me it was nothing more than a punt. But I wanted to go through the experience of selecting my images and see if I learnt something from that. Indeed, my own selection process taught me a lot. The process of self reflection of your own images can be a very positive experience and at the end of the day it isn't worth getting too caught up in the whole competition thing. For me it was a way to review some incredible sightings and ask myself a) do I think them worthy to submit? and b) would I have shot the image any differently knowing what I know now? Two insightful questions to reflect on, on your own photographic journey.

This image wasn't a submission, but the process of submitting made me look at my work through a critical eye. It helped me challenge myself in creating images going forward and to not be scared of conforming to what people perceived as a "good" wildlife image by trying new and different things. 

4) Gear

Cameras are tools and they will always be superseded by new technology, that is inevitable. But there comes a time when you have to be honest and ask yourself if your creative vision is being restricted by the camera in your hand. I never ever thought that by buying a better camera I would take better pictures. But I did realise my old and trusty 7D was not up to the job on African safari's. After my trip to Sabi Sands in November 2014 I had overly noisy images of incredible wild dog sightings that pretty much cemented my decision. It was time to step up to full frame. In January 2015 I wrote "Buy a 5Dmkiii"....3 months later at The Photography Show at the NEC, UK, I bought one. I got an incredible deal and I've never looked back. In Kenya, I shot 80% of my images on that camera, with the 7D being relegated to some wide angle landscapes. In November the 5Dmkiii had to go for repair and I spent 3 weeks shooting with the 7D. Going back to it reinforced what a good decision it was to upgrade to the 5Dmkiii. I have the camera now that is realising my creative vision and giving me extended shooting on morning and evening game drives in low light. I have confidence in that camera to deliver and I have confidence in using it. All I need now is Canon to create the same stills camera with 4K on it for under $3000 and I will be happy. However, knowing Canon, I doubt very much that will happen any time soon. Maybe when 6K video becomes main stream in 10 years time!!!

Some handheld landscape work with my 5Dmkiii and 16-35mm f2.8 lens in Madiwke, South Africa. Photo courtesy of Justin Glanvill. 

Things I didn't plan for...

So those were the highlights of my 2015 and my photographic goals. There were some I missed out on. I wanted to visit Texel in the Netherlands over spring to shoot birds, I wanted to get to Donna Nook in the UK in November to shoot seals, I wanted to get back to the UK to shoot the annual deer rut - alas none of those things happened. However those things I missed out on, were replaced through circumstances with other things. In spring I spent a day at the British Wildlife Centre shooting a range of different British Wildlife. In October I had the opportunity to return to South Africa to do some hide photography within the Madikwe Game Reserve. One of the highlights on that trip was to meet and spend time with probably my favourite landscape photographer, Mark Dumbleton. His work continues to be an inspiration and to spend an evening shooting astro landscapes along side him was a priviledge. And in November I've spent a couple of weeks locally shooting birds and getting some incredible winter images I really wasn't expecting. And in October I was published in Wild Planet Photo Magazine, this was my first publication and something that is a milestone for me. Not long after that, I had an article published in Africa Geographic Magazine. 

The Golden ThompsonThe Golden ThompsonThis is the image that was featured in the November issue of Wild Planet Photography Magazine, I called it "The Golden Thompson" taken in Amboseli National Park, Kenya.

My first publication was an image from Amboseli, Kenya, published in the November edition of Wild Planet Photo Magazine.

What will 2016 bring?

Well I have yet to get my blank piece of paper and start writing anything! But I will. There are some things already cooking which I am very excited about but I cannot share the details of just yet! But I will of course be blogging about them when the time is right. What I can say is that as well as returning to Africa, I would like to focus on more local wildlife especially shooting birds from hides. I am in the process of starting to organise some hide sessions for 2016 and that will be a very new experience for me. I've always maintained bird photography is technically challenging and so I am very keen to get into that domain much more. 

Notably mentions for 2015...

Now, it is important for me to recognise some people who have played a part in my photographic journey this year. I want to give a shout out and thank you to the following, in no particular order;

Andrew Beck - thank you so much for all your guidance and inspiration. Without doubt our time in Kenya was one of the most memorable experiences of my life and everything I learn will be a platform for me going forward. Sincere thanks Andrew.

Mark Dumbleton - a pleasure and honour to shoot a long side you sir. I hope one day our paths will cross again, minus the blue cheese, but with the same amount of mirth and humour. 

Justin Glanvill - Justin, what can I say? It's your fault hey. 3 years ago I fell into all this thanks in part to you. You continue to be a huge supporter and inspiration despite not having any photographs worthy yourself ;-) Thanks mate!

Jaci & Jan Van Heteren - Jaci, Jan - sincere thanks for your entrusting the Terrapin Hide to my video camera. It's was a huge pleasure to be a small part of such an exciting platform.

Christophe Gillot - many thanks Christophe for listening, and giving your insights as a pro. Your help locally has been invaluable. Whilst we shoot in different domains, you remain an inspiration. 

To all who liked or commented on any photo I posted on Facebook or Instagram this year...sincerest thanks. I know your feeds are flooded with content and so for you to take the time and engage with what I do, I truly appreciate that you appreciate :-)

In the coming weeks I am going to take a break and go off line. Have a great holiday season wherever you are in the World, and see you 2016 side. 

Jon

 

 

 

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(Jon Bryant Photography) https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/12/2015-my-year-in-review Wed, 23 Dec 2015 05:45:00 GMT
Penultimate blog of 2015 - Tsavo West Trip Report! https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/12/penultimate-blog-of-2015---tsavo-west-trip-report This is a long overdue blog! I have been meaning to write a blog on my experience in Tsavo West for months, given it was end of June/early July I actually visited there. But as so often is the case, things snowballed on returning from Kenya and the blog got away from me.

One of the frames in the lodge reception eludes to the colonial past of the reserve.

But better late than never!

I purposefully did not include a trip report for Tsavo in my blog about Amboseli, despite both destinations being part of the same guided photo safari with Wild Eye. There is a good reason for this. Tsavo West was so different in so many ways to Amboseli, I could not do it justice in the Amboseli blog. It deserves a blog of it's own. And with this blog, I am going to let the images do much of the talking. 

Driving into the reserve we passed a large landscape of lava rock. The transition from lava to bush was dramatic, and despite the lava being fairly barren of life, it was interesting to note some grasses taking root.

Tsavo West is about a 2 hour drive east of Amboseli, located in the south east of Kenya. Tsavo West is a national park and it is conveniently located close to the main road that links the capital Nairobi with Kenya's largest port, Mombassa. Given the amount of passing traffic between Nairobi and Mombassa, you would probably expect that the park is well frequented with guests and game drive vehicles taking advantage of it's location. This wasn't the case at all. Tsavo West was one of the most remote and wild places I've ever visited. 

We were only in Tsavo for two nights. Heading out on game drive the first thing that strikes you is the landscapes. It feels like a real mixture of reserves I've visited before, somewhere between Madikwe and Sabi Sands, with some mountains like the Drakensburg thrown in for good measure. 

A sunset over Tsavo, with imposing clouds and stunning colours of greens and oranges with the mountains on the horizon. 

The bush was a mixture of lush greens, yellows, golds and the earth a deep terracotta colour. The mixtures of colours was spectacular. After spending time in Amboseli with an abundance of elephants, I must confess that in Tsavo I was hoping for some cats and rhino. Out on drive I soon realised this was going to be a very different safari experience. Just like in Amboseli there is no off roading. There were nearly no other vehicles out on drive. In the 2-3 days we were there, I saw only two other vehicles pass us on drive. So no radios calling sightings in. This meant that for game spotting we were on our own and relying on our guides, Tim and Jimmy's skills. They came up trumps!

The dust in the distance - one of only two other game drive vehicles we saw during our 2-3 day stay in Tsavo. 

What became obvious quite quickly was an appreciation of some of the smaller things, birds, antelope, jackals, rock hyrax (dassies). The diversity and beauty of the Tsavo landscapes provided a wild canvas in which to photograph these subjects. This was a great exercise in natural framing of subjects. Focusing beyond the foreground wilderness and shooting the subject in it's natural environment. The light was outstanding too, particular early morning. Static subjects such as Dik-Dik and Zebra's standing in the long grasses made for some beautiful and elegant portraits. 

A Dik-Dik - these very skittish antelope could be spotted in and amongst the long grass, but they wouldn't hang around for long.

The early morning light was probably some of the best light I've ever photographed in, and made for simple clean compositions.

The cherry on the cake at Tsavo was a morning spent at Mzima Springs. This was an oasis within the park. On arrival at the springs it was clear that we were close to a water source. It felt more like rain forest than the surroundings of yellow and straw coloured grasses we had been driving through. To get to the springs we had to walk and we were guided by a local ranger. 

Tall fever trees surrounded the edge of the springs. A simply stunning place of natural beauty.

As we walked the foot path, the local ranger explained that there were hippos in the area and whilst during the day they are mostly submerged in the springs, sometimes they roam free and so it is important to be guided to the main observation point. Along the path we got a glimpse of what was to come. 

The springs consisted of two pools resident to crocodiles and hippos and connected by a series of river flows.

As we headed further along the path, surrounded by a lush green canopy of tress we finally saw the hippos the guide mentioned, thankfully all "at home" in the water. Hippos are not an animal I want to cross in any capacity!

A glimpse through the trees, 4 hippos in the springs, just a few of a much lager pod as we were to discover. 

But before we actually got to the main observation point, the group started to spot things. On the section of path we found ourselves on, there was an abundance of wildlife that had just blended in to the surroundings. It was hard to know where to start. We were surrounded by beautiful flowers which were attracting butterflies. At the edges of the water was a small to mid sized crocodile lying in the sun on a tree log.

As we slowly approached the crocodile, we got a few naturally framed images. He did become aware of our presence and hoped back into the water.

And then as we finished taking shots of the crocodile, someone had spotted some bats right behind us hanging from a tree! Trying to get a good shot of them was a challenge, but it was just incredible to find such diversity, but also species you typically wouldn't experience on a typical African safari. I think this is why the experience at Tsavo was so special.

A group of bats hanging within th bush just meters from us. With some foreground foliage not an easy shot to get, but one of the more unique wildlife images I've capture on safari. 

Despite hoping for cats and rhino when arriving, having all of these new subjects in such close proximity and on foot was a remarkable experience. We finally reached the observation point onto the main spring where we had breakfast. The view was truly stunning and to be able to spend a good couple of hours there uninterrupted was a real highlight for me.

The observation point provided this stunning view of the spring with a pod of hippos, and the banks lined fever trees.

The view from the main area in the lodge - two water holes were a big draw for game.

The lodge where we stayed provided some incredible views of its own. It had two waterholes in front of the main area, where we could sit, relax and watch a variety of general game come to drink. There were plenty of Oryx, Impala's, Buffalos, Kudus, and Zebras that came to drink. With a bit of patience and timing, the Zebras played nice and gave me this image...

5 in a row. I think as wildlife photographers we often imagine taking images where the subjects line up perfectly at a waterhole! 

So what about cats and rhino? Well no rhino. We saw a few elephants, but certainly nothing like the Amboseli elephants. These elephants were very wild and preferred we kept our distance. However, interestingly these elephants took on the colour of the Tsavo landscape, the terracotta colour. We also saw lots and lots of giraffe's, again with a much deeper tonality to their colours than we had seen in Tsavo. 

Elephants were a constant theme of the trip, the ones in Tsavo were very distinctive due to their colour matching that of the landscape.

On the last drive, Andrew and Jimmy spotted something special. Even now when I look at my images I have no clue how they spotted a leopard, hundreds of meters away in long grass. I wrote a blog about that sighting here, and I encourage you to go take a look. It's a perfect example of how difficult game spotting is, and why you need to rely on people with experience in the field to deliver such sightings. 

Tsavo was a truly special place. It wasn't at all what I was expecting. As a national parks go this is a very wild place. With very few other vehicles on drive you get a sense of an untouched wilderness, even to the point where you feel that it has been abandoned (which isn't the case by the way). You wonder where the other safari goers are? You have the roads and the landscapes to yourself. The animals are skittish and not used to your presence. This provides its own photographic challenges, with long lens work and having to compose and get shots with some degree of speed when on drive. I came away from Tsavo with truly original images. I chose Kenya as a destination for a reason. I wanted to discover a new "canvas" in which to create wildlife images. Tsavo was the epitome of that analogy of a new 'canvas'. It also provided me with host of new sightings; eland, heartbeest, and lesser kudu. And that's always a good situation to be in!

Would I recommend it? Yes. If you want an untouched place that feels like going back to colonial times, and discovering the area for the very first time, this is one of those places. Uncrowded and wild, it is a very special place indeed.

Jon

 

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(Jon Bryant Photography) Africa Animals Kenya Nature Photography Tsavo Wild Wildlife Wildlife Photography photography https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/12/penultimate-blog-of-2015---tsavo-west-trip-report Thu, 17 Dec 2015 11:48:25 GMT
Jaci's Trip Report Part 2: The Photography https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/12/jacis-trip-report-part-2-the-photography In the second part of my Trip Report from Jaci's Lodges in Madikwe, South Africa, I want to focus on the photography

In part 1 of the trip report which you can read here, I described the general routine of being on a safari, whether this be in Sabi Sands, KNP, Madikwe etc. There is a general routine that is design to make the most out of game viewing. Let's just remind ourselves of that routine.

  • Wake up around 5.15-5.30am. 
  • Quick coffee just before 6am.
  • Morning Game Drive from 6am through to just before 10am.
  • Breakfast/Brunch around 10-11am.
  • Free time.
  • High Tea: 3.30pm.
  • Afternoon Game Drive: 4.00pm
  • Return to lodge: 7.00pm
  • Drinks: 7.30pm followed by dinner at 8.00pm
  • Retire to your room 9.30-10.00pm
  • If you have the energy and the company, fireside drinks may last in to the evening :-)

Now what does this mean in a photographic context?

Very simply put, on any safari, the two main periods of photography happen on the morning and afternoon/evening game drives. Both these game drives happen during "Golden Hour" - that time of the day when the sun rises or the sun sets. On the morning game drive you start with low light and as the sun rises the light conditions reach an optimum until the sun rises higher in the sky when the light becomes more harsh, leading to higher contrast.

Examples of images from morning game drives in Madikwe

400mm, f5.6, Shutter Speed 1/1000, ISO 640. Taken at 6.50am, as the sun starts to rise, I set my aperture to its widest limit at f5.6 and chose an ISO of 640 to give me a shutter speed of 1/1000 which gives me at least 2X the focal length of 400mm. ​

400mm, f5.6, Shutter Speed 1/160, ISO 640. Taken at 05.55am. Before the sun has risen and with the cover of the trees, even with an ISO of 640, and my widest aperture for the lens (f5.6), I only have a shutter speed of 1/160. This is below the 2X focal length rule of thumb, but as the Hyena is walking slowly it did not negatively impact the sharpness of the image. ​This is where as a photographer you can break "the rules" to get the image. 

100mm, f18, Shutter Speed 1/30 ISO 100. Taken at 7:07am. With the sun up, light is good. I decided to slow the shutter speed to do a panning shot. By slowing the shutter to 1/30 I am letting more light into the camera and so need to close the iris of the lens and set an aperture to f18. In this instance my ISO is at it's lowest and my aim is to get a focus point on the head of the subject as it runs. 

With the afternoon/evening game drives you head out in bright day light and this will fade as the sun sets and you will go through a low light phase into darkness. The light during the afternoon/evening drives varies dramatically, and can give some amazing images, but you have to understand how to manage that fading light.

Examples of images from evening game drives in Madikwe

320mm, f6.3, Shutter Speed 1/640, ISO 320. Time taken 3:55pm. These two giraffe's were necking and so I had to follow the 2X focal length rule for my shutter speed in order to freeze the movement. This is the only reason my ISO is set to 320. The light is absolutely perfect, and if I was not using such a long focal length I would have dropped my ISO. 

500mm, f10, Shutter Speed 1/160 ISO 640. Taken at 5.40pm. This was a special case. There was beautiful golden light but this leopard was skittish despite being high up in a tree. I therefore I had to use a 1.4X extender with my 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 lens (not ideal) and as a result my lowest aperture was f10. I therefore could not increase the shutter speed any faster, but with a static subject this did not matter as long as I kept the camera still. 

400mm, f40, 1.0sec, ISO 100. Time Taken 6.00pm. With the light fading this was another special case. ​This Hamerkop was fishing in a flowing river I still had available light but it was low in the sky and I decided to get creative. I slowed my shutter to a 1.0 second exposure in order to blur the flowing water and give a sense of movement. To compensate the exposure, and in absence of an ND filter, I had to close the iris right down to f40! I then had to hope the Hamerkop would not move and I could keep the camera still on the vehicle. I almost pulled it off. As the vehicle was in the flowing river itself there was some slight movement so the Hamerkop isn't pin sharp, but personally that doesn't bother me. 

From a photographic point of view, whether you are a beginner or advanced, game drives present some serious light management issues to consider!

I've used a schematic that I drew on my computer to summarise the photographic day in terms of this "light management". I'm not a graphic designer so please excuse the crudeness of my drawings :-) It is designed to illustrate the point about how, as photographers we are impacted by light during the day.

So what are you looking at? Well you are looking at a relative curve of light intensity versus time of day, and the relevant ISO required to manage the camera sensors degree of sensitivity to that light. It is a very simple schematic which shows that in high light intensity you use low ISO's and in low light intensity or dusk/darkness you use high ISO's. Call it a "rule of thumb". Now why is this important? Well there are two reasons:

  • In Wildlife Photography we try to use Aperture Priority Mode (AV/A) whenever possible and ISO is integral to helping control shutter speed. Shutter speed plays a key role in sharpness and subject movement. High shutter speeds freeze motion and give crisp sharp images, lower shutter speeds create motion blur and softer images. 
  • The higher the ISO, by default the more noise we induce in the image. 

Now there is a "get out of jail" for those low light/high ISO scenarios. As I mentioned in the first bullet above this can be compensated for using slower shutter speeds. But sometimes we still want fast shutter speeds to freeze the action. That's why with low light you have to balance the technical aspects of shooting versus the creative aspects of image making. 

So if we look at our schematic we have two optimal times of the day when we can shoot on game drives, the two "Golden Hours" of sun rise and sun set. And if we understand the relationship between light intensity, our cameras sensitivity to light through the ISO setting, and the impact that has on shutter speed, we have options at dawn and dusk to do creative low light shooting with slower shutter speeds if we wish. Or we just bump up the ISO and get everything sharp and crisp and live with the noise.

Now what happens during the hottest part of the day when the sun is at its highest point in the sky? We go and have a nap right? After all we just got up at 4.50am to have coffee and rusks to go on a game drive...that's early and we need some rest. No. Wrong. That's the wrong answer :-)

Well it used to be the right answer before I went to Jaci's and experienced the Terrapin Hide. The hide changed my thinking and after brunch and a quick shower I was straight into the hide for the afternoon. Some photographers will say..."Agh, the light is too intense through midday, I'll wait. I can't get any images, everything is to contrasty". And they would be right. Time to dig a little deeper into your photographic tool box.

That intense sun light....Perfect for high key shooting. 

What is high key shooting?

High key photography is when there is a larger amount of light tones and fewer mid tones or shadows. This means the vast majority of tones within the subject exposure are above middle grey and the background will be mostly white but may show some detail. 

When the sun light is so intense that the exposure on the subject gives you a "blown out" background (could be land, sky or clouds) the high key technique can come in very handy. You can over expose the image even more, and this can help eliminate those "blown out" areas showing some detail (but with a lot of contrast) into a homogenous white space, which can be very effective in black and white imagery. You can also use the high key technique to shoot images for texture rather than colour. 

By deliberately over exposing your image by +1, even +2 stops, in intense midday sunlight you can create some truly incredible black and white conversions with the high key shooting technique. Here are some of my own examples from the Terrapin Hide. 

It pays to understand your post processing workflow in Lightroom to convert the image to black and white before you start using the technique. I may broach that subject in a Lightroom tutorial in the future. But if you are keen to understand the Lightroom workflow I am sure Google and YouTube are your friends :-)

5 in a row5 in a row5 Zebras line up at the waterhole outside Jaci's Tree Lodge, Madikwe, South Africa. Image taken from the #Terrapinhide.

170mm, f5.6, Shutter Speed 1/100 ISO 320. Time taken 2:20pm. You can just detect in the top left of the frame the over exposed sky, but as the majority of the frame is composed for the Zebras this doesn't really matter and so this shot works well in colour.

112mm, f5.6, Shutter Speed 1/1600, ISO 320. Time taken 2:15pm. Technically I should have probably shot this at f7.1 or f8.0. However this was exposed +2/3 of a stop and it was composed directly into the direction of the sun light. If you look at the top right of the frame you can see an edge of the cloud. Using Lightroom I've converted this into a black & white image and what you see is a completely blown our background. With Zebras in particular, black & white conversions work really well, but I like the addition of the two giraffe in the image. 

When there's no light

I have always been a keen astro photographer. I am no expert, but I would say I know enough to be dangerous! One of the issues in the bush is that often at night you can't actually get out with your tripod and camera even within the camp due to safety. The beauty of Jaci's is that it is fenced and you can access the star bed or the hide 24 hours. This meant post dinner photography sessions in the hide, and it was a lot of fun. This is where the absence of light is compensated by longer exposures. Here's just one example:

Terrapin Hide MilkywayTerrapin Hide MilkywayThe night sky as seen from the Terrapin Hide at Jaci's Tree Lodge in Madikwe, South Africa. You can clearly see the Milky Way as the moon sets behind the horizon.

33mm, f4.0, Shutter Speed 20 seconds, ISO 1000. Time Taken 10:45pm. There was a half moon on the evening I took this image and I had to wait that it dipped below the horizon, you can just see it between the left and centre tree. You can also see the Milky Way. I love this type of photography and I hope to return at some point and maybe an elephant of giraffe would sit between those trees. That would be a special image!

So in summary, what does the Jaci's experience mean photographically?

  • Game drives during the morning and evening "Golden Hours" when the game is at it's most active.
  • Access 24 hours to the Terrapin Hide, day and night. 
  • High Key Terrapin Hide shooting through the midday hours - giving you stunning water/eye level Black and White conversions.
  • Slower shutter speed creative nighttime photography, including astro photography.

Having been several times to South Africa on safari, I think Jaci's is probably one of the few places if not the only place today you can get such an extended photographic experience. Combine that with the shooting techniques available within your own "tool kit', on drive or in the hide, the range and diversity of images is seriously impressive. My reflections as I left Jaci's to return home was not just excitement that I'd experienced it, but that there is so much photographic potential still to be explored there. And as a photographer that is such a great reason to return again. 

Until next time,

Jon

 

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(Jon Bryant Photography) Africa Animals Cameras Landscapes Madikwe Nature Photography Safari South Africa Travel Wildlife Wildlife Photography photography https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/12/jacis-trip-report-part-2-the-photography Fri, 11 Dec 2015 08:28:34 GMT
5 reasons to stay on your game this winter! https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/11/5-reasons-to-stay-on-your-game-this-winter Whenever I see blogs or articles which start "10 ways..." or "5 top tips..." or "7 reasons why..." I normally switch off, and go and read something else!

So why would I start my blog "5 reasons to stay on your game this winter!"???

With the cold weather setting in, there is a strong temptation to do two things: pack your wildlife gear away and come back to it in spring, and pick up a point and shoot for the holiday season. 

It's getting colder. But that shouldn't be a reason to keep you from the outdoors. My local lake is getting a lot of my attention in recent weeks.

Here are my 5 reasons why you should resist the temptation to stay indoors, and get your all weather gear, your camera and lens out there and start searching for sightings and creating images.

1. Seasonality

Yep! Number 1 is very simple. Shoot your seasons. If you want to keep your portfolio relevant and diverse it is best to capture wildlife and landscapes through out the seasons. The beautiful autumn colours and the cold winter days with less light create incredible photographic opportunities you won't get in any other season. Autumn and winter is a great time to tell different wildlife stories as animals face a very changing and challenging environment. 

As a side comment if you are looking to get published in a specific area, getting out now will give you a portfolio of images to select from for next winter. Get them in the bag now, and plan ahead now ready for next year. Picture editors are keeping an eye some months ahead on their schedules. So shooting images in November with the hope of submitting them for a December issue probably isn't going to cut it. 

A juvenile black headed gull in flight against a backdrop of autumn and winter colours. The white contrasts the dark making a striking image.

There is no better time than Autumn to photograph deer, especially with the annual rut. This image I took from nearly 300 meters away in freezing fog. As access to the deer park was restricted I decided to use the oak trees to create a natural frame to the fallow deer that were grazing under those trees. The fog adds to the wintery atmosphere.

Winter is also a time for landscapes too. Simple compositions work really well when elements such as the weather are at their extremes. This is such a simple composition yet I love the image. For me what makes his image is the subtle colours and the negative space in the frame which emphasises the freezing fog and coldness of the landscape. 

2. Less foliage, easier sightings

Autumn and winter are when the trees shed their leaves. In Europe the most prevalent and abundant of species is birds. In spring and summer when the leaves are lush and green, how easy is it for you to spot birds? Not very. Yet in autumn and winter, not only do you have incredible colours, but you have less foliage on the trees, which means you can spot birds much easier! This means you might be able to get images of species you've not got in your portfolio. Bird photography is very challenging, so we need all the help we can get!

A common garden bird during winter months in Europe, but very difficult to photograph without a hide. Robin red breasts do not tend to stay put for too long and have a very erratic flight pattern making them difficult to track amongst trees.

3. Keep your skill sharp

So you put your camera away for winter and when the weather breaks you dust it off and head out on a shoot. You come back load your images into Lightroom and find you've blown your shots. How did this happen? As with everything in life, you only become skilled at things if you continue to practice them. There's no substitute for time spent in the field. Personally I have some interesting projects in the pipeline for 2016. I don't want to turn up on those projects and mess up because I'm rusty. I want to turn up at those projects on my game. Stay sharp, even if it is cold!

Swan's are very common and not my favourite subject to photograph. So why not think out of the box? How about trying something different and taking an image or composition nobody is expecting? By playing with your camera, and compositional techniques you can keep your skills sharp.

4. Improve your low light shooting

In autumn and winter, at least in northern Europe, daylight diminishes. Both in quantity, i.e. the duration of the days, and in strength, i.e. the quality of the light. For wildlife photographers this makes things more challenging! If shooting in aperture priority mode, which for me is the default mode when shooting wildlife, ideally we need good available light to stick to the rule of thumb that shutter speed should be 2X focal length. With reduced light in aperture priority mode we need to push our ISO's much higher to get that same level of shutter speed. That is far from ideal as of course increased ISO means increased image noise. So what happens is either we set ISO limits within reason and work with lower shutter speeds, or we switch to manual mode and dial in what we want to shoot. Either way, your shutter speeds will always drop, meaning you need to find a balance. Slower shutter speeds will impact motion blur and sharpness. Of course you can go to shooting on a tripod which would work well for more static animals like deer, rabbits and so on. The key is to pick the moment to hit the shutter when the animal is static, and you should be good. But for birds you probably want to stay hand held because birds tend to move and move quite quickly. All these trade offs will improve your camera craft and ultimately you will start to understand how to shoot around low light limitations to create images, rather than trying to fight it. This leads me to my last reason, number 5...

If you feel it is cold and dark, then why not portray that in your images? I deliberately under exposed this heron. I was far away on the opposite side of the lake. I have then selectively corrected the exposure of the heron in Lightroom, leaving everything else as I saw it. With some slight suggestion of foliage in the composition I still retain a natural look (i.e. not dodged, burned or photoshopped!). 

5. Get creative!

So we've established that in autumn and winter we have vibrant colours, we have lower light, and more bird sightings due to less foliage. So with that in mind, think about how the camera can work for you? In the past 2 weeks I've been visiting a local lake that has an abundance of birds. Here are a couple of images I took where I worked with the conditions and low light to create wildlife images. Slower shutter speeds means that you can use panning techniques to emphasise bird flight and motion. Lower light means you can underexpose and create darker atmospheres and moods within the images. You can work with the angle of fading light to create silhouettes. 

Shooting at ISO 800 in aperture priority of f5.6, my trusty old 7D was giving me a shutter speed of 1/15! How was I supposed to shoot birds at 1/15th of a second? By panning whilst this heron is inflight, I'm working with the faded light not against it. The result is a very effective and striking panning shot of this bird in flight over the colours of the lake. Notice at this shutter speed the white streaks in the background are actually light reflections on the water.

So what are you waiting for? Brave the weather and get out there in the field and shoot! I've just been out on several shoots in freezing weather the past 2 weeks and I've had a huge amount of fun, and got some shots that I am really pleased with. In fact I was so surprised at the outcome of my images it inspired this blog! I've learnt a huge amount shooting in the cold and dimmer light. 

When you see your results you will thank yourself for making the effort!

Until next time.

Jon

 

By positioning myself at the bank of the lake opposite to the fading sunlight I was able to take this silhouette with ripple rings around it. By exposing for the environment (the water) rather than the subject, the image conveys a unique mood. This may be winter, but the light at golden hour is still golden! The bird is a Eurasian Coot.

 

 

 

 

 

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(Jon Bryant Photography) Animals Birds Europe Landscape Photography Landscapes Nature Photography Wildlife Wildlife Photography Winter https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/11/5-reasons-to-stay-on-your-game-this-winter Tue, 24 Nov 2015 14:07:35 GMT
"Workshops - do your research" - a readers letter https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/11/workshops-do-your-research I do enjoy reading certain Photography Magazines. One of my favourites is Outdoor Photography which features a combination of landscape, nature and wildlife themes. It's a magazine really focused on photographic practitioners, meaning photographers who spend a lot of time in the field. So it's less gear review orientated and tends to focus on craft and the experience of its featured photographers. That's why I like it.

Reading a readers letter in the November 2015 edition struck a chord.

The letter was entitled "Workshops - do your research!".

The opening sentence stated "I am getting really annoyed about the lack of support on photo workshops". It went on "After I returned home from one (a workshop) a couple of years ago, during which I had no support, I spotted some photos in a national newspaper taken by the workshop leader, which I know were taken on the same trip - I was mad!".

So having read this letter it struck a chord given a recent experience I had online. I have to be careful how I write this because I don't want this blog to become an exercise in finger pointing. That is not the point (quite literally). Since I started wildlife photography I have engaged online with a very supportive wildlife photography community. It wasn't easy at first because as you start to put yourself out there, you invariable start to put your work out there too. And as a consequence better photographers than you, will be viewing, judging and commenting on your work. I've had nothing but constructive and positive engagement. It doesn't have to be like this. But it is better because it is like this. You see many wildlife photographers are also photo guides or run workshops. So it wouldn't be a smart business move to criticise peoples wildlife images online would it? After all some of us, people like me, are potential clients/customers. 

Prior to booking your workshop or photo tour/safari, did you discuss with your selected guide your photographic objectives?

So does the writer of the letter have a point? Should we as wildlife photographers expect that our guides and workshop leaders not take their own images? Is that a reasonable expectation?

The answer for me is "it depends". 

I think if a photo guide or workshop leader takes the approach that his photography comes before those of paying guests then there is a serious issue with his business approach and I would question very much becoming a client of such a guide. Now of course these types of guides aren't going to openly declare they are in the business for their own portfolio work. But there are tell tale signs, which is why endorsements and advocacy from photographers that have attended photo safaris or workshops is so important. 

The online world is a very small one indeed. Especially if you are following some of the most well known wildlife photographers and photographic guides. This is why this letter struck a chord. You see I regularly take part in an online wildlife photography submission challenge. It is run by a specialist guiding company to promote sharing and photographic inspiration. I am an advocate of that company as I've experienced them. This blog is not about them. And as such I won't name them as a result. But on a recent occasion I saw a fellow photographer submit an image to the challenge. The image looked very familiar to me. I looked long and hard at this image trying to work out where I'd seen it before. 

It took me a few minutes to realise I had seen the exact same image, or I should say scene, shortlisted in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. The image I was viewing on line was slightly different in the detail; some of the colours were not as strong as the WPY image, the framing was slightly different with a wider angle. But for all intensive purposes, same scene, same sighting, more/less the same image. 

Is the photo guide truly guiding you? Is he engaging in your photographic journey and enhancing it?

If you've been on a photo safari or a workshop, the chances of this happening are quite high, especially if the photo guide is doing his/her job in guiding you on how to shoot the scene you are presented with. My experience to date has been nothing but positive. The photo guide I chose put the clients first, engaged and taught them, and picked up his camera only when needed. He took images to show examples, skills and techniques to the clients/guests. 

The shortlisted image was submitted by a well known photographer who I understand also works as a guide. I therefore can only assume the online submitted image was coming from a client on a photo safari and the WPY shortlisted image was coming from the guide.

Here I will pause. I could be wrong. And if I am, my apologies up front.

However, seeing these two images, one submitted online to a community challenge, the other shortlisted in WPY, made me ask the question: how would I feel if I'd paid good money to go on a photo safari, and my guide got the same image as me and was shortlisted in WPY? Would I be "mad"?

I wouldn't be "mad", no.

I'd be dissatisfied with the service I paid for. The guide has every right to take his own images. He also has every right to do what he wants with them. The good news in this example is that it appears the client was getting similar quality images as a WPY shortlisted finalist. But it does raise questions to me about the principle motivation of the guide as a result of this example. And for me, I think the instant a guides work from a photo safari is shortlisted in the most prestigious photographic competition in wildlife photography, it raises doubts that the principle focus is on the client and their images. 

The photo safari experience should be all encompassing, the experience should deliver. Photo guiding should be about sitting with guests during the down time and listening and engaging. It is as much about hospitality as it is about the camera craft itself. 

At the end of the day, there are a myriad of photo safaris and workshops available out there. It's horses for courses. Before you chose an operator do your homework. If, like the readers letter, you would feel mad if the guides work was showcased at the expense of your own learning experience, then it pays to research who you want to go with before you drop the cash. Having been in wildlife photography now for just over 3 years, I'm still very much a new kid on the block (despite a few grey hairs!) but I've done my homework and I have a network of contacts and photographers I am in touch with. I've heard some great stories and recommendations. I've also heard some real shockers, most notably the photo guide that shouts off the camera settings to his clients as he fires away his shots. This is why it is better to solicit a number of different opinions than a few. Don't be afraid to ask for client testimonials. Any reputable photo guide worth his salt will be able to give you client references.  

My advice - like the letter says "Do your research!"

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(Jon Bryant Photography) Nature Photography Wildlife `'Photographic animals landscape photographic guide photographic guiding workshops" https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/11/workshops-do-your-research Thu, 19 Nov 2015 13:26:51 GMT
Jaci's Tree Lodge & Terrapin Hide Trip Report: Part 1 https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/11/jacis-tree-lodge-terrapin-hide-trip-report Wow, so almost a month since my last blog. That's a long time!

It isn't because I am short of content. Not at all. What I am short of right now is time!

Case in point for the current blog, a trip report. In mid-October, I returned to South Africa. It was an unexpected trip and came about after short notice, but I was so excited to be returning to, without doubt, my favourite country for wildlife photography. Since returning I have been completely snowed under with various activities! But I've made time to edit the first gallery of images and load them on to my website, and now it's time for me to accompany those with a trip report.

This is the second time I have stayed at Jaci's Lodges. Jaci's is a family owned and run lodge, and you immediately get that feel on arrival. There is a very personal approach with all the staff and the hospitality is second to none. Jaci's comprises of two lodges, the main lodge and the tree lodge. On my first stay and this subsequent trip I stayed in the tree lodge. I've stayed in a few different lodges in South Africa and I have to say Jaci's tree lodge is probably my favourite. The rooms are incredible. The lodge is built on stilts and there are walkway passages amongst the trees between the rooms and the main lodge area. This gives you a real feeling of being in the African bush, and there are some interesting animals to be seen within the lodge itself and when you walk to the rooms. Most notably, bushbuck, banded mongoose and vervet monkeys. 

But that's about where it starts and ends in terms of wildlife within the lodge. Jaci's is fenced. This makes it ideal for a whole range of clients, but especially families. No surprises then that as a family owned and run lodge, families are well catered for and with the lodge being fenced this makes the difference for the family experience. You, and the kids are free to roam. Whether that be to the star bed look out, or to one of the numerous swimming pools to relax. In fact this was the exact reason I chose Jaci's last year as I wanted to take my whole family on Safari including at that time, my 9 year old daughter (who loved it by the way!). Add to that that Madikwe Game Reserve is Malaria free, it is without doubt a serious contender if you are considering a family safari experience.

Being fenced means that you can roam around without any issues. And here's the thing...you can roam around the lodge at night too...

I'll come back to that point in a minute!

The lodge rooms are without doubt my favourite of any lodge I've stayed in. They are luxurious, beautifully dressed, and with a bathroom and outdoor shower to die for. I first discovered outdoor showers at Jaci's sister property, Cheetah Plains in Sabi Sands. Coming from northern Europe where we just don't get the heat to have outdoor showers, it was a revelation. But the setting at Jaci's is incredible. I love going on the morning game drives and I'm often sad when they end as I just love being out in the bush and amongst the wildlife, but a hot outdoor shower and an amazing breakfast/brunch helps you relax and ease your way in to the rest of the day. 

The principle reason for my trip was to photograph from the new Terrapin Hide. Jaci's Tree Lodge has a waterhole just to the left of it's main gate. Historically there has been a star bed which is elevated on a platform. The idea of the star bed was that you could book it, and sleep out under the stars and hear the animals during the night coming down to the waterhole. That in itself is an incredible, truly African experience.

The original star bed and the original hide window underneath the Jaci's logo.

What Jaci and Jan (the founders of the lodge) have now done is build a hide. But this is no ordinary hide. The star bed had a small hide underneath, and I remember on my first trip sitting in that hide and having elephants walk past on the way to access various parts of the waterhole. The vision Jaci and Jan had was to extend this hide to the waterhole itself. Access is via the original wooden hide under the star bed, where you now walk through a tunnel which is submersed in the waterhole. The hide is situated in the middle of the waterhole itself. You have numerous windows which are at the same level of the water. This gives you a unique vantage point for when animals come down to the waterhole to drink, or in the case of elephants, sometimes swim. 

The location of the Terrapin hide in relation to the Star Bed. Access to the Terrapin hide is from underneath the star bed via a tunnel.

The hide has been aptly named the Terrapin Hide, as if you had a Terrapin's eye view. 

Let's just pause and put the Terrapin Hide at Jaci's in perspective.

If you go on safari in South Africa, whether that be in Sabi Sands, KNP, Madikwe, or any other Private Game Reserve, that Safari will most likely comprise of the following daily itinerary (more or less):

  • Wake up around 5.15-5.30am. 
  • Quick coffee just before 6am.
  • Morning Game Drive from 6am through to just before 10am.
  • Breakfast/Brunch around 10-11am.
  • Free time.
  • High Tea: 3.30pm.
  • Afternoon Game Drive: 4.00pm
  • Return to lodge: 7.00pm
  • Drinks: 7.30pm followed by dinner at 8.00pm
  • Retire to your room 9.30-10.00pm
  • If you have the energy and the company, fireside drinks may last in to the evening :-)

There is absolutely nothing wrong with this routine. I absolutely LOVE it!

But here's the thing as a photographer. There's about 4 hours or so in the afternoon of free time. When going on Safari, and let's be honest, a Safari is a top end holiday product...you want to make the most of that experience. I would say even more so as a photographer. On my last trip to South Africa last year I chose two lodges in Sabi Sands next to rivers. The reason I did this was in an attempt to give me further photographic opportunities during that free time. During my stay at those lodges I saw one elephant at the first lodge by the river, and at the second lodge a buffalo and a crocodile. That was it. Don't get me wrong - I had an amazing experience. But despite trying to stack the odds in my favour by choosing lodges next to water sources, I didn't get the extended photography I was hoping for.

So, what makes Jaci's and the Terrapin Hide different? As I previously mentioned Jaci's is fenced. This means free access to the hide at any time of the day or night. No need for escorts to and from the hide. If you want to go 1-2 hours before morning game drive you can. If you can't sleep at 2am you can go and take a wander to the hide and look out. If you wanted to do an all-nighter in the hide, you can. Access is 24 hours, unrestricted. But most importantly for people like myself, who are photographers and looking for extended shooting opportunities, the hide is a fantastic compliment to the game drives. In the itinerary I described above, I would basically fit 2 hours in the hide from 1pm through to 3pm - where the hide became a hive of activity as the heat of the day started to take affect and large numbers of elephants, zebras, giraffes and antelope would descend on the waterhole. Then after dinner, from 9pm onwards I would spend another 1 hour and 30 minutes at night. This allowed me to follow another passion of mine, astro photography and if I got lucky (which I did) included some animals in those images (I was visited by elephants)!

A flurry of activity once the animals come down to drink. The biggest headache you are likely to have is where to focus and shoot! This is a nice headache to have!!!​

Now of course, my perspective is very much that of a wildlife photographer. I have no doubt if a facility like Jaci's had existed when I started my own wildlife photographic journey, I would have progressed a lot quicker up that learning curve having the Terrapin Hide and Game Drives throughout my stay. But to think of the Terrapin Hide as just a photographic facility is doing it a disservice. The Terrapin Hide is first and foremost a hide. Meaning the animals do not see you. Which means you experience their surroundings, their environment on their terms. Even without a camera, if you just sit and watch, and listen, the calm and serenity and the awe of nature just meters away from you is truly, truly special. During my 5 days there, I witnessed children of a variety of ages simply be amazed at what they were witnessing in front of them. Theirs is a generation of instant imaging, iPhones, iPods and iPads. To watch them be able to take amazing images at eye level of the animals at the waterhole with their mobile devices put a smile on my face. They would be sharing these images with friends and family almost the instant they connected to the wifi at the lodge. The Terrapin Hide gets them closer than ever before to animals in their environment. It's a bold statement to make, but having spent time in the Terrapin Hide I would said it is perfectly placed to "democratise" wildlife photography. No longer do you need specialised equipment to take advantage of the eye/water level placement to get incredible wildlife images. And that is what, in my opinion makes it a very special place indeed... 

Me heading down the tunnel to get to the hide - I make sure I have my bag of kit with me on hand for a hide session.​

And coming back to the photographer's perspective, the proof of the pudding is...of course...in the eating! So did the Terrapin Hide deliver photographically? Well, I have added a gallery of colour images on my website here. I will let you be the judge! When I put together a gallery for my website, I chose photographs based on both the quality of sightings, the diversity of sightings, and the combination of those images to show the viewer the overall experience. With the twelve photographs in the gallery that I have chosen, I hope to give you a sense of the experience of the Terrapin Hide. I'm going to share one image that I didn't put in the gallery on this blog. It is an image I'd always had in my mind, but never had an opportunity to take before. I have seen stunning images of the moment a giraffe stops drinking and raises it's head causing a S shape of water droplets. Prior to shooting from the Terrapin Hide, I had only seen one giraffe drinking on 5 separate trips to Africa. And on that one occasion, I didn't get the shot simply because the giraffe had strayed onto private land we couldn't traverse on to. At Jaci's, I watched giraffe's drinking every day. This meant that I had plenty of opportunities to get the shot I was looking for. After a few attempts at different compositions, here's the shot that I like the most:

The moment the giraffe raises it's head and creates an S shaped fountain of water.

For me I think this image epitomises the whole Terrapin Hide experience. The sighting itself is incredible. There's a second giraffe in the image. And there are stunning reflections. In my experience, these types of images are pretty hard to come by. You have to put time in the field, find a water source on drive, and get lucky a giraffe will come and drink. It's not impossible, but on an average safari of 3 to 5 days, it's probably a big ask to be able to witness a giraffe drinking and be positioned to get a great photograph of it. At Jaci's, you sit in the Terrapin Hide and the giraffe's come to you. That's an amazing luxury to have as a photographer. 

Once you've had a few sessions in the hide, your memory cards are full. Jaci's have developed a photographic studio facility in their main lodge. You can head over there and hook your laptop up to a flat screen HD monitor and you can start to view your images. This is a great facility if you want to share your images with friends or family, or even other photographers at the lodge and start to share your experiences, and discuss photographic craft. It's a facility that will also allow in the future the opportunity for various photographic workshops at the lodge and I'm looking forward to seeing how that aspect develops in the future.

I was able to connect my Mac Book Pro to a big screen and start to look at my images in Lightroom on the big screen. Having critique sessions like this in the field is a great way to tweaking your camera craft whilst in the field, and start creating different images as a result.

Overall, the trip to Jaci's Safari Lodge and the Terrapin Hide experience was truly amazing. From a photographic perspective it was literally non-stop, which is exactly what I'm looking for; maximum time in the field. But beyond that, the Terrapin Hide adds a completely new dimension to the Safari experience. With access 24 hours a day, the only thing that limits you is your own creative photographic vision. I entitled this blog as "Part 1". In Part 2 I will review more of the technical specifics in terms of hide shooting and what type of images are possible at different times of the day. 

Before I sign off, let me leave you with one last image. As we left the lodge on an afternoon drive just before 4pm, I took the image below. I took this image to show the dilemma that guests will have. The waterhole and Terrapin hide was buzzing with activity with elephants and giraffes. It makes going on drive a tough decision when you have so much activity on your doorstep...what a great safari dilemma to have!

Heading out on drive, we look back towards the waterhole and Terrapin hide to see elephants and giraffe's coming down to drink.

Stay tuned for part 2 in the coming weeks. 

Until next time...

Jon

 

Special thanks to Justin Glanvill, Jaci and Jan van Heteren, Mark Dumbleton, and our field guide JR.

 

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(Jon Bryant Photography) Africa Hide Jaci's Lodges Landscape Photography Madikwe Nature Photographic Hide Photographic Safari Photography Safari South Africa Terrapin Wildlife photography https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/11/jacis-tree-lodge-terrapin-hide-trip-report Sat, 07 Nov 2015 10:10:10 GMT
Make your wildlife images standout with Natural Framing https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/10/make-your-wildlife-images-standout-with-natural-framing I look at a lot of wildlife images. Through social media, via print, press, magazines, and of course short listed entries in competitions. The exposure we have to quality wildlife images is endless!

However there is something I've noticed, and I want to give you food for thought to start creating images that standout!

So many wildlife images that I see are perfectly "clean". What do I mean? They show the subject in an open and uncluttered environment, free from any form of landscape intrusion. Here's one of my own as an example:

"Clean" - a lone wildebeest in an open environment in Amboseli gives a nice clean and simple composition.​

However, I would argue that the majority of wildlife sightings you will experience in the field are more likely to have some kind of landscape foliage present that will restrict your view and composition. 

The first thing you should consider when you find an animal that is secluded and potentially surrounded by lots of foreground distraction is that; this is how the animal wants to be. This is it's habitat, not ours. The animal makes the rules on where it locates itself not us.

This male lion did not want to be found. Despite the field guide putting the vehicle in position, I had to slowly raise my position to get this shot. I took me 8 attempts, balancing gently in the back of the vehicle. I didn't want to stress this male from his secluded position to get the shot (Madikwe, South Africa).

Once you've understood that fundamental point...

The second thing you should consider is embracing the environment around the animal, do not try and fight it. If you are in a vehicle or a fixed position, then yes by all means try and see if you can manoeuvre into a better position, but never at the expense of stressing the animal.

This young skittish male leopard in Ngala didn't want to be found. I had almost no time to fire this shot off. He was in the process of getting up to walk away from us. I deliberately used natural framing to tell the story of his environment and portray the elusive nature of the leopard. You will see a lot of foreground foliage that is out of focus. This brings context without distracting from the subject (Sabi Sands, South Africa).

Once you have an optimal (note optimal not perfect!) line of sight, you can then consider the third thing in the process which is; composition. And here is where I encourage you to embrace the nature around the animal! Don't be afraid that one blade of grass might ruin your image or line of sight to your subject! Don't let the foreground foliage or clutter in front of your subject put you off from creating an image! Embrace it and don't fight it!! Use those foreground elements within the composition to create a natural frame. If you do you will tell a much better story than if you exclude it. So many images I see out there exclude this natural framing. I am not sure if this is because photographers don't want to share these images, preferring cleaner compositions, or if they just avoid taking images like this. But I say "Go for it!". I think we need to see more naturally framed images out there!

This bustard was moving around long grass. Waiting for it to move into a small clearing and focusing beyond the grass on to the subject gives a strong composition and shows it's natural environment. (Tsuavo West, Kenya).

Once you have the composition you are happy with it is start to think technically and how you will use your settings to capture the image.

As you have foreground clutter and distractions you need to take care. First you need to take care about the focus of your intended subject. Second you want to take care with depth of field. With a high f-stop (8 or above) you will keep more of the foreground interest and potentially block out detail on your subject. Shooting with a shallow depth of field will help you exclude some of the foreground interest as long as you set your focal point on your subject accurately. You might be able to do this with autofocus, but if your lens keeps hunting and focusing on that leaf, twig or blade of grass, don't be afraid to switch to manual and punch in the focus yourself. Use the focus magnification feature in live view and this will help you maintain accurate focus. 

Low hanging bats in daylight! One of the most challenging images I've taken. There was significant foliage in the foreground, I needed to combine composition and shallow depth of field to create a workable image that emphasises the environment and shows the detail of the subject. I think the end result is effective because of, rather than despite of, the foreground foliage out of focus.

If this technique is new to you, don't be afraid to keep trying. It is a skill to develop. My first few attempts were tricky to get the balance between subject focus and depth of field. But i think the results are really worth the effort and will make you a better photographer for it.

Sometimes natural framing isn't always about foreground clutter and foliage. It can be foliage that surrounds the subject and potentially can hide a large part of your subject. These images are often easier to take, because there is a significant amount of the animal or subject in view which you can focus on, hence using auto focus makes things a lot easier. In these instances the attention should be on composition.

This giraffe was very far away and I couldn't see its entire body as he grazed. I used the natural foliage around the neck and head (my main subject focus) to create a natural frame and build a context of the giraffe's environment. Not only are the colours stunning and complimentary to the giraffe, there's a small ox-pecker on the right as we view the image which is an added bonus (Tsuavo West, Kenya).

By being able to get sharp focal points on your subjects this allows additional creative options in certain situations. The final photo I'm sharing with you is when I brought 3 techniques together: a certain degree of depth of field, natural framing and a slow shutter speed:

A crocodile sits down stream and filters water in it's mouth. By focusing on the eye, I had my focal point locked, used a suitable depth of field to develop the composition with the foreground and then slowed by shutter speed to blur the flowing water. All this was done handheld with a 120-300mm lens (Mzima Springs, Kenya). 

This was a very unique situation where my subject, the crocodile wasn't going anywhere. The only movement I had to contend with was the occasional jaw opening and closing slowly and my own strength to hold the heave 120-300mm lens on the end of my camera. A tripod would have been a preferred accessory for this sighting, however I was on foot and chose not to carry it with me. The natural framing was not deliberate. It was actually the very tight and elusive view I had on the subject. I would have liked to have just moved slightly to the left to include the eye complete free of intrusion with the foreground but unfortunately that wasn't possible. Still the combination of techniques makes a very unique and creative image. Is the crocodile drinking, cooling off, or hoping for some prey to drop in his mouth? I'll let you decide. Either way, it tells an interesting story. 

Executed well, natural framing is a hugely effective creative tool for wildlife imagery. I am a huge fan of the technique and love seeing images like this. It would be great if the wildlife photography community would push the boundaries more and challenge the status quo going forward. In my opinion to selectively leave out the animals environment with a view to cleaner more clinical compositions, it is doing a disservice to the reality of the animals environment and the story telling possibilities. Like I said, don't be afraid of natural framing, embrace it and start creating your own visions!

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(Jon Bryant Photography) Animals Camera Education Landscapes Learning Nature Photography Wildlife https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/10/make-your-wildlife-images-standout-with-natural-framing Mon, 05 Oct 2015 18:53:47 GMT
Meet Tim https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/9/meet-tim Every now and again when you travel you meet people that leave a lasting impression. People that leave lasting impressions are typically kind, charismatic, or inspiring....or all three!

I wanted to write this blog after returning from Kenya, but things ran away from me. Now I have some time and so I've put pen to paper, or should I say, I'm at the keyboard. This blog is simply entitled...

"Meet Tim"

Whilst on the lakebed we did some high key shots of Tim. I also decided to take a HDR portrait of him.

Tim was our field guide for the Wild Eye Essential Amboseli & Tsuavo West Photosafari. I first met him at the airport on arrival when he managed to skilfully navigate the Nairobi Airport traffic to pick me and my luggage up. The first thing that strikes you is that Tim was dressed as a Masai. As a new visitor to Kenya this makes a huge...positive....impression on you. I mean as a photographer, you see images of the Masai tribes and you kind of hope and dream of seeing or photographing them. In my case I was being picked up at the airport by one!

But appearances are of course not at all what they seem. As well as a proud Masai, Tim is a modern man, who has his field guide qualifications in hand and a clear love of the bush. His proud Masai heritage may be shown in his Masai attire, but there is much more to Tim. Many a moment on a photo safari you spend waiting. You might wait and hour or so for the light to change, the clouds to move, the lion to wake up, the giraffe's to walk into position, whatever...all the time Tim is watching and waiting. And during those times, Tim would tell me how he likes being in the presence of other photographers because we aren't in a hurry and we appreciate what is around us more than the average 'tourist'.

There are three stories I want to share with you to give you an indication of Tim's experience, character and inspiration.

Tim the photographer. 

Before I met Tim, I'd seen some content on line about his photographic exploits. He has a keen eye for photography and whilst I was on safari with him, he hadn't yet got a DSLR. He was using a pair of binoculars and his Mobile Phone to take images. There is a great blog on the Wild Eye page here about Tim's Phone photography. It was quite an experience for me to see him do this. This technique can be very powerful. In fact the recently announced Bird Photography of the Year competition in the UK has a category specifically designed for this technique - some call it "Digiscoping". For me it shows the ingenuity of someone who's keen and passionate to learn the craft with whatever tools they may have at hand.

There's a really nice video here where Tim shares his thoughts on Photography and Photosafaris:

Tim the field guide.

One afternoon, we were having a quiet drive in Amboseli. There were elephants everywhere, yet we'd had our fair share of elephants and Tim suggested we go explore some of the open plains area. Amboseli has a diverse landscape and we'd arrived on a road close to a small river which was lush and green, and I'd noticed some Crowned Cranes. I suggested to the group we take a few shots given the environment they were in and that they were feeding. As we started looking in our viewfinders, Tim was scouting the horizon with his Binoculars. Tim then quietly said "Jon, there's a Lion over there". Sure enough, sat in the yellow/green grass was a Lioness that was well blended in to her environment. We repositioned our lenses! She was slightly far off, but it was great to see a beautiful lioness. 

This is the first view I got of the lioness: 380mm f6.3 1/400 Iso 200

We sat and watched for a little while. She looked to be in a very sleepy flat cat situation and so I was expecting much to happen. Then she yawned. At this point I said "she's going to move". If you ever see a flat cat of any variety yawn, it means one simple thing...they will get up and move. It's a way to get oxygen to their brains and is the way as a photographer you can anticipate when an big cat is about to do something interesting.

She's now up and starting to walk parallel to the small river/drainage line. 380mm f6.3 1/500 Iso 200 

Tim's immediate response was "If it's ok, I'm going to put us on the other side of that river, as I think we can get ahead of her". We didn't realise this straightaway, but Tim made a brilliant call. We about-turned and headed off. Just as a few other vehicles started coming in. Tim got us the other side of that bank you see on the photo above. At which point our lioness went flat cat again!

Tim put us in a prime position. We are now closer to the lioness even though she's gone flat cat.420mm f5.0 1/640 Iso 1000.

To the right of us were a herd of wildebeest. They were some ways from us. So I didn't think anything of it. The fact she'd just lay straight down made me think she was going back into snooze mode. I then saw her yawning again.

Another yawn indicating she was about to get on the move again. 380mm f4.0 1/800 Iso 640. 

I knew that she was going to now move. Where I had no clue. The wildebeest were far away, around 600 meters from her. They weren't alarm calling. She was on her own, and I figured there was no way she'd go hunting. Then Tim repositioned the vehicle to stay ahead of the game and I got these two shots which made me think twice...

Playing with depth of field, I wanted to show the story of the Wildebeest on the horizon. 300mm f5.0 1/125 ISO 200.

Eyes on the prize. This is when her intentions became clear. 300mm f5.0 1/125 ISO 200. 

The lioness got up and started walking purposefully. She took a look at the two other vehicles that were next to us, turned and started to walk right along the river/drainage line. 

The approach. She is just about to go lower past the embankment for perfect concealment from her prey. 330mm f4.0 1/800 Iso 100. 

At one point she went behind the embankment and I lost, we lost sight of her. She had gone into stalking position and that was the last I saw her. Still I was expecting a long wait before she resurfaced at the end of the embankment where the herd of Wildebeest were grazing, oblivious to the threat. She had found the perfect approach, totally concealed from view. I estimated at which level she would be, and I had my camera at the ready. I'd seen a lion stalk like this before, but miss the kill. I thought that experience would help me. But it didn't. She'd advanced significantly further than I thought, and she then struck and within a split second she'd taken a wildebeest down. It happened so quickly I'd missed the pursuit and take down. I did get this shot though, although by now we were some ways from the sighting.

 Like a road accident, the other wildebeest look on, and don't flee, most likely safe in the knowledge it's not one of them. 380mm f4.0 1/1000 Iso 1600.

This was the first Lion kill I'd seen. Another vehicle passed us, with some American tourists. The father of the family was jubilant and excited, whooping and shouting with excitement of what he'd seen. That's not really my style. I'm not a wildlife photographer that was hoping to see a kill. But I am a wildlife photographer that wanted to tell that story should it happen. I feel immensely privileged to have witnessed it. And it was thanks to Tim's anticipation, skill and patience that we witnessed it. Little did we know at that point the excitement had only just started. But I will leave the second half of the story to another blog. Tim, thank you. It was a privilege to witness. 

Tim the Ornithologist.

The 3rd and final story I wanted to share with you about Tim is regarding birds. Regular readers of my blog will know I have the highest degree of respect for bird photographers. They are without doubt the most challenging animals to photograph. 

I'd noticed that Tim had a keen eye for birds. On one drive in Amboseli he spotted a brown hooded kingfisher. This was one of the closest encounters I'd had of a kingfisher and I got a stunning portrait of it. Whilst taking my photographs, I noticed that Tim was busy looking in his bird book to check the identification and then noting it down in his notebook. 

It was when we actually got to Tsuavo West that I spotted a Purple Roller some ways off road from us. Despite the distances I decided to take some images because it was a beautiful bird and one of my favourites. I was sure it was a Purple Roller. As I took my photos, Tim said "Jon, it's a Rufus Roller". "A what?". "A Rufus Roller". I'd never heard of a Rufus Roller before. Tim passed me the book. Sure enough the listing read "Rufus (Purple) Roller". I had no idea it's actual name was a Rufus Roller, and the common name being Purple Roller. I smiled at Tim. I'd learnt something. Tim noted it in his book.

Tim spotted this Rufus (Purple) Roller: 600mm f5.6 1/200 Iso 1600

We then got chatting about birds. It was at this point Tim told me such an inspiring story. He told me that there are 1089 difference species of birds in Kenya, and he is part of a species mapping program to understand the population densities throughout Kenya. He had to date estimated he'd identified in the region of 600 different species. He wanted to identify all 1089 of them. Then the "cherry on the cake". He wants to photograph all 1089 of them. I just love his passion and ambition behind such a project. I think it is great that someone who spends so much time in the field with an amazingly diverse set of mammals in front of him; elephants, big cats and so on....he's chosen birds to focus his photographic passion on. This is such an amazing inspiration. 

I'm happy to report that since my photosafari with him in Amboseli, he is now in possession of a Canon 60D. I'm so pleased for him. Here he is in action during the recent migration season. The smile says it all :-)

Tim, one of our Wild Eye East Africa guides photographing a spectacular wildebeest crossing in the Mara Triangle yesterday morning. If you'd like to experience this for yourself then check out our website for details on our 2016 Safari packages:http://www.wild-eye.co.za/safaris/kenya/masai-mara-great-migration-photographic-safari/

Posted by Wild Eye on Monday, 14 September 2015

 

 

 

 

Until next time!

Cheers

Jon

 

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(Jon Bryant Photography) https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/9/meet-tim Tue, 22 Sep 2015 10:24:31 GMT
Trip report: Camargue National Park, France https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/8/trip-report-camargue-national-park-france If you are not familiar with the Camargue National Park in France let me start with the basics. It is a protected natural park which is situated just to the south of the town of Arles, and stretches all the way to the Mediterranean sea. Shaped like a triangle it has two sections, which are split by the Rhône River Delta, the easter sector called Le Grand Rhône and the western sector called Le Petit Rhône. It is 360 square miles in area, and is Europe's largest river delta. It's note for it's brine lakes which are cut off from the sea, by sand bars and encircled by very tall reeds. The largest of these brine lakes is "L'Etang de Vaccarés", which in itself is around 36 square miles. The result is that this national park is a haven for wildlife, notably bird life. 

Google "Camargue" and you'll be presented with images of the Camargue wild horses. There are many iconic images of these horses online, galloping through the lakes or the sea. This gives you the impression that large numbers of them frequent the park and can be easily viewed. But like all wildlife in reserves, the reality to the images seen on line is very different. These wild horses are often on private landed and managed by Camargue Guardians (Cowboys), so access to photograph them is limited. Many of the images you see on line are staged, through tours or via private photographic tours where the Guardians round the horses up and encourage them to put on a show for the tourists. I don't have an issue with this. However it does break the perception that these horses are truly wild. Yes they are a wild breed, but the way they are managed in the park to me means they are very far from being truly wild. Thus to try and photograph these horses independently, via self drive through the park isn't as easy as you would think. First you have to drive through the road network keeping your eyes peeled on the land to try and spot them. With the long marsh reeds often measuring 2 meters high, this can be an almost impossible task! On one road there was an outlook point next to a road side parking and as I walked to the top to look at the view on the land, sure enough there was one horses well and truly hidden in the reeds. You could see it's back, but head, tail and legs were well hidden. Then when you do find the horses don't expect them to be galloping in groups of 10 or 15 like you see in these iconic images. You'll be lucky if you find a pair together. During my time there I spotted a couple of pairs in different areas, and where I got the best photographic opportunities was when I found 3 horses grazing together. These horses spend a lot of time grazing, or lying down due to the intense heat of the region. With temperatures getting up to 35C during the day, as with all wildlife photography the best time to view is the early hours of the day just before sunrise. 

One of the Camargue horses lying down. After much searching I found some horses that were accessible to take some photographs, but it wasn't easy.

Camargue Wild HorseCamargue Wild Horse

Two of the Camargue horses accompanied by egrets, taken just after sunrise in wonderful morning light.

So should you visit the Camargue with your heart set on reproducing these iconic images of wild horses galloping through the sea, my advice is to find a reputable photo tour guide, there are one or two operating in the area, and arrange a guided visit to take these images. 

As well as the horses there are semi-wild Camargue Cattle or Bulls, known as Raço di Bioù. The bulls are black in colour with distinctive upward sweeping horns. As is often the cases in the South of France the culture of Bull Fighting still exists, influenced with the southern boarder of Spain, together with Bull running ("Corridas" or "Course"). Neither of these practices I agree with irrespective of the cultural or traditionally history. 

Camargue Wild BullsCamargue Wild Bulls

Camargue bulls, Raço di Bioù, taking some shade at sunrise.

​Without doubt the greatest diversity of species in the park is birds. I've said many time on my blogs and with my posts on my Facebook page, I am not a bird photographer. Bird photographers are highly specialist and I have the utmost respect for them, because it is a very challenging discipline. With so much birding available though, I had to capture some images. Birding photography I find the most challenging of all wildlife photography so I think it is always a great opportunity to push your skills to the limit. 

The first thing that struck me in the Camargue was to view birds that I'd seen in Africa, notably Flamingos and Egrets. Only two months ago I was photographing Egrets on Elephants in Kenya. To now see many of them in the South of France following horses and bulls I found incredible. The park is home to one of the largest European populations of greater flamingo. There are an abundance of them throughout the park and even on the outskirts when you dive into the park in the smaller lakes. 

Greater FlamingoGreater Flamingo

A greater flamingo; they are easily the most abundant bird species in the Camargue and easily visible when you drive around the park.

The other distinctive bird that is visible in most of the small lakes around the park is the Heron. At the Etang de Vaccarés there is a very large population on view and that can be easily photographed from one of the small parking areas. They are around 50-100 meters from view and so a long lens (around 600mm) is required to photograph them. Unfortunately many of the smaller lakes are fenced off with no viewing decks. This would be my one criticism of the park. Whilst I understand the need to protect the environment, with provision to park up and view the next logical step would be to put a simple pontoon and viewing platform that allows a closer view towards the lakes. There certainly is enough space to do that without negatively impacting the wildlife or the fauna. 

HeronHeron

A Heron that was perched, I waited and watched and saw eventually he'd take off. Sometimes it all comes together and you get the shot! 

Another heron shot, precariously perched in a tree, there were and abundance of other birds around him.

There were many many smaller birds, probably too many to photograph at distance, even with my 600mm equivalent focal length. I probably needed a 500mm f4 lens with a 1.4 or 2X teleconverter on to do them any justice! However I did manage to watch a couple of smaller birds from a hidden position and got some great shots. One which stood out for me was what I think is a green sandpiper, but would stand corrected.

Green SandpiperGreen Sandpiper

I'm still very much learning about birds, but I'm sure this is part of the Sandpiper family and at a guess I'd go for a green sandpiper, but would be happy to stand corrected in the comments!

When shooting birds in and around lakes one thing I often do is look at the shoreline. As well as an abundance of fish, notably carp coming to the surface to feed, by looking at the shoreline you potentially can spot other water dwelling animals. I spotted something which at first I thought may have been a beaver, but on closer inspection wasn't. What I spotted was a Coypu.

CoypuCoypu

Looking close to the shoreline I spotted a Coypu, but he didn't stick around, after posing on this small rock, he headed off back to the reeds out of view. 

Whenever you stop, or walk around in the Camargue you are going to be presented by an abundance of insects. In fact the region, not just the Camargue, but the Mediterranean coast in France has a huge problem since some years with mosquitos. There has been a proliferation of tiger mosquitos and when these things bite, you won't feel it at the time but you certainly will feel it within 24 hours. Just to put things in perspective, in June I went to Kenya where mosquitos and tsetse flies are prevalent. I got bitten once by a mosquito in 7 days. I used mosquito and insect repellant every day on my arms, legs and neck. After 7 days in the South of France using the same repellant daily, I got bitten 21 times! So if you plan to go and visit the Camargue, take precautions, the Camargue has some of the most ferocious mosquitos around, and unfortunately the French authorities are doing nothing to combat the problem, in the same way that national parks in South Africa do - i.e. regularly spray! Despite the heat, I dressed as if on Safari, with long thin trousers and a long mosquito repellant shirt, rolled up sleeves and repellant on the arms. I was good to go, and didn't get bitten during my time in the park. Despite this, one of the joys of the insect life is dragon flies. In and around all the lakes and wetland marshes and reeds you will see dragonflies of all sizes and colours. The beauty of this is you don't need to change your lens. I had 600mm equivalent for birds and all I needed to do is reposition on the reeds for the dragonflies to get some great shots.

Red DragonflyRed Dragonfly A stunning red dragonfly perches just in front of me. I love the contrast of red and greens in this photograph. 

Within the park itself, you have a couple of towns such as Saintes-Maries-De-La-Mer, and Aigues-Mortes, which are well worth a visit. I managed to visit Saintes-Maries-De-La-Mer, but didn't get time to get across to Aigues-Mortes. 

Would I go back and visit again?

Yes I would!

I think a 4 or 5 day itinerary starting in Arles and then actually staying in a gîte (French B&B) on the western side of the reserve itself would be an idea way to discover the area in more detail. The eastern side feels much less touristy than the western side. The western side is scattered with an abundance of horse ranches offering horse rides, where as the eastern side is mainly wetlands and smaller lakes with very little through traffic and an abundance of birds. I also think staying locally within the park would give you much more access to the "secret spots" the locals know about, that the day tripper will miss. If you love the outdoors and birding photography, without doubt this is one of the best places in Europe to do that. I've heard about a significant population of raptors in the park and the odd roller being spotted. The fact that you can view an abundance of birds in Southern Europe that are also found in Southern Africa I think is really exciting. Due to the nature of the park, if you are looking to combine landscapes and wildlife, you may be out of luck. The high reeds, around the wetlands, and the relatively flat landscapes mean there is little diversity for the landscape photographer. You may on occasion get lucky however (see below). As I mentioned earlier, there are a number of photographic guided opportunities to combine the wild horses with other bird photography opportunities, and I think this is potentially a great option for a short break. If you happen to be in the region for other reasons, I would still recommend spending a day in the park. It's a big park, so you won't get chance to see everything in one day, but picking one area, the eastern or western side is doable. But if you do go, get a good birding book. Next time I return, I'll be getting a birding book and taking some binoculars with me!

You can see my gallery of 12 wildlife/landscape images from the visit here.

A very useful brochure/guide to the park, highlighting the main areas to visit, in English can be found here (pdf file).

SunflowersSunflowers

The main source of agriculture in the Camargue is the rice, but very occasionally you'll come across the odd sunflower field. 

 

Until next time...

Jon

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(Jon Bryant Photography) https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/8/trip-report-camargue-national-park-france Sun, 16 Aug 2015 10:59:42 GMT
Adventures in seascape photography https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/8/adventures-in-seascape-photography I think as photographers, if we stop pushing ourselves to learn new things then we are doing ourselves a disservice. I'm pretty sure I will never stop learning as far as photography is concerned. I've had some pretty amazing experiences already this year and I have seen the progress with my images. I'm expanding my portfolio and I'm shooting things in a different way with a new set of skills I didn't have at the beginning of the year.

This August, like most Augusts each year I am in France. However this time I am on the Mediterranean coast, when normally I spend some weeks on the Atlantic coast. As a result, I am in a part of France which is new to me. I am not far from the Camargue National Park which I am hoping to visit next week and hopefully get some wildlife shots. This is where the Rhone river meets the Mediterranean sea. Thus, I find myself right next to the coast. 

Before I arrived I did a little bit of research. This is essential to landscape photography. What I discovered was that I would be in and around what the French call "Calanques" - this is difficult to translate into English, but basically the coast line is made up of large and small coves. Some of the larger ones are only accessible by boat. I am situated close to some of the smaller ones. 

A quick iPhone snap of my camera and the Lee filters system. You see the filter sticking up on the lens, which is a grad ND filter.

I invested in two filters, the Lee Filters Big Stopper (a 10 stop ND filter) and a Little Stopper (a 6 stop ND filter). These filters are like sun glasses for your lenses. The block out the light and enable you to open up the shutter for much longer exposure times. This allows you to do some amazing things, particularly with moving water. It enables you to set a long exposure and effectively smooth the sea out giving a silk like or misty appearance. Not everyone likes this effect. Personally, I do like it and I think it can look very effective, creating mood and ambience in landscape and seascape imagery. A lot of Big Stopper photographers actually shoot for black and white conversions for printing. As this was my first outing with the technique I have stayed with colour for the time being. But over time I will look at shooting specifically for black and white once I get a bit more experience.

For those of you that don't know the Mediterranean is pretty calm when compared to the Atlantic. It isn't tidal and it does not get huge sets of rollers coming in from a far. This means I haven't been using the Little Stopper very often. I think this filter would lend itself to waves and shorter exposure times to create dramatic movement in the sea. For the Mediterranean I've been using the Big Stopper, this allowed me to expose from 30 seconds onwards and longer and smoothed the sea out to give that silky effect.

The first couple of mornings I went out, I was up at 6.30 which was around the time the sun rose, and I was at the beaches for around 7.00am. What I found was that at this time, with just 30 minutes of sun light, there was too much light to get the type of images I was looking for. The images looked ok, but they weren't what I was looking for. 

My first seascape with the Lee Filters, Big Stopper. The sun is to the left and you can see the difference as the light falls on the right side of the composition, yet the left still has shades. The sea is also very reflective and white, rather than a marine blue colour. 

Despite the results not really delivering, I really enjoyed the early starts. It kind of reminded me of being back on Safari with a 5.20am wake up. I'm not really a morning person. But despite the difficulties of pulling yourself out of bed so early, there is something satisfying about being outdoors before everyone else. You might meet the odd coastal fisherman who's up at the same hour and on the rocks for a different reason. But other than that, it's just you, the sea and nature and that brings with it a calmness which I really enjoy. 

Interestingly, and I've had this experience in Africa too...if you don't practice photography, you don't really realise just how quickly the sun rises and sets. It takes a matter of minutes for that bright orange orb on the horizon to pop up, or go to bed. Either way, blink and you will miss it. So you have to work pretty quickly with your gear and it's best to get set up and ready to go about 30 minutes before the sun appears. Like this you give yourself a little extra breathing space before taking the shot. Over the next few mornings through some trial and error I started to gauge the light levels both before and just after sun rise and was able to adjust exposures accordingly. 

In terms of kit and workflow what do you exactly need?

  • First you need a tripod. You won't be able to take any long exposure images without the camera being locked down on a good sturdy tripod. Any coastal wind can shake a tripod, so you want a sturdy one. Travel tripods are ok, but not for this type of photography. I brought my main tripod with me which is a Manfrotto tripod and fluid head. It's heavy and so pretty much sticks when you set it up. 
  • You will need a wide angle lens, and a mid range telephoto. I have the 16-35mm f2.8 and the 24-70mm f2.8 lenses for these types of seascapes. The wide angle lens works really well when you want to get low angles and close up to foreground interest. The telephoto is idea if you want to compose in tighter to a certain area of interest in the frame.
  • Obviously you'll need a filter kit. I use the Lee Filters system which allows me to add a filter holder to the lens, thanks to an adapter ring system. The 24-70mm f2.8 lens has a standard 77mm filter thread, and this adapter comes with the Lee Filters system. The 16-35mm f2.8 has an 82mm filter thread and this you will need to purchase separately. The filter holder allows you to add both the Big Stopper 10 stop ND filter and also ND grad filters. The ND grad filters are very useful for when you have too much contrast in the skies. However the Big Stopper needs to be the filter placed closes to the lens, with the ND grad being placed on top of the Big Stopper. This is a challenge as you can't see where the grad starts and ends in your frame. So you have to first compose with the ND grad then slide the Big Stopper in-between the grad and the lens.
  • A time remote or remote trigger. You want to eliminate all camera movement to release the shutter. The timer remote also gives you the longer exposure options when in Bulb mode.

My Canon 5Dmkiii on my Manfrotto tripod, a very sturdy set up that can actually get down very low and shoot some nice low angles. Very versatile for compositions (iPhone snap)

The Lee Filters ND grads comes with the 10x10 filter holder which is compatible with the Big and Little Stopper. The filter ring allows the filter holder to be attached to the lens. (iPhone snap). 

For the set up;

  1. Get your tripod and camera set up and attach the timer remote.
  2. Add the adapter ring to the lens.
  3. Now start to compose the image. Get your settings dialled in. Use Manual mode (M) to set aperture, and iso. You want the iso as low as possible as longer exposure times can induce more noise. Then balance the exposure with shutter speed. Make a note of the shutter speed the camera is telling you.
  4. Lee Filters provide you with a quick guide to dial in a new shutter speed for the exposure times taking in to consideration the 10 stops difference the Big Stopper will add. This is a very handy guide to have. The 10 stops means you have to recalculate the exposure time and hence the shutter speed. This is why you need to note the shutter speed of a normal exposed frame before adding the filter.
  5. [Note the 10 stop calculation is as follows, 1 stop a metered exposure of 1/30th of a second doubles to become 1/15th of a second, 2 stops makes 1/15th become 1/8th and 3 stops makes 1/8th become 1/4....by the time you get to 10 stops like this you are at 32 seconds]
  6. Add the grad filter in the outer filter slot first. Check the grad is correctly on the horizon.
  7. Now focus, using Autofocus. Once the camera has locked focus, switch the lens to manual focus. This is needed for when you trigger the shutter with the remote.
  8. Now finally add the Big Stopper to the filter holder. Slide it in carefully so as not to move the grad ND if you have one in place.
  9. Dial in the new shutter speed taking into consideration the 10 stops of exposure. 
  10. Trigger the shutter release to take the shot.

Note - for Canon cameras the longest exposure in Manual mode (M) is 30 seconds. To shoot over 30 seconds you need to use Bulb mode (B) and dial the exposure time into the remote control. 

Lee include this excellent exposure guide which helps you convert a normal exposure to the exposure time needed with the Big Stopper.

This all seems quite complex, but actually it isn't. Once you start shooting it becomes second nature. The most important thing is setting up and composing before adding the Big Stopper, because once you add the filter you are literally working blind. So it is important to get all your ducks in a row, before adding the filter and hitting the shutter release, otherwise you will end up with some surprises and have to start over!

After several mornings now exploring the coast, I'm now getting images I'm happy with. When shooting seascapes it is all about quality over quantity of images. This is not about going out there and taking 10 or 20 images. Some morning's I've been lucky to get 4 shots, and with the 4th shot I've been pushing my luck as far as the light is concerned. It is better to focus on one or two compositions and working to optimise those. Trying to chase after locations will just eat up time and you'll soon find yourself out of time as the sun rises and the bright light creates strong harsh reflections on the sea and contrasty skies. As the sun rises (or sets) your light dramatically changes so you have to constantly adjust that exposure calculation for your shutter speed to compensate. For example at 6am one morning I exposed in Bulb (B) mode for 4 minutes. Then at 6.30am I was down to 2 minutes 30 seconds as the sun began to rise. It is important to take the filter off the lens and check what the shutter speed is for a normal exposed composition. The shutter speed will increase the more light there is and hence with the filter the exposure time will be less. 

So what have the results been like?

Here's a selection of images that I've taken. Keep in mind, I'm an absolute beginner with regards to seascapes! It's been a huge amount of fun. I've loved the whole experience!

Using the 16-35mm f2.8. I first tried a wider composition. f9.0, 19mm, ISO 100, 4 minute exposure.

I went in close to the rocks with the same 16-35mm f2.8 lens. I now had a little more light to play with which helped with the colour of the sea which I accentuated using Lightroom's HSL sliders. f9.0, 16mm, ISO 100, 3 minute 20 second exposure. 

I had to climb down a cliff to get to this small cove! 16mm, ISO 100, f10, 1 minute 35 seconds exposure. 

 

25mm, ISO 100, f10, 1 minute 20 second exposure.

25mm, ISO 100, f10 1 minute 20 seconds.

I used the 24-70mm f2.8 lens to compose this shot at 70mm f18, ISO 100, 30 second exposure. I was some distance from the harbour wall and lighthouse, which is why it is a good idea to carry a telephoto lens in your bag. 

Next week I head to the North of France, on a completely different stretch of coastline in Normandy and I am really hoping to get out on that stretch of coastline and repeat the experience. I'm pretty sure it will make for some pretty rugged and very different seascapes than those I've taken this week.

cheers

Jon

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(Jon Bryant Photography) Camera Cameras Coast Coastline Landscape Long Nature Photography Sea Seascape exposures https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/8/adventures-in-seascape-photography Tue, 11 Aug 2015 15:35:21 GMT
What's wrong with simple and clean compositions? https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/7/whats-wrong-with-simple-and-clean-compositions I'm seeing a trend and I'm not convinced it is good for photography. 

We are awash with images on social media. We have photo feeds through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, 500px, Pinterest, the list is seemingly endless. This has exposed us to more photography than ever before. But is it helping us as photographers? Is it helping us as wildlife photographers?

Here I put the case for The Good, The Bad and The Ugly...

The good

Without doubt social media has democratised photography. This means as a creative art form, more people can access it, more people can practice it. This overall I think is a good thing. For myself, I've been able to enter a domain of photography and get my work into that domain relatively quickly. And for the most part my images have been well received and the level of engagement has been positive and beneficial for me. Being part of the online community of wildlife photographers, especially in South Africa (despite not being a South African!) has benefited me, and my photography enormously. I have established, contacts, friendships and constructive critique which I value.

This was one of the first images that was selected in the "beinspiredby" Wild Eye themes - Animals in Space. It was an image I took in Madikwe in 2014 and I had hesitated for a long time before decided to contribute to the weekly themes. After I was first selected, I never looked back and contribute regularly to help inspire others to share their work. ​

The bad

With all that social media comes a new currency with which images are judged; "likes", "favourites" and "shares". How long do you take actually looking at anyone image on line? Is it less than 10 seconds or do you pour over the image for a few minutes asking yourself what draws you to the image? I'd argue it is the former, due to the shear numbers of images you are bombarded with in your various social media feeds. And that's not your fault. But then you probably gave that photo you looked at for less than 10 seconds a "like" right? What does that mean? What are you trying to convey to the person who took that photograph? Is it because you really liked it? If I really like something, I'll tell the person with a compliment. So why has that photo with 100 likes only got 1 or 2 comments? I just don't get it. And I certainly would never judge the quality of a photograph by the number of "likes" it has on a social media platform. I am far more interested in reading comments on what people think and feel about the work. I'm more interested in the engagement side. Because for me if there is no engagement when sharing work then I think you have to question why you'd want to share something in the first place. This new currency or "likes", "favourites" and "shares" is total bullsh1t in my opinion.

I had some success with this image on line via the AfricaNature page, which is a great page. However it wasn't the number of "likes" that interested me, but the engagement through the comments.

I see a whole generation of you tube vloggers posting travel photos on Instagram after taking them on expensive DSLRs and then adding a Nik Collection effect to it in Lightroom to give a retro colour grade, and then getting tens of thousands of likes...and the photograph is nothing exceptional. It might be an interesting place (e.g. Niagra Falls, The Grand Canyon, etc) or destination (e.g. NY city etc), but photographically there is very little craft behind it. I have no problem with that. But where I do have a problem is those tens of thousands of likes being a barometer of photographic craft and ability, because it isn't, and it's fooling that photographer into thinking that their images are amazing, and they are not focusing on their craft and getting better as a photographer.

This whole new currency is just fake. Which brings me to...

The Ugly

This brings me to the whole world of print media. How is social media impacting how Picture editors, Magazine and Newspaper Editors judge images? I had a recent exchange with a respected pro. I hugely appreciated the dialogue but it went along the lines of...print media is looking for extraordinary images. And there you have it in a nutshell. Social media has now pushed print media editors to search for the most extraordinary images irrespective of all else. And this begs the question, to me at least...

What is wrong with simple and clean compositions?

Surely there is still a place in wildlife photography for the "less is more" approach? Solid and simple compositions, that tell strong stories, that place the animals in their environments. There has to be a place for these images!!! Why? Because most people don't get to see the subjects in their natural environments. They don't get out and see the wildebeest on open grass planes, a pride of lions flat cat, a leopard just walking on a territory patrol, a hornbill sat in a tree, a red squirrel in a tree, an urban fox in someones garden, even ducks in the local park!!! Ok so I exaggerate with the last example. But it is included to make a point. The danger now is that the mainstream print media will dismiss quality images because they are deemed "ordinary"...they are not showing lions fighting, cheetahs taking down an impala at 60mph, massive bull elephants with tusks interlocked in a brawl. But that isn't the reality of any outing to view wildlife. Those are the exceptions. Yes it is down to us as photographers to creatively look at how to interpret the "ordinary" to make it "extraordinary".

For me there is still a long way to go with simple and clean compositions telling stories of animals in their environment. To overlook and not represent these images is a disservice to wildlife photography because for those aspiring to wildlife photograph you simple put them off. You raise the bar sky high and put a message out there that those coming into wildlife photography need to producing images that prescribe to this level of extraordinariness. This for me isn't keeping it real. It's an ugly situation, and pushing a trend I don't like to see.

I've made some strong statements in this blog! And I'll make no apologies for it. This blog after all is my voice, and so I'll put my money where my mouth is. Here are 3 simple and clean compositions of my own work that speak to me. 

A lone wildebeest on the open plains of Amboseli under moody clouds. I just played on the contours of the land. 

"Big and small" - I have a few images of lilac crested rollers, but when one perched just in front of an elephant I was photographing I decided to play with the depth of field to tell a different story. 

5 zebras line up for a drink with a nice reflection and the terracotta soil of Tsuavo West. Animals are at their most vulnerable when drinking. So having 5 lined up in a row helps show the protection in numbers they have whilst drinking.

Next time you view wildlife images, slow down and think about the engagement aspect with the photographer rather than just clicking "like". Trust me when I tell you they'll appreciate it!

 

cheers 

Jon

 

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(Jon Bryant Photography) https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/7/whats-wrong-with-simple-and-clean-compositions Thu, 30 Jul 2015 11:26:26 GMT
Destination Amboseli, Kenya. https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/7/destination-amboseli-kenya It's been a few weeks now since my return from Amboseli, Kenya. 

So as a destination what should you expect from Amboseli? 

Kenya is pretty much the #1 destination in East Africa for wildlife photography. It has an abundance of national parks, combined with the great wildebeest migration in the Masi Mara, which is pretty much unrivalled as a wildlife spectacle. 

Amboseli is a fairly unique destination. It is situated in the South of Kenya right on the Tanzanian boarder, and has the iconic Mount Kilimanjaro within its midst. From a wildlife perspective, those of you who may be aware of Amboseli as a wildlife reserve probably know that it is associated with Elephants. Go ahead and Google: Wildlife in Amboseli, and you'll be presented with Elephants with Kilimanjaro as a back drop.

We were super lucky to have Kilimanjaro show itself, cloud free on 3 occasions. On this morning, the ellies lined up nicely for us.

But Amboseli is so much more than just elephants. And if you plan on visiting there, you need to keep your mind as open as possible to see the real beauty and diversity of Amboseli.

As you drive into the park past the gate house, you are presented with open dust plains. Overall Amboseli is very flat. But the landscape changes dramatically, from open dust plains or the dry lake bed, you are presented with woodlands, long grasslands, and open marsh areas. It is varied and diverse. The marshes that sweep through the landscape come from the water sources of Mount Kilimanjaro. This is a complex ecosystem that sustains so much of the life. You would not know the marshes were there from ground level, and you certainly wouldn't realise how deep the water is until you see a half submerged elephant grazing in one! 

A hike up observation hill, and you see just how lush and fertile the marshes are. At ground level it can be deceiving as to how much water is actually present.

And so the marshes sustain a huge population of wildlife, elephants, buffalos, hippos, a plethora of birds and so on, in tandem with open plains game such as wildebeest, zebra, antelope (thompson's gazelles, oryx), giraffe's. The abundance and diversity can be overlooked so easily on first impressions. I'd class myself as a fairly seasons safari goer, yet there were many new sightings for me; Thompson gazelles I had never seen before, Oryx I had only seen images of and it was a dream of mine to photograph them, I'd never seen crowned cranes in the wild before, only in captivity, yet Amboseli was full of them! I had never seen Secretary birds and this was another new sighting for me. The list went on. 

Being there for 4 nights, with longer than average game drives really made me appreciate the diversity of the wildlife. Those elephants you are looking at, grazing in the marshes....did you spot the serval hunting right under your nose? We didn't just see one serval, we spotted a second at a different sighting. An incredible experience as this was a cat I always wanted to see but never expected to see one in Amboseli. The serval had an abidance of prey in those marshes so over the course of those 5 days we spotted him a few times as we knew where his playground was. 

One of the many highlights for me; seeing a Serval. One of the cats on my "list to see" - they are not easy to find and it was a joy to watch him hunt.

Amboseli is such a huge place, you have to be prepared from a photographic perspective to get in tune with the landscape very quickly. In Kenya, game drive vehicles must stick to the road/tracks. No off roading is allowed. Therefore the sighting you encounter may be many meters away from your vehicle. This should not put you off at all. This is probably one of the top 3 reasons I wanted to go to Amboseli. I had limited experience shooting with long focal lengths and this was an opportunity for me to learn something new.

This photograph shows the scale of Amboseli, and why it is probably one of the best destinations to learn how to shoot wildlife at longer focal lengths.

An Amboseli roadblock. If you are familiar encountering Elephants in South Africa, you just drive around them. In Amboseli even if you aren't surrounded by marshes, you can't off road, so you have to be patient or reverse. Either way, I'm not complaining. More time to photograph!

In Amboseli I was working between 300-600mm for the majority of the time. For me that was a great learning opportunity. Being presented with subjects far away forces you to work around those constraints and gets you thinking creatively and as a result increases your technical ability with a camera. But if you visit Amboseli for wildlife photography you will need a kit bag along these lines:

  • Preferably two DSLR bodies (one APS-C body gives you a little extra focal length reach)
  • 300mm lens - your primary lens for wildlife with the 2X converter giving you 600mm equivalent.
  • 70-200mm f2.8 - handy to have the 1.4X converter for a little extra flexibility.
  • 24-70mm f2.8 - great for pulling back and getting shots of animals in their environment (wildscapes).
  • 16-35mm f2.8 or the 17-40mm f4.0 - must have for landscapes.
  • 2X and 1.4X converters

Here's the metadata from Lightroom for both Amboseli and Tsuavo West photos combined:

You can see, well over half of my shots were within 240-600mm focal length because I was using a 120-300mm lens with a 2X converter. Things to be aware of when using a 2X converter are that it will vignette. This can be fixed in Lightroom and Photoshop, but just be aware especially if you get really tight in on a subject. It is often better to just pull back a little and give yourself some space around the edges of the frame. With that in mind, another aspect of shooting with longer focal lengths was in shooting for the crop. This is another area where again you need to think carefully about the composition in order to give yourself enough space and leeway to crop in Lightroom. You also need to make sure your focus is spot on if you are shooting to crop. I wouldn't recommend shooting for cropping as a default, but it is important to know how to do it when your focal length limits you. Its a good trick to get you out of jail occasionally, but shouldn't be relied upon. 

So this was really the challenge; a huge landscape and the need to work with longer focal lengths, yet be able to tell wildlife stories of animals in their environment. Amboseli without doubt is an incredible "playground" for the wildlife photographer. Let me show you some examples below, and comment on each instance...

This photograph shows the classic Amboseli colours. With Kilimanjaro as the backdrop, you have a "tricolour" of battle grey/blue, pastel yellow and green. This gives wildlife photography in Amboseli a unique angle. Any animal you find with the mountain as a backdrop gives you a unique and colourful backdrop in your compositions. Sometimes, as shown above you'd have these 'dust devils' swirling about. They are quite common and again give a lot of interest to the images.

The image here is of an elephant, but I wanted to play with multiple aspects in the composition; the light, which as you can see is incredible (more on that later in the blog), that battle grey/blue backdrop, and the open expansiveness of green grazing grass that the elements eat. Compositionally I decided to break the rule of thirds and put the elephant to the far left, and fill a lot of the frame with negative space. This was on purpose as I wanted to show the elephants grazing environment as this is so important to the story. I then had to wait for the trunk to roll up to emphasise the feeding! The two little white specs are egrets, which follow the elephants around and piggy back on them. 

So you are expecting elephants in Amboseli, right? Well how about lions? We came across 3 female lions pretty much flat cat, in the midday sun. Eventually they sat up and started to take notice of some grazing zebra on the horizon (and eventually two reedbucks a little closer in the longer bushes centre). We were some meters from the lionesses, so here I decided to compose and use a shallow depth of field to tell the story. The lioness focus was on the zebra, so that's where I put the camera focus, on the landscape and the environment, with the lion being blurred in the foreground. Compositionally this works for me, and is a great example of how to work with your surroundings and a longer focal length. 

"Hold on. The last photo you shared was lush and green. Now you are posting a photo with straw coloured soft yellow grass. Surely you've switched game reserves?"

No. 

No, this is still Amboseli. Look at those colours. An Ostrich far away from me. I'm zoomed in at 600mm. I've got a tree as a distant anchor point for some contact and I'm just watching the Ostrich until I get a nice posture to represent his grazing. With an "S" neck and one leg bent, I clicked. I overexposed to emphasise those pastel colours. I never imaged getting so excited about shooting Ostriches. But once I took this image, I kept shooting them whenever I could!!!

A simple portrait. But the light makes all the difference. Back lit, this sings to me. Enough said.

Simple clean compositions were another way to interpret the landscapes of Amboseli. We would see herds of Wildebeest and they often gave us some great photographic opportunities, either chasing each other due to rutting, or in golden sun rises. But when you saw the odd isolated Wildebeest how could you compositionally make it interesting? It was often cloudy in Amboseli, which mean variable light and colour conditions. Here I just used the contours of the landscape and negative space to show the Wildebeest in his environment. This is another photograph that shows the contrast of the Amboseli landscape.  

Another new species for me; a reedbuck. This one was some ways from us in the reeds of the marsh. So with a 600mm focal length slightly pulled back to around 550mm, I worked on some natural framing to create a nice portrait of this antelope in it's environment.

Yes you really are seeing a spot light on those elephants. Take a look at the mountain hillside behind them. That's a shadow of a cloud. The light in Amboseli is incredible. Nobody can tell you how good the light is in Amboseli. You have to experience it. This is called "key lighting". You are waiting for the clouds to move and illuminate the subjects. Here we had positioned and waited for the key lighting to appear. You don't have much time to work because the light will pass very quickly as the cloud moves. Here I was lucky enough to have some egrets piggy backing and at least two of the ellies side on and one trunk rolled. So I am happy!

This is the final image. And for me it doesn't get much better than this. The colour mix in this image is just crazy; black and white of the zebras, the green and yellows of the grass, the red and browns of the dry lake bed, the heat haze and then the battle grey/blue of the mountain and sky. Just incredible. 

So to conclude....what is Amboseli like as a destination? Well it's unique for so many reasons. I hope I've convinced you with this blog and the images that I've shared, that Amboseli is so much more than elephants and Kilimanjaro. After starting my wildlife photography adventure in South Africa, and with 4 return visits, when I chose Kenya and Amboseli it was for a reason. Like a painter looking for inspiration as they paint on a new canvas, I wanted a new photographic canvas to challenge my creativity. Amboseli delivered in abundance. GK Chesterton said "the traveller sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see". Amboseli is without doubt a destination for travellers.

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(Jon Bryant Photography) Africa Amboseli Animals Blog East Kenya Kilimanjaro Landscape Nature Photography Photosafari Pics Safari Tips Wildlife https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/7/destination-amboseli-kenya Sat, 25 Jul 2015 11:32:25 GMT
What do you expect from a safari? https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/7/what-do-you-expect-from-a-safari I've blogged about this before. No apologies about blogging on the same topic again. Why?

Well because having been to Africa a number of times on Safari it keeps hitting me that people don't realise what a safari is about. I see people coming in with incredible expectations of what they want to see and my heart drops for them because I know from experience that the chances are they won't see what they want to see. Why do I say this?

Because as I've blogged about before going on Safari is about:

  • Stacking the odds in your favour - picking the right game reserves to have a better chance of seeing your preferred species
  • Having a great and skilled field guide - it is their eyes, ears and tracking ability you are counting on
  • Luck. Yes, at the end of the day, you need luck!

Case in point...

On the last part of the Essential Amboseli and Tsuavo West Photosafari, we spent two nights in Tsuavo West. Tsuavo was a revelation. A place with a feeling of pure wilderness. I will blog more about Tsuavo later as I can't do it justice here. The temptation at Tsuavo was to wish for seeing a big cat or a rhino. However there was such diversity in the small things, I had incredible fun getting stunning images of dim dik, jackals, bustards and grouse. Lots of fun, I promise you.

On our very last morning drive it was grey and overcast and we hadn't seen much. I wasn't complaining, I'd had incredible sightings, and every now and again you know you'll get the odd "hangover drive" - its to be expected and its these moments you creativity should be kicking in on what other photographic opportunities present themselves.

As we drove we spotted some lesser kudu on a hill side. We slowed and stopped and I started to observe and compose my lens. They were far away but as I had only discovered lesser kudu in Tsuavo I was keen to get at least a couple of shots of them. Then Tim, our guide said "Jon, if you sit down, I'll show you something special". He reversed 200 meters. This is what we saw:

What do you see?

Can you see anything special?

The first tree line you can see before the start of the hill side is approximately 300 meters away and this image is taken at the widest focal length I had which was 240mm.

Andrew our photo guide in the other vehicle had spotted something. Let me show you when I zoomed in to 600mm:

See him now?

Yep. A leopard. Now zoomed in at 600mm you can see him. What was he doing there?

Well he was watching the lesser kudu on the hill side (there are two) and one heartbeast. 

Despite the distance, this was great to see and capped off an incredible two nights in Tsuavo. Did I mind he was so far away? Not at all. I have been so privileged to photograph leopards close up in Sabi Sands. At that moment in time I didn't need more leopard portraits. For me this was completely different. This was a leopard who was probably not habituated to vehicles, sitting watching his potential prey. This was a big cat in its environment. The bigger picture and the story of this sighting was stepping back and showing the environment and not zooming in up close, which in wildlife photography seems to be the biggest trap. This was also about not just having one but three skilled guides between two vehicles who have their eyes and ears tuned in to the bush. Kudos to Andrew for spotting this! In fact the photo he showed me of the first spot, was a tiny white spec in long grass...that white spec was the leopards ear. I never would have got that.

So what do you expect from a Safari?

For me when things like this unravel, I feel grateful I'm there to witness them. 

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(Jon Bryant Photography) Africa Animals Big Cats Kenya Landscapes Leopards Nature Photography Safari Travel Wildlife https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/7/what-do-you-expect-from-a-safari Thu, 16 Jul 2015 09:19:11 GMT
Photosafari vs. Safari...the verdict! https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/7/photosafari-vs-safari-the-verdict So, in my last blog I shared some thoughts on going on a Safari versus a dedicated Photosafari, prior to my trip to Kenya, which if you haven't been following my adventures, was a dedicated Photosafari with WildEye.

Now I am back, it is time to give my definitive verdict...what do I think of a photosafari compared to my previous safaris?

Well it is different. Much more different than I thought...and in a very good way.

Yes, as expected lodge life has some similarities. The comfort of the lodge, the meals and dining and above all else the early morning starts...around 5.20am each day, are very similar to that of a regular safari.

But there were many key differences which make the experience very different to that of a regular safari.

Our photoguide for the duration of the trip was Andrew Beck. Andrew made it really clear from day 1, when he said:

  • We will stay as flexible as we can when we are out in the field
  • We will try and maximise as much time as possible to stay out in the field

And this pretty much changed everything. The first few morning drives we were heading out just after 6am, and returning any time between noon and 1pm. That meant a morning drive between 6 and sometimes 7 hours. That's phenomenal! With sunrise between 6.30am and 7.00am we had the best of the morning golden hour and by midday we were in pretty harsh light, but enter the expertise of a photo guide!

Just after leaving the lodge, we came across some wildebeest grazing with the most amazing sun rise. A great opportunity photographically to look at back and rim lighting on the subjects. 

On previous safaris the drive normally ends around 10am returning to the lodge for a brunch. The general opinion on regular safaris is that that the light is too high in the sky and too harsh for photography. Combined with the heat and lack of activity of the animals, the game drives end mid morning. On this photosafari, Andrew took us to a place within the Amboseli reserve and taught us how to shoot high key. This is a technique used in harsh light, by over exposing for a black and white conversion. So we were still out in the field around 11am, when the sun was high in the sky. With high key you are shooting for texture. We performed this exercise on the Amboseli dry lake bed and it was a lot of fun. It was really about having a play and trying things out. There were no right or wrong ways of composing. You just had to remember to over expose, be aware of the suns position and shadows, and make sure you didn't have to much of a shallow depth of field. After that morning session I had a new photographic tool in my arsenal!

Andrew (centre) showing us the ropes on High Key shooting on the dry lake bed of Amboseli. This was a lot of fun and taught me how to shoot for textures.

An example of a high key shot I took in colour and then converted to black and white to emphasise textures and shadows. 

We were a group of 5 split across two vehicles and I have to say we were a dedicated bunch always opting for a packed breakfast. Although I think one of the advantages of the packed breakfast was that it enabled us to find a nice spot to get out the vehicle and discover the reserve on foot!

Having a packed breakfast gave us much more shooting time in the field, and a good excuse to find amazing spots to picnic from. It was great to get out for a short time and get closer to the environment you are photographing. 

One of the other advantages was having Tim as our guide. Tim was prepared to put the vehicle exactly where we needed to get a shot. And sometimes those shots weren't obvious and as such it wasn't easy getting the vehicle in the right place. Case in point...

One afternoon drive, I suggested we stop to take some shots of a back lit crowned crane. As we started rattling away, Tim spotted a female lion. We refocused our lenses. The lioness was some distance from us but clearly visible. Now with my own field experience she started to yawn. At which point I mentioned to Tim that she was about to get up and start walking. With a herd of wildebeest on the horizon, her intention was obvious, she was about to hunt. Tim didn't hesitate, he suggested we swing round to the other road before other vehicles came in. Sure enough Tim put the vehicle in prime placement. We tracked the lioness until she went down a drainage line and we lost view. We knew she was there but couldn't see her. I expected a long wait as she stalked towards the Wildebeest. But not at all, within minutes she struck. It happened all so fast I didn't capture the pursuit and takedown. This was simply because I'd lost track of her in the drainage line and believed she was further back than she actually was. We then sat and watched the lioness for a good while until she eventually lost her kill to around 7-8 hyenas which came in from nowhere. Now for sure, this type of sighting does depend on luck, but what was great was Tim's anticipation to get us in the right spot. Whilst the kill itself was some ways from the vehicle and made the photography side challenging even at 600mm, it was still phenomenal to witness...

And if we saw something that we wanted to photograph all we had to do was ask Tim to stop, and place the vehicle forward, backwards or sideways in the position we needed. This to me felt like a photographic luxury compared to a safari. With all of us being photographers in the vehicle nobody minded at all when we wanted to position the vehicle. Everyone got a great angle. 

In Amboseli, vehicles must adhere to the loop roads. This made vehicle positioning so important. You see the long lens popping out of the window. But where's the subject? Long lens shooting was an important aspect of the photosafari and taught me a lot. 

Which brings me to the vehicles themselves. I had seen pop up top vehicles in Kenya on You Tube clips. I must admit looking at them I wasn't a fan. I preferred the open top jeeps I'd experiences in the low veld in South Africa. However, what a poor preconception I had. In Amboseli we were very close to the equator. That meant that despite the odd chilly start at around 6am, by 9-10am the sun was hot, very hot. So having the pop up top was perfect as it provided you with shade, as well as the perfect stand up view. That was the first advantage. The second advantage is by having the windows, you were able to get a lower angle. This allowed you to have two different angles, one high up, the other low. When in a reserve where you can't get out of the vehicle, having these two angles is a huge advantage on different sightings. That's the second advantage. Finally something you may be warned about but don't give much thought to on your trip to Kenya...Tsetse flies. Yes we encountered them, very occasionally, and more so in Tsavo West than Amboseli, but being in a semi closed vehicle rather than an open vehicle helped provide some much needed protection on the odd occasion we drove through an area where they were prevalent. That's the third advantage. Finally, and something that is important to photographers...dust. The roads are dusty. And dust is something we don't really want on our kit. So having the closed vehicle certainly helped reduce the level of dust we were exposed to. So after my experience of the pop up safari vehicle, I'm a convert! Absolutely needed in Kenya, and they are kitted out perfectly for photographers, with plenty of space to spread out your kit if needed.  

We had two groups in two vehicles. Here's Jimmy laying a dust trail on the lake bed. The pop up roof and the windows were perfect for high and low angles, giving extra shooting options and versatility.

Irrespective of the logistical sides of things, the longer drives, flexibility at sightings, packed breakfasts, photographically adapted vehicles and so on, the biggest element of the photosafari is the teaching aspect. Wild Eye are pretty unique in that aspect. All of their photo guides come from a guiding background. Andrew had been a field guide in Madikwe, and so was fully qualified. This makes a huge difference when combining that skill set with photography. Why? Anticipation. On the very first drive with Andrew I picked up something he was able to do that was a real skill. He was able to create something from "nothing". When I say "nothing", I use the inverted commas to emphasise that sightings aren't really "nothing". What I mean is, Andrew was able to see a photographic opportunity from what most people would see as a pretty ordinary of static sighting. Case in point...well two cases in point;

The first....As we stopped to photograph some ostriches, Andrew noticed some Zebras emerging from the bush on to a dusty area. Whilst I was still looking through my view finder at the Ostrich, Andrew had already got Tim to reverse the vehicle in position and was telling us where to focus to emphasise the dusk trail as they walked. This was one of the very first images I took on the safari. I'm really happy with it, especially as it was "straight off the bat". But Andrew's ability to spot this was a real eye opener for me and got me looking at things very differently. 

The dust trail of 3 Zebras emerging from the bush. A very simple sighting made a little bit different thanks to Andrew's eye for detail and a photographic opportunity.  

The second case; we had been driving for a while and things had gone a little quiet. I had noticed a wildebeest on a clearing with an interesting backdrop. There were some nice contours and a tree in the background. I stood up to look at it whilst we were driving, but as this was probably only the 2nd drive I didn't really have the confidence to ask to stop the vehicle for a lone wildebeest in the middle of nowhere. But I had already started to change my way of thinking and looking at photographic opportunities. Just as we got parallel to the wildebeest, Andrew asked to stop. Sure enough he'd had the same idea as me, or I should say I'd had the same idea as him, just didn't speak up!!! Anyway, we worked this sighting against the different slopes and contours where he was grazing and after about 10 shots, the one I felt most drawn to was this one....a very simple and clean composition:

The clouds of Amboseli play an important part in this composition. Pulling back and showing the context of the environment was a recurrent theme. 

Andrew's ability to anticipate animal behaviour, his years in the field and his photographic skill set, meant that the learning opportunities were second to none. On every drive I was learning something new, and furthermore, I was applying what I had picked up in a short space of time very quickly and I could see that my images were progressing each day. Yes, for sure, ever now and again on drive I hit a bleak patch and fell back to some of my old habits. But overall the improvement in my images was a step change and pretty constant every day. What pleased me more than anything was that spending time with Andrew, I started to think differently, or at least, think like he did, and start to see things in the same way as he did...I started to push things further than I normally would. When I saw a wide angle opportunity, I didn't just reach for the 24-70mm, I dared to go with the 16-35mm and it was little decisions like that which paid off. I stopped playing things safe. A photosafari allows you to do that. You have time to breath, to observe, to think and to try things you might not have done on a  regular safari. In my first blog about "Safari vs Photosafari", I mentioned the learning aspect as being something I was really anticipating and looking forward to, but was unsure what to expect. Well I have to say that the images I took I think speak for themselves...and in my next blog I will share some impressions of Amboseli and Tsuavo West as photographic destinations backed up by those images I took. 

The morning sunrise shot at the beginning of the blog with a herd of wildebeest...well we stayed with them after sunrise and I got opportunity sot try some panning shots for motion blur. Not sure I would have had this opportunity on a regular safari. 

So, would I go on a photosafari again instead of a regular safari? Categorically "Yes". It was an incredible experience. For somebody like myself who not only loves being out in Africa and photographing wildlife but also wants to increase my camera skills and photographic knowledge it is a no brainer. I am also now at a skill level where photographic safaris can only help keep pushing my work further. And that is thanks to skilled professionals like Andrew and the Wild Eye team.

Does that mean I won't go on a regular safari again? No it does not. But it is different. And now I see the key differences. I think I would go on safari again with family, especially my daughter, who at her age would not have the interest or patience to be out in the field for long periods of time. I want to keep my daughters interest in animals, safaris and wildlife conservation for her future, so I see an important role that Safaris will play in that journey for her. But for the moment I think I will be leaning more towards the photosafari for the next few years and exploring other incredible destinations Africa has to offer.

Many thanks to; Guy, Silke, Kim, Bene and Tim and Jimmy and of course Andrew and the rest of the Wild Eye team. 

Stay tuned for further upcoming blogs based around my experiences in Amboseli and Tsavo West.

cheers

Jon 

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(Jon Bryant Photography) https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/7/photosafari-vs-safari-the-verdict Mon, 13 Jul 2015 08:42:56 GMT
Photosafari versus regular safari: some thoughts! https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/6/photosafari-versus-regular-safari-some-thoughts

A drinks break in the bush. On this safari I was with regular safari goers from France and some first timers from Belgium.

It is no secret I am a pretty seasoned Safari goer. I've been a few times now, always in South Africa.

In 5 days time I head to East Africa on a dedicated photosafari. On my previous safari's my mission was wildlife photography. So why would I now choose a photosafari versus a regular safari?

I thought I would blog some of my thoughts prior to the trip and then write another blog after the trip to see if the experience matched my expectations or perceptions.

Safari

My observation of being on safari is you have 4 general groups of people sharing the experience with you:

  • Honeymooners
  • Multi-stoppers: people doing a few days Safari asa wider holiday in Africa
  • First timers: people who have it on their bucketlist and its a 'once in a lifetime' experience
  • Regulars: seasoned safari goers who are usually driven by a love of wildlife photography and Africa 

If you haven't been on safari before, basically you are assigned to a vehicle with other guests. Depending on the length of stay of those guests there is some 'turnover' in the vehicle with people coming and going. So when you are assigned to a vehicle, you are likely to meet one or multiple types of people in these 4 groups. The longer you stay on safari the more people you will meet. I would say that the average safari goer in the first 2 categories would stay on average 3 days, before moving on. In the last 2 categories these groups tend to stay longer, maybe 4 or 5 days.

So with that mix you have to put yourself in the field guides shoes. You have different people in a vehicle with vastly different expectations. Some will have wildly unrealistic expectations of seeing a cheetah pull down an impala! But with more experienced safari goers, their expectations tend to be more tempered and probably driven by wanting to experience something different that they haven't seen before. So the field guide has to try and balance these "needs" and that is not an easy job. Add to the mix the fact that you aren't guaranteed seeing anything on safari! A harsh reality that I have stated before and I will state again, if you go on safari, be grateful for seeing even the smallest things, because you have no guarantee of seeing the big 5, big cats, etc etc. On my first safari, my wife was desperate to see elephants. We were in a reserve which had elephants yet after 5/6 game drives we had not seen one. Eventually we found some, much to our joy and to the credit of the field guide. But there are never any guarantees.

So what does this mean for your experience?

It means you get to move about a lot in the vehicle. It means you probably spend at the most 30 minutes maximum at a general game sighting if something interesting is happening, but less if the game is in abundance and there is something come in over the radio that you are on standby to go and see. What is standby? Well most reserves have multiple lodges running multiple vehicles across land boundaries with shared traversing rights. When one field guide makes a find, he'll share it with his guests, before calling it in. Like this other vehicles come in to the sighting and it increases the 'hit rate' of sightings. It is in the interests of lodges to do this, because depending on the location of the sighting, the field guides know where to return on an evening or next morning game drive to pick up the trail. This is important for things like kills and feeds, when a predator may be forced away from the kill with something bigger and more fierce coming in...and thus changing the sighting on the kill within hours, for guests to witness. There are rules to being on standby, you typically only have maximum of two vehicles at a sighting so as not to stress the animals. And if it is a special sighting, again you may only be there for 30 minutes or so, if other vehicles are waiting their turn. 

So your experience is one of a huge amount of diversity in quite a short space of time.

Going off road to track animals is super exciting. It gives you a sense of the terrain these animals call their home.

 

What does this mean for your photography?

Well, it probably means [and I am generalising here] you get a higher percentage of proof shots, and you may not be at the sighting long enough for when the real action takes place. I have been very fortunate with Leopard sightings where we have tracked them for hours watching them scent market, hunt and mate. These have been exceptional experiences and in most cases I have been in a vehicle with first timers, and I have told them that this is exceptional and not the norm! In those cases it makes for great photography. 

 

You are able to get very close to the animals. This leopard had stayed on the tracks and so we were able to park up and observe. But as one of the big 5, you are able to track leopards off road, terrain allowing.

One of my most memorable Leopard sightings: we followed this male off road and back on road as he did a territorial patrol. We stayed with him about 45-50 minutes with great photo opportunities all the way. ​

But if you were keen on taking images of giraffe's for instance, you might struggle to get interesting images. Why? Well as a general rule field guides do not go off road for general game. General game are the animals not classed in the big 5; leopard, lion, elephant, cape buffalo, and rhino. For the big 5, they are permitted and will track them off road. So this aspect will certainly limit your photographic opportunities if you are leaning more towards an interest in a general game species rather than the big 5. I got lucky once with a sighting of a giraffe drinking, but again we and some traversing rights issues before being able to get the vehicle in place, we were lucky to have a great field guide who anticipated what the giraffe would do. 

So if my mission is wildlife photography, why have I waited until now to go on a photosafari?

Well this is really a personal perspective. For me the past 2 years were really the beginning of a journey. I never intentionally set out to start taking wildlife images...I fell into it by accident, and found quite quickly I was passionate about being in the bush, being on drive, immersing myself in the experience and taking images. But I had a lot to learn, and for me I wanted to see if I could develop my skills to a level where I was producing images of a certain quality on my own. I think in the last 12 months I achieved that. My images are at a level now which I think compliments my camera craft. And don't get me wrong! Every safari I have been on in South Africa has been a life changing experience. Yes life changing. The experiences I have had are really some of the most memorable of my life. But now it is time to make a step change in both the images I am taking and my camera craft. I could have gone on a photosafari much sooner, but for me it was a very personal choice to stick with general safaris. 

So why will a photo safari help me make a step change?

Well first, for the reasons I mentioned above. As a photographer, or as photographers we need more time at a sighting. It have been fantastic being in a vehicle with people from all over the world, and sharing experiences with them. But it isn't the same as being in a vehicle with like minded wildlife photographers who are trying to realise a specific vision or goal. This is very different. We are patient. We are happy to sit and wait for a leopard to finish eating and pull his prey up a tree....even if it takes 2 hours. We are not in a rush to see the big 5, because we've done that. We are more interested in watching oxpeckers at work on a rhino or an antelope. I am really looking forward to slowing down. Yes slowing down. Even to the point where I take fewer images at a sighting but more more diversity of images at that sighting. I want to have that extra time and slower pace to try creative things....yes and fail along the way...but by having that extra room to breathe behind the camera at a sighting I know my camera craft will improve, which leads me to the second reason...

Being with a dedicated photo guide. The photo safari I chose is with a photographer whom I respect and whose images inspire my own work. I've known the photo guide for about a year online before going on safari with him. He's already asked me about my photographic goals before I get there. He has already been to the reserve multiple times, and yet what fascinates me is how he will approach the photographic opportunities on a return visit? I know that just having an experience field shooter around me and the group will increase my camera craft exponentially. This is really important. On a general safari, I was often the most experienced photographer there. People would look at my kit and start asking questions. It was flattering to help out...there's a phrase in business "if you are the most experienced guy in the room, you are in the wrong room". Yep, it's that.

The final rationale for me is one of stepping outside your comfort zone. I am going to a new country, a new destination, a new culture. I am meeting new photographers, new people. I know South Africa very well, and I will return as I love the place. But I want to return with a fresh perspective. I want to push the boundaries of my photography in a new environment that will help me think about my creative vision differently. It's really no different to a landscape oil painter going to a new location for inspiration, they are looking for a new canvas. It is the same for me. 

Photosafari

As it is my first time, I cannot tell you what I am expecting. As described above I can only tell you my rational for choosing a photosafari over a general safari. Yes there will be overlaps with the experiences of the two. And I am sure there will be many differences too...but those differences I am waiting to discover. What I hope is to learn, experience, share and enjoy. I hope to create different images to the ones I am creating today. In 2 weeks from now I'll write a follow up blog and I will share my experience and if a dedicated photosafari helped fulfil some of my photographic ambitions.

Cheers

Jon

 

 

 

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(Jon Bryant Photography) https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/6/photosafari-versus-regular-safari-some-thoughts Thu, 18 Jun 2015 11:47:58 GMT
The best camera you have, is the one you have with you! https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/6/the-best-camera-you-have-is-the-one-you-have-with-you

 

This weekend I was at my golf course when I parked my car in the car park and noticed something quite incredible: a field of beautiful wild flowers.

 

My first thought was dismay as I did not have my DSLR with me. I suddenly though "I need to photograph this". Followed by "I wished I had my 5Dmkiii and 16-35mm f2.8 lens and tripod with me"...which of course I didn't have with me, as I was about to play golf.

 

Anyway, I decided to take some iPhone images. Not ideal, but better than nothing. As I started snapping away I was actually thinking about how I would compose and shoot with my DSLR. This got me thinking. I just needed to think creatively about how I could do this landscape justice with my iPhone. Yes, the new OS on the iPhone allows you to pan for panoramic images. But I didn't want to do that. I decided to take lots of images of what was in front of me and stitch them together.

 

So the image you see is a combination of 10 iPhone images that are stitched together in Photoshop Elements. I then created one panoramic JPEG file which I imported into Lightroom. It is in Lightroom that I did my colour correction. I wanted to really emphasise the violet colours of the flowers so I played a lot with the magenta's - you can see even the clouds are slightly tinged with magenta!

 

I think this is a good example of understanding the link between processing and photographic craft. We have some incredible tools available to us today. Understanding what is possible should open your photographic creativity much more. If you compare with one of the still images I took on the iPhone you will see it has less impact. The angle isn't wide enough for me to convey the scene, the vast landscape, and the fact that this was a field of wild flowers as far as the eye can see. 

This is one of the images 10 images I used to stitch the panorama together. It is ok, but has less impact and drama than the stitched image. 

The other lesson is that "the best camera you have is the one you have with you". I'm not a huge fan of taking photos on the iPhone. But it is all I had with me. Was I going to let the opportunity slip for an amazing landscape? I had to use what I had, and I had to use craft and knowledge to generate the result. 

 

It's not a perfect photograph, but I think it is a seriously impressive example of what is possible if you think about what you are creating and put your vision into reality with the tools you have available. 

 

cheers Jon

 

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(Jon Bryant Photography) iphone landscape landscapes nature panorama panoramic photography https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/6/the-best-camera-you-have-is-the-one-you-have-with-you Mon, 15 Jun 2015 09:35:41 GMT
Review of the Panasonic LX100 https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/6/review-of-panasonic-lx100 I don't often do camera reviews. There is a simple reason...other people on the interweb have relationships with camera companies and access to all the latest and greatest gear and can dedicate far more time and energy than I into reviewing a camera. 

In a previous incarnation of my website and blog, I did a review of the Sony HX9V. This was a small compact camera that easily fits in your pocket. It had great video capabilities and a 20X optical zoom lens. The video quality was stunning and back in 2011-2012 when I bought the camera, I took this camera everywhere with me, and I used it daily. It took a real bashing. I took it on my first Safari trip to South Africa with me in May 2013 and used it for B-roll video to good effect. But as I had used it so much, it started to loose performance, most notably slow zoom and auto focus. I still have it and I still use it occasionally, but I needed to retire the camera and find an alternative. 

I am a strong advocate of travelling with a small compact camera as a B-cam. When you travel you never know what might happen. Your main camera might get lost, stolen or break. Therefore to have spent $$$ on the journey of a lifetime to a bucket list destination in the wilderness and be without a tool to document that would be devastating. Its for this reason I had the Sony HX9V, mainly for video and occasionally some stills. Its also handy to have a camera that can sit on your hip or in your pocket precisely to be at the ready to capture those moments on video of your experience.

So since I bought the Sony HX9V in 2011, the camera world has moved on a lot. Sony are now up to the HX60V (stop press HX90V) with a 30X optical zoom in 2015. 

But I was interested in another angle. 4K video.

After buying the GH4 last year principally as an affordable 4K acquisition tool, Panasonic launched the LX100 with 4K video capabilities and I decided to get one. I got mine October last year yet it has taken me a long time before I felt capable to pen my thoughts on this camera. 

Now I have used it quite extensively I feel I have an informed opinion of it worthy of a review. However this will be a very practical and pragmatic review. There won't be any test cards and optical performance statistics in this review. Neither will there be any thorough coverage of specs, if you want specs go to the Panasonic website here.

So first things first - this is a Micro 4/3 sensor camera that has a non-interchangeable lens. The sensor is 12.8 Megapixels. So whilst the dimensions of this camera put it firmly in the "compact" category, the sensor has a surface area 7 times larger than the sensors in standard compact cameras. It weights just under 400g which is very acceptable for this type of camera. 

The camera comes with a Leica Summilux F1.7-2.8 24-75mm lens. This is a 35mm lens focal equivalent. 75mm at the long end certainly isn't that great if you want to use the camera for wildlife photography. However for video and in 4K you have so much resolution that you can crop in a 1080p timeline without noticeable degradation in the image quality. So if you are thinking about this camera for primarily video work the focal length really shouldn't be an issue. But if you really want to use it as a hybrid stills and video camera, you need to be aware that the 75mm at the long end will limit getting wildlife close ups and portraits and so you will have to adjust your wildlife styles.

Still image from the LX100 of two lions in Sabi Sands. Knowing the focal range of the camera allows for some very effective "Wildscapes"

Besides the lens the first thing that hits you right out the box is the camera design. I have owned a number of Panasonic cameras over the years and the design has typically followed a similar theme in terms of the layout of the main buttons and functionality. The LX100 has a much more classic design and I would even go as far as to say it has elements of a range-finder camera. This took me a long time to get used to, specifically:

Change of aperture

The aperture is changed via the aperture ring which sits on the front of the lens. If you have been used to cameras with two dials situated on the top and back of the camera, this is a big change and takes time for your brain to instinctively move your hand forward to change the aperture via this ring. Having to put your hand anywhere around the lens other than for manual focus feels strange to me. I would have preferred Panasonic to have put the aperture control somewhere on the back of the camera - a push in dial like on their GF series of cameras would have been ideal.

The designer at Panasonic was clearly obsessed by putting as much functionality on the lens as possible!

 

Change of shutter speed

This is another one that takes a lot of getting used to. There is a shutter speed dial located on the top of the camera and starts at 1+, then goes in increments of 2, 4, 8, 15, 30, 60, 125, 250, 500, 1000, 2000 and finally 4000. But what if you want a shutter speed in-between these options? How do you dial that in? Well it isn't at all obvious. At the back of the camera there is a function dial to the right of the screen. By turning this dial you have access to the intermediate shutter speeds. This was the first thing I needed to work out when I wanted to use it for video as in Europe we shoot at 1/50 of a second in video, yet the shutter speed dial only allowed me 1/60th. It was a real head scratcher trying to work out how to get 1/50th when I first got the camera. 

The shutter speed dial is definitely coming from a range-finder experience.

The mystery of the missing shutter speeds!!!

For me these two functions take some getting use to in operating the camera. I can see that hobbyist, enthusiast and street photographers would get on well with these controls, and the retro/classic feel it gives. I'm tend to work pretty quickly in manual settings and between stills and videos when using a DSLR, and I would have preferred more intuitive controls to execute shutter speed and aperture quickly.

Zoom Lens

When I turn the camera on the zoom lens extends. I don't want the zoom lens extended when I turn the camera on. I want the zoom lens extended when I am ready to shoot video or take a photo....and that is not when I turn the camera on. I know most compacts do this, but the lens on the LX100 when extended is both sizeable and chunky. If I want to view or show images for example, I turn the camera on, and out comes the lens. To its credit the zoom does have a filter ring. This is very handy. For video a vari-nd filter is essential for locking in 1/50 shutter speed and controlling the exposure whilst allowing the freedom to chose your aperture for depth of field without over exposing. Having taken this camera in the field in South Africa I can tell you that in bright light at f 16 (the maximum aperture) you absolutely need the vari-nd filter....literally sunglasses for your lens. 

About 4 months in to the camera, the zoom motor on my lens started to develop a really horrible noise when powering the camera down, when the lens would retract, OR when zooming out. I was in the French Alps when I discovered this and I was shooting video, so I could clearly see that the noise was more pronounced through the audio meter levels in Final Cut Pro X. I took it back to the shop for a once over as it was under guarantee. They sent it to a Panasonic agent for repair. 3 weeks later I got it back with an assessment that "nothing is wrong with the camera, zoom lens noise levels are within the norms". I found that strange because on return, the camera had no longer the lens noise that I had. I am pretty sure the technician took a look, added a bit of lubricating grease to the motor and it did the trick. 

Aspect ratios

You have the choice of 3:2, 16:9, 1:1, and 4:3 aspect rations which are adjusted by yet another control situated on the lens. I like these choices and being able to chose them without diving into the menu is very handy. Bottom line with these aspect ratios is; 16:9 is your go to for 4K video and 1:1 is a very nice thing to have for Instagram. Just don't forget to change them between stills and video. And that's all I have to say about that!

Aspect ratios can be change via a button situated on....yes...the lens!

The 1:1 aspect ratio is perfect for social media platforms such as Instagram, and if you are big into Instagram, and are prepared to edit the images before uploading directly, then its a more than capable camera that will likely give your profile a real boost.

 

Shooting 4K

I'm not going to labour on about the why's and wherefore's of shooting 4K. Bottom line is as an acquisition medium it is the way to go. Dropping it into a 1080P HD timeline works a treat and the detail, and resolution is a step up from a full HD camera shooting 1080P. Downsides are a smaller sensor and so not such great low light capability and as always a lack of shallow depth of field from such sensors. Is the image as good as the GH4? It's close. The LX100 shoots 3840x2160, and so does the GH4, but the GH4 also shoots 4096x2160...so true 4K. So don't expect the LX100 to deliver the same level of video and 4K shooting flexibility as the GH4. But the LX100 does deliver a very nice image at 3840x2160. The more you shoot 4K with it, the more you appreciate the image coming from such a small camera as this. Having 4K in such a small compact serves a purpose especially for travel when you don't want to have a bag of lenses with you. And that is primarily what I use this camera for. And with the effective focal range being limited to 24-75mm, the 4K mode, does allow you to be smart and crop, allowing you effectively to zoom in on the image and gain a "false" focal length advantage in post. The limited 24-75mm lens when using 4K video shouldn't be that much of an issue, if you "shoot for the edit" and think ahead of how you can crop your image in post. 

My first real out with the camera, I shot this travelogue in South Africa:

Behind the Frame: A photographic journey in South Africa from Jon Bryant on Vimeo.

 

Timelapse

The camera includes the built in timelapse feature which we saw on the Panasonic GH3 and the GH4. This is a very useful feature. Very nice to be included in such a small compact camera. 

Other little quirks

It has no built in flash. Remember, its a small sensor and so low light is not the best. You need a flash. You are given one. But it comes "accessory like" with the camera and is added via the hot shoe. Then you have to drill into a menu to "switch it on". All rather a faff. At the end of the day if you have followed the evolution of Panasonic's G series, GF, or GX cameras you will know, you either get a viewfinder, or a flash and never both. The LX100 has the viewfinder where the flash is for the 1st generation GF1. And the GF1 had no view finder and was an expensive accessory you needed to buy and add....onto the hot shoe. As I use this camera mainly for video I am glad the EVF viewfinder is what trumps here, and it's an excellent viewfinder. But you can't help feeling if Panasonic had simply gone for the tried and tested two dial control for aperture and shutter speed they may have had space for a pop up flash built into the body.

Personally I find that the auto open and close lens cap, which costs £35 to be an overly expensive accessory. This should be included by default as it is much needed due to the automatic zoom extension on power up (did I mention that? :-) ). 

Conclusion

When Panasonic announced this camera I was really excited. As a GH4 shooter, I was really excited by the idea of 4K "in your pocket solution", that was as capable a stills camera as the first generation GF1 (which I own). It is a very capable camera, and has serious specs. It's design has taken a lot of getting used to. The 4K image is very nice, and the timelapse feature built in is very easy and convenient to use. The controls will take some getting used to if you have been used to shooting with the GH4. At 800-900 Euros, you are well on your way to a serious piece of kit, so my advice would be to get hands on with it in a shop and ask to have a play with your own SD card before deciding to purchase. Make sure you feel comfortable with it and it is the right camera for your needs before dropping the cash.

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(Jon Bryant Photography) 4K Camera LX100 Panasonic Photography Review Video Videography https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/6/review-of-panasonic-lx100 Mon, 01 Jun 2015 20:29:21 GMT
To watermark or not to watermark? https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/5/to-watermark-or-not-to-watermark This is a blog that I wrote about 5 days ago and had not published yet. It was sitting in my archive waiting to be published. In the time between writing this blog and now publishing it, I have seen 2 talented wildlife photographers have their images stolen via my Facebook feed. As a photographer it feels devastating when that happens. I know as it has happened to me. 

Here's my 2 cents on the topic...

Are you sharing your images via platforms on the web?

I recently watched a YouTube video from a young photographer who was absolutely adamant that you should not watermark your photos.

The reason? Because it is too much of a distraction and takes away from the aesthetic of the image.

I COULD NOT DISAGREE MORE!

If the aesthetic, beauty and quality of your photography is the number one priority, you shouldn't be sharing on the "interweb"! Stick to galleries, exhibitions and fine art prints. The reality today is that social media and the web is a really important platform for photography. We as photographers cannot afford to ignore it, and it comes with risks. 

If you are sharing images via web based platforms, then you should:

  • Have a clear strategy of which images you are prepared to share online from your portfolio. 
  • Include metadata in the image with your name and contact details.
  • Prepare a suitable watermark, up to your own discretion how you want to place this on the image.
  • Prepare low resolution images only for sharing on the web. 

Why this young photographer is wrong, is because there is no bigger distraction than having your work stolen for commercial use by an unscrupulous party.

After having an image stolen, and as I ramped up my presence on social media platforms - I paid for a professionally designed logo. It is not mandatory to pay for a professionally designed logo, but it is one potential way to strengthen both watermarking images and your own personal brand. If you plan on putting your work out there, you should consider a logo. 

Recently I saw a post from Greg du Toit that his WPY winning image had been taken without permission, rebranded with a watermark and shared on a web platform. 

3 years ago, I had an image stolen. I had taken a number of images of the Atonium in Brussels as part of a timelapse project I had been running. Several of the compositions worked really well as stand alone images in their own right. I had posted them on a previous version of my website and they had not been watermarked. It was only thanks to fellow photographer friends who explained to me the risks of non watermarked images, and how to find out if your photographs have been used elsewhere on the web. I found, to my astonishment, that a Dutch based travel agency was using my photo to promote packaged city breaks to Brussels. This was a commercial usage.

This is the image that was taken from a former version of my website. It is actually one still frame from a timelapse project I was working on at that time. This was when I had a website where you could easily right click the image and save and download it. Nowadays many website hosts, and photo gallery websites have disabled this functionality. However, sharing is still enabled through embedded social media buttons like Facebook and Pinterest, so take note!

 

When I contacted the travel agency, I gave the company the option to pay for an image license, which they refused. The manager justified himself by saying that he too was a photographer and it was common practice to right click "save" an image via Google. I explained that taking an image without a license is a copyright infringement, and nobody from his company had contacted me to ask permission for use. He swiftly received a "cease and desist" notice from me, and I think that the seriousness of my tone in my correspondence convinced him to remove my image. In that instance I was fortunate, and the fact that the incident took place within the EU where I reside also helped in terms of legal frameworks.

At the end of the day, once you share an image, you are putting your work at risk. It is the double edged sword of today's world of photography and sharing mediums. At the very least heed my advice and watermark your images. If you find your work has been used for commercial purposes without your permission, reach out first and propose a licensing option. Sometimes, the culprit may oblige. In some instances if the image has been used in a non-for-profit venture, it might be in your interests for publicity purposes. In those cases I try and educate them. I reinforce that is wrong to take images without permission, but in this instance IF it is mutually beneficial to both parties I would be open to clear credit being given. This can work as a win-win in some instances, but again it has to be at your discretion. As a last resort if an image has been taken, and the culprit is clearly violating your copyright, you should serve a "cease and desist" notice via email. 

You may not be able to enforce a "cease and desist" notice if your image is taken, but with a watermark you have proof you are the copyright owner, and you have various social media platforms that can be used to name and shame the culprits. 

The final tip is, if you really think you are sitting on some winning images, then don't share them on the web. Look at other publishing options, or submissions to competitions. I know it is easier said than done...but think about your sharing and publishing strategy. 

cheers

Jon

 

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(Jon Bryant Photography) https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/5/to-watermark-or-not-to-watermark Fri, 22 May 2015 08:52:39 GMT
What are your expectations? https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/5/what-are-your-expectations

 

A few weeks ago I wrote a guest blog for Wild Eye on my experience in Madikwe searching for wild dogs. When Gerry asked me to write the blog, we discussed the fact that my experience was an example of how lucky I was to see those wild dogs and to never take any sighting in the field for granted. In that blog I talked about how I'd stacked the odds in my favour, but even by doing that, I only got to see wild dogs on my very last drive of the trip. A close call. 

 

Today I am sharing an image with you. It is not a wildlife image. When I took this shot I had one purpose in mind. To make a point!

 

Look at the photo. What do you see?

 

If you look very closely you can just see the outline of a young leopard. But he is really hard to spot right? He almost perfectly blends in to his surroundings.

 

We had been tracking two sibling leopards who's mother had left them to go and hunt. And after some time in the open, this young male finally had enough of us following him. He decided to retreat into the bush and hole up. We were some distance away and I used the full reach of my 200mm lens with a 1.4X converter on to take this shot. 

 

Finding animals in game reserves is no easy task. 

 

Think about it...

 

This is one leopard who we had been fortunate to track and we were off road. But if we had been on the nearest track with no clue he was there, what are the chances we would have spotted him driving at 20 MPH tops?

 

The probability that we would have spotted him would have been very low. Yes, guides and trackers have their eyes well trained and do an incredible job spotting wildlife that we mere visitors don't have the experience to spot. But at the end of the day, if any one animal doesn't want to be found, they will do their upmost to hide themselves from view. And they are experts at doing it.

 

So next time you go out in the field, ask yourself "what are my expectations?" 

 

If it is to see an abundance of Lion, Leopard, Cheetah and so on...you might want to temper your expectations a little. When you finally come across them, be grateful, enjoy the sighting and realise it might be some time before you get to see them again. And when you see a herd of impala around every corner, enjoy them too. Realise that the bush has the odds stacked in its favour and not ours, so enjoy every minute of your drive, no matter what sightings it may bring. 

 

Cheers Jon

 

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(Jon Bryant Photography) https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/5/what-are-your-expectations Mon, 11 May 2015 07:44:28 GMT
Cheetah's...I need a bit of luck! https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/4/cheetahs-i-need-a-bit-of-luck

One of the 4 male cheetah's in the well known coalition in Madikwe, South Africa. Probably the best photograph I have of a cheetah. I don't have many!!!

I have been very very lucky when on Safari. I've not been photographing wildlife that long, but I have had an incredible amount of big cat sightings. I have incredible leopard images from the most amazing sighting. I've seen two leopard kills, and leopards mating. I've seen lion prides and coalitions across different seasons. I've seen lion cubs, and lion's feeding. 

I've seen the Big 5 on several occasions, and I've even been on early morning drives where I've seen and photographed the Big 5 in one drive.

I've seen Wild Dogs on 3 occasions in two different reserves and on 2 of those occasions witnessed them make a kill and feed. 

So I know that I have been a very lucky photographer. And that is why I never take a sighting for granted. 

But there is one animal that I have always struggled with and it is mostly my own fault! Cheetah's.

The very first animal I saw and photographed on my first safari drive was a cheetah in Sabi Sands. I took some photos and they are awful. I used a 2X digital zoom and they came out terrible. Those photos are a memory of the experience but I would never post that image as an example of my work.

 

This is me with my camera photographing and filming my first animal on my very first Safari - a Cheetah. The images were awful, but the video was a lasting memory of the experience.

Six months after that encounter I returned to Sabi Sands and so fortunate to have witnessed a female Cheetah with two cubs. I was overjoyed. I now knew I had the opportunity to get some great images. Wrong. 

Just before that sighting I had my Canon 7D on a tripod filming video and I had turned the image stabiliser off. I forgot to turn it back on, and as I shot away at these Cheetah handheld, I was oblivious to all the shots I was missing. When I returned home and viewed the images I was literally beating myself up. 

The mother proceeded to take these two cubs for a walk, which provided amazing photographic opportunities all of which I missed. This one photo, I managed to get the mother in focus and my intention was to throw the two cubs out of focus with a shallow depth of field looking on. I almost executed it, but with the image stabilisation off, the image has a rather blurred feel to it. Rookie error!

Seven months after that photographic disaster, on our first drive in Madikwe we came across the coalition of 4 males lying in long grass. The light was fading and I was struggling with my iso, aperture and shutter speed to get the right balance to expose the image correctly. I got about 4 or 5 images, but I have had to really work hard with them in Lightroom to clean them up due to the level of noise and lack of sharpness. I know that at the end of the day these things really shouldn't matter. I am not a pixel peeper I assure you. But I do like my images to have a minimum of cleanliness when I export them. That's just how I am. But with a sighting of 4 cheetah's I should have had the idea opportunity to get some great shots, but the fading light of the day was against me. 

Another one of the 4 males in the Madikwe coalition of cheetah's. Something alerted him and he sat up scanning the horizon for sometime before lying back down again, flat cat!

I have not seen a cheetah since. 

But having gone through those experiences I learnt a lot. For a start, no more video on my DSLR. No. I will only be using it as a photographic tool from now on (I promise!). Secondly, whilst my 7D has been a trooper for 6 years, and yes I truly love that camera...it's a part of me...I decided that I needed something that would give me more latitude to shoot in low light in the early mornings and evening. I bought a 5Dmkiii. Finally I have more field craft and shooting experience. I doubt I would get things that wrong again. Sure I know I'll make the odd mistake here and there, but not as catastrophic as before.

So for my next trip this year, which will be in June, when it comes to Cheetah's I need a bit of good luck. I'm hoping that I can build my portfolio up a little bit!

cheers

Jon

 

 

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(Jon Bryant Photography) Africa African Big Cats Cheetah Cheetahs Madikwe Photography Sabi Sands South Wildlife https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/4/cheetahs-i-need-a-bit-of-luck Wed, 22 Apr 2015 15:08:05 GMT
Developing your photographic style: 5 things I learnt https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/4/developing-your-photographic-style-5-things-i-learnt When you start out in photography you often look at others work and say "I wish I could take photos like that". I know that was something I was often thinking as I started out in Wildlife Photography. The fact is, it is good to gain inspiration from others...that's the easy part. The hard part is carving out your own photographic style.

Whilst I have been a photographer for 20+ years, I have only focused on wildlife photographer in the last 2 years. So I still have a lot to learn! This is one of the things that attracts me to wildlife photography; it is challenging. But whilst I learn every time I go out with my camera I have come to realise these last two years, that in such a short space of time I have come very far on my own photographic journey. Much of this journey has been developing my own photographic style. 

Yes, I am inspired by many incredible photographers out there....some more than others....but the ones I really, and I mean really and truly appreciate, are the ones who have managed to create their own style. These are the photographers that if you were to look at their work, and their name wasn't next to it, I'd be able to have a guess who's work it was, and I'm certain I'd get it right, about 90% of the time. 

So how do you develop your own photographic style? Well, it isn't easy and it comes down to you as an individual. My own photographic style has started to develop the last 2 years based on about 5 or 6 photographers who are key influencers. So with that said, here are 5 things I've learnt in developing my own photographic style...

1. Be inspired by others work, emulate, but don't copy.

Yep, that's right...go look at others work that speaks to you, that jumps out at you, that makes you stop what you are doing and simply makes you sit up and say "wow, I want to take photographs like that"...yes like that, not the same as, but in a similar style as. If you find others work inspiring to look at, you'll find that very same work inspire you in the field. Emulating photographers that inspire you will push you to develop your own style.

I make no secret of the fact that I am a fan (amongst others) of Andrew Beck. He is a master at what I term "wildscapes", capturing animals in their environments. When so many photographers reach for the 400mm and 600mm lenses, Andrew is with a 16-35, 24-70 or 70-200 and building the context of what he sees all around him. This image of a lone Elephant in Ngala Private Game reserve was directly influenced by Andrew. I zoomed out, not in, I wanted to show the low veld as much as the Elephant itself. Without viewing his work I wouldn't have even tried something like this. I used a second body and wider lens to take this image that I had specifically with me on this trip. 

2. Don't fall into the trap of tight zooms and portraits.

Wildlife photography is not always about zooming in on the subjects and creating tight portraits, it just isn't. We are bombarded by images like this. Think about the context of the animal; its behaviour, its environment, its habitat. Use this wider context to create a more compelling story of your image. Draw your viewer into the scene rather than into just the animal. 

It is fantastic to see three female lions. But the story is 3 female lions crossing a river. A wider angle shows the context of how one leads to a vantage point and the two others tentatively follow. 

3. Know your camera inside out so you spend less time on the settings and more time on your creative vision.

Its a very basic one, but if you don't know your camera inside out, you will spend more time on the technical aspects of photography than on realising your own creative vision. Your own photographic style can only develop when you don't have to worry or stress about white balance, aperture, shutter speed, iso, focal length and so on. Getting the technical stuff right is important, but it should not be at the expense of realising the vision of the image you want to create. Once you know your camera intimately, you will have the speed of thought and anticipation at any sighting to focus on the image you want to create and not how to take it. 

I shot this otter shot with a Canon 5Dmkiii that I bought just the day before. It was the first time I'd used the camera. But having shot with a 7D for 6 years, I knew the basics. I also watched the otter for a while and like this I was able to anticipate him running up the bank, which is exactly the shot I wanted. I focused on getting the shot and I didn't have to worry how to use my new 5Dmkiii.

4. Understand how the camera in your hands can be used as a creative tool. 

Photography = drawing with light. It comes from the Greek language. We so often forget that simple fact!!! Your camera has an abundance of possibilities to create something unique. Things as simple as shallow depth of field can help you isolate subjects and draw in the viewers eye to one particular area or part of the scene. More complex things such as panning or zooming with slower shutter speeds can create a sense of movement and dynamism in a scene. If you understand some of these aspects of how your camera works, you have a more powerful creative tool in your hands. 

 

Two young hyenas came to the den to rejoin the group. As the lead hyena picked his route through the bush, I used a shallow depth of field to project the distance between the two subjects to accentuate the feeling of one following the other.

5. Playing it safe is easy. Experimenting and failing takes courage, but will push you further as a photographer.

I am not advocating you spend all your hard earned dough on the photo safari of your dreams to come back home and off load your cards to find thousands of useless shots. Not at all. The simple rule is at each sighting, bank your shots. Get those shots you know you are comfortable and happy with. Once you have those in the bag, start to experiment. If you are at a Lion sighting and they are all flat cat, how many images of flat cats do you want? 20, 30, 40? No. Work the sighting into credible, bankable shots and then explore other options. Don't be afraid to experiment. I'd personally rather have a go and fail (see the image below) and work towards becoming a better photographer, than having 30 RAW images of the same animal at various angles be it Portrait or Landscape! I talk from experience...there is nothing more frustrating than finding you've blown a shot. But over time you learn to accept that. I now positively embrace the fact that I am going to fail at some point at a sighting...but I'll learn something positive from it for the next time. I wrote a separate blog on this subject here if you want to know more about Experimenting and Failing!

Close, but not quiet! I tried a panning shot with this running fox in order to convey movement. I used a slow shutter speed and almost made the shot work other than the fact I cut of the tail. In the end it was a failure...but a successful failure as it is a step in the right direction!

I started this blog by saying "I have only focused on wildlife photographer in the last 2 years. So I still have a lot to learn! This is one of the things that attracts me to wildlife photography; it is challenging.". In very simple terms it is a journey, but these 5 things are what I have learnt in such a short space of time and more importantly they are the 5 things that have helped me come up a learning curve relatively quickly. If I go back to my first safari in May 2013 where I took this image...

When I look back at this image I realise just how little I knew. This image is nothing more than a proof shot. On my first safari experience I was under the spell of seeing so many incredible animals, that I didn't engage my brain in the slightest (but didn't have the knowledge to do so then!). Viewing a pride of Lions I remember how I was focused on zooming in as much as possible, which wasn't appropriate at this sighting where I should have taken a wider angle to show the story of a pride of lions lying in the long grass.

 

To my last safari in November 2014 where I took this image...

16 months later at the Ngala Private Game reserve this Lion put on a show. Walking along the dry river bank, he stopped and posed, he lay down and roared. It was spectacular. With the 5 things I learnt, I put them to good use at this sighting. I got roughly 8 very different images of the same animal conveying a range of different behaviours. This one image is a personal favourite. I wanted to show the river bank as the males settingsand waited until he had to climb across the tree branch showing nothing would stop him on his walk.

 

You will see clearly that my own photographic style has evolved considerably in that time. The two images to me are night and day. For sure the image from May 2013 is much more of a "proof shot" i.e. "I saw a Lion, YAY!", than a wildlife image. But I chose it, because back in May 2013 when I took that image I had the idea in my mind that it was a wildlife photograph. 

I put a lot of hard work and personal devotion into the journey so far. Yes it is my passion and so from that perspective putting in the work isn't an issue when you truly love doing something. And when I say "work" I don't mean sitting in a 4x4 on a game drive in South Africa, camera and lens in hand! I mean the hours I spend reading, listening, engaging, digesting content, videos, photos, and books. The time I put in to learning Lightroom and understanding the impact that can have on my images, my style and my photography. The sum total of all of this simply improves my photographic "craft" and thereby is helping me shape my own photographic style, albeit slowly but surely. Take these 5 things with you on your own journey...I know they will help you develop your own personal style.

Cheers

Jon

 

 

 

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(Jon Bryant Photography) Africa Nature Photography Wildlife photography https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/4/developing-your-photographic-style-5-things-i-learnt Mon, 13 Apr 2015 10:03:41 GMT
British Wildlife Centre: Photography Day Part 2 https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/4/british-wildlife-centre-photography-day-part-2 Part 2 of a 2 Part Blog: A Photography Day at the British Wildlife Centre, Lingfield, Surrey

Ethics statement: all these images are of wildlife held in the care and captivity of the British Wildlife Centre.

Last week I went to the British Wildlife Centre based in Lingfield, Surrey. They were holding a photography day. You can read part 1 of the blog here.

With lunch over we headed back out to the centre where the photography could recommence. The second half of the day started with a Tawny owl. With a nice perch ready to go on the tree the Tawny owl obliged and we got some really natural looking photos...

Tawny owlTawny owl

The next subject for us was a hedgehog. Hedgehogs are amazing creatures but unfortunately they are under threat in the UK. They used to be a common sight in people's gardens but more and more of us are closing garden properties off and this restricts there ability to traverse through gardens into their natural habitat areas. Hedgehogs are on the top 10 list of the UK's most endangered species. 

HedgehogHedgehog It was then back to Owl's. This time a barn owl. 

Photographing this barn owl made me realise that I wanted to do more owl photography. About 18 months ago I did some birds of prey photography in the UK where I was able to photograph a couple of owls. But I missed out on the Barn Owl. I have seen some stunning images, particularly from Andy Rouse, or owls and barn owls in flight. Having photography this one, I realised its time to get myself on a specialist owl mission!

So with this trio captured and in the bag, we were now in store for something a little less sedate. We went to the otter enclosure.

There were three otters in the enclosure and it was impressive to get so close to them. They really were very curious about our presence and were constantly on the move. They advanced towards us and then retreated to the water, often having a swim and doing some twirls and acrobatics, then resting on the small island before approaching us again. It is in this instance it is good to observe and watch for a while before shooting some images. If you can watch the behaviour you get a better idea for the type of shot you might achieve. There were a couple of behaviours I spotted I wanted to try and capture. One was the otter swimming on its back, which looked particularly impressive. The other was the otter bounding out of the water and up onto the bank. After watching their behaviour I was able to time it just right...

OtterOtter The otters were a lot of fun. I think with animals that are constantly on the move it keeps you on your toes and you have to think about anticipating the shot. I think this is the best scenario in wildlife photography for keeping your shooting skills sharp. 

Next we stopped to photograph some deer. Now, I will be honest...I've had better occasions to shoot deer in the UK, so whilst I took a few shots, for me I didn't concentrate too much on the deer. Unfortunately the landscape was looking pretty ragged and personally I think if you are going to photograph deer you need the backdrop to accentuate the subject. 

If I thought the otters were fun then nothing prepared me for what was to come next: the weasel. It just started to rain and so we went to the enclosures for polecats, stoats, badgers and weasels. As the rain got heavier I was having little success tracking the weasel which was moving at what seem to be, the speed of light. So I went and took some shots of the very cute polecat, before returning to the weasel determined to get at least one shot!

PolecatPolecat

The polecat: one of the cutest animals I have seen. Looks like a small bear!

WeaselWeasel

The weasel: these things run and just don't stay still. 

With the weasel shot in the bag, that pretty much drew the day to a close. Our guide had spent the whole day with us, from 10am through to 4pm, a total of 6 hours. We'd photographed a diverse range of species and had a lot of fun. We'd managed to get relatively close to each of the animals in a way that didn't stress the animal, and this is really important. I also learnt some things I didn't know and discovered one species I was unaware was native to the British Isles: the muntjac. And I think that was a good sign, because as I drove back to where I was staying I spotted a muntjac at the side of the road grazing...and could now identify it (definitely not a deer!). 

So in part 1 of the blog, I mentioned that the cost of the day was £90. I asked the question "is it worth it?". The reason I asked the question is because as photographers and more importantly as this day was open only to amateur photographers, our budgets are always stretched. We have to get the most out of our gear, and we often don't have revenue streams from our photography like the pros do. Having said that, I can't argue with the price. To be fully guided for the 6 hours of the day and have the entire centre to ourselves gave us amazing photographic opportunities. We were a group of 12 people and I think that is probably the maximum number of photographers that could be reasonably accommodated in some of the enclosures. As a wildlife photographer, I also know that centre's like this one do a lot of great work in rescue animals, conservation, education and habitat maintenance. So "is it worth it?" - yes, it is. A great day out, great photography and great company. 

Cheers

Jon

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(Jon Bryant Photography) https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/4/british-wildlife-centre-photography-day-part-2 Fri, 03 Apr 2015 08:45:00 GMT
British Wildlife Centre: Photography Day Part 1 https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/3/british-wildlife-centre-photography-day Part 1 of a 2 Part Blog: A Photography Day at the British Wildlife Centre, Lingfield, Surrey

Ethics statement: all these images are of wildlife held in the care and captivity of the British Wildlife Centre.

Last week I went to the British Wildlife Centre based in Lingfield, Surrey. They were holding a photography day. When I was organising the visit, I was considering going on one of the days where a professional photographer was present. They run a series of photography days when their centre is closed to the public. Some are run by photo guides, others are open for amateurs and enthusiasts. In the end I decided to go on one of the regular days without the services of a professional photographer.

The day started at 9.30am with registration and a cup of tea and biscuits. Details of the photography days can be found on their website. The cost of the day was £90. Is it worth the £90? Well I will answer that towards the end of this blog...

There were 12 of us in total that had registered and we had a member of staff to accompany us throughout the day and it was very well programmed. As we started the day in the centre it was great to see the other photographers with a wide range of equipment. Some had mirror less systems from Olympus and Panasonic, others had Nikon, other's had Canon's from entry level DSLRs like the 550D all the way up to a couple of 5Dmkiii's. 

My plan that day was to shoot with my  Canon 7D. I had no idea what to expect and did not know how far or close we would be to the subjects. I hedged my bets by packing my bag with my 24-70mm f2.8, my 70-200mm f2.8 and my 1.4x teleconverter, just in case. In the end that plan was turned on its head the day before.

The day before the shoot I visited the photography show at the NEC in Birmingham. My plan for the show was to network with some other photographers and a couple of publications, and check a little bit of gear but not too much. I am trying very hard to avoid the gear-trap right now as I am consolidating a lot of my kit to get exactly the gear I need to focus on wildlife photography. I am pretty close to my ideal set up, but I have sold one Canon body, am selling a Panasonic body, and have 3 lenses currently up for sale to fund my plan. And that plan included upgrading to a full frame body. But the plan didn't include buying one at the Photography show. That was until I saw the double cash back offer. At that point it was too good an offer to turn up, and even though I know the 5Dmkiii is at the end of its product life-cycle, its the camera that will take my photography, especially on future trips to Africa, to the next level. 

So I turned up at the British Wildlife Centre with my two lenses and a Canon 5Dmkiii. Not having read the manual at all, I set up back button focusing, put it into RAW shooting mode and went straight into the shoot. Well there's nothing like learning on the fly I say...best way to get to grips with the camera, is in the field. Speaking with the other photographers on the day, I realised I wasn't the only one to have succumbed to Canon's crafty marketing ploys at The Photography Show! I suppose this made me feel only very slightly less guilty.

We started our day in the red squirrel enclosure. I have photographed squirrels before, notably in St James Park London, where there is a very large and habituated population of grey squirrels, more grey squirrels in Les Landes forest in France, and Black Squirrels in Toronto. This was the first time I had photographed red squirrels and I found them incredible. What really surprised me was their ears and the colour. They are beautiful creatures. They move seriously quick, and they certainly keep you on your toes photographically.

After the first few shots with the Canon 5Dmkiii, where I was really just getting familiar with the camera, I started to get some better exposed compositions. Shooting in manual, like I would on my 7D isn't all that different on the 5Dmkiii. The Auto-focus system is much more sophisticated and it is in this area I will really have to focus in the coming weeks. I will have to set aside probably a full day where I teach myself the auto-focus system and get out and learn practically how to use it. On the day, I just put the focus system into one point select mode, that allowed me to move the focus point around the selection area depending on my subject and composition, and for the most part this worked well. 

After the squirrels, we went into the fox enclosure. This for me was one of my favourite experiences. I haven't lived in the UK for 15 years. But when I lived there I used to see foxes, even in urban areas fairly often. Since moving to Belgium, the only time I see a fox is lying dead on the side of the ring road which crosses the Bois outside Brussels. This is the very sad reality of living in such a densely populated country with very few natural crossings under main roads for wildlife to pass. I remember when I was very young visiting an aunt and uncle who had a regular fox visiting their garden. We used to put some food out before going to bed and then watch the fox come into the garden and feed from the upstairs window. I think I mentioned before in previous posts how important photography is in stimulating memories. Being in the fox enclosure took me back to my very first sightings as a child. But this was truly an amazing experience because there was a male fox who was habituated but wary of our presence. This made for some great photographic opportunities, where with the results you would never imagine this was a captive fox. The female on the other hand was a rescue fox and reared in the centre. So she behaved almost like a dog and was completely hyper active. She wouldn't keep still.

With the foxes we were told by our guide for the day we would have the opportunity to take some shots of the foxes running. So this is where I applied good field tactics of banking my shots and then experimenting.

For the running shots, we, the group of photographers lined up, and the guide would throw food towards us and the foxes chased after it. My plan was to stop up to around f18 or more, and lower the shutter speed to around 1/50 of a second. The plan being to try and capture some motion blur.  Motion blur and panning shots are a photographic goal for me this year. I tried this out in the field in South Africa last November and pretty much failed. But I learnt from it. So this was only my second attempt at trying to pan with a slower shutter speed. The first shot I took I used a shutter speed of 1/160 at f7.1 - you can see I didn't really get the desired effect:

The second shot, I slowed the shutter further to 1/50 of a second at f14. This time I got closer to what I was looking for. BUT, I cut the foxes tail off the composition. Like all good photographers I will blame it on the new camera :-) But in all seriousness, I think if I had been shooting with my 7D I would have probably nailed this shot, because the 7D is like a glove to me. This was my first shoot with the 5Dmkiii. But still my principle of "experiment and fail" still holds. I would rather have tried and failed than just played it safe. I've made progress with this shot, simply because I am trying to convey the motion in the image. And if I focus on that, and not the composition, this is a step in the right direction. 

After the fun with the foxes, we went into the British Wildcat enclosure. These wildcats look like domesticated cats but are far from it. They are mainly found in the Scottish highlands. They weigh between 9 and 14kgs, so sit in the same weight category as a Maine Coon or Norwegian Forest cat. I was curious to know this as I have a Maine Coon at home and they have a very long elongated body. These wildcats were fairly stocky in build and what I found particularly interesting was their tails, which are both thicker and bushier than a domestic cat. 

These cats were fairly habituated to humans, but you wouldn't want to get too close. They can scratch and bite. They also give you a fairly clear warning signal if you go too close.

They also have a permanent frown on their expressions which I think pretty much sums up their overall character!

With wildcats photographed we moved on to something much smaller. The harvest mouse. I have viewed images of harvest mouse in fields of corn and utterly marvelled at how these images were realised. How on earth in acres of corn will you spot a harvest mouse? Seems impossible right?

Well our guide made the shot easy for us. In the spirit of full disclosure and ethics, the shot you are about to see has been staged by the guide. A well placed dry thistle and a washing up bowl underneath as a safety net, we had ourselves a perfect portrait of a harvest mouse! Even so, this was one of my favourite shooting experiences, simply because I was keen to make this shot as natural looking as possible. So with the 70-200 f2.8 lens on, I stopped right down to f2.8 to open the aperture wide open and get a shallow depth of field. The full frame sensor is amazing in this sense. After nearly 6 years of shooting on the APS-C censored 7D, which at f1.4 to f1.8 does a pretty good job at shallow depth of field, the full frame Canon 5Dmkiii is in a class of its own.

With the harvest mouse rested to the safety of his housing box, that signalled half way for the day. We retired to the cafeteria area to eat our packed lunches and chat with each other about our experiences in photography. The weather held, and despite the threat of rain, it stayed dry and overcast with the odd ray of sunshine coming through every now and again. For a March day in the UK we couldn't complain, and the light had been pretty good to us.

In part 2 of the blog I will share the second half of the day where I got to shoot photographs of a Tawny owl, hedghog, Barn Owl, Otters, Polecat, Stoat and Weasel. I thought red squirrels moved fast....they have nothing on the speedy and elusive weasel!

cheers

Jon

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(Jon Bryant Photography) https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/3/british-wildlife-centre-photography-day Tue, 31 Mar 2015 10:15:07 GMT
Instagram: Jon the person https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/3/instagram-jon-the-person

I've been having a few conversations recently about social media with other photographers. In those conversations there was one thing that came up again and again.

Social media is supposedly "social" - yet by its very nature it often becomes in-personable. The millennial generation seem to measure things in a new currency of likes, follows, shares and subscribers. Something I understand but don't quiet buy into. This new social currency can hold new opportunities for those who have large numbers of followers. Companies want to access this new currency as a marketing stream. But I guarantee it comes at a cost. The cost is a complete lack of engagement. It almost goes without saying that those people who have the highest number of likes, follows, shares and subscribers almost certainly never engage with their 'fan' base. So what on earth is the point? 

In the context of photography I think engagement is important. I also think that in a very large sea of "so and so photography"'s (guilty as charged) it isn't enough to have a profile picture of yourself behind the lens, or lying on your stomach hiding behind a 600mm lens - sorry but "all the gear no idea" comes into mind.

People who follow you, probably want to know a little more about you. Not a lot more, but a little more.

So in these conversations that I have been having with other photographers about social media I listed 3 things that I think are important to allow you to better engage with the people who follow you:

  1. It is better to have fewer more engaged followers who appreciate what you do than thousands of people who click "like" but never take the time to comment. I would rather engage with people who appreciate what I do, and in turn I appreciate the time they take to look at my work.
  2. Put a face behind the name. Put a profile picture, no matter how cheesy it is (my Facebook one is very cheesy, but I don't care)!!! Make sure it is a portrait. Don't hide behind the lens of your own camera....seriously, I don't care how big your lens is. 
  3. Find a platform to share more than just your photography. In my case my focus area is in wildlife and landscape photography. But there are more aspects to me the person, than me the photographer.

Enter Instagram.

I follow many wildlife photographers who use Instagram exclusively for wildlife photography. I have nothing against this. On the contrary I appreciate digesting wildlife images through this platform. However for me, I want to use Instagram to show you the "behind the scenes" - what is going on in my everyday life, when I am not out with my camera. I want to share a little bit about "Jon the person" not necessary "Jon the photographer", and certainly not bots and fake followers, and fake likes. Why?

Well because I want people who engage with me through social media to have an additional dimension to the "so and so photography" that they are following, yes in my case "Jon Bryant Photography". We are living in a social media world where we are flooded with images and content under different banners and platforms. Yet the "social" part is often completely lost from the equation!!!

What has Golf got to do with Wildlife Photography? Nothing. But that's entirely the point!

Last week I was at the British Wildlife Centre at a photography day. I met a great bunch of enthusiastic photographers and what I appreciated more than anything was getting to know a little about these people, why they were passionate about photography, what were there motivations to shoot wildlife, what gear they were using, what were their photographic goals and drivers? It was great to hear different peoples rational for the art of photography. And it was something that you can't do through social media.....get to know the photographer you are following. Sure enough a number of us connected on social media, and this is great because I got to see their images from the day and this put a smile on my face. Thank you Amanda, Rachel and Keith! :-) Amanda, your enthusiasm for the otters was incredible and its great when you find a subject you enjoy more than anything....its truly amazing. 

So before I blog about my day at the British Wildlife Centre, ask yourself this simple question. What do you want to get out of social media?

For me, it's about sharing my journey in wildlife photography, with a little bit of the real me thrown in for added measure. If I just posted all my wildlife pictures I wouldn't be keeping it real, and I'd run out of images pretty quick!

Cheers

Jon

(an actual real person).

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(Jon Bryant Photography) https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/3/instagram-jon-the-person Mon, 30 Mar 2015 16:47:10 GMT
Overprocessing in Lightroom: I'm guilty! https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/3/overprocessing-in-lightroom-im-guilty Last night after a very long day, I got home and I watched Gerry from Wildeye's Q&A video on Lightroom. Go check the video here, trust me you will learn a lot!

I'd like to think of myself as a fairly advanced Lightroom user. Years of editing video, means I have probably a head start on colour correction than most. However last night whilst watching Gerry's video I had an A-Ha moment. You know one of those moments when the alarm bells start ringing. Everything he said about the application of Lightroom, I do. The whole philosophy of trying to keep it natural, I am on the same page. My workflow is simple. I use Lightroom 99.9% of the time on my RAW files. Then I occasionally use Photoshop Elements (I only have use for Elements, not the full version). I use Photoshop Elements in very VERY occasional circumstances to clone out small distractions on the boarders of the frame that I could not remove via cropping without compromising my composition....and I only do that if I will be printing that image.

Watching Gerry treat images, that A-Ha moment came. What was it? I had fallen into a trap since my last trip. I had started to over process my images. You see Gerry started out just as I do. First look at the image from a composition standpoint and how the image resonates with the viewer i.e. cropping for effect. He went to the black and the white adjustments first. Then he adjusted shadows and highlights on an add needed basis only. Then balanced exposure and contrast if needed, and finally clarity, vibrance, and saturation. Then the A-Ha moment. He stopped!

The Italian's say "Basta"!

I am guilty. That was my A-Ha moment!

I am guilty of trying to push the image too far. After doing all that, I am then trying to add another couple of steps to take my image to another level. 

Now...let my pause. 

It wasn't always like this. 

Up until my last trip in November last year, I was treating my images with care and getting them to look natural. I was also starting to correct the colour slightly using HSL (Hue, Saturation and Luminance) to create mood and selected colour adjustments....always useful for things like Leopards, and Giraffe's where you want to just make the yellow's and orange's stand out a little more than the other colours. And these localised adjustments were working really well, especially for images I had shot last April in Madikwe.

But like a good thing....I got hooked on the HSL adjustments, amongst others. And I'd taken things too far as I continued to go through my catalogue of images from Ngala and Sabi Sands. I should have known this because I had a series of young Giraffe images that were sitting there that I was having a hard time with. I hadn't done anything with these images because something inside me was telling me something was not right.

Regular readers of the blog will know I share my experiences and as such I have no issues in holding my hands up and saying "I got it wrong" in the spirit of sharing what I learnt and how I eventually got it right. I feel strongly about this...(a slight tangent)....with social media, blogs and so on, so often we are just bombarded with "perfect images"....few photographers get it right first time all of the time, and few share when what they learnt when they got it wrong. I think it takes a brave photographer to share their experiences when they didn't get it right, learn from it and move on (end of tangent)....as Gerry said in the video at 20'10 "Wildlife Photography is not always perfect". So true. 

So here is the image I struggled with: 

So what are the issues? The tree the Giraffe is grazing from has young green shoots and leaves, but they are over saturated. They look like they are fluorescent glow-in-the dark green. Not cool! Then there is the Giraffe. I used the special adjustment brush in an attempt to make the subject pop. But it's overdone. It's overdone because it almost looks like the Giraffe has a halo. Add to that the general colour of the greens in the background, the reason this image didn't sit comfortably with me is it just didn't look natural.

Right, so "A-Ha" moment learnt! Thanks Gerry :-)

TIME TO GO BACK TO BASICS!

If you have fallen into this trap, like me, then hit the RESET button in Lightroom. Go back to the beginning. Now I applied the basics: white and black adjustments, shadows and highlights, a little bit of contrast and pulled back the saturation. Then I stopped. Basta.

The result:

The new version is less nuclear. That's right, I have no other way to describe it, but my first attempt pushed things so much it was like the subjects and elements were glowing....RIDICULOUS. Now its all scaled back but in the right way. And the thing is, I just did what I always did. The difference was knowing when to STOP!

Now here's the thing. Because I thought of myself as an advance Lightroom user, I almost didn't watch Gerry's video. But I am glad I did. Point being, you never stop learning. Getting perspectives from other photographers who get out in the field more than yourself can only add valuable insights into your workflow from camera to final image. Remember that in Lightroom, LESS IS MORE!

I now have two other Giraffe images from that sighting that I was "stuck" with. I corrected, exported, and now have great looking natural additions to my catalogue:

Cheers Jon

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(Jon Bryant Photography) Lightroom Photography Wildlife https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/3/overprocessing-in-lightroom-im-guilty Fri, 13 Mar 2015 09:28:13 GMT
Travel prepare, be insect aware! https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/3/be-insect-aware Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional, and anything I write in this blog should NOT be taken as advice. This blog is simply about my experiences of travelling to Africa and some of the precautions that I take. If you are affected by issues in this blog I encourage you to seek advice from your general practitioner. 

The reason I write a blog is to share my experiences. Not just my photographic experiences but subjects that surround the very nature of wildlife photography; cameras, gear, but also travel. With this blog I wanted to address a topic that can be easily overlooked by travellers going on Safari: health. 

It goes without saying, I would hope, that if you plan on travelling to Africa, you will at the very minimum take out good healthcare insurance. For European's, given the repatriation distances and costs this is an absolute must. It is important to do your homework about the specific destination you will be heading to. If for some reason you get sick during or after your return, and you make a claim on your insurance, it is important you have taken the necessary precautions prior to travel. For example, if you get sick with something that you should have been vaccinated for, and you didn't have that vaccination, then the chances are your insurance provider won't cover you. Always double check well before travelling and read the small print in your policy!

After 4 trips in the last 18 months to South Africa, this summer I will be heading to Kenya. A new country, I have never been to. And whilst I am well aware of the health issues you may face in South Africa, I cannot assume that they will be the same in Kenya. It is for this reason that next week I am going to the University Hospital Travel Clinic to have a consultation, and if needed get inoculated against Yellow Fever. I say "if needed", in fact I am going to insist that I get it. You see the Travel Clinic are the experts, but they won't inoculate you unless it is a requirement. I had this experience two years ago before my first visit to South Africa, where we (my wife and I) wrongly believed that you needed yellow fever to travel to South Africa. The Doctor dispelled this myth, and despite my wife being fairly instant she wanted the vaccination anyway, the doctor refused. Lesson learnt.

However, in my case, I know that in the future I will potentially be travelling to other areas at risk. And I would rather get it done and out of the way now, so I don't have to worry about it in the future. It is no fun having a needle stuck in your arm, but I can attest that getting sick is even less fun...so sometimes we just have to suck it up and get on with it!

On my last trip to South Africa I got unlucky. Of my previous 3 trips, 2 were in Sabi Sands, a malaria risk zone and 1 was in Madikwe, a malaria free zone. My last trip was a dual stay in Ngala and Sabi Sands. So I went back to my doctor to get the malaria tablets that I had taken without any issue on my previous two trips. These tablets are fairly standard, you take one a day, starting 1 day before your arrival and continue until 1 day after your return. For me it was all run of the mill stuff and off I flew to Jozi taking my first tablet on the flight there. 3 nights later after that flight, I was horribly sick. I spent a whole day in my tent feeling nauseous and vomiting. The lodge were great and drove to Hoedspruit to see a local doctor. The doctor was great too and told me that the malaria tablets were reacting with another medication I was taking for my general health. He advised to stop taking both for the duration of my trip and on my return to a) see my doctor and b) if I get any flu like symptoms between 1 week and 3 months on my return to get tested for Malaria. Other useful advice he gave was to wear long trousers, long sleeves shirts and use mosquito repellent on hands and the neck. The mosquito repellent I was already using, but in the warm African sun it was disappointing to have to go from shorts to long trousers, but I heeded the advice. 

The day before I became sick in Ngala. I am pictured on the left: shorts and short sleeves but solid walking shoes.

The same day, the staff prepared a bush drinks break with lanterns. It was then I really noticed the high concentration of insects which I had never experienced during my other visits to South Africa.

 

Sure enough the next day I was queasy but feeling a lot better. I was back on drive and telling my insurance providers things seemed to be ok...no need for any help. 

I returned to Europe, memory cards full of great images and I was straight into Lightroom and was contently editing away. 6 days later on a Saturday evening I started to get shoulder pains, the ones you get when its a sure sign of flu. Then by the Sunday morning I started to get what felt like a temperature. As I was making my breakfast, bare foot in the kitchen, I looked down at my foot and noticed a small black spot on the top of my foot. I thought nothing of it at that time. The warning from the Doctor in Hoedspruit was on my mind and so on Monday morning I went to my Doctor explained the situation and was straight off to the hospital for a Malaria test, which proved negative. Phew! Good news. However, I started to feel even worse on the Tuesday.

By Wednesday, that small black spot on my foot had declared itself as a bite and was now swollen and painful, to the point I could hardly walk. I was running a horrible fever and having cold sweats. I started Googling on line to try and find something that looked similar to what was clearly an insect bite. I couldn't find anything. I quickly ruled out Lyme's - it wasn't the same type of bite. 

symbiotic relationship - the oxpeckers have a diet of mainly, ticks. So whilst this Kudu has to support a minor inconvenience with a perched oxpecker, overall its a win-win. I could have done with an oxpecker for my foot!

I then emailed a good friend of mine who is an ex-field guide. I described what I had. He replied within the hour "Yep, sounds like you have tick bite fever"...eish!

African tick bite fever, if you didn't know, is when a tick bite creates a bacterial infection. Incubation can take 5 to 7 days after the bite has occurred. Symptoms include fever, headaches and skin rash.

I went back to my Doctor...on the Wednesday afternoon. Its now 10 days since my return from South Africa. I tell him the story, and I explain my theory. He listens, but as there is a flu pandemic going round he seemed doubtful about my story and my suspicions of tick bite fever. Anyway, he prescribes me antibiotics and refers me to a Tropical Medicine Doctor with whom I get an urgent appointment the next day on Thursday. I am now on day 5 of constant fever and cold sweats, and no closer to a diagnosis or the right treatment. The Tropical Medicine Doctor would't be drawn on whether it's tick bite fever, but does give me a different prescription; super strong "slow-fast" antibiotics, design to work fast, and then stay in your blood stream to continually act over a long period of time. He also gives me a gel for the bite itself, a horrible smelly back paste that stains all textiles and linen and should be handled with caution. Great! 

So on day 6, which is now the Friday of that week, I started a 7 day course of 4 grammes of antibiotics a day. FOUR GRAMMES! 2 grammes in the morning and 2 grammes in the evening. These pills were enormous and impossible to swallow. I still felt grim, and the prospect of wrestling antibiotic pills the size of my glasses case was pretty demoralising (I exaggerate for effect). 

The days tick by, I am bed ridden with fever and advised to take soluble paracetamol to ease the fever. By the Sunday morning which is now day 8, I am in really bad shape. I have been on the antibiotics 3 days and it doesn't feel like anything is improving. I have cold sweats and horrible nausea. It was the worst I had felt in a long time and my wife was ready to take me to the Tropical Medicine institute that afternoon. That didn't happen in the end. I came round and by the following Wednesday when the antibiotics were over, my fever stopped, 12 days after my first fever broke. 4 days later with my immune system depleted, I came down with flu. I spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in my pyjamas drinking Lemsip and taking loads of paracetamol. 

All this happened at the end of November and for the month of December I was off sick for the full 4 weeks; first with tick bite fever and then flu. 

If you head over to wikipedia and take a look at the photo there, this is exactly what the bite looked like. 2 months later I still have a scare where the bite happened. I only wished I had seen this photo sooner as I would have known exactly what to look for. 

Well it was a lesson in life. It was only thanks to my friend in South Africa I was able to pin it down and have educated discussions with my doctors. Even then, they wouldn't commit to saying what I had, and this was my #1 lesson in the whole episode: if you get sick in Africa you have to think like an African doctor, not like a European doctor. It took me 5 days before I got the treatment I needed, simply because everyone thought after my malaria test proved negative, I just had flu. Even friends and family dismissed my state and thought I was over dramatising what I had. It wasn't until that Sunday when I turned yellow and looked truly awful that it dawned on my wife it was serious. 

It has made me wonder just how I got bitten. As it occurred 6 days after my return, I must have got bitten during the second half of my trip in Sabi Sands and not in Ngala. On drive I always wore socks and walking boots. This was because of the advice from the doctor in Hoedspruit as I had stopped taking the malaria tablets...and in any case, I always wear closed shoes on drive. So the only way I could have got bitten was at the lodge and probably in the room at days end. Bottom line is I was just plain unlucky.

I had my own pool in Sabi Sands and wanted to take the plunge. But after my bout of sickness and stopping the malaria tablets I just didn't want to take the risk.

Could it have been prevented? I don't think so. I think you can try and reduce the risk of a tick bite, but at the end of the day its down to luck. My learnings from this are;

  • Wear sensible clothing. Long sleeves and trousers are best, with closed shoes and light socks. 
  • The season plays a part. I noticed end of November with the warmer weather and the odd rain shower, there were a lot more insects in general than the cooler winter and spring seasons. 
  • You can get citronella anti insect bracelets. I wore those on my previous trips and they worked a treat. The issue I had in November was it was low season in Europe so pharmacies were out of stock! They are not just good for mosquitos they also repel ticks. 

I think its really important to be insect aware. I was pretty well aware before my trip, but my experience means I'll now be making a few more extra preparations for my next trip(s). 

So if you happen, by chance to be on a photo safari in Kenya this summer and bump into a photographer wearing long sleeved everything and citronella bracelets - please excuse me. I'm not paranoid, I just know from experience that tick bite fever really sucks, and I don't want to get it again!

 

Cheers Jon

 

 

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(Jon Bryant Photography) Africa Health Photography Travel Wildlife https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/3/be-insect-aware Thu, 05 Mar 2015 20:25:24 GMT
Overcoming camera limitations with post processing https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/2/overcoming-camera-limitations-with-post-processing I recently bought the Nik Collection Plug in's for Lightroom. For those of you less technically minded on the post processing side let me quickly explain what I am talking about...

Starting from the basics there are two types of modes you can shoot photographs in: JPEG and RAW. In very simple terms JPEG is a great format if you want to start sharing and/or printing your images straight out of camera. RAW is the best format if you wish to spend more term with post processing software to make modifications such as contrast, tone, and colour changes. 

Personally I shoot RAW as I feel that post processing is an essential part to completing the photographic process. I use Adobe Lightroom which gives me a powerful tool to make either minor corrections in the case I made some type of mistake (straighten an horizon, correct the white balance etc), but more importantly to make modifications to the image in terms of colour correction to great a mood, emotion or feeling to the image. These modifications can be subtle or harsh depending on what you are trying to achieve, but also can help draw the viewers eye to certain aspects of the composition. This is very important in wildlife photography where you may wish to subtly highlight a viewers eye towards one or more elements in a composition.

So what are the Nik Collection Plug in's?

Well they are a series of additional tools to help in that process of modification and/or correction. They compose of several modules from denoising through to sharpening, and included modules for colour correction and black and white conversions. I am just getting to grips with these modules and I will review more extensively in the coming months.

However I wanted to write a quick blog on one aspect I have been using it for: creating usable images because your camera has limitations.

So I shoot with a Canon 7D. No surprises it's not a good low light camera. Shooting at night is a real challenge. Today I do not go above ISO 1600. But a couple of years ago, when I was still in learning mode, I was shooting high ISOs. Not clever. But I knew no better at the time. But analysing my images in Lightroom afterwards taught me valuable lessons in low light shooting and the next time I went out in the field I adapted my shooting style to work around this limitation. I have gone back to my portfolio and looked at some images from Safaris in 2013. Specifically images at night where I shot 5000 and 6400 iso. Looking back this is crazy...! Oh how little did I know!!? Despite my best attempts in Lightroom I never managed to treat these images to an acceptable level of quality to share. 

Enter the Nik Collection. 

I have been playing with black and white conversions and I have been very surprised with the results...

Here is an example. Look at the image below.

So as you can see this a young male lion, at night, with a spot light from the vehicle shining on him. I took this at f4.0 which was the widest aperture I could shoot at and 1/100th of a second which I felt was the slowest shutter speed I could use and still keep things sharp. The ISO was 5000. The result? Well its not great is it? It's orange, because the white balance has been affected by the spot light and on a lions coat this has given a look that is far too warm. Is this shot usable? Not really. Did I learn from it? Absolutely!

So what did I do?

Well using the Nik Collection Silver Efex Pro 2 plug in, I did a black and white conversion. The plug in gives you a number of preset options, which can then be tweaked (look at the right hand column in the image below). 

As a result of using the conversion plug in I got the following file as an output:

Now to me this looks much better. Maybe "better" isn't the right phrase, different. Yes, the outcome is completely different. The black and white conversion has overcome some of the problematic lighting issues, and of course completely eliminated the white balance problem. It has also enabled me to reduce the noise from the high ISO setting. But more importantly, it has enabled me to change the mood of the image completely. From what before was clearly a side light situation, and a very poor one at that....[side note, I was not sat in the vehicle that was lighting the lion with a spot, otherwise I would have had a quiet word in the field guides ear!] I now have an image which creates some mystery about it. There are some shadows but they aren't to distracting, and the light is on the facial features showing just enough detail. 

I haven't optimised my workflow as I am still learning about these new set of plug in's. But I already see a lot of potential. I can see how they can be used in certain circumstances to transform images that have potentially been lost or suffered from the limitations of the cameras performance, especially for low light shooting. 

Here are a few other examples of different shots from the same sighting...

I got asked the other day "is it worth the investment"? Well I will let you decide based on these early results. I think anything that gives you a further creative option in the post processing stage is a huge advantage, and I am really excited to see the possibilities I have with these black and white conversions. I am really looking forward to further optimising my workflow and see what the results bring.

cheers

Jon

 

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(Jon Bryant Photography) Animals Collection Lightroom Nature Nik Photography Wildlife https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/2/overcoming-camera-limitations-with-post-processing Wed, 04 Feb 2015 12:55:14 GMT
The iPhone as a capable photographic tool? https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/1/the-iphone-as-a-capable-photographic-tool

I am a strong advocate that the key to great images is not the quality of the camera you have in your hands, but the skills and craft of the photographer using it...

But when it comes to the iPhone, I have never really taken it seriously as a photographic tool. That's not to say others haven't. And it is not a criticism either. I know that there are some specialist iphone-ographers out there taking seriously impressive photos with their phone. But for me, I have never really taken to the iPhone camera function beyond the odd point and shoot to put on instagram or Facebook.

The reason is, that Apple never "sold" the camera function to me from day 1. I have always been a fan of the iPod. The original generation of iPods just played music. But once Apple launched the iPhone, they expanded the product life cycle of their iPods by cascading down iPhone technology into iPod product launches under the iPod Touch name.

I bought the first generation of iPod with a camera. I absolutely loved the idea of having an internet connectable device with a phone in my pocket. Wow, was I disappointed. I cannot recall the mega pixels of the camera sensor, but the quality was horrific. My wife had an iPhone 4 at that time, and I had a 3rd generation iPod touch. I borrowed her iPhone one day to take a photo, and then I took the same photo with my iPod touch. It was at this point I realised that they did not have the same camera technology in them and the iPod touch was inferior. I wasn't happy about this. 

Today I have an iPhone 6 for professional reasons. And the camera in it has advanced, and the user interface and functionality has increased. I kind of have a "love/hate" relationship with it. But it goes everywhere with me and at times by default it is the only "camera" I have with me. 

This year I know I absolutely MUST do more Landscape photography. Last year I played around a bit, but I didn't really make a concerted effort to get to the places which would help me build a portfolio. I do travel a lot and sometimes by complete surprise you drive past an incredible view or spot and have no opportunity to take a photo. Either access or stopping is forbidden or, which is often the case, my DSLR is not with me.

This happened to me the other weekend on my way to play golf. Every weekend I drive past the same spot...an open area of farmers fields lined with the odd tree, a main road that cuts through the landscape and a whole wind farm on the farm land. It changes like the seasons. For several weeks I'd being telling myself to get down to this spot and do some stock photography. 

Anyway this one particular weekend we had freezing fog. Why I chose to go to the golf range in such freezing whether, I do not know, but that's another story. On my way back home, I saw the view in the image I have posted here. I stopped the car. I used my iPhone as it was the only camera I had. I parked up and wound the car window down. I was on an isolated farm track so I was all alone and had plenty of time and space. I didn't even need to get out of the car, a blessing give the minus temperatures outside!

I took about 3 images before I was more or less happy. I then decided to play around in Lightroom with a black and white conversion.

I have to say I am impressed with the result. Yes there is some grain/noise in there which is to be expected, but with the black and white conversion you get away nicely with this. Its almost like you expect some grain in black and white. But given the light, the fog and the cold, the image has come out really well and sums up the wintery scene I was confronted with. 

Now this hasn't sent me all giddy and I am suddenly in love with the iPhone and will start 12 months of "adventures in iPhone photography"???. No. But it has made me look at the iPhone camera differently. And like with all cameras if you know what its capable of, you have a better chance of using it to its full potential and creating great images.

 

What do you think?

 

cheers

Jon

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(Jon Bryant Photography) https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/1/the-iphone-as-a-capable-photographic-tool Fri, 30 Jan 2015 08:23:30 GMT
Experiment and fail! https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/1/experiment-and-fail This week I sat down with a blank sheet of paper and I wrote some photographic goals. 

Why?

Well the last 2 years on my wildlife photographic journey, I have accomplished a lot, I have come a long way, I have really progressed as a photographer. But I have not always focused on achieving some of the things I would like to do. By writing these things down, I can focus on achieving them and monitor my progress....It also allows me to ask myself if I am being realistic in my expectations? It is very important to keep your feet on the ground. 

If the last two years were about solid craft with my camera and getting good wildlife shots, the end of 2014 started seeing me start experimenting. I say "start" as I didn't do much of it. But already the fact that I tried is an indication of the direction to head and the shape of things to come. 

Being based in N.Europe, when you travel to Africa you want bankable shots. You want to make every drive count, every sighting count to get the best shot you possibly can. There is a voice in your mind which says "don't fail, don't offload your card into Lightroom and see shots you've messed up". Bottom line is, you will mess up, everyone does. You'll mess up on the basics and you'll learn from it and get better next time. But you shouldn't beat yourself up about it. The issue is if you approach every sighting like this, you will never experiment, you will never push the limits and boundaries, and you will never get the chance to try something different that you might just pull off and become proficient it. You risk to stay in your comfort zone!

At the end of last year I had two things in mind, where I wanted to experiment and progress for 2015. This is one of my "goals" for 2015 in terms of craft with my camera. The first is called "intentional camera movement" (ICE). This can be a pan or a zoom as you engage your shutter to create some sense of movement or emotion in the shot. The second is slow shutter speed photography, this is different, where the camera may be static, and the slow shutter speed may create an effect of movement or emotion. 

I first discovered slow shutter speed effects in Madikwe in 2014 with a shot of a jackal who was fleeing from a dead elephant he had been feeding on. The early morning low light meant I was already at a slow shutter speed of 1/80 and this was just enough to get this image:

It's not a perfect image. I shot it hand held. The static image components of the elephant are not pin sharp. But the jackal itself is quiet effective and as a very first attempt, I would say "well done me"....you have to some times give yourself credit where its due and keep your confidence up!

Whilst in Ngala last year we had a couple of bleak spots on a couple of the drives. This happens. So at a couple of general game sightings I started playing. I make no apologies that the following photos are awful. But that's not the point. I got my "bankable" shots first and then looked at a zoom out shot. I started with Zebra's. The Zebra's were starting to walk away and we were now quiet some distance from them. But again, I wasn't looking for a useable shot. I wanted to understand how the technique worked. So here is what I did:

  • Stopped to f9.0 to have most of the scene in focus.
  • Dialled in to a 1/80 shutter speed.
  • Set the iso based on my metering. 
  • Zoomed to the maximum focal length and composed.

As I pushed the shutter button I quickly rotated the lens to go from maximum focal length to minimum focal length as the shutter was released. 

Close, but no cigar...

I did the same at an Impala sighting. Again, poor positioning of Impala and a bad composition....that's not the point. 

So what did I learn?

  • The shutter needs to be a little slower, maybe down to 1/50th or 1/60th.
  • I need to practice more! Rotating from 200mm to 70mm to get the effect isn't easy. It comes down to honing your craft again.
  • Failing is fun. Yes, I failed!!! And I am totally ok about it. It has given me the confidence to try again, and having failed once, I understand better what to do next time. How many wildlife photographers do you see publishing their failures? Not many right!? But I believe that failure is part of the creative process and growing and I am all for sharing.

Now, here is what I am looking to accomplish:

Ethics statement - this was not done in camera, but in post processing with Lightroom and the Nik Collection plugins. 

Having edited a photo of an elephant using this effect in post processing, I have a very clear vision in my mind of how to accomplish this the next time I am out in the field. This is the power of taking time during the post process to study your work. What worked and what didn't and understand what you need to do next time you are out in the field. 

Finally - here is one of the "bankable" shots I got from the Zebras, a black and white conversion....proof that not all was lost in terms of portfolio additions!

In summary, 2015 for me will be(e):

B - get your Bankable shots

E - Experiement and don't be afraid to fail. I'll push myself outside my comfort zone.

E - Enjoy....enjoy the sighting, enjoy the experience and never forget that every day I have my feet in Africa is a privilege. 

Have a good one!

Cheers Jon

 

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(Jon Bryant Photography) Africa Madikwe Photography South Wildlife photography https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/1/experiment-and-fail Fri, 16 Jan 2015 15:18:30 GMT
Stories from the field...the lion cubs of Ngala https://www.jonbryantphotography.net/blog/2015/1/stories-from-the-field-the-lion-cubs-of-ngala Prior to my trip to the Ngala Private Game Reserve I had seen on social media that there were newly born lion clubs. I was excited. But at the same time I was realistic. I knew that my 3 nights at the reserve would leave a limited chance of seeing these cubs. 

On the very first drive, our field guide decided to try and locate the cubs. We got very lucky and when driving down the Timbavati river bed we came across the den site. However, we were quiet