So at long last here we go with my very first blog entry - and as such it's also the first of my "I promise they'll be regular" picture of the week blog entries. Now I apologise that this image bears no resemblance to the services offered on the mepictureyou website (no wedding, portrait or commercial photos commissioned by lionesses to date). But from the outset my intention is for this blog to feature a real mixture of photographic subjects, maybe some photography tips, maybe some meaningful musings, and occasionally maybe just a simple picture. And just maybe some humour, but feel free to reserve judgement on that bit.
First up is this little lion cub - a photo that makes my wife at least, go "ahhhh" (how do you write down that often involuntary "ahhhh" type noise made when people see something cute?).
What do you think - did this little cub make you go "ahhhh"?
If all you wanted to do was to see the pretty picture, you can close this page right now and just come back at the same time next week...
Have you been inspired by the BBC's Africa series? Well if you're now planning a safari for a holiday or honeymoon, then after two visits (not honeymoons) I can highly recommend Kicheche Bush Camp. They look after their guests like Lords and Ladies and the guides are fantastic - check out their Trip Advisor reviews if you don't want to take my word for it, and no I don't have any affiliation!
It's absolutely nothing like the camping I remember as a kid - wake up calls that are delivered by a softly calling Masai guard delivering hot drinks and biscuits definitely beats someone smashing a saucepan lid right outside your tent. The food and drink is amazing and the whole experience is just off the scale brilliant. I'm sure there are many excellent safari establishments around, but like the person that originally recommended Kicheche to me (thank you Laura West), I'm just passing the Kicheche name along. Depending on your style I think it would make a brilliant honeymoon destination, at the least as a part of your trip. The beds are large and comfortable by the way.
Now wildlife photography is just a hobby of mine - if you're interested then try and go and see the annual Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition to see some truly stellar work, the standards are incredibly high and show the patience, love and skill applied by amateur and professional alike.
Two photographers that have featured regularly in that competition are Paul Goldstein and Andy Rouse. If you ever get the chance I would thoroughly recommend attending talks by either of them - both are very witty, brilliant and inspiring photographers. I've not had the pleasure of going on a photographic tour with either, but that's definitely on my bucket list (and I'd love to go and photograph polar bears one day!).
This photo was taken in the Masai Mara in 2009. My personal "bible" for photography tips back then was the Lonely Planet Wildlife Travel Photography book by Andy Rouse. I don't think it's still in print, but you could try and get hold of a second-hand copy - it's a compact tome full of great, well explained concepts, and is still relevant today.
Here are three wildlife photo tips that I've picked up and try and pass on to people if I'm ever asked:
Though this can be difficult on safari as your subject might be anything from a cub like this one some 10 inches off the ground to a giraffe some twenty feet up - but rather than always standing right out of the top of an open safari jeep and photographing down from 8 or 9 feet up - try and get down low and shoot through the open side of the vehicle. Getting nearer the subject's eye level makes any eye contact that much more engaging (and I think this it true of most portraits whether lion cubs ot the kids at home). In this image it's obvious that I've been seen by the cub - but hopefully not obvious that it was taken 4-5 feet up out of the side of a Toyota Landcruiser - albeit hunched over with the camera and lens as low as possible (the back ache is soon forgotten!).
There's a lot of grass out on the plains of the Masai which is great for attracting all the many ruminants for the lions, leopards, cheetahs to chase (ok - eat...). But when grass cuts right across your subject's eyes it can detract from your photo. I know there's a great big blade of grass in front of this cub's nose, but it's not covering his eyes and I think it shows that this little one is laying low in the undergrowth. If something is obstructing your subject, then try and either move around (slowly and quietly) in your vehicle for a better view point, or ask your driver to move the vehicle for you. I've not yet found a guide who won't be happy to try and help you get the best angle for your pictures.
Ok so it's a no brainer really, but for portraits like this do everything you can to make sure that your subjects eyes are in focus. Achieving sharp focus (and then actually capturing when you press the shutter release) is down to a number of factors and easily enough for a ton of blog entries. But a couple of key things that will help will be: 1) using a fast enough shutter speed to freeze both your subject's movement and any potential camera shake, which will likely get worse the longer the focal length (i.e. the more 'zoomed' in you are), and 2) using a focus method that helps you nail the shot. If you're going on safari with your SLR but can only use it in point and click "program" mode, then you will get some lovely pictures, but learning and practising how to control things like your camera's different focus and shooting modes will pay dividends and mean you get more great pictures.
Any camera nerds like me out there? If you're interested, here are the camera settings for the image above:
Nikon D200, Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 VR Mk1 with a 1.7x Nikon Teleconverter - 1/640s at f5.6, ISO 400
Why those settings? Well this cub was about 15-20 feet away - so f5.6 gave me a really nice shallow depth of field, plus it's really as wide an aperture as I would want to use with the teleconverter on the camera (as image quality is slightly reduced at widest apertures). A shutter speed of 1/640s meant it was fast enough to freeze my stationary subject, and fast enough to avoid any camera shake - combined with the lens resting on a bean bag on the side of the stationary and switched off jeep. ISO 400 was about as fast as I liked to set the ISO on my D200 - much higher and noise interfered, and back then software like Adobe Lightroom just wasn't so adept at dealing with noise.
Phew! Thanks for reading.