Monday, December 29, 2008

What If...

What if...

Whether in photography or life in general, these two words can potentially carry huge meaning. 

In photography these two words could be the difference between an absolutely amazing image and a very average snap shot.  When used in retrospect it is too late and there is then nothing than can be done to get another chance but when you think of it before you click the shutter you open up your mind to all the possibilities that are locked up in 'what if' you can create magic.

What if the blade of grass and leaf was not covering this young leopard's face?  Would it have been a better image?  Probably, but it really does not matter as there is nothing you can do about it now.  The image has been created and that is that.  A quick 'what if' before the shutter clicked might have led to a different outcome but then again hindsight is always nice and clear.  (I still like the image though!)

Now depending on your point of view on the age old cliche art imitates life and, whether for good or bad, those two little words are also a part of our everyday lives.  Would it not have been easy if, like in photography, we can ask 'what if' before decisions get made.  Before we speak to someone.  Before life forces you to move on.  

It seems way more likely that most of us will face those two words in retrospect as during this time of year we start looking forward to looking back.  New resolutions.  New goals.  New dreams.  

For whatever reason we all have to deal with our own 'what if' questions, however difficult they may be.

What if I said it?
What if I did not say it?
What if I listened?
What if I did not listen?
What if I told that one person how I really felt?
What if did not give up?
What if I did?
What if he was still in our life?
What if I accepted that offer?
What if I had the courage to stand by my own convictions?
What if I am better than I think I am?
What if it really is possible?
What if...

Life is not always black and white.  Yes, there are things that are right and wrong but people's differences, personalities and ideas add color to our everyday life.  When you can combine this color with a respect for old-fashioned values you will be able to live life to the full and not be afraid to face your 'what if' questions.

At the risk over too many cliches, life really is too short.  

On a personal note, I feel there are things that I would have done slightly differently but I am grateful to say there are no regrets.  There are most definitely a few key moments in life I might have decided to negotiate differently but the road these decision has led me on has been amazing so even if there was regret life found a way to make up for it.  New possibilities.  New ideas.  It has been quite a ride but it is not over yet.  In a very short time from now it seems things might change again.  As long as I do not sit back one day thinking 'what if I made a different decision' - bring it on!

As you look back at 2008 treasure the memories and look forward to another chance.  In 2009 live life to the fullest.  Tell that person how you feel.  Go climb that mountain.  Take that trip.  Take more pictures.   Make the change.  Follow your heart.  Follow your dreams.  Do everything you need to do so that when you get to this time next year there won't be any 'what ifs'. 

Thanks to everybody for their support during this year.  With a lot of things planned for the New Year I look forward to sharing more images.  More stories.  More of life.  It has been a helluva ride but buckle up because here we go again...

All the best for 2009.  Make it count!

Until next year!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Ten 'Great' Photo-Africa Images - 2008

What makes a great image?

If you ask 100 people you are going to get 100 answers.  It is most definitely a personal choice but there has to be something that can be found in great images.  Something that, whatever your point of view, demands the viewer's attention and makes you look at the image again.  

Various dimensions like technical quality, composition and other photographic 'rules' can be thrown around but is it truly possible to place a series of criteria and regulations as to what ultimately makes a great image?  I don't think so.

A great image should excite you.  A great image demands a second look.  A great image should capture the essence of the moment which can then be seen and felt by the viewer.  A great image will still be a great image in 20 years.  In 100 years.  If you as the photographer can moved past the point where you worry about mastering technique and your equipment you are in a position to finally start creating great images.  Images that you see in your mind before clicking the shutter.

Wildlife photography is no different.  My initial idea was to, for this final High Five post of 2008,  go through the images on the Photo-Africa Stock Library and choose a Top Ten of sorts.  Obviously I was very optimistic as I have not even gotten through a quarter of the images.  

Instead I went to the Most Popular images, based on amount of views on the site, and chose ten images from there to feature in this post.  As I was looking through the small thumbnails I chose the images that, even as a small preview, caught my attention.  Isn't that what it is all about?  For an image to catch your gaze no matter what the size?  

I don't think all the images on the Most Popular page are great images.  In my opinion some of them are pretty ordinary but people's preferences differ.  A good image to me might be a masterwork to you.  A great image surely then has to be the one that, no matter what your background, preference or mood, stands out and demands your attention.  

So as the final High Five of the year, here are in no particular order a number of great images that have been uploaded to Photo-Africa during 2008. 

These images are all very different but great in their own way.  Have a look at each images and choose only one word to describe it.  Passion.  Tension.  Power.  Beauty.   If you can do this I believe an image has what it takes to be 'great'.

At the end of the day beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  If your vision is true to yourself great images will create themselves.  Shoot with your mood.  Shoot with your feelings.  Shoot like you want to and you are on your way to create great images.

During January I will work my way through the images on the Stock Site and post my real Top Ten for 2008.  For now you can visit the following two links to view the ever-growing database of African Wildlife and Nature Photographs on the Stock Site.  Even during the festive season more than 100 new images have been added.  Absolutely 'great' stuff rolling in!

What do you think makes a great image?  Is it just one thing?

As always I look forward to hearing from you!

Until next time.

Spot the Wild Dog

With being one of Africa's most endangered carnivores, the Wild Dog is notoriously difficult to find and keep up with.

The dog below thought he should make it even more difficult as he sat in an old farm dam while another three dogs were scouting around for impala. 

After he came out of his morning hiding place we followed them around for a while as they ran all over the place after, by now, very paranoid impala.  In the end we lost visual as they moved off into the thick bushes after another possible meal.

As always I look forward to hearing from you!

Until next time.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

An African Christmas

Christmas and New Year normally means a nice long holiday spent with friends and family.  This is not quite the same when you work in the lodge & hospitality industry.

During this time of year most lodges in Africa are completely fully booked.  For the management, guides and staff this means a very busy time as you create special memories and wonderful experiences for guests.  Normally this goes hand in hand with working long hours without having the chance to see family and celebrate the holiday as you normally would.  I truly take my hat off to the people working over this time of year!

During the day you find yourself looking at the people on holiday as they celebrate the togetherness and spirit of the festive season.  Somewhere deep down inside you feel conflicting emotions.  These feelings pendulum between a sad longing to also have the opportunity to share special moments with friends and family and a feeling of satisfaction of having created another moment, another memory for someone else.  

Right now these memories are made up of adventures in the African bush, great meals and the warm hospitality where every little detail comes together to create a kind of magic.

During the last few days of 'silly season' the game viewing at Tuningi has been spectacular.  The last four groups of guests have all seen the Big 5 a couple of times over and the pack of Wild Dog have been very kind to give us the most spectacular sightings.

As we sat watching the sunset below on Christmas eve it was a strange kind of way it feels great to be a part of the memories that some people will hopefully carry with them for a long time to come.  

The only other feeling that is always there is that next year or the year after we will also be able to create memories with family and friends but for now we continue to do what we do and create magic for our guests - a feeling that, for now at least, is worth all the time spent.

I hope you have a Merry Christmas!

Until next time!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Season's Greetings!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Weekly High Five #26

It is amazing to think that this will be the second last Weekly High Five for 2008.

For those of you that are new to this Blog here is how it works. The Photo-Africa Stock Library features a growing database of African Wildlife & Nature images. These images get uploaded by more than 25 wildlife photographers and field guides working in Game Reserves all over the African continent.

All the images have been taken in the wild and shows Africa through the eyes of people who care enough for nature and it's wildlife to capture the beauty and magic that is Africa. With many of the contributing photographers working in Game Reserves and witnessing the most amazing sightings every day , the images form a part of one of the most unique and regularly updated showcases of African Wildlife & Nature images on the Internet. All these images can be viewed on the Stock Site and is available as non-licensed commercial, editorial or personal use.

Every Friday I choose five of the latest images that have been uploaded to the site and feature them on the Blog with my thoughts on what makes these images stand out while always keeping photography and wildlife in mind.

With this being the 26th edition of the High Five, I have featured 130 images from the more than 3000 images on the Stock Site. For next week's edition, which will be the last for the year, I will choose my top ten favourite images of 2008. I know that as I am writing this it is going to be a very difficult thing choosing only ten but it will be interesting looking through the images all the way back to when the Stock Site was started in April this year.

Make sure to check in next week for Photo-Africa's Top Ten Images of 2008, but for now here goes with this week's High Five.

* * *

Image 1 - Shaking Spurfowl by Matt Jones

Interesting image. This Natal Spurfowl is busy shaking himself clean after a dust-bath when Matt clicked the shutter. The head is slightly out of focus but still assists in creating a dynamic image of the bird in action. If the head was perfectly crisp this would have been ab even better image but I still find it fascinating.

* * *

Image 2 - Black Shouldered Kite by Gerry van der Walt

This image presents quite an interesting exposure challenge but the final result is not too bad. What makes this image work is the Black Shouldered Kite looking straight at the camera - eye contact.  The ideal would have been to have the sun slightly more from behind the photographer which would have highlighted the beautiful red eyes more but still a good bird image.  Would perhaps have liked to see more contrast but not a major.

* * * 

Image 3 - Vulture Face by Paul Benson

As far as bird close up goes this is right up there.  As with the previous image, and all other wildlife images, it's all in the eyes.  Not only is the eyes crisp and sharp but the catch light makes the image come alive.  The negative space on the right is used perfectly and gives the vulture something to look at.  Stunning image of a very difficult to shoot subject.

* * * 

Image 4 - Mating Lions by Gavin Tonkinson

This image has quite a few things going for it.  The first is, again, eye contact.  The male lion looking at you as if to say "What are you looking at?" immediately draws you into the image.  The way it looks as if the male lion is kissing the female on her head gives the image a 'cute' quality.  I am not quite sure what to make of the look on the female's face but I like it.  Kind of confused perhaps? This image also shows that you should sometimes break the rules and place your focal point in the centre of the image.  There are so many small things happening that it does not feel like your gaze is stuck in the middle of the frame.  Nice one.

* * * 

Image 5 - Hyena Battle by Matt Jones

This is easily my pick of the week.  Absolutely stunning image that shows interaction between the two species of hyena.  The dry dusty environment works perfectly to heighten the emotion of the scene as the Brown Hyena kicks up the dust.  From a previous post, this image draws you in.  It must have excited the photographer as it does the viewer.  This is what wildlife photography is all about - showing the stories that play out in nature.   Great shot!

* * * 

It is nice to see that a lot of the guys are uploading more bird images.  Overall I have been very impressed with the diversity of images that have been uploaded this year and hopefully this will show in next week's Top Ten post.

As we approach the end of the year there are a lot of new ideas and regulars I would like to add to the Blog.  If all goes to plan this will probably start coming together towards the end of January after I have met with a few potential partners and sponsors for competitions Photo-Africa will start running.  I am also in the process of integrating the Photo-Africa Home Page, Blog and Stock Site into one.  Lots of work, many ideas and still quite a few things to iron out but the process has started.  Will keep you posted!

Even though things are quite hectic for us over this time of year I will still upload a few posts during the next week before the Top Ten post next weekend.

As always I look forward to hearing from you.

Until next time.

Friday Fun - African Laxative

I received this image by email.  Not sure who took it or where but the caption worked.

"An African laxative about to start working"

As always I look forward to hearing from you!

Until nest time.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Don't Think - Just Do it!

Photography is art. It is abstract. It is a passion.

An image should convey your passion, interest and excitement. If you are not shooting with this in mind you will struggle to produce images that make people go 'Wow!'.

You can get your images perfectly sharp with a text book histogram but it your images do not contain elements that excite you they will probably also not excite your viewers. In order to make better images shoot with feeling. Shoot with passion.

Ansel Adams said "There is nothing worse than a sharp photograph of a fuzzy idea."

Think before you shoot. Feel before you shoot. Don't click the shutter at a scene purely because it has been done before or you think it might look good as a photograph. You need to know. If your images don't 'talk' to you they probably won't 'talk' to other people either.

Technical knowledge is important but it should never get in the way of shooting what excites you. Ken Rockwell says on his site "Worrying about manual exposure settings and technique distracts you from your passion, just as if your lover were to stop to answer the phone in the middle of a steamy one-on-one. You need to worry about seeing, feeling, composition and lighting, NOT about f/stops as you start out."

Many people still believe that buying a newer, better camera will automatically help them produce better images. People make photographs, not cameras. A good photographer can make brilliant images with a very basic camera while many people with very fancy and expensive cameras fail to produce striking images as they lack passion and vision.

Here are two if the images that got me quite excited the last two days.

Fantastic build up of clouds over Tlou Dam in the Madikwe Game Reserve.

The front paw of a very large male lion that produces the tracks we spend endless morning walking after.

It might not always be the obvious, but shoot what excites you. Don't think about it, just do it!

As always I look forward to hearing from you!

Until next time.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Madikwe's Inselbergs

If you have ever been to the Madikwe Game Reserve you will know that the Inselbergs are one of it's defining features.

This panorama shows the road on the western fence line close to the Wonderboom Gate and the Inselbergs as they stretch into the reserve from Botswana in the North. You can click on the image for a larger view.

As always I look forward to hearing from you.

Until next time.


Time, Pride and Wide Open Spaces

In nature, as in life, you find scenes and moments that defines a certain feeling. A certain time. A certain place. Here are a few of the images I got in the last two days that I feel 'defines' but a few of the scenes and emotions you might find in the African bush.

This newly born Impala defines this time of year.

This image defines a certain feeling or emotion. Pride? Confidence? Longing?

This image defines the open spaces of Africa. This image was one of my first attempts at stitching three images together to create a panoramic view of the southern parts of Madikwe. The clouds bring a certain element of emotion. Conflict perhaps?

The rain clouds are slowly building up over Madikwe again. It is amazing how this changes the mood out in the bush. Not always for the bad though. There is a sense of expectation. A promise of renewal and the hope that the decent rains finally arrive.

Will be back with the Weekly High Five on Friday so make sure to check back again soon!

As always I look forward to hearing from you.

Until next time.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Playing With Photoshop CS4

Hello again everybody,
I have had a little time on my hands in the last week or so, and have been playing with photoshop with some of my images, and have come out with some really funky looking shots.
Now remember that you cannot just put a filter on any old image and hope that it would have to work. You must first select an image which you think can work with a particular filter, as not all images are suited for any filter.
This is obviously no means of creating the best selling image in the industry, but nevertheless will keep you occupied for for hours on end.
Anyway so here goes......

This was the result after the fractillus filter was applied, nice thing about this, is that the line sizes can bne changed to completely warp the image, or make it more realistic like this.


I created a second layer and dropped the oppacity of this image after I added serious grain to it, which gave this image a classy feel to it.


This was created in on eof the brush strokes filters and gave this interesting mix...


Ater putting this image through the "Glowing Edges" filter this came out, which I quite like, and think it could print well on canvas perhaps.
I cant remember which filter I used in this image, but it came out pretty good for possibly printing on metallic paper as some form of contemporary art.

So what are you waiting for............ GO PLAY !!!
The options are endless.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

From Chameleons to Leopards

The week started off quite slow.

Even today the sightings have not been as numerous as we would like them to be.  Regardless of this we have been getting some pretty awesome photographic opportunities.  Here are a few random images from the week so far.

Guess it is too much to ask for to have a Chameleon look at you with both eyes and yes - I was flat on the floor.

At this time of year there are always a lot of newly born animals around.  I guess this is a face only a mother can love!

Shot this image with B&W in mind.  Quite happy with the result.

This Red Crested Korhaan was not very happy with the early morning rains.  Looks very miserable.

The Diperoro female has been giving us a few great sightings the last while.  On this particular afternoon she was very happy to pose for images.  Stunning cat!!  Will upload more to the Photo-Africa Stock Library as as soon as I get a chance to go through all the RAW files.  Gavin also has a few of this beauty which you can see on the Stock Site.

As always I look forward to hearing from you.

Until next time.

Another Rare Find

You might recall that at the end of November I posted an image of a 'PushmePullyou' Rhino.  

One of my guests at Tuningi, Mitchell, got this shot and I just had to upload it!  Another version, Zebra in this case, of Dr. Doolittle's mythical beast!

As always I look forward to hearing from you!

Until next time.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Weekly High Five #25

There is something special about being in a Game Reserve in Africa.

Last night this was again apparent again when the guests at Tuningi were treated to a bush dinner.  Five star cuisine in the middle of the African bush.  The evening was illuminated by the most beautiful full moon which rounded off the perfect evening. 

Working in the hospitality industry and especially in the Game Lodge industry, is quite an adventure and takes a special kind of person.  The ability to always put your own wants and needs after that of the guest requires a strange and very rare mix of passion, patience, dedication and sometimes a decent helping of 'bite-your-tongue' self control.  I think that many times people involved on the fringes of the industry do not even understand how lucky they can be to have the people out in the field doing what they do.  I truly take my hat off to all the guys and girls who are creating lifelong memories for guests from all over the world when they visit Lodges in Africa. 

I find myself thinking about the future and where it is all going.  During this time of year when we all look back at the past year and make plans for the New Year I suppose it is normal to get these feelings.  Perhaps it is just this time of year.  Perhaps it is my mind looking to the future.  Perhaps something else?  I find myself in a strange place where there does not seem to be one clear path which is the 'correct' one.  The age old cliché of 'wants versus needs' seriously comes to mind.  

Do you indulge your own wants and hope that needs will ultimately take care of themselves or do you take care of the needs which will in the long run give you what you want?  I guess time will tell where this incredible adventure that is life will end up.

Whatever the future holds I know that I will always have photography.  I know that many people have written about the emotional outlet it offers so not going down that road right now.  Since a concerted effort to expand my portfolio and include various other genres of photography I have learnt a lot and feel excited about it all again.  Make no mistake, my passion is still wildlife & nature photography but there is so much more.  You look at images differently and a whole new world of possibilities open up.  As Canyon Ranch's tag line reads - the power of possibilities!

In between all this playing around I have not had much time to upload new images to the Photo-Africa Stock Library but the new material has still been rolling in.  With that, here goes with this weeks High Five.

* * * 

Image 1 - Shaking Lion by Gavin Tonkinson

With all the lens techniques I have been playing with this week I was quite amused to see this shot.  Great example of a motion blur captured with a slower shutter speed.  Two things to note.  You can see that the lion is pretty much in focus which shows how still you have to hold your camera when shooting with low shutter speed.  Another thing that makes this image work is the fact that Gavin focused in the lion's face.  You can see the motion blur forms a circular feeling around the face which pulls you gaze in that direction.  Fun image.

* * * 

Image 2 - Leopard Tortoise by Brett Hoy

Nice capture of one of the 'Small 5'.  What makes this specific image unique is that Brett got low down - eye level!  By getting at eye level, or is possible even lower, you are on your way to create dramatic animal and wildlife images.  Too many people shoot small creatures like this from the top which gives it a very 'the-human-is-in-control' feeling.  Wildlife images should highlight the animal and this image does a pretty good job.

* * * 

Image 3 - Brown Hyena Cub by Gavin Tonkinson

This image is tightly framed and initially it feels a little bit cramped.  The reason for this is that at first glance your focus is the larger animal on the left of the image.  This animal is just a part of the story but the punchline is the youngster on the right.  The little guys is looking at the camera as he is following his mom on their morning patrols.  This image shows that you should always look at breaking the photographic rules when shooting wildlife.  If Gavin left empty space on the left of the image you would not have been as drawn to the youngster.  Cute youngster.  Great image.

* * * 

Image 4 - Elephant Herd by Paul Benson

Plain and simple.  And it works.  This image would happily hold it's own in any wildlife photography book.  No funny business.  A neat, clean capture of an African icon.

* * * 

Image 5 - Drinking Leopard by Gavin Tonkinson

Three things make this image work.  The tail curling to the left of the image, the background and the eyes.  Every image, wildlife or otherwise, needs a place where your viewer's gaze can enter the image which should then lead it to the focal point.  The white tipped tail does this perfectly.  The background works very well as it is not cluttered and you get the feeling that the leopard is in it's natural environment.  I also like the slight diagonal line created between the mud, water and grass at the top.  The only thing I would have wished for in this image is to have seen the leopard's whole face reflected in the water.  You probably did not even notice it before I said it so it is not something that is going to take anything away from the image but it would have made it even better.  Great capture of Africa's most elusive cat.  Tough one this week but am going with this a my pick of the week!

* * * 
Another great mix if images in this week's High Five.  To see more of the latest images that have been added to the Stock Library click here.

Check back again next Friday for the next edition of the Weekly High Five!  I will also be back in the week with new posts and images.

As always I look forward to hearing from you!

Until next time.