Natural Photography - Jackson, Wyoming: Blog http://www.naturalphotographyjackson.com/blog en-us (C) Natural Photography - Jackson, Wyoming lorendn@yahoo.com (Natural Photography - Jackson, Wyoming) Sun, 13 Aug 2017 16:18:00 GMT Sun, 13 Aug 2017 16:18:00 GMT http://www.naturalphotographyjackson.com/img/s/v-5/u878940829-o954284052-50.jpg Natural Photography - Jackson, Wyoming: Blog http://www.naturalphotographyjackson.com/blog 120 68 Kruger - the king of African parks http://www.naturalphotographyjackson.com/blog/2017/8/kruger---the-king-of-african-parks Kruger National Park, in northeast South Africa is the first and largest of Africa's many wildlife parks and is, in many regards, the most developed, most diverse, and most affordable of all. In this last part of my multi-part posting I will illuminate some of the amazing feature of this world treasure.

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After a month of touring the south coast of South Africa and visiting 8 national parks, we flew from Cape Town to Johannesburg, picked up our small motor home camper and headed east to Hazyview, one of the gateway cities to Kruger National Park. We had been planning this trip for almost 5 months and decided if we were going to see the park like we wanted to, we would need a longer time in the park and need to be mobile enough to visit remote spots and yet comfortable enough to stay for over three weeks. We decided to rent from Bobo Campers in Jo'burg and found them to be tremendously helpful and have a variety of vehicles to meet our needs. We selected a "Discovery 4" 6.7M (22 foot) diesel motor home.  It was cozy but comfortable and had everything we needed to haul us, our personal items, and the camera gear around the park while letting us sleep comfortably, cook our meals, and have facilities so we could be self-contained on the park roads almost 12 hours a day and camp at several different campgrounds on various nights. This would give us access to vast reaches of the park and not have us confined to only a couple of safari camps. Camping and self-guided touring are not for everyone but worked perfectly for 4 weeks for us.

Kruger National Park, located in the northeast corner of South Africa, is huge - over 7,500 square miles or about twice the size of Yellowstone. While it averages only about 40 miles wide from east to west it is over 220 miles long from north to south. Much of the southwest side of Kruger is bounded by other game parks and wildlife reserves, many private. Much of the northeast side boarders the Limpopo National Park of Mozambique so the park has a wide "buffer" zone for the wildlife to wander. The park is interlaced with a network of paved roads between the major rest camps and entrance gates all supplemented with hundreds of kilometers of gravel/dirt roads almost all of which are in great condition and designed for passenger cars.

The park can be entered at any of 9 official gates (2 in the south, 3 in the southwest, 2 in the central west and 2 in the north.) The gate hours are strictly controlled and entry is not allowed after hours without special permission (and usually escort) to a reserved accommodation in the park. There are significant fees for after hours entry and stiff fines for after hours exit. The rules are in place to protect the wildlife at night and to minimize the risk of poaching. Any vehicle that is not specifically registered with the park and traveling after dark is considered high risk and may be stopped by the armed park anti-poaching patrols. There are paperwork and entrance fees for each park entry. You must stop at the gate, park, and walk to the reception building and indicate if you are a day visitor or will be in park lodging. Daily entrance fees are 304 ZAR (about $24) per adult unless you have a "Wild Card" (3,455 ZAR [about $265] /couple for access to all SANParks for one year) - this is obviously a very good deal and should be obtained in advance from the website. It takes about 6 weeks to receive the card in the US so apply early.

Kruger-3715-EditKruger-3715-EditBig cats of South Africa South Africa National Parks (www.SANParks.org) maintains 21 lodging camps throughout the park (some are very large with over 100 accommodations per camp) and there are several private safari parks available at a much greater cost. There are the main rest camps, bushveld lodges, and bush lodges that can accommodate 8 or more guests. Cost varies with the exact type of accommodations but camp sites are about $25/night, safari tents are about $50/night, cottages are about $100/night, and some chalets are about $200/night. The facilities vary greatly as do the costs and information is available on the SANParks website.  We chose to stay in caravan (RV) campsites because of the ease to take off with all of my photography gear when the gate opens at dawn and eat on the road while watching wildlife. This was both much more convenient than moving gear in and out of a cottage and much less expensive for a long visit. Every camp ground has a lighted, covered cooking facility with stoves and some have microwaves, a clean dish washing area with hot water, and an "ablution center" with clean showers and toilets. Most campsites had access to electricity but almost none have water or sewer hook ups common in the US. In SA, "gray water" is dumped directly on the ground and "black water" deposited into a canister that has to be carried to the ablution center. Safe water is available to fill the RV tank in all campgrounds. Most camp site have a braai (BBQ grill) and these are used by all South  African campers - braaiing is the national past time. Most of the rest camps have a visitor center, small shop with basic groceries, and some have large shops and full restaurants.

We provisioned and checked out the camping features of our RV at the beautiful Kiaat Caravan Park near Hazyview. Hazyview is a moderate size city with 3 modern, well stocked grocery stores, a shopping mall, gas stations, and many good restaurants making it a perfect starting point for 3 weeks in the bush. There are 3 entry gates to Kruger (Phabeni, Numbi, and Paul Kruger gates) a short distance from town. It was a busy holiday weekend and we could not reserve a camp site so had to use the gates each day for 3 days. Because of the holiday the entrance lines were long - over 2 hours one day, almost 4 hours another. After learning the routine of parking, registering, and doing the paper work we were off on our personal safari. We were met by a pride of lions within 200 meters of the gate! The adventure began.

We moved to the south of the park and stayed 6 nights at the Crocodile Bridge Rest Camp. There were no reserved (numbered) camp sites so you just pick and empty site and set up. Crocodile Bridge was not a large camp and the facilities were not quite up to those at other camps but we stayed there the longest of any camps because of the proximity to the greatest diversity of wildlife in the park. We learned later that the locals call the south of Kruger "the zoo" and avoid it because of the crowds viewing wildlife. We were there in the early autumn (April/May) and not in the busy winter season and at times didn't see another vehicle on the back roads for over an hour - if that is crowded, I could get to like the crowds. We liked the camp sites, enjoyed meeting the locals and international travelers, and were amazed daily by both the number and diversity of the wildlife. In our 3 weeks in Kruger we saw /photographed at least one new species every day but one.

To our surprise wildlife was at least as abundant near the paved roads as near the gravel/dirt roads - the upside of the paved roads it that we could cover more mileage but the downside was more traffic. Some days there were as many as 10-15 vehicles stopped for a "lion jam - compare that to Yellowstone or Grand Teton! After several days at Crocodile Bridge camp we finally made it north to the Lower Sabie Rest Camp on the Sabie River. This camp was much larger, had much nicer facilities, and had a Mug and Bean restaurant with huge American style breakfasts for about $4 each. It also had a nice pool that made for a couple of great mid-day siestas.

After returning to Crocodile Bridge for another 4 nights we had to leave the park for fuel and re-provisioning. The Easter weekend came and again we had been unable to get accommodations in any SANParks lodging so had to stay at a private safari lodge at the edge of the park. The cottage was large, clean, and very nice with a canopied queen-size bed and great view of the fence keeping wildlife out of the camp. It had a nice bar/restaurant with a constant turn-over of guests and safari trucks. At the edge of the camp was a fenced water hole that hosted a nightly showing of hippo's and other wildlife. It cost almost 3 times as much as the park lodges and overall left us with a bad taste about private safari camps. We went into the park in our RV every day and routinely saw more wildlife than almost any of the guided tours. After the 2 nights we were happy to be back in the camper and away from the people.

We worked our way slowly through the central park of the park over a few days and then had to rush north for the last 200 km to our final campsite. The terrain in the park varies greatly. In the south were rivers and heavy bush and trees. In the central region things open up a bit and there was more variable terrain with grass lands and open spaces. The north was similar but there seemed to be fewer wildlife. Clearly there were fewer people and vehicles as we moved north but the wildlife seemed to be more sparsely distributed.

Overall, Kruger is an amazing and visitor friendly park with a wide diversity of wildlife. At times we watched more than a hundred elephants cross a river, were surrounded by giraffe, met head on by big cats, and saw virtually every large species in the park. Photography at times can be difficult because of the limitations of shooting from your vehicle, the dense bush, and distances to some animals. Photography was always rewarding and observing the wildlife, sometimes for hours, made this the trip of a lifetime.

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lorendn@yahoo.com (Natural Photography - Jackson, Wyoming) africa birds kruger national park mammals nature photography south africa travel wildlife http://www.naturalphotographyjackson.com/blog/2017/8/kruger---the-king-of-african-parks Sun, 13 Aug 2017 16:17:56 GMT
South Africa's other national parks http://www.naturalphotographyjackson.com/blog/2017/8/south-africas-other-national-parks Kruger may be the granddaddy of South Africa's national parks but it is certainly not the only park you will want to visit on a photography safari. Our two-month visit in the spring of 2017 took us to ten national parks, each with a unique flavor that will attract many visitors and photographers.

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I cannot do justice to these parks in a short description but will try to highlight some features of particular interest to photographers touring the region. I also did not visit parks in the west, northwest, central or southeast parts of South Africa nor did I visit the dozens of nature reserves and private game parks in the country. It would take years to see all of the public lands and wildlife sites in South Africa but the following are some of the highlights arranged somewhat in the order of the number of photos shot in each park. I don't try to equate more shots with greater interest or higher priority but rather use this a a means of judging what I personally enjoyed. Kruger National Park was the focus of nearly a month of our visit so I will save that for the next and final post about photographing South Africa.

Without question Addo Elephant National Park was one of our favorite spots in South Africa. Addo is located north and slightly east of Port Elizabeth where the coast of Africa begins its northern turn along the Indian Ocean. You will take the regional highways R-335 and R-342 from Port Elizabeth about 72 km (45 miles) of narrow (slightly rough) pavement to reach the main rest camp in the park. Here you will find camping, cottages, chalets, a restaurant, and even a swimming pool. Access to all of South Africa's national parks and the daily conservation fees are completely covered if you purchased a SANPark "Wild Card" before departure or at one of the main visitor centers. The card is available for international visiting individuals, couples, or families and is valid for one year from the date of activation. The couples card for all 80+ parks and reserves was 3,455 ZAR (about $270) and restricted couples cards for clusters of regional parks for South African residents vary from about 600 to 845 ZAR. If you are going to visit more than 3 or 4 parks or be in any of the parks for more than about 2 weeks - the Wild Card is a great and hassle-free deal. If you order on-line form the US be aware that shipping can take 6 weeks so order early. You will receive a confirmation letter before the card arrives and this letter will also get you into the parks.

Addo is billed as an "elephant park" but recognize that it is far more than elephants. The park is interlaced with about 120 km of paved and gravel/dirt roads that are in very good condition and easy for our little Nissan rental sedan to negotiate. Only a couple of specialized areas require a 4-WD vehicle. As with almost all of the SA parks the entry hours and rest camp gate hours are tightly controlled and you cannot open your vehicle doors or get out of the vehicle except in very few fenced areas. As the signs say - stuff here will kill you and you can't see the big cats until it is too late. Stay in your vehicle always.  There are more than 600 elephants and 400 Cape Buffalo in this approximately 6 x 25 mile park - that is a very high concentration per square kilometer! There are many, many warthogs, a variety of ungulates, lions, hyenas, jackals, and smaller species. There are very rare leopards and no cheetahs. You will find signs everywhere to avoid hitting the rare flightless dung beetles on the roads and you will learn to carefully miss the huge pile of dung beetle housing projects left by the elephants. Addo is a must see park.

Our favorite park near Cape Town was Cape Point National Park and the Cape of Good Hope. This park is south of Simmon's Town and a reasonable day trip from the city. Of course the best photography is during the golden hours at dusk and dawn so you will probably want to spend at least 1 or 2 nights in Simmon's Town so you can be there as the best light. In the park you will find miles of scenic hiking trails, pristine beaches, historical markers, two light houses, and a variety of wildlife. The good news is that in this park your can and must get out of your car and, other than the ocean cliffs, nothing here will kill you. There are ungulates, fur seals, birds including ostrich, and primates everywhere. One of my favorite photographic experiences of the entire trip was when we stumbled upon a troop of baboons sitting on a rock wall in perfect dawn light. We were only about 10 yards away and they entertained us with a private show for over an hour.

The Tsitsikamma / Garden Route National Parks are about 600 km (7 hours?) east of Cape Town on the N-2 highway. It took us over a week to get there but that is another very happy story. These parks are some of local South African's favorites. They are past Cape Agulhas so are on the Indian Ocean and are pummeled by huge surf year round. The rocks, cliffs, and surf are reasons alone to visit the parks but hiking is what brings the locals. The Storms River mouth is the departure point for the Otter Trail, a five-day back packing adventure along the coast. The Otter is accessible by permit only and these are hard to come by. However, the first couple of miles to the waterfalls is open to all. The walk takes you through dense forest, high cliffs, isolated beaches and scrambles through boulder fields - another photographer's paradise. The mouth of the Storms River is crossed by a network of suspension bridges that are photogenic and amazing in their design. The breaking surf along the coast often reaches heights of over 40 feet! Huge rocks provide foreground elements and the beaches are places of relaxation. Whales are common in the migration season but we saw only a couple in April. Don't miss the Cattle Baron restaurant for an outstanding steak at a very reasonable price.

Table Mountain National Park is the landmark of Cape Town and a place for photographers to get creative with the city lights and the mountain's flora. While the mountain is a good background for pictures in the city, its summit is breath taking. It is accessible via a number of trails with variable levels of difficulty but if you are hiking, you must leave early as the sun exposed trail gets brutally hot by mid-day. An areal tramway is another option to reach the summit trails. Views from the tram offer photo delights as the tramcar rotates 360 degrees during the assent and decent. However you plan to reach the summit be sure to take plenty of water. There is also a small snack bar open intermittently at the top.

The Cape Angulhas National Park is at the southern most point in Africa and is the dividing line between the cold Atlantic and warm Indian Oceans.  It is a small park with a few trails along the ocean, a light house, and the monument dividing the two oceans. It is worth the stop for a couple of hours.

A 5-10 km side trip north of the N-2 on R-319 takes you to the delightful Bontebok National Park. There are about 150 of the relatively uncommon Bontebok antelope in this unique park. There is a small visitor center, campground, a couple of picnic sites with short hiking trails, and two gravel/dirt loop roads to test your skill at finding the animals. There is also a small river and good bird photography. The park can be fully explored in about 4-5 hours.

After our visit to Addo at the most eastern part of our southern drive we struggled with the best route back to Cape Town, through the mountains and scenic canyons and wine country without repeating segments of our eastern drive. That is when we found Karoo National Park near the junction of the N-1 and N-12 highways just outside of the town of Beaufort West. It was a long and rather boring 400 km drive from Addo through dry agricultural country with a couple of unfortunate detours and diminishing fuel tank. The park is best described as the Death Valley of South Africa - a dry, scenic park with majestic drives, some hiking trails, a network of 4-WD trails, but with wildlife and abundant birding. The park is infrequently visited by tourists and used mostly by locals. 

That just about covers the birds-eye view of the national parks in southern South Africa. We flew from Cape Town to Johannesburg and picked up our mini-motor home and headed for Kruger but that will come in the next posting.

After Kruger we had one more adventure in Mapungubwe National Park on the northern boarder with Botswana and Zimbabwe. While Kruger is the oldest national park, Mapungubwe is the newest, established in 2012.  The park is a long 530 km north of Johannesburg and can be reached from either Musina on the N-1 in the east or the village of Alldays to the south. This is a remote part of South Africa and unfortunately the road conditions are poor to bad after leaving the national highway. It is paved but full of potholes that could swallow our camper and the driving was a bit treacherous. The park was created as an archaeological park and is a World Heritage Site. It is in two distinct sections divided by private agricultural lands and game parks. There are about 40 km of driveable dirt roads and 100 km of 4-WD "eco-trails." The Park headquarters, visitor center, main archaeological sites, lodging, restaurant, and hiking trails are in the larger eastern section and the campground and birding blind are 30 km of very rough road away in the western section. There is an amazing elevated boardwalk system in the east that overlooks the "great gray-green greasy Limpopo River" so well described by the Kipling story in 1902. The boardwalk lets you walk "safely" above most of the wildlife and offers great views. The general terrain of the park is vastly different from the rest of South Africa with rocky spires, hoodoos, and dense jungle  interspersed with massive Baobab trees.

Wildlife is abundant with elephants, giraffe, zebras, antelope of several varieties, primates, and a variety of predators that keep you in your vehicle when not safely in a camp surrounded by electric fence or on a boardwalk. In he western section is a blind overlooking a large pond with the best variety of exotic waterfowl that I have ever seen. The waterhole is visited by all varieties of other park wildlife and was a place where we spent hours watching and shot hundreds of photos.

That is a peek at many of the South African national parks other than Kruger. A huge amount to see that could easily occupy several months of visits. In the next and final post I will try to give you and idea of the enormity and diversity of Kruger National Park. 

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lorendn@yahoo.com (Natural Photography - Jackson, Wyoming) addo elephant national park africa bontebok cape point garden route karoo kruger national park mapungubwe national park nature photography south africa table mountain travel tsitsukamma wildlife http://www.naturalphotographyjackson.com/blog/2017/8/south-africas-other-national-parks Tue, 01 Aug 2017 20:19:28 GMT
Cape Town and the south coast http://www.naturalphotographyjackson.com/blog/2017/7/cape-town-and-the-south-coast On our extended two-month photography safari in South Africa we chose to start in the beautiful city of Cape Town and travel the south coast to visit eight national parks along the way. We chose Cape Town first because of its well-deserved reputation as a beautiful, safe, relaxing city that would give us a chance to recover from our jet lag and acclimate to the country.

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Rio de Janeiro, Miami, Cape Town - beautiful cities on splendid waterfronts and tourist destinations not to be missed. Our two-month visit to South Africa in the spring of 2017 started in Cape Town, moved east along the south coast, inland into the mountains, and back through wine country returning to Cape Town. Along this first month's travel we visited eight of South Africa's national parks. I will cover the parks in the next post but, in this episode, I will discuss some of the joys of the city on the Cape.

We arrived after 30+ hours in airports and planes from Jackson, Wyoming to Salt Lake City, to Dallas, to Doha, Qatar, Johannesburg and finally to Cape Town. We had chosen a small hotel in the heart of the city on Green Market Square. The central location let us walk to almost all of the downtown and water front sites, local markets, and wonderful restaurants. Long Street is a popular nightlife area with clubs and restaurants. It is a busy street and generally a safe route to the wharf area.

The outstanding land mark of Cape Town is Table Mountain and its national park. At more than 3,500 feet Table Mountain is a respite from hot weather in the city and is easily accessible by tramway or by any of several hiking trails. If you take the tram to the top there are several other trails to sites around the plateau with breathtaking views of the city and Atlantic. The park offers free guided tours near the top of the tram or you can take off on your own. You need a hat, sun screen and water as there is almost no shade on the mountain.

Near Green Market Square you can find the Free Walking Tour company. These young people will show you around any of 4 tours and enlighten you with the history of the Cape and South Africa. A nice tip makes them happy and will enrich your understanding of the region and its peoples. The heart of the Square is its market where you will find dozens of vendors setting up their canvas shops at 6 AM and always ready to negotiate a fair price for their wares. There is a variety of African art and crafts and enough colorful items to keep a photographer busy for days.

Another great way to see the city is by the Hop-on - Hop off bus tours available on two lines around the city. You can catch the bus on Long Street and ride to any stop, see the sites, and hop on the next bus. The tours are informative and not only take you through the heart of the city but also to the environs, beaches, and outlying towns.

After Table Mountain the number one tourist destination in Cape Town is the Victoria and Alfred waterfront. And yes it is Alfred, Victoria's son, and not Albert, her husband, after whom the water front development was named. Here you will find some of the best shopping and restaurants in Cape Town proper. The water front is accessible by walking up Long Street to the wharf,  by Uber or taxi, or the Hop on bus. The photo opportunities are unlimited with the historic clock tower, the giant Ferris wheel, the crowds of visitors, and the boat and ship traffic. Close to the water front is the Chavonnes Battery, the Two Oceans Aquarium, and the boat trip to Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 of his 27 years as a political prisoner. Six miles by ferry from the city, Robben Island is a "must see" spot where you will get a guided tour hosted by prisoners who served with Mandela - it is an emotional site of great importance to the South African people. You will need advance tickets available on-line or at the Clock Tower museum.

Another photographic hot spot is the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden in the hillsides on the southeast of Table Mountain. You will need a cab or the Hop on bus to get there and it makes a nice stop on an all day Hop on tour. The gardens are expansive with wonderful walking trails through out. Since we were there in the early autumn, we didn't see much in bloom but the tranquil atmosphere made for a lovely long walk.

Beach parks, the Company Gardens, the Christiaan Barnard Medical museum, Castle of Good Hope museum, the Bo-Kaap Muslim section with its colorful homes, historic churches, the Parliament buildings, apartheid District Six, and the list goes on and on of tremendous photo ops for the city photographer. I am hardly a city photographer and we only scratched the surface of the city with only 6 days to visit. It was time to head to the coast.

There are so many "not to miss" photography destinations along the south coast that they are hard to describe. In this post I will not detail all of the amazing national parks but touch on some of the interesting non-park destinations to visit. 

Our first stop to decompress after the time in the city was the town of Llandudno. The town itself is very small with spectacular "James Bond" homes set in the cliffs. There are no restaurants but are some nice B&Bs. The town is home to some of the most pristine beaches on the Atlantic coast and the only "clothing optional" beach in SA. Of course it rained the day we visited (only rainy day for the month on the coast!)

Heading farther south takes you to the Cape of Good Hope and the amazing Cape Point national park. There are hiking trails, wildlife, fur seals, two light houses, historic buildings and monuments but more about these in the next post. A good place for lodging is Simon's Town - very touristy and far too many tour buses  but good lodging and restaurants and the home to a large rookery of African (jackass) penguins in Boulder Bay. For a small fee you can walk among the birds and photograph their comedic behaviors.  Farther along the coast is Betty's Bay and the home of a much larger colony of penguins and far fewer tourists. The drive on R-44 from Gordon's Bay to Betty's Bay is described as the most beautiful scenic coastal drive in SA.

We continued along the coast on R-43 from Hermanus to Cape Agulhas national park and the southernmost point in Africa and the meeting of the Atlantic and Indian oceans. More about the park next time. There are hiking trails, waterfalls, and spectacular views along the entire southern coast that will keep photographers burning through memory cards. From here you will have to detour inland through agricultural areas and on to the N-2 highway to Mossel Bay. Along the way are turn-offs to small parks and remote sites of interest. Eventually you drive through the city of George and back to the coast and to the delightful town of Wilderness. We stayed at the funky and friendly Inn-2-Wilderness a place where there is nothing to do but chill out.

Continuing east there are nature reserves and near Knysna the famous "Knysna Heads," a small elephant sanctuary and more parks. A delightful place to stay a couple of days is Plattenburg Bay. Near here are a variety of wildlife sanctuaries and rehabilitation centers that let you get very close to "not so wild" animals and learn about their behaviors before starting your own safaris in the parks. We enjoyed the Tenikwa Wildlife and Rehabilitation Center. The center lets you get (with a guide) up close to almost all of the feline species in Africa and several other smaller animals and birds. It is a thrill to be inches away from a Leopard (through a fence) and to walk with guides among cheetahs - no fence - only 6 feet away from you. In the same region are reptile and primate parks that we did not visit. The nearby Robberg Nature Reserve is worth a visit. There are hiking trails with great views, fur seals, and birds to peak your photographic interests.

The drive just keeps getting better as you approach the Garden Route and Tsitsikamma national parks. These parks are destinations for South African visitors who spend weeks there. More about the parks in the next segment.

We continues east through more agricultural areas toward Port Elizabeth (a large industrial port city) and then north to Addo Elephant National Park and our first self-guided game drives. You really don't want to miss Addo it is truly spectacular in its wildlife diversity in such a small park. Expect to need 2 -3 days there but more in the parks segment.

After Addo we took a (very) long detour north to Beaufort West and Karoo National Park. This is like being on a different planet from the south coast and gives you great access to a drive back west through the mountains and canyons, several more nature reserves, and finally to the Stellenbosch wine producing region less than an hour from Cape Town.

Our circle drive from Cape Town along the coast and back through the mountains took us through more than 2,500 kilometers of scenic beauty in about 4 weeks. We actually did feel a bit rushed and could have used at least another week. The B&Bs are often spectacular  and luxurious respites from the wilds of the bush and photo opportunities are abundant.

In the next segment I will overview the 8 national parks in this region before heading northeast to the granddaddy of all African national parks, Kruger.

Android photo by Nancy in Tenikwa.South Africa-NRS-152851482These are Tenikwa refuge animals and are not in the wild.

 

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lorendn@yahoo.com (Natural Photography - Jackson, Wyoming) Africa Cape Town South Africa national park nature photography travel wildlife http://www.naturalphotographyjackson.com/blog/2017/7/cape-town-and-the-south-coast Mon, 10 Jul 2017 21:46:47 GMT
A quick note about photography gear for South Africa http://www.naturalphotographyjackson.com/blog/2017/7/a-quick-note-about-photography-gear-for-south-africa A big frustration about long distance travel to exotic regions is always - what gear to bring. For our 2 month trip I bought a new larger pro backpack. The pack allowed me to bring all of my photography gear and laptop, card reader and a 4T external hard drive in the pack.

Kruger-3102-EditKruger-3102-Edit I brought 3 bodies - a full frame Canon 5D3, a crop sensor Canon 7D, and a full frame Sony A7R2 with a Metabones IV adapter to Canon lenses. I had at least 3 extra batteries and a charger for each body. I had a series of CF and SD memory cards with capacities from 16 gB (too small) to 128 gB each. I used all of the CF cards because of the number of shots with the 7D which uses only a CF card and had extra SD capacity. I brought a tripod for night shots and kept it in my checked luggage on the plane - never took it out of its carrying bag. I had both lens and sensor cleaning gear and ended up using only a blower for external lens dust.

I took many lenses and used only 3. I brought a 8mm fish-eye for fun, a 17-40mm wide-angle, a 100mm macro, and a 70-200 f/2.8, a 1.4x converter and used none of these lenses. I brought a series of ND and polarizing filters and used none of these. What I did use was a 24-70mm f/2.8 for wide shots on the 5D3, a 100-400mm for tele shots on the 7D, and a 28mm f/2 on the Sony for walking around in the cities. I never changed a single lens - even once (and never got dust on any sensor.) You could correctly argue that I didn't use the creative capacity of my lenses and other gear but I was consumed with finding and observing wildlife and really never had (or took?) the time to use the other gear. Over 85% of my shots were with the 100-400 on the 7D and about 15% split between the other two body/lens combinations. We were up every single morning between 5 and 5:30 and usually to bed by 9 PM and I was simply too tired for creative night shots - lazy, I guess.

Finally, a word about work flow while traveling. I tried to do nightly downloads to my laptop of all camera memory cards. All images were imported as copies with custom presets that did routine noise reduction, sharpening, added some clarity and vibrance, and adjusted the luminance for good dynamic range. Raw images were converted to DNG files on import and full-size previews were created. I added basic location key words on import. Most of this occurred while I was taking my evening shower. I tried, when possible, to do a quick scan through all of the day's images to make sure there were no systematic capture errors or camera malfunctions and added additional subject key words and geotaged their general location. When I had time I would optimize exposures on large groups of similar images using the synchronization tool in Lightroom. When we had wifi in the south of the country, I would try to do some first-round editing of a couple of images so I could post them to Facebook. There was no wifi or any internet access in Kruger or Mapungubwe so I didn't try to edit or crop images there.

I backed up my Lightroom catalog with every download to the laptop with an extra copy to a USB thumb drive always in my pocket. I did a full backup of the images and catalog to the external hard drive every couple of nights so that I had 3 copies of every image stored 3 places in the camper (in Kruger and Mapungubwe) or the car/B&B while in the south. This arrangement is far from perfect as all of the storage could have been stolen, damaged or even lost but I am happy to say that I didn't lose a single image from any of the 3 sites of storage.

Flying to South Africa I had my camera bag with me as carry-on in the airplane. Returning to the US I was forced to check the laptop in my luggage so I was not able to do any work during the 30+ hours to get home. To my great dismay, I was forced to check my entire camera bag in Doha, Qatar because of new TSA rules limiting electronics to nothing larger than a cell phone. I was able to place my external hard drive in my pocket and carry it during the flights home. Qatar Airlines did a wonderful job of double sealing the backpack, marking and hand-carrying it to the plane, and finally, hand-delivering it to me at US customs in Dallas.

Everything was covered for full-cost replacement by a rider on my home insurance for domestic and foreign travel. Piece of mind is a wonderful thing.

 

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lorendn@yahoo.com (Natural Photography - Jackson, Wyoming) South Africa camera gear lens photography safari travel wildlife http://www.naturalphotographyjackson.com/blog/2017/7/a-quick-note-about-photography-gear-for-south-africa Sat, 01 Jul 2017 14:13:31 GMT
Your arrival in South Africa http://www.naturalphotographyjackson.com/blog/2017/6/your-arrival-in-south-africa You have planned for months and triple-checked your luggage and gear. Now you are ready to board your long flight, arrive in South Africa, and start your adventure. In part 2 of this multi-post theme I will discuss what to expect in the country and the travel to your first photography destination.

Karoo-08111-EditKaroo-08111-Edit

Your arrival in South Africa will most likely be in either Johannesburg (north central region) or Cape Town (southwest coastal region) and the two could not be more different. Jo'burg is the heart of the SA business world and is a bustling large city with an unfortunate number of crime ridden areas. My advice is to get your vehicle and move out of the city quickly. Cape Town, on the other hand, is a beautiful destination city with wonderful beaches, restaurants, and diverse attractions. My advice is, if you have the time, spend a few days to adjust to the time change and enjoy the city on foot, by tour bus, or with Uber. I will have more about Cape Town and the south coast in a later post.

The long flight and the seven to ten hour time change from the US will have you a bit groggy for a couple of days so take it easy and start slowly. Take a nap if you need to but try to stay up until a reasonable bedtime and you will soon feel fine. Find a nice book store and pick up a good highway map and any reference books you will need for your trip. Bookstores are uncommon outside of the big cities. When you are ready to leave the city, pick up your rental vehicle and check it carefully for any damage or worn tires. We had the unfortunate experience of leaving without checking the car and found severely worn tires and had a blow-out on one of the national highways. We had to have the rental company replace the car and they later charged us an excessive amount for some "body damage" that we had not noticed. It is a common scam so look carefully before you accept your vehicle.

You will get a right-hand drive vehicle and will be driving on the left side of the road - "keep left" should always be at the top of your mind while driving. The roads in South Africa, for the most part, are excellent and better than US highways. The signage is superb and lanes on most larger roads are marked with arrows on the pavement and have both left and right turn lanes at major intersections. Traffic lights in SA are called "robots" so when someone tells you to turn left at the second robot, don't be surprised.

There are several useful road numbering conventions that help you judge the style and condition of the roads while reading your map. The national (N) highways are like the US interstate system - high speed (usually 120 km/h) and controlled access (at least in the cities.) Some of the N highways are toll roads or have toll segments (especially around Johannesburg and Pretoria and the south coast) so don't be surprised if a toll booth pops up on your drive. In rural areas the N roads can be only two-lane but with turn lanes at intersections. Expect cars to pass you (on the right) at speeds above the posted limits. If you are approached from behind by a faster vehicle, most people pull onto the wide paved shoulders and let the vehicle pass - even on curves with double yellow line (no passing) areas.

A piece of advice about choosing your rental vehicle style is to get a car with a real trunk (or "boot" as the South Africans say.) Most hatch-backs and SUVs have windows exposing all of your luggage and photography gear. A locking trunk keeps prying eyes off off your things and gives less of an impression that you are a tourist. We left most of our luggage in the trunk at our lodging overnight and even at hiking trail heads along the way. We felt safe and had no problems but I wouldn't leave anything in your car or even leave the car on the street in the large cities. 

Regional (R) highways are more like US highways. These are paved, high traffic roads between cities. They are usually two lane with wide shoulders but sometimes are 4-lane. There are often passing lanes in the mountains or on the (frequent) long, steep hills. Expect lots of people walking or bike riding along the roads. In the national parks you will find special (H) roads that are tarred (paved) but have more narrow gravel or dirt shoulders for pull-offs. Secondary (S) roads are much more variable and often are shorter roads to specific destinations. They are variable from paved, partially paved, gravel, or dirt. Some of the remote S roads have pot holes and the speed limits are usually significantly reduced to 60 - 80 km/h. In national parks expect the S roads to be dirt and narrow.

Many ask about GPS and I believe it is helpful but not necessary. If you have a smart phone, the map function GPS works very well so long as you load the entire route while you have wifi before your departure. Broadband data service is available along most N highways and cities but our Verizon international plan almost never worked so be careful to check you maps before leaving your lodging.

South Africa is a huge country (almost twice the size of Texas) so distance between destinations may be long. There are many things to stop and see along the way so travel time will be far longer than you will plan. Even when we thought we were driving near the posted speed limits, our time to destinations was often twice what we expected. Plan to slow down to really see and photograph the sights.

I mentioned cash and financial considerations in the first part of this series but here is a reminder to have a no-charge, "travel" credit card for most of your South African financial transactions. The card must be chip-enabled and a credit card is more widely accepted than a debit card. These cards are accepted for even the smallest transactions and allow you to avoid carrying much cash or exchanging dollars for South African Rand (ZAR.) Check with your bank but some large US banks have relationships with SA banks and allow use of ATMs with no US charge (there will be a SA charge.) Most restaurants and gas stations have portable transaction machines that allow you to keep your card in your possession at all times - a good  practice. In 2017 about the only charges that will require cash are the national highways toll roads. When we visited the toll booths did not accept international credit cards. You will also want some ZAR for tipping. Gas stations are "full service" and attendants are usually tipped 5 - 10 ZAR (80 cents). Uniformed "watchers" in some public parking lots expect a 5 - 7 ZAR tip (likely a good investment.) Other tipping can be added to your credit card charges.

One thing you will almost certainly want to purchase in SA is an electrical converter plug. South Africa has 240VAC/50Hz power and uses a unique 3-prong plug that is unlike Europe in that the prongs are round. The best adapters will accept both 2 and 3 prong North American plugs and European plugs. Some even have 1 or 2 USB charging points built-in - very convenient since many guest rooms have only 1 or 2 unused outlets. Some places have a European 2=prong outlet so you a use a small adapter to a 2-prong US style plug available on many more standard travel adapters. Almost all modern electronics and chargers work on 240VAC power but if you bring a hair dryer be sure to use the correct voltage setting.

I mentioned before that most lodging in SA, once outside of the large cities, is in small guest houses, lodges, or private home B&Bs. We found these to be a lovely way to obtain some local knowledge and meet other foreign visitors. Most are inexpensive $45 - 80 per night for the nicer spots including a wonderful breakfast. Almost all lodging in small cities and towns will have wifi but check in advance if this is important to you.  The national parks have almost no wifi except in the higher end, private lodges. Broadband data services are quite variable in speed and we found Verizon international data to be totally unreliable. Campgrounds (caravan parks) are frequent in most of the tourist areas and most tourist towns have travelers rests (hostels) for those who want to meet more people and really have an adventure.

Finally, going out for dinner is a South African past time and restaurants are common and usually very good. Meals are very affordable and often a very good 2 or 3 course dinner with wine in the city will cost only $35-60 for a couple, less in smaller towns. Breakfasts can be found for about $4-5, and big lunches about $5 each. Most grocery stores are well stocked and carry a variety of delicious SA wines starting at about $4 (good table wines) to about $15 for a truly excellent wine. A cold draught beer in a pub is about $2; an ice cream also about $2.

There is a tremendous amount to see and do in Cape Town and while driving around the country. In the next segment, I will describe the trip along the south coast and later turn to the national parks.

Tsiitsikamma-2938Tsiitsikamma-2938

 

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lorendn@yahoo.com (Natural Photography - Jackson, Wyoming) Cape Town Johannesburg Kruger National Park South Africa nature photography travel wildlife http://www.naturalphotographyjackson.com/blog/2017/6/your-arrival-in-south-africa Sat, 24 Jun 2017 21:13:21 GMT
Planning an African photo safari http://www.naturalphotographyjackson.com/blog/2017/6/planning-an-african-photo-safari Africa - the dream of a lifetime but how do you plan for an extended photo safari?

Kruger-3715-EditKruger-3715-EditBig cats of South Africa

I recently returned from a two month photo safari in South Africa, truly a trip of a lifetime and want to share many of the things I learned in the planning, execution, and photography of this adventure. This is part one of a multi-part series of posts about South Africa and its photographic treasures.

The goals of my trip were a little different than most visitors to Africa. Most of my friends visited many parks and camps, saw little of the country outside of the national parks, and all complained about not enough time to really see the parks. I proposed to solve these issues by spending a full two months in South Africa and almost one of these months in the amazing Kruger National Park - not with rushed three hour guided tours but on my own time schedule and itinerary. I wanted to maximize time with the wildlife and keep costs reasonable.

To accomplish these goals we planned months in advance (but not long enough in advance to stay where we wanted every night of the trip.) Suggestion: make your reservations 10-11 months before you plan to travel. Things get booked quickly in the South African National Parks and most take reservations 11-12 months in advance. South Africa has many public holidays and the locals fill the lodging and campsites for many days around every holiday, so check the local calendar and be sure you have lodging over the busy holidays.

Choosing travel dates can be difficult. The wet season (September to April) is green and lush but the dry season (May to August) concentrates the wildlife near rivers and water holes. The South African summer (December to February) can be unbearably hot (especially in the north) but the winter  (June to August) can be crowded with tourists. I visited from mid-March to mid-May (early fall and the beginning of the dry season) and found the weather near perfect and the number of visitors very tolerable. Suggestion: Consider your goals carefully when choosing travel dates.

Your air flights will set your beginning and ending dates and you can work out lodging and transportation from there. There are few direct flights covering the 9,000 miles from the US to South Africa. If you cannot get a direct flight your options are to fly via Europe on any of several major airlines or to fly through the Middle East via the United Arab Emirates or Qatar. If your travel will take you only to Kruger National Park, your South African destination will be Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg. If you plan to see the parks along the south coast, you might want to start your visit in the beautiful city of Cape Town. In either city you will probably want to spend your first and last nights near the airport. The duration of travel from the US to South Africa will be between 19 hours (for a direct flight) and more than 35 hours if you change flights in Europe or the Middle East.

After your travel dates are chosen you will want to plan a general itinerary for your in-country travels. Driving is easy in South Africa once you master the right-hand steering and driving on the left side of the road. Rental cars are inexpensive and the highways are excellent with great signage. A good map and perhaps a phone GPS will help your arrive efficiently at your day's destination. When planning your itinerary remember that there are many national parks and public lands in South Africa and you won't want to miss any in the vicinity of your travels. South Africa is a large country, roughly twice the size of Texas, so be sure to break up your travel in manageable distances - there is a lot to see. Almost all lodging outside of the major cities will be in small guest houses or Bed & Breakfast homes. These are often very nice and readily available at a reasonable cost. Note: Personal travel is safe. easy, and rewarding in South Africa.

A few things to consider before you leave concern health, finances, and communication. Part of South Africa is in the tropics (north of the Tropic of Capricorn) and can pose some health risks for travelers. It is best to check with a travel medicine physician before you leave and obtain appropriate vaccinations. You will also want malaria prophylaxis when in the tropics and, perhaps, some antibiotics for respiratory or gastrointestinal maladies. You will need insect repellent with a high concentration of DEET (surprisingly this is hard to find in South Africa.)

Travel expenses are best handled with a no fee "travel" credit card. Chip-enabled cards are accepted almost everywhere and can be used for everything from an ice cream cone to a week's lodging. A small amount of local currency (Rand; ZAR) is needed for tips and for highway toll booths. The current exchange rate is about 13 ZAR/dollar and almost everything goes on the plastic. Finally, you might want to check with your cell phone provider for an international calling option while in South Africa. You need a GSM phone and will find voice and text charges reasonable. Data charges may be very high and while Wifi is readily available in the B&Bs and restaurants, it is not available in the national parks so plan ahead.

One very important item to purchase before your trip is a SANPark "Wild Card." The South Africa National Parks organization, SANPark, will send you a personalized card good for family admission to all South African national parks and their affiliate parks. If you plan to be in multiple parks or any park for more than about two weeks this card is a good deal. It covers admission and daily conservation fees and will save you considerably over daily fees. The card is available from SANPark but it takes about 4-6 weeks to arrive in the US so order early!

Pack lightly for your trip. Dress in South Africa is casual and, outside of Cape Town, conservative. Shorts and sandals work most places and joggers are nice for hiking when it is allowed. You will need long pants, long sleeved shirts, and a light jacket for early morning activities. A hooded Gortex rain jacket is also advised. In the south during the winter season, you will need another layer as it gets quite cool and windy. Suggestion: the less you have to carry in your luggage, the happier you will be

You won't need as much photography gear as you might think. I took a lot and used very little. You will want (at least) two camera bodies, a moderate zoom (24-70mm), a telephoto zoom, lots and lots of high-capacity memory cards, extra batteries and charger(s), lens cleaning gear, sensor cleaning gear, and a reasonably dust-resistant pack. I took wide angles, a macro, a short tele, some prime lenses, a cable release/intervalometer, and a tripod - I used none of these in 2 months - probably could have, but didn't. Almost 90% of my shots were with a 100-400mm zoom on a crop sensor body.

You will need a laptop, external hard drive(s), chargers, and a card reader. It is wise to download and back up your camera's memory cards every day. At times this was difficult at a campsite but it was reassuring to know I had 3 copies of every image. Suggestion: Back up your images daily and keep your original memory cards until your return home.

Don't forget battery chargers, adapters, and cables for your electronic gear. You will also need an electrical adapter for 240VAC/50Hz power using a unique South African 3 round-prong plug. Some B&Bs will also use a European-style 2 round prong plug but these are rare in the parks. Note: The usual 3-prong European-style plug does not work in South Africa.

We were able to pack everything into our two soft-luggage checked bags. We carried a day pack with personal items and my camera bag on the plane. Be sure to check with the Transportation Safety Administration about laptops and cameras on your return flight to the US. Since we flew through Qatar, my laptop and camera bodies had to be checked. I carried one hard drive with copies of all images and my Lightroom catalog but the camera bag was checked. I had Qatar Airlines sign an inventory with replacement costs and they very carefully sealed the camera bag, wrapped it in plastic, sealed the plastic, and labeled it to be hand delivered in customs on my return to Dallas. They did as promised and there was no damage but I was not a happy traveler. 

Those are some general thoughts to consider before leaving on your extended photo safari. In future posts I will discuss more detailed things to consider while on your trip and the realities of an extended photography safari. Kruger-3868-EditKruger-3868-Edit

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lorendn@yahoo.com (Natural Photography - Jackson, Wyoming) Africa Cape Town Johannesburg Kruger National Park South Africa bird mammal nature photography safari travel wildlife http://www.naturalphotographyjackson.com/blog/2017/6/planning-an-african-photo-safari Wed, 21 Jun 2017 19:27:23 GMT
Our Public Lands http://www.naturalphotographyjackson.com/blog/2016/12/our-public-lands There is no question that my favorite spots for nature photography are in our abundant public lands.

I thought it would be worthwhile to take time and think for a few minutes about what our public lands are and why they are so important. Everyone knows that many parks are public lands - city parks, county parks, state parks, and, of course, national parks. America was the first country to create a national park - Yellowstone in 1872. The first national park was created to preserve the amazing beauty of the geo-thermal features, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River, the other rivers and lakes, and the abundant and diverse wildlife. Yellowstone became a model for the world.

Yellowstone 2016-3-8601-EditYellowstone 2016-3-8601-Edit Other U.S. national parks followed and in 1916 the National Park Service (NPS) was created to manage the growing number of parks within the Department of the Interior. Today, Congress has created 59 National parks protecting both ecological and historical treasures. But, the NPS manages more than just our national parks. Presidents have the ability to create national monuments without the approval of Congress. Devil's Tower National Monument, Wyoming was the first designated in 1906. Since then, presidents have created about 413 national monuments, historical parks, battlefields, seashores, rivers, recreational areas, and other sites managed by the NPS and, more recently, by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM.)

The NPS is in the US Department of the Interior and employs over 20,000 people with an annual budget of about $3B to manage over 84M acres of public lands.  More recently, the national parks have become more dependent upon over 220,000 volunteers helping the paid employees to provide everything from visitor services to maintenance.

NPS holdingsNPS holdings

The National Park Service is charged with the protection and management of many different types of public lands. Specifically the NPS charge is "to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wildlife therein, and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations" - clearly, a huge task considering the size, diversity, and remoteness of many of these lands. National Parks are a large and important part of the charge but there are many distinct types of lands managed by the NPS.

NPS managementNPS management

The highest visitation to NPS lands is, by far, in some of the parkways and memorials in and near our large cities but the Great Smokey Mountains NP leads the annual visitation record to National Parks with more than 10.5M/year followed by Grand Canyon NP (5.5M) and Rocky Mountain, Yosemite, and Yellowstone (each over 4M.) The least visited national park is Isle Royale NP, MI at only 18,600 visitors in 2015.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is an agency within the US Department of the Interior that administers more than 247.3 million acres in the United States which constitutes one-eighth of the landmass of the country.  The mission of the BLM is "to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations." In recent years the BLM has started to manage some 23 national monuments such as the Grand Staircase of the Escalante NM. Much of the public land managed by the BLM is in the western US and is used for many purposes such as recreation, grazing, mining, forestry, and, strangely, helium management.

BLM MapBLM Map

The BLM generates more than $6B annually , mostly from energy development, but recreational opportunities abound.

BLM landsBLM lands BLM public lands have been challenged in recent years in Utah, Nevada, and Oregon by ranchers and 'states rights' advocates who have demanded private or state ownership of some of the lands for commercial purposes.

The United States Forest Service (USFS) is an agency of the Department of Agriculture that administers the nation's 154 national forests and 20 national grasslands.  The Forest Service has a total budget of $5.5 billion, of which 42% is spent fighting fires. The Forest Service employs 34,250 employees in 750 locations, including 10,050 firefighters, 737 law enforcement personnel, and 500 scientists. The mission of the Forest Service is "to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the Nation's forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations" making the national forests lands of many uses. Through implementation of land and resource management plans, the USFS ensures sustainable ecosystems by restoring and maintaining species diversity and ecological productivity that helps provide recreation, water, timber, minerals, fish, wildlife, wilderness, and aesthetic values for current and future generations of people.  The USFS manages 193M acres of national forest and grasslands (over 80% in western states), including 59M acres of roadless areas (wilderness); 14,077 recreation sites; 143,346 miles of trails; 374,883 miles of roads; and the harvesting of 1.5 billion trees per year. Further, the Forest Service recently fought fires on 3M acres.

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As photographers and outdoor recreation enthusiasts we want our public lands protected and preserved but there are serious threats to these lands. The competing interests of recreation and commercial development have clashed in recent years as states and private individuals want control over the land and its use. The history of the Forest Service has been fraught with controversy, as various interests and national values have grappled with the appropriate management of the many resources within the forests including grazing, timber, mining, recreation, wildlife habitat, and wilderness. Because of continuing development elsewhere, the large size of National Forests have made them de facto wildlife reserves for a number of rare and common species. Hunting and fishing are allowed in almost all national forest areas and are controlled by state fish and wildlife services and local state laws.

Our voices are needed to support federal public lands than are protected and open to all visitors.

I have been fortunate to visit more than 42 national parks (~70%), more than 28 national monuments, and live minutes from the Bridger-Teton National Forest.

[Please Note: In preparation of the post, I have borrowed the tables, maps, and some of the text from public federal information sources and Wikipedia.]

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lorendn@yahoo.com (Natural Photography - Jackson, Wyoming) Bureau of Land Management Department fo Agriculture Department of the Interior National Forest Service National Monument National Park National Park Service Wyoming landscape nature photography public land http://www.naturalphotographyjackson.com/blog/2016/12/our-public-lands Sun, 04 Dec 2016 22:38:05 GMT
The MILC Revolution http://www.naturalphotographyjackson.com/blog/2016/11/the-milc-revolution sony-a7rii-imagesony-a7rii-image

So what is one-third smaller, lighter, has a fraction of the moving parts and almost twice the resolution of my other cameras? It is one of the newest generation of mirror-less, full-frame, interchangeable lens cameras - MILCs.

I agonized for more than a year about the new, smaller MILCs and was always able to convince myself that this was a passing fad and these 'silly little cameras' could never have professional quality and then Sony released the A7R Mark II with a 42M pixel, high resolution sensor in a weather-sealed body. This became very interesting but Sony had few lenses and only a couple with the professional characteristics that could stand up to meet the optical needs of the high resolution sensor. Then came some Zeiss lenses and a thing called a Metabones adapter that could mount Canon lenses to the little Sony body - very, very interesting. The initial reviews of the camera were outstanding - best image quality of ANY 35mm size sensor on the market, a game changer, but the Metabones was slow to focus and had problems with some of my collection of Canon L-style lenses. Technology to the rescue, Metabones created a firmware update that solved most of the focusing issues and allowed data exchange between the camera body and all of my lenses - deal!

Sony-CanonSony-Canon I received the camera and a Zeiss 55mm f/1.8 prime lens in October. It was small, solid feeling, with more gizmo features that I have ever seen on a camera. I found the settings menus very confusing, somewhat illogical, and a little frustrating - for example, the down button increases the ISO and the up button decreases it?? Go figure. Also, the exposure compensation knob requires the operator to move his hand from the shutter release button and turn it with a thumb and forefinger. Awkward, at best.

I did the usual in-house test exposures and was amazed to find the camera practically shoots in the dark with very little digital noise a crazy high ISO levels - interesting. After a week messing with it and trying to get it configured so I could actually shoot with it, I took it into the field. My first shot was a moose about 100m away with the Teton range in the background using the 55mm prime. The moose was a dark spot and the Tetons looked great. (see next photo)

Sony-00055Sony-00055 When I got back to process the images I enlarged the image to 100% and was shocked to see the details in the far away moose - looked like I shot it with my 600mm Canon telephoto! I was shocked by the high resolution and the amazing dynamic range of this little camera. (see second photo) Sony-00055-2Sony-00055-2

I gradually expanded my experience using the adapter with most of my large Canon lenses and have continued to be amazed at the image quality and the adaptability to the Canon glass. It has worked well in almost all field conditions and has amazing low-light, high ISO capability with almost no digital noise. The focusing is acceptably fast in most lighting conditions although it sometimes "searches" a bit in low light with a big telephoto lens. In wide-angle, landscape shots it is nearly flawless. It fits into a (very large) pocket with the prime lens and otherwise carries well with my large Canon zooms. It provide amazing flexibility having 3 camera bodies in the field - the Sony with a wide-angle for landscapes, the full-frame 5Diii on the 600mm for long wildlife shots, and the 100-400 mm on the very fast 7D for birds and quick wildlife shots.

The Sony is not perfect, however. It is small in my big paws and some of the controls are "difficult" to reach quickly (once I could find them at all.) The menu system is clearly not created by someone with English as their first language and really needs a firmware fix. It shoots bursts at only 5 frames per second and the buffer is not large enough when shooting full 14 bit RAW images so it is not a bird and wildlife camera. The files created are huge (close to 50MB per image) so a 128 GB SD card and lots of hard drive space is needed to store the images. The battery life is bad! I can shoot nearly 1,000 frames with my Canons on a single battery in warm conditions. The small Sony battery is only good for about 150-300 images - especially in a Wyoming winter so carry at least one or two fully charged spare batteries in a warm pocket. Finally, when using traditional dSLR lenses you must get used to the fact that you mount the little camera on the big lens and must mount the lens (or Metabones adapter) to your tripod and not the camera unless you use a small Sony prime.

After drafting this article several months ago, I used the Sony in the deserts of southern California as my primary camera for almost 6 weeks. I soon found a couple of problems. I am pretty careful about lens changes and always keep the camera face down and the lens covered as quickly as possible to avoid internal dust on the the sensor. MILCs have two serious problems causing sensor dust to be a bigger problem than with dSLRs. First, there is no mirror to cover the sensor so it is exposed completely during lens changes. Second, the distance between the camera face and the sensor is very short, making it easy for dust to get to the sensor. In spite of great care changing lenses in the field, the Sony sensor became so dirty as to make it unusable until I could get home again and have full access to a liquid/swab cleaning set up. The Sony has no 'automatic' sensor cleaning and the 'manual' cleaning mode does not seem very efficient. For some reason the blower method of cleaning the sensor which always works for the Canons, was not at all effective with the Sony.

Overall, I am delighted with the Sony A7Rii and its amazing high resolution, good dynamic range, low light and high ISO capability, and its petite size. It will be my go to camera for travel, indoor, and street photography and will stand in well for my beloved 5Diii as a landscape, wide-angle, and panorama camera. It is probably not fast enough for sports/action or wildlife photography but no camera is prefect.

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lorendn@yahoo.com (Natural Photography - Jackson, Wyoming) Canon Metabones Sony Wyoming camera full-frame gear landscape mirrorless photography travel http://www.naturalphotographyjackson.com/blog/2016/11/the-milc-revolution Mon, 07 Nov 2016 20:21:06 GMT
Iceland - Photographer's Paradise http://www.naturalphotographyjackson.com/blog/2014/10/iceland---photographers-paradise Iceland, the very name causes a shiver as you conger up a view of this harsh and rugged country. Located midway between Scotland and Greenland between the North Atlantic and the Sea of Greenland, this island nation is a relic of Nordic exploration and conquest. 

We were fortunate to visit Iceland in September 2014 for a 2 1/2 week photo shoot. Seeing an entire country the size of Kentucky (or half the size of Wyoming) in a short time requires significant advanced planning. After reading the tour guides, searching the web, and speaking with two friends who each visited more than once, we decided to rent a small RV so we could haul gear and stay at a location to shoot in the evening, night, and early morning allowing us to travel between sites during the mid-day. It was a perfect choice.

Iceland-6165Iceland-6165

Because of our short time table and the fact that an active volcano threatened to close a large portion of the island, we chose to limit our travel to the south coast, the western peninsula, and the north coast skipping the east and northeast coasts and the remote north western peninsula. It took only a few minutes of driving to realize that this rural, volcanic land gave visitors opportunities to visit small villages with tiny churches, majestic coast lines, towering waterfalls, mountains, and huge glaciers all in a couple of hundred miles of driving.

Unnamed Waterfall SouthUnnamed Waterfall South

Wild rivers and streams with spectacular waterfalls are literally everywhere in Iceland, not just the dozens of named falls that are popular tourist attractions but hundreds of unnamed falls that are equally magnificent. Nearly every farm in the sparsely populated agricultural areas is at the base of its own waterfall.  When planning a photographic visit one needs to think of camera and wide angle lenses but also a good tripod, neutral density filters, and cable shutter release for dreamy, long-exposure shots.

Iceland-7665Iceland-7665

Iceland is not a place with abundant wildlife so a long telephoto lens is not necessary. However, at certain times of the year sea birds are common so an avid avian photographer might want to bring the long glass. The beautiful Icelandic ponies and the hilarious, overly hirsute sheep may be other reasons to bring a moderate telephoto lens.

In addition to the rugged landscape and many waterfalls, I wanted to capture the harsh glaciers and a unique freshwater lagoon of icebergs calving from the Vatnajökulsþjóðgarður glacier. Yes, Icelandic is a difficult language (!) but nearly everyone speaks perfect English.

JokulsarlonJokulsarlon

The last item on my shooting list was almost too much to hope for, the Northern lights. As luck would have it, cold, rainy, windy weather prevailed almost the entire trip but by totally dumb luck and no planning or forethought, we found ourselves camped at the iceberg lagoon on the night of a full moon and relatively clear skies. I hoped to capture the bergs by moonlight. After some early test shots I went to bed for a few hours and awoke at midnight. I put on about 5 layers to survive the wind and frigid temperatures and stumbled out of the RV with a full pack of gear for night photography. I shot the full moon over the landscape and the lagoon and then set out to capture the bergs in the cold blue water. After about 20 minutes of shooting my eyes had finally adjusted to the light and I notices strange clouds in the northern sky.  The clouds were actually a phenomenal aurora borealis.

JokulsarlonJokulsarlon

Our trip was complete - great hiking, mountains, glaciers, rivers, waterfalls, and the northern lights.

Plan your trip, Icelandic Airlines has direct flights from Denver and the east coast at very reasonable cost. The people are friendly, the scenery beautiful, and the variety of photographic opportunities is amazing.

For many more images in color and monochrome, please check out the Iceland gallery on this site.

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lorendn@yahoo.com (Natural Photography - Jackson, Wyoming) Europe Iceland landscape lava travel volcano waterfall http://www.naturalphotographyjackson.com/blog/2014/10/iceland---photographers-paradise Thu, 30 Oct 2014 19:19:06 GMT
The Reality of a Photo Shoot http://www.naturalphotographyjackson.com/blog/2014/6/the-reality-of-a-photo-shoot Have you ever dreamed about a lovely vacation shooting photos in an exotic location? What is it really like on assignment for a focused, extended photo shoot? I was fortunate to be able to take a multi-week photography assignment in the beautiful spring desert of southern Utah. During the shoot I tried to record activity, conditions, and details of the shooting.  I was on the road for 39 days - 3 for logistics and 36 for travel and shooting. I visited 5 National Parks, 5 National Monuments, 5 National Forests, 4 state parks, 2 scenic byways, 3 scenic back ways, and several undesignated public lands. The total travel was over 4,000 miles - 1,520 in the RV and 2610 in the Jeep - or about 106 miles per day.  I camped in 9 different locations and based the shooting time out of these campgrounds.

Arches-9089Arches-9089 Sounds like a lot of fun, right? I was up every day between 4 and 6 AM with the exception of three travel days when I slept-in until about 6:30. While there were good night sky conditions on 9 nights (25%) I had only three night shoots lasting until 11 PM or midnight but this was partially because of the weather. On most days I tried to shoot between around 5 or 6 AM and 10 AM and, often, again between 4 and 9 PM for the best lighting conditions.

Arches-2-9841Arches-2-9841

Conditions are variable, at best, in the spring desert. On 23 of the nights (64%) the temperature dropped below 35 degrees but that was easy to handle with proper clothing.  The big problem was late afternoon and evening overcast and wind. On 21 of the days (58%) the wind was consistently above 20 mph. On 18 of the days (50%) gusts were above 30 mph. During one dawn shoot the wind in Dead Horse Point State Park was gusting to 57 mph and the temperature at the dawn shoot was 28 degrees - the joys of photography. With gusts to over 50 mph, I could barely keep my tripod upright, much less stable for long-exposure shots.

Good weather is also a problem for a photographer. The skies were gray and overcast during all of the day on 7 days (19%) but actually stormy on only one day (3%.) The sky was a boring, robin egg blue on 23 days (64%) making mid-day photography unproductive. There were "good" clouds on only 5 days (14%.)

Capitol Reef-1087Capitol Reef-1087

As far as photography goes, I shot a total of 4,569 shots during the 36 days of shooting or about 152 shots per day. I had no quota and tried to be relatively selective but yet capture multiple shots of each compelling subject. While I brought my usual cascade of gear including 3 camera bodies, 7 lenses from 17 to 600mm, 2 tripods, 3 light sources (strobe, ring, and LED), multiple filters, plus the usual spare batteries, memory cards, laptop, external hard drive, and endless connectors, I didn't shoot a single shot with the crop-sensor cameras or the lenses from 300-600mm. This is strange because in my usual wildlife photography around Jackson, I shoot about two-thirds of my shots with a crop sensor body and the 400-600mm lenses. What a difference for landscape work. I shot 3696 shots (81%) using a 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom, 275 shots (6%) with a 17-40mm f/4 wide-angle zoom, 270 shots (6%) with a 70-200mm f/2.8 short telephoto zoom, and the final 328 shots (7%) with the 70-200mm and a 1.4x teleconverter.

Escalante-1386Escalante-1386

On the trip I visited Arches, Canyonlands (Island in the Sky and the Needles districts), Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Grand Canyon (north rim) National Parks. The national monuments visited included Natural Bridges, Grand Staircase Escalante, Vermilion Cliffs, Cedar Breaks, and Pipe Springs. The Utah state parks included Dead Horse Point, Newspaper Rock, Coral Pink Sand Dunes, and Kodachrome Basin.  The scenic drives between locations could be destinations in themselves.  I will be placing images of each of the locations in the Galleries under the National Parks and Public Lands tab on this website.

Despite the high winds and cold conditions, it was an experience of a lifetime.  Southern Utah and northern Arizona have together the largest concentration of National Parks, Monuments, and other public lands of any place in the world. While conditions are unbearable for much of the summer and variable during other months, the panoramic vistas, amazing rock formations and bewildering array of flora will provide a desert experience second to none.

 

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lorendn@yahoo.com (Natural Photography - Jackson, Wyoming) Arches National Park Bryce Canyon National Park Canyonlands National Park Capitol Reef National Park Utah Wyoming nature photography wildlife http://www.naturalphotographyjackson.com/blog/2014/6/the-reality-of-a-photo-shoot Mon, 23 Jun 2014 20:56:16 GMT
When you feel the need for speed http://www.naturalphotographyjackson.com/blog/2014/4/when-you-feel-the-need-for-speed I have commented previously about the time spent at a computer in our world of high-resolution digital photography. When I am not out shooting, I am often in the office in Jackson, Wyoming at the computer importing, tweaking, categorizing, editing, and backing up large numbers of digital images.  One of the first things I learned was don't try to do this on your average laptop.

Today's high-end digital cameras produce raw file images that easily exceed 25 - 40 megabytes per image. Large multi-layer edits and specialized combined images, like panoramas, can easily kick the file size up to 100 or 200 megabytes or even a gigabyte in size. Handling these huge files takes some serious computing power.

My recommendation for an office / studio computer for high volume editing is a traditional tower computer - usually a high speed model designed for gaming. These gaming PCs have high power processors, lots of memory, a dedicated video processor with additional memory, and high speed peripheral ports to external devices. My office system is based around such a gaming PC and is shown on the cover photo of this post.

Let's take a look at some of the specs needed to handle today's large files and editing software. I have a CyperPower PC available from many gaming PC distributors. The heart of this monster is a 4.33 MHz dual-core processor accessing 16 GB of RAM and driving a high speed video card with an additional 2 GB of memory. This is a good kick-start but the real accelerator in the system is a solid-state drive (SSD) that houses all of the operating system and all software. The SSD is between 4 and 10 times faster than the best mechanical hard drive and the speed is evident when you are opening large files. There is a Blu-Ray DVD / CD drive for loading software and burning preview disks for clients.  The traditional 2 TB internal hard drive and 3 cooling fans completes the guts of the tower.

I have chosen USB-3 peripherals. You can use fire-wire and other proprietary connections but I like the ease of use and wide compatibility of the USB connectors. The tower has 2 USB-3s in front and 4 in back along with a few USB-2s for I/O devices like keyboards and tablets.  I chose Logitech wireless wave keyboard and wireless 4-button / wheel mouse for general input and control of the machine. Another port is used for a high speed card reader for my CF and HSSD camera cards.

Also using the USB-3 connectors are a series of external hard drives for back-up and additional archiving of images. I use a pair of 4 TB primary back-up drives, a 2 TB travel drive, and a 1T drive with the SSD image just in case this highly reliable device should fail or be corrupted. Another option is a RAID drive with automatic dual-drive back-up. It is on my wish list but the high cost and lack of higher capacity make me stick with the twin 4 TB externals. When a 16 GB RAID device is available at a reasonable cost, that will be the way to go.

The main editing interfaces are a pair of 27" ViewSonic high resolution monitors linked by HDMI to the PC. Two large monitors are almost essential to efficient editing. When I am working in Adobe LightRoom, I use the keyboard/mouse with the interface on the right-hand monitor and a full-screen image on the left-hand monitor. This saves constant switching back and forth to full-screen views after each edit. When I need to open PhotoShop for more advanced pixel-level editing, it comes up on the right-hand monitor above the Wacom Intuos-5 digital tablet.  I simply angle my chair a little to the left and pick up the stylus and I am ready to go. When I save the edited image, it drops back into LightRoom on the right-hand monitor and I am ready to move on.

In a nutshell, the keys for efficient digital editing are a high speed processor with lots of RAM and plenty of external disk space for back-ups. Meticulous cataloging and key wording of images and daily back-up of your work should allow you to stay in the field shooting and minimize your time at the computer.

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lorendn@yahoo.com (Natural Photography - Jackson, Wyoming) Adobe Jackson LightRoom PhotoShop Wyoming computer editing hardware photography post-production http://www.naturalphotographyjackson.com/blog/2014/4/when-you-feel-the-need-for-speed Fri, 18 Apr 2014 21:03:07 GMT
Looking back at 2013 http://www.naturalphotographyjackson.com/blog/2014/1/looking-back-at-2013 2013 was, by every regard, a banner year for Natural Photography. It was the first full operational year, it was a time for acquiring new, and needed, equipment, gear, and editing software, and it was a year of learning about the region, fellow photographers, and important techniques that will serve me in the future. It was a year of networking with the Teton Photography Group and helping the group mature as an organization. It was a year of monumental wildlife observation and photographic opportunities.

Many people like to look back at the previous year to help plan for the next year. I have observed other photographers posting their "year in review" and decided to look back at 2013 and share a single photograph from each month that had personal meaning to me. These are not necessarily the 'best' shots, or the most successful shots in terms of sales, but rather are those that touched me because of where or how they were made.  I hope you enjoy them.

JANUARY

GrosVentre-1263-EditGrosVentre-1263-Edit2013 Photo of the month A crisp, sub-zero January afternoon shot looking across Grand Teton National Park taken on the way back home from a day of shooting.

FEBRUARY

Jackson-2763Jackson-27632013 Photo of the month

A rather angry Trumpeter Swan scooting across Flat Creek on the north side of Jackson.

MARCH

Kelly-4888Kelly-48882013 Photo of the month

I was walking through the woods along the Gros Ventre River in Grand Teton National Park waiting for a herd of elk to cross the river on their migration north when I was surprised by this touching scene of mom and two calf moose.

APRIL

GTNP-6161GTNP-61612013 Photo of the month

My first view of the famous grizzly bear #610 only a couple of days after she came out of hibernation with her 3 two year-old cubs and headed for the Snake River in Grand Teton National Park.

MAY

Yellowstone 5D-2326Yellowstone 5D-23262013 Photo of the month

Our second trip of the season to Yellowstone National Park and we were treated to a private showing of the spectacular 309 foot, Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River.

JUNE

GTNP-7D-8759GTNP-7D-87592013 Photo of the month

 Spring arrives in the back country of Grand Teton National Park and the yellow-belly marmots are out to celebrate the warm sunshine and make me laugh at their antics.

JULY

Devil's Tower-5D-5168Devil's Tower-5D-51682013 Photo of the month

On a summer trip to the Black Hills of South Dakota, we took a side trip to Wyoming's Devil's Tower National Monument and shot the monolith at night with the help of some "light painting" provided by a group of other photographers about 1/2 mile away.

AUGUST

Jackson-7227-EditJackson-7227-Edit2013 Photo of the month

Shopping at the Saturday morning Farmer's Market in Jackson, we came upon a rare Eurasian owl being shown by a representative of the Teton Raptor Center. I paused for a "selfie" in the reflection in the great bird's pupil.

SEPTEMBER

yellowstone-6 5D-9576-Edityellowstone-6 5D-9576-Edit2013 Photo of the month

A chance of a lifetime came up in the fall when we were asked to help in the Yellowstone Association Bookstore at the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center. We spent almost 7 weeks in the park and found a new viewpoint to enjoy the famous Grand Prismatic Spring in the Midway Geyser Basin.

OCTOBER

Yellowstone-7 7D-2990Yellowstone-7 7D-29902013 Photo of the month

On one of our many visits to Yellowstone this year we found a pack of gray wolves near Soda Butte and while watching for nearly an hour, this young black wandered practically up to our Jeep, laid down, and gave his blood-curdling howl to the rest of the pack.

NOVEMBER

Jackson-3445Jackson-34452013 Photo of the month

Wonders of nature never cease in Jackson, Wyoming. I was in my office editing photos when this poor little Northern Pygmy Owl, chased by a couple of Magpies, crashed into my door. The poor thing was knocked out and on its back and I went out to try to warm it from the cold. It stood up, pupils unequal, and shook its head. Fortunately after about 15 minutes it regained its equilibrium and flew into an Aspen where after about an hour, seemed to recover and flew away.

DECEMBER

Alpine-4463Alpine-44632013 Photo of the month

The mountain goats of Alpine, Wyoming came down early this year due to heavy October snow and frigid temperatures. More than 30 play along the road and on the cliffs of the Snake River Canyon south of Jackson.

 

More than 25,000 shots taken and almost 20,000 added to my archives in 2013, more than 1,000 new images available on this site and now on Flickr, and these were the 12 with special meaning to me.  Please join us on Facebook for more frequent updates. I hope you enjoyed viewing these images as much as I did making them. Happy 2014.

 

 

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lorendn@yahoo.com (Natural Photography - Jackson, Wyoming) Grand Jackson National Park Teton Wyoming Yellowstone fauna nature photography wildlife http://www.naturalphotographyjackson.com/blog/2014/1/looking-back-at-2013 Sun, 05 Jan 2014 18:44:28 GMT
Getting started in wildlife photography - Part 2 http://www.naturalphotographyjackson.com/blog/2013/11/wildlife-photography---part-2 In Part 1 of this post, I discussed basic styles of wildlife photography, camera and lens options, and two elements of exposure. In this section I want to complete exposure considerations and address composition in wildlife photography.

We know when photographing animals, a high shutter speed is usually necessary to avoid motion blur due to movement of the subject or camera shake. We also know that to obtain a high shutter speed we need to open the aperture to allow more light to reach the sensor. But what do we do in the early morning and late afternoon when there is less available light and we are unable to get an adequate exposure at a high shutter speed?  The last element of the exposure triangle is ISO or the sensitivity of the sensor to light.  ISO is similar to the ASA rating of film - the higher the ASA, the more sensitive to light. The downside of higher ASA film is graininess of the image; the downside of higher ISO is the induction of digital noise into the image.  

Digital camera sensors create an image in response to light turning on photo-sensitive pixels in the sensor.  A small number of the millions of pixels in the modern sensor can 'discharge' spontaneously. Normally, these spontaneous pixel activations go un-noticed but when the image is under-exposed many more of the spontaneous activations are present for every intended light-activation of pixels. These spontaneous activations create small spots on the image that we call digital noise. There are two common types of digital noise chrominance (color) noise and luminance (monochromatic) noise.  Chrominance noise results in random speckles of color seen in black or dark areas of the image.  Luminance noise results in random speckles of gray throughout the image. The higher the set ISO, the more digital noise is introduced into the image.  Fortunately, all digital cameras have noise suppression programs built into the software. Furthermore, when images are shot in a JPEG mode, additional noise reduction is applied in the JPEG conversion. RAW images do not have this second noise suppression algorithm applied and typically have much more noise than JPEG images.  Post-production editing software has very sophisticated noise reduction algorithms than can reduce both the color and luminance noise at the cost of losing some image sharpness. Part of the post-production workflow for RAW images is to sharpen and apply noise reduction.  There must be a balance between these two processes because sharpening causes noise to be more prominent and noise reduction causes a lack of sharpness.

Two factors that can ruin a great photo even more than improper exposure are lack of focus or blurring of the subject.  Most of today's dSLR cameras have great auto-focusing systems that are reliable in good lighting conditions. In low light conditions or when the subject is partially obscured by bushes or trees, manual focusing can be needed. Even with proper focus on the subject there can be blur or loss of sharpness if the subject or the camera moves during the exposure. It is important to keep your shutter speed high when photographing wildlife. A good rule of thumb is the shutter speed should be faster than 1 / effective focal length of the lens. The effective focal length is the actual focal length times the crop factor of the camera. This helps to prevent camera shake that will blur or soften your image.  Image stabilization in the lens or camera may allow slower shutter speeds when shooting hand-held images.

Even with high shutter speeds and image stabilization longer focal length lenses usually need mechanical stabilization in the form of a tripod or other support mechanism.  A sturdy tripod is usually the best way to get sharp images. Other tools that can reduce camera shake are to use a cable or electronic shutter release mechanism to avoid contact with the camera during the exposure. With super-telephoto lenses (greater than 400mm actual focal length) it is often helpful to use the mirror lock-up function of your dSLR to reduce the vibration of the mirror movement during exposure. This can be done by switching to the 'live view' mode on the camera LCD display or a dedicated two step mirror lock-up followed by the actual shutter release.

Finally, we move to the most difficult part of good wildlife photography, composition.  Good composition takes time and experience to learn. Two 'rules' often applied to wildlife photography are 1) fill the frame with the subject and, 2) the rule of thirds - placing the subject at the intersection of horizontal and vertical lines dividing the image into thirds. Another 'high value' rule to to have the subject looking into the frame rather than to the outer edge of the image.  Framing the primary subject with grass, bushes, rocks, trees or the landscape often creates a pleasing image. Lastly, patterns and leading lines help to focus the viewer's attention on the subject. I will post more thoughts about composition in wildlife and nature photography in another post.

Wildlife photography requires the perfect mix of subject, location, lighting, gear, technique, and composition. It also requires that the photographer be ready to shoot on a moment's notice and, more often than not, a little luck.  Good shooting.

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lorendn@yahoo.com (Natural Photography - Jackson, Wyoming) animals camera shake camera technique composition fauna nature noise photography wildlife http://www.naturalphotographyjackson.com/blog/2013/11/wildlife-photography---part-2 Wed, 20 Nov 2013 19:28:43 GMT
Getting started in wildlife photography - Part 1 http://www.naturalphotographyjackson.com/blog/2013/10/getting-started-in-wildlife-photography It has been a while since I have written about the technical aspects of photography and I thought it would be good to dive into a discussion about the broad field of wildlife photography. It is a big subject so I'll cover it in two separate postings.

I moved to Jackson, Wyoming last year primarily to be closer to nature and to the amazing wildlife in this part of the country. As a 'nature photographer,' I enjoy all aspects of outdoor photography from landscapes to wildlife to macro-photography, but it is wildlife that really gets me excited. When I write about wildlife photography I really mean WILD-life - not pets, zoo animals, or critters in cages of any sort, but real wildlife out in the open, fending for themselves. I like all sorts of wildlife from large carnivores to birds, grazers, cute little rodents, insects and other invertebrates and each of these families of critters bring different challenges to the photographer.

There are really three 'styles' of wildlife photography and each has its individual rewards. First, and most common, are wildlife portraits. You find a great animal out in a natural setting and are close enough to capture its image close up. Second, there are the beautiful scenic shots (below) with a magnificent animal in the foreground. Third, are the behavioral shots (see blog cover photo)when the critter you have found is doing its thing in an animated and interesting manner.  The preparation and gear required to capture each of these styles of images is modified by the physical size of the animal you are shooting. 

GTNP-5D-4011GTNP-5D-4011Bison - the American Buffalo It goes without saying that a quality digital single-lens reflex (dSLR) camera body is the choice of most wildlife photographers but that doesn't mean that you can't capture great images with a super-zoom or even a point and shoot camera. I remember a few months ago staking out a black bear in Yellowstone for over two hours. I had a 600mm super-telephoto lens mounted on a sturdy tripod ready to go but the bear stayed in the bushes always partially concealed from my view. I packed up ready to move on when the bear took off across the road in front of a car giving the woman in the car a better shot with her phone camera in 20 seconds than I had in hours that cold Yellowstone morning. But good photography requires more than luck - you want to be able to capture good images, reliably, under many conditions. The dSLR is the best choice.

The next issue is the selection of lenses that will give your camera the best image. Wildlife photographers are always looking for the "big glass" but there are two types of 'big' that you must consider. Many times when photographing wildlife you cannot get as close as you would like to be - either because the subject will leave your field of view or the subject is bigger than the photographer and, therefore, demands space. So big lenses are usually part of every wildlife photographer's arsenal but how big is necessary? The answer is, it depends.

Many (most?) times you will want to 'fill the frame' with your subject. So the smaller the subject the closer you must be or the larger your lens must be. Generally, most start with a moderate telephoto lens in the 200-300 mm focal length range. These lenses are small enough and light enough to carry for a significant distance and yet will give a significant 'reach' to your subject. If you are using a crop sensor, rather than a full frame sensor, camera you will see even a smaller angle of view giving the appearance of more magnification. Typically, most APS-C size sensors have a 'crop factor' of 1.5x or 1.6x thus increasing the effective focal length of your lens by the crop factor. Effectively, you get more bang for your buck using a telephoto lens on a crop sensor camera body.

Another way to extend the reach of your lens is by adding a tele-converter (sometimes called a tele-extender) between the lens and camera. These converters increase the effective focal length of the telephoto lens that is attached by a factor of 1.4x or 2x. Doing the math, you can see that a 200 mm telephoto lens on a 1.6x crop sensor and a 1.4x teleconverter give you an effective focal length of 448 mm (200 x 1.6 x 1.4). A 2x tele-converter would increase the effective focal length even more to 640 mm. The increased effective focal length with a converter comes with a significant cost - reduced light to the sensor. A 1.4x converter reduces the maximum aperture of the lens by 1 stop and the 2x converter reduces it by 2 stops. This raises the second requirement for wildlife lenses - they must be 'fast.'

Generally, the best shooting of wildlife is in early morning and late afternoon as the sun is rising or setting. This means a high likelihood of shooting in low light situations. Low light means you will need a large aperture, long shutter speed, or high ISO  for proper exposure.  (See the Exposure Triangle, 2/21/13, and Where to Start with Exposure, 2/27/13 blog posts.)  A long shutter speed is almost never a good option using a telephoto lens because of the chance of image blur due to 'camera shake' or movement of the subject.  The rule of thumb is that the shutter speed should equal or be faster than 1 / effective focal length. So your 200mm lens on a crop sensor camera with a 1.4x converter means your slowest shutter speed should be 1/640 seconds or more practically, 1/1000th second. That is fast enough to eliminate blur from camera shake and to freeze (slow) movement of your subject but how do you get enough light to the sensor? The answer is a large aperture.  So the second 'big' in wildlife lenses is a large diameter aperture - ideally f/4 or larger. The large aperture allows more light to reach the sensor in the time the shutter is open. Unfortunately, a large aperture is the major cost of a lens - more glass equals more money.

We will address the last of the exposure issues and other ways to improve your wildlife photography in the next posting. Until then happy shooting.

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lorendn@yahoo.com (Natural Photography - Jackson, Wyoming) Jackson Wyoming animals birds camera dSLR fauna lens nature photography telephoto wildlife http://www.naturalphotographyjackson.com/blog/2013/10/getting-started-in-wildlife-photography Thu, 31 Oct 2013 17:49:04 GMT
Once in a lifetime http://www.naturalphotographyjackson.com/blog/2013/10/once-in-a-lifetime Every once in a while life throws something at you that is so unexpected and yet so wonderful that you can't pass it up.  That is what happened to me in mid-August as I was planning my sixth photography trip to Yellowstone National Park since April this year.  Several wildfires were burning in the park and some of the campgrounds were on a short evacuation alert so our plans changed several times but we finally settled on a "safe" campground at Canyon Village. As we packed the RV for the two-week trip we were notified that the road between Fishing Bridge and Canyon was closed due to smoke and the threat of the Alum Creek fire. That meant a two-hour detour and a trip over Craig Pass on the western side of the Grand Loop. Well, sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do and we made our plan to leave on a Tuesday.

On Monday I received a call from a friend who is a Regional Director of the Yellowstone Association and who was in need of some part-time help to replace two employees who had to leave on urgent family business. We could come to Yellowstone, bring the RV, camp for next to nothing, and get paid in exchange for working part-time at the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center. It took about 30 milliseconds to say "Yes" and we cancelled our Canyon plans and drove to Old Faithful for a 6-10 week stint living in Yellowstone.

The campground was a hidden gem for employee housing about 1/2 mile from the OF Visitors Center by bike or a 2 mile drive by car. It had full hook-ups, a laundry, the employee's Pub, and its own collection of wildlife from Snowshoe Hare, to Grizzlies, to Bison - every day was an adventure.  Can you imagine calling into work that you will be late because there is a bison blocking the bike path?

Work was generally fun - working with the public and retail sales was far outside my realm of experiences but the Rangers, employees, and a brief orientation made jumping-in a positive learning experience. We worked about 30 hours a week on a schedule that allowed photography for several hours every morning or afternoon and two and a half days off for more extended landscape and nature photography each week.  Needless to say that we had a great time, met some interesting people and shot a lot of photographs.

We had the opportunity to learn more about the history and operation of the park and more about the thermal features at the major geyser basins that we had ever known - that in spite of our combined many months in other parts of the park.  We hiked new trails, saw new geysers erupt, explored back roads, and found new animal locations that were previously unknown to us.  I was able to shoot photos from locations that I had never visited before and travel leisurely in the huge park.  The Yellowstone Association allowed us to purchase maps and books at a discount and see the inner workings of the Association from its Gardiner, MT headquarters to the Lamar Buffalo Ranch.  We were even able to book free courses from the Yellowstone Institute and will be back to the Lamar Buffalo Ranch in January and February to enjoy these employee benefits.  

We had hoped to stay into mid-October or even early November but cold weather, snow, and, finally, the government shut-down and closure of the park shortened our time to "only" 6 1/2 weeks. What a wonderful, unexpected experience that will leave a warm spot in our hearts for the rest of our lives. I am finishing the processing of the photos and hope to have some posted in the National Parks and Public Lands section of this site soon.

Thanks for visiting.

 

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lorendn@yahoo.com (Natural Photography - Jackson, Wyoming) Yellowstone National Park geysers landscapes nature photography thermal features wildlife http://www.naturalphotographyjackson.com/blog/2013/10/once-in-a-lifetime Sun, 13 Oct 2013 21:50:06 GMT
Six months old - and going (fairly) strong http://www.naturalphotographyjackson.com/blog/2013/8/six-months-old---and-going-failrly-strong It is hard to believe that it's been more than 6 weeks since my last posting but it is even harder to believe that Natural Photography is 6 months old!

It has been a very busy summer shooting and traveling to unique sites and more of our public lands. (That's my excuse and I'm stickin' to it - for the long delay since the last posting.) On the other hand, the website has been extensively updated with a dozen new photo galleries and many additional photos added to previously existing galleries. The revisions add galleries for new national parks and public lands visits but also add many more specific species and settings in which to locate wildlife photos that may be most interesting to you. Specifically, there are new galleries in the Fauna section for mountain goats, bison, and pronghorn and new galleries for waterfowl, wild canines, small mammals, and, a sure favorite, babies and young-in's.

Besides many more photos from Yellowstone, I have added seasonal sections for our Jackson Hole neighbor, Grand Teton National Park. A recent trip to South Dakota allowed shooting at Devil's Tower National Monument, Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Crazy Horse Memorial, Wind Cave National Park, Jewel Cave National Monument, Badlands National Park, and the wonderful Custer State Park, South Dakota.

On the business side, I have added password-protected areas for individual clients to view pending orders and requested focused photo catalog previews for easier item selection. I have added a similar feature for commercial clients who want to view specific photos and other products. This area is also password-protected for each commercial client. I am hopeful that these customized folders will help you more efficiently select items that will best meet your specific needs. Both areas allow direct electronic communication to answer your questions and expedite your orders.

Finally, while I have been delinquent in posting to this blog, I have been more diligent in posting to Facebook. (https://www.facebook.com/NaturalPhotographyJackson)  While the Facebook page is more intended for fun and frequent updates on activities, some of the Facebook photos are also available for view or purchase on the website. If you have a specific interest in any of the Facebook photos, they can be made available in a full-size, high-resolution format for any of the products listed on this site.

I hope you are able to get away this summer and enjoy nature close-up in your favorite location but if your travels are limited you can always vicariously join our travel on this site or Facebook. Have a GREAT summer and thanks for visiting Natural Photography.

Loren 

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lorendn@yahoo.com (Natural Photography - Jackson, Wyoming) Grand Teton Nationa Park Jackson South Dakota Wyoming Yellowstone fauna nature photography travel wildlife http://www.naturalphotographyjackson.com/blog/2013/8/six-months-old---and-going-failrly-strong Sun, 04 Aug 2013 14:08:33 GMT
Yellowstone - a nature and wildlife photographer's paradise http://www.naturalphotographyjackson.com/blog/2013/6/yellowstone---photographers-paradise I get a lot of comments and questions about my many photos from Yellowstone National Park (YNP) so I thought I would give a very quick overview of the park and some of its best known treasures.

Current road status map

Yellowstone is the world's first national park dedicated to preserving the uniqueness of the natural beauty of our country for future generations. It was established as a model for all national parks in 1872 and its history has been colorful and controversial.  Most of YNP lies withing the state of Wyoming but it extends into Montana and Idaho.

There are 5 major highway entrances to the park. The Grand Highway of Yellowstone is a giant figure of eight, paved highway connecting most of the park's main attractions.  Gardiner, MT is the north entrance to the park headquarters at Mammoth Hot Springs and is the only entrance that is open to automobiles year round. The northeast entrance is near Cooke City, MT and leads to Tower Falls on the north part of the figure eight. It is closed to autos in the winter months when the Bear Tooth highway is closed.  Access to the east entrance is from Cody, WY  to the Lake Village / Fishing Bridge area and this entrance is closed in the winter. The south entrance is one of the most popular routes into the park from Jackson, WY through Grand Teton National Park and the Rockefeller Parkway. The south entrance is closed to autos in the winter but Flag Ranch (near the south entrance) is a popular entrance for snow coach tours and snowmobiles. Finally, West Yellowstone, MT is a popular tourist town and center for winter activities near the west entrance to YNP.  The road leads to Madison Junction and then south to Old Faithful or north to Norris Geyser Basin. 

There are literally thousands of attractions to YNP but the "big five" are probably Old Faithful Geyser, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Mammoth Hot Springs, Lake Yellowstone, and the large animal populations of the Hayden and Lamar valleys.  Old Faithful at sunsetYellowstone-5D-3765 Old Faithful geyser, on the west side of the south loop, is one of more than ten thousand thermal features in the park that include geysers, fumaroles and steam vents, hot pools, and boiling mud pots. There are about four times as many active thermal features in Yellowstone as the rest of the world total.  Old Faithful is named such because of its regularity of eruption - about every 70-90 minutes. Other geysers are larger and more spectacular but the predictability of Old Faithful and its closeness to parking and lodging make it a crowd favorite.  The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River Yellowstone 5D-2326 is at the east junction of the north and south loop roads.  This is where Yellowstone got its name and is the home of the two largest waterfalls in the park.  The canyon carved by the Yellowstone River is up to 1200 feet deep, three-quarters of a mile wide, and 24 miles long. The Upper Falls is 109 feet and the lower Falls is 308 feet in height and both are readily view-able with short walks from the many parking areas.  Mammoth Hot Springs in summerYellowstone_2009-537

Mammoth Hot Springs is near the park headquarters at the north entrance.  Once the center for tourism with its terraced hot springs and colorful stone formations, the springs are seeing less water flow and becoming bleached white as their thermal activity decreases.  Lake Yellowstone is the source of its namesake river and the largest and deepest lake above 7,000 feet altitude in North America. Its cold, deep, blue water has a shoreline of 110 miles and an average depth of 139 feet. Yellowstone 5D-2376-Edit-2  Finally, while nearly all of YNP has abundant wildlife, nowhere are the large animals more visible than the great valleys of Lamar, near the northeast entrance, and Hayden, between Canyon and Lake Village. In these valleys are huge herds of bison numbering in the many hundreds, elk, mule and white-tail deer, pronghorn, black and grizzly bear, wolf, coyote, and many large bird species and small mammals.  Roadside parking and the broad vistas make wildlife viewing as simple as picking up your binoculars.

I could go on for hours about all of the other attractions but remember the 310 miles of paved road (466 miles total) and 1,100 miles of developed trails from 92 trail heads access only a tiny fraction of the park's 2.2 million acres. There is truly an unlimited amount of outdoor  activity throughout Yellowstone. People ask, "How long should I plan to see the park?" The answer is as much time as you have but it takes at least 3 full days and two nights in or near the park just to drive to the major attractions. They also ask, "What month is best to visit?" All of the months are great and offer tremendously different views of the park. The north entrance is open to autos year round but the other entrances vary in opening from around late April to mid-May and start closing in October. Yellowstone is at high elevation, 6,500 to over 8,000 feet, and snow can and does come every month of the year. There is winter snowmobile and snow coach access from both the south and west entrances and great snowmobiling out of the park from the northeast entrance.  There are over 3 million visitors annually with the vast majority coming in July and August. Locals will tell you that May and September are the "best" months because there are fewer visitors.

I hope you enjoy some of the photos of the park and that they will stimulate your interest in visiting this word treasure.

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lorendn@yahoo.com (Natural Photography - Jackson, Wyoming) Wyoming Yellowstone National Park animals canyons fauna geysers lakes nature photography rivers wildlife http://www.naturalphotographyjackson.com/blog/2013/6/yellowstone---photographers-paradise Wed, 12 Jun 2013 21:27:11 GMT
High Dynamic Range (HDR) Photography http://www.naturalphotographyjackson.com/blog/2013/5/high-dynamic-range-hdr-photography High Dynamic Range (HDR), what is it, why should I know about it, and what can it do to broaden my photography? Three simple questions so often raised by those new to digital photography that are often difficult to answer. In this post I will try to give a straight forward overview of HDR that will allow you to experiment with the techniques to determine if HDR has a place in your photographic armamentarium.  

First, what is dynamic range? Dynamic range defines the breadth of luminosities that can be visualized. Luminosity is the term used to define the brightness of an object.  Luminosity along with hue (color) and saturation (intensity of color) determine how we see an object or the image of an object. Our eyes have an incredible ability to detect light simultaneously at low and high luminosity. This range is typically quantified in exposure values (EV) or more often as f-stops.  One EV or one stop is the equivalent of doubling the about of light. The dynamic range of our eyes is about 18-24 stops - a huge range of light intensity from dark shadows to very bright highlights. Cameras don't do so well.  A single image captured with a film camera may retain image detail over about 8 stops; a digital image captured with a very high-end dSLR camera may retain detail over a range of about 10-12 stops.  In other words, our very best cameras cannot process an image with variations in tonality or brightness as well as our eyes.

This was a big problem in the days of film when painstaking dodging and burning were done in the darkroom but with the advent of digital imaging and sophisticated processing software we are able to produce HDR images with a tonal resolution nearly equal to our eyes. The theory of how this is done is simple. By capturing multiple images at different exposures, the processing software can use the low luminosity data from over-exposed images and high luminosity from under-exposed images and combine and process the data to give a greatly expanded dynamic range.  In other word HDR gives you the ability to extract more image detail from both the bright and dark areas of a scene giving the image a feel closer to what you visualized with your eyes. However, overdoing HDR processing can transform a good image into a quirky, over-done, cartoon-ish image that has too much contrast and is too highly saturated. HDR can create a surrealistic feel to an image that may be desirable or not.

What subjects make the best HRD images? First, static subjects are usually much more appropriate for HDR processing than moving subjects. Subjects with texture and a wide range of tonality (variations between bright and dark) are often best for HDR. Often subjects with bright and highly saturated colors can be dramatic in HDR. People or wildlife that are stationary may be imaged using HDR processing but moving people or objects create problems with the processing and often do not work well.

You can imagine that the way to expand dynamic range of an image is to capture the bright and dark areas of a scene by intentionally over and under exposing the subject and that is exactly what we do. The shooting technique is to capture three or more identical images at different exposures. Always shoot in RAW format because you heed a large bit-depth to process the final image and JPEGs will always disappoint you when shooting HDR.  To be certain that the images are identical it is desirable to use a tripod and capture the multiple images as rapidly as possible using the high-speed burst exposure mode of your dSLR.  Most dSLRs allow you to use a mode called auto-bracket exposure - in other words, the camera rapidly captures 3 or more images at the exposure you have set and at an exposure that is intentionally over and under exposing the image.  The exact way you do this is important. Your camera should be on a tripod and the mode set to aperture priority (Av on Canon and A on Nikon.) The reason for using aperture priority is that you want to change the exposure by changing shutter speed not aperture. If aperture were to change, you would create images with different depths-of-field and so focus/sharpness would be different between the highlights and the shadows.  You can see why you want a static, non-moving subject because the variation of shutter speed and the timing of the multiple exposures would cause variation in the sharpness and position of the subject. This produces an artifact in the processed image called ghosting (more later.) Finally, you want your exposure bracketing to be at least 3-6 total stops.  That is, if you are shooting 3 bracketed exposures, the shutter speeds should be a minimum of one to two stops higher and lower that the ideal metered shutter speed resulting in images that are significantly over and under exposed. I typically set my HDR bracketing on my 7D at 1 1/3 stops for three shots in a moderately well lighted scene. If there is large variation between the shadows and highlights I will increase the bracketing to 1 2/3 or 2 stops.  The 7D like many dSLRs will only shoot 3 bracketed shots. On my 5DIII I set the bracketing at one stop and shoot 5 to seven bracketed shots.  I generally shoot two sets of images for each composition and I try to remember to shoot each set in both horizontal and vertical formats.

Now that you have captured the images it is time to look at HDR processing. Some of today's newest cameras allow HDR processing in the camera. That said, most photographers want the control of post-production software to refine and tune their images to meet their exact needs. There are many dedicated HDR programs that work independently or with Adobe Photoshop to create the processed image. Each program has pros and cons beyond the scope of this introduction. The good news is that most of these programs can be down-loaded for a free trial period so you can choose the one with the features and results that you want. The two most popular stand-alone programs seem to be Photomatrix by HDRSoft and HDR Efex Pro by Nik Software.  Both of these also work as plug-ins with Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. There are also a growing number of free and shareware programs and, of course, Photoshop itself does HDR processing and this was my personal choice.

A highly processed HDR imageNew Hampshire--3 Each HDR program collects, aligns, and processes the 3-9 individual, bracketed images you have shot and down-loaded. The 12 or 14-bit images are converted to a huge 32-bit image for processing so you can imagine that you need some pretty sophisticated processing power in your computer. The images ate 'tone-mapped' to select the highlights and shadows that will have the most detail for the final image. Once the mapping is done you have the ability to select how you want to process the final image in terms of contrast, saturation, exposure, and the 'strength' of the HDR effect. All of the programs have a variety of presets to help you get close to your desired effect.  You also have the ability to eliminate ghosting that may be present if there was movement in the scene during capture or incomplete alignment due to camera movement.  Lastly, the image will be outputted for viewing as a very large PSD or TIFF file or as a compressed JPEG.

The results of HDR processing may surprise you, please you, or enrage you. You will have a new image that is high in contrast, color saturation, and details beyond what you could imagine. Done tastefully (dare I say properly) HDR images are a wonderful addition to your photographic repertoire but, overdone, they are less than pleasing. In all cases, HDR processing will give you new insights to your photography so you should give it a try.

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lorendn@yahoo.com (Natural Photography - Jackson, Wyoming) HDR High Dynamic Range landscapes luminosity nature photography saturation software technique tonality http://www.naturalphotographyjackson.com/blog/2013/5/high-dynamic-range-hdr-photography Fri, 24 May 2013 14:55:54 GMT
Post-processing of digital images http://www.naturalphotographyjackson.com/blog/2013/4/post-processing-of-digital-images To say that post-production or photo editing equipment and software are controversial is an understatement. In one of the very first postings on this blog I discussed the difference between JPEG and RAW photo image files and the need to always have RAW files available for post-capture digital editing. Now I would like to address the details of post-processing equipment and software. This is clearly controversial and rapidly changing but I will give you my opinions about the advantages and reasoning for what I use (today.)

The first impossible controversy regards the computer platforms available for digital imaging. I will say upfront that I use a PC and software designed for a PC.  My choice was made for three reasons.  First, I came from the world of academia and to a lesser degree, business. The PC is dominant in these areas so I knew the machines and software. Second, there is generally more software available for the PC. Third, the PC is less expensive than a Mac or Apple system. Now before the Mac users start screaming, I am the first to admit that the Mac is probably a better system for any graphics application. Good photo editing software is available for both systems and the software costs are similar. Generally, though, you need to make a choice early in your photo editing career, because the software is usually platform-specific and cannot be used on both systems.  I would lean towards the PC platform if you are in a large business or academic institution. I would lean toward a Mac if you do not need to share all of your non-photographic work with many colleagues and would definitely choose a Mac if you are going to edit video.  

That said, I use a high-end PC with a fast processor (3.6 Mbs), separate high-speed video card with 2 GB memory, 16GB of RAM, and a 2TB internal hard drive, multiple USB3 connections and 2-27" Viewsonic high-resolution monitors. I have multiple external 1, 2, and 4TB hard drives for back-up. You need a lot of RAM for photo editing and lots of hard drive space and a good back-up system to store your work.

There are multiple paths to appropriate post-production software. There is the camera software approach using what comes with your camera. These software packages are usually satisfactory for RAW file editing, conversion to JPEG, and printing. They are proprietary and, therefore, subject to change so if you have any aspirations to develop and expand your photographic work, I would avoid the proprietary camera company programs. A second approach is the low-end, freeware approach. Several programs are available to convert and edit photo files at little or no charge. Sometimes these programs link to on-line photo storage and sharing sites such as Flickr and Picasa. These work great for point-and-shoot and cell phone photographers but those shooting seriously with a dSLR usually want more than these programs can provide. Next are the rich, mid-range, purpose-specific photo editing tools such as Adobe (Photoshop) Elements (for either the PC or Mac) and Aperture for the Mac. These are full-featured programs that have far more capabilities than most photographers want or need and will do almost any editing job asked of them.  Finally, there are the top-end editing tools used by advanced and professional photographers - Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. These are two totally different packages that serve different but compatible roles in your photo editing work flow.

What is Adobe Lightroom (LR)? LR is a photographic database that was designed to store, catalog, and locate large numbers of digital images. LR also combines the photo editing power of Adobe Mini-bridge, Bridge, and CameRAW to view, convert, and edit images in a non-destructive manner and with a very easy to learn user interface. LR manipulates digital images at the image file-level rather than the pixel-level. Adobe Photoshop (PS), on the other hand, is part of a huge creative suite of programs used to manipulate digital images at the pixel-level in a destructive manner.  Wow - that is a lot of very specific terminology - what are these two programs used for and what do they do?

LR is the starting point in the digital imaging workflow of most serious photographers. LR allows the photographer to import RAW (or JPEG) image files from a camera or memory card into a computer. During the import, the files can be renamed, assigned to specific folders, converted to digital negatives (DNGs), have key words assigned, and undergo basic image processing available in Adobe CameRAW (ACR). Once the images are imported LR can be used to correct white balance and tint, adjust exposure, straighten and crop, create local color, contrast, and exposure adjustments, sharpen and reduce digital noise, and apply special effects to the images. LR also creates a viewable image and has multiple tools to compare, sort, locate, grade, tag, flag and copy images. It acts as a file manager for the RAW images allowing movement on hard drives and allows the creation of smart (automatically updated) or stable collections of photos.  LR can geo-tag photo locations.  The latest version of LR also creates various output formats for the web, slide shows, books, and prints.

Photoshop is the top end of photo editing software. Most photographers who do not do graphic design probably only use a small fraction of what PS can do. PS has two import features called Bridge and Mini-bridge that bring photos into ACR for editing and conversion to output files for printing or sharing.  ACR works much like LR to make image-level edits and corrections before PS is used.  PS allows editing at the pixel level so the user has complete control over all elements of the photo.  The photo edits, for the most part, are destructive edits meaning that the image will be irreversibly altered if saved. PS does not have the sophisticated database functions of LR and does not do the cataloging and searching as well as LR.

Both LR and PS can use pre-sets and third-party plug-ins to automate much of the work of photo editing. The automation of PS is far more sophisticated using scripts and batch processing to speed your workflow.  Examples of these include high dynamic range (HDR) imaging, focus stacking, and panoramic stitching of multiple images. The two programs work together seamlessly to enhance your editing workflow and image storage and retrieval.  So, how are the two programs used by a nature photographer?

The more I talk with professional photographers, the more I realize that about 90% of post-production editing is done in LR and only about 5-10% in PS. LR is a powerful image editor that gives busy photographers a comprehensive database with which to catalog tens of thousands of images and find them again in seconds. As an editor, LR performs all of the functions of ACR in a very intuitive user interface.  Color balance, tint, leveling, cropping, exposure and contrast adjustment, noise reduction, and sharpening are handled effortlessly in LR.  Local adjustments of nearly all of these functions can be done with both brush and gradient tools.  I will review these editing functions in more detail at another time, but, for now, recognize that these tools are available.

PS adds three hugely important functions that are not in LR and a few hundred other functions used by graphics designers.  The three biggies in PS are layers, masks, and content-aware fill. These destructive, pixel-level tools add creative touches not possible in LR and give the nature photographer the ability to "fix" issues in a photo that could be distracting to the central theme of the photo.  There are literally hundreds of other manipulations that can be done in PS that are not available in LR. Most of these are interesting but not necessary for the average photographer.

That is the editing overview and I will have much more about editing in future posts. Next time we will explore high dynamic range (HDR) imaging and its role for the nature photographer. 

 

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lorendn@yahoo.com (Natural Photography - Jackson, Wyoming) Adobe Elements Lightroom Photoshop Picasa creative suite digital editing images nature photography post-processing production software http://www.naturalphotographyjackson.com/blog/2013/4/post-processing-of-digital-images Sat, 27 Apr 2013 20:38:43 GMT
An amazing place (Volume 236) http://www.naturalphotographyjackson.com/blog/2013/4/an-amazing-place-volume-236 OK, I'll admit that I have been remiss in updating the blog recently but I have had a truly amazing two weeks. It started last week in Yellowstone National Park as a simple visit to the Lamar Valley.  Sounds easy from Jackson, well, it is in the summer season but when the south entrance is closed, it means a drive south and west into Idaho, then a long but beautiful drive north through West Yellowstone, Montana then along the Gallatin River up to Bozeman.  From Bozeman it is back east to Livingston and then south to Gardiner and the north entrance to the park. It was a nice, warm spring day and there were lots of animals - elk, mule deer, big horn sheep, and even some pronghorn antelope.

We drove a couple of hours through the park from Mammoth Hot Springs to the Lamar Valley and on to the northeast entrance and Cooke City for the night. The next morning we found the carcass.  A young bison had fallen through the ice in December in the Blacktail Ponds area. It died, froze, and was covered with snow. The day before we arrived a large boar grizzly bear had come out of hibernation a bit hungry and 4-month old submerged bison sound like just the thing. He pulled the carcass partially out of the water and he and dozens of other birds and animals made a very interesting 4 days of photography.

During daylight hours the carcass was visited by bald and golden eagles, dozens of ravens, and several coyote. At dusk and into the night, the grizzly returned with as many as two others. When the grizzlies left, the wolves arrived. It was well after dark so photography was out but the viewing was very good. Coyotes crying in the night added to the drama and the same scenario played in reverse order each morning. The close proximity of the carcass to the road resulted in dozens of posts to The Spotting Scope and other web sites.

The drive back home around the west side of the park was another adventure with a full spring blizzard and white-out conditions. A double tanker truck jack-knifed and rolled over and driving conditions near West Yellowstone were miserable. Teton Pass back to Jackson was clear and the remainder of the drive was uneventful.

How could you possible top that adventure? Well, beloved grizzly sow 610 and her three two-year old cubs came out of hibernation in Grand Teton National Park. She was spotted on Monday and a storm of photographers and observers arrived for the rest of the week. The clan put on a great show every day with a backdrop of Trumpeter Swans, white pelicans, Canada geese, beaver, river otter, muskrat, coyote, bald eagles, and other waterfowl.  We visited on Wednesday to watch their migration from Pacific Creek up to Ox Bow Bend on the Snake River. It was a comedy of foraging for frozen fish in the river to random cub wrestling matches as they dug in the snow and ice along two miles of river. They were clearly un-bothered by the 10-20 photographers and visitors as they made their way along the large island at Ox Bow.

On Friday we returned to Ox Bow Bend about 35 minutes from our Jackson home to watch the family again. On the day we missed, 610 had helped the cubs retrieve a frozen beaver carcass from the ice and on this day the family was content to spend the morning in the woods on the island. We photographed beaver and waterfowl and were about ready to pack up the gear when a large boar grizzly appeared on the ice at the south end of the island. He was being harassed by a very brazen coyote but finally sent the coyote packing and took off at a full run through deep snow and dense willows toward 610 and her cubs. 610 continued to prove what a great mother she was, leading the cubs into the woods and across the wind as the boar charged on only about 50-100 yards from them. The boar was distracted by the scent where the cubs had been wrestling in the woods and perhaps by the consumed beaver carcass while the family ran through the woods and emerged again at the south end of the island. 610 sent her cubs across the frozen river to the mainland while she stood ready to defend them from the aggressive boar.  Once the cubs were safely on the mainland and downwind from the boar, she crossed the ice and led them back toward Pacific Creek. It was an amazing display of predator behavior and a mother's protective instincts. Some of the photos are posted on my Facebook page:  

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.560940470593138.1073741825.522413177779201&type=3

The national parks are coming alive! Thanks for visiting.

 

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lorendn@yahoo.com (Natural Photography - Jackson, Wyoming) Idaho Jackson Montana Wyoming antelope bald eagle big horn sheep bird coyote deer elk grizzly bear mammal nature photography pronghorn raven snow shoe hare wildlife wolf http://www.naturalphotographyjackson.com/blog/2013/4/an-amazing-place-volume-236 Mon, 15 Apr 2013 16:00:01 GMT