Wildlife Photography

Tips for Amateur Bird Watchers

January 21, 2015

Bird watching is a fascinating pastime because you don’t need to be an expert, just have a real interest. It’s easy to get involved, and the only requirements are a guide book, a set of binoculars, and some time. The variety of birds, their habitats, and behaviour ensures there’s always something new and interesting to observe.

Guide Book

With over 850 recorded bird species in South Africa, it’s essential you buy one of the excellent bird guide books that are readily available. Start with an inexpensive, compact edition that’s easy to use. Some books feature drawings of birds and others have photographs: either are useful for identifying unusual species or one of the numerous but nondescript small birds that inhabit our grasslands.

Binoculars

Unless you have keen eyesight, a set of binoculars is indispensible. Choose a pair with a magnification of between eight and ten times, taking note of the size and weight of the binoculars. Although large, powerful binoculars are great for looking at distant birds, they are difficult to keep steady and lots of birdwatchers prefer smaller, compact pairs.

Before buying, check the close focus of the binoculars; the closest focus point of many binoculars is such that you won’t be able to focus on a bird that’s only a few metres away.

Getting Out There

Birds are everywhere, and it’s likely there are at least a dozen or so in your immediate vicinity. Start off by identifying them. Most guide books give pointers on recognising birds. The shape and size of the beak, colour of the eyes, head, chest, rump, and wing feathers, size, and call are all distinguishing marks. You’ll notice several guide books group birds according to their species, and with a little practice you’ll begin to discern the difference between the species. Initially, when identifying a bird, you may feel overwhelmed by the number of possibilities. However, books usually include distribution maps, and this allows you to exclude birds not resident in the area.

Record What You See

Keep a log of the birds you have recognised and where they were. This helps future identification and develops a sense of achievement as you realise how many birds you have classified. Some birders have what they call a “lifer list”, others simply make a note in their favourite bird book. If you cannot classify a bird, try to photograph it or record as much information as possible so when you get home you can use the Internet to help you identify it.

Different Habitats

Many species prefer specific habitats. Some live in grasslands, others in forests. Some are easily seen, while other birds skulk deep inside bushes and are hard to see. Certain birds are very rare. When visiting a reserve such as Kruger Park, you will usually be able to obtain a list of the birds found in the park. Use this as a guide to identify birds you see.

Bird Calls

Although there are species such as the Fork-tailed Drongo that mimic other birds, most bird calls are unique, and as you learn them, you will discover this is an excellent way to recognize birds. Buy a DVD of bird calls or specialised bird call software to load onto your phone, tablet or PC, and listen to bird calls to aid in their identification.

Birds Are Everywhere

No matter where you go, you will find birds. Their songs fill the air and their colours flash before your eyes. Whether you’re relaxing in a rest camp or driving through a reserve, enjoy their presence and add each new bird you identify to your list.

Wildlife Photography

5 Top Tips for Successful Game Photography

January 15, 2015

A visit to a game reserve such as Kruger Park may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will be enhanced by the photos you take. But be aware that wildlife photography is different from other kinds of photography, and should be approached carefully. Here are five tips that will help you take great wildlife photos.

Equipment

Although you don’t need the most expensive equipment, a decent digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera and a zoom or telephoto lens is recommended. Don’t use a smartphone or point and shoot camera as the pictures will be too small. The minimum focal length lens recommended for game photography is 300 mm and for bird photos 400 mm. For really sharp photos, choose the most expensive lens you can afford and avoid cheap kit lenses. Ideally, the lens should have optical stabilisation and always fit a UV filter to protect the lens so it won’t get scratched.

Composition

In the excitement of taking a photograph of an unusual animal, it’s easy to ignore obstructions such as grass or leaves that are obscuring the face of the animal you are photographing. And it’s even more difficult to see a tuft of grass that’s out of focus right in front of the subject’s eyes. So take a moment to study the scene and carefully compose your photo, being mindful of the “rule of thirds” that says the subject looks best when slightly off-centre and positioned in either the left or right third of the viewfinder facing inwards.

Focus, Aperture, and Depth of Field

Always try to focus on the animal’s eyes. Be aware that modern cameras have many focus points and may select the wrong focus point unless you deliberately select the one you want. A telephoto lens has a short depth of field, so if possible select an aperture between f/8 and f/16 to keep as much of your subject in focus as possible and to retain sharpness. Do not go beyond f/16 unless you have a full-frame camera, as diffraction will affect the sharpness of the photograph.

Exposure, Light, and Shutter Speed

During the heat of the African day, colours are flat and photos tend to be washed out. The best times to take photos are the first few hours at the beginning and end of the day. With a telephoto lens, its best to choose a shutter speed that’s at least the same as the lens’s focal length (1/300 sec for 300 mm); any slower and you’ll experience camera shake even with an optical stabiliser. If possible, use a bean bag or monopod to steady the camera but avoid tripods, as they are awkward for game photography. Beware of high contrast, backlit, and dark subjects, and be prepared to manually adjust exposure to compensate.

Be Patient

Avoid the temptation to snap as many shots as possible in the hope of getting one great photo; this usually doesn’t work and makes for boring photos. Watch out for interesting and photogenic animals, poses, and groupings. Take two or three shots, stop, and look for something else to photograph. Try spending time sitting at interesting places such as waterholes, and you may be surprised at what you see by waiting quietly in one place.

At Camp

At camp, review your photos and if possible, download them. Look for what worked and what didn’t so you can avoid making the same mistake again. Game photography is not always easy, but if you persevere, you’ll get good shots. Make a selection of the best photos for entertaining your friends and encouraging them to visit Kruger National Park.

Why not book your Birding Safari right now?

General

Kruger: South or North?

December 30, 2014

Full map of the Kruger National Park

Kruger National Park is enormous; it covers an area of 20,000 square kilometres, which is about the same size as Wales in the United Kingdom. The reserve is relatively narrow and stretches 380 kilometres from north to south. The southern part of the park is most easily accessed and is popular. It can be reached by road, or you can fly to Skukuza or one of several regional airports outside the park. Access to the northern sections of Kruger Park is by road only.

There are ample accommodation/transport options throughout the park, ranging from self drive, self catering accommodation to luxury lodges offering every facility including game drives in open safari vehicles.

The size of the park provides visitors with many alternatives for game viewing and touring. The length of the park effectively divides it into two sections, the more arid north and the slightly wetter southern section. Before making plans to visit Kruger Park, it’s a good idea to understand the subtle differences between the north and south to help you decide which section to visit. Continue Reading…

General

What to Take on a Visit to Kruger National Park

December 24, 2014

packing-for-a-safari

When you travel, one of the big decisions you have to make is what clothes and other items to pack. There’s nothing worse than lugging around enormous, packed-to-the-brim suitcases with items you end up never wearing or using while you’re away. These tips help you keep your kit to the minimum when you visit Kruger National Park. Continue Reading…

General

Rock art in the Kruger National Park

December 4, 2014

Rock-Art in Kruger Park

Watching wildlife amidst the beauty of the Kruger National Park is a magical, even spiritual experience. Everyday life is forgotten as you reconnect with nature and something greater than yourself. Kruger’s rock art tells a similar story. These primal paintings show the importance of animals in the spiritual lives and awareness of the area’s ancient people.

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General

Hyenas – Misunderstood & Wonderful

September 4, 2014

Sloping backs covered in a mangy coat of spots, savage grins and drooling mouths, menacing cackles and insatiable appetites. Some people even believe these animals carry witches on their backs and are believed to be evil. I’m sure that given one guess, you’d all know that I’m referring to the Spotted Hyena. Well what if I told you that hyena were not at all like the above description? What if I told you that they are incredibly intelligent animals, that they are caring mothers and superb hunters, that they serve as free garbage collectors for the African bush and that they deserve to be shown a lot more love? You’d probably tell me that I’m crazy. Well I think that hyenas have been landed with a very unfair reputation and I’m here to tell you why.

IMG_3101

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Wildlife News, Wildlife Photography

Understanding elephants at a glance

June 30, 2014

Arms get waved hysterically, fights break out between newlyweds and tears are shed by terrified children. Vehicle hooters gets honked and trailers get jack-knifed as people desperately reverse from a young elephant bull who just happens to look their way as he crosses the road. Even worse, some people choose to challenge big bulls that really mean business and end up having their cars calmly swept onto its roof as the elephant continues down his chosen path. There is much consternation between elephants and tourists in the Kruger Park every day but fear no more – Elephants are actually incredibly easy animals to understand if you pay attention to their body language and heed their warning. Read this article and you’ll have a quick and easy guide to understanding elephants and what they are trying to say to you.

Elephant - Addo

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