Ker & Downey President David Marek, an avid photographer, visited Mara Plains Camp and asked two professional photographers to share their photography tips for the Ker & Downey clients.
Recently I had the opportunity to spend some quality time at Mara Plains Camp; the luxury safari property owned by Great Plains Conservation. One of the truly unique things they do for guests during their stay is provide them with a Canon 7D or 50D camera with 100-400 f4 lens and also with a wide angle lens which amounts to about $5,000 of equipment. It’s a great concept. As Lorna, the former manager of Mara Plains, was instructing some new guests on the camera settings and how to best set it up, I thought back to the many countless times I’ve witnessed people using cameras for the first time in the bush. If only clients would receive a few minutes of basic instruction on using their new equipment I’m sure the image results would be vastly improved.
So I asked Lorna, and owner of Mara Plains Camp and photographer extraordinaire Dereck Joubert, to compile some photography tips for those who are new to the world of digital photography.
Photography tips depend on the person’s level of knowledge and their equipment, but as a general all-round guide (some people may disagree with this), Lorna and Dereck would recommend these points:
This is the most important factor to consider when photographing wildlife, as animals are always on the move and often at distance. To freeze the action with a large lens the camera needs to know that you are photographing a moving subject. Limit the number of manual functions to think about by setting the camera dial to shutter priority (labeled ‘S’ on Nikon cameras and ‘Tv’ (Time Value) on Canons). This will set or ‘drag’ the best aperture along with it automatically. As a general rule, when photographing stationary subjects (such as lions sleeping), set the shutter speed value to the same number as the zoom of your lens. Example: 1/400th of a second when using a 400mm zoom. Do not drop the shutter speed any lower than this if you are hand-holding your camera, otherwise just the shake in your hands, will cause blur and you cannot guarantee a sharp image. Increase the shutter speed as movement increases in your picture if you want to freeze the action. Example: with a 400mm lens you would want about 1/640th of a second for animals walking, and about 1/2000th of a second for birds in flight or cheetah running.
ISO (sensitivity to light)
Unless you understand this setting completely and are proficient enough to change it throughout the day to compensate for changing light, set your ISO to “automatic.” Your camera will set the ISO to the best it can manage with the shutter speed you require. There will be a time, quite some time after sunset, that even though the ISO is being ‘managed’ by the camera, when the noise, or grain will be so high that your picture won’t look good.
Take this off auto and tell the camera what lighting situation you are working with to achieve the best colour saturation. Your camera will have easy-to-understand white balance presets with symbols for ‘sunshine’, ‘cloudy’ and ‘shade’. These will cover almost all of your safari photography situations. If you are not sure which of these three applies in a particular situation, take identical shots with each white balance setting and then review the images on the camera screen to see which one most closely replicates the subject in front of you. Remember also to check your images regularly at each sighting to confirm you are happy with the results you are getting.
Set your camera to focus on the centre point of your frame only. Remember that the camera doesn’t know what you are photographing, so you need to control which part of the image it focuses on. With centre point focus you can tell the camera to focus on the leopard, not the leaves of the tree in which it is hiding (for example). Lock the focus on the subject’s eyes, and then you can compose and take the picture.
Think about how the viewer’s eye will flow through the image. The art of photography is to create a visually satisfying picture. The viewer’s gaze will first go to whatever is most in focus, and then will follow the lines within the image, such as the line of sight of the animal you are photographing. So try to get the animal walking/looking into the photograph and not out of it. Cut out dead space behind your subject where there is no information about the STORY you are telling in your photograph. Then, try not to cut off the end of a tail, the tip of a horn or an animal’s foot (if the majority of the animal is within your shot), as this will only lead the viewer’s eye out of the frame. Pay attention to the background, even though it might be out of focus. Aviod a tree in the background sticking out of an animals head, for example. Look for symmetry, pattern, frame, light, movement and color to put together your perfect picture. Also remember the general rule of thirds and divide your composition into three equal lines diagonally and vertically, positioning your subjects and horizons within these boxes. Keep your horizons straight/level (as they are in front of you) and work towards getting your composition right the first time, rather than relying on cropping and post-production to achieve a good picture.
Mostly, remember to have fun with photography. It can be a captured moment, the collection of a memory or something creative to experiment with. If you know the basic rules, you can start breaking them for more creative effects.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in September 2013 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
For more information about including Mara Plains Camp on your next Ker & Downey journey, contact your travel professional. For more photography tips and tricks and inspiring photos, be sure to ‘like’ Ker & Downey’s facebook page.