Hello and welcome to my blog where I share my photos and experiences from my travels to the African bush and other wild places.

Sunday, July 29, 2012


So you recently bought your first DSLR camera and lens, booked a photographic safari and are ready to photograph a whole coffee table book of stunning wildlife photographs in one trip! The only problem is that you think the "P" stands for Professional and the "A" for Amateur on the camera dial! Here are my top 10 tips for any beginner photographer.

1. Focus on the eye

The viewer's attention is always drawn to the eye of the subject. This is the strongest element in your photo that needs to be well illuminated and importantly, IN FOCUS. It's the element that gives "life" to the subject. The closer you are to an animal the more important this becomes as the depth of focus increases (levels of focus on a subject). Use a single autofocus point and move it to eye of the subject while maintain your striking composition.

The king
Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
Canon 1D Mark IV | Canon 600mmf/4 | 1/1000 sec at f/4, ISO 400

2. Look for a plain background

Choosing the right background is one of the biggest considerations for the angle to photograph your subject at. The better you can separate your subject from the background the more striking it would be. This would keep the viewer's attention ON the subject. Choosing a shallow depth of field to create a blurred background is one way of achieving this, the other way is to change your position in relation to the subject until you find a uniform background without any distracting elements.

Juvenile green-backed heron
Kruger National Park, South Africa
Canon 20D | Canon 600mmf/4 + 1.4tc | 1/1000 sec at f/5.6, ISO 200

3. Compose! Not in the middle

When you look at the impressive African animals through your view finder, you are likely to be drawn in and be captivated by their beauty. This usually leads to the cross hair syndrome where you, like a hunter, fire straight at your subject composed in the middle of your frame. Remember to consider composing your subject away from the centre of the frame, leaving it the theoretical space for the subject to look into or move into. Try to find elements in the opposite corner of the frame to balance your subject with.

Elephant on the plains
Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
Canon 1D Mark IV | Canon 600mmf/4 | 1/800 sec at f/8, ISO 200

4. Wait for good light

The photographs that stand out above the rest are the ones that have either captured incredible action, invoked an emotion by the viewer or have a wonderful mood and feel to it. One way to create mood and feel in a photo is to use spectacular light, the kind of light that you get in the first or last hour of sunlight. This light is soft and gold in color with the low angle of the sun illuminating the subjects from the side. Make sure you get out early to give yourself the best chance of finding a good sighting in the early morning light.

Zebra portrait
Okavango Delta, Botswana
Canon 5D Mark II | Canon 600mmf/4 | 1/800 sec at f/4, ISO 200

5. Be ready!

When you capture a subject doing something interesting it can take a photo from ordinary to spectacular. A lion yawning, a bird lifting its wing during takeoff or a cheetah smiling. You have to patiently wait but be ready for a special moment that usually happens unexpectedly. It helps to learn your subject's behavior. A bird gives an indication just before it will takeoff, a lion will yawn after waking up and cheetah cubs become playful after a meal. The key is to keep your eyes open and be ready no matter how uneventful things might seem at that moment.

Elephant doomsday
Amboseli National Park, Kenya
Canon 1D Mark IV | Canon 600mmf/4 | 1/250 sec at f/5.6, ISO 200

6. Make sure it's sharp

Whether you photograph on aperture priority mode like most wildlife photographers or any other mode, always take notice of your shutter speed to make sure your photographs are sharp. This becomes increasingly important when photographing action or moving animals. In aperture priority mode the shutter speed can be modified by changing the aperture and ISO values. With good camera and lens support a portrait can be photographed at anything from 1/50 to 1/320 second shutter speed, walking animals from 1/400 to 1/800, running animals from 1/1000 to 1/1250, flying birds from 1/1600 to 1/2500, and small, fast flying birds at 1/3200.

Malachite exit
Marievale Bird Sanctuary, South Africa
Canon 1D Mark II N | Canon 600mmf/4 | 1/3200 sec at f/8, ISO 800

7. Make sure your subject is in focus!

This might seem obvious, but I still see a fair number of photos these days where the background is in focus instead of the subject. This is mainly due to the camera setup with all the focus points active, leaving the camera to choose where in the frame to focus. Change this setting to use a single autofocus point instead. Make sure that point is over your subject and so be in control of where the camera will focus. Another advantage of this setting is that the camera does fewer calculations to determine focus and thus focusses much faster and more accurately.

Impala pride
Kruger National Park, South Africa
Canon 5D Mark II | Canon 400mmf/5.6 | 1/320 sec at f/5.6, ISO 200

8. Don't forget about vertical compositions

We are often so captivated with what we see through the viewfinder that we forget to pay attention to composition and the camera settings. Remember to compose each photo and that in nature some shapes and scenes lend themselves to a vertical composition. Don't forget to turn your camera 90 degrees and photograph in portrait mode. Tall animals like giraffe, head portraits of most animals, birds with long necks like flamingoes and herons, and landscape scenes with significant clouds might all merit a vertical composition.

Double vision
Rietvlei Dam Nature Reserve, South Africa
Canon 20D | Canon 100-200mmf/5.6 | 1/30 sec at f/8, ISO 200

9. When the light gets tricky, switch to manual mode

In tricky lighting situations like spotlit animals in the dark, or backlit subjects in low light, it becomes increasingly difficult to get your exposure right. The camera struggles to calculate what the correct exposure should be and as a result one usually ends up changing the exposure compensation vigorously, resulting in poorly exposed or blurred photos. Since the light is low we want to use a large aperture (small f-stop) and a shutter speed fast enough for a sharp photo. Switch to manual mode and keep modifying your camera settings, i.e. f-stop, shutter speed and ISO until the your histogram confirms the correct exposure.

Queen of the night
Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana
Nikon D3s | Nikon 200-400mmf/4 | 1/200 sec at f/4, ISO 6400

10. Get close, go wide

I often see portfolio's with mostly tight shots and head portraits of animals. The worst is when people crop significantly to produce similar photos but end up with poor quality and pixelated images. The tight portrait shots have great impact but remember to also take photos that showcase the animals in their natural environment. A leopard photo from the Kalahari desert should look different to a leopard photo from the Okavango Delta! Use a wider lens to include the environment and get close to your subject to have it large in the frame.

Kalahari lizzard
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, South Africa
Canon 5D Mark II | Canon 70-200mmf/2.8 | 1/320 sec at f/8, ISO 100

Thursday, July 12, 2012


September is a dry month in Amboseli National Park in Kenya. The grass on the plains have disappeared and the elephants have to travel far between the acacia forests on the outskirts of the park and the wetlands in the middle of the reserve. Many breeding herds travel across the open plains daily. The dry conditions during this time of the year creates a spectacle of small whirlwinds that the locals call "dust devils". They usually first appear from 11am onwards when temperatures start to soar. I wanted to capture these dust devils with a significant scene in the foreground, something typical to Amboseli. I tried a number of times but either the dust devils were not strong enough, getting lost in the background, or there were no animals to be seen to anchor the image in the foreground. A few days passed without any success. Then, finally, I got lucky when a breeding herd of elephants returned to the acacia forests after visiting the wetlands, with a series of dust devils as a backdrop.

Elephant doomsday
Amboseli National Park, Kenya
Canon 5D Mark II | Canon 70-200mmf/2.8 | 1/640 sec at f/8, ISO 100

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


The north of Kenya is wild country. Most of the popular tourism only extends as far north as Samburu National Park. From there the roads get tough, the land gets dry and you might run into some friendly or not-so-friendly tribes. These tribes still live very traditionally, off the land, and have to defend their land and culture from other hostile neighboring tribes.

I recently guided a photographic safari to the north of Kenya where we wanted to photograph this land from a different perspective. From a helicopter we were not only safe but we also got the required unique angle and a great appreciation of how the habitat changes from mountains to savanna bushveld and beautiful rivers. Much of that land also forms part of the Great Rift Valley and from the air it is a fascinating landscape with lakes, craters and streams of solidified lava from as little as ten thousand years ago. It is like seeing geological formation in action.

One morning after photographing the colorful pools of the Magado crater we headed north past the town of Archers Post. This town is known as the border between civilization and the wild country. We wanted to fly along the Usao Nyiro river which is a beautiful shallow river lined with palm trees and lots of birds. Just before we reached the river we saw a herd of buffalo moving towards the river through some thick green vegetation. Most of the buffaloes were almost white, probably from a recent mud bath in the patches of white mud, from sodium carbonate, that were visible in the area. This created a nice contrast to the green vegetation and a perfect opportunity to showcase this unique environment. Party cloudy skies, mountains, river, striking green vegetation with a herd of white buffaloes all contributed towards the scene. The execution was simple, I took out the wide angle lens and after making a few turns in the helicopter over the herd I got the shot.

White buffaloes
Northern Kenya
Canon 1D Mark IV | Canon 16-35mmf/2.8 | 1/400 sec at f/8, ISO 400

Sunday, July 1, 2012


Like most people, leopards are my favorite animal. Not only do they have the most beautiful coat, but they move graciously and have a magical secrecy about them. They are one of the iconic animals of Africa. I followed a male leopard in the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya while he was on the move and looking for a meal. The Masai Mara is known for its great open plains which is not your most typical habitat for leopards. This leopard had some difficulty moving from one cluster of bushes to the next without giving his position away to a grazing herd of impala. At some stage he was walking down a large grass covered hill, lying down, then stalking, and moving forward slowly again. We positioned our vehicle at the bottom of the hill and were lucky to capture this stalking posture at eye level, as he was moving down.

Stalking leopard
Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
Canon 1D Mark IV | Canon 600mmf/4 | 1/1600 sec at f/5, ISO 800

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


Many of you would agree with me that Lightroom has become the leading photo management software and it has certainly been an integral part of my digital workflow for many years now. I initially started with Lightroom 2, then upgraded to 3 and now recently to Lightroom 4, which I love. The improvements they have made in each upgrade satisfied most of my personal requirements for this software and resolved the issues I had with it at that time.

Develop Module in Lightroom 4.1

I have compiled a list of recommendations that might help you improve the performance of your Lightroom setup regardless of which version you might be running. I currently use Lightroom on a slow computer by comparison (Macbook Pro 15", 2.8 GHz Core 2 Duo, 8 GB 1067 MHz DDR3 RAM, 7 200 RPM 750 GB hard drive, running Lion OSX with 150 000 photos and videos in my catalog) and thus I can clearly see how these reccomendations impact the performance. I have listed them in the order starting at the most important. Please feel free to email me at isakpretorius@gmail.com if you have any additional inputs and I will keep this list updated!


Faster hard drive, faster processor and more RAM (memory). This one is quite obvious and upgrading any of these components should make a difference. I've noticed a big improvement when upgrading my RAM from 4 GB to 8 GB and my hard drive from 5400 to 7200 RPM.


Some people suggest you should have at least 50% of your local hard drive space available. I've noticed that if I keep at least 10% of my local hard drive space available it makes a significant difference in Lightroom's performance. Thus, on my 750 GB hard drive I make sure I keep more than 75 GB space available.


For the seasoned computer user this is a no-brainer. All applications use processing power and RAM, thus Lightroom will run much faster when it does not have to share resources with the other applications.


The Lightroom catalog file is a database that stores small jpg versions of each file, development changes made to the images and associated data like keywords, collections and star rating. The catalog is effectively what you see on the screen when you use Lightroom. You can still run the catalog of Lightroom and see your photos even if you are not connected to your original photo files. There is a lot of data that continuously move between the application and the catalog file as you use Lightroom. Thus, it is important to give your computer the fastest possible access to the catalog file.


As most IT professionals know, switching a computer off and on again solves most of the problems users encounter. When I have not restarted my computer for about a day and I encounter sluggishness from Lightroom I simply restart my computer. Whether this is based on logic like memory leaks for example I'm not sure, but it usually does improve the performance again.


Optimizing your catalog regularly is good practice. I've noticed that after adding or deleting lots of images my system becomes slow but after optimizing the catalog the performance returns to the level I'm used to. Backing up your catalog and storing it on another disk is recommended to make sure you don't loose your catalog when your hard drive crashes. I've setup my Lightroom to prompt me to backup and optimize after every exit. I mostly skip this, but once a week or after significant changes I do select to backup and optimize.

Lightroom > Catalog Settings > General > Back up catalog > Every time Lightroom exists


With both the standard-sized and the 1:1 previews rendered there should be no delay in displaying the images in a grid, full screen size and zoomed to 100%. It is frustrating when clicking on a photo, zooming to 100% and then having to wait while it builds the 1:1 preview for the first time. I usually select the new images in my catalog and initiate the building of the 1:1 previews before I go to bed to let it run over night. If you have never done this before it might take a few nights before everything has been built.

Library > Previews > Render Standard-Sized Previews Library > Previews > Render 1:1 Previews


Lightroom automatically deletes the 1:1 previews after a while. This means that you end up with the same problem of having to wait for a few seconds every time you zoom an image to 100%. Lightroom can be setup never to delete the 1:1 previews. I've noticed that when setup like this Lightroom runs much faster since it does not continuously have to search through my images to see which previews it needs to delete.

Lightroom > Catalog Settings > File Handling > Automatically Discard 1:1 Previews > Never


Make sure you adjust the size of your previews to fit your screen resolution. If your screen is 1440 pixels wide for example then building your previews as large as 2048 pixels will make your system unnecessarily slow. Choose the option closest to, but not smaller than your screen resolution. Set the preview quality to medium instead of high. You won't see the image at the best quality while you edit it, but this might make such a big improvement in performance that it will be worth it.

Lightroom > Catalog Settings > File Handling > Standard Preview Size > 1440 pixels Lightroom > Catalog Settings > File Handling > Preview Quality > Medium


When you work with other applications like Adobe Bridge for example it might be beneficial to have this feature turned on. What it does is it stores all changes made in Lightroom, e.g. keywords or contrast and brightness, in an XMP file next to the original file. The changes you made in Lightroom will be reflected in Adobe Bridge and visa versa. It does slow Lightroom down, so my advice is to switch this feature off regardless. You could still export the files with an accompanied XMP file from Lightroom even if you have this feature turned off.

Lightroom > Catalog Settings > Metadata > Automatically write changes into XMP > "uncheck"


Running Lightroom in 64-bit mode will utilize all of your RAM and not just 2GB which is the ceiling for 32-bit operating systems. If you use Mac it automatically runs in 64-bit. Windows users should check which version they run.


If you keep your image on an external drive then upgrading the speed of the drive or the connection type will improve performance. In most cases the limiting factor is the connection type. Upgrading it from a USB 2 connection to a Firewire 800 connection for example will make the connection significantly faster. Here is a list of common connection types, listed from fastest to slowest: eSATA, USB 3, FireWire 800, USB 2, FireWire 400, USB 1


While you edit images in the Develop Module Lightroom renders new high quality previews with each adjustment you make. It stores and access the file you are working on in the Camera Raw cache. The cache is a specific folder on your hard drive assigned for this task and you have the option of increasing its size. By increasing the size you allow more images to be stored in the cache and performance will be greatly improved as you go back and forth between editing a selection of images. After all the images in your selection have been edited you can purge the cache to make room for new ones. My suggestion is to increase the cache to 30 GB.

Lightroom > Preferences > File Handling > Maximum Size: > 30 GB Lightroom > Preferences > File Handling > Purge Cache


Lightroom 2 certainly had problems with large catalogs. I have been running Lightroom 4 with a large catalog without any problems. My workflow involves only marking photos to delete during the month, but then at the end of each month I bulk delete them all at once. After the bulk delete I optimize my catalog again. It might just be my imagination but common sense would also suggest that after decreasing the size of the catalog Lightroom does run faster.


As you add, delete and move files on the hard drive, its available space is no longer in a single continuous block. Without enough continuous space the system has to break up files and split them across your hard drive in the available small spaces. This is called file fragmentation and slows the system down. By doing a disk defragmentation you can improve the performance of your system. This can be done manually every now and again on the Windows operating system while Mac hard drives do this automatically.


Most software are continuously being improved with updates released by its software developers. These often include bug fixes that will improve the performance of your system, the operating system (e.g Windows 7 or Mac's Lion OSX) as well as your software applications like Lightroom. It is thus recommended to keep both up to date with the latest updates.


If you have a computer setup with two screens then Lightroom has the feature of splitting the application across the screens in a second window. This is very handy as you might have the image in grid display on the one screen and the selected image full-screen on the other. On my system I've noticed that browsing through the images using the second screen option slows down Lightroom's performance. I'm not sure why this would be, maybe insufficient power of the graphics card or perhaps Lightroom has to collect too much information to be displayed onto two screens and thus making it slow. Now I have Lightroom open full screen on my Cinema Display while I have other applications like mail and safari open on my Macbook's screen. This seems to work much better.


When I've been working with Lightroom for a while and I choose another collection of images to work with, e.g. selecting a day folder to review images in that folder for the first time, I find that Lightroom becomes sluggish. It becomes slow bringing up the next photo or have a slight delay in showing the next photo clear and sharp. This is frustrating since I know that I've rendered both standard-sized and 1:1 previews for the images in this collection before. The solution I found is without a logical explanaition: I select all the images in the collection I'm working with and render both standard-sized and 1:1 previews again. Lightroom looks through the selection to see which ones to render but finds none since they have all been rendered before. After this "check" the Lightroom performance is back to normal.

Library > Previews > Render Standard-Sized Previews Library > Previews > Render 1:1 Previews


In the grid display in the Library Module one can choose the information to be displayed around the thumbnails of the images in the grid. I found that turning off the information speeds up the performance of Lightroom when I browse through the images in the grid display.

View > Grid View Style > Show Extras > "unselect" View > Grid View Style > Show Badges > "unselect"

Click here to learn more about Lightroom and my courses on offer

Friday, June 1, 2012


If someone asked me about hide photography in Southern Africa a year ago, I would have told them that we do have hide photography and it's great. I often photograph at the some of the hides at the Marievale Bird Sanctuary, as well as the Kruger National Park has a couple of good hides and people have mentioned hides in South Luangwa although I have not seen any good photographic material from there. Oh yes, there is also the vulture hide at Giant's Castle that is very popular but you have to book a year in advance to secure your spot. I'm one of many wildlife photographers in Southern Africa who is always complaining about how few good photographic hides we have but then tend to also do little about this.

Down for a drink
Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana
Canon 5D Mark II | 16-35mmf/2.8 | 1/800sec at f/8, ISO 400

Bee-eater portrait
Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana
Canon 1D Mark IV | 600mmf/4 | 1/320sec at f/4, ISO 1600

Photographic hides are different from the normal wildlife observation hides as they are designed with location, orientation for light, position and angle in mind. Both types of hides are basically a four wall enclosure, located next to an animal attraction with a small opening to observe the animals that are in turn oblivious to your presence from behind the protective walls. With photographic hides the orientation relative to the subjects is critical so that good quality light illuminates the subject from the right direction. The hide is positioned close enough to the subjects so that they can fill your frame, or as close to it as possible anyway. The viewing angle is also critical, to photograph the animals at their level, and not from too high up so that you don't end up photographing down onto the animals.

Bath time of a different nature
Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana
Canon 1D Mark IV | 600mmf/4 | 1/2000sec at f/5.6, ISO 1000

South Africa clearly lacks spectacular photographic hides, despite the few mentioned above. While visiting most of the normal wildlife observation hides I've always thought to myself, if they could just lower the hide slightly, or change the orientation so that we can photograph with the sun, or maybe build the hide a few meters closer to the water, our photographs could be truly spectacular instead of just average. A little thought applied could have made a big difference without having to cost extra.

Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana
Canon 1D Mark IV | 600mmf/4 | 1/2000sec at f/5.6, ISO 400

Recently a young man called Bence Mate from Hungary changed our world by showcasing the spectacular photos he got from his innovative hides he constructed in his home country as well as with hides he built in Cost Rica and Brazil. This really showed that a well thought out hide concept at a wildlife hotspot can generate fantastic results. In Africa we are spoilt by an abundance of wildlife right on our doorstep and that is probably why we have not been forced to be innovative in obtaining photographs from hides.

Small sips
Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana
Canon 1D Mark IV | 600mmf/4 | 1/320sec at f/4, ISO 500

In Southern Africa, some incredible photographic hides have been recently constructed at Mashatu Game Reserve in Botswana. This has created a buzz in wildlife photographic circles and is something we are all very excited about. The last hide has just being completed and I have had the privilege to experience some of them. There have been incredible photos taken in just the first few weeks of operation. The collection of hides consists of an underground elephant hide, a bird hide, an infinity hide, and a semi-permanent movable hide. The elephant hide is sunk into the ground right next to a waterhole in prime elephant habitat. You photograph out at ground level and looking up at elephants three meters away from you, which is a thrilling experience. The bee-eater hide is perched on the side of the Mojale river overlooking a white-fronted bee-eater colony. The birds are residents so you can photograph them all year round. The infinity bird hide is built on the side of a rocky cliff where the focus is on two small shallow pools. With the water surface at eye-level the edge of the pool disappears into the distance creating the illusion of the water flowing into infinity. The semi permanent hide is built light to move from one location to another, setup at the most productive location on the reserve at the time. With location, orientation for light, position and angle in mind the hides offer exceptional quality shots. Wildlife photography can be difficult enough at times, but here some of the usually uncontrollable factors have already been taken care of, giving you the photographer a great advantage.

Inside the hide
Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana
Canon 5D Mark II | 16-35mmf/2.8 | 1/200sec at f/11, ISO 160

We all love innovative new ways of photographing wildlife when this is done responsibly and with respect to the animals and their natural environment. The hides at Mashatu will surely be the start of a trend in Southern Africa that is already long overdue and we have exciting times to look forward to.

Elephant dance
Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana
Nikon D3s | 200-400mmf/4 | 1/250sec at f/5.6, ISO 800

If you'd like to join me at the Mashatu hides for a workshop, we have two scheduled iteneraries, 27 June - 1 July 2012, and 13 - 17 July 2012. Contact me by email at isakpretorius@gmail.com for more information about these trips or any custom dates.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


The last light in Amboseli National Park created a dramatic sunset and perfect backdrop to a herd of elephants returning home after the day's foraging in the marshlands. It is hard not to enjoy every minute spent in this jewel of the African parks. It is a great place to enjoy watching the African elephant as they are scattered all over the plains at the foot of the iconic Mount Kilimanjaro. This evening will be remembered however for my frantic search of a decent photo in anticipation of an approaching dramatic sunset. I was driving along a road that the elephants usually cross on their way home from the plains. I could see a gap in the clouds on the horizon where the last rays of sunlight would peep through and I knew it would be spectacular. I was missing a foreground subject however. Every few meters there were elephant paths crossing the road but there were no elephants in sight. The sun started to light up the clouds in a beautiful red color when my luck turned and I saw a herd of elephants approaching the road a few hundred meters ahead of me. They were in a hurry and I made it just in time to get my photograph of them with the sunset backdrop.

Elephants on fire
Amboseli National Park, Kenya
Canon 5D Mark II | 70-200mmf/2.8 | 1/200 sec at f/5.6, ISO 400

Monday, May 14, 2012


The fog belt that stretches across the red dunes of the Namibian coastline hides many secrets. This 5 km wide strip off the coast has its own unique climate with morning and evening fog and hosts some unusual creatures: Sidewinders (Peringuey's Adder), FitzSimon's Burrowing Skink, Namaqua Chameleon, Swift Sand-diving Lizard and the Web-footed Gecko (Palmato Gecko) to name but a few. In April 2011 I set out on a photographic mission, to experience and photograph the wonders of the Namibian desert. After discovering the landscape spectacles of the Namibrand and Sossusvlei dunes, I ended up at the town of Swakopmund looking for the little critters I've heard so much about before.

Gecko in the dunes
Swakopmund, Namibia
Canon 1Ds Mark III | Sigma 15mm | 1/80 sec at f/11, ISO 800

With the help of a local guide we spent 4 days driving along the dunes and finding everything from scorpions, sidewinders, gecko's, chameleons and beetles. One of my photographic objectives was to capture the essence of the web-footed gecko. I was inspired by photographs of this little critter I've seen from Heinrich van den Berg. The geckos name originates from the web between their toes and is now known as the "palmato gecko". I still prefer "web-footed gecko". They are nocturnal with a beautiful light pink and blue translucent skin. Sunlight would kill them instantly so in the daytime they hide in the sand, about two feet under the surface. Early in the morning you still find them out on the dunes hunting for prey when there is fog. This usually only clears by 9am in the summer months. When they encounter any threat, like humans, their only defense is to run away.

I had a specific shot in mind. One where the gecko has a striking curved posture but where it also shows the environment they occur in. This required ultra wide angle portrait shots. I was faced with two problems: The fist is that the web-footed gecko is surprisingly small, only about 4cm long. This meant that if I wanted the gecko to appear large in my frame using an ultra wide lens, I had to get extremely close to it. All of my ultra wide lenses, the Canon 16-35mmf/2.8, Canon 10-22mmf/3.5 and the Nikon 14-24mmf/2.8 have a minimum focus distance that is too far, at around 25 millimeters. If I had the gecko in focus at the minimum focus distance it would result in it being too small in the frame. The solution was borrowing the Sigma 15mm fish-eye lens from a friend, with a minimum focus distance of a mere 15 millimeters. That is such a great lens and a pity it is not made anymore. Finding one second hand is almost impossible.

The second problem I was faced with was that I had to find a gecko specimen willing to be photographed at such a short distance, in the right location for the perfect backdrop, and with the perfectly curved posture. The answer to this was, of course, four days of trekking geckos across the dunes, multiple shots, multiple angles and cleaning a lot of sand grains off my equipment until I got the perfect shot that I had envisaged. There are many things I believe can be improved about this photograph, and I believe it's important never to feel too complacent about your results, but the four days of fun trying to capture the perfect frame was the prize for me.

This image won the April leg of a major South African wildlife photographic competition.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


Steenbok is one of my favorite antelopes. They are usually solitary, very alert and always offers one a nice photo opportunity when you drive past them. They would turn around and look at you with those beautiful big ears pointed right back at you. Usually you only have a few seconds to get the shot before they would disappear into the distance after realizing what you are. I was looking to photograph a steenbok in a complimenting natural environment. In the Okavango Delta in Botswana I found my moment when I saw a Steenbok in the beautiful golden light standing in the tall grass. I loved how he was camouflaged in the golden grass, complimenting his color. I had to be quick, grabbing a few photographs before he did disappear into the long grass.

Okavango Delta, Botswana
Canon 1D Mark IV | 600mmf/4 | 1/1250 sec at f/4, ISO 400

Saturday, April 14, 2012


I was fortune to have found a bat-eared fox den right next to the road in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park one Summer. There were five pups in the den but they were of course very skittish and afraid of vehicles. I would return day after day to look for them, and realized that the only time I would get to see them were early morning and late afternoon, and only when it was very cloudy and dark – not the ideal conditions for photography. One cloudy afternoon I waited next to the den and hoped that my fortunes would change. Three of the pups were sitting outside, right at the entrance to the den, but the sun was behind thick clouds again. With nothing better to do I reached for my lens and took a few photos. My effort got rewarded when the sun suddenly appeared through the only hole in the clouds, providing stunning afternoon light for a brief moment.

Bat-eared fox pups
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, South Africa
Canon 5D Mark II | 600mmf/4 | 1/800 sec at f/8, ISO 800

This photo was featured in an online blog about me by the South African National Parks

Monday, April 2, 2012


A rainbow promises rain to a barren landscape where waves of tawny grass splashes onto the granite of the Nubib Mountains. This is a place where its beauty and breathtaking splendor is matched only by its sense of tranquility. This is the Namibrand.

Promise of rain
Namibrand, Namibia
Canon 5D Mark II | 16-35mmf/2.8 | 2.5sec at f/11, ISO 100

Monday, March 26, 2012


It was with great excitement that we trekked north on our annual pilgrimage to C4's first Mashatu workshop for the year. Meeting all our guests at the Alldays coffee shop on our way to the camp has become an institution for those participating. It was great to see all the excited faces, mostly friends who have done trips with us before, but also some new faces that would soon become part of the C4 family. We confirmed that the weather forecast looked great for the next few days as we headed for the border into Botswana and the start of our five-day Mashatu photo workshop.

Bath time
Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana
Canon 1D Mark IV | 600mmf/4 | 1/640sec at f/5.6, ISO 400

Mashatu Tent Camp is a lovely small camp nestled in a forest that makes you feel closer to nature and would be our home for the five day trip. It offers all the necessities and luxuries for a photographic weekend with wonderfully friendly helpful staff. Mike Dexter met us at the border. He is C4's hide expert and is permanently stationed at Mashatu. As a well-respected guide and photographer in his own right he was going to be my fellow host for this weekend.

I was telling the guests all about Margaret's famous lemon meringue pie at Mashatu Tent Camp that is considered to be the best in the world. With great disappointment we learned that it would only be served during Sunday high tea, which we would miss. We persuaded the kitchen staff to switch Saturday and Sunday menu's around to experience this decadent delight and in the end I was happy that everyone agreed... the best lemon meringue pie in the world!

Following mom
Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana
Canon 1D Mark II N | 600mmf/4 | 1/1000sec at f/4, ISO 200

After settling into our new home we got together for high tea and set off on our first drive. A call came about a cheetah with five cubs. Seeing a cheetah with such a big litter of cubs is quite rare. We've had a cheetah with six cubs in the Masai Mara in Kenya before, and I've heard of someone seeing a cheetah with seven cubs once, but this is extraordinary for Mashatu and we raced to the sighting with great anticipation. We were not disappointed and found them all in great late afternoon light. Shutters were clicking furiously and it was a fantastic way to start the workshop.

The next morning we stumbled upon two lionesses on a fresh zebra kill not far from camp. Everyone was enjoying the early morning photography. While sitting at the lion kill, at one stage I turned around facing the back of the vehicle to help a guest with camera settings. Suddenly, in a moment of disbelief I saw a wild dog out of the corner of my eye. I immediately stopped talking out of pure shock! A pack of wild dogs were trotting on the road where we came from and also stumbled onto the lions. The one lioness immediately got that expression of intense focus on her face, stood up and started chasing the wild dogs. They all moved at an incredible speed. Luckily the lioness did not have any other intentions except for chasing the dogs away from their kill and thus gave up the chase quickly. We followed the wild dogs over very rough terrain and were amazed at the speed and stamina they had trying to move out of the lions' reach.

The watchful eye
Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana
Canon 1D Mark IV | 600mmf/4 | 1/640sec at f/4, ISO 400

Heading home
Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana
Canon 1D Mark II N | 600mmf/4 | 1/1250sec at f/4, ISO 1250

The afternoon was spent photographing general game and a big herd of breeding elephants in the last light of day. Some of the baby elephants were very entertaining and one young brave baby came to smell our vehicle, but he shook his head in disgust as his trunk touched the metal bar on the side of the vehicle. We had planned to do star trials that night but our plan was interrupted by the sighting of a leopard cub and his mother playing and drinking water on our way back to camp. The guests were not much disappointed for missing the star trail that evening and luckily the forecast was for clear skies for the next evening as well.

Baby in the bush
Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana
Canon 1D Mark IV | 600mmf/4 | 1/640sec at f/5.6, ISO 200

Queen of the night
Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana
Nikon D3s | 200-400mmf/4 | 1/200sec at f/4, ISO 6400

When I arrived at Mashatu, Mike had been telling me about the great sightings at the elephant hide and showing me some of the pictures he's taken from within the hide. I was bursting with excitement to go to the hide. We organized with him to go to the hide during the next two morning game drives. The elephant hide was recently completed by C4 in the middle of the reserve at a place called 'Moddergat', close to the Mujali river. The hide is sunk into the ground next to a waterhole with two small openings, giving you an eye level view of the waterhole. The perspective is amazing. To see the animals from that angle creates a whole new dimension to wildlife photography. It looks spectacular - even the usually dull-looking turtle doves and grey go-away birds looks great from this new perspective when they come down to drink.

Early morning visitor
Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana
Canon 1D Mark IV | 600mmf/4 + 1.4x | 1/1000sec at f/4, ISO 800

Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana
Canon 1D Mark IV | 600mmf/4 | 1/640sec at f/5.6, ISO 400

Both sessions we had in the hide were fantastic. Shutters were firing away furiously as we were entertained by all kinds of birds coming to drink, impala, warthog, elephants and even a leopard tortoise that we saw approaching from a distance. When a 25 strong breeding herd of elephants arrived it was breathtaking. They surrounded the waterhole and it felt as if you became part of the herd. Looking up at these majestic creates from ground level, standing meters away from you, was a surreal but humbling experience - one of my ultimate bush experiences ever. The photographic experience was overwhelming and when the herd left we were all shaking from adrenaline and excitement. I can now envisage all the potential photographs from this hide and wish I could stay there forever to capture all those shots. C4 has definitely hit a home run with this hide and the other three that are near completion.

Thirsty giants
Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana
Canon 5D Mark II | 16-35mmf/2.8 | 1/100sec at f/8, ISO 400

Around the waterhole
Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana
Canon 5D Mark II | 16-35mmf/2.8 | 1/500sec at f/5.6, ISO 800

The rest of the drives on our workshop seemed average in comparison to what we experienced at the hide but they were spectacular in their own right. Lots of leopards, including the three cubs that we had seen during our August workshop seven months ago and that are amazingly all still alive, two young male lions, breeding herds of elephants and all of the general game.

The format of our workshop weekend includes morning and evening game drives, tuition and advice on the vehicles, and photography instruction in the day between game drives. Definitely hard work that everyone is very keen for and just can't get enough of! Since all our guests are experienced photographers, most of whom have travelled with us before, our curriculum for the weekend included flash photography for wildlife, a demonstration and discussion on Lightroom and the changes in the new version 4, and image reviews. I was blown away by the quality of the images from our guests, once again confirming what a magical place Mashatu is and the quality and diversity it offers the wildlife photographer. Thanks Jake, Justice, Commando, Ona, Congo and the staff at Mashatu tent amp for an unforgettable experience.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


The Kalahari desert can be a tough place to live in, especially in the dry season. Food and water is scares and the animals have to tolerate daytime temperates in excess of 40 degrees celsius. Wildebeest often hang around the waterholes from 9:30 in the mornings forcing their way in between the other wildebeest to get a few sips of this precious liquid. During September month the animals also have to endure the sweeping winds and combined with the dry conditions this creates bowls of dust. These are so thick and frequent that an entire herd of wildebeest can disappear in a matter of seconds. This wildebeest was falling behind as he was following his herd back from their drinking stint. A sudden burst of dust made his herd vanish before his eyes completely. This had bewildered him and he tried to catch up, heading into the dust storm.

Into the storm
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, South Africa
Canon 1D Mark II N | 600mmf/4 | 1/2000sec at f/8, ISO 400

This photograph was chosen as part of National Geographic's Daily Dozen by the editor on 23 March 2012.

Monday, February 27, 2012


Lake Turkana, appropriately nicknamed 'The Jade Sea', is the world's largest alkaline lake. The emerald green water has captivated explorers throughout the last few centuries. The lake stretches from the north of Kenya deep into Ethiopia. It is wild country up there and very difficult to get to via land. You might just encounter some hostile tribes that still roam free in that part of the world. From the air there is not much wildlife to see, but flying in the Great Rift Valley and up to the southern shores of the lake is truly fascinating - it's like seeing geology in action! On the southern shore of the lake is of course the iconic Nabuyatom Crater, and somewhere down there, maybe at the bottom of the lake, is a Lee Filter Holder and Circular Polarizer for anyone who dares to find it!

Nabuyatom Crater
Lake Turkana, Kenya
Canon 1D Mark IV | 16-35mmf/2.8 | 1/250sec at f/8, ISO 640

Sunday, February 19, 2012


Everyone will agree that Malachite Kingfisher is one of the most strikingly colorful birds in Southern Africa. I remember how I desperately wanted to have a decent photograph of this little bird a few years ago. I searched long and hard before I found my first one, on the causeway at Marievale Bird Sanctuary. It was very skittish and there were no chance of photographing it, but I was extremely excited just to have seen it! After many travels I started seeing them more often, in the Kruger National Park, Rietvlei Dam Nature Reserve and again at Marievale Bird Sanctuary. Unfortunately I only managed to get some average portrait shots until eventually I started seeing them more often at Marievale. I went there regularly in the mornings, met and shared countless flasks of coffee with new photography friends. It proved to be the best place to photograph these beautiful little birds!

Malachite exit
Marievale Bird Sanctuary, South Africa
Canon 1D Mark II N | 600mmf/4 | 1/4000sec at f/8, ISO 800

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Kudu is perhaps one the most elegant antelope in Africa. They are leaf eaters and despite its thorns, the acacia tree with its soft small green leaves is a favorite. I found this female kudu enjoying the leaves of an acacia that had been washed clean by the morning's rain. The dark bushes behind her provided the perfect backdrop to accentuate the expression on the kudu's face and the freshness of the leaves.

Morning food
Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana
Canon 1D Mark III | 600mmf/4 + 1.4tc | 1/250sec at f/8, ISO 1250

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


Water means life, and this is especially true in the dry regions of Southern Africa. The Etosha National Park in Namibia is often associated with dry arid landscapes. During two months of good summer rainfall however, the landscape is transformed into a green paradise. A herd of springbok were grazing on the open plains close to Gemsbokvlakte waterhole when the setting sun illuminated the drizzling clouds on the horizon in a beautiful orange colour.

Etosha National Park, Namibia
Canon 1D Mark III | EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM | 1/160sec at f/5.6, ISO 400

This photo won Earth Shots Photo of the Day Contest

Monday, February 13, 2012


Having visited the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya on numerous occasions, the plan for this photographic safari was to capture unique and unusual images of elephants. Famous for big skies and open rolling landscapes, the Masai Mara lends itself to spectacular sightings of nature in its wildest form. We were lucky to find a herd of breeding elephants walking across the plains with an approaching thunderstorm as the perfect backdrop to capture a mesmerizing moment in time.

Elephant mother and calf
Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
Canon 1D Mark III | EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM | 1/400sec at f/11, ISO 640

Sunday, January 1, 2012


The Richtersveld is an arid and very remote area in Southern Africa, hundreds of kilometers away from any big town. It's a magical place where the stars on a moonless night are so bright that they cast a shadow underneath you. Advances in digital cameras enables us to capture the stars very clearly. The bright milky way and iconic quiver tree of this region made a great composition to capture the unique spirit of this place.

Richtersveld night sky
Richtersveld Transfrontier Park, South Africa
Nikon D3 | 14-24mmf/2.8 | 25 sec at f/2.8, ISO 3200

This photograph was chosen as a highly commended image in the prestigious Nature's Best photography competition 2011 and also won the creative category of South African National Park's Captured Experiences competition 2011.