Archive for Bush Warriors Wildlife Photography Workshop

Bush Warriors Wildlife Photography Workshop: Don’t Be Afraid to Push Your ISO

Posted in Photo of the Day, Wildlife Photography Workshop with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 29, 2011 by photoafrica

Hi everybody,

I’m back from an absolutely amazing trip to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.  The Kgalagadi is an arid park situated in the northwestern parts of South Africa and extends into both Botswana and Namibia.  There is a lot of space, sand, and silence, and makes for one of the most special and unique wildlife and nature destinations I have ever visited.  One thing that makes it special is the fact that there is no cellular signal or internet, which is why I could not do a post last week.  Hey, we all need a break every now and then.  This is where we stayed.

Image © Gerry van der Walt 2011

Beautiful hey?  Anyway, I’m back and apart from a huge amount of new images I also had a lot of time to think about and reassess my own way of approaching wildlife photography.  You see, too many if us fall into a rut and keep on producing the same type of images again and again.  Others of us get so caught up in the technical side of the craft that we end up producing technically superb, but cold and lifeless images.  In the coming week, we will be looking at many of these pitfalls and how you can make sure you keep on growing as a wildlife photographer, but for today I wanted to have a look at ISO.

ISO, as you know, refers to your cameras light gathering ability.  A low ISO, such as 200, means that your camera is not as sensitive to light and you need good, strong light on your subject to create quality images.  This is where a lot of people get stuck, but more on that in a second.  A high ISO, such as 1600, means that your camera is a lot more sensitive to light and that you can shoot in lower light conditions but then there is an increase in digital noise, or grain, in your images.

For quite some time, many people have avoided shooting at high ISO settings like the plague!  The thought of having even a small amount of noise in your image is just completely unacceptable!  Or is it?

With higher ISO settings comes faster shutter speed.  This is because the higher ISO allows the camera’s sensor to capture a lot more light.  A faster shutter speed, in wildlife photography, means you freeze more of the movement and you get sharper images.

I know of too many photographers that always use the lowest possible ISO settings and then have to use very challenging shutter speeds to try and freeze the action.  Why?  Rather push the ISO up a bit and use a faster shutter speed.  The noise reduction of programs like Lightroom is so advanced these days that you could easily fix things up afterwards.  Worst case scenario: you have a slightly noisy, grainy image. In the old days, it was a part of what we did!

I always used try and keep my ISO as low as possible and never wanted to go above 200, but this I have changed.  Here is a breakdown of my ISO setting from the two cameras I used on the Kgalagadi trip.

Gerry - ISO Details

You can see that a lot of my images were taken at around ISO 500.  Also, depending on the camera, I sometimes went as high as ISO 1600.  This is one of the images I shot at a high ISO.

Image © Gerry van der Walt 2011

The early morning light on the Black-Backed Jackal was amazing, but not strong enough for me to use a low ISO setting.  I pushed my ISO up to 1600, which then gave me a fast enough shutter speed—in this case 1/200—to get a nice, crisp image.

The following image was also taken at ISO 1600 and was where the little jackal above was heading to.

Image © Gerry van der Walt 2011

Awesome, early morning sightings and if I was stuck on never using high ISO settings, I would not have gotten the images.  Even zoomed in to 100% the noise levels are acceptable and with a bit of love in Lightroom, I was able to get the image perfectly crisp, sharp and virtually noise free.

The following image was taken at an ISO of 800, as the overcast light was nice and soft but not too bright.

Image © Gerry van der Walt 2011

The juvenile Gabar Goshawk was trying to get a little warm spot and hide from the weather.  I was able to get a great, crisp image of him even with the soft light.

The last exmaple, below, was shot at ISO 500.

Image © Gerry van der Walt 2011

Flat on my stomach, I spent an entire morning photographing the ground squirrels at one of the camps we stayed at.  I decided on an ISO of 500 as they kept on moving into and out of the shade.  In the shade, the ISO helped me to get a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the action and in the light I was still quite happy with the ISO.  If I were to keep on changing up and down I would have missed some of the shots!

So, I guess the bottom line is… don’t be afraid to push your ISO.  Yeah, yeah, some cameras deal with high ISO better than others, but rather get the shot and deal with a bot of noise rather than miss it completely!

Get out there this weekend, push your ISO and challenge the fading light.  This is, after all, the time when wildlife seems to be at its most active!  When you are all done, make sure to upload some of your images to the Bush Warriors Photo of the Day Contest to share with all of us. 🙂

If you are keen on some more images from the Kgalagadi, I will be posting some of them to the Photo-Africa blog by the end of the day.

Keep shooting and I’ll see you next week.

Gerry van der Walt

Gerry van der Walt

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Wildlife Photography Workshop: Check Your LCD

Posted in Wildlife Photography Workshop with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 5, 2010 by photoafrica

What is the best thing about digital cameras?

Easy answer – the LCD screen!

No, really.  The ability to see the image you just created is something that not enough people use.  I am not even referring to the histogram, which we will cover in future posts, but just the ability to see the image.

Look at the following example.

Image © Gerry van der Walt

Not a bad image.

Nice detail.

Interesting light.

But something is missing…

Image © Gerry van der Walt

The tongue!

It makes the image pop and come alive.  It gives a slightly flat image a more dynamic feeling.

It might be a very small thing but when you start taking your photography serious you will find that it is the small details that can make the difference between a good and a great image.

The above two images are a part of a series of about 8 images I shot specifically with the intention of including the tongue in the image.  I knew from experience that including the tongue of a drinking animal lifts the image to the next level, so after every couple of frames I would check the LCD screen to see if I nailed the shot.

In the days when we were still shooting film this was impossible and you would have to wait to see if you captured the moment.  That precise moment.

Here is another example.

Image © Gerry van der Walt

Image © Gerry van der Walt

The bottom image is the shot I wanted, even though I would have liked the big guy to open his eyes a little more.

The top image was the result of me just aiming and shooting.  I was convinced that the lion’s eyes were open when I clicked the shutter but when I checked my LCD I saw that he closed them at that precise moment.  It’s amazing how often wildlife subjects subjects seem to do that! 🙂

So, what is the bottom line?

Always check your LCD screen before deciding whether you have your shot.  Just because of that, digital rocks!

I’m off to Bangkok for a few days, but I’ll be back again next week!

Get out there, photograph wildlife, check your LCD and then post your images to the Bush Warriors Photo of the Day contest.

See ya next week.

Gerry van der Walt


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Bush Warriors Wildlife Photography Workshop: Warm It Up, Cool It Down

Posted in Wildlife Photography Workshop with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 22, 2010 by photoafrica

After some technical issues last week, here goes with the latest Bush Warriors Wildlife Photography Workshop.

Today we’ll be looking at white balance which, to many photographers, is one of the most difficult concepts to understand.  Now, it’s all fine and well to go through all the technical details, but I believe it is way more important to understand how changing your white balance settings can influence your images.

Before we look at some examples, a quick look at what white balance actually is.

The short version is this: white balance is the process through which your camera ‘sees’ white under different lighting conditions.  Think about it this way…  If you were to take a piece of white paper and look at in bright sunlight, overcast conditions and under a fluorescent light you will perceive the piece of paper to still be white.  Why?  Because your brain knows that the paper is white and makes automatic adjustments to compensate for the different types of light.

Your camera is not capable of ‘thinking’ about the type of light you are shooting in and this is where setting your white balance can make a huge difference to your images.  That being said, some of today’s cameras are getting quite good at measuring and determining light but it is still not as good as human eyes.

Some of the settings on your camera will warm an image up, or add orange tones, while other settings will cool an image down, or add blue tones.  Check out these three examples where each image includes the symbol for the White Balance setting that was used.

Image © Gerry van der Walt

This sunset was photographed on Auto White Balance (AWB).  This is how the camera ‘sees’ the scene which, let’s be honest, is not too bad.  The ‘AWB’ did quite a good job on this one.

If I wanted more oranges, and warm tones, in the scene I could set my White Balance to ‘Cloudy’.  This will make the camera think that we are shooting in overcast light and it will increase the warmth and oranges in the images.

Image © Gerry van der Walt

See the slight difference?  The oranges are noticeably darker and more saturated leaving a more moody image.

On the other side of the scale, if I wanted to cool the image down by pushing my blues I could set my White Balance to ‘Tungsten’.

Image © Gerry van der Walt

Huge difference!  The camera now cooled the image down quite a bit leaving a very moody result.

By playing around with the above three settings you can create amazing sunsets and sunrises.  Try these two scenarios which works wonderfully!

  • When you are shooting the very last bit of orange light, set your White Balance to ‘Cloudy’ to give your oranges a little more punch.
  • When you are shooting early morning, especially over water, set your White Balance to ‘Tungsten’ for a cool, early morning feel.

Now that’s all fine and well, but what about wildlife subjects?  Can you use White Balance when photographing Africa’s large mammals?


Check out the following example.

Image © Gerry van der Walt

I photographed this male lion a few weeks ago.  The sun had just dropped below the horizon which left the scene lacking contrast and color, and for this particular image my White Balance was set on ‘AWB’.

To warm this image up I could, and you have to try this as it works beautifully, set my White Balance to ‘Cloudy’ which will increase the oranges and warm tones in the image.  For this example, I simply changed my White Balance to ‘Cloudy’ during post processing to show the result but changing your White Balance out in the field gives the exact same result!

Image © Gerry van der Walt

Another huge difference!  The camera added the warm, orange tones leaving quite a pleasing image.

Remember this tip: when you are looking at your subject through the viewfinder and the entire scene is in the shade, set your camera to ‘Cloudy’ White Balance to give the colors a bit of punch.

This is not cheating at all.  You are simply using the tools at your disposal, your camera, to it’s fullest extent to create striking wildlife images. Photography is an art and the better you understand the technical side of your equipment, the better equipped you will be to create great images – no matter what light you are shooting in!

When you are next out in the field try playing with different White Balance settings.  You will be amazed at some of the results. Once you have tried playing with your White Balance setting, remember to add some of your images to the Bush Warriors Photo of the Day Contest.

Have a great weekend!

Gerry van der Walt


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Wildlife Photography Workshop: Size Matters

Posted in Photo of the Day, Wildlife Photography Workshop with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 8, 2010 by photoafrica

Do you know how big an elephant is?

What about a lion cub?

Finding the answers to these questions is a whole lot eaier than conveying the size of your subject in a single photograph.

Take a look at this example of a three month old lion cub.

Image © Gerry van der Walt

Cute little guy but can you tell from the image how big he actually is?  Not really.

In order to convey size in you wildlife images it always help to include another subject for your viewers to use as a comparison.  Apart from being a great compositional tool, this approach will generally help you to create more interesting images.

Here is our same lion cub a few minutes later.  This time his size, or lack thereof, becomes a bit more apparent.

Image © Gerry van der Walt

Compared to the dead elephant’s feet we can now see that this guy still has a lot of growing to do.

Here is another example of how you could convey size in an image.

Image © Gerry van der Walt

Even though the focus of this image is on the wildebeest in front, it is the giraffe legs behind him that tells the story.

You don’t always have to use different species to show size differences in your images.  In the following example a close up of a young elephant in the middle of the group tells the story of size.

Image © Gerry van der Walt

Small hey? 🙂

When you are next out photographing wildlife, think of ways in which you can convey size.  Use different species.  Use the same species.  Even use another game drive vehicle.

If you have any wildlife images that show the size of the subject why not upload them to the Bush Warriors Photo of the Day?  Show us what you are photographing!

Have a great weekend!

Gerry van der Walt


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Bush Warriors Wildlife Photography Workshop: Leave Some Space

Posted in Wildlife Photography Workshop with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 24, 2010 by photoafrica

By doing a quick Google search you will find many articles and websites that deal with composition.

You will read about the rule of thirds and other guidelines which are all aimed at helping you take better pictures.  In the coming weeks we will look at these compositional guidelines in a whole lot more detail but for now let’s look at space.

In wildlife photography, wild animals need space to move into.  They need space to look into.

When I am out in the field with new photographers, all too often they place their subject dead centre in the frame.  On every frame.

There are most definitely times when you want to place your subject in the middle of your image but not all the time.  Here are a few examples.

Image © Gerry van der Walt

The Brown Hyena’s face has been placed in the middle of the frame.  The important thing to take note of is open space on the left of the animal.  This negative space is important as it leaves room for the animals to move into and makes for a much more dynamic image.

Try this, take your hand, or a piece of paper, and place it directly to the left of the hyena’s face.  By doing this, and cutting out all of the negative space, you can see how it changes the look and feel of the image.

Here is another example.

Image © Gerry van der Walt

As with the Brown Hyena, the little bird has been placed almost in the middle of the frame but there is a lot of space for it to look into.

In both the above examples you can almost not help but following the invisible line that gets created by the direction the animals is moving or looking in and the moment you get your viewer’s eyes moving around your image you have created a good image.  A good visual story.

Now there are definitely times when you want to cut down on the space you leave for your subjects.

When you cage your subject, by not leaving any negative space for it to move into, it makes the images a little more ‘tense’.

By going in tight on the more dangerous you can create rather interesting images.  Look at the example below.

Image © Gerry van der Walt

This image would not have been half as powerful if the spider was placed in one corner with a lot of space around it.  In this case, the lack of space around the subject enhances the ‘danger’.

When you are out photographing wildlife take a second and thing about how space, or the lack thereof, can impact your images!

As time goes on we will be looking at many different approaches to wildlife photography.  If, however, you have any specific questions or you would like me to discuss a certain approach , whether technical or artistic, please feel free to contact me at

Have a great weekend and see you next week.

Gerry van der Walt


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