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Knowledge Is Power

Pictures: iStockphoto.com. Article from the January 2013 issue of Getaway Magazine.

Photography has a few simple rules and an endless supply of advice to help improve your pictures. Getaway’s regular photography contributors share their secrets.

Riaan Beekman pilot and spare time sharpshooter♦ Riaan Beekman, pilot and spare-time sharpshooter

  • In windy conditions add weight to the tripod by hanging your camera bag on the provided hook. You can also use wrap-around gym weights on the tripod legs.
  • Remember to switch off the image-stabilising function on a lens when using a tripod as this causes vibration.
  • Use the self-timer setting instead of pressing the shutter button to reduce camera-induced vibration. A more expensive option is to use a remote cable release.
  • An SLR camera’s internal mirror flips upwards as you take a shot, which can cause shake and result in poorer sharpness. To avoid this, make use of the live view or the mirror lock-up setting if available on your camera.

♦ Isak Pretorius, seeker of magical scenes

  • Isak Pretorius seeker of magical scenesThings happen quickly and without warning in wildlife photography, requiring swift adjustments to camera settings so you don’t miss the shot. It’s important to know your equipment and practise changing the commonly used settings of all cameras and lenses quickly and without looking.
  • While photos with the subjects large in the frame, taken with long lenses, are great for creating impact, using a shorter lens means you have a better chance of capturing a unique photo, showcasing the environment or capturing the mood and atmosphere of the scene.
  • Find a practice ground close to home with lots of subjects, even if they aren’t photogenic or charismatic. This should get you ready for when you go on that once-in-a-lifetime trip.

Kobys Saayman obsessed wildlife photographer♦ Kobus Saayman, obsessed wildlife photographer

  • Photograph your subject from a low angle – it usually gives the perception that it’s important.
  • Make the subject stand out from the background by using wide apertures, zooming and choosing contrasting colours.
  • Always preset your camera to a standard to prevent being caught off guard and missing a shot.

Jay Roode, aerial photographic artist

  • Learn the rules … then forget them all. It’s good to become technically proficient with your camera and learn the basic rules of photography, but don’t let them limit you. Photography is an intuitive art form, which reflects what we find beautiful or interesting in this world. Get out there, have fun, experiment and find your own style.
  • No matter how technically brilliant you are, at some point you’ll be limited by what your equipment can do. A full-frame camera and a nice range of fast, prime lenses – also called fixed focal-length lenses – are essential.
  • Even the most brilliant photos require a little tweak here or there to give them that special something. No matter how advanced your camera is, it won’t capture the nuances of colour and light that the human eye can. It’s worth going on a basic photo-editing course for Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom to bring beautiful images up to par.

Lee Slabber multi award winning photo fanaticLee Slabber, multi award-winning photo fanatic

  • Revisit the same location as the light is continuously changing and different weather and seasons can dramatically affect your final image.
  • Invest in graduated neutral-density filters. Nothing beats a single image shot in camera using graduated filters to balance the foreground with the sky.
  • Landscapes are best shot in low light with long exposures and it’s impossible to get a sharp image with sufficient depth of field without the use of a tripod.
  • Find the light and not a subject. It’s better to shoot a boring subject in great light than an interesting subject in bad light. I’ve followed this rule religiously.

‘Find the light and not a subject. It’s better to shoot a boring subject in great light than an interesting subject in bad light.’

♦ Gerry van der Walt, passionate about African wildlife

  • Dust spots are bad and tend to appear during longer exposures. They can (and should) be removed easily in a software program such as Lightroom.
  • Gerry van der Walt passionate about African wildlifeSharpen your images, but not too much. The goal with wildlife photography is to create a realistic representation of your subject. Over-sharpened images look harsh and unrealistic, so it’s best to err on the side of caution.
  • Be careful of the crop. It’s a great way to mimic the results of a telephoto lens, but it can lower picture quality, resulting in pixelated images.
  • Add a watermark to protect your images, but make it subtle so it doesn’t completely distract the viewer.

♦ Andrew Beck, bush lover and conservation fanatic

  • Don’t get too caught up in chasing the latest and greatest camera gear, rather spend your time and money on travelling to incredible destinations and taking photographs. The more you practise, the luckier you’ll get.
  • Don’t shoot everything you see. Think a little deeper before releasing the shutter, make sure there are no distracting elements in your frame and that you have the absolute best composition you can achieve before capturing the moment.
  • An image of an animal is just that, a picture of an animal, unless you’re getting your viewer to ask what happened next. Try telling a story through your images.
  • Photography is a triangle. If you understand the relationship between aperture (the size of the lens opening), shutter speed (the length of time the aperture remains open) and ISO (the sensor’s sensitivity to light), you’re halfway to making magic. Set the chosen aperture value depending on the desired depth of field (amount in front and behind your focal point that remains in focus), ensure that your shutter speed is at least 1 over the focal length of your chosen lens (e.g. 1/400th of a second for a 400mm lens), and then compensate by increasing the camera’s ISO if your shutter speed is too slow, or lowering the camera’s ISO if your shutter speed is abnormally fast for the prevailing conditions.
  • Don’t be afraid to push your ISO as high as you need to. I’d far rather have a once-in-a-lifetime image captured at a high ISO (with the associated grain and digital noise) than not have the image at all. Besides, there are so many ways of removing this noise in post-processing.

♦ Shem Compion, African adventurer

  • Shem Compion African adventurerLearn from the masters, replicate what they did, then draw your own path.
  • Set yourself challenges to push creative and photographic boundaries.
  • Glass is more important than pixels. Investing in good lenses will serve you for far longer than a good camera body.
  • Print your best images. Prints give you a much greater sense of satisfaction of your work than a digital file. It also gives you a tactile feel of what you have created.

♦ Wynand van der Merwe phot enthusiast and Stuart Bowie avid avian photographerWynand van der Merwe, photo enthusiast

  • Never flash directly on your subject; rather bounce it off a roof or any whitish surface close by.
  • Use a polarising filter when shooting outdoors as this will enhance the colours in an image.
  • The best lens in your kit is a macro lens. The optics not only allow short focusing distance for close-up photographs, but it’s equally good for portraits.

♦ Stuart Bowie, avid avian photographer

  • Always capture birds in flight, flying towards or parallel to you and not past or away from you.
  • It’s best to do your post-processing on RAW files in Adobe Lightroom and leave Adobe Photoshop for cropping, sharpening and noise reduction.

♦  Laura Dyer, passionate about predator

Laura Dyer passionate about predators

  • Travel to places that excite you, as your passion will shine through in your photos.
  • Research the wildlife and area you’re visiting before you go. If you know what you could potentially photograph, you’ll have a better chance of not missing out on something special. Understanding animal behaviour can help you predict the action and prepare for it before it happens.
  • Make a list of potential images before a trip. My list usually involves the style of shot I’m looking for because in the heat of the moment it’s easy to shoot the obvious and forget the shots that really stand out.
  • It sounds obvious, but check and recheck that you’ve packed all your memory cards, batteries and have enough backup hard-drive space.
  • Most importantly, try to travel with people who share your passion. It’s better to travel alone than be surrounded by people who want to rush away from a special sighting, or those who forsake sunrises for a sleep in.

♦   Vida van der Walt, macro maniac

  • Vida van der Walt macro maniacIf you’re shooting at high magnifications and without a tripod, a flash becomes a necessity. It’s also best to use a diffuser, as the light from an un-diffused flash is harsh and creates hot spots with blown-out detail.
  • Find the sweet spot of your lens (the f-stop where your lens is at its sharpest). A general rule of thumb is about two to three stops from the maximum aperture.
  • Approach wildlife subjects with caution, so you don’t frighten them off. Avoid harsh movements and try to approach from a side that won’t cast a shadow over your subject.

Mark Drysdale bedonnerd about birds  Mark Drysdale, bedonnerd about birds

  • A good image starts with a good background, so check which angle is best for the light and whether it’s water, sky or foliage you want to portray behind your subject. Try a few practice shots before you settle down to shooting.
  • Know the camera’s capabilities in your hands and don’t necessarily accept what the manufacturer claims.
  • Choose the appropriate lens and equipment for the type of bird you want to capture. For example, use a fast lens if you want to photograph a quick bird (such as a kingfisher) or a steady support system and remote triggers for very slow shutter speeds to photograph owls.

♦  Arno Marais, macro and abstract fundi

  • Arno Marais macro and abstract fundiDon’t become overly reliant on the camera’s autofocus. Manual focus is often the better option, especially in macro photography.
  • There will be times when the camera doesn’t correctly expose the image. Learn by experience when this is likely to happen and use the exposure compensation dial of the camera.
  • Don’t miss the mundane and ordinary things with your eyes and make them extraordinary with the help of the camera. As famous photographer Elliot Erwitt said, ‘Photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place.’
  • Use a tripod whenever you can, not just in low light. This enables you to be more creative with slow shutter speeds and small apertures as well as more accurate as the focus will be sharper and composition better.


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