Greetings folks! It has been a busy few months and I am now just catching my breath. I’ve been traveling pretty steadily since the end of September 2008 and am finally back to my office for most of January. The highlight of all the travel was a month-long photo safari in Africa. It was truly an incredible adventure and I can’t wait to go back. The trip was so much fun and we had such a good time photographing the wildlife, that we’re already planning our return. I’ve written about the trip below in the Photo Techniques section.
Business is still going strong and the demand for workshops hasn’t waned. People are signing up left and right to learn how to use their cameras in new and creative ways. I think many people find photography to be a great creative outlet that can be enjoyed in any economic environment. The demand for training materials has never been greater and I’m continuing to create products to help you learn photography.
New Books for the New Year
Seems like I’ve been pretty light on producing newsletters and content lately, but it is all for a good reason. I’ve just finished up all the writing and photography for two new books that will be published in early 2009. The first is an update to our very popular flash book that will be published through Rocky Nook. It is called The Nikon Creative Lighting System: Using the SB-600, SB-800, SB-900, and R1C1 Flashes. Pre order it today from Amazon at the following link: Nikon Creative Lighting System
The second book is an all new book on Nikon Capture NX 2 published by Wiley & Sons. It is titled Nikon Capture NX 2 After the Shoot and is designed to help you learn the ins and outs of this great software product. Pre order it at this link:
Nikon Capture NX ATS
New Workshops Posted
We have another exciting year of workshops already scheduled and lots more on the way. We’ll be running workshops in Atlanta, Orlando, New York, Hood River, Kalispell, Portland and Maui in 2009.
One of the workshops I’m most looking forward to is photographing wild animals at the Triple D Game Farm in Montana from May 11 � 14, 2009 (www.tripledgamefarm.com). This will be an amazing opportunity to photograph large cats, bear and cute baby animals in a wild setting. I’m headed there this January to photograph animals in the snow and can’t wait to show you some of the pictures. You can sign up for this workshop over at the Nikonians Academy (www.nikoniansacademy.com).
We are also running our Art of Travel Photography Columbia Gorge workshop April 30 � May 3rd, 2009. This is a great opportunity to photograph the amazing scenery, wildflowers and waterfalls of the Columbia Gorge. We’ll be at all the right locations at the right time of day to take incredible images. More details here:
We also have plans for a few other workshop locations such as Maui, Hawaii during the week of November 16th, 2009. Keep your calendars clear if you are interested.
November/December GOAL Assignment: Patterns
Your last GOAL (Get Out And Learn) assignment was to photograph the patterns in the world around you. It is amazing how many of you wrote to tell me how much you enjoyed the pattern assignment and how many new images you created. In fact, on my recent trip to Africa, many of the participants were actively looking for patterns during the entire excursion!
I think patterns strike a chord with many photographers since they are so visually intriguing. Man-made objects tend to present the most frequent opportunities for patterns. We humans have a built-in propensity towards repeatability. For example, when you go to a store to shop, all the products are organized into rows with similar products located on the same shelf. This tendency towards creating patterns is the same everywhere in the world. For example, on one of our day trips in Tanzania last month, we went to a local market in Loliondo. The market was filled with people selling everything from lettuce to field plows to shoes to watches. I found the market to be a great place for “pattern shopping”.
The first two pattern images of footwear shown to the left were taken at the local market in Loliondo and are examples of manmade patterns in a sea of chaos. The images below the shoe patterns show what the surrounding area looked like. In the case of the sandals, there were bags and blankets and dirt around the outside. In the case of the black leather shoes, there were white, pink and green shoes just to the right.
To make the images more interesting, I excluded the other color shoes and the surrounding clutter. This approach of excluding elements that don’t belong is what we naturally do in our mind all the time. Cognitively, we exclude the clutter and only remember the pattern. Photographically, we need to make a concerted effort at visually removing (cropping) the scene to remove extraneous details. That’s what will make your pattern photos visually stimulating.
Similar to the shoes, is the photo of the Maasai spears. The stack of spears were located at the Olduvai Gorge interpretation center (http://www.ngorongorocrater.org/oldupai.html). We had just listened to a discussion on the research of Louis and Mary Leakey and were walking around the visitor’s center looking at the research displays. The spears were stacked among a small shopping area with necklaces, carvings and other trinkets. The repeating pattern of the spears was made stronger by getting close to them and filling the frame. Again, I excluded the extraneous elements for the stronger pattern.
I think that patterns are so ingrained to us humans that we often unknowingly place ourselves into physical patterns with each other. The photo of the five African women sitting on the wall is a perfect example of that. I noticed these ladies sitting in the shade at the entrance gate to Serengeti National Park. I took a few shots of them talking to each other, but the best shot was when they all turned their heads in the same direction. Obviously, the pattern here is the five heads all pointed in the same direction. Since I took this photograph, I have started looking for other people in groups who make patterns. Two days ago I was shopping at a grocery store in the USA and saw four teenage girls on cell phones lined up against a wall. I didn’t get a photo, but it was another example of people unknowingly placing themselves into patterns. Maybe this is inspiration for a new book down the line!
Finding patterns in nature can sometimes be more difficult and can take a lot of patience. With a keen eye and some hard work, you will find them. Groups of animals like the geese (shown left) make a great subject. The challenge is to be patient enough to wait for a pattern to emerge. In this case, we were at Silale Swamp in Tarangire National Park, Tanzania and our photo group spotted the birds along the water. They were bunched together and the light wasn’t that great, but we decided to wait to see what might happen. After a few minutes, the birds spread out into the shape you see here and presented a perfect repeating pattern.
The repeating pattern of zebra stripes is something that also is visually interesting. There are so many zebras in Tanzania, that it is actually pretty difficult to get a simple, straightforward image. I think this shot is one of my best zebra photos out of a month of zebras. It is a simple shot, but a good one.
So, patterns are everywhere around us, but as you’ve seen it takes a bit of effort to pull out the pattern from the chaos. Look for patterns created by humans as well as created in nature. Now, get out and take some more pattern pics!
January GOAL Assignment: Blue Backgrounds
One of the simplest ways to make your outdoor photos more impressive is to include blue sky in the background. Your GOAL (Get Out And Learn) assignment this month is to photograph a number of images with blue backgrounds and gray backgrounds, then compare the two. I think you’ll be impressed with the results. I’ll give you some great tips next month for finding ways to incorporate blue into your shots! In the mean time, look at the two photographs of the humming bird to the left to see the difference between a gray background and a blue background.
Photo Techniques: Africa Photo Safari Report
During the months of November and December 2008, I spent 30 days in Africa leading two photo safaris in Tanzania for the Nikonians Academy. Below, is a write-up of the experience and a summary of the trip. It was an incredible adventure and I can’t wait to go back again for more.
Tanzania is a beautiful county located in East Africa, just below the Equator. The country is politically stable and very safe. More than 15% of Tanzania’s GDP is generated through tourism and the country is very friendly to people coming to see what they have to offer. Most Tanzanians will freely offer a friendly smile with a greeting of Jambo! I didn’t stop smiling the entire time I was there.
Photographically, Tanzania offers a bewildering array of subjects from people to animals to landscapes. Even after thirty days of photography, on my last day of the trip I was still shooting pictures like they were going out of style. Most people come to Tanzania to photograph the wildlife and that is the primary reason our safari groups went on this trip.
It is an understatement to say that the photographic experience was amazing. There were so many emotional highs that soon it began feeling like you were eating from a constant stream of chocolate. We’d photograph a jackal and then find a lion and then find a cheetah and then find a pride of lions and then find a family of cheetah and then the family of cheetah would go over to a field of flowers in beautiful sunset light. Before we knew it, the day was over and we had to hustle to leave the national park before the gates closed.
We photographed all over Northern Tanzania in many of the the major national parks and conservation areas (http://www.tanzaniaparks.com). We departed Arusha on the first day and spent 11 days photographing at:
– Tarangire National Park
– Lake Manyara National Park
– Ngorongoro Crater
– Serengeti National Park
Each park was unique and special, while always showing a completely different side of African wildlife. The abundance of wildlife was absolutely amazing and I don’t have right words to describe it. I must have photographed hundreds and hundreds of different animals from birds to mammals to reptiles. Everywhere you look is an amazing sight and soon you have to tell yourself to just slow down and b-r-e-a-t-h-e. I can honestly say that there wasn’t a single day that I felt was lacking photographically.
Everyone on the two safari trips used Nikon cameras and we had a variety of setups ranging from a D70 with 80-400mm VR lens to a D3 with a 600mm f4 VR II AF-S. If I recall correctly, all the cameras represented on the trip were the D70, D80, D200, D300, D700, D2X, and D3 bodies. There was only one major equipment failure the whole trip which happened when one participant dropped his 18-200mm lens on the metal floor of the Land Cruiser and a small internal piece broke. I dropped my 200-400mm onto the floor a few times with the camera attached and it just kept on ticking. A few other photographers had some close calls with gravity as well, so I’m amazed at how well the Nikon gear held up under the difficult conditions.
Here’s the photo gear I brought on the trip:
– Five 4GB CF cards
– Five 2GB CF cards
– Four 2GB SD cards
– 200-400mm f4 VR
– 70-200mm f2.8 VR
– 28-75mm f2.8
– 12-24mm f4
– 50mm f1.8
– TC 1.4E
– TC 2.0E
– Kenko extension tubes
– Circular polarizer
– Graduated ND filters
– Kinesis Safari Sack (bean bag)
– Gitzo carbon fiber tripod with Markins M10 ballhead
– SB-900 flash
– MC-30 cable release
– Canon G9 point and shoot
– Canon HD video camera
– Pentax pocket binoculars
– Royal Robbins travel vest
I packed all my camera gear in an old Lowe Pro Nature Trekker AW photo backpack that I’ve had for more than a decade. It worked very well, but I wish I had brought something with a little more space. Lots and lots of people brought along Think Tank Photo bags and they also worked well. I’d say the most popular bags on the trip were the Think Tank Airport series bags. Tough, durable, functional and they all fit within the international carryon regulations.
The best bag I saw on the trip was a new backpack design called Kiboko, created by safari photographer Andy Biggs (www.andybiggs.com). His camera bag website is called Gura Gear (www.guragear.com). The Kiboko was extremely light weight and well thought out. Even the zipper pulls were well thought out! The big benefit of the Kiboko is that is only weighs 4 pounds, but can easily carry two large lenses (i.e. 200-400mm and a 500mm f4) along with tons of camera gear. I was impressed.
Data storage is always a big issue on long trips and there were a variety of solutions for this. I decided to take a laptop with two external 320GB Western Digital Passport drives. Each night, I downloaded my shots onto one drive, then backed up the images to the second drive. On my way back to the USA, I separated my drives between my two carryon bags just in case I lost a piece of luggage or someone decided to steal one of my bags.
In my 30 days of photography, I shot about 15,000 images for a total of approximately 160GB of data. This worked out to be approximately 5.5 gigs of data per day. Some days I’d shoot 10GB and other days I’d only shoot 2GB. On average, I shot between 500 ~ 1000 images per day.
The lowest quantity of photos by our participants was by a gentleman who shot about 3,000 images for his two week safari. The highest picture count was from a gentleman from Germany who photographed about 19,000 for two weeks!
I’d guess that about half the people used laptops and the other half used products like the Epson P7000 to store their images. Weight is always a big issue on safaris, so the people who used the Epson P7000 units had much less weight to carry around and generally had an easier time logistically. However, I’m very happy I took my laptop since I was able to work on them, keyword, label them and also check email.
Internet availability on Safari is a bit spotty and is pretty expensive. Most of the safari lodges had internet capability, but the connection rate is slow and frequently unreliable. Typical rates for internet were about $5 for 30 minutes. Some lodges gave a break if you purchased longer times, but it was always expensive to sign on to check on the outside world.
The vehicles we used were Toyota Land Cruisers and were the stretch models. They had three rows of seating in the back which usually allowed each person to have their own row. We’d place our camera bag on one seat and sit in the other seat. When something interesting came along, we’d jump up and shoot the action from the roof. If you ever go on a safari, I highly recommend this specific Land Cruiser model just because of how easy it is to photograph from. Other Land Cruisers and Land Rovers had stadium seating where you can’t stand up or rest your lens on anything. Those vehicles would definitely have been much more difficult to work out of.
Bean bags were definitely the tool of choice for supporting our long lenses. They are quick to set up on all sides of the Land Cruiser and provide a solid foundation if you use them properly.
I used a tripod quite a bit on the trip and am very happy I brought mine along. Most outfitters will recommend that you don�t bring one since most of your photography is from the vehicle and you’ll be using bean bags. That is true, but I found many cases where using the tripod in the vehicle was much more desirable than using the bean bag. For example, one evening right around sunset we were watching a leopard mother and her juvenile in a tree. I needed to get higher than my bean bag in order to get the setting sun behind the mother’s face. My shutter speed was pretty low and hand-holding the shot would have produced blurry photos even with my 200-400mm VR (Vibration Reduction) turned on. I set up my tripod on the ridges of the vehicle and shot away, getting the shots of a lifetime.
Another great use for the tripod was when we were back at camp or when we took bush hikes. I took numerous landscapes and HDR (High Dynamic Range) images using my tripod that otherwise would have been impossible. Take a tripod if you go and you won’t regret it.
Obviously, there is a lot of sun in Africa, so protecting yourself from it was a daily ritual. Everyone used sunhats and lots of sunscreen. I used SPF 30 to SPF 50 sunscreen and was happy for the high strength protection. I also wore lightweight nylon safari pants and shirts the whole time while out photographing. I’d keep my sleeves long when I was in direct sun, but would frequently roll up my sleeves when it got too warm or when I was in the shade. My safari pants were the zip-off type which allowed me to quickly convert to shorts if I needed to.
For shoes, there wasn’t much more needed than tennis shoes and sandals. In fact, many times I just wore my Chacos (www.chacos.com) during the day.
The days were long and arduous. We would generally rise about 5am and load up the vehicles so we could drive away from the lodge by 6:00 to 6:15 to photograph in the sweet morning light. We were all very tired each day, but it was a good type of tired. It was the kind of tired caused by the adrenaline of seeing amazing sights and the anticipation of the next amazing sight.
Many days, we wouldn’t get back to camp until well after after sunset. Since Tanzania is almost on the equator, this meant numerous 14 hour excursions. After a few days, we started to get a little smarter and would go back to the lodge around lunch time for a brief afternoon siesta. After a quick rest, we’d be right back at it for more photography until sunset. We’d drive home in the dark each night, take a quick shower, eat dinner, download our photos and then crash!
I think a trip to Africa should be on every photographer’s bucket list. It is a land of unsurpassed beauty and wildness. I created some amazing images and I will be editing them for many months to come. I’m looking forward to creating videos, books and other content to showcase the beauty of Tanzania for all those who want to see. I’ll be back again soon and the anticipation of my next trip has already begun.
Workshops are a fantastic way to learn and we continue to put together the very best learning experiences out there. Our class sizes are small and we teach on all the current topics. Part of our 2009 schedule is posted already and we’ll be posting more very soon.
Our workshops are run through Out There Images, Inc. (www.outthereimages.com) as well as the Nikonians Academy (www.nikoniansacademy.com). Check out the information below for specific topics and dates.
The Art of Travel Photography Workshops
Join us for a photographic adventure in 2009! Learn how to turn your next vacation into an artistic experience with our Art of Travel Photography Workshops. We have two Art of Travel workshops planned in 2009. Our Columbia River Gorge workshop will be from April 30 � May 3rd, 2009 and our North Cascades NP/Mazama September 24-29, 2009. If you are thinking of signing up, contact us immediately in order to be placed on our signup list. Go here for more details:
Nikonians Academy Workshops
We have more classes than ever for 2009. Topics include Nikon D300, Nikon D700, Nikon D3, Wireless Flash, Capture NX 2, D90, D80, D60, D40 and more travel workshops than you can shake a stick at. We�ll be teaching great photographic subjects all around the USA as well as some international destinations.
Our topics include:
– Triple D Game Farm baby animals
– Photo trips to Moab, Yosemite, Big Sur and more
– Nikon D300
– Nikon D700/D3
– iTTL Flash
– Capture NX 2
– Nikon D90, D80, D60, D40
Find out about all of our workshops here: www.nikoniansacademy.com.
Private instruction is a very popular way to learn specifically what you want to learn in a one-on-one environment. During these sessions, we are able to work specifically on your own photographic needs and at your own pace. Available topics are studio lighting, nature photography, wedding photography, Photoshop, color management, digital workflow, flash photography, portraiture, exposure theory, and more. Many of our customers have requested specific topics and we have tailored our private tutoring to their needs. Call (253) 851-9054 or email ([email protected]) if you have questions about this option.
Thanks for reading this month’s newsletter. Keep shooting and Get Out and Learn.
Out There Images, Inc. – “Get Out And Learn!”
PO Box 1966
Gig Harbor, WA 98335