Behind the lens

My photo
Welcome to the official blog of South African wildlife and nature photographer Jaco Marx. All images are available as prints at A Dentist. Conservationist. Wildlife photographer. It all started when I was very young playing with point-and-shoot cameras at home. We were travelling a lot, and I captured moments on camera and the love for photography became a passion - especially wildlife photography. My drive is conservation, to use photography as a tool. Hope you enjoy the images!

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Rim light Wildlife Photography.

Light is the most important factor in photography.

Rim light is also known as a halo of brightness around a subject.

As we progress as wildlife photographers, we are constantly looking for ways to improve our skill and tapping creativity from every possible source.

When shooting into the sun, one can create beautiful and interesting results, including well-lit edges around our subjects; rim light.  This is a very interesting way to photograph animals and can open another door in the vast expanse of photography.

First of all, shooting into the sun midday won't produce proper results, since the sun is very high and light harsh.  Using morning or evening light is better, since the sun is much lower and the light much more appealing.  The back light is also more dramatic.

A few tips to keep in mind:

  1. Exposure is an important factor.  Keep in mind that when shooting into the sun, the textbook exposure will not necessarily produce the best rim light effect.  The histogram will look ridiculous spiking in the very dark and bright areas, don't mind that. I always suggest using spot metering in stead of evaluative metering and try to expose between the very bright light and the dark shade.  This can be tricky, even more with fast moving subjects like birds.  
  2. Exposure Compensation is very handy.  First try -1.  If the overall scene is still to bright, try -2.
  3. Creating silhouettes of animals can be easy: do spot metering on a bright spot in the scene and the result will be a dark subject with subtle rim light.  If it's not to your liking shoot another set of pics...trial and error.
  4. The flare problem.  Shooting directly into light creates crazy flares in the frame.  Always use a lens hood to prevent flare in your photograph.  NOTE: If your subject can block the sun completely it can be even a better scenario, since the result can be even more dramatic and the flare problem is completely solved.
  5. Homogeneous or dark backgrounds works the best to make the subject 'pop'.  A dark background will also accentuate the rim light around the animal.
  6. Using Flash.  In some cases, when the subject is not too far away, a flash can provide some light and detail in the dark and shady areas.  One should determine the outcome and goal of the photograph: do you want subtle rim light with details in the shadows, or do you want the subject to be completely blacked out?  

Also check out this article from fellow photographer Keith Connelly on Creating Deep, Rich & Impactful Back-lit Imagery, a must read!

Hope these few tips helped to make your next photo safari even more interesting!

Good light,


Saturday, 2 July 2016

Cracking down on harsh light.

Light is everything in photography.

Photography is in general much easier in early morning and afternoon, and in the "golden hour".  The subtle  and even light makes for a pleasing result in most pictures during this time.

Most photographers struggle during the brighter times of day between 11:00 am and 15:00 pm.  During this time, light is very harsh, details are much less visible and shadows can be very dark with very harsh shadow lines.

This is not good for quality photography.

There are a few things you can do to cut back on these bad circumstances... let's look at a few things to help the photographs have a more attractive result:

  •  Go up to 1 stop under: While in the field, experiment and change the settings to go up to a full stop under, this will give more attractive backgrounds with less washed out bright areas.  I cases where the foreground is slightly underexposed due to the above-mentioned setting, this can be (in many cases) corrected in Adebe Lightroom/Photoshop.

In the photograph above, I underexposed by 1 stop to create a darker foreground and a silhouette image of this cheetah.

  • Shoot only in shade.  Even in midday sun, selecting only shady areas can provide some level of even light.
The leopard above was photographed in the dark shade during midday; there were no harsh light and even, soft shadows.

Two cheetah photographed in shade with a slightly bright, harsh background which worked well with the black tree trunk.

A giant eagle owl photographed in the shade during midday, with no unwanted, harsh shadow lines visible.
  • Zoom in.  I always try not to show the harsh background or disturbing light during this time of day by zooming in and taking close(-er)-up portraits of animals.

A close-up photograph of a tusker during midday.
  • Fill light flash.  This can be very important during brighter times of day.  Using a flash will eliminate harsh shadows and fill the dark shadows into a more subtle, softer shade in the subject.  You should determine the flash settings if you want strong light on a subject far away, or maybe just soft fill light on a close subject.
Flash fill light illuminated the body of this giant eagle owl properly during midday.
  • Check your ISO.  A very low ISO works great in harsh light.  Even though some dslr's can go to ISO 50, in general 100 ISO is the way to go.
  • Take advantage of back-light. When having the sun behind the subject, this will create even shadows on the subject, which can be filled using you speed light.  By using back light, harsh lines created by shadows are eliminated from the subject.  

The bright back light from the dust isolated the lioness very well.
  • For me, having a photograph taken in harsh light, I will, in 80% of cases convert the image to monochrome black and white.  This contrasty look created during this (bright) part of the day works great in monochrome.  It also opens up a different look and feel to the photographs.
A leopard traversing the cliffs at Mashatu game reserve in Botswana.  Photographed onto a very bright sky, the final product was a high contrast image.

  • When converting to monochrome, don't be afraid to use high key images.  This works perfectly well in so many cases and adds a lot to a photograph.

A high key image, photographed in harsh light and converted into high-key for this unique look.

Thanks again for checking in. 

Hope these few tips will help you shooting in the harsh light nobody wants to shoot in!

Until next time,


Sunday, 5 June 2016

On my last hour in the bush...

During a November 2015 trip to the Kgalagadi transfrontier park that cross borders South Africa Africa and Botswana, I photographed these beautiful lions in an old tree on our last morning. 

The nest in the tree added some much needed substance and composition.
I was reluctant to go at first, since we had a long way home, but decided to go anyway...

It just shows, even if you only have two hours free, use it, even if it's your last few moments in the bush!

All the best!

Until next time,


Sunday, 13 March 2016

Where to photograph leopard in Southern Africa

The leopard.

One of Africa's most beautiful, elegant and elusive big cats.

It's a big prize for any wildlife photographer to find, even more to get a proper, well composed photograph.

Many people only visit Africa once in their life and want to make the most of their wildlife experience.  They more or less want a guarantee to see leopard.

In the end, all comes down to budget.  If you can afford one of the private game reserves as described below, I would suggest it without a doubt, even more if you want a proper, most probably 1 close up of this cat.  On such a safari, the stay will be very exclusive with very few vehicles (maybe two/three).  If you want a more laid back safari and maybe something easy on the pocket,  a visit to the Kruger can be more affordable.  Please read this article in the Getaway magazine.

In the article below I want to give an outline on which destinations I would suggest to have the best opportunity to photograph these beautiful animals:

1.  Mashatu Game reserve, Botswana. (Private Game Reserve - Not Self drive)

Without a doubt one of my top three destinations in Africa, not only because of beautiful leopard, but for the beautiful habitat and diversity on animals.  This arid game reserve is home to some of the most beautiful tree species including the Mashatu and Baobab tree.  At Mashatu you will come across prides of lion, multiple cheetah and quite a number of leopard sightings in one visit ranging 3-5 days.

2.  Sabi Sands   (Private Game Reserve - Not self drive)

Sabi Sands is one of the most beautiful and luxurious destinations in Africa and boasts beautiful surroundings with high concentration of animals, including big cats (and the Big Five).  There are quite a lot of world class lodges in the Sabi Sands Reserve, stretching over 65000 hectare.  Some of the lodges are affordable, and others are ultra-luxurious.

Sabi Sands have very well trained game rangers and trackers who will help you identify fauna and flora on a game drive, and also assist you with your photographic needs.  Rangers are also allowed to drive off road in some cases.

Any lodge in the Sabi Sands will offer great chance to see leopard.  Sabi Sands is a well known destination for leopard.

Some iconic lodges are Sabi Sabi, Singita, Londolozi, Leopard Hills and Mala Mala.

Elephant Plains and Cheetah Plains are more affordable options in Sabi Sands with beautiful leopard opportunities.

3. The Kruger National Park (National Park - Self Drive)

Established 1889, this is an iconic 2 million hectare game park with an unbelievable diversity of animals.

Here you will be spoiled with options like Wilderness trials, game drivess, guided walks, 4x4 drives, mountain biking, eco-trials and birding.

There are twelve rest camps and other bush camps available.

Please see this map for a better idea.

Although nothing is set in stone and animals move around, the best road to drive for an opportunity to find leopard must be the Sabi River road between Skukuza and Lower Sabi rest camps.  This 40 km stretch will give you ample opportunity if you drive slow and keep your eyes wide open!

4.  Okovango Delta, Botswana (Private and National - Self drive in Moremi)

This lush, delta and UNESCO world heritage site is one of the jewels of Africa and truly spectacular as a safari destination.

Please see a map of the area here.

Choosing a lodge can be difficult, since there are quite a few, and some expensive ones too.

Leopard sightings are good in general in most of the camps, and people are usually very satisfied with the encounters all over the Delta.  Some camps are known to have above average sightings, I have listed my personal favorites below:

Regarding leopard concentrations, Sanctuary Chiefs Camp is known to have some of the best leopard sightings.  Other lodges with rewarding sightings includes Chitabe camp.

For a self drive safari option into the Moremi National Park, the leopard sightings are great!  Moremi boasts with great diversity and lots of big cats to satisfy any wildlife photographer.  Camping in the Moremi is a very popular and special activity.  Experiencing Africa on ground level!

Above-mentioned options are only my personal views and I would strongly recommend any wildlife photographer to identify their main focus when visiting Southern Africa.

What do you want to photograph?  General game? Big cats? Big five? This will determine where you should go and for what time frame.

I really hope the article gave an insight on where to photograph leopard and I would love to hear fellow photographers' views and input on their preferable destinations!

Just drop a comment below... (:

Until next time!


Monday, 29 February 2016

Negative space just rocks

 One thing I have realised during the past ten years is that too many of my earlier photographs had too little space.  

The more I pictures I take the more I Iove opening up and add very necessary space to my photographs.  This will make the viewer appreciate the surroundings and gives a sense of space and add a lot of rich elements to the photographs.  

The space can in most cases added in the field during photography, but clever cropping can also be useful in creating such results.

1/2000sec, f/2.8, 70mm, ISO100

1/8000sec, f/2.8, 135mm, ISO100

Hope you will agree with me on how such a small technical element can improve a photograph!

Until next time!


Saturday, 12 December 2015

Kgalagadi Splendor!

For the first time in 18 years I had the privilege to visit one of Southern Africa's most beautiful, yet arid, game parks, the majestic 38000 square kilometer Kgalagadi Transfrontier park that cross borders South Africa and Botswana.  This desert landscape is colored by large red dunes and two ancient river beds, the Nossob - and Aub river. These rivers might flow once every hundred years.  The river beds are wonderful in shape and size, covered with sparse vegetation and camelthorn trees.

*Random pictures will follow*

The weather can be very extreme, reaching 45 degrees celcius in summer and -12 in winter has been recorded.  On our trip in Nov 2015, we had temperatures reaching 44 degrees Celcius for four consecutive days.

Our accommodation was at Twee Rivieren Rest camp. Twee Rivieren is situated at the main gate in the south and is fully equipped with fuel, a small shop and a swimming pool.  We stayed in a fully equipped chalet with air conditioner.  This is ideal for families or people with small children, such as in our case.  The facilities are wonderful and the infrastructure well maintained.  (Besides great camp sites, the Kgalagadi houses two other great lodging sites: Mata Mata to the west and Nossob in the central part.) 

The main reason for the trip was WILDLIFE! I was very unsure what to expect after my 18 year absence.  This is what I found....

Because of some cold weather and some rain just before we arrived, a lot of the animals, and predators, headed into the dunes away from the river beds where the main sightings occur.  During the first two days I was anxious because of the few sightings.  Popular sightings were Springbok, Eland, Ostrich, Goshawk, Black backed jackal, Oryx and Blue wildebeest.  

During the third day the sightings increased and the type of sightings grew ever more interesting.  I came across a badger foraging and accompanied by a pale chanting goshawk and black backed jackal, stealing from the badger whatever he may find.  The juvenile goshawks also hunted red mongoose which made for great fun with camera in hand.

Red hartebeest also made a quick appearance.  The smaller animals also included yellow mongoose, suricate, steenbok, Cape fox (a large den at Gemsbokplein five meters from the road), pygmy mice running across the road twice, ground squirrels, Cape hare and porcupine.

The larger predatory species and predators really surprised with great sightings.  (Even though I unfortunately did not see leopard, but heard about a lot of sightings in the Aub river bed near Batulama and Montrose water holes.  Leopards were found here five days in a row, including a kill 40 meters from the vehicles.)

Lions and cheetah really did not disappoint.  In total I witnessed three cheetah kills and two lion kills in the time I was there.Pictures will follow.

I came across two large male lions at Kij Kij water hole, a pride of eight that stayed around Leeudril/Rooiputs region and a third pride I came across the last day, also with a large male. On the very last morning, I drove 800 meters from the Twee Rivieren gate and came across this pride with a kill.  This was a great experience I could photograph in wonderful Kalahari morning light.

The cheetah always traveled as a pack of three, apparently three siblings.  On the second last day, they killed an Oryx.  On the last day, they hunted with their mother. She killed a springbok about 300 meters from the vehicle, which is a bit far and the light was very harsh.

Besides these wonderful sightings and animal interaction, I also came across African wild cat up in the trees during the day, as well as Giant eagle owls.

The experience was unbelievable and I would recommend it to any nature lover, nature/wildlife photographer.  Not only great for photography, but you can also have a great time with your family.

When to go?

This obviously depends on what you are looking for...migrant birds? Wildlife? Landscapes?
For wildlife, action is great throughout the year, but after a lot of research I came to the conclusion that November/December can be the best months regarding animal sightings.  This was after talking to people visiting the park for more than fifteen years.  It is  dry and warm, but sightings great.  During February, sightings are also very good, with the additional element of greener vegetation.  June/July is much better for day temperatures, but bring along the warm blankets, for it can easily drop below freezing temperatures!

Go check out the SANPARKS page for Kgalagadi here.

Thank you very much for taking the time to browse my work!

Until next time...



Sunday, 18 October 2015

Error code 36 while transferring photos to Desktop on Imac.

I recently came across my very first error on my iMac while transferring files from my CF card to my Desktop.  I was stunned, since I have never before struggled with workflow due to errors or glitches on any Apple device.  I realized that I am not the only one struggling with this particular error.Apparently this error do occur on some Apple iMacs or MacBooks while transferring files.. 

What is error 36?  

This problem usually starts from the 'dot-underscore- files that OSX creates at the time of transfer.  The copying process usually gets interrupted by a message: 'The Finder cannot complete the operation because some data in <> could not be read or written (Error code -36)'  Error 36 is an input/output error but can also be caused by file corruption.

How to fix error 36:

Because you usually don't know the exact reason for this error initially, a few steps can be followed to get to the bottom of this error:

  1. Check permissions and sharing options by clicking on the file, selecting 'Get info', and check the permissions tab at the bottom; it should be readable and writable.  
  2. Check hard drive permissions:  Head over to Finder -> Applications -> Utilities ->Disc utility.  Here you can Verify and Fix permissions of your hard drive.
  3. Repair the dot-underscore by going to Applications -> Utilities -> Terminal.  In terminal type the following, followed by a SPACE: dot_clean.  Now simply drag the source folder into the terminal window, the path will be visible automatically afterwards.  Now simply press Enter. Even though it may seem nothing happened, you can now try to copy the files again and it should work perfectly.  Repeat the process for any folders that won't copy. I also received this link from the guys at Sandisc.
I hope this helped guys.  Please feel free to add your thoughts/tips in fixing this error.

Thanks again for the support!

All the best,