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 www.marxphoto.co.za. 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, 20 October 2016

Lens choices for the Maasai Mara

It's empirical to do research before going on a bucket-list safari to East Africa.

Lens choice is one of the most important factors.  Keep in mind that one cannot do off-road driving everywhere in the Mara, only on certain areas.  For this, you need a long telephoto lens.

It is always advisable to take two camera bodies to such a trip.  This will give you flexibility to attach a fixed telephoto on one body, and a wider angle zoom on the other:


  • BODY 1:  Attach a fixed telephoto lens, for example a 400mm, 500mm, 600mm or a 800mm on a body shooting at a high frame rate, such as a Canon 1Dx or Canon 7DII.  A very popular lens these days is the 200-400mm, which gives one even more flexibility, noted that this lens is equipped with a converter. This body can be used for animals in the distance, bird photography or close-up portrait photography.  
  • BODY 2:  Attach a wider angle zoom on this body to allow some opportunity to photograph animals in the environment, even landscapes.  These wider angle zoom lenses are perfect for animals close to the vehicle.  Lenses to consider are: 100-400mm (Canon), 80-400mm (Nikon), 70-200mm (Maybe the preferred option).  My personal configuration is a Canon 5DIII and a Canon 70-200 f/2.8.  This is one of the most versatile lenses on the market with beautiful detail.
  • If you are really keen on some landscape photography, you can add a wide angle lens such as a Canon 16-35mm f/2.8, but if you are hardcore wildlife focused, it's not that critical.  In cases where I needed really wide angles, I shot three/four images to be merged as a panoramic photo, which worked wonders.
  • Remember your IPhone! It's a perfect contender for videos!

The bodies mentioned above are great in low-light conditions.  I would say this is an important point to mention, since so many great sightings happen late afternoon; for this you need the hardware to get these moments in great quality.  If you have an entry-level/semi-professional camera, try to get a high quality lens to allow for good light to enter.

This, in short, will be my lens/body configuration for a trip to East Africa.

Hope this article was helpful!

Please comment and share ideas!

Until next time,

J

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

The greatest migration spectacle

It's been a bucket list item since I can remember: to visit Kenya and witness one of nature's greatest shows...the wildebeest migration crossing the Mara river as the wildebeest make their way towards the Serengeti, Tanzania.


A panoramic view with zebra and wildebeest building before a crossing.


Another panoramic view with zebra and wildebeest building just before the herd got wet.


Crossings can be challenging to photograph since it's hocus pocus where to focus and what the aperture/shutter speed should be.  In this case I got close to be intimate with the action.


With great dust clouds and running wildebeest in bright light, this particular image was a sure contender for monochrome.

I also realized that this is so so much more than just the migration of white bearded wildebeest.  Predators were in abundance, enjoying easy opportunities to hunt.  Lions, cheetah, leopard, hyena were all over....

But more of this in my next post (:

Have good light!

Jaco

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

The Mara Triangle

During the last week of September 2016 I set foot in East Africa to spend some time in Kenya, more precisely the Maasai Mara, Mara Triangle.  


A rainbow paints the sky with color as the sun sets on another day in the Mara Triangle, Kenya.


We had a cracking time with more than 11000 photographs taken with such unbelievable sightings.  Before I share these wonderful moments, I would like to explain what the Mara triangle is and why it's a great destination to photograph East Africa and her beautiful fauna and flora.

The Mara triangle is situated in the North-Western part of the Maasai Mara National reserve in Kenya and is managed by the Mara Conservancy.  The Mara river is boundary between the triangle and the rest of the Maasai Mara reserve and what makes this great is the triangle is much less crowded, under great management and tied to strict rules and regulations within the Mara triangle.

A perfect getaway for the nature and wildlife enthusiast not in a mood for big crowds and ill discipline in the African bush.

The Mara conservancy plays an important role in conservation regarding reducing poaching, road maintenance, secondary roads, restoration of ranger stations, implementing IT based revenue collection systems, promotion of responsible Eco-tourism.

Read more here.

A map of the Mara triangle will give a better understanding.

In my upcoming post, I will share some of the unbelievable encounters we came across during our ten day adventure.

Best,

Jaco

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 a similar subject.

Hope these few words were helpful in understanding this interesting method in wildlife photography better!

Until next time, 

Jaco


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,

Jaco

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,

Jaco

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!

J