29 August 2013

Wildlife Photographer Of The Year 2013








We are very proud to announce that Marsel's image 'Resurrection' was successful in the Creative Vision category of the 2013 Wildlife Photographer Of The Year Awards! It was shot in Deadvlei, Namibia, and here's how it all got started:

One of the many aspects of my preparations for my photography, is to find out what images of my subject are already out there. This usually gives me a good idea of ​​what is possible, what to expect, and what has already been shot by other photographers - so I don't run the risk that I photograph the exact same thing, in the exact same way. Especially this last point is essential for me from an artistic perspective - there is no creativity in copying the photos of others. And also from a commercial point of view it is important to create original work - not a single publisher is interested in more of the same.

On my first visit to Namibia many years ago, it was not very difficult to create original images. Most people had never heard of Namibia, let alone that they had seen any pictures of it. The photographs that I shot of the surreal landscapes were mostly viewed with disbelief. "That must have been Photoshopped" was a frequently heard comment. Most of the pictures that I showed were original, because the subject was, at that time, original.

Immediately after my first visit I decided to start with night photography in Namibia because at that time no one else did it, and because the dry desert air and the lack of light pollution are perfect for it. Those pictures became very popular, and night photography has since been an integral part of our annual Namibia Untamed workshop - Milky Way shots, static stars and star trails. The result was of course that more and more photographers visited Namibia, more night photographs of Namibia were shot, and after a few years the novelty wore off. It was time for something new.

I had seen pictures of Deadvlei in fog, and I came up with the idea to try to combine fog and night photography in one shot. Easier said than done, because fog only appears four or five times a year in this desert area.

My idea was as follows: fog looks at its best when shot against the light, for example around sunrise. A fog picture that I shot in Madagascar, and that was published in National Geographic, was based on that very principle. But when it's dark there is no backlight, so I had to create the light itself. Using a very powerful flashlight I wanted to light one of the trees in Deadvlei from behind so that the branches would create shadow beams in the diffused light. I selected the perfect tree, the one with the most dense and upward pointing branches, and chose the best the composition for the shot. On every Namibia workshop I brought my big flashlight and kept a close eye on the weather forecast, waiting for that one chance. But whenever I was there, the fog was not. Until that one magic day in June last year.

The weather forecasts indicated that there was a chance of fog, so we decided to visit Deadvlei earlier than usual. In total darkness Daniella and I walked across the dunes towards Deadvlei, and when we got to the top of the last dune, I saw that this was the moment I had been waiting for for years. We quickly ran to The Chosen One and I set up my tripod as fast as I could - there was no way of knowing how long the fog was going to stay and I didn't want to miss this opportunity.

It was still dark, so focusing and framing was difficult. Daniella hid behind the main tree and set the flashlight to the highest output so that I could get my focus and composition. I then took a test shot to make sure everything was sharp and that the composition worked.

For the final image I had very little time - shooting too early would mean the trees in the background would not be visible, and waiting too long would mean it would be too bright to see the effect of the flashlight. I therefore decided to start shooting continuously as soon as I could see the trees in the background, and I constantly asked Daniella to try different output levels on the flashlight based on the results I saw on the camera.

It was a very special moment to see the end result on my LCD screen - the picture that had only existed in my head for so long, had finally turned into reality.

Nikon D4, AF-S 24-70mm/2.8, 15 sec @ f8, ISO 400, Surefire UB3T Invictus flashlight

If you would like to join us on our next Namibia Untamed workshop and learn more about night photography and composition, please check out our website for more information.

Hope to see you there!

24 July 2013

Glacier Lights

The sun has a heartbeat - every eleven years or so it beats. This is known as the solar cycle and is measured by the number of sunspots visible on the sun. The more sunspots, the more solar flare energy is being released into space, which means more aurora activity. Luckily, this solar cycle is predictable.

After a couple of years of deep solar minimum, sunspot activity started to increase again around 2010, and "Solar Max" was predicted for 2013-2014.

Spring is aurora season. For reasons not fully understood by scientists, the weeks around the vernal equinox are prone to Northern Lights, which is why we run our Iceland tours in March.



The aurora predictions for this particular night were not that good - level 3. That's usually not enough to make everyone run outside, but we knew that on a clear night and with a bit of patience, you can get good results. Last year we already scouted many places for possible aurora shoots, so when we decided to give it a try with our group, we knew exactly where to go. We had selected a spot on top of a small hill to get a view of a massive glacier and mountains on all sides.

Already when we were hiking up in the dark, we could see the aurora appearing ahead of us. We all set up our gear and had two full hours of good activity.

If you would like to join us on next year's Iceland tour and learn more about landscape photography and composition, please check out the photo tours page on our website or download the brochure (PDF).


23 July 2013

Cover Shot

Photography Masterclass Magazine is a magazine designed exclusively for the iPad Newsstand, and their latest issue features my popular giraffe image on the cover, as well as two other images in the Capture Wildlife Masterclass.

The giraffe image was shot on our Wildlife Boot Camp in Spain. This year's workshop is fully booked, but there are still openings for 2014.



22 July 2013

Camp Antarctica















Here's the latest blog post that I wrote for National Geographic:

Antarctica is without doubt one of the wildest places on earth. It is seriously remote, it is not easy (or cheap) to get there, there is no infrastructure, and the climate is as extreme as it can get. When I traveled there for the first time a few years ago, I was not only impressed by the overwhelming beauty of this vast continent, but I was also constantly aware of how special it was to be there. Every time I got off my zodiac and set foot on the mainland of Antarctica, I felt like an explorer who entered another world.

One of the most intense ways to experience nature is to spend the night outdoors. On my many travels I have camped in the most remote places - high in the Himalayas in India, deep in the desert in Libya, and among brown bears in Alaska, but none of those camps were so far from civilization as this camp in Antarctica. Four small tents on a sea of ​​snow and ice, an incredible experience.



For the photo I wanted to illuminate the tents from the inside, so I had to wait until after sunset to be able to show the effect. I brought a small flashlight with a very wide beam that I wanted to use for the lighting, but I had only one, not four. The only solution was to shoot and blend four different exposures for the final photograph - one for each tent.

I started with the tent in the foreground. One of the campers was so kind to sit inside the tent and use the flashlight according to my directions. This first exposure was the most important one, because I would not only use it for the tent, but also for the overall scene and the ambient light. I waited until the light had a cold, blue tone because it would fit nicely with the snowy landscape, and it would create a nice contrast with the warm glow of the tents. After taking the first picture, I photographed the other three tents with the same settings. Meanwhile, it was getting darker, but the exposure of the tents was constant, so no problems there. I later blended the four exposures in Photoshop to get this final result. A lovely memento of a unique experience.

Nikon D3x, AF-S 14-24/2.8, 15 sec. @ f/16, ISO 50, tripod, flashlight

14 June 2013

Last Minute Offer Zambia 2013

Due to a cancellation we now have 2 openings on the Beyond The Great Rivers tour to Zambia.

Book now and get a 500 Euro last minute discount!

More information on this amazing safari here.


Daniella (left) and the lodge manager trying not to wet themselves.

Published in National Geographic Traveler


The latest issue of National Geographic Traveler features one of my less known images: a romantic dinner set up at a safari lodge in Namibia. :-)


Taking shots like this is not much different from any other type of image. It's all about composition, framing, point of view, light and perspective. Just as with my landscape photography, there is some planning involved to make sure that everything is ready when the light is perfect. However, in landscape photography the elements are simply where they are and you just have to deal with that. With lodge photography most of the time you can move stuff around if that works better for the shot, which makes it a lot easier. So you'd think. But even though you're more flexible, you suddenly have to deal with something else: your imagination is the only limiting factor. You can choose from an endless list of possibilities, and you have to decide where to put what. In landscape photography all you have to do is walk around to find the best position and angle, and then wait for the light. 

View from our bedroom in Namibia

When Daniella and I made our book on African safari lodges, Wild Romance, we shot a lot of these images. We took a lot of time to look for locations in and around the lodge and made a list of all the shots we wanted to take, as well as a shooting schedule for the lodge so they could help us set up. But deciding where to put a table or some chairs is not the only thing you have to decide, there's also something called set dressing that most landscape photographers are not familiar with. How do you want the table to look? Should there be a table cloth on it or not? What color? How many glasses? What kind? Thinking about this sort of decisions was not completely foreign to me, as I was used to this when I was still working in advertising as an art director. What kind of clothing should the model wear, what kind of table are we going to put product X on, what color should we paint that living room wall, is the kid wearing braces or not, why don't we use a red cat instead of a black one, etc. In this case we decided to keep it simple and only add some accessories that we found elsewhere in the lodge as decoration.

To get some light on the table from the camera angle, I decided to put the table against the wall of our room, right in front of the window. Turning the lights on in the room gave enough light on the front of the table. Just outside of the frame near the lower left and right corner we put some lanterns to add some light there. The other lanterns Daniella distributed along the side of the pool in such a way that they didn't touch each other nor any elements on the table. Little after sunset the sky had the right brightness and color, and that's when I took this shot.

It was great fun doing shoots like this. Not only did we enjoy planning and setting it all up, I think it's also good for your creativity to step out of your comfort zone every now and then, to try something you've never done before. It forces you switch off your artistic autopilot and to think about creative decisions you never had to think about before.

12 June 2013

Publication In Practical Photography Magazine

The latest issue of UK's top selling photo magazine Practical Photography now features my popular giraffe image Looking Up in their Gallery section.

Looking Up - a giraffe image done differently

The caption says: "This image was shot on a Boot Camp in Spain where I teach photographers about capturing wildlife and the art of composition. There are a large number of animals in this park and often we can get very close to them. This giraffe came over and towered over us, and I couldn’t resist taking the shot. I took it looking straight up at the animal and the overcast clouds behind created an interesting contrast between the patterns. The light was even, though I adjusted both the sky and giraffe differently and merged them at the end."

If you would like to learn how to take shots like this and to become a better wildlife photographer, why not join our intensive and highly instructional Wildlife Boot Camp in Spain? Check out the Photo Tours page on our website for more information. There are only 3 spaces left though, so don't wait too long!


Review: LegCoat, LegWrap, Memory Wallet & Battery Pouch

One of the first photo accessories I ever bought, was a set of LegCoat covers for my Gitzo tripod. Each cover consists of two parts - a soft closed cell foam padding that wraps around each leg and sticks to the leg with the help of a strip of double-sided adhesive tape. The second part is a piece of stretchy neoprene that wraps around the padding and it closes with a strip of velcro. It's easy to put it on and it will last a really long time. Most people think that the main reason for using these covers is to protect the tripod. While it does indeed do a very good job at that (I always travel with a semi hard duffel bag that I check in at the airport, and my tripod is the only photo gear that goes inside that bag), it wasn't why I bought them in the first place.

LegCoat covers on a Gitzo tripod

When shooting in the field with my 200-400 or my 600 on a tripod, I often like to carry the whole setup over my shoulder - the camera with the lens attached is on the tripod and the tripod legs are resting on my shoulder. You can read a lot of horror stories on the internet about this being dangerous because your camera and lens may fall off, but if you use a good ballhead and a good tripod and you're not slamming it against a tree or a rock, it's actually very low risk. However, I quickly realized that it's not very comfortable to walk around with the weight of a pro sized DSLR and a 600mm on your shoulder, primarily because the tripod legs are relatively thin and quite hard. The LegCoat covers increase the surface area greatly, so the weight is distributed more evenly and the soft padding makes it feel so much better on your shoulders. 

Another advantage of the LegCoat covers you will appreciate when you're shooting in cold weather. Your tripod, just like most of the rest of your camera gear, will get very cold very quickly. When carrying your tripod in the cold, your fingers (without a doubt the most vulnerable body part of any photographer shooting in cold conditions) will be freezing in no time. The neoprene covers don't get that cold and your fingers will love you for it.

I've been an enthusiastic user of the LegCoat covers for many years, but I do also have a few minor issues with them. The padding is quite thick, which is what makes it so nice when carrying over your shoulder. But it also makes the tripod a fair bit bulkier in your check in bag. A pro sized carbon fiber Gitzo is not exactly small, so it eats away a lot of valuable space. Another issue is that when I'm shooting with my tripod in the lowest position - all three legs spread out - part of the tripod is basically resting on the thick padding, which means that there is always a little bit of potential movement. And my last critique is that the velcro part of the LegCoat does tend to creep up or down over time, depending on how you hold the legs when you're carrying your tripod.

The new LegWrap covers, neoprene and velcro

The LegCoat covers are made by LensCoat, and they recently introduced an alternative tripod leg cover, the LegWrap. The LegWrap is a one piece solution. The inside of each wrap is made of some non slip material that keeps the cover in place without the need for adhesive tape - nice, and even easier and faster to put on as the LegCoat covers. The other advantage is that they are less bulky, while still offering good protection and comfort for over the shoulder carrying. I got mine a few weeks ago and I'm very pleased with them. My tripod now takes up less space in my bag, the wraps don't seem to slide at all, and my setup is more stable in the lowest position. And when I'm photographing while standing in the water, I can simply take them off to prevent them from getting soaking wet. Highly recommended.

Putting the LegWrap covers on your tripod takes just a few seconds

LensCoat also recently introduced the Memory Wallet to help you protect and organize your memory cards. My Nikon D4, D3s and D800 use three different cards: CF cards, SD cards and XQD cards. The Memory Wallets come in various sizes for all types of cards, and I got myself the CF10 which holds up to 10 Compact Flash / XQD cards, and 10 SD cards. They're made of the same lightweight waterproof material as their famous RainCoat camera covers, and it uses a super quiet elastic enclosure - no velcro or zippers. You basically roll the entire wallet open or close, and the cards are all in clear pockets for easy identification. Nice features are the business card slot on the outside (in case you lose the whole thing) and the lanyard with clip to attach the wallet to your bag (to prevent you from losing it).

The perfect way to organize, carry and protect your memory cards

Another nice accessory is the LensCoat BatteryPouch. It's a really simple little pouch to store your camera batteries or 4 AA batteries. Each set has two compact pouches that snap together to hold up to 8 AA batteries for easy storage and retrieval in your camera bag. The hook and loop closure keeps the batteries secure. I do a lot of night photography and always need plenty of batteries for my headlight, flashlights and timer, and these pouches are really useful. The pouches are made of the same lightweight waterproof material as the Memory Wallet and RainCoat. I currently use two sets - one for AA and AAA batteries, and one for two camera batteries. Full batteries I store with their heads up, the empty ones go upside down.

LensCoat currently has a special Father's Day Offer: free shipping (worldwide) on orders $99 or more. A good deal if you ask me.


The BatteryPouch fits AA and AAA batteries

29 May 2013

Outdoor Photographer Blog

Outdoor Photographer now features a blog post that I wrote on night photography in Arches National Park, Utah, USA.


Of all the National Parks that I have ever visited in the US, Arches National Park is without a doubt the most iconic. Many millions of photographs have been shot here, and to come up with something different is not easy. That does not mean one shouldn’t try though, and I personally greatly enjoy the creative process of coming up with new possibilities to photograph iconic subjects.

Double Arch is one of them. One of the reasons it has been photographed so much is probably because it’s so close to the car park, but also because it’s a stunning piece of architecture by mother nature. When you’re standing below this imposing marvel of nature, it’s hard to not be impressed by the size and the beauty of this amazing structure. From my research for my visit to Arches, I learned that 99.9% of all the images of this arch are more or less taken from the same viewpoint. I’m sure one of the reasons for this is that you need some distance to get the whole thing to fit inside your frame – standing inside the arch is not going to work. However, if you don’t try to fit the whole scene into the frame, new possibilities arise.

Portal To The Stars - Double Arch, Arches National Park, USA


I decided to move into the scene and resist the temptation of showing everything. Instead of moving as far back as possible to see the entire structure, I tried to find an interesting foreground and move in with my 14-24mm wide angle lens. The opening inside the smallest arch was my main point of interest, so I opted for a vertical composition with some room at the bottom for the rocks in the foreground and quite a bit of space at the top to show the height of this place. Another good reason to go for a vertical was that the vast majority of images taken of this arch are all horizontals.

My second decision was to photograph the arch at night and to bring out the details and colors by using a flashlight. The light painting would give me a lot of creative control over the look and feel of the image, so that was an important part of the shot. I wanted to include part of the Milky Way, which meant that I had only a very short window of time to take the shot – the position of the Milky Way in the night sky changes constantly and I wanted it to be in a diagonal direction.

I knew that this was going to be an exposure blend; one for the sky and one for the rocks. In order to get a many stars as possible, you need at least an ISO of 1600, but more often around 3200 or even 6400. Your shutter speed can not be longer than approximately 30 seconds, otherwise the stars will start to streak. For the rocks exposure I could shoot at a fairly low ISO to prevent noise, with a considerably longer shutter speed. And I needed some extra time to light paint such an enormous subject.

For the light painting I used my trusty assistant, my wife Daniella. She was positioned outside of the frame to the left, armed with a Surefire Invictus flashlight and colored gels. I first decided on the color temperature of the light, and then we started experimenting with the light painting. Light painting is all about seeing the unseen, so you have to previsualize everything. After a few test shots, I decided to focus most of the light on the foreground and the main arch so that those areas will grab your attention first. However, the inside of the main arch didn’t catch enough light at the angle that I preferred for the whole scene, so I decided to shoot a second exposure just for the main arch with the light positioned directly below it. I would then later merge these two exposures.

Meanwhile I constantly checked the night sky for the position of the Milky Way, and when it looked good, I shot my third exposure for just the sky, without any light painting. The three exposures were later merged in Photoshop. – Marsel van Oosten
Equipment and settings: Nikon D3, AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G lens – Rock exposure: 1 minute @ f/5.6 and ISO 800; Sky exposure: 25 seconds @ f/5.6 and ISO 3200

17 May 2013

National Geographic Blogger

National Geographic (Dutch edition) has asked me to write blogs on photography and my travels for their website. The first one was posted today.



Snowmobile

An important quality of a wildlife photographer is the ability to predict animal behavior. That means that you should not only look at your subject, but that you have to observe and analyze. If you don't do that, then every time you will be surprised by the actions of the animal and you will be too late to make a good photograph.

Young Japanese macaques (Macaca fuscata), also known as snow monkeys, cling the first four weeks after birth onto the belly of their mother, and after that period they crawl on her back to move over larger distances. This period lasts about a year. In order to capture this behavior you must primarily watch the mother, especially her interaction with other macaques in the troop. Macaques have a complex social structure and hierarchy, and virtually all movements of an individual macaque are the direct result of those of more senior or dominant counterparts. This hierarchy is often maintained by force, which is why mothers with children like to keep a little aloof from the rest of the gang. If there is a disturbance elsewhere or a more senior macaque is approaching, it is often a reason for the mother to go somewhere else with her child on her back.



This photo I made at the end of a long shoot on our White & Wild Japan tour. It was cold and I was ready to call it a day. And so were the macaques, because they slowly began retreating to the mountains. This mother with child decided to walk down again when a little higher up on the mountainside a few macaques started fighting. Looking at the tracks in the snow, I could predict where they would probably go and I was able to get into a good position. I used a flash for some extra light.

Nikon D4, AF-S 70-200/2.8 VR II, 1/320 @ f / 8, ISO 800, SB-910 flash

If you're interested in joining us on this trip to photograph snow monkeys, Japanese cranes, Steller's sea eagles and whooper swans, please check out our website for more information.

Our 2014 tour filled up really fast, so we set up a second one.

Hope to see you there!

Marsel

29 April 2013

Last Minute Offer Tigers & Leopards 2013

Three of the four Tigers & Leopards tours are fully booked, but we still have two spaces on the trip from 27 July to 6 August.

We want to fill those last two seats, so we offer a last minute discount of 500 EURO if you make your reservation now!

If you're interested, and of course you are, then please check out the Tigers & Leopards tour page on our website, watch the tour impression video clip, or download the PDF.

This is a unique trip that will get you the best opportunities to photograph tigers and leopards in the world.

Hope to see you there!


26 April 2013

Ice Capades in Synology Ad

My popular image Ice Capades, shot on our Winter Wilderness tour in Iceland, is now used by Synology in an ad to promote their NAS servers. I'm a big fan of my Synology DiskStation DS1812+, so I can honestly say that I'm behind this ad 100%.

If you're looking for a fast, reliable backup system, look no further.