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