Jaci’s Lodges recently unveiled our new specialised photographic vehicle, equipped with Gimpro Game Viewer mounts and photographic equipment. To instruct and guide guests on their photographic experience at Jaci’s Lodges, we sent our well-known guide, Anja Riise, to get some photographic training with Pangolin Photographic Safaris under the tutelage of some of the best photographic guides in the business – Guts Swanepoel and Janine Krayer as well as Charl and Sabine Stols.
We asked Anja to tell us about her photographic journey. Here’s what she learnt:
We spent a lot of time out on the Chobe river in specially equipped, eight seater photographic boats with Gimpro mounts. We also did a couple of trips in the houseboat’s four seaters with the same setup and into the park on land, to find different bird species. The first think I learnt is that the right equipment makes all the difference.
I haven’t had any experience with either Canon or Nikon previously, as I’ve always used Sony. So, to begin with I was handed a Canon 7D and was just told to get acquainted with it. Thrown in at the deep end, as usual! My first boat trip on the Chobe was mind-blowing! I realised that my eight year old, reasonably priced camera would no longer do. The especially fast shutter speed needed to capture birds or animals splashing around in water has had me frustrated before, but now I’ve learnt that it is doable, without the pictures turning out too dark – something which usually happens with my camera. The mounts, with arms that are moveable in all directions, also make a huge difference, as a 100-400 lens and camera can quickly become heavy and unsteady, which causes blur.
I managed to play around a bit with exposure compensation the first day, and got some nice shots of a great egret by under exposing, and hippos in the water by over exposing.
The second thing I learnt is to always be prepared for action. As the days passed I quickly became used to setting the exposure compensation back to zero, the f-stop to about 7.1 and having a relatively fast shutter speed ready between sightings to be prepared for almost anything.
A leopard in a tree, that I badly over-exposed, taught me that lesson. I didn’t have time to reset everything once we spotted him. I got some shots and realised they weren’t good. As I was trying to right this wrong, the guy next to me got an awesome shot of the animal in sunlight looking straight at us, while I didn’t even get an over-exposed version, since I was busy with the camera.
The elephants playing around in water turned out well however!
The depth of field and what point of an animal you decide to focus on also has a huge impact on your pictures, and I immediately got into the habit of playing around with this, especially when it came to reptiles. Unlike most animals, crocodiles and monitor lizards tend to be reasonably still for a longer period, giving you the chance to experiment a bit with the settings. Crocs became a favourite subject of mine to photograph in all their raw pre-historicness.
I spent two nights on a houseboat and we were lucky enough to see some really great bird species. We went to specific places to look for some of the more elusive ones. The bird that I struggled with the most was the shy, fast-flying and shade-loving half-collared kingfisher. After a lot of searching, following and patience, the troublesome bird was caught on camera. Maybe not some of the greatest of my photographs, but at least it satisfied my inner bird nerd.
I soon realised that I had already learnt quite a bit about photography, as I was getting comfortable instructing others! My experience as a field guide also proved to be an advantage when it comes to anticipating what’s going to happen and what you need to focus on, and I was happy to see that some of the guests got the shots they wanted.
As I became more acquainted with the cameras I started focusing a lot on my previous fear – birds in flight. It is difficult, but not impossible, and at times I managed to get some really great photos. The larger birds tend to fly a bit slower, and they have a more predictable flight path so were much easier to capture.
But when we spotted a fish eagle doing a couple of flybys we all followed it with our cameras and I was excited to get some great shots of it swooping down for an enormous barbel. The kingfishers and bee-eaters however are still a problem for me, but I’m not giving up!
The camera-lens combinations I had been using are rather good for macro photography too and of course I needed to try that out. The garden around the house was perfect for this, with all its flowers and the insects they attract. Depth of field and light can really make or break this type of photo. Luckily, flowers normally don’t go anywhere and that gives you time to adjust and readjust your settings. The biggest problem was wind, as the flowers kept blowing out of focus with even the slightest air movement.
I made a habit of trying to find things to photograph in the garden. But, you definitely know you’re a weirdo when the gardener comes to tell you there’s a snake in the garden, you come with, realise it’s a mamba and you’re first reaction is to turn around and leg it… to get your camera as quickly as possible.
We had big plans to do some star photography and star trails, but unfortunately we didn’t have one clear night during my two week stay. Weather is the one thing you can’t do much about, but in all we were lucky to not have to cancel one game drive or boat trip during my stay.
We hope you will come and experience a photographic drive with Anja soon! We are certain you will leave with some stunning images.