A Few Tips For Nature and Wildlife Photography

Guest Blog Post by Peggy Bechtell

Nature or Wildlife Photography

Camera Settings: Aperture priority, f4 to blur background, ISO 800, Drive Mode. F11-F16 for surroundings – carry large black plastic bag to lay on the ground. Often my camera is on a tripod with pistol grip head for tracking.

Stance: Eye level with animal or below = grandeur
Back to the wind with birds – they take off and land into the wind.
Soft Front light directly facing animal with for close-up face shots, and eyes of big cats.
Sidelight = nice texture for fun and feathers.
Backlight = silhouettes, reflections, and glow around the animal.

What to watch for: Patterns of behavior. Birds move differently just before flight. They will often start looking around with more agitation just before takeoff. Eagles generally poop before take-off. Watch wildlife for a while to learn their patterns which almost always repeat. Anticipate behaviors and start firing before the anticipated behavior occurs.

If you see the behavior in your viewfinder, you have missed it.

Patience, Patience, Patience. It is fun to just sit back and enjoy the animal you want to photograph. You will learn a lot, enjoy a lot, and know when to take the picture. For tracking, practice focusing and firing on moving broom, then the handle.

Where to focus: On the eye of the animal when there is a catch light in it = tack sharp face

Where to get information on wildlife: PSA has a membership service which puts you in touch with photographers in the area you are going to.
Fixers (Guides) are available on the internet for areas and animals you want. Local farmers and rangers often know about local animals, the best locations and times of day to see them.

by Peggy Bechtell – bechtell@comcast.net

 

Soul Of The Elephant

Young Elephant Curls Trunk Over Head While Under Mother
Young Elephant Curls Trunk Over Head While Under Mother

A compelling, fascinating, and a compassionate look into the “Soul of the Elephant”, done in a very poignant way as if they were telling the story through a poem. Dereck and Beverly Joubert are my favorite wildlife filmmakers. They tell important stories of iconic African wildlife in a fresh way, with breathtaking cinematography, using innovative camera angles. Their expert bush and species knowledge comes through a narration that is just mesmerizing, so lyrical and melodic–the way they switch and weave the stories and scenes between each other’s voice.

If you love elephants, wild places, wild animals, this Nature PBS episode is not to be missed. This is natural storytelling at its best, by those closest to the wildlife, living life with them. Their passion for what they do and the compassion and love for the wildlife comes through in their presentation.

I only wished for more…like their 88-minute film the Last Lions that I saw in the theater.

The original broadcast was on PBS on October 14, 2015, somehow I missed it. However, I found the full episode online at the PBS Nature site.

Take time from your busy life and please watch this Nature episode; it will change you forever, it’s haunting. I have already seen it twice, and I am sure I’ll watch again.

I highly recommend this search for the “Soul of the Elephant”, in fact, I would love to be doing what they are–immersed in the wild: living and breathing the wild smells of Africa.

Here is the link: Full Episode: Soul of the Elephant

Please posted your comments and let me know your thoughts.

In addition, here is their Ted Talk from 2010  Dereck and Beverly Joubert’s Ted Talk

Ubuntu

Serengeti Sunrise
Serengeti Sunrise

“I Am, Because Of You”

When I was at Londolozi, South Africa, in September 2005, CC Africa owned controlling rights and ran the lodges and safaris. Soon afterwards, the Varty’s bought back the control of their lodge, their family place, and their reserve. They introduced the new concept of A Self-Transformation Adventure Retreat (STAR) where people would come to immerse themselves in the wildness of Londolozi and be healed by its spectacular nature.

For me, when immersed in nature I feel happy and truly alive. At Londolozi, I saw the southern cross for the first time, as well as Leopards and Lions in the wild, and other iconic animals of Africa.

A few years after I was back, I bought Dave Varty’s, book, “Full Circle” when it came out in 2009, and read his family story. His son Boyd now runs Londolozi for the family….

Here is a Ted Talk; I recently discovered on the Londolozi blog from Boyd Varty, given on the day that Nelson Mandela died…. He talks about something that I truly believe in, a sense that your well-being is really tied to the well-being of others. Living your life as such, believing and acting on this principle.

He takes it further and applies it to wild creatures when he talks about an Elephant named “Elvis”. When I was at Londolozi, I saw this elephant, I even have some images of her in my computer files. Here is one!

Elvis Feeds
Elvis Feeds

We thought the same. Why isn’t she food for the Lions? How is she surviving? It’s because the elephants in her group were protecting her, moving more slowly, assisting her across the difficult ground of the African bush.

See what Boyd Varty means by the African concept of Ubuntu. (I am because of you) in this wonderful and important TED Talk…

The other Ted talks in this link from the Londolozi blog are very good and inspiring, but Boyd Varty’s touch me in a very personal way, because I have been at Londolozi, and I share a similar life view!

http://blog.londolozi.com/…/3-ted-talks-that-connect-wilde…/

Let me know what you think….

 

If you are going to Africa on a photography safari, and would like some advice on what gear to take, what particular photography situations are unique to photographing in East or South Africa, etc., I would be happy to share my knowledge.

You can reach and email me at bruce@dreamcatcherimages.net

More of my African images from my recent trip to East Africa in January 2015 are on Bruce’s Flickr Photostream.

 

Nothing Stirs A Male Lion Like?

Something Attracts A Male Lion's Attention
Something Attracts A Male Lion’s Attention

Nothing stirs a male lion like, the laughing cackling call of hyenas. They are mortal enemies. When the numbers favor them, hyenas in large gangs chase female lions off kills. As cubs, lions live in fear of hyenas, for hyenas will kill lion cubs if they can. With incidences from their youth, male lions remember and as adults will go out of their way to kill hyenas. It’s war; combat where lives are at stake.

This male lion perked up during the midday heat when he heard the far-off call of hyenas. You can see the alertness and the readiness to engage in battle if the threat comes.

We were patrolling in the vastness of the Serengeti, heading south from our lodge in the middle of this giant National Park. We would follow the tree-lined valleys looking for game. These valleys were a good place to find leopards, but not today. As the trees petered out, we came upon a pan, with a little water in the middle of a sea of grass.

It was here that we found two male lions. One seemed a bit younger, a red devil, with a very reddish mane, and not fully grown in. Not brothers because of the difference in ages, but probably cousins, and from the same pride. Their mothers were probably sisters. Both were lounging along the water of this recently filled pan when we coast up to them in our land rover.

Male Lion Flips Tail Along Pan Edge While Lying With A Older Male Lion
Male Lion Flips Tail Along Pan Edge While Lying With A Older Male Lion

It was my first trip to the Serengeti and East Africa. Like many, I was really struck by the vastness of the plains. Here in the southern Serengeti, there weren’t many trees. These plains extended all the way to the horizon, shimmering in the midday heat.

When the distant hyena calls became louder indicating the hyena clan was getting closer. The larger and older of the two males awoke from his lazy sleepy place along the pan. After pacing around a bit, he faced the direction of the calls and tested the wind; here was an aroused big cat ready to do battle.

It was a moment we were hoping for, some action, and this big cat gave us everything we could have ask for as he sat up and tested the wind for his enemy. Here in this image you really could see and feel his intent; this male lion is truly the “King of the Beasts”.

With Lions disappearing in Africa, down to less than twenty thousand, and the latest trophy hunting controversy and killing of Cecil, the famous male lion, in Zimbabwe. I felt lucky and humbled to have seen these two male lions and shared a little time with them, just being in their magnificent presence was so special.

Male Lion Walks Along The Edge Of A Serengeti Pan
Male Lion Walks Along The Edge Of A Serengeti Pan

I hope to go back to East Africa, maybe, next summer, in the dry season this time. Maybe, a visit to Kenya and the Masa Mara too. If you would like to join me and experience moments like these images depict, please stay tuned, my friend John is working on another trip.  Africa is an incredible place, and in the Game Reserves and National Parks, you still can see wild Africa as it once was.

Reviewing Images

A Second and Third Look
Through Your Images

After a long trip to Africa or Alaska, where you have taken many images, and hopefully some specials ones. Upon first review, you go through your images and think you got all the best ones marked out. Sometimes you are so excited you potentially could miss an image that’s really a star. One of the best ones of your trip.

Bald Eagle In Flight
Bald Eagle In Flight

I actually flagged this one and rated it, but never did anything with it until now. Sometime a second pass, or a third pass through your images after a reflective period of time gives you some gems out of rough stones that are most of your raw captures.

This image is one of my best Bald eagle in flight images. I would not have recognized it as a jewel, if I did not go through my 2014 Alaska trip images a second and a third time.

Also, with the advance in post-processing techniques, sometimes an image doesn’t appear at first glance to be something that can be truly great. Now, I look at raw files from the point of view of what is possible and how I can make the image closer to what I saw at the moment of capture.

So it pays sometimes not to give up on an image, and to keep your raw files instead of permanently deleting them.

With storage so cheap, you can keep the rejects as long as you want. One of my friends, use to laugh at me for keeping all my slides, even the ones that were a bit blurry. She would be laughing at me now as well.

Here though I found an image that I really like. One that I could have easily deleted and been gone forever. With technology forever changing and getting better, it pays not to be too hasty in deleting images.

I am going to get a scanner soon, and scan some of my old slides, ones that have the prospects and could become great with a little post-processing miracle.

I just can hear my friend saying, “yeah, really” to this, knowing that I probably never will. We will see…

Ndutu’s Lions

The Lions of Ndutu

Compared to my 2005 trip to South Africa, we saw many more Male Lions. Here is a Male Lion in the very early morning light, gazing across the plains, checking out what’s going around him. As Lions often do.

We had many different color manes among the many different Male Lions we saw, darker in the Serengeti, a really beautiful blond Male Lion in a different area of Ndutu. This one belong to the Marsh pride, and his mane is in between, not light, not red like some, and not too dark or black.

Male Lion Intently Gazes Out Across The Plain
Surveying the Savanna

I just love the side profile with that intent look, and the light was just fantastic, just after sunrise. By the way, it was our last shooting morning, and last morning in Ndutu. What a way to send me on my journey home.

Maybe, he looks so alive, because right beside him is a lioness. He was between mating bouts with her, now waking up, and ready to begin to go again. Very visceral, especially the sounds, and the action of them mating. A picture that stays on the screen of your memory forever.  For that story, I used my 100- 400 mm lens, that’s how close we were, and yet that’s another image too…

More stories and images of East Africa to come…

Male and Female Lion Alert and Watching Something In The Distance
Alert and Watching Something

More Lions:

One of the many highlights of my trip to East Africa was lions. I saw many lions in many places: like Ngornogoro Crater, the Serengeti, and here in Ndutu. This image was taken along with the image I posted a few days ago—my last morning photographing in East Africa.

This is the female lioness that my male lion (previous image) was mating with. Here they are both greatly aware and very intently checking out what another male lion about 40 yards away is doing or is up too.

Sometimes getting two subjects sharp with a telephoto lens can be difficult. Here though both lions were close to the same plane so f6.3 aperture was sufficient to capture both subjects sharp.

Notice the noses…could it be that this young Male Lion is wooing an older female. Generally, Lions noses turn black as they age. Here the female lion has a completely black nose, while her male companion nose has some red, indicating that he is a bit younger than her…

Again, I just love the light; this early morning low angle light bathes them in a warm glow that accentuates the colors of the male’s mane and their beautiful tawny bodies.

A mating image next, should I dare!!!???

Affection: Before or After???

I haven’t dare post a mating image yet. Working up my courage. So I thought I would share an image with some affection before the violent mating act itself. We can learn a lot through observing wildlife, even the King of Beast can show affection, perhaps even kindness and love.

Male Lion Licking Or Wooing Female Lioness
Wooing A Woman

They do seem to get along better than some people, some nations. Just think of all the wars we have been through the last fifteen years. The Islamic Jihadist war against the rest of us, and the beheading of fellow human beings, man’s cruelty to his fellow man. I could go on and on…

It just seems that wildlife can teach us a lesson of learning to get along.  I know that predators eating and killing to live is violent to some and they have trouble with this. However, through death comes life, everything has a purpose, nothing breaks the strands of the web of life. There is a harmony and a balance in nature; it’s only man that can disturb the cycle of life and break the web…

Anyway, we better pay attention. It might be too late already, because if we don’t, then this beautiful planet of ours, won’t be Mother Earth; it will be something harsh and deadly.

And then, the next great mass extinction will be Homo sapiens sapiens—us!

Mating Lions at Last:

After my lion image showing affection, here is my best mating image from that morning.

Lions can mate 4 to 6 times an hour, 100 times a day, and it can go on for days.  After exhausting one male, the female will sometimes mate with other male members of the pride, to insure and protect her future cubs by bonding with all the pride’s males.

Lion mating is a violent affair, and does not last long –a few minutes at most. Usually the male will scent mark afterwards, claiming and marking the territory and the females in it as his.

African Lions Mating
Violence or Ecstasy

Other than the gorgeous early morning light, I think the success of this image is that female is looking up at her suitor engaging in communication between them, and that her eyes are clearly visible and have such a wonderful expression… Even though, there is no sound, you can almost hear it from their expressions.

Perhaps, the moment of lion ecstasy!

A Drinking Lion and A Very Thirsty Lion:

Mating expends lots of energy, and is a very thirsty endeavor. After, repeat bouts of mating, where does a Male Lion go? He heads for the river and some water. Here are some images from the previous day, when the sun had gone higher in the sky, and the heat became a little more oppressive.

One vertical, the other a horizontal orientation, one a partial portrait and the other showing the complete body. Which one do you prefer, the vertical or horizontal image of the Male Lion drinking water?

Basically, these images were taken within minutes of each other at the same place.

Pictures are ultimately are about how they make your feel. Photography is an evocative art. Most of the time your responds comes from inside, within the gut, it’s a feeling, a sense, and or an emotion.

Knowing why, and articulating the reason we prefer one image over another helps us look within ourselves, and ultimately understand ourselves better.

So tell me which image do you prefer and why!

Male Lion Laps Up Precious Water
Sustaintance
Male Lion Drinking
Finding Precious Water


 

 

 

 

 

 

The Blond Mane Male Lion of Ndutu’s Marsh pride:

The females lionesses had just made a zebra kill in the middle of a wide low area and were eating. This male came out of the tree line, and made a beeline to where we were, coming straight at us, to get his share of the food.

Thus, he was intent and focused. I just happen to get this image toward the end of his run. It was a great behavior moment to witness! His eyes were open in this image, and I captured the movement of the leg as he strides, both help make this a special picture.

He is the most beautiful male lion we saw; his beautiful blonde mane is extraordinary!

Blonde Mane Lion Comes Running
Comes Running
Blond Male Lion Of The Ndutu's Marsh Pride
Proud and Fierce Warrior


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Power of a Male Lion:

I will leave you with this last one image as the magnificent blond mane lion pulls up a zebra carcass. Lions have incredible strength especially male lions in their prime. They rule the Africa savanna; they are the apex predator, nothing will stand up to them, except other male lions in their prime.

Lions kill to live and eat, if they didn’t exist; the grazers like wildebeest, zebra, buffalo, and especially elephants would destroy the habitation, and degrade the environment. Lions along with the other predators like leopards, hyena, and cheetah, provided a vital function in the African ecosystem and are part of the web of life.

Perhaps, the Last lions are walking on the earth now. Down to about 20,000.00 in Africa, their numbers are under extreme threat by poaching and loss of wild places to live. As the human population in Africa grows, tremendous pressure is put on Africa’s wild habitats. The days of finding lions and wild Africa outside of the National Parks is long gone. It’s only us, man, who can save the lion, and the wild places they need to live in.

These image of this magnificent blond mane lion stir my heart and represent to me all that it is to be a lion. I want to know wherever I am or live even if it is not in Africa that Lions will still be roaming the wild African landscape. Life will be diminished knowing that they will no longer roar at night, stalk the bush, sleep under the acacia trees, and hunt to feed themselves and their cubs.

If you would like to help Lions in Africa, please donated to National Geographic’s “Big Cat Initiative” and Cause a Roar!

Here is their link: http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/big-cats-initiative/get-involved/

Thank You.

Bruce Finocchio 3/12/2015

Male Lion Easily Pulls Up Zebra Carcass By The Upper Leg
Male Lion Easily Pulls Up Zebra Carcass By The Upper Leg

 

*Each of these segments were previously published in Facebook under “Dream Catcher Images” page as short post.

More images of a Male Lion from the wonderful Ndutu section within the Ngorongoro Conservation area, part of the greater Serengeti ecological system in East Africa.

Into The Eyes And Soul Of A Male Lion
Into The Eyes And Soul Of A Male Lion

 

King of Beast
King of Beast

 

Embracing Life

An Alert Young Burrowing Owl
An Alert Young Burrowing Owl

“If you have no love in your heart, you have nothing, no story, no dreaming, nothing.”* That’s why you need to follow your passion and be “in spirit”.  Inspiring others, with your love and imagination, and love will come back to you a thousand fold.

I love nature, and wildlife! This young burrowing owl is taking its first steps away from the home and safety that’s been its burrow. It’s alert and cautious about this strange and wider world, yet willing to embrace what life has to offer.

Are you willing to embrace life like this young burrowing owl?

*Quote from the Movie Australia.