Thursday, March 16, 2023

Photographing lions on safari in Tanzania, Africa

On our recent safari in Tanzania, we were treated to many lion sitings. It is not uncommon to see these majestic cats in the wild, but the real treat was to see them in so many different situations. 

One of our first lion sitings occurred when we were in the Ngorongoro crater, but they were pretty far from us and you can not drive off-road in the crater to closer. The same day that we left the crater, we drove to my favorite area of Tanzania, an area called Ndutu. In this area, we can drive off-road. This means that if we see a lion in a tree, we can drive right to the tree to get a nice photo. Within minutes of entering Ndutu we saw this lioness resting up in a tree. Our photo tour guests were really excited to get photos of her as she moved from branch to branch.

Also in Ndutu, we watched as some of the lions stopped for a drink. The one above appears to be pregnant, or possibly just have a very full belly.

Here is another female drinking.

My goal is to get our vehicles in the best position to photograph the wildlife. We saw this one lioness walking in our direction. Our guide quickly moved so that we could get a nice photo of her with sunlight on her and the tall grass in the background.

The same lioness that you saw walking in the previous photo decided to plop down and take a rest very near our vehicle. I wanted to get a photo from a low angle, so I used the reciprocating screen of the Canon R5 (with the Canon RF100-500mm lens mounted to the camera) to lower the camera outside of the vehicle as low to the ground as I could and fire off some shots a couple of feet off the ground. 

In the same pride of lions, there was this one male...

The female was not very happy with the male! I was really happy to capture the emotion in the female, but did not expect the male to jump out of the frame. Arghhhh! This would have been so much better if we saw the whole male.

If you have been on safari before, you may know that there is a whole ritual with the mating process. I told all of our guests what to expect and we all had fun capturing the interactions between the male and females. At this particular moment, I think the female startled the male.

And in this shot, I think the second female startled the first female.

They were likely fighting for dominance.

The mating process is always interesting. The entire process happens in about 20 seconds, and it is repeated about every 20 minutes, sometimes for as long as a week. The male lion almost always looks angry and the female typically looks bored. Many times after completion, the female will snap back at the male before turning over on her back. She turns onto her back to help the fertilization process (since the lioness' fallopian tubes are curved).

Towards the end of one of our days, we came across the partial remains of a wildebeest, and heard that a lioness was close by. At one point she popped our of the bushes and I grabbed this photo of her perfectly framed in the brush. I love the way that her golden body is in contrast to the dark background.

She started walking away and our guide made another mad dash for a "straight-on' position. He guessed perfectly and we had a shot of her coming right at us. As she walked towards us, she gave us this big yawn. We loved that!

The following morning we were driving along the waters edge when we spotted this large male lion who was resting by the water. I encouraged our guests to shoot an image of the lion, but to take it wide enough to show all the zebra on high alert in the background. This shows the way that the animals coexist in the wild. (Almost everyone on our trip was using a Canon R5 or Canon R6 with the Canon RF100-500mm lens. This lens is great because, with the same lens, you can shoot tight or wide).  They either owned the gear or borrowed it from my contacts at Canon CPS (for free I should add).

Towards the end of our trip, we were driving in the Serengeti when our guide saw these two male brothers hiding under a small tree. We waited for about 20 minutes to see if they would move.

Waiting while on safari is a very good thing. Not only do things change in an instant, but it also gives us a good chance to capture portraits like this one. 

Both of the brothers got up and started walking towards the copis (rock outcroppings). Figuring that they were heading towards the rocks, we moved our vehicle to follow their path. I loved this scene, with the big male lion surrounded by the endless tall grass of the Serengeti. 

Once the large male made it to the rock area, he turned around to check out our vehicles. I love this shot with the curve of the tail and the interesting background. 

Just before walking behind the rocks and mostly out of sight, he turned and looked right at us. Many people ask me if I am ever scared while on safari and the answer is always "no". These big cats, although incredibly powerful and dangerous, do not see us as food. They are accustomed to the safari vehicles and usually use the shade of the vehicle to cool down. Would I get out of the vehicle? No way! But we always feel safe and love getting great photos of these big cats.

By the way, I just added a bunch of new photo tours to my web site. These include future trips to Africa, Greece, Indochina, Costa Rica... You can find those here.


Subscribe to the Jeff Cable Photography Blog by clicking HERE!
If you are interested in purchasing ANY equipment, please click here to go to B&H Photo, as I get a referral from them if you enter this way. It does not change the cost to you in any way, but it helps me keep this blog up and running.
Check out my upcoming photo tours to amazing places around the world. I have photo tours to Africa, Costa Rica, Cuba, Europe, Asia, India and more. And Canon will loan you any gear you want for FREE for any of my tours. 


Saturday, March 4, 2023

Photo retouching - making a good photo much better!

My last blog post was written and posted from London, during a long layover on my way to Africa. We just completed the amazing photo tour in Tanzania and now I am writing this blog post while on another layover, this time in Ethiopia. 

After shooting more than 300GB of images in the last 12 days, I have started working on the culling (using Photo Mechanic) and retouching (using Adobe Photoshop). As I was working on this process, I thought that I would show you my finished image and the original, to give you an idea of what I do to complete an image. Regardless with what camera you use, or even the photo retouching software you use, these tips should be helpful to you. At least I hope so!

Let's jump right in.

On one of our slower days on safari, we decided to work on the art of capturing birds in flight. We continually chased the Lilac-breasted rollers, waiting for them to take off, and hoping to grab some nice photos. This shot was taken at 1/5000 sec using the Canon R5 camera with the Canon RF100-500mm lens. The subject tracking is SO GOOD, that it really helped me and our photo tour guests capture some killer images. But, if you see the original below, the image needed cropping, and some adjustments to the white balance, tiny, color saturation and contrast. What a difference this makes!

At one point, one of our vehicles got a flat tire. While our guides were changing the tire, we were surrounded by the local Masai people. This was an awesome time to do portraits of them. I love this photo of a local Masai boy, but there was a rock at the bottom of the frame. Using Photoshop's clone tool, I was able to remove the distraction of the rock and make a better portrait.

One of the things that we look for when photographing the large cats in Africa is the yawns and good facial expressions. The lioness looks ferocious in this photo, but it is simply a yawn. I knew as soon as I took it, that it would make a nice photo, but I needed to crop in and makes subtle changes to the exposure, shadows and highlights to really finish it off. You can see how the tighter crop and other adjustments really brings the photo to life.

This photo was one of the most difficult of the trip. We were parked off to the side of a kill, photographing the vultures as they continually flew down to feed. After taking countless images of the birds in flight, I figured it was time to try something different (and teach our guests some new tricks). I changed my camera settings (from ISO 1000, f/7.1) to ISO 100 with an aperture of f/11. This now gave me a shutter speed of 1/200 sec. I followed the vultures with my lens as they flew down and motion panned them. I captured this photo and loved the motion in the wings with the face being tack sharp. Using the resolution of the Canon R5 camera, I was able to crop in on the photo to highlight the details of the head and the motion everywhere else, with plenty of resolution to spare. Comparing the retouched image to the original, you will see that I also made adjustments to the exposure to brighten the bird and background.

I took this photo this morning, before packing up and heading to the airport.  This monkey was just outside my room and screaming for a photo. I was captured by the orange eyes, but needed to make minor adjustments to bring out the eyes. I used Photoshop to select the subject and then increased the exposure and made adjustments to the shadows slider to lessen the dark shadows. These changes were less obvious but still needed to complete the shot.

This last shot is one of my favorites from the trip. We were done photographing the wildlife for the day, and heading back to our tent lodge for the night. We saw some color in the sky and I asked my guide to drive to a spot with a good acacia tree in the foreground. At that point the setting sun was behind the clouds and we thought we would just get a little color in the background, but no actual sunset. One of photo tour guests who was in the car with me, said "I think the sun is starting to show." And sure enough, the sun made a full appearance in the perfect spot. We took many photos as the sun appeared and then dropped below the horizon, and I honestly did not think they would yield much. But after seeing the original and then playing with it in Photoshop, it blew me away. I increased the exposure a bit (since I was shooting at -1.7 exposure comp to protect the highlights), brought up the shadows to show the colors in the sky and show some of the animals at the bottom of the frame (even though they are hard to see here). I darkened the highlights to accentuate the colors in the sun, and added saturation to try and match what we saw when taking the photo. Once again, minor tweaks that make a big difference!

I hope that these examples will help you with your photo retouching, and take your good photos to great!


Subscribe to the Jeff Cable Photography Blog by clicking HERE!
If you are interested in purchasing ANY equipment, please click here to go to B&H Photo, as I get a referral from them if you enter this way. It does not change the cost to you in any way, but it helps me keep this blog up and running.
Check out my upcoming photo tours to amazing places around the world. I have photo tours to Africa, Costa Rica, Cuba, Europe, Asia, India and more. And Canon will loan you any gear you want for FREE for any of my tours.