Booked: Trip to Israel and the Czech Republic

Later this year we are travelling to Israel for a wedding, but since we will be within close proximity to many other destinations, it made a lot of sense to also plan a mini-holiday somewhere else nearby.

While there are some fantastic places in the world which are worth re-visiting, what is more appealing is the notion of visiting a place we have not previously visited.

Over a number of months, the main destinations we considered were Dublin (Ireland), Budapest (Hungary) and Prague (Czech Republic).

Today we decided on Prague, and while booking flights to Israel, we also booked flights to Prague.  We have both been to Europe before, but in my case, I had never been to Eastern Europe.

By all accounts, Prague is a beautiful city, so I am looking forward to not only seeing Prague, but capturing some cityscape and architectural images of the Czech Republic’s capital city.

It has been nearly 16 years since I last visited Europe, so I am looking forward to seeing it again, and hopefully landing some pleasing images.

2015 Retrospective: Intense and Focused

Now that we are well into the year 2016, it is time for a retrospective look at my photographic journey in 2015.

The year can be summarised as intense and focused, as the majority of images I captured during 2015 were in the Mara North Conservancy and Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, where we embarked upon an incredible seven-day safari with our friend and safari leader Mario Moreno.

Looking at my statistics, I shot more images in 2015 than I did in the years 2013 and 2014 combined.

Had the Kenya trip not happened, I suspect I would not have shot much.

Photographically, my year started quite late — near the end of April — with a macro/still life image of a new watch I had been given:

Certina 1888

Certina 1888

We had some family in town from overseas, so I took the opportunity to shoot some cityscape images from a location at which I had not shot before.

One afternoon we headed to the Glebe apartment and I waited for the right light to capture some views of the beautiful city skyline.

This was the result:

Dusk Descendence

Dusk Descendence

And a little later, during blue hour:

The View Sucks

The View Sucks

I also took the opportunity to capture this tight view of the Anzac Bridge as twilight fell:

Anzac Bridge

Anzac Bridge

In May, we all had an outing at the Wild Life Sydney Zoo in Darling Harbour.  I took a camera and a couple of lenses, but I did not shoot a great deal of images.

This image of a kangaroo was one of the more pleasing images I captured on the day:

One of Skippy's Mates

One of Skippy’s Mates

Later in the month, I felt compelled to head out and shoot another cityscape.

In the mid-to-late afternoon, I scouted for some vantage points along the western side of Circular Quay, and finally settled on the observation deck of the International Passenger Terminal, which affords a higher view, and additionally was empty and free from passers by.

I waited for the blue hour, and captured this view of Sydney which I have not seen (or photographed) before.

Circular Quay West

Circular Quay West

It had been a slow, but pleasing enough start to the year.

In June, the photography I had been eagerly anticipating since we booked the trip the previous year, would finally happen.

We headed to Kenya to spend seven days in the Mara North Conservancy and Maasai Mara National Reserve, where we would re-ignite our passion for wildlife and landscape photography.

So far I have published over 100 images from that trip, so I will not publish a great deal of those images in this article; but as the trip brought us a lot of first-time encounters, I will instead present some selected highlights from the trip.

We were based in the luxurious eco-lodge Elephant Pepper Camp, which afforded us total isolation and positioning right in the middle of where the action was.

This is a view of one of Elephant Pepper Camp‘s honeymoon/family tents:

Elephant Pepper Camp's Honeymoon Tent

Elephant Pepper Camp’s Honeymoon Tent

And this is a view of the camp at twilight, depicting the dining tent, lounge and camp fire:

Around the Camp Fire

Around the Camp Fire

Highlights of the trip included one of my finest bird images, which was my first frame of only two I snapped while this pied kingfisher was bobbing up and down in flight:

Suspended

Suspended

Just about every day, we were treated to lions — most prominently, the Cheli Pride.  One of the fantastic things about the Cheli Pride was its abundance of cubs, and on this trip, it was our first time seeing wild cubs, such as this cute little lion:

Lion Cub of the Cheli Pride

Lion Cub of the Cheli Pride

On one afternoon, we were fortunate enough to spend some time, in pleasing, afternoon light, in very close proximity to a lilac-breasted roller, where I captured this and a number of other images of the national bird of South Africa:

Plumage

Plumage

Naturally, a safari in Africa encompasses more than just wildlife — there are amazing opportunities for stunning, iconic landscape shots, and we certainly took advantage of that, rolling out into the plains in the pre-dawn darkness before other safari-goers were even awake.

This was one of my earlier landscape shots, captured during a moody morning:

The Moody Mara Plains

The Moody Mara Plains

On another morning, we captured the ‘postcard shot’ of a rising sun behind a lone acacia tree:

Sunrise on the Mara

Sunrise on the Mara

This particular tree is known as Mario‘s Tree, as Mario often photographs it.  We certainly did — several times — including one particular morning which greeted us with a colourful sky:

Lone Acacia

Lone Acacia

On only our second day on this trip, we were treated to a number of first-time encounters.  In the morning, we encountered our first Mara leopard, who was also also the first leopard we had seen in a tree; and in the evening we found our first male lion of the trip, again a member of the resident Cheli Pride.

We had gone back to Leopard Gorge to look for the young male cat, when we found a large, dominant male lion in the area instead.  If the leopard was around, he was hiding and would not be seen.

Here is the beautiful young male leopard perched high in an elephant pepper tree:

Leopard of the Day

Leopard of the Day

We not only encountered one male lion, but two!  His brother also emerged from the distance and joined him for some bonding and lazing before the night‘s hunting commenced.

Here is one of the stunning Cheli Pride males we encountered:

Surveying

Surveying

The day after we met the dominant males, we encountered numerous members of the pride, minus the males, feasting on a zebra kill the next afternoon.  This was another ‘first’ for us, as we had hitherto never seen lions feasting on a kill.  It was quite a sight, as this wider image shows:

Feast

Feast

The next day, we spent a dramatic afternoon with the Cheli Pride again, firstly as we encountered one of the mothers on her own, out in the open, calling for the pride.

Here is an image I captured of the lioness in the warm afternoon light:

Cheli Mother

Cheli Mother

Before long, a mighty rainstorm descended upon us, which made the big cat uncomfortable, as well as presenting challenges for us.  As the rain began to subside, camera shutters sounded like rapid gunfire as we captured action shots of the lioness shaking the water from her head.

Shake It Off

Shake It Off

Towards the end of the trip, we spent one day further south in the Maasai Mara National Reserve, where we experienced yet another first.

So far, the one species of African big cat we had never seen in the wild was the cheetah.  On that trip, we finally encountered wild cheetahs.  It was an exciting experience to firstly see them from a distance, and then drive to position ourselves optimally to be ahead of where they were headed.  It became more exciting as the cheetahs got closer, and I had a few opportunities to photograph the family, which consisted of a mother and four sub-adults.

Here is one of the nicer images I captured of these amazing big cats:

Portrait of a Young Cheetah

Portrait of a Young Cheetah

It had been a long wait, but finally we spent some time with wild cheetahs.

Our next morning in the Mara consisted of a portrait shoot with Maasai tribesman called Baba, with whom we travelled to Mario‘s Tree, where we shot some dramatic silhouette portraits of him as the sun rose on one of our final days in the Mara.

Here is one of the more striking images I captured during the session:

Baba the Maasai

Baba the Maasai

Our final evening in the Mara brought something we could have never predicted, and something which is quite rare to see: mating leopards!

At first, we spotted a young female leopard high in a tree during the warm afternoon light, but within a short time, a large, amourous male emerged from the thicket, and the two leopards began (or continued with) their ritual of rapid, exposive mating sessions, which can last for days.

We spent the rest of the drive witnessing this amazing sight, and the following image captures an intense moment as the female expresses her displeasure at the male’s advances:

Growl of the Leopardess

Growl of the Leopardess

The next morning was our final, somewhat subdued game drive in the Mara before we would fly back to Nairobi for a night and another day before departing Kenya.  We were fortunate to encounter a small pod of hippos in a watering hole, where I had the opportunity to capture some relatively close-proximity images, such as this large hippo on the bank, less than 30 metres away:

Hippo on the Bank

Hippo on the Bank

Before too long, this amazging photographic journey came to its conclusion.

After the intensity of our Mara trip, and my generally low photographic output before the trip, it was not surprising that I did not shoot much afterwards.  In fact, I shot only one more image for the remaining six months of the year!

The one image I did capture was a macro image of some red and orange roses to commemmorate our anniversary.

Fifth

Fifth

And so concludes my photographic journey for 2015.  It indeed was an intense and focused year, with Kenya dominating my photographic output, but with a few other images here and there.

Little Austinmer’s Rinse Cycle

Nearly a month ago, I experienced a great dawn seascape shoot at Little Austinmer, where there is an abundance of interesting water and rock features on the rock shelf.

During the earlier part of the shoot, I shot some long exposures in and around the main gorge.

Here is one of them:

Little Austinmer's Rinse Cycle

Little Austinmer’s Rinse Cycle

Here, I opted for a different style of processing, going for a more muted appearance, as for this image, tonality was more important than colour.

Landscape photographers usually try to emphasise the rich colours revealed by low, soft light; but sometimes playing down the colours produces a more interesting result.  Admittedly, this particular morning was quite moody, but there was some colour in the sky.

I’ve processed a few images in this style, and for the conditions I experienced on that morning, it works well.

Presenting a Wildlife Photography Talk

We recently had some good friends over for dinner and a good catch-up.

They’re both passionate and very capable photographers, and I met them when I was involved with the camera club scene some years back.

Last year they started their own club, and during the course of the night I mentioned that I’d be happy to appear some time as a guest speaker to deliver a presentation and talk about wildlife photography and our trips to South Africa and Kenya.

Sure enough, today an invitation arrived via email, inviting me to deliver a talk and audio-visual presentation at the club next week.

I was delighted to be asked, and I’m very much looking foward to this.  I gave a couple of talks when I was still a member of my old club, and while I loved presenting, I also found a lot of enjoyment in listening to the guest speakers we had there.

With two major African wildlife photography trips and the experience, knowledge, images and video footage I’ve gained, I have a wealth of material to cover.

My plan is to present a slideshow of my stand-out images (including videos), discuss our adventures and experiences, relate what it was like to experience Africa and its wildlife not only as a photographer, but as a person; tell some of the stories behind the images, discuss techniques, tips and equipment (including some show-and-tell); and also reveal some behind-the-scenes material.  I may even delve into post-processing if there is sufficient time.

Hopefully the other photographers at the club will gain something from my presentation, and be inspired to travel to Africa where a world of amazing and potentially life-changing experiences awaits them.

The One

A few photography friends of mine, who have shot Little Austinmer before, told me that it can take quite a few attempts to land a cracking good image.

I first ventured to Little Austi just a little over a week before I shot this image, and while I found it a stunning location, the sky was craptacular.

Today, things were different.

The One

The One

Little Austi really needs a moody sky, as well as the right kind of ocean conditions — specifically, an incoming tide and a moderate swell.

Today, all three essential elements were present. Not only that, but an intense red sun peeked over the horizon to add a splash of colour.

On only my second visit, I landed “the one” — the image I had been seeking.

This is it.

I landed quite a few pleasing images this morning, so I am spoilt for choice.

There will be more images to come.

Little Austi Overflow

Little Austinmer, known colloquially as Little Austi, is a location I have had on my list of photoshoot locations for quite a long time.

With my renewed enthusiasm for seascape photography, I headed to Little Austi this morning to capture its pictureseque rock shelf, over which seawater constantly cascades when the conditions of the tide and swell are right.

This is one of the images I captured:

Little Austi Overflow

Little Austi Overflow

I was very impressed with Little Austi.  There are many great spots and compositions to be found along the north end of Little Austinmer Beach.

Today, the conditions in the sky were rather unfavourable, but I came away with a small number of images, including this; and I am very keen to head back there at the next opportunity and land some very pleasing images under a much better sky.

Sunrise at Blackwoods Beach

During the middle of last week, I headed to a spot just south of Blackwoods Beach in Cronulla, and shot this image under a rich yet moody sky, as the sun rose to signal the start of a very hot summer day:

Sunrise at Blackwoods Beach

Sunrise at Blackwoods Beach

I’ve shot along this stretch of Cronulla‘s coastline a few times, but not in this particular spot.

I am pleased to say that the ‘bug’ I once had for seascape photography has returned after being dormant for too long, and I am very keen to get out again.

Very early tomorrow, I am heading to a location I have never photographed before, and one with some interesting and visually appealing features.  The conditions in both the sky and sea look quite favourable, and this particular location has been on my list for quite a long time.

Hopefully the conditions are indeed spectacular.