Category Archives: Wildlife

Articles relating to wildlife photography

Whale Watching Weekend

This weekend, we are heading into the open ocean for a few hours of whale watching.

The one and only time I have ever seen whales was during a white shark diving trip in South Africa.  We stopped at Hermanus to observe the whales frolicking, before heading further south-east to Van Dyks Bay to see the ocean’s ultimate predator in its domain.

This time, we are staying much closer to home to see the ocean’s largest creatures.

Whale watching has been on the must-do list for quite a while, and I am hoping not only to see some whale action, but to capture it.

I will bring out the big lenses so that I have the best chance of capturing the action, even if it is well and truly away from our position.  Having up to 800mm of focal length should help.

Stay tuned for some images — assuming I manage to capture any!

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Re-Visiting Featherdale Wildlife Park

Early this year, we took a trip to Featherdale Wildlife Park for the first time, and photographed a number of animals and birds.

Having recently bought a new Canon EOS 5D Mark IV and a new Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM, I was keen to head back to Featherdale Wildlife Park to shoot with my new gear, and hopefully capture a pleasing image or two.

Normally I would take my Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM for a photoshoot involving wildlife, but I specifically wanted to shoot with my new 200mm lens, so I took that, plus my Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM and both the 1.4x and 2x tele-converters.

Throughout the half-day visit, I mostly shot with new 200mm lens, and occasionally used my 300mm lens.  I wanted to shoot wide-open and isolate my subjects from their mostly busy backgrounds.

We headed out on an extremely cold morning, and were amongst the first visitors to the park on that day.

Having photographed penguins there before, I naturally wanted to photograph them again.  Here is the stand-out image from the many penguin images I captured:

Profile of a Little Penguin

Profile of a Little Penguin

These creatures can be very difficult to photograph, as they constantly scurry around and often stand in front of annoying backgrounds.  Not so in this case, as I was able to isolate this penguin against his sandy surroundings.

As can be seen in this image, the Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM is very sharp, and produces very pleasing background blur.  Had the penguin been higher and further away from the background, the background blur would have been even creamier.

We had some warm morning light during our visit, and whilst wandering amongst the bird section, I spotted this white-browed woodswallow perched in the warmth of the sun.

White-Browed Woodswallow

White-Browed Woodswallow

Unfortunately the woodswallow is enclosed in a cage, and even when shooting wide-open at f/2 within close proximity to the cage, it was not possible to obliterate the pattern of the cage against the background.

Despite this annoyance, the lens has again shown itself to be a tack-sharp performer, capable of easily isolating a subject.

Earlier during the visit, I spotted a kookaburra sunning himself in a narrow sliver of sunlight on a branch.

Catching Some Rays

Catching Some Rays

For this image, needing more reach to fill the frame, I used my Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM and 1.4x tele-converter.  I have not used that lens for quite a while now, so it was good to give it another run.

It was an enjoyable — albeit cold — morning, and using my new gear was certainly enjoyable too.

Given the capabilties of the Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM, I am very much looking forward to using it in the near future for some portraiture.

First Photoshoot of 2017

My first photoshoot of 2017 began eather early in the year, with a visit to Featherdale Wildlife Park on the 2nd of January.

This is only the second time we have been inside a zoo or wildlife sanctuary/park since our travels to South Africa and Kenya in 2012 and 2015 respectively.

For some time, Featherdale Wildlife Park had been on our list of places to visit, and when some friends from Queensland, who come to Sydney for Christmas and New Year’s Eve every second year, indicated they wanted to go, we made a day of it.

I shot quite a lot of photos, and have lots of material to review; but I managed to publish two of my favourite images of birds.

One of my stand-out images of the trip was this profile of a black-necked stork (otherwise known as jabiru):

Jabiru in Profile

Jabiru in Profile

The colours on this jabiru are striking!

Using the 560mm focal length, I was able to isolate the jabiru from her grassy background and render the details of her plumage in razor-sharp detail.

Moving onto a much smaller bird

The Little Penguin

The Little Penguin

When photographing a group of penguins, trying to capture a single penguin in isolation is rather difficult.

Fortunately I managed to capture this cute creature after he moved away from the others.

This image was captured with the stellar, rare, discontinued and highly-coveted Canon EF 200mm f/1.8 USM lens, shot wide-open at f/1.8.

All in all, it was a pleasing and productive day, and I shot more images in one trip than I have shot for months.

More images are to follow.

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.

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.

Video: Lions of the Mara

The year 2015 is drawing to a close, and it’s hard to believe that it has been over six months since our epic trip to the Maasai Mara region of Kenya.

While I shot many images during that trip, I also captured a very decent amount of video footage; but it has taken me six months to find the motivation to produce a video from the footage I shot.

While I shot footage of various wildlife, I mostly focused on the lions, and this afternoon decided to spend a few hours to produce a video dedicated to the lions of the Mara.

My new video, Lions of the Mara, was recorded in the Mara North Conservancy and the Maasai Mara National Reserve in June of 2015, and features three different lion prides: the Cheli Pride, which is the resident pride in the Mara North Conservancy; the River Pride, which occupies the territory near the Mara River; and the Double Crossing Pride, which resides in the Maasai Mara National Reserve.

Running for four minutes and 30 seconds, Lions of the Mara provides a highlight of the fantastic lion sightings we had during the trip, including two of the three prides feasting.

I hope people enjoy it.

RIP Ximpoko

I recently learned some tragic and disturbing news, and further reading today has confirmed it’s true.

Ximpoko, a very large male lion who inhabited the Timbavati region of Greater Kruger National Park in South Africa, was killed by trophy hunters in July of 2013.

Ximpoko was one of the first male lions we ever encountered in the wild.  He was a magnificent lion, and was considered to be the largest in the Timbavati.

Ximpoko and another large male lion (possibly Mabande at the time), had formed a coalition, and they roamed the region as nomadic males.  They were not siblings, and were not even from the same pride.

We spent time with Ximpoko and his companion in their natural habitat on Saturday, 6th October, 2012.

Here is an image I captured of Ximpoko, showing him in life:

The King's Face

The King’s Face

The Timbavati, South Africa, and indeed the world, is a lesser place due to the horrible and unnecessary loss of Ximpoko.

Some creature I struggle to regard as human sought entertainment at the expense of the life of an amazing lion, and an endangered species.

Ximpoko deserves to be running around the African savannah, continuing his lineage, not hung on someone’s wall as a decoration.

This was not nature’s way.

I hope that when Ximpoko‘s killer meets his maker, he is shown no mercy.