Great to be a photographer? Much harder than most think.
I'm rarely pleased with shots of myself these days...who is when you're 40?! And although I'm gettin' back into better shape (that always helps with portraits), I still look at images from my 20s and think that same ol' thing, "hey, I was thin and wasn't bad looking back then!".
Okay- here I was, up in the state of Washington heading over the border to British Columbia, shooting a few editorial magazine jobs in both areas- combining it with a sports / road trip, just happy to be with good friends - something I needed for a long time.
By Jim Zuckerman
Here in Kenya I went to a research center and reserve for chimpanzees established by Jane Goodall. The chimps were in a large enclosure of many acres, and it is a completely natural East African habitat. The animals can be anywhere in this large area, but when my photo tour group arrived they were very close to the electric fence that surrounds the compound. I’m sure they find humans just as interesting as we find them.
One of the females had a very young baby, and she held it close to her as she sat on the other side of the fence watching us. The picture you see below was taken when I was only about 15 inches away. I shot through the wires with my 70-200mm telephoto. A telephoto macro lens would have been ideal, but I don’t travel with that. Instead, I have a 50mm macro because it’s small and light. In this instance, however, the 50mm lens wouldn’t allow me to fill the frame as much as I wanted considering the distance I had to work from. Once when I tried to get even closer, I was zapped by the charge running through the wires.
In order to get a tight shot of just the baby, I used my 70-200mm telephoto zoom with extension tubes. These are hollow tubes that fit between the body and the lens, and they allow any lens to focus closer to the subject than they ordinarily can. There is a certain amount of light loss, but this is always the case when you photograph extremely close to a subject.
As I laid on the ground, I concentrated on the baby’s eyes to make sure they were as sharp as possible. Depth of field was extremely shallow, but the light level was low. My camera settings were 1/125th of a second at f/11 with 320 ISO. I used aperture priority to make sure I was getting the depth of field I wanted, but at the same time I was careful not to let the shutter speed get too slow. The mother kept shifting the baby to different areas of her body, and I had to be patient until I was able to get the composition you see here.
I am heading home at this time after a very successful and thrilling trip to Kenya.
By Jim Zuckerman
Even though I don’t like carrying a laptop with me when I travel – it’s one more vulnerable and expensive thing that I have to worry about – it affords me the ability to be creative with Photoshop when I’m not shooting.
The photo of the magnificent black maned lion you see below looked good in the original color, but I wanted to do something more akin to fine art with it. Using Photoshop, I cloned out a female lion that was behind the male and out of focus, and then I used Image > mode > grayscale to convert the color to black and white. I then used Image > mode > duotone and added a sepia tone to the photo, and finally I darkened the landscape so all of the focus was on the lion. As a final touch, I used Levels to adjust the contrast to make the cat's face really pop.
I haven’t used this treatment with my wildlife images in the past, but I like the result so much that I want to produce a whole new series of images using this kind of look.
by Jim Zuckerman
Just a few hours ago I photographed this magnificent male lion at a kill. His supremacy in the pride was challenged by a younger male, and there was a brief but very vicious fight. The challenger backed down, and the black maned lion you see here was basking in his victory. The fight happened too fast for me to capture it – it lasted perhaps two seconds and I wasn't expecting it at all – but I was able to capture this dramatic portrait in very pretty early morning lighting.
This was taken from a bean bag and I used the 500mm f/4 IS Canon telephoto plus a 1.4x teleconverter.
by Jim Zuckerman
I am in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve right now, and my photo tour got lucky today . We photographed two different female cheetahs with cubs. The first was in beautiful lighting – we arrived just as the sun was rising – and these are the first two shots you see here. What was especially dramatic was how the low angled sunlight shined in the eyes of the cheetahs. As soon as the sun rises higher in the sky, eye lids cast a shadow on the eyes that obscures some of the cats’ expressions. When the sun is low enough to penetrate and make that intense yellow/orange color of the iris stand out, it’s incredibly compelling.
When the female walked toward our vehicles, I was shooting out the side window of the van instead of the roof to get that intimate eye-to-eye perspective. It’s a challenge to focus as the cheetah walks right toward the lens because the critical plane of focus changes every millisecond. I used AI servo on my Canon – which I don’t trust – but I would release it and re-focus every second or so . Some of the pictures weren’t tack sharp, but I got one that was.
The other picture was taken as the mother and cubs rested under a bush for shade. It was about 11 am, and I shot tight to eliminate as much of the bright background as I could. I used Photoshop to somewhat darken the sunny area in the upper right section of the image because I didn’t want any distracting highlights to take attention away from the subjects. The interaction between the mother and cubs was fantastic to watch.
by Jim Zuckerman
On any African safari, the real prized sighting is a leopard. These animals are elusive and hard to find, but they are so beautiful and mysterious that to get a photograph of one is incredibly exciting.
Yesterday morning one of the drivers spotted a leopard in Lake Nakuru National Park. Leopards are often seen in Samburu Game Reserve, but the wonderfully cooperative leopard I photographed there last year had been eaten by a crocodile a few weeks earlier. This time we only saw one leopard that was too far away to photograph. The magnificent cat we saw yesterday in Nakuru was hunting, and it was the first time I had witnessed a leopard stalking prey. It was slinking stealthily through the grass, and this was thrilling to see. The problem we faced was that the high vegetation made it difficult to get a clear shot. We followed it as best we could, and there were only two times when I was able to get a decent picture.
It was early morning when the sun was still low, and the first opportunity came when the leopard was in the shade. Diffused light is complementary to most subjects in nature, and I love the intense expression I was able to capture. I was also hoping to get low angled sunlight on the cat’s face, but the odds were against me to get an unobstructed photo plus beautiful light. I got lucky, though, and that happened a few minutes later but the opportunity lasted for only for a brief instant. I took three frames in quick succession, and only one of them was sharp. Shooting through grass and bushes can be problematic for the autofocus mechanism because the camera doesn’t know which plane of focus is the one you want to be rendered tack sharp. It took me a few seconds to lock onto the cat’s face, and that produced the shot you see below.
I used my 500mm f/4 IS Canon lens plus the 1.4x teleconverter to get both of these images.