Thursday, 26 March 2009

Romeo

African lion (Panthera leo massaicus)
Marsh/Bila Shaka pride male, Musiara, Masai Mara (Kenya)
September 2007

Monday, 23 March 2009

Vultures: nature's garbage collectors

I realise that vultures do not rate as one of the most popular African bird species. Consider this, whether you like them or not, without them the African plains would be an awfully messy place.

The brown-coloured African White-backed Vulture (Gyps africanus) has a dark brown head and neck with a white ruff at the base. The bill and eyes are black. The rump, back and forewing are white, well visible in flight.



The brown Hooded Vulture (Necrosyrtes monachus) is a small vulture. The facial skin is pink with white-grey down in the hindneck. Distinctive is the slender bill.


The White-headed Vulture (Trigonoceps occipitalis) has a distinctive angular white head, hence the name. The face and the legs are pink. The reddish bill has a blue base. Females have a patch of white in the secondary flight feathers.


The Rüppell’s Vulture (Gyps rueppellii) is similar to the African White-backed Vulture. It is also brown but has a grey head and neck. The face is blue-grey. The bill is ivory-coloured with a touch of pink. The eyes are orange-yellow. On either side of the crop there are blue-grey bare patches. The feather edges are creamy white. In flight there are three white bars visible on the underwing.


The Lappet-faced Vulture (Torgos tracheliotus) is the largest African vulture with very distinctive pink-coloured bare skin on the head and the neck. The brownish bill is massive. Flank feathers are white.



Friday, 20 March 2009

Sleeping Beauty

African lion (Panthera leo massaicus)
Paradise pride lioness, Paradise plain, Masai Mara (Kenya)
September 2007



Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Big Bull

African Savanna Elephant (Loxodonta africana africana)
Musiara, Masai Mara (Kenya)
September 2007



Taking measure

African Savanna Elephant (Loxodonta africana africana)
Musiara, Masai Mara (Kenya)
September 2005

When 2 bull elephants of equal size meet, they literally 'size each other up' by coming together with their heads until the bases of their trunks and tusks are engaged.
Trying to be taller than the other, they press down on each other. The winner is the one that shows the most stamina, managing to hold his head higher than the other.

In this case neither of the 2 bulls showed real aggression, resulting in a 'friendly sparring match'.




Sunday, 8 March 2009

Leucistic Plains Zebra

Plains Zebra (Equus burchelli)
Mara Triangle, Masai Mara (Kenya)
September 2005



The stripes in this Plains Zebra are much lighter than normal.
It is caused by a condition called leucism. The pigmentation cells in an animal/bird fail to develop as they should, resulting in white patches, a paler colouring or completely white individuals. It is not the same as albinism. In albinism the entire animal is affected and the eyes are usually red. It is an unusual condition but occasionally animals/birds like these are seen.

By comparison, a normally coloured Plains Zebra.

Masai Mara 2009

Upcoming trip to the Masai Mara.
I will be back in the Masai Mara in September 2009. My itinerary is not yet set but it looks like my time will be divided between a stay at Little Governors' Camp in the Musiara area and Rekero Camp (Jackson Looseyia's office) and, possibly Naibor Camp, both near the Mara and Talek river confluence.
I can't wait to catch up with old friends again (both human and feline) and meet new ones...

Duma

Cheetah (Acinony jubatus raineyi)
Paradise plain, Masai Mara (Kenya)
September 2005

Duma is a female cheetah born in 2004.
Her mother is Sita a.k.a. Shakira (BBC Big Cat Live 2008).

Zawadi a.k.a. Shadow

Leopard (Panthera pardus pardus)
Double Gorge, Masai Mara (Kenya)
September 2005

Zawadi (a.k.a. Shadow of BBC Big Cat Diary) is the daughter of Half-Tail. She can easily be identified by a row of five spots under her right eye.


Peaceful scene at Bila Shaka

African Lion (Panthera leo massaicus)
Marsh/Bila Shaka pride, Musiara, Masai Mara (Kenya)
September 2005






Top Notch

Lion (Panthera leo massaicus)
Marsh/Bila Shaka pride, Musiara, Masai Mara (Kenya)
September 2005

Notch (BBC Big Cat Week) was the Marsh/Bila Shaka pride male until he was deposed by a coalition of 3 males.

Mama Duma

Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus raineyi)
Paradise plain, Masai Mara (Kenya)
September 2007

The sleek frame of a female cheetah.




Code of Conduct

As a member of BVNF, a Belgian nature photography group, I will avoid disturbance of plant and animal during the process of nature photography, which I practice with a thorough knowledge of and respect for nature. I will, among other things, refrain from nest photography of birds, uprooting plants or catching animals for photography purposes.

BVNF's Code of Conduct
Basic Principles:
When photographing nature one should not endanger the life, or the way of living of any plant or animal. The life as well as the well being of the subject and its environment are far more important than any picture of it. The application of these basic rules requires a basic knowledge of nature and ecology. A good knowledge of species, as well as of the behaviour and the ecology of the subjects will facilitate a proper application of the basic rules.
Rules of conduct:
1. One shall only make pictures of subjects in their natural environment. Picking flowers, or capturing animals for photographic purposes, is completely unacceptable.
Only when natural elements ( plants, animals, geological and physical subjects) are the actual subject of the picture, which is taken when the subject appears under free and natural conditions, is it to be regarded as nature photography.
Aquarium-, terrarium-or zoo-photography and photography in Game Farms, where it concerns captivated or trained animals, is not part of the action field of BVNF.
Most landscapes (even though they are only semi-natural) are part of the range of our nature photography.
Pictures of assaults to nature and the environment are also considered to be part of the scope of BVNF, as photography in service of the protection of nature.
The presentation of images that are changed digitally or are changed in any other way in regard to the original recording is not part of the action field of BVNF.
2. When making pictures one should change the environment of the subject as little as possible and one should take great care not to damage the subject's natural protection.
3. Nest photography of birds is excluded. Photographing birds in the vicinity of a nest is dissuaded.
By not photographing birds nests in general we avoid inducement of making nest photography of birds that are more sensitive to disturbance.
Species which tolerate the presence of man (eventually depending on place and time) can be photographed in the vicinity of the nest, but only with due regard to the basic rules ( e.g. cliff birds).
4. Pictures of nesting holes or photographing in the vicinity of nesting places other than of birds is dissuaded if disturbance is possible.
5. The disturbance of foraging animals or animals carrying food to breeding sites is to be avoided.
For most of the time animals are awake and are looking for food. Also without human interference, animals are regularly disturbed while foraging, without causing much damage. This however, can change in cases of prolonged or regularly repeated disturbance. When animals are weak, food is hard to find, or when feeding youngsters or partner, even one single act of disturbance may be fatal. Therefore it is dissuaded to photograph animals carrying food, unless this is done from a carefully places hide.
6. Sleeping or resting places shall not be disturbed in any case.
Winter sleep has to be respected unconditionally because interference at this stage may directly endanger the life of the animal. High tidal refuges can be interesting places for a hide, but one should take care to stay hidden until all birds have left the refuge spontaneously.
7. One should not evoke any behaviour which may cause damage to the animal. We do not recommend the use of bird song playback.
If applied in a proper way, feeders or drinking places may be a positive way to attract animals. However, if animals become partially or completely dependent on the artificial food, one has to take care to continue the provisioning after the photo session, until this becomes unnecessary.
8. Manipulation of animals (e.g. holding or moving them) or plants (e.g. pinching) is usually inappropriate, often to be avoided and sometimes totally unacceptable. If pictures can only be taken after manipulation, one can better wait for another opportunity.
Sometimes very simple manipulations can directly endanger the life of the subject (e.g. rejection of youngsters by their parents after human contact). Moreover, manipulation is often not in accordance with foregoing basic principles.

Want to know more about BVNF?
http://www.bvnf.be/index-en.htm

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Wildlife photography tips

Going on safari? Since most people nowadays own or buy a digital camera, the following tips are more or less directed towards this group of people. I haven’t gone into too much technical detail.

Know your camera.
A lot of people buy a new camera and lenses before embarking on safari. That’s not necessarily a bad idea but be sure that you have familiarized yourself with the camera before your trip. If not precious photographic opportunities will be lost while fiddling with the controls or reading the instruction manual. If you do buy new camera gear, remember that it’s better to spend more on the lenses and less on the camera body. The quality of your pictures is decided by the quality of the lenses you use. A basic camera body on the other hand will do the job. I know I’m cutting corners by stating this but generally it’s correct.

Take more than you think you’ll need.
It’s not always possible to buy the correct type of batteries on location so take these with you and make sure they work before you leave home. When you’re trying to figure out how many pictures you’ll be taking during your trip, remember this: you should at least double or triple that amount, so take plenty of memory cards with you. Alternatively, you may want to take a laptop or a portable image tank (hard disk) with you on which to store your pictures. In that case you don’t need a lot of memory cards since you can empty them every time.

In the field.
Remember that you’re dealing with wild animals or birds and these can be very nervous. So, no sudden movements as not to disturb them and contain your excitement. This also means keeping your voice down and keeping your distance. Don’t encourage your driver to come close.

Composition.
Don’t take all your pictures from the roof hatch. You’ll often get far more pleasing views through the side window (you’re more on the animal’s eye level). Look for the best of both worlds. Also mix shots between horizontal (‘landscape’) and vertical (‘portrait’). You’d be surprised how many people shoot their entire safari holding the camera horizontally. Think outside the box. Don’t go for the obvious but e.g. try to photograph a towering elephant from below for a change to create a dramatic effect or photograph a group of lions feeding on a kill from above. Another way of creating an effect is by panning your camera with a moving subject with the shutter speed set at around 1/60 of a second. Results can be dramatic but remember, it’s hit and miss. If that’s not what you’re after then use fast shutter speeds (around 1/1000 of a second) to freeze movement. If you’re using non-image stabilised lenses camera shake can be a real issue. In that case, see to it that your shutter speed is no less than the maximum focal length of your lens, i.e. if you are using a 70-300mm zoom lens, set the minimum shutter speed at 1/300 of a second. Alternatively, use a beanbag or a rolled-up sweater to stabilise your camera and lens onto (a tripod is not an option, there’s simply no room for it in a vehicle). I do sometimes use a monopod though, specially with longer lenses (a great way to rest the old arm). When composing a picture, try to avoid a ‘busy’ background as it may distract from the main subject. Take your time to compose the shot or a branch might seem to grow out of an animal’s head or the horizon might cut right through an animal’s neck!

Depth of focus. You can control the depth of focus (the area in the foreground and background in focus with your subject ) by changing the aperture value (f-stop) letting in more or less light. The smaller the aperture, the greater the depth of focus and vice versa. A large aperture value of e.g. f2.8 to f4 allows you to isolate the subject from its background (ideal for portraits). A small aperture value of e.g. f16 to 22 brings a large area into focus (ideal for large groups of animals or animals including landscape). There’s a way to check the depth of focus before pressing the shutter button. This ‘stopping down’ technique closes the diaphragm of the lens to the f-stop chosen, the image becomes darker, allowing you to see the area in focus. Most modern digital cameras are equipped with a push button to do this.


The rule of thirds. When composing a horizontal picture try to avoid the horizon running through the middle of the picture. If the sky is more important than the foreground give it 2/3. On the other hand give the foreground 2/3 of the picture if it’s more important than the sky. This works with vertical pictures as well: depending on the direction your subject is walking or facing, put your main subject to one side of the picture to create an area of space ‘to walk into’.

Exposure.
Sometimes you come across situations when automatic exposure meets its limits: e.g. dark subjects against a light backdrop or skies. You need to do things manually. Spot-meter your subject to get the correct exposure or use the exposure compensation dial on your camera to increase or decrease the exposure by 1 or 2 stops. Again, this can be a bit of hit and miss. Practice your technique before you go on your trip, thus preventing disappointment. It is a misconception that the sun has to be behind you. The harsh midday sun is to be avoided or you’ll end up with flat, evenly lit, pictures. Not very pleasing. In my view, the only photo opportunities that still work in the middle of the day are pictures of birds. Apart from that, restrict your photography to the ‘golden hours’ (the first 1,5 hours of sunlight in the morning and the last 1,5 hours of sunlight in the evening). In these golden hours, experiment around by using front lighting, sidelighting and backlighting. When using sidelighting, increase your exposure by 1 stop. This technique is only effective when the sun is very low in the sky. Try backlighting ( the sun is behind your subject). Don’t be afraid. Results can be most pleasing, creating a lovely golden rim around your subject. It’s not easy to get the exposure right. Take a few shots with the camera set on automatic, then increase the exposure by 1 or 2 stops (to create more detail in the shadow areas). Check it out when you’re back in camp and remember it or take note for the future. If you end up with incorrectly exposed pictures, all is not lost. There is some great software out there that goes a long way in correcting your mistakes.


Sunsets and sunrises.
Everybody wants to return from his safari with a decent picture of an African sunset or sunrise. Be sure to include animals and if possible a tree into your composition. Animals should be silhouetted against the orange/pink/yellow sky. Automatic exposure does the trick as long as the sun is not in your picture. If you include the sun in your composition, do the following. First look for a correct exposure by metering an area with nice bright colours (without the sun in the picture!). Lock the meter reading by half-depressing the shutter button (or a separate exposure lock button, depending on the camera) and, while still half-depressing the shutter button, recompose your picture with the sun in it and take the picture. Vary the exposure and take lots of pictures. It’s all about hit and miss...


Which brings me to the conclusion. It’s all a matter of trial and error. You’ll have to take a lot of pictures and you’ll have to learn from your mistakes. That’s what I did. But above all, enjoy your wildlife photography. Don’t forget to take some time to sit back without taking pictures and just soak in the magic...

Xavier

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Hello there...

I'm Xavier Van der Veken. I was born in 1961 in Belgium.

From an early age I was inspired by nature, astronomy and photography. This combination worked well for me. Since then astronomy has taken a backseat but I do enjoy my occasional spot of stargazing.

So, this blog is all about wildlife photography which I enjoy, a lot. I hope you can tell from my work.
Xavier