Wildife images that tell a story


Dec 16th, 2005, 07:38 PM
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Wildife images that tell a story

One of my students, Celia Lim, a graphic designer from Malaysia, has just posted a remarkable gallery of images she made in East Africa at http://www.pbase.com/cecilialim/animals

Many of them go beyond mere description to function instead as expression and visual narrative. Celia is not a professional wildlife photographer, but she shows us here how to tell a story with a camera. Even more impressive to me is the fact these images were made under the pressure of an organized minibus tour.

Celia often abstracts her subjects in various ways to show us less and thereby make the pictures say more by stimulating the imaginations of the viewer to fill in the details. Yet she never loses slight of her goal: to express the essence of her visit to this magical place.

Enjoy. And do leave your own comments on her images. She would appreciate hearing from people who cherish their own memories of this very special place.


P.S. Celia is as fine a writer as she is a photographer. She often posts substantive commentary on my own teaching images at http://www.pbase.com/pnd1
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Dec 17th, 2005, 04:50 AM
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What a pleasure to look at this photo album on a rainy Sunday morning. It makes me even more excited that we have the Canon Rebel sitting in a package underneath our tree (a gift for my husband--okay-- and me ) . Do you know what lens she used? Thanks for sharing!

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Dec 17th, 2005, 05:04 AM
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Thanks Phil,
Cecilias' work is quite good. A different perspective on safari shooting.
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Dec 17th, 2005, 05:28 AM
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Great photos and captions. Thanks for sharing.
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Dec 17th, 2005, 06:45 AM
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Thoroughly enjoyed the photos and the accompanying stories. Since you mentioned she was on a group minibus gour that should be inspiring to those who cannot afford some of the more private and costly safari options.
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Dec 17th, 2005, 07:16 AM
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Beautiful! Thanks!

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Dec 17th, 2005, 10:52 AM
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I thank all of you for your kind words on Celia's images. I have sent her a link to this thread so she can read them, and answer your questions.

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Dec 19th, 2005, 11:15 AM
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Phil -- Thank you so much for introducing my work on safari photography here on this forum. I am very humbled and honoured that you would recommend this gallery to others interested in this subject. Much of my success and the way I have photographed here have been based on the invaluable lessons you've taught me from your very own galleries about photographic expression (see http://www.pbase.com/pnd1 ) So thank you once again Phil! You've opened my eyes to seeing things a different way!

And for those who may be interested in my equipment, and some general tips about photographing wildlife from a van:

My main camera body was a Canon 300D Rebel and I was using a Tamron 28-300mm lens with a Vivitar 2x Auto Focus Teleconverter most of the time for animal photography. I had purchased the Tamron lens & Vivitar teleconverter for the trip and I made the mistake of not practising with them before I went - which I definitely do not recommend. Which brings me to the next point:

Be very familiar with your equipment because animals move all the time and you need to react quickly without having to figure out how your equipment works. The second you start fumbling with your camera, the moment is likely to be gone. For those using SLRs with multi-brand lenses, take note of which way the lens turns. I didn't know that different brand lenses turn different ways to zoom in and out. My Canon lenses turn anti-clockwise to zoom in, and to my horror, my Tamron lens does the complete opposite. I was confused like hell! The entire trip was also a lesson in learning about the limitations and behaviour of my equipment. So in my opinion, get to know your equipment like the back of your hand, or you might end up having many missed shots like I did, while fumbling with my camera.

Having a good, long telephoto lens with guick autofocusing is also absoluely crucial, otherwise you'll often end up with a lot of photos of a big horizon and some dots which resemble some kind of animal. A lot of my abstract shots were possible because of the ability of my telephoto lens to bring me close to the animal, even though I may be in a van a 100 meters away.

Having image stabilization in your cameras or lenses would also be a serious advantage especially for those shooting at powerful zooms or during low lighting. Unfortunately I didn't have any of this and the quality of my images suffered.

So what about using tripods? Personally, I found that it was next to impossible to use one if you're shooting from those mini-vans. And so I did not. There's just no space (or time) to set up the tripods next to the windows or on the roof-tops, especially if there are 5 or more people fighting for viewing space up there. Keep in mind that on some days, you may even be travelling with some luggage in the aisles of the vans which the boot did not have space for - luggage size have been known to double due to overzealous souvenir hunters! The most likely place you might use a tripod is if you were shooting from an observation deck. As animals are moving all the time, you will have to be very proficient with your tripod and camera.

So what about the beanbag? I did not have one but your biggest concern would be that to use any tripod or beanbag, will the van still be still enough for these to work properly? If your driver is understanding , you can request for him to switch off the engines because vibrations from those vans can wreck your photos. With the engines switched off, you will still have to deal with vibrations from your fellow safarians moving inside the van. So for this type of tours, it's best to leave the tripods behind if weight and convenience is an issue for you.

And are there really that many vans out there as you see in my images? Yes, but not all of the time. The vans usually only accumulate when there is a sighting of one of the Big 5. These are the hot subjects that everyone wants to pursue, especially for 1st timers. But we also enjoyed many peaceful stretches where we would see no vans or no more than one at a time. I was fortunate that my tour group consisted of only one van.

What if those annoying vans keep popping up in your viewfinder? Well, my best advice is to either wait it out, or use them as a subject in your images, like I did. After all, they are part of the safari experience and they can add an interesting twist to your collection of images.

I know I've made shooting safari pictures from vans sound extremely difficult, what more,shooting subjects that are always moving and quick to dash off. But the reality is that it actually IS compared to walking tours for example. But it can be done. I've done it and so can you!

Thank you to all of you who have taken the time to read this forum and for visiting my gallery. I hope my gallery brings back memories for those who have shared similar experiences to mine, and a source of inspiration for those who will be making their own safari photographs.

All the best,

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Dec 19th, 2005, 01:43 PM
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Thanks for sharing your pictures... now that you're here, can we ask who you booked the trip through, what your itinerary was and what you thought of things like accommodations, guides, destinations and, of course, the game viewing itself?

PS When are you going back?
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Dec 19th, 2005, 02:06 PM
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Thank you, Celia, for your kind words, and even more for your gracious words of encouragement to those who may be taking their first safari and are concerned about the photographic equipment they need and the problems they might encounter.

I can only add a small clarification so that your readers who are new to photography will have a more accurate picture of your lens "reach." You say you used a 28mm-300mm zoom with a 2x converter on your Canon Digital Rebel. Your Rebel has a 1.6x magnification factor. So your zoom lens is actually the equivalent of 45mm-480mm. You also say you used a 2x teleconverter on it as well, which further lengthens your focal length to 90mm-960mm.

That is the equivalent of a very long lens. If you were using it fully extended, you would have had to use a very fast shutter speed of 1/500th or 1/1000th of a second just to avoid camera shake. But there is a potential problem with that: your 2x teleconverter (which can reduce the amount of light that enters the camera by up to two stops) and the lack of sun you were so often shooting in, probably made such fast shutter speeds impossible to use. They just did not let enough light into your camera to expose the picture properly. It seems to me that very few of the remarkable shots in this gallery cold have been made with your lens fully extended to 960mm, or they would show some degree of softness due to the magnification of camera shake. You would have needed either image stabilization, a bean bag or monopod in order to use a lens of almost 1,000mm in the field, and you say you did not use any of these image stabilizing aids.

I advise my own students who are photographing wildlife in Africa to either purchase a lens (or camera) with image stabilization, or else be willing to shoot at lesser focal lengths to avoid blurred images due to camera shake. This may mean making pictures with smaller sized animals in them, but if you are using a six or eight megapixel camera, you should have enough leeway to crop the image to make a small subjects considerably larger, without losing detail. I believe that for most wildlife photography, except for small birds, a focal length that is less than half as long as the one you used -- 400mm -- should be long enough to make relatively large images of animals at a reasonable distance. If that lens or the camera offers image stabilization, you can probably use a shutter speed of 1/100th of a second at the focal length without blur due to camera shake.

Hope this helps, and thanks again for your contribution to this forum and for your images, Celia.


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