You might also like:
JUST ABOUT ANYTHING FROM AN UNUSUAL ANGLE
Text and photographs Annabelle Venter
Every season in Namibia brings its special delights for the photographer, and summer is no exception. However, in this part of the world the hot season comes with its own surprises, as part and parcel of the higher temperatures. The rains start in earnest as if echoing a delicate but spectacular flower show, the kind usually synonymous with spring elsewhere on the planet. It’s also the time for dramatic cloud formations and thunderstorms, which can provide an unusual angle on just about any subject you choose to photograph.
Springbok on plain with storm approaching. Photo ©Annabelle Venter
In this third of our four-part series, we’ll take a closer look at what nature offers us to photograph this time of year – flowers, birds, clouds and rain. Summer also brings a chance to see and photograph large numbers of baby plains animals in Etosha, such as springbok and zebra, as well as some fascinating species of insects that arrive only with the onset of the rains.
MACRO: GETTING UP CLOSE AND INTERESTING
With all the beautiful summer flowers around, close-ups and particularly macro shots should be high on your to-do list during the hot months of the year.
What is macro photography? Simply put, it’s taking close-up shots of small things! Here are a few ideas to help you capture the small magical themes you are likely to encounter on your summer travels.
Lilly leaf in the rain. Photo ©Annabelle Venter
- STABILITY – For successful macro shots you’ll need a tripod or at least a firm, stabilised base on which to rest your camera, and preferably a shutter-release cable. You could also use your self-timer if you don’t have a cable – the important aspect is to cause as little camera shake as possible.
- LENSES – If you’re serious about this aspect of photography, then choosing a dedicated macro lens is your best option. A 100-mm macro lens is especially good for insects, as you won’t need to get too close and thereby disturb your subject. This lens will give you a 1:1 ratio, in other words represent the subject on a life-size scale. Macro lenses can be used for portrait photography too. If you own a point-and-shoot camera, switch to the little flower symbol and make sure your flash is deactivated.
- APERTURE – When deciding on an aperture for your macro shots, think about whether you want one particular part of the subject in focus, or whether you want all the detail in the frame in focus, and choose accordingly. A small number (eg f2.8) equals a large aperture and a narrow depth of field, is in the area that will be in focus. This results in a faster shutter speed. A larger number (eg f11–f22) equals a small aperture, and a greater depth of field, which slows down the shutter speed.
- SHUTTER SPEED – Depending on what you are photographing, for instance a delicate flower, you might need to increase your shutter speed by pushing the ISO up. Flowers tend to bob around delicately (but annoyingly for the photographer!) in the gentlest of breezes. Shooting early in the morning might help, as there’s often minimal air movement then. You could also use a few clothes pegs or bulldog clips to stabilise branches or stems.
- VARIETY – Try new angles that you’ve not photographed before – an insect silhouette from underneath a leaf, a flower from beneath the petals. Try to capture the essential spirit of the subject rather than necessarily the whole thing. Don’t limit your macro shots to obvious topics such as insects and flowers. Look for the detail wherever you are – in beach pebbles, tree bark, historical artefacts, the weave of a basket – there’s no end to subject matter. Push your creativity!
- CLOUDY SKIES AND RAINDROPS – Make the most of rainy summer days and look for raindrops that sparkle when the sun emerges after a shower. Overcast skies give a wonderfully diffuse light for macro work. If it’s really too dull, devise a reflector from a sheet of tin foil to add highlights to your subject. The soft light in the early morning is a good time for flowers after a rain shower.
A BIRD IN THE AIR IS WORTH 10 IN THE BUSH!
Fish Eagle. Photo ©Annabelle Venter
Namibia plays host to a diversity of avian summer visitors that come here to breed and/or feed on the bounty of summer. You’ll find birds here that you won’t see in winter, such as all the cuckoo species, flocks of European bee-eaters (even in Windhoek), European rollers in Etosha, Abdims’s storks along roadsides all over the country, and Carmine bee-eaters and African skimmers up on the northern rivers. Look out for the large flocks of yellow-billed kites that swoop low to catch termites hatched after the rain.
Capturing any bird in flight is probably on the wish list of most photographers, as it’s highly rewarding when you finally land that totally sharp image! Here are a few tips and settings to help you nab that shot:
- A lens of at least 200 mm, but preferably 300 mm or more
- An auto-focus setting to enable continuous tracking in flight
- An aperture priority setting
- Continuous shooting mode for maximum frame bursts
- An aperture of about f8 to ensure that all parts of the bird are in focus
- An ISO of at least 400 will increase the shutter speed and help freeze the movement
- A shutter speed of at least 1/1000 or more
- A central focussing point
- Hand hold your camera if possible, as a tripod will restrict your movement
- Keep both eyes open so that you can follow the flight of the bird without having one eye pressed to the camera
- Learn something about the behaviour of your subject so that you can anticipate its movements, for example carmine bee-eaters swooping out en masse across the river when disturbed, then immediately returning to their holes on the riverbank.
Gemsbok on plain with approaching storm. Photo ©Annabelle Venter
You can’t help but notice the impressive gathering of clouds most afternoons in the summer, and this is great for photography, creating breathtaking lighting and dramatic backdrops for all sorts of subjects. Rain brings interest to ordinary topics, such as a pool found unexpectedly in the desert; or antelope caught in a downpour simply standing quietly, hunched forward to avoid the worst of it, and giving you a different view of these animals. When the rain stops and the sun emerges, it’s a time of sparkling beauty in this arid land.
Try using your wide-angle lens to capture your subject in context with those dramatic skies. But take care not to stand outside when lightning is imminent.
A Ziploc plastic bag with a hole cut out for the lens should keep the worst of the rain off your camera. Don’t let rain put you off photography – on the contrary, this is a time to capture magical images, so go out and make the best of it!