Thursday, December 1, 2016

FUJIFILM GOES WILD - African Wildlife Safari with the XF 100-400 and XF1.4X TC

Earlier this month, I left the busy city environment of Dubai for a 9-day photo-safari in Northern Tanzania; visiting four National Parks (NP), Tarangire NP, Lake Mantra, Serengeti and last but not least the world renown the Ngorongoro Crater NP.


This was the my first Wildlife photo-safari shot exclusively on the Fujifilm system. Earlier trips to the Kenya and Namibia had all still been with the much heavier and bulkier DSLR system. 

Even though, I don't see myself as a Pro Wildlife photographer, I do really enjoy a good photo-safari. What is below is an overview of the gear I packed, some tips and tricks and the overall experience I had with the Fujifilm equipment in the wild!

PHOTOGEAR - What did I pack?
One does not want to go with a single camera body on a trip like this; do yourself a favor and  bring a back-up camera! I carried my Fujifilm X-T2 as the main body with the X-T1 as a back-up/second camera. The X-T2 had the Vertical Power Booster Grip (VPB-XT2) while the X-T1 had the Large Metal Hand Grip (MHG-XT). 



I brought the following glass:
  • XF100-400 ; my main wildlife lens
  • XF50-140 ; for wider shots and potentially as a back-up with the XF 1.4TC if something would go wrong with the 100-400
  • XF10-24 ; for wide angle vistas (rarely used)
  • XF23mm f2 ; for street photography when traveling between places
  • XF18-55 ; all round travel lens, although used it could have probably stayed home
  • XF1.4X TC ; teleconverter used a lot on the 100-400 lens





Beside the above, I carried an 15 inch MacBook Pro, a 2 TB external hard-disk and a single charger for the cameras as well as the new AC-9V AC Power Adapter that allows to charge two batteries in the grip simultaneously. Talking about batteries; I took a total of 6 batteries which turned out to be largely sufficient. 

I brought plenty of memory cards; a total of 288GB which allowed me to not format a single card during the trip. This will give you an extra backup beside the download on the laptop and external harddrive. 


Leave the tripod home as their often is no real use of it, except if one wants to photograph the night sky which can be very dramatic. But bring a bean bag to stabilize 
long glass on the window/roof sill of the car. When you are tight on baggage allowance, bring an empty bag and buy the cheapest beans you can find in a local (super)market. It will work just as well.


All was carried in two camera bags, the main one being a ThinkTank Streetwalker Pro and the second one an Everyday Messenger bag from Peak Design.




OTHER GEAR TO PACK


Generally try to pack as light as possible, but make sure to pack a few warmer clothes for those early morning Safaris. Believe it or nor but it can get a bit chilly in Africa, especially in the higher elevation parks like the Ngorongoro Crater.


  • A good flashlight will come in handy as a lot of the more basic accommodation will probably not have electricity during the night. 
  • Take a few zip-lock bags to protect stuff that can't handle the dust; It will get into everything.
  • Bring a Safari hat; a classic baseball cap is really out of place and will not protect you from the harsh midday sun. 
  • Make sure you have the correct electrical plug converters for the country you visit; click here for more.

PLANNING THE TRIP

Needless to say that a trip like this requires a decent amount of planning! First of all one has to decide when to go and where to go... Whenever the trip is to Kenya or Tanzania  a lot of photographers will want to be there for the "Great Wildebeest Migration". If not familiar please check out the link here

On my latest trip we however wanted to go to the Serengeti during the dry season (just before the short rain season) which gives a very different perspective to the place but also comes with specific challenges! While dust is always present  during a wildlife safari, it proved to be very much the case on this one. The "where" to go I'll leave entirely up to you as there is plenty of choice!




A great place to start the planning is SafariBookings.com ; they will send you quotes from most of the Safari companies organizing African safaris. When choosing a company please make sure you book a "Private tour". As a photographer you really don't want to be teamed up with non-photographers! The first will be ready to leave early before sunrise while the second group will be ready to go after breakfast when the best light of the morning is gone! If you do travel only with photographers, make sure that you set your objectives and expectations beforehand, as it can easily create tension amongst different photographers as well. I personally like to travel alone (or as a couple); something that obviously will be more expensive as a car and driver is obviously still needed for 1 or for 5-6 people. 


Check that the car you book is a 4x4 (normally Landrover or Toyota) and not a converted mini-bus. The latter are not ideal for wild-life photography. Then there is the choice between a closed or open vehicle; the second one is the preferred option but is largely being limited to the South-African Safaris as the travel distances on the road in Kenya and Tanzania can be quite long and not comfortable in an open car. For more info check out this well written article here

Make sure that your car an inverter installed to charge batteries and other electronics while on the go; especially when camping without the access to electricity at night. 

Lastly ask your local travel agent if the driver is familiar with wild-life photography; if possible ask for a referral to a photographer group/person that used them lately. 

In most places one can self-drive but this comes with its challenges as road-signs are often pretty thin in this part of the world. Beside, the safari drivers stay in contact through radios which makes finding wildlife easier than being on your own. On the other hand, there is of course something to be said about the freedom of being alone in the African Savannah! 


WHERE TO STAY

A safari will never be a cheap holiday, accommodation can vary from basic camping to luxury 5 star lodge accommodation. I personally prefer the "tented camps", such as Katti Katti in the Serengeti. These have all basic needs such as a toilet and shower but give you the advantages of a real camping experience; living amongst the animals.



While hyenas and other animals can be heard during the night, one morning we found a nice fresh elephant poo right outside our tent. Nature at its best!

TIPS AND TRICKS

1/ A few weeks before leaving, check what vaccinations you might need. Most places in Eastern African will also come with the recommendation of taking anti-malaria tablets; check with a medical professional for more. 






2/ One will often have to fly on domestic flights when going on safari. Avoid exceeding the hand and check-in luggage allowances; not only in weight but also in size, especially when flying on the smaller single-engine aircraft. You really don't want to load your photo-gear in the cargo hold of the aircraft. Believe me, as an airline pilot I do know how checked in luggage is often handled! 


If traveling with two photographers, a back-up camera as well as some lenses can be shared; maki amongst the two of you. Using mirrorless cameras like Fujifilm, allows me meet those weight requirements much easier. 



3/ Try to only use weather proof photography gear; not so much as a protection for rain but much more for dust. The African safaris are notorious for a lot of dust while driving. If you don't want to ruin your photographic experience, plan on not changing any lenses while being out and about; use your back-up camera with the alternative lens. 






4/ If you do take a personal driver/guide, advise him at the start of the trip what you expect from him. Agree on how you will make him stop when you see something and that you'll let him know when it is OK to start driving again. You might also have to explain to him that you normally prefer to have the sun in the back.


5/ Rather than taking breakfast in the lodge/tented camp, ask for a breakfast box so you can leave before sunrise. Tell the driver you are ok to come back to the accommodation during the mid-day harsh light and then leave again around 2.30-3pm. In order to be able to do this, it is advisable to have your accommodation inside the National Park.





6/ Use a geotagging app on your smartphone. After the trip, Lightroom will sync all of the images to the GPS track which will give you a good idea where exactly you took your shots. I personally use geotagphotos.net





7/ Go as low as you can! Getting a low perspective will often lead to more dramatic images. This is where the advantage of an open 4x4 will come in handy. If not, consider shooting through the side windows rather than from the higher open roof viewpoint when the situation allows it.





8/ Be patient! Rather than driving around like a headless chicken, spent time with the animals you find on the way. When a Leopard takes an afternoon nap in a tree, she will eventually come down; patience pays off! 



9/ When the animal is close to the car, don't put the long glass down! Details shot often make for interesting wildlife photography.




10/ Enjoy the experience of being in the wild. Don't forget to sometimes just put down the camera down in order to really let the whole experience sink in! 




FUJIFILM GEAR FOR WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY

Personally I believe that cameras like the X-T2 (review here) are near perfect for Wildlife photography; fast auto-focus with excellent glass like the XF100-400 make for a great combination. 


Before my recent trip to Tanzania, I had limited experience with the XF 1.4X Teleconverter and XF100-400 lens. It is not a secret that Teleconverters will degrade the image quality. However when paired with the 100-400 lens, the sharpness remains really good. Actually I can hardly notice the difference with or without it. I therefore had the TC on the camera most of the time; especially when I suspected that extra reach might be needed. The image below is taken at 560mm or 840mm full frame equivalent and is tack sharp!




Both the X-T1 and X-T2 didn't miss a beat in the very dusty environment. For me using weather resistant lenses like the XF50-140 and XF100-400 is a must in such circumstances. 

I did end up charging almost of my batteries with the AC-9V Power Adapter that comes with the X-T2 Power Booster Grip rather than using the standard battery charger. They charge really fast and will do two at the same time. I often topped up my battery load in the car while driving between locations and never took out the batteries in my X-T2 for the whole trip!


SAMPLE IMAGES

A few more sample images of the trip can be found below. Please refer to the metadata below the image for more details.
























Those of you who want to see all of the edited images of the trip so far, can visit the gallery "Tanzania Wildlife safari 2016".


Feel free to share this blogpost on social media or your personal blog; permission is not required as long as credit is given to Bjorn Moerman PHOTOGRAPHY! 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Pic(k) of the week 49: AFRICA MEETS PAKISTAN, Dubai

Over the years, Street Photography has taken a much larger role in my personal photography. There is no question that the Fujifilm cameras I've been using since November 2012, are definitively responsible for that!

Since Fujifilm announced the new 23mm f2 lens a few months ago, it has quickly taken over from the 35mm f2 in becoming my new favorite Street Photography lens. 

Sadly the 35mm f2 has been neglected since the announcement. Time to do so something about this!

The image below of 3 African ladies walking along two Pakistani men, shows how much of a multi-cultural place Dubai really is! Standing on a footbridge, I was especially attracted by how the shadows added the extra dimension to the shot.


Image details:
  • Fujifilm X-T2 with the 35mm f2 lens
  • ISO 400, f8, 1/180s
  • Lightroom CC for RAW file development; used Camera calibration Classic Chrome and then converted to Black and White 


My best Street Photography work can be found in their respective Colour and Black and White galleries.

Remember: "All the technique in the world, doesn't compensate for the inability to notice" - Elliott Erwitt

BJORN

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Pic(k) of the week 48: My portrait session with a wild LION - (Fujifilm X-T2 and XF100-400)

Mid November, I got back from a great 12 day photo-adventure to Eastern Africa... Part of the trip was a weeklong wildlife photo-safari in three of the National Parks in Northern Tanzania. 

Expect an extensive blogpost about shooting wildlife (no pun intended!) with the XF100-400 lens, towards the end of the month. 

Meanwhile, the image below is probably my number one favorite of the trip! Just when we are about to leave the Ngorongoro Crater, we bumped into a pride of lions. Like most lions during the middle part of the day, they were sleeping when we first discovered them. As we were in no hurry to leave the National Park, I elected to wait at least 30-45 mins in order to see if they would get up...

Patience paid of when one of the males, stood up after about 30mins and looked straight into the camera for a very short while (less than 10s). Needless to say that being ready with the appropriate gear, is key in situations like that!


Image details:
  • Fujifilm X-T2 with the XF100-400 lens and 1.4x TC (teleconverter)
  • ISO 640, 1/420, f13, 560mm 
  • Lightroom CC for RAW development
  • Nik SilverEfex Pro for Black and White conversion

Just before leaving on the trip to Africa, I attended a seminar by fine-art wildlife photographer David Yarrow; in most of his images, David is able to show some kind of an intimacy with the animal by shooting from a very low angle. When the lion was looking me straight into the eyes (although through the viewfinder), I knew I had a winning shot. Being it one of the last wildlife images I shot during the trip, made it even more special!

The image will be printed large; something that I'm excited about!

For the ones that can't wait for my upcoming wildlife photography post, please check out the following link with +200 images of Wild Africa, here!

Remember: "Everybody wants to eat but few are willing to hunt".


BJORN




Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Pic(k) of the week 47: SUPERMOON RISE OVER DUBAI

Yesterday was "Supermoon" night; a relative new word for a moon which is brighter and larger than normal. Last nights full Supermoon was 14% larger and 30% brighter than a "standard" full moon; something that hadn't occurred to the same scale since 1948 and for which we will have to wait till 2034 to see an even larger one. 

This coincidence happens when the moon which is on an elliptical pattern around the Earth, is the closest just at the full moon moment, resulting in an apparent larger moon disk. Even though 14% extra is a lot for a supermoon, I saw a lot of people being disappointed in how "small" it looked.

Anyway, plenty of reason to go out there to try and photograph the moment! As a lot of other photographers were using super telephoto lenses in order to show how large the moon was, I elected to try and document the first glimpse of the moonrise itself from within the city. Something that is not easy to achieve with all the high rise buildings around. 

Luckily we have IOS applications like PhotoPills, which will predict where exactly the moon is about the rise. 

Although I wasn't 100% sure if the moon would fit between the two tall buildings, it turned out to be a success. 


Image details:
  • Fujifilm X-T2 with the XF50-140 f2.8 lens
  • ISO 800, f5, 1/10s, 90mm (135mm full frame equivalent)
  • Lightroom CC for RAW development
  • Nik ColorEfex pro4 for optimal detail and contrast
As I'm pretty happy with the overall quality of the image, I uploaded a copy into my Architectural portfolio, here

Remember: "Always aim for the moon, if you miss you might hit a star" - W. Clement Stone





Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Pic(k) of the week 46: Fishing Great White Egret, Dubai

I'm presently on a 12-day Photo Safari in Tanzania; an exciting photo-adventure across the National Parks in the North of the country such as the Serengeti, Tarangire, Manyara and Ngorongoro.

While I'm not able to post an image directly due to limited internet, I've elected to share an image shot at the Ras al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary in Dubai in preparation for this exciting wildlife safari.

The image below is off a Great White Egret fishing in the Dubai creek, very close to the Ras al Khor Flamingo hide. I observed this tall wide bird fishing with a great success rate; at least 50% of its dives let to a catch!


IMAGE DETAILS:
Fujifilm X-T2 with the XF 100-400 lens
ISO 800, f9, 1/800s, 400mm
Lightroom CC for RAW development
Photoshop CC to remove some disturbing distractions in the water
Nik Color Efex Pro4 for contrast adjustment

More images of the "Nature of the UAE" can be found here while obviously over the next few weeks there will be a series about my photo-adventure to Tanzania and Zanzibar.

Remember: "Life is like fishing, you are rewarded for your constancy"

BJORN