May 012015
 

For those of you that have been following us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, you will know that we have been busy with a new book called African Icons with friend and colleague David Bristow. It all about the most fabulous places and attractions Africa has to offer – what we call the African Icons…

We have gone all out on this one: We travelled Africa extensively (22 destinations in about 10 months) shooting pictures and video, we’ve selected fine paper and leather for the book and its cover, and have gone the extra mile in creating a particular “look and feel” for it.

The video? Here’s the interesting thing: We’ve created electronic books before (In Search of the African Lion and our children’s book, Mandla the Lion Cub) but, while they are full of information and rich media, they are about as soulless as a kettle. Nothing beats a top end printed book for character and luxury. So, we have included QR Codes at the beginning of each chapter that you can scan with a QR Code scanner on your smart device and this will take you to a short movie clip on the chapter.

Here is a taste of what to expect: We stayed at the delightful Ibo Island Lodge while photographing and researching the Indian Ocean Islands chapter.

Indian Ocean islands from Roger and Pat de la Harpe on Vimeo.

Check our some of the other African Icons.

Apr 072015
 

David Batzofin talks about the Photo Workshop he did with Pat and I recently:

Good better best, never let it rest, till the good is better…

And the better best.

I first heard these words from my Primary school Principle way back in the ‘50’s. And they are as valid today as they were then.

And they were the reason that I found myself in Howick, at a photo-workshop hosted by Roger de la Harpe and his wife Pat. Although Roger presented the course, it is Pat who is the rudder that steers the ship. It is easy to get distracted when surrounded by a group of like-minded people, but Pat was having none of that…”Stick to the script”…and every now and then she would quietly add a piece of advice or a comment.

We played with freezing motion and luring motion using different shutter speeds.

It does not matter at what level of photography you are, this workshop will take your images to the next level. I and others on the course were “pushed” and perhaps some even felt uncomfortable.  But it was all well worth it.
In my case, I take good “thing” pictures, so, for me, the morning spent taking “people” pictures was somewhat stressful. However, my results were better than expected, AND I learned techniques that I will use in future.

My favourite outing was to the Karkloof Falls, where I learned to make water move and trees go in circles. I can highly recommend this course to both beginners and experienced photographers alike. We should ALWAYS be learning…constantly, and trying to make OUR images stand out.

Using long exposures and moving the camera to photograph trees differently
Bottom line, don’t stress about the technical issues…GET OUT AND TAKE PICTURES!

Are you keen to join us on one of our Photo Workshops? Have a look here.

Apr 012015
 

I must say I’m rather thrilled with my Peak Design Camera Clip. The sad thing is that I wish I’d had it a few weeks earlier when we did a 10 hour hike across the High Atlas Mountains in Morocco. Pat and I were there to shoot pix for our new book (www.africanicons.co.za) and part of the trip involved this long hike. We shot pix the entire way which meant that the camera was either being used or hanging off my shoulder. Quite a pain. Imagine if I could have clipped the camera to my belt or, even better, the shoulder strap of my backpack….

Peak Design Camera Clip

Enter the Camera Clip. Peak Design makes a very useful little gizmo that is imported by Photo Gadgets in South Africa. It attached to your belt or backpack straps (whether a photo or a hiking one) and makes the camera and lens very accessible. Now, clearly, you don’t want to attached your favourite 600mm f4 and pro body to you belt or backpack but as a way of carrying your camera and shortish lens around, it’s ideal.

This is going to get a lot of use!

Peak Design Camera Clip

Peak Design Camera Clip

Mar 132015
 

Our new book (African Icons), when opened, is very much a panoramic format (it measures 27 X 74cm across the spreads) and so when we were shooting it we did so with this format in mind. As a result there are a pile of panoramic images in it. Heres how I create them:

A panorama of 8 images of Rhodes' Baobab at Mashatu Game Reserve in Botswana.

A panorama of 8 images of Rhodes’ Baobab at Mashatu Game Reserve in Botswana.

  1. Set the camera to manual mode in pretty much everything – exposure, white balance and focus (with focus, auto focus on your subject and the switch off the auto focussing so this doesn’t change while shooting) and then capture a series of images, creating the panorama. I find that you don’t want to skimp on the number of images you shoot – mostly I’ll allow about a 60% overlap.
  2. Import these (preferably RAW) images into Adobe Lightroom and select the series if images you wish to create the panorama from.
  3. Do all the necessary edits and enhancements but do not do any cropping, local (Brush, Radial Filter, Spot Removal…)  or lens corrections like “Auto”, “Level” “Vertical” etc. This gets done after you have created the panoramic image.
  4. Sync the settings across all the pix, making sure that all of the sync options are set in the sync dialog box.
  5. Right click any one of the series of images (mage sure that are still all selected) and go to Edit In > Merge to Panorama in Photoshop. This will open Photoshop (preferably CC2014)  and open the Photomerge Dialog Box.
  6. Now, there are a whole bunch of options here and a whole pile of views on which one of the options is best to use, but I’ve found that “Cylindrical” works well for images I’ve shot with a longer lens and “Spherical” is the way to go when I’ve used a wide angle lens to shoot the panorama.
  7. Select go and, if you’ve shot the series on something like the Nikon D800 (very high pixel count), you may like yo go out for a coffee while the computer churns away at all those pixels…
  8. Eventually Photoshop will  create a layered panoramic image and in most cases get it perfect. Occasionally you may need to do a bit of work using the Layer Masks to get the blending perfect but this doesn’t happen all then often.
  9. Flatten the image
  10. At this stage you may end up with a weirdly distorted image (not always – it depends on what you’ve shot, with which lens).
  11. Go to Filter > Adaptive Wide Angle, and Photoshop will recognise the panorama and open the image in a dialog box.
  12. Click and drag across the horizon which should straighten it. Doing this while holding the shift key will also level it. Do the same (without the shift key) to other horizontal lines that should be straight and (with or without the shift key) to vertical lines.
  13. When everything looks great, click OK.
  14. Crop and fill as necessary, flatten, and save and close the image.
  15. It will open in Lightroom. Group the images into a Stack. Now is the time to tweak the images settings and also fix any dust spots etc.

For those that are interested I shot the pic above with the Nikon D800 and 14 – 24 lens. Camera settings were 1/40 sec at f16, ISO 400 and this resulted in an images that was 9492 X 3965 pixels. We teach this technique on our photo workshops.

Mar 082015
 

I have a love/hate relationship with camera straps. They are the most useful of camera accessories at times, yet a damn nuisance at others. A few weeks ago we were shooting the High Atlas Mountains in Morocco for our African Icons Book and on one of the days, did a 10 hour hike across snow covered peaks, shooting pix as we went. Here a strap was invaluable making the camera easily available as we hiked.

On the other hand, when we are working from a vehicle in game reserves, camera straps are just a huge pain in the, er, neck. They catch on things, get tangled up with camera gear and are simply not necessary. The problem is that attaching and removing them from camera bodies is fiddly and time wasting.

I recently discovered the Peak Design Slide Sling Strap. What a pleasure. Clever little dongles attach to the camera and these, very easily and quickly, clip onto the rather substantial strap. The length of the strap can be adjusted just as easily, making it suitable as a neck, shoulder of sling strap. And, if you have more than one body you just need additional dongles and you can then move the strap between them. And if you want to remove the strap it just unclips.

If you are keen, check them out. There is also a list of dealers that stock them.

Peak Design Camera StrapPeak Design Camera StrapPeak Design Camera Strap

Feb 072015
 

What a brilliant day! After a breakfast of yoghurt (the genuine stuff – not out of a factory), dried fruits, freshly squeezed orange juice (like 2 minutes before it landed on our table), amazing bread spread with local honey and coffee to die for, we headed out for a short walk with Abdul, our guide. Down into the freezing cold valley, the Kasbah du Toubkal where we are staying, highlighted by the early morning light, high above us. Our route was to take us to a Mosque high on the slopes across the valley and then onwards to Imlil for a spot of shopping, up another mountain for tea and walnuts at a Berber home, down into another valley and up to the Kasbah.

A view of Imlil, the Kasbah du Toubkal in the distance and the snow covered Atlas Mountains

A view of Imlil, the Kasbah du Toubkal in the distance and the snow covered Atlas Mountains

 

The walking was along well trodden paths established over centuries. Pretty easy going, sometimes a little steep. Friendly locals greet in the local dialect or French so it does help to have a smattering of this language. English too is quite common and so when we met up with Albaz Fattah at his carpet shop we got on like a house on fire. We also ended up buying a beautiful silk mat and a leather and fabric travel bag. Lovely stuff indeed.

Albaz Fattah in his carpet shop in Imlil. Some awesome product to tempt even the most blazaise of travellers

Albaz Fattah in his carpet shop in Imlil. Some awesome product to tempt even the most blazaise of travellers

Our short hike took just over 6 hours and we had a wonderful time. Tomorrow we are in for something a little longer and higher as we head into the snow en route to a small lodge in the village of Azaden. quite looking forward to that.

We are here shooting pix for our new book called African Icons. Please click on the link to see more about it and drop me a line if you’d like to order a copy.

Feb 062015
 

We are on the last leg of our shoot for our  African Icons book and find ourselves staying at the lovely Kasbah du Toubkal in Morocco while we shoot the Atlas Mountains. It’s lovely! A great location and even more spectacular food – tagines, soups, dates, coffee, breads. You!

The real reason for this post though is to show you the location:

Stunning views of the Kasbah du Toubkal and the Atlas Mountains in Morocco

Stunning views of the Kasbah du Toubkal and the Atlas Mountains in Morocco

Dec 152014
 

Pat and I are taking a few days off to celebrate her birthday and, as a treat, are staying at a wonderful KwaZulu Natal Drakensberg family hotel that goes by the name of The Cavern Berg Resort. We love it here. Very comfortable, reasonably priced, comfortable rooms and really great “home cooked” food. The ice cream and chocolate sauce alone make it worth booking a stay.

We’ve been taking it pretty easy, doing some short walks around the hotel when the guilt of those lovely lunches became too much. This afternoon we decided on a slightly longer one that took us across a small stream and into the thick indigenous forests that occur on the southern mountain slopes. Interpretative signs mark the way and it’s all very pleasant and soothing, the forest birds overlaying the sound of the river flowing in the valley. (Well, it was pleasant and soothing until that clap of thunder and pouring rain, but that’s another story).

Anyway, the point of all this is that we came upon the most magnificent cabbage tree (Cussonia spicata). It was huge! Below a sign had this to say:

“This is the biggest cabbage tree in the ‘Berg, probably in all of Africa and is at least 150 years old. Branches form only after flowering and this only happens in full sunshine. So when the tree was young, and making its first branches this spot must have been at the very edge of the forest”. It is now right in the middle of the forest and this got me wondering what it had seen while standing there for those 150 years – since the middle of the 1800s…?

And that pretty much occupied my mind on the way back to our room, the pouring rain, wind and thunder blotted away completely. But what a magnificent tree it was!

The iPhone battles a bit with the backlighting but this vertical panorama photograph gives you some idea of the size of this Cussonia spicata or cabbage tree.

The iPhone battles a bit with the backlighting but this vertical panorama photograph gives you some idea of the size of this Cussonia spicata or cabbage tree.

Oct 052014
 

You may ask what a golfing estate and resort have to do with one of Africa’s most prominent features, the Great Rift Valley. Well, it’s in the Rift Valley for a start and, if you think about it, it actually makes sense to stay there, especially if you are a golfer. The Great Rift Valley is one of the icons in our African Icons Book and we stayed there while shooting photographs of the wildlife and scenery of the area, thoroughly enjoying it.

The Great Rift Valley Lodge and Golf Resort near Lake Naivasha in Kenya

The Great Rift Valley Lodge and Golf Resort near Lake Naivasha in Kenya

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Oct 042014
 

So, here we are, sitting in the Wild Frontiers‘ stretch Land Cruiser with our guide John Letara who is doing some serious networking on the shortwave radio so that we are kept up to date with the congregations of wildebeest along the Mara River. Across said river are some 300 or 400 wildebeest that we are hoping are thinking that the grass is greener on our side, and are willing to risk drowning, crocodiles (very large crocodiles) and broken legs.

Wildebeest and Zebra gather on the Northern bank of the Mara River while crocodiles wait below. Serengeti National Park. Tanzania.

Wildebeest and Zebra gather on the northern bank of the Mara River while crocodiles wait below. Serengeti National Park. Tanzania.

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