Safari Update 1 PLUS Six Building Blocks For Better Image Capturing

With multiple flights and time zone changes, we finally arrived at the Mara Plains Camp.  Within 15 minutes of leaving the Mara Intrepid Air Strip, we were sitting on a male and female cheetah that were seriously into each other .  Although we stayed with them for several hours, we did not get to observe any mating.  The next thing we know, we are watching  a pride of lions tear apart a Wildebeest carcass.  Tomorrow we head deep into the Masaai Mara Plains for a full week of intensive photography. I’ll be trying out several different blogging options in hopes of blogging everyday from the bush. This will be a test and I’ll have to wait until the end of the safari to see what worked versus what didn’t work.

Sitting around the table tonight with John, Brett, and Scott, I briefed everyone on what to expect over the next week and the best way to shoot it typical scenes.   A discussion then unfolded into what I believe is key to making outstanding images. I prefer to think of this as my six foundations for making outstanding images. Once these foundations are in place, you can build on them with composition, display, processing, etc.  For your consideration, here are my thoughts on the basic foundations.

1. PLANNING. No doubt about it, a poorly planned shoot will more than likely return poor images.  Plan your shoot, pack the necessary gear and be prepared. My adage is: “plan your shoot and shoot your plan.”
2. GLASS. Yep, the better your optics the better chance you will have at pulling in a better image. In my opinion, there is no way around it. Simply put, there is a huge difference between a $400 80-200 zoom kit lens and the professional $2700 70-200 f2.8 Nikon pro model. With very noticeable improvements in light gathering, edge to edge sharpness, and resolving power, this is what professional glass is all about. Having said this, good glass on a poor camera will still result in a poor image; think of it as the least common denominator defining your image quality. If you are going to get serious about capturing outstanding images, plan your investment accordingly. If you are only interested in snap shots, then I suggest that the kit lenses would most certainly meet your needs. No doubt, there are some wonderful kit lenses out there so read the reviews and the performance specs.  If you are not using  higher end glass enough to justify the purchase, consider renting from any of a number of lens rental companies.
3. SENSOR/CAMERA. You must know and understand the limits of your camera/sensor. Learn how to master the capabilities and overcome the camera’s limitations. The sensor must be equal to or surpass the quality of your best glass; yes, the two are directly linked. Plan for the future and take into consideration your shooting style. You must also learn how to maintain your sensor – keep it clean.
4. FOCUS. Funny thing about our brain, in all but the rarest occasions, the brain will use focus as the immediate basis to either reject or accept an image as acceptable. So, if the image is out of focus, I consider it a lost leader. By this I mean no software will make it better, so you have to get this part correct.
5. STABILITY. Stability is more than just using a tripod or monopod. For me, stability includes using the correct shutter speed so vibration or motion is not transferred to the sensor and thus to the image. Using a tripod or monopod is also key, so always use one when you can get away with it. Using a tripod makes me slow down just a bit. If I slow down, I usually can think through things just a bit more completely and walk away with a far better image. On this trip we will be shooting from tripods almost exclusively, even when we are shooting from inside the trucks (watch for photos of this setup in the next posting or two).
6. POST PROCESSING. Take time to learn Photoshop, Lightroom, or your choice of editing software. If solid post processing can make a good image look great, just think about what you will end up with if you started with a great image.

As you can see, these foundations are closely linked to one another. In my opinion, focus is the deal breaker – gotta get this one right. Let’s go on safari………
Cheers and happy photo’ing.