With these tips, I try to give a unique approach to photography, different from what is already availble on the internet

Sunset ghosts TIP 1: Shoot into the sun

As most people know by now, the most beautiful photos are usually created during the "golden hour" (the first hour after sunrise and the last hour before sunset).

What is also widely taught, is that you must always shoot with the sun at your back (except for sunrise/sunset photos). This is an untruth - some of my best photos ever were shot nearly directly into the sun.

The photo below was shot about 10 minutes before sunset when the sun was only a few degrees above and to the side of the subject. If there is dust in the air, shoot into the sun, but be careful not to shoot before the intensity of the sunlight is low enough not to damage your eyes.

This type of photo you usually cannot see with the naked eye as the light is too sharp to see clearly. Always use a tripod and remote control or the camera timer to reduce camera shake.

Nikon D300s, Sigma 50-500 at 420mm, f11, 1/160 s, ISO 200, tripod. I used the camera timer on 2 seconds to further decrease camera shake. Sunset at the Okaukeujo waterhole, Etosha National Park, Namibia.

Sunset ghosts
TIP 2: Shooting a wide scene without using a wide-angle lens

By making stitched panoramas using a 24 mm or longer lens, you get get a more natural photo without the distortion of an ultra wide zoom like the 12-24. If I used my 12-24 zoom lens at 12mm, I could have fitted the whole scene in one shot, but the extreme ends of the photo would have been distorted. This method also gives a larger image with more megapixels which could be printed at a larger size.

Put your camera on a tripod (hand-held could also work if no tripod), make sure your horizon is level, and shoot a few photos, ensuring that adjacent photos overlap. Manual exposure works best to ensure that all photos have the same exposure. Use a program like the Photomerge function in Photoshop to combine the photos. You will have to crop the final product to make it presentable.

Elephants at the Okaukeujo waterhole, Etosha National Park, Namibia Panorama made from 3 separate photos using the Photomerge function in Photoshop CS4
Camera: NIKON D300S, Exposure:0.002 sec (1/400), Aperture:f/11, Focal Length:50 mm, ISO Speed:200, Manual exposure

Sunset ghosts TIP 3: Wildlife photos during the golden hour or at night

As most people know by now, the most beautiful photos are usually created during the "golden hour" (the first hour after sunrise and the last hour before sunset). Unfortunately, the light intensity during the golden hour is very low and makes it difficult to get sharp photos. The fact that wildlife seldom stands still, makes it more difficult. Even with a high ISO setting it is difficult to get sharp photos.

It is, however, possible to get good wildlife photos in those conditions. Use a tripod at all times, even if you use a cheap point and shoot camera. You will see the difference. If possible, use a remote trigger or use the camera timer to further reduce camera shake. Even a cell phone camera could take much better photos if you use some sort of support to stabilise it. Many of the photos taken this way will show blur due to subject movement, so take many photos.

The photo to the left was taken at a floodlight lit waterhole without a flash after the sun has set with the camera on a tripod. I used the camera timer on 2 seconds to further reduce camera shake. The settings were as follow: Shutter speed: 1/6 second, ISO: 1600, aperture: f6.3, focal length: 270mm

Sunset ghosts

Sunset ghosts
TIP 4: The difference between a great photograph and an average photograph

How many times, when looking at a beautiful photograph, have you heard or said “he/she (the photographer) was at the right place at the right time” or, “he/she is an excellent photographer”?

Yes, sometimes it just happens that you are at the right place at the right time, but you still must have some knowledge of composition and must know the basics of photography. It usually is not about coincidence or great skills. It is about planning, hard work, sacrifice, long hours and discipline

1. Coincidence
Yes, some photos just happen – you could be at the right place at the right time just by chance, but that very seldom happens and you still need to be prepared to make the best of the unexpected opportunity. You need to have your camera and tripod with you, the right lens for the situation, your batteries charged, etc.

2. Long hours
To be at the right place at the right time you need to spend many hours waiting for the opportunity – it doesn’t usually happens in those few minutes you want to spend taking photos... This usually ask to be in position at least half an hour before the sun rises and stay there until the light is getting too contrasty and to be in position at least an hour before sunset and stay there until it is nearly dark. Beautiful photos seldom happen between 9am and 4pm during the day!

3. Hard work
To be at the right place at the right time, you often need to carry your camera(s), tripod, extra lenses, etc. for long distances over difficult terrain to the optimum spot. The best views are usually far away from the easily accessible tourist viewpoints.

4. Planning
That beautiful sunset with a tree perfectly placed doesn’t happen by it selves – you need to do some scouting beforehand to find the best spot. You also need to know the sun rise and setting times as well as exactly where it will set. Use a program like Photographer's Ephemeris (TPE), to assist the planning of outdoor photography. It shows direction of sunrise etc. on a topographical map, helping you to plan your shots.

5. Discipline
Getting up when it is pitch dark on a freezing morning, walking in sweltering heat, standing in the rain with only your camera equipment dry, carrying camera equipment for km’s (miles) over difficult terrain, facing mosquitoes an other insects, sleeping in your car to be on site early aren’t what anyone of us prefer to do. That special shot doesn’t happen by itself.
To be at the right place at the right time ask for a lot of self-discipline.

A great photograph is created by an average photographer who had the discipline to be at the right place at the right time


Shadow at Deadvlei, Namibia, shot in harsh lighting conditions

lion cubs
The above photo was shot around mid day with cloud cover

himba woman
The above photo was shot around mid day under a tree

TIP 5: Shooting during harsh light conditions (outside of the golden hour)

As most people know by now, the most beautiful photos are usually created during the "golden hour" (the first hour after sunrise and the last hour before sunset). Unfortunately, the time when we are at a specific location isn’t always under our control. Photos taken during harsh lighting conditions often have dark shadows with little detail and/or washed out white patches.

To get good photos and make the best of your unfortunate situation, you could use a combination of the following nine (9) tips:

1. Shoot silhouettes
Move to the shadow side of your subject and shoot it’s silhouette. Having the sun hiding behind your subject could create interesting photos. If the camera is not in the shade, shade the sun from it with your hand or something suitable to prevent ghost images which are created when the sun enters the lens directly at a low angle.

2. Shoot shadows
In stead of shooting your subject, shoot only it’s shadow or the subject with it’s shadow, but with the shadow forming the main focus of the photo. An interesting surface for the shadow would be a bonus. Expose for the shadow's background and not the shadow itself.

3. Cloud cover
If there are clouds in the sky, set up your camera and wait for a cloud to cover the sun. The result will be a much more evenly and softer lighted subject. You often will have only a minute or two to get the shot, so plan your composition beforehand.

4. Filtered shade
Look for filtered shade where the harsh light is partially shaded by a tree. This creates interesting spots on suitable subjects. Be warned that the spots will probably be completely burned out with no detail. By exposing for the subject, you could probably get a completely white background as with the photo on the left.

5. Post processing
If you shoot RAW in place of jpeg, you could play with different white balance settings to emulate the golden hour. Just declare it when you have significantly changed the photo to something different from what you have shot. Also convert your photo to black and white to see how it looks – high contrast scenes often look better in black and white.

6. Use fill flash
Fill flash could reduce the harsh shadows of midday for nearby subjects. Most modern on-camera and off-camera flashes automatically adjust the flash for this mode, but sometimes a setting on your camera has to be changed. Please consult your camera and flash manuals. There are many excellent tutorials for this technique on the internet – just search. Here is one of them: http://www.digitalcameraworld.com/2012/05/20/master-fill-flash-in-4-easy-steps/

7. Collapsible shade
If the subject is small enough (as in a person or for a macro shot), use a collapsible shade above your subject to diffuse the harsh light. These shades are affordable and fold into a small, lightweight package which could be fastened to a camera backpack. You will probably need someone else to hold it for you in position.

8. Interesting subjects override bad light
If you shoot a subject which is funny, interesting or unique, people often won’t even notice the photo’s shortcomings.

9. Exposure bracketing and HDR (High Dynamic Range) processing
With exposure bracketing, the camera is set to to take one picture at a given exposure, then one or more brighter, and then one or more darker. The different photos are then combined into one photo using suitable software e.g. Photomatix. The result is a photo where you have detail in the whole dynamic range from dark to bright. This only works well for static subjects. There are many excellent tutorials for this technique on the internet – just search. Here is one of them: http://www.stuckincustoms.com/hdr-tutorial/

10. If all of the above fail
Take the time off to have a big lunch, download the photos from your camera, charge your batteries and do your photo processing and social networking so that you are free for the golden hour and early evening shoot!

Relaxing at Halali in Etosha National Park in Namibia waiting for the golden hour

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