Photography: Monte Casino and The Pivot at Night

I am starting to LOVE night-time photography!

I was always under the impression it was “too difficult” and I would have to use a flash (which I hate) – but I tried it when I was in Dubai, and now I am thoroughly HOOKED!

Last night, I took my dear Hubby to a slap-up dinner at Monte Casino, in Fourways Johannesburg, in exchange for his body-guard duties and patience while I indulged myself in some outdoor shots of the beautiful Casino and Hotel complex (which Glenn was partially responsible for building about 10 years ago.) Glenn is a Landscape Architect and a Director of Landmark Studios. He was involved with the fountains, gardens and lighting of the Casino. I am very proud of him – the place is stunning 🙂

The entrance to Monte casino:

Canon EOS 60D, f/5.6, 1.3 seconds, ISO 125, Canon 20mm Prime lens

Once inside, you are instantly “in Tuscany.” The complex is inside a huge warehouse structure, with buildings that imitate Florentine architecture to the “T” – right down to washing strung across balconies (even bloomers, bras and a g-string!), pigeons nesting on ledges, dozens of Italian restaurants, and a “sky” full of stars. The detail is truly impressive!….

My favourite part of Monte Casino is the outdoor (for real) Piazza, with its fountains:

Canon EOS 60D, f/5.6, 1 second, ISO 125, Canon 20mm Prime lens

Canon EOS 60D, f/5.6, 2 seconds, ISO 125, Canon 20mm Prime lens

On the hour, every half-hour, visitors are treated to the beautiful musical fountain, accompanied by Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, or some other dramatic piece of music:

Canon EOS 60D, f/2.8, 2.5seconds, ISO 125, Canon 20mm Prime lens

We wandered back across the road to the Pivot hotel and office complex, which was another one of Glenn and Landmark Studios’ beautiful projects.

Canon EOS 60D, f/5.6, 0.8 second, ISO 125, Canon 20mm Prime lens

In case you’re curious about that tall glass and steel structure, here’s a close-up:

Canon EOS 60D, f/5.6, 2 seconds, ISO 125, Canon 20mm Prime lens

And, in an alcove, this statue entitled “Autumn”:

Canon EOS 60D, f/5.6, 2 seconds, ISO 125, Canon 20mm Prime lens

Getting good night-time shots is really pretty simple. Here are a few tips:

  • Use a good, sturdy tripod. Hand-held will not work at exposures shorter than about 1/40th of a second, and even then only if you have EXTREMELY steady hands
  • Exposure times should be between one and 10 seconds, if there is enough ambient light in the scene.
  • If it’s really dark, use your “Bulb” setting and a remote release so you don’t bump the camera during the exposure
  • Use a LOW ISO. to avoid graininess. You want the blacks to be black – not full of little coloured spots! Start at about ISO 100 and gradually increase it if necessary.
  • I tried to include some watery reflections in every shot to add movement and colour.

I hope you give night-time photography a go, if you have never tried it before. It’s very rewarding 🙂

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Photography: Pilanesburg Game Reserve

 

The Pilanesburg Game Reserve lies to the north-west of Johannesburg, South Africa, and is very close to Sun City – our famous destination for gamblers, golfers and others in search of a good time.

The Game Reserve itself lies within an ancient volcanic caldera, and is richly endowed with wildlife. The best time for game viewing is around sunrise and sunset. Most of the animals are very inactive during the heat of the day – about 30 to 35 C in summer!

 

Fuji FinePix S9500, f/4.5, 1/320 second, ISO 80

 

I have been lucky enough to visit the reserve several times over the years. My favourite spot for photography is the hide on the largest dam in the reserve. I have seen crocodiles, hippos, big antelope, and a huge variety of bird-life from this vantage point. When the dam was built, many old trees were drowned. They make a safe resting perch for fish eagles and other large predatory birds, while they scan the waters for their next meal.

Fuji FinePix S9500, f/5, 1/340 second, ISO 80

 

Roughly the same scene, at sunset, with the Gibbous Moon overhead….very peaceful scene…

Fuji FinePix S9500, f/4.5, 1/280 second, ISO 200

Perfect calm, this time in the mid-morning:

Fuji FinePix S9500, f/3.5. 1/350 second, ISO 200

 

My tips for photography in the game reserve:

  • I found when I shot the same scenes in the middle of the day, they were overexposed and I lost a lot of detail. It is best to shoot in the hours around sunrise and sunset – unless you are deliberately trying to show the harsh heat of the African Bush.
  • It helps to use a polarising filter to bring out the deep blue skies and brilliant white clouds, as long as you are aware that it works best when you’re at right-angles to the sun. A polariser reduces glare and reflections, so you can photograph INTO water. The water “disappears” as you turn the filter.
  • A neutral density filter can also help to darken the sky, to prevent that washed-out look

 

 

Photography: Family Portraits

This morning, I took the latest addition to our family to meet my Mom-in-law.

Carl is two months old today, and Granny – well, let’s just say she’s a little older – but just as beautiful as ever.

I was very lucky to get these lovely photos of their first meeting. I used my Canon 60D with my 50mm f/1.4 prime lens, hand-held and only natural indoor lighting.

Post-processing was in Lightroom 4 – I adjusted the exposure slightly and applied a sepia-toned filter but left in a bit of de-saturated colour. I think this effect really brings out the beautiful skin tones of both Gran and Baby.

Can there be anything more wonderful than holding a bonny baby boy in your arms for the first time 🙂

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Tips for photographing babies:

  • Pick a time when his tummy is full, his face is clean and he’s happy
  • If he’s VERY wriggly, use a faster shutter-speed – about 1/125th second, and a wider aperture setting
  • Try to capture his expressions, and those of the person holding him. You can see the tenderness in a mother’s/gran’s eyes – catch those moments if you can
  • Use natural light – a flash is likely to make the baby jumpy
  • Babies look good in pale colours – it brings out their delicate skin-tones
  • It looks great when both the adult and the baby are wearing similar toned clothing.

Photography: Lions

If you ever visit Johannesburg, South Africa, you should make a point of visiting the Lion Park. It’s near Lanseria Airport, to the west of the city. Children are especially fond of the place because they can go into the cage with the baby lions, pat them and play with them – it’s a great adventure for little ones. The baby lions don’t seem to mind too much either.

When you’re done playing with baby lions and feeding the baby giraffes, get into your car and drive over to the four lion enclosures. A word of caution – DO NOT get out of your car, or open the windows – the adult lions are NOT friendly! They are extremely dangerous, and more than one tourist has snapped his last shot, leaning out of the car window or getting out of the car. I’m not kidding.

The dirt road leads through all four enclosures in turn. We came across this group first. As you can see, they’re all fairly alert – it was nearly feeding time:

FinePix S9500, f/4.9, 1/210 second, ISO 200

Two of the lionesses got up to investigate our car. It’s pretty scary coming face-to-face with these big cats!

FinePix S9500, f/4.1, 1/400 second, ISO 200

If you have any doubts as to how big a full-grown lioness is…..

FinePix S9500, f/4, 1/320 second, ISO 200

The males tend to lie around under the trees, and let the females do all the hunting.

Canon 400D, f/5.6, 1/1600 second, ISO 400

Occasionally, the male will get up and go sharpen his claws on a tree – just in case he has to do any work later!

FinePix S9500, F/4.9, 1/80 second, ISO 400

We saw a rare white lion in one of the enclosures. He looked like a big, white, fluffy toy….

FinePix S9500, f/3.7, 1/280 second, ISO 200

until he opened his mouth!

FinePix S9500, f/3.8, 1/300 second, ISO 200

We also managed to snap a few close-up portraits. This little cub was quite happy to have his photo taken.

Canon 400D, f/5.6, 1/1600 second, ISO 400

So, if you want to see Big Cats – REALLY big cats – come visit us here in South Africa!

 

Photography: Birds & Bees

I live in the middle of suburbia, between Pretoria and Johannesburg – a very densely populated area. And yet, surprisingly, there is still a wide variety of bird-life that manages to survive around here. All the more amazing considering I have two cats who regularly deposit an “offering” of dead bird at my bedroom door….

We have a small but densely planted garden – aloes, cycads, proteas, clivias, ferns and a few trees, and a pot with water flowing out of it that is a favourite spot for the garden birds to come and have a splash in the late afternoons.

The Aloes are flowering at this time of the year, attracting the sun-birds – we have two varieties that visit our garden almost every day:

Canon 60D with 300mm zoom lens, f/5.6 1/60 second, ISO 100

Canon Power Shot SX30 IS, 150mm, f/5.8, 1/80 second, ISO 400

The sun-birds have to compete with the bees – I’m very glad to see we still have a few bees! I haven’t seen any around for ages…. These two photos were taken with a macro attachment on a Lensbaby Double Optic lens. I really LOVE the very shallow depth of field – but it does mean you have to get really close… I was worried about being stung. The things I have to do for my Art 🙂

Canon 60D with Lensbaby Double Optic & 10x macro lens,1/250 second, ISO 100

Canon 60D with Lensbaby Double Optic and 10x macro lens, 1/250 second, ISO 100

The Sparrows seem to be confused because it’s so warm – even though it’s mid-winter. I caught these two mating:

Canon 60D with 300mm zoom lens, f/5.6, 1/200 second, ISO 100

Our little Cape Robin is still waking us every morning with his beautiful songs – he doesn’t seem to mind the early morning Highveld frost at all.

Canon 60D with 500mm zoom lens, f/6.3, 1/100 second, ISO 400

This little guy is totally unafraid of humans – he comes around every day, asking for cheddar cheese! No wonder he’s getting FAT.

Canon PowerShot SX30 IS, F/5.8, 1/40 second, ISO 400

I was very fortunate to get this shot of an Ibis taking off from my neighbour’s roof and flying directly at me:

Canon 60D, 225mm, f/5, 1/8000 second, ISO 6400

In general, when photographing garden birds I use a zoom lens, and just sit quietly and wait for the shots to come to me.