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

 

 

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Photography: Florence, Italy

In 2010, Glenn and I took our first overseas holiday together. I had dreamed all my life of visiting Italy, and especially Florence. I even tried to learn a little Italian, which came in handy when we were trying to find our way around airports and train stations.

We spent 4 days in Rome (see my previous blog) and then caught the bullet train to Florence. That was quite an exciting experience – the train travels in excess of 300km/hour and a LOT of the trip is underground.

We had booked a room at the L’Orologio Hotel, within walking distance of the train station. The hotel was wonderful – I can truly recommend it, if you’re not scared to spend a bit more for a luxurious double-storey suite, a marble bathroom, a beautiful pub, and a sumptuous breakfast every morning. As an added bonus, the place SMELLS so nice – cinnamon, cloves and a touch of tobacco…

The most prominent building in Florence is the Duomo, which is part of the most elaborately coloured and carved cathedral I have ever seen.It was built by Brunelleschi and completed in 1436, 140 years after work on it had begun.

Fuji FinePix S9500, f/4, 1/340 second, ISO 100

For a few Euro you can induce your own heart attack by climbing up to the top of the Duomo – a tortuous climb that gets steeper and narrower and seems to go on for hours. When you finally get to the lookout platform, it’s really all worth it (once the black spots in front of your eyes disappear and your heart rate returns to normal!) Do you see the people in the picture above? This is their view, looking straight down!

Fuji FinePix S9500, f/6.4, 1/600 second, ISO 200

Florence is full of beautiful buildings and incredible art, but my favourite place was on the Piazzale Michaelangelo, a hillside outside of Florence, across the River Arno, where visitors and locals congregate to chat, drink wine and watch the sun go down. Here is the view in the middle of the afternoon (at 7pm!)

Fuji FinePix S9500, f/8, 1/420 second, ISO 200

The sun stayed high in the sky and it seemed it would never set…. it finally started getting dark around 9 pm, and we were treated to this beautiful sight:

Fuji FinePix S9500, f/5.6, 1/2 second, ISO 200

We sat for hours on the steps, watching the city and the people, drinking Chianti out of plastic cups, and when it was dark we found a nearby restaurant and had pasta to soak up the alcohol before the walk back to the hotel. It was a great evening!

There are 10 bridges in Florence.  The oldest is the Ponte Vecchio. It is built on the site of at least three preceding bridges, dating from as early as the Roman Empire. It doesn’t look too impressive from a distance, until you walk across it and find that it is lined on both sides by jewellery shops absolutely STUFFED with gold, platinum, diamonds… Completely unexpected!

Fuji FinePix S9500, f/3.1, 1/58 second, ISO 200

We walked for at least eight hours a day in Florence. There was so much to see, even though it is quite a small city. I caught this beautiful sunset, walking near the river one evening:

Fuji FinePix S9500, f/4.9, 1/320 second, ISO 200

We hung around on one of the bridges for a long time, waiting for the sun to go down, and the lights to come up, and I got this shot, looking back at the Ponte Vecchio:

Fuji FinePix S9500, f/2.9, 1/4 second, ISO 400

Florence was everything I hoped it would be, not least because Glenn proposed while we were there. I bought my wedding ring on the Ponte Vecchio, my wedding dress in one of the boutiques in town, and we were married four days later on a hillside overlooking the city, at sunset …

We are planning to go back to Florence for our third wedding anniversary next May – I can’t wait!

Photography: Rome, Italy

I spent an all-too-brief holiday in Rome, in May 2010. It had been my dream since early childhood to visit Italy, especially Rome and Florence. The ancient ruins, the art, the architecture and the Italian people have always held a deep fascination for me.

We managed to get accommodation in a family-run hotel within walking distance of the main train station, Termini, and right outside one of the entrances to the Metro. The hotel was also within easy walking distance of the famous Colosseum – so naturally that was the very first stop.

The Colosseum is one of the major tourist attractions of Rome – it’s architecture, its bloody history, its modern-day Gladiators who will act as guide and photographic prop for a few Euros… (Beware! Establish exactly HOW MANY Euros BEFORE you accept their offer to sneak you in past the endless queues!)

Once you’re inside, the scale of the place is overwhelming:

FinePix S9500 – 6mm – f/2.8 – 1/150 sec – ISO 200

Fuji FinePix S9500 – 10mm – f/3.4 – 1/240 sec – ISO 200

It’s a magnificent piece of history, and a lot of effort is going into its restoration – but it will never be a beautiful place again….Except at night! This photo was taken from a small restaurant across the road:

Fuji FinePix S9500 – 6mm – f/2.8 – 1/4 sec – ISO 800

A very short stroll from the Colosseum is the Roman Forum – a collection of ancient ruins, too amazing to take in all at once. I advise that if you want to visit the Forum, do some reading first. If I had gone in there with some understanding of the significance of the place, I would have appreciated it even more than I did.

The valley of the Vestal Virgins is particularly interesting. So many ancient buildings, and bits of buildings, so many fascinating stories…. Excavations are still turning up new and interesting finds.

This building has a green door that used to be at ground level – it’s now a good bit higher:

Fuji FinePix S9500 – 6mm – f/2.8 – 1/420 sec – ISO 200

The same building, from a different angle:

Fuji FinePix S9500 – 35mm – f/4 – 1/400 sec – ISO 200

There is a lot to see in Rome. Most people would visit the Colosseum and St Peters/Vatican – but you should also take time to see the Pantheon. It has the first concrete dome ever built – and it is simply magnificent! Even if they did forgot to close up the hole at the very top…. Isn’t it beautiful the way the sunlight streams in?

Fuji FinePix S9500 – 35mm – f/2.8 – 1/10 sec – ISO 100 – No flash

Of all the buildings in Rome, I thought the Pantheon was the most perfect – just look at these columns!

Fuji FinePix S9500 – 35mm – f/2.9 – 1/250 sec – ISO 800 – No flash

Unfortunately, we had to do the touristy thing and see St Peters and the Vatican. I thought the sheer, gluttonous opulence of both of these Catholic Church properties was just disgusting. There’s enough gold in there that, if it were put to better use, could feed and clothe and educate a small country.

So, fighting back my bilious outrage, I made up my mind to simply try to appreciate the art they have accumulated over the centuries… Michaelangelo’s “Pieta” is housed in St Peters, behind an inch of armoured glass, and is surely one of the most magnificent pieces of sculpture ever produced by a human being. (Apologies for the “softness” of this image – the piece is behind glass and I could not use a flash, so the shutter speed had to be quite slow.)

Fuji FinePix S9500 – 35mm – f/4 – 1/20 sec – ISO 800 – No flash

The inside of the dome of St Peters is also a wonderful piece of art and engineering:

Fuji FinePix S9500 – 35mm – f/3.4 – 1/17 sec – ISO 800 – No flash

There is so much priceless art inside the cathedral, so much gold, so much religious piety… I couldn’t wait to get outside and get some fresh air!

After a delightful lunch and a glass of red wine, we made the mistake of joining a “guided tour” of the Vatican – which consisted of trying in vain to catch the commentary of a short lady holding a stick with a big red fabric rose on the end of it; trying to spot her and her stick bobbing up and down amid the throngs of tourists being herded through the hallowed vaults of the Catholic stronghold… The commentary was being fed to us through headphones which did not work 80% of the time, but we did catch quite a bit of the OTHER commentaries going on around us! We eventually gave up trying to hear her, or see her, or find the rest of the group, and just went our own way.

I would never recommend the “guided tours ” as a good way to see the Vatican – take your pain, stand in the endless queue in the sun, until it’s your turn to be herded inside. It will be worth it to have some degree of independence. You still won’t be allowed to take any photos inside the Sistine Chapel, you will still have priests yelling at you to be Silent! inside their precious chapel. One guy dared to take a picture and they pounced on him and made him delete the shot – can you believe that? What gives them the right to deny ordinary people the pleasure of sharing photos of Michaelangelo’s beautiful masterpiece with others?

I found the whole Vatican experience nauseating, to be honest! The only moment of joy was when I “accidentally” fell behind a large group, and turned around looking for something to photograph without people’s heads getting in the way – and saw this totally stunning statue hidden in an alcove, catching the sunlight in a most attractive way!

Fuji FinePix S9500 – 35mm – f/3.4 – 1/350 sec – ISO 100

Clearly the Catholic Church doesn’t object to naked young men gracing their alcoves….

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You may have noticed that all these photos were taken with a humble Fujifilm FinePix S9500 camera – a relatively inexpensive camera with a fixed lens. In spite of that, the colour and clarity of the shots, even in very low light, is very acceptable!

  • Anyone can take lovely photos with this type of camera – the trick is to make sure you learn to use the manual settings. Don’t leave it to the camera to do the work – take control of exposure, aperture and the ISO settings.
  • When you’re in crowded situations, you won’t be able to safely use a tripod, so it is important to keep the exposure above 1/60 second, unless you can rest the camera on a support of some kind.
  • Use a polarising filter to darken skies and reduce glare and reflections. But, be aware that a polarise works best when the camera is at right angles to the rays of the sun.
  • Look for unusual angles, and photograph the LIGHT!

Photography: Clarens, Free State.

My family likes to holiday in Clarens, a small town in the northern Free State, in South Africa. It’s a lovely little place, jam-packed with art shops, family restaurants, quaint curio shops, antique clothing shops… all the stuff I love to look at. As an added bonus, the town in nestled in the mountains, and is a stone’s throw away from the magnificent Golden Gate National Park.

Oh yeah, they also brew their own beer – a delightful light lager you can drink all day, and then still find your way home without falling in a ditch.

The place we normally stay in is on a golf course. They have the most beautiful little dam where I love to go at sunrise and sunset, and am often rewarded with quite special shots.

I was up before sunrise, taking photos in the very soft pre-dawn light. As the sun was rising, I was facing the other way…then turned around and saw THIS beautiful sight!

 

This is taken later in the morning – a favourite spot for a bit of lazy fishing….


Image

Six months later, in the same spot. Taken in the evening. I love the colours of the sky and water!

Just to the south of Clarens is the magnificent Golden Gate National Park. Absolutely pristine Drakensburg area, and a wonderful place for photography.

I’ll show you those pics another time 🙂

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For those who enjoy the technical details:

  1. Fuji Finepix S 9500   f/3.1 1/70sec ISO200  8mm focal length
  2. Fuji Finepix S 9500   f/3.1 1/150sec ISO200 8mm focal length
  3. Fuji Finepix S 9500   f/3.4  1/100sec ISO200 11mm focal length
  4. Canon PowerShot SX30 IS f/4 1/400sec ISO160 4mm focal length