The crisp of the mornings is broken by warming African sunrise, and once the day draws to an ends, just after the golden hour, we are led into an ever-changing canvas brought on by the sun setting. Abruptly the evening is upon us, in which spots of ancient star lights peer down us.
This, for me, defines winter.
While I still relish the warmer months, winter shortens the length of the days and widens the window into the night. I strongly believe it is one of the best gifts to wildlife photography. It provides challenges, which help us as individuals redefine our personal photography and develop our unique creative eye.
Over the last two weeks there has been a lot of emphasis on night photography, at Londolozi, with not only specialist photographic guests practicing their skills, but those just starting out on their photographic journey as well as staff members. Night photography is a medium that has fascinated me for a while. This photographic journal I hope will be an indication of the endless possibilities of the ‘darker side’ of photography .
May it evoke the same emotions in you that Londolozi evokes in us during the hours when the sun does not shine…
As hobbyist wildlife photographers we can sometimes cling to our points of view and the set “rules” of photography as if our lives depend on it. When the light has faded and the golden hour disappeared into the darkness, it is then important to break photographic rules and experiment in order to develop a fresh creative eye. Before and during sunrises are perfect for silhouettes shots. There is an hour-long window – almost unique to winter – before, during and after sunsets, where the warm colours of the African sky can almost be felt. Coupling these conditions with an appropriate subject whilst underexposing and using manual or preset white balance, can enhance the silhouette.
A Mhangeni lioness gets to higher ground before beginning the hunt. (ISO 800 f/5.6 at 1/2500 sec)
Going wide can create a different feel to the photo. It is important that the subject can be made out. Here the pride are alert to impala in the distance. I created a warm silhouette by using manual white balance and under exposing. (ISO 800 f/4.5 at 1/1000 sec).
Using the late winter sunrise can work wonderfully for a silhouette opportunity. A Tsalala lioness on a rock in the Sand River. (ISO 400 f/8 at 1/2500 sec)
Using a wide angle lens and being at a low angle kept the lioness and the granite boulder in silhouette. (ISO 400 f/9 at 1/3200 sec).
Last light on the airstrip. (ISO 800 f/5.6 at 1/640 sec).
Impala at dusk on a high crest. (ISO 2500 f/5.6 at 1/40 sec).
Being so tall, giraffes make for perfect silhouette subjects. (ISO 800 f/7.1 at 1/640 sec).
Kudu’s often use termite mounds for higher ground; a completely different perspective will all the flies as well as the main subject in silhouette. Photographed by Trevor Mcall-Peat (ISO 800 f/5.6 at 1/640 sec).
Sacrificing golden light allows one to get something unique. (ISO 400 f/4.5 at 1/3200 sec).
The Yawn. (ISO 800 f/5.6 at 1/640 sec)
A cloudy evening is the perfect opportunity to experiment when the light is generally poor. (ISO 1000 f/5.6 at 1/640 sec)
A photograph I have been dreaming about for a long time. (ISO 1250 f/5.3 at 1/800 sec).
Wildlife after Dark
Stepping out into the night and photographing animals in the darkening sky can be one of the most exhilarating ways of expanding your photographic repertoire. However, trying to reveal this whole new world in the dark can be intimidating, largely due to the needing to use manual settings. Having said this, there is no better way to learn about how to use light to your advantage, and if you can master the art of photographing wildlife at night, you can probably master anything photographic!
Night photography isn’t all about shooting into a black viewfinder and guessing at compositions, using a light or flash. Night photography is all about letting go of image conventions. The light is so greatly reduced that the pictures will consist of featureless shadows, high contrasts and a highlighted subject. With good technique it is possible to get your photo spot on in camera.
The Nanga female gets active from Southern Cross Koppies as darkness descends.
Using a Tungsten white balance while photographing at night brings out a royal blue sky and keeps the animal’s colour true. (ISO 1600 f/5.6 at 1/200 sec)
The use of sidelight, even if subtly done, can emphasise shadows and bring a mood to your photograph that a standard straight-on spotlight will fail to produce.
The Mashaba female watches distant impala males rutting. The contrast of yellow and blue which you can capture in leopard pictures after sunset never fails to create stunning images.
The Nanga female in a large Jackalberry next to the Manyelethi River. A spot in the darkness brings a sense of isolation to the subject, from an emotional rather than photographic point of view.
The Nkoveni female watches a hyena skulking past where she had a duiker kill stashed in a tree.
Backlighting leaves a lot for the imagination…
The Piva male at dusk.
Backlighting is a great way to emphasise a subject; the light draws the lines. (ISO 1600 f/2.8 at 1/125 sec)
A lioness emerges from the dark. Using a spot light from a perpendicular angle helps create this effect. (ISO 2000 f/5.6 at 1/160 sec).
Awaken. (ISO 2000 f/5.6 at 1/160 sec)
The Knight. (ISO 2000 f/5.6 at 1/200 sec).
Stars and Long exposure
Taking pictures of the stars using a long exposure awakens a world of the unknown. A longer exposure picks up more light, which in turn means you will see stars that are further away from our planet which allows you to paint with light a very creative way.
A cloudy night doesn’t mean photography must wait until the next day. Long exposures allow for a smoothing out of moving clouds. (ISO 1600 f/2.8 at 25 second long exposure).
The first stars just start to show themselves. Photograph by Sean Cresswell.
The Southern Stars in all their glory. The streak at the bottom right of the photo is a shooting star. Photograph by Amanda Ritchie.
Star circles around celestial south. Photograph by Rob Crankshaw.
The last light of day. Photograph by Amanda Ritchie
A quintessential dusk scene in the African bush. Photograph by Sean Cresswell.
The Milky Way. (ISO 2500 f/2.8 at 25s).
The Moon. Photograph by Trevor McCall-Peat.
All Photographs by Don Heyneke unless otherwise stated.
Amazing pictures that capture the beauty of wildlife as the sun goes down. Many could be framed!!
Absolutely incredible photos. A whole new dimension.
Thank you for this article! I’m mesmerised by these images! I think they are awesome! Thank you so much for sharing them!
Stunning, stunning, stunning!!! I’m envious
Stunning Photographs, and an awesome read!
Wonderful photos i always look at this site thanks so much
Fabulous photos Don. The “sidelight” picture of the leopard in a tree brings back a very special memory – I was sat just behind you when you took it, and have one of my own a bit like it, nowhere near as good though!
Outstanding images, they’re all really spectacular! I would love to know what camera, lens and settings Trevor used to capture his incredible image of the moon?
Epic set of photographs Don, well done your images are truly outstanding!!!