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On the Panel – Episodes 1 to 3

The COVID19 lockdown has locked everyone and the present and the future looks uncertain as of now. However the positive side in the creative world is that the photographic community has come forward and has been very open in sharing knowledge in innovative ways. We started a discussion series bringing together the best of natural history photographers from across the globe to discuss various aspects of wildlife photography and for me it has a great experience interacting with all my international colleagues and recording some of these interactions.

Check out the first 3 episodes of On the Panel hosted by writer, film maker and journalist –  Shatabdi Chakrabarti as she grills us on DSLR camera trapping, photographing wildlife after dark, creativity in wildlife photography, evolution of wildlife photography in India and much more.

There are many more exciting episodes coming up. So subscribe to the Nature Wanderers channel on YouTube and or follow my Instagram page.

 

On the Panel – Episode 1 : Evolution of Wildlife Photography in India

Panelists : Shivang Mehta, Rahul Sachdev & Prakash Ramakrishnan

 

On the Panel –  Episode 2 : DSLR Camera Trapping

Panelists : Ben Cranke (Award Winning Photographer from South Africa) & Shivang Mehta

 

On the Panel – Episode 3 : Night Wildlife Photography & Usage of Flash

Panelists : BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year – Wim van den Heever, Nature’s Best Africa Wildlife Photographer of the Year – Brendon Cremer and Canon EOS Ambassador and Siena International Photographer Award (Wildlife) Winner – Shivang Mehta.

 


Canon 90D – Does it fit in your wildlife kit?

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A stiched panorama using a Canon 90D and Canon 18-55mm kit lens
What is the use of a cropped sensor body for a wildlife photographer? Let us look into it from 2 aspects.
 
Are you an amateur photographer looking for a camera body with good features in the budget segment? There is a whole range of Canon APSC (cropped sensor) cameras across different price segments you can opt for. It all started with the Canon bodies like the Canon 50D and the Canon 7D which were perfect for wildlife photography because of the built and high frames per second. The low light performance of these cameras was a cause of concern and then came to Canon 7D Mark II with some more advanced features.
 
Once you migrate to higher end camera bodies and enter the 5D and 1D segments do you still need for a cropped sensor body? In my opinion you do. Here is my take on this on the basis of my experience with various Canon bodies in the past 12-13 years.
 
From the 40D, 50D and the 7D I used all the Canon cropped censor bodies and as an amateur photographer I was happily making use of these semi professional cameras with the old version of the Canon 100-400mm IS1 which was my staple kit for years. High ISO performance was a pain point but I got used to living with it and experimented with photographic techniques like use of slow shutter speeds to tackle such scenarios. 
 
My next step was a migration to the Canon 1D Mark IV which again was the top end flagship model but a cropped sensor body again (1.3x cropped). I had started using prime lenses and started loving the combination. For the next 4-5 years I was married to the 1DM4 and then migrated further to the Canon 5D Mark III and later on to the Canon 1Dx and the Canon 1Dx Mark II. Though Canon kept on coming out with more and more technological marvels in the form of these full frames but there was one camera body which was a permanent fixture in my kit – the Canon 1D Mark IV. Do you wonder why?
 
Being an excellent cropped sensor body for me the 1DM4 was my tool to get better reach whenever it was needed. It acted as an additional tele converter which I used time and again was shooting close portraits or getting that perfect composition which needed that extra bit of focal length. The 10 fps and the decent low light performance was an added bonus.
 
However with the every evolving technology I was constantly looking for a 1DM4 replacement in the past few years. In 2014 Canon upgraded the 7D with the 7D Mark II. I was still not confident of letting go of my 1DM4 as I wasnt confident if the 7DM2 would fit into that shoe. Hence I continued my journey with various full frames as and when they were launched and the 1DM4 still occupied that same old slot in my camera bag.
 
Recently I had the opportunity to use the Canon EOS 90D. A cropped sensor body again which was built on two key features – focus and speed. I straight away put the camera into a rigid field test in hazy weather conditions in Manas National Park in Assam. The light was poor and the opportunity was perfect for me to answer some of my questions pertaining to this new cropped sensor body by Canon. Here are some of my observations: 
 
  • 45 cross type focus points – The moment I looked through the view finder of the Canon 90D the huge gamut of 45 cross type focus points which occupied a substantial area of the view finder caught my immediate attention. Composition and focusing becomes fun with this wide spread of focus points and I had a great time composing my subjects in various parts of the frame
  • 32.5 megapixels – I am not a fan of cropping images and strongly believe in in-camera compositions. A camera packed with megapixels means that you get better details and that was the pick of the features for me. Even if you have to crop up 15-20% of the image you have enough data in the image to make a completely useable image.
  • ISO performance – All cameras perform well in good light conditions. The challenge is when the light is tricky. In Manas I got the opportunity to test out this camera in two different light situations. A backlit capped langur and the results were satisfactory. I then encountered a herd of elephants and in hazy conditions I photographed this herd at various ISOs ranging from ISO 800 to ISO 1600. The noise at ISO 1250 and ISO 1600 was perfectly manageable. 
  • The Flip Screen – While shooting from a vehicle I usually struggle to take a low angle shot. A lot of times I am seen hanging out from the window at times with the camera attached to a monopod and a remote trigger to take wide perspectives of subjects close to the vehicle. I do get the results but its purely a hit and trial technique and the composition does go for a toss. With a flip screen life becomes easier as you do get to see the composition and frame when your eye is off the view finder and this feature was very handy.
  • Focusing & Speed – I refer back to the capped langur troop that was moving in thickets with the sun hitting their backs. The limited openings in the tree meant that the camera needed to be fast in catching the focus and the burst firing at 10 fps was adequate enough for catching the fine moments on the tree. 
So would the Canon 90D find an entry into my camera kit and would I be finally bidding farewell to my trusted partner – 1DM4? I guess I will have to do it with a heavy heart. I feel the Canon 90D is a body which would perfect for terrains and projects where one needs reach and the cropped sensor stacked with heavy duty prime lenses can make that fine difference. The perfect examples are snow leopard expeditions or a birding expedition. The 4K videos with slow motion features also makes it an ideal filming cameras for documenting wildlife.
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Asian Elephants in Manas National Park. Canon 90D and Canon 100-400mm IS2. ISO 800, f5.6, 1/400
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Asian Elephants in Manas National Park. Canon 90D and Canon 100-400mm IS2. ISO 1250, f5.6, 1/400
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Asian Elephants in Manas National Park. Canon 90D and Canon 100-400mm IS2. ISO 2500, f5.6, 1/500
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A capped langur in Manas National Park. Shot on Canon 90D and Canon 100-400mm IS2. ISO 400, f5.6, 1/640

Tackling “Tiger Boredom” 

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One of the most photographed cats the “Tiger” though can trigger a rush of adrenalin, but what if you are one of those who think  “Been there done that”? You empty your pockets doing the flurry of game drives in Indian parks at times paying a premium with special all zone access to venture out in the scorching heat of the cruel Indian summer only to be faced with scenes which are dull and boring, forget adrenalin rush your body produces melatonin, inducing sleep…..so much so for a tiger safari then.
We as photographers are constantly looking for tiger action in the form of hunts, play sequences, interactions or shooting the cat in the soft morning or evening light. These are rare moments and happen once in a while. But what do you get instead on 70% of the occasions? Tigers sitting in cemented water tanks, Tigers in the bushes, Tiger sleeping under tree shades. The subject you go out seeking is smarter than you , they give you an half opened eye look with a perplexed look as if saying go chill in a swimming pool , sit in the shade, it’s too hot to be cooking yourselves alive.
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Summer sightings like these are considered to be below average owing to harsh light or man-made structures and the drooping shoulders of a lot of camera owners around me just display signs of what I term as “tiger boredom”! Over the years I have been bitten by this boredom way too often but have tried to come up with ideas to overcome it by experimenting with such tiger sightings.
As I write this note a lazy (or rather a smart) tiger is sitting in front of me in a cemented water tank cooling himself as we roast in the sun. I have my doubts if he will get up in the next couple of hours. But I love the commitment level of the photographer and the subject! Just like I have committed myself to be burnt alive, this tiger is committed to chilling in its pool and we both haven’t given up on each other. And while I hope he gets into action at some point eventually, let me pen down some thoughts on how to encounter this tiger boredom 🙂

Shooting Portraits

We all start off with shooting tiger portraits, some graduate to learning how to zoom out and capturing the majestic feline in its environs, some never do. It’s after all the world’s most photogenic cat.
But in a scenario where you can’t do much with the environs have you thought of doing an extreme portrait of the cat. Stacking up all the glass in your kit for a tight close up of the eye if it’s open, or the nose or experimenting with the depth of field by keeping certain parts of the face in focus and blurring the rest. IMHO these are some engaging exercises that can keep you engaged while your body cooks itself, making the stepping out in the sun a little more worthwhile.
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The Dissection Technique for Portraits 

From head to tail the tiger is by far a charismatic subject and as a photographer I see frames and perspectives in every part of its body. What better than a lazy tiger sitting out in the open to hone your observation skills. Stripes, paw, powerful back hunches, nose,  whiskers – each and every body part of the tiger has a hidden image which is fun to explore. Never went to a Zoology practical class, try that out with your camera and lens on the most majestic subject available.
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The Cement Issue

We crib about our cities being a concrete jungle but then we encounter concrete in the jungles too, what a bummer that’s what you ran away from to begin with.
Tigers in cemented water tanks has become a critical national problem for photographers. The joy of a sighting simply evaporates in minutes with the sight of a cement. Even I didn’t pick up my camera many years ago to photograph something which isn’t natural. One fine summer around 6 years ago, I noticed something during one of my safaris in Bandhavgarh which changed my thought process. Extreme portraits are of course an easy way to deal with the cement issue, but what else can be done. What caught my eye was the trail of water dripping from the belly when the cat got up from the water and ever since I have been thinking of images around the belly waterfalls.
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Tiger Falls

Tiger in cemented waterhole – Bandhavgarh

Reflections

Cement water holes have a unique feature. Before the tongue of a tiger touches these water bodies the water is still and the stillness gives a mirror like reflection and there are plenty of opportunities which can be explored around reflections. Even once the process of water going in the system is on, the ripples in the water can create some great tiger abstractions.
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So the next time you spend a bomb to venture on a full day safari in peak summers risking a sunstroke , don’t doze off to give the sleeping cat company. Tigers have been widely photographed in today’s time but in my opinion there are tons of tiger images yet to be taken. Make the best of what you have, challenge your brain cells, trigger those creative juices and make the adventure out in the sun worth your while.
And once you are through with your experimentations you can also think of more ideas and sit in front of a lazing tiger to kill your boredom by writing a similar note for the benefit of mankind 🙂

Canon 1DxM2 – Field Test

Pench National Park Canon 1DxM2, Canon 70-200mm f2.8 IS2

Pench National Park
Canon 1DxM2, Canon 70-200mm f2.8 IS2

Dudhwa National Park Canon 1DxM2, Canon 400mm f2.8 IS2

Dudhwa National Park
Canon 1DxM2, Canon 400mm f2.8 IS2

The much awaited successor of the Canon 1Dx – the top end Canon camera for sports and wildlife photography – was announced and launched by Canon recently. Thanks to Canon India for giving me the opportunity to use the first sample unit of this new machine in the challenging field conditions of Indian forests. Having used the 1D predecessors like the Canon 1DM4 and Canon 1Dx extensively in the last 5 years, I was particularly intrigued to know more about the Canon 1DxM2 because for me Canon 1Dx was the complete camera and I wasn’t expecting an upgrade so soon.

Using a Fine Detail (FD) picture style introduced in the Canon 1DxM2 for shooting portraits

Using a Fine Detail (FD) picture style introduced in the Canon 1DxM2 for shooting portraits

Drawing a direct comparison between the Canon 1Dx and Canon 1DxM2, here are some broad level observations (please note that I tested the camera for still photography. The Canon 1DxM2 records 4K videos which is not covered in my field tests):

Muted Shutter Sounds
In comparison to the predecessors like the 1DM4 and the 1Dx the first thing you realise about the 1DxM2 is the relatively muted tone of the shutter. As per the tech specs an advanced mirror flapping system has been introduced which will probable and possibly reduce in-camera vibrations while firing bursts of 12-14 fps. Typically on a Canon 1Dx I tone done my fps to reduce in camera vibrations while firing a burst so that the probabilities of some images turning out to be tad soft goes down while shooting some fast action. I shot some fast Dhol action sequences in Pench National Park at 14fps in challenging low lights early morning and was pretty satisfied with the series in terms of image sharpness.

ISO 200, f6.3, 1/1000. Fired a burst at 14fps. All images in the series have the required detail

ISO 200, f6.3, 1/1000. Fired a burst at 14fps. All images in the series have the required detail

ISO 3200, f5.6, 1/500 Shot using a Canon 400mm f2.8 IS2 lens. A burst at 14 fps was fired for this series

ISO 3200, f5.6, 1/500
Shot using a Canon 400mm f2.8 IS2 lens. A burst at 14 fps was fired for this series

Expanded Viewfinder Grid
The 61 point AF grid through the Canon 1DxM2 viewfinder looks a bit more expanded as compared to the Canon 1Dx. It essentially means that your in-camera composition is better.

Aided with the expanded AF point grid, here is an in-camera composition of cheetals grazing in morning light at Pench National Park

Aided with the expanded AF point grid, here is an in-camera composition of cheetals grazing in morning light at Pench National Park

Low light performance
I pushed the Canon 1DxM2 ISO to a maximum of 3200 during some misty conditions at Dudhwa National Park and the noise was workable and can easily be removed using noise reduction tools.

ISO 3200, Extreme Low Light.

ISO 3200, Extreme Low Light.

View Finder Guiders
A feature which was introduced in the Canon 7DM2 has been pushed in the new Canon 1DxM2 as well. If you look through the view finder of this body, you can see some of your basic camera settings like White Balance, Metering Modes, AF Drive, Shooting Modes and a horizon stabilisation bar. The font colour is however black and the display works very well only when you are shooting with bright backgrounds.

A screenshot of the icons you can see through the view finder of the Canon 1DxM2

A screenshot of the icons you can see through the view finder of the Canon 1DxM2

Advanced AF for f8 lenses
Typically while using a Canon 1Dx with Canon 500mm or 600mm f4 lens and a 2x converter, only the centre focus points used to be active. A noted beneficial feature with the Canon 1DxM2 is that all 61 focus points remain active with f8 lenses (if you are using the new generation 1.4x and 2x converters). 41 of those points are cross-type, having both horizontal and vertical line sensitivity. 5 central points are dual cross-type and have wider baselines that offer high precision focusing for F2.8 and faster lenses.

Touch Screen
While shooting using the Live View feature you can now touch the LCD of the Canon 1DxM2 to focus your subject. The feature is good for shooting videos as well.

I mounted the camera on a beanbag and used the Live View AF touch screen feature to focus on the subject at the corner of the frame. Using Canon 1DxM2 and Canon 400mm f2.8 IS2

I mounted the camera on a beanbag and used the Live View AF touch screen feature to focus on the subject at the corner of the frame. Using Canon 1DxM2 and Canon 400mm f2.8 IS2

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section…


Maximize your field productivity

Every day as I accompany photographers on the field, the sight of a tiger makes cameras go ballistic as triggers are pressed with sheer madness. Sitting in the hotel room when I see the days work of people the hard disks are full of similar looking images and then the ‘I wish’ list begins… I wish I had shot like this… I wish I had done this better…

I always wonder that when you as a photographer pick your camera to shoot say a spotted deer a lot of thought goes behind that image. You take the pain to place the deer properly in the frame, you experiment with compositions. Why does that happen? It is just because you consider the deer as a subject. Yes subjects like tigers are rare to find but the moment you get a control on your mind and start treating them as subjects you will end up maximizing your field productivity and make best use of the opportunities that nature presents in front of you.

Have you ever tried pondering on the following points?

  • Removing your eye from the view finder to see the subject with your naked eyes and scan for elements which can be added or removed from the frame?
  • You may be using the biggest prime lens in the world that will give you a razor sharp image. However are those sharp images needed every time? How about experimenting with varied focal lengths to create 4-5 different images of a moment as simple as a tiger sitting under a tree.
  • Reading the light and pre-visualizing images for a certain light situation. You may end up forgoing some images but you will be better prepared for that particular lighting scenario

I got hold of the new and revamped Canon 100-400mm IS2 and rested my Canon 70-200mm f2.8 IS2. I used it extensively in Ranthambhore throughout last week. Here is an example from Ranthambhore where a tiger sitting under a tree was shot in 5 different ways as varied focal lengths.

Krishna (T19) female cub shot using Canon 1Dx and Canon 100-400mm IS2

Krishna (T19) female cub shot using Canon 1Dx and Canon 100-400mm IS2


Planning for a Kenya Travel : Kunzum TV

It is monsoons and I am just doing some serious desk job before hitting the field again in August. Recently I recorded a 3 episode series for my close friend, journalist and India’s #1 travel blogger Ajay Jain for his initiative Kunzum TV.

So have you missed your bus to Masai Mara and other locations in Kenya this year? Is Kenya a destination for you in the future and you are still getting confused on what to choose amidst the crowd of packages being offered by different operators in the market? Watch the 3 part episode series on Kunzum TV to get an answer to all your WHYs pertaining to Kenyan locations like Masai Mara and plan your holiday to the Mecca of Wildlife.


Nature Photography : Answering your Whys

T19 (Krishna) walking through a forest thicket in Ranthambhore

T19 (Krishna) walking through a forest thicket in Ranthambhore

A lot of ‘whys’ are put forward during my workshops and photo tours. Why did I use this lens to shoot a particular image? Why did I expose this image in this way? Why did I use a particular combination of ISO, shutter, aperture etc? My standard response is it all depends on what you as a photographer have envisioned for a particular image and what you want to create…

For this particular image here are a few responses to some of the Whys:

  • Why did I go for a tight composition?
    • Because the habitat in which the tiger was walking for full of clutter which wasn’t appealing for a wide shot. I had a choice of a Canon 400mm f2.8 IS2 and a Canon 70-200mm handy with me this time. My decision to go tight was mainly to deal with the clutter of a dense Dhonk vegetation which is omnipresent in a place like Ranthambhore. 
  • Why did I underexpose the image?
    • Just to capitalize on the patches of cut light falling on the face while the subject was in motion. I did not shoot a lot of images when the subject was walking in the shade areas and was just preparing myself to shoot for the light patches. Even before the tiger started walking the light patches in the Dhonk forest something which I found interesting to play with. As soon as the subject started moving towards those light patches, I metered for those patches only. I did miss some moments when the subject was walking in shade areas but that was not the image I had created in my mind.
  • Why did I compose vertically?
    • Because it was too close and a horizontal composition may have resulted in some part of the leg being cut from the frame which would have looked odd. I knew there was little margin for error in the composition but it was worth the risk because it was this sort of an image which I had visualized in my head…Nature photography is all about visualization and knowing what you want out of something happening in front of you. The quicker you think the more comfortable you would be in answering you Whys…–

Equipment Used : Canon 1Dx, Canon 400mm f2.8 IS2, ISO 200, f4, 1/2000. Mounted on a NW BLite Bean Bag