Witt Duncan: Blog https://www.wittduncan.com/blog en-us (C) Witt Duncan [email protected] (Witt Duncan) Mon, 16 Mar 2020 07:14:00 GMT Mon, 16 Mar 2020 07:14:00 GMT https://www.wittduncan.com/img/s/v-12/u737069458-o995877216-50.jpg Witt Duncan: Blog https://www.wittduncan.com/blog 120 90 All New Travel Photos https://www.wittduncan.com/blog/2017/12/new-travel-images Pursuant to my recent trot around the globe, the travel gallery on my site has been completely refreshed.

From India to Vietnam to Sri Lanka to Myanmar and all the way to Everest Base Camp, the gallery is full of fresh imagery.

I'll keep the words short and let the images speak for themselves...take a look and enjoy!


[email protected] (Witt Duncan) asia base blog camp content everest fresh himalayas india myanmar photo photography photos print travel vietnam https://www.wittduncan.com/blog/2017/12/new-travel-images Thu, 21 Dec 2017 01:56:59 GMT
Aerial Gallery Now Live https://www.wittduncan.com/blog/2017/11/aerial-gallery-now-live After recently acquiring a drone, the perspective it has offered has been a complete game changer in my world of photography. To me it offers a means to get far away from the earth's surface and take in a macro view of large geographic features - often shooting from relatively high altitudes.

With the growing influence this is having on my photography, it seemed time to add a dedicated aerial gallery to my website.

You can find it here or have a brief view in the slideshow below...enjoy!

[email protected] (Witt Duncan) aerial blog dji drone gallery landscape mavic photography portfolio update https://www.wittduncan.com/blog/2017/11/aerial-gallery-now-live Thu, 23 Nov 2017 00:57:19 GMT
The Photographer's Guide to Trekking Everest Base Camp https://www.wittduncan.com/blog/2017/5/EBCphotog

Everest - the highest peak on our blue planet. Just hearing the name stirs up a nostalgic sense of adventure and images of towering, snow-capped peaks. While Everest's summit - at 29,029 ft - is out of most of our physical reach, trekking through the rugged Himalayan landscape to Everest base camp (EBC) at a measly 17,598 should be on everyone's bucket list - particularly for us photographers!

In April 2016 I made the trek to and from EBC and can soundly say it was one of the single best trekking experiences I've had in my life. A grand landscape teeming with history - made by locals and foreign climbers alike. Great as it was, the trek isn't without its challenges - both physically and photographically. While I can't give you any magic formula to make the physical side easier, I can gladly offer you a few pieces of advice on the photographic side.

In no particular order, these are my top 10 tips for photographers making the trek to EBC:

  1. Polarize for pop: A circular polarizer is a must-bring on any outdoor excursion, and the Everest region is no different. Polarizers will help to reduce haze, darken skies, intensify colors, and cut glare on water, rocks, plants, and snow. I never say always, but you'll seldom find me shooting without one in outdoor environments like this. Exceptions include wide-angle shots with clear sky in the frame, portraits, and pre-dawn/post-dusk shots.
  2. Eyes on your six: Don't forget to look behind you! You may have already covered that stretch of trail or walked past that mountain or village, but the features along the trail - especially mountains - look entirely different from all angles. The angle from which you approached isn't always the best one.
  3. Small things are big: The landscapes of the Himalayas may be vast, but they're filled with little gems. From flowers to stonework to bells on the necks of yaks to frozen streams and much more. These details that make up the whole provide valuable context in building a sense of place within your imagery.
  4. People provide scale: These mountains are HUGE! Everest is the biggest of them all, eh? For those big landscape shots, make an effort to include people somewhere in the frame to add a sense of scale and bring the grandeur of the surrounding landscape into proportion. 
  5. Maximize your time: Mornings may be bitter cold, and sunset is always more comfortably viewed from a chair next to the furnace, but we don't go out to harsh places like Everest for creature comforts! Skies in the mornings are more dependably clear, so sunrise is more of a sure shot for views...but those evening clouds can make for some uniquely dramatic photos as well!
  6. Culture counts: Let's face it, most of us head up into the Himalayas for the mountainous landscapes, but the people who have chosen to inhabit these harsh environs are just as unique as the landscapes in which their houses sit. The original inhabitants of the Everest region are the Sherpa people - rugged on the outside but ever so friendly on the inside. Learn a bit of the local lingo, interact with folks, show interest, be genuine, and ask before you take photos.
  7. Weight adds up: I'm well familiar with the inclination to pack along every lens I own, but this isn't the place to give in to those urges...unless you plan to hire a porter. Each pound in your pack seems to multiply when you're hiking up a steep slope at 17,000 ft. so choose them wisely. When assembling your kit, select versatile and complimentary gear - whether it be lenses or layers - and toss aside non-essential items; your legs will thank you later.
  8. Stay on the ready: In a landscape this dynamic, you never know when something magical will unfold - whether it be a group of trekkers breezing up the trail ahead, a team of yaks packed to the brim, or even a moody cloud system. Keep that camera out and ready to shoot at a moment's notice so you don't miss these moments of beautiful spontaneity. I personally keep my camera mounted on the shoulder strap of my backpack with my trusty little Peak Design Capture Pro - it's a godsend. Use continuous shooting mode when shooting moving subjects - trekkers, yaks, climbers - to ensure you grab a frame in which the subject is in a flattering pose and fits into the surrounding landscape nicely. It's a lot easier to skip past a few bad frames during the culling process than to forgive yourself for missing a moment that will never be relived!
  9. Make it personal: Outfitters will surely try to sell you onto a group tour, but as a photographer you'll absolutely want to have the freedom to go at your own pace. Book a private trek through a well-reputed operator. Or, if you fancy true independence, just go it alone; the trails are very well established, and there are villages with guest houses every few miles.
  10. Power is precious: While you can expect to have access to charging outlets nearly every afternoon and evening of the trek, they certainly aren't free! Expect to anywhere from $1-4/hr to charge a single device, and don't except it to charge fast. It's wise to bring a solar charging panel and power bank for self-sufficiency and emergency charges. Batteries don't like the cold, so pack a few and try to keep them warm as much as possible. I personally sleep with all of my batteries in my sleeping bag - then keep them in inner pockets in the mornings - to ensure I've got a full charge for the day ahead of me. 

There you have it! Be sure to let me know if you've got questions or comments - always glad to hear your input.

Check out the gallery of images in the slideshow below to have a look at a few of my photos from the Everest region.

And last but not least, have a memorable trek to Everest!


[email protected] (Witt Duncan) base camp blog bucket list bucketlist camera ebc everest guide himalayas instruction landscape mountain nepal photo photography tips top 10 travel https://www.wittduncan.com/blog/2017/5/EBCphotog Fri, 05 May 2017 10:51:49 GMT
The Real Ha Long Bay https://www.wittduncan.com/blog/2016/12/the-real-ha-long-bay

Chances are you've seen a postcard or photo of Ha Long Bay - much like the one above - and admired its striking landscape, even if you aren't familiar with its name or geographic location.

What is Ha Long Bay?

Ha Long Bay, located in the Gulf of Tonkin in Northern Vietnam, consists of hundreds of karst islets (small islands) that emerge precipitously from the waters to form a landscape that looks more like that of a mystic movie set or fantasy landscape art than any you've previously encountered. Simply put, the landscape is unreally beautiful; it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and rightly so.

What to expect on a cruise of the bay

I recently visited Ha Long Bay with high hopes of capturing its striking beauty through the lens but was distinctly let down by the congestion and pollution that tourism and trade have brought to the area. Ha Long Bay is not the pristine, serene place it once was. Overcrowded is the most succinct term.

Today, Ha Long Bay has become a heavily trafficked tourist hotspot. Dozens of operators run a variety of cruises lasting from 1-3 days, and they're churning out the boats as fast as they can. The result is a bays filled with boats and the fumes that come along with them - and a good deal of trash as well. Tourists are rushed to the hot spots of the bay, shepherded through crowded caves and kayaking routes, and held to a relatively stringent schedule throughout the cruise experience. Typical postcard photos show a junk boat (a Chinese sailboat design, not a trashy vessel) or two sailing through a bay of few boats and many islands. While junk-style boats are still the standard tour vessels, out of the hundreds I spotted during my overnight tour of the bay not a single one had its sails up; each was motoring with its diesel engines. Not only were there tour boats in every direction throughout the bay, but we encountered several commercial cargo ships as well. As a photographer, the overcrowding - and particularly the haze that the fumes left in the atmosphere - detracted distinctly from Ha Long's appeal.

Along with the heavy tourism and traffic comes litter. Unfortunately, there are many who do not respect the lands through which they travel. And this was overtly apparent in Ha Long Bay. When approaching the shores of coves on a kayaking outing, the amount of trash washed ashore was ghastly. And it's not just tourists who trash the waters; I saw multiple ferry drivers errantly tossing cigarette butts into the waters as they shuttled tourists to attractions throughout the bay.

Would I recommend a trip to Ha Long Bay?

I may sound pessimistic thus far, but don't get me wrong; Ha Long Bay remains a wonder of this world. My experience - especially photographically - did fall short of the idealized version I had seen in photos and postcards. But that doesn't mean it's not a worthy holiday destination for folks with preferences and priorities different from my own.

The rugged karst islets of Ha Long Bay remain as beautiful as they ever were, and they're a joy to lay eyes on. Additionally, the bay is easily accessed from Hanoi (Vietnam's capital), and tour packages - widely available throughout Hanoi - make getting there and back a streamlined experience. Overcrowded is a relative term; if you don't mind the company of other boats and can look past a bit of trash here and there, Ha Long Bay makes a great getaway for families, couples, and individuals alike...and those with selfie sticks ;)

However, if you're like me and like to get off the beaten path to have more authentic experiences in pristine natural environments (with an emphasis on photography, mind you) Ha Long Bay may not be worth your while. For the more adventurous, photographic types who don't mind putting in a bit more logistical effort to reach the destination, I'd recommend visiting Cat Ba Island and arranging a tour of Lan Ha Bay. I made this trip directly following Ha Long Bay and found it to be much more pleasant. Not only is there great hiking to be done through Cat Ba's mountainous terrain, but Lan Ha Bay shares an identical appearance to Ha Long - minus the traffic, trash, and smog. My girlfriend and I found a local in the harbor who agreed to take us out for a private 5-hour outing through the bay (and the floating village near Cat Ba where nearly 1,000 people reside on the water full-time) for only $40 USD.

See the below images for a glimpse into my time in Lan Ha Bay.

Each has their own way of traveling, and I can't tell you what's right for you - but I hope this brief account of my experiences has helped inform you on a couple of Vietnam's natural wonders.


[email protected] (Witt Duncan) World travel asia blog boat cruise ha long ha long bay ocean photo photography se asia southeast asia tourism travel travel tips vietnam wanderlust https://www.wittduncan.com/blog/2016/12/the-real-ha-long-bay Thu, 15 Dec 2016 09:59:40 GMT
Inside Hanoi: 10 Tips for Photographers https://www.wittduncan.com/blog/2016/12/inside-hanoi-10-tips-for-photographers ol li { font-weight:bold; } li > p { font-weight:normal; } div.travel{     background-color: black;     color: white;     margin: 0px 0 0px 0;     padding: 0px; font-weight:normal; }

After spending the past week in Hanoi, Vietnam - walking the streets, smelling the smells, sampling the local fare, and taking arguably too many photos, I've developed a keen sense what this old and culturally rich city consists of. And I'm here to offer insider advice on how to approach Hanoi photographically to help you better capture the essence of the city. If you'd rather cut straight to the chase and see photos from Hanoi, check out my gallery here.

Hanoi is a city unlike any other I've ever visited. Locals conduct many of their daily routines on the sidewalks - from eating to haircuts to markets right down to using the bathroom. There is a constant life and motion to the city - largely attributable to the millions of motorbikes constantly whizzing in every direction according traffic code that exists as common courtesy rather than formal law - that breathes life into its residents. If you don't look where you walk you may trip over someone sitting in a tiny plastic chair eating a bowl of pho - or clipped by a passing motorbike. A couple of days of acclimation and you'll begin to understand what makes the place tick.

But before we get into my spiel, I'll offer one piece of universally applicable advice: do your research in advance, but don't feel tied to your findings once you arrive; trust your instincts, don't be afraid to get lost, and go where your lens leads you!

Now that we've got that out of the way, I invite you to spin through my top 10 tips on taking travel photos in Hanoi:

  1. Bring a camera you don’t mind carrying on a strap for the whole day. The best camera is the one you have with you – ready to shoot for unplanned opportunities. Lugging around a heavy camera kit can get exhausting or require elaborate bags/cases that make it a chore both to carry and to ready for capture.

Travel tip: In my experience camera theft isn’t common in Hanoi, but it certainly isn’t unheard of either. Keep your camera on a strap and stay aware of your surroundings. Try to avoid flashy straps with camera brands printed on them in bold colors, and if carrying a bag opt for one that doesn’t scream ‘I have thousands of dollars of camera equipment in here’. I personally use a Timbuktu messenger bag with a padded soft case inside for easy access and to maintain a low profile.


  1. Opt to walk rather than cab if you can spare the time. Many of your best photo opportunities in Hanoi will be develop spontaneously in the bustling and colorful streets, not at the tourist hotspots. Take a walk through the streets – smell the smells, get a feel for how the locals live, and the photo opportunities will come to you.

Travel tip: Cabs are unavoidable at times, and Vietnamese cabbies are privy to the fact that your pockets are likely fatter than theirs. It’s prudent to lock in a rate or agree upon a fare to your destination at the outset of your ride to avoid surprises due to rigged meters or scams.


  1. See in color. The streets of Hanoi are teeming with life and filled with color. Keep an eye out for interesting color combinations and how the colors interact/intersect within your compositions; complimentary colors always make for a nice pop.

  2. Capture the motion of the city. You’ll find out the first time you go to cross the street that Hanoi is a fast-paced city – and whizzing with motorbikes. Look for contrast between stationary and moving objects (storefronts and motorbikes are a great example) then lower your shutter speed to around 1/40 of a second (could be faster or slower, depending on your focal length), brace yourself against a stable object, frame your shot, and wait for the scene to unfold as you keep the camera stable while firing the shutter as motion occurs. The resulting photo evokes the speed and motion with which the city moves.

Travel tip: Modern image stabilization technologies make this technique much easier to pull off without a tripod. Invest in a stabilized camera body or lens if you can.


  1. Visit the Old Quarter at night. Shops, restaurants, and bars adorn the streets of this area heavily trafficked by backpackers and tourists. The streets in the Old Quarter are well lit and full of life and color, making for excellent photo opportunities. Hundreds of yellow lanterns hang over Pho Dao Duy Tu, making for excellent blue hour photos (back to complimentary colors), and on the weekends you’ll also find the night market on Hang Dao Street.

  2. Bring a prime lens. Not only are primes smaller and lighter, but they typically have better light gathering capabilities than their zoom counterparts. Many days in Hanoi are overcast, and low light scenes are common – making a fast prime desirable. Additionally, shooting with a low f-stop creates separation between the subject and their surroundings, making for better portrait opportunities and adding that professional look to your photos.

Travel tip: Personally, I prefer the 35mm focal length for street photography, although many swear by the tried and true 50mm.


  1. Explore outside the tourist hubs. It’s tempting to stick to the main tourist attractions – both out of comfort and desire to see and photograph the scenes we’ve heard so much about. There’s nothing wrong with visiting these places, but the odds of walking away with unique photos is much lower than if you get off the beaten path. Ask locals for advice or just hit the street walking without a set plan, allowing your eyes to lead you toward what you find interesting.

Travel tip: Walk across the Cau Long Bien bridge to get an elevated view of the city as it quickly transitions from dense urban grid to farmland as you approach the Red River.


  1. Early to bed, early to rise. Hanoi is up and moving long before the sun rises, and an unofficial midnight curfew tames the city down fairly early. Wake up before the sun, grab some coffee, and watch the city come to life. If you’re lucky you may even catch a sunrise.

Travel tip: Hoan Kiem Lake is a popular morning exercise spot. You’ll find plenty of commotion around the lake in the early mornings, and there’s an unofficial market that operates in the mornings on Pho Bao Khanh. Also be sure to check out the Quang Ba flower market, which operates from 3-7AM every day except Sunday. You’ll see flower vendors all over the city, and this is where they supply each morning.


  1. Visit the local food markets. Even if you don’t intend to buy or eat anything, your camera will have a feast. Merchants operate booths that specialize in anything from chilis to fruits to meat to dried mushrooms. Far and away different from a western grocery store, these markets are loud, colorful, and full of interesting sights.

Travel tip: Pho Nguyen Thien Thuat, just north of the Old Quarter, hosts an outstanding local market with a wide variety of goods.


  1. Ask before you shoot. Many people do not like strangers pointing their cameras at them, and this is no different in Hanoi. If you’re hoping to capture a portrait of someone facing toward you, ask before you raise your camera. Sure this can ruin the candid appeal, but at least you won’t capture an image of a scowling stranger.

Travel tip: Try to connect with people before asking to take their picture, and the outcome will be much better. Offer them a compliment, make a purchase from them, or simply ask for directions to open communications and become more than a stranger with a camera.


This list is by no means exhaustive; Hanoi is a large, intricate city with much more to it than most travelers have time to experience.

These 10 tips are a great starting place, and now it's up to you to get out there, throw the camera over your shoulder, and discover it for yourself!

See a brief selection of the photos I captured in Hanoi in the slideshow below - hover over the slideshow and click the top corner to view as a gallery.

If you have additional input or questions, feel free to chime in below in the comments section.


[email protected] (Witt Duncan) 10 asia hanoi instruction photo photog photography se asia southeast asia tips travel travel photography vietnam https://www.wittduncan.com/blog/2016/12/inside-hanoi-10-tips-for-photographers Tue, 06 Dec 2016 13:15:59 GMT
Recap: June 2016 Photo Safari https://www.wittduncan.com/blog/2016/8/recap-june-2016-photo-safari

After traveling through Europe for the first 3 weeks of June, I hopped on a flight from Barcelona to Arusha to co-lead another photo safari with Everlasting Tanzania Travels.


Our four lucky clients - a family of four from Ohio - and I spent a week together traveling through the Serengeti by Land Cruiser along with our Everlasting Tanzania guide Solomon. The trip, a bespoke itinerary just like our February 2016 safari, was a private tour through the best the Serengeti has to offer. Here's a brief overview of our travels, along with a few photo highlights at the bottom:

Central Serengeti (3 nights)

After flying over the Ngorongoro Crater on our flight from the Lake Manyara airstrip to the central Serengeti's Seronera airstrip, we took in a pleasant sunset drive en route to our accommodations at Kiota Camp. Kiota is a classic tented camp situated on a hillside that affords guests panoramic views of the surrounding plains. Our game drives got off to a tremendous start, as we spotted a pride of lions - complete with at least 6 cubs - right out of the gates. And our luck continued all throughout the central Serengeti, where our clients exclaimed that they saw more game in the first two days than they expected to see over the entire trip. On our third day we continued our game drive north to the Serengeti's Kogatende region.


Northern Serengeti (3 nights)

The central Serengeti's open plains gave way to the Kogatende's rolling hills and - during this time of year - masses of wildebeest. We embraced the views as leisurely covered ground before arriving at Mkombe's House - the private 4-bedroom house adjacent to Lamai Serengeti that we would call home for the next 3 nights. Our accommodations were so nice that it was almost difficult to leave for our game drives. The house comes complete with a staff of 5 of the most genuine and hospitable gentlemen I've ever met (including a private chef), an enormous deck with panoramic views all the way into Kenya (and not one but two pools), and the structure itself dances beautifully in and out of enormous granite boulders that adorn the hillside on which it is built.

Our luck in sightings continued in the North as we not only spotted thousands of wildebeest and zebra but plenty of lions as well.


Klein's Camp (1 night)

We capped off our time together in Tanzania at a private concession adjacent to the Serengeti, and it turned out to be a special experience. Klein's Camp is situated atop a ridge overlooking 10,000 acres of private land leased from local Maasai tribes. On private land, game drives suddenly become more flexible: night drives, offroad driving, bush walks, and drone flights are all allowed! As the sun was setting during our evening game drive, we were greeted in a wide open plain full of wildebeest with a lavish sundowner spread complete with a bonfire...before we set out for our night game drive. The next morning our clients were able to fly their drone from atop a rocky outcropping as our guides prepared bush breakfast. Without a doubt the right way to end an outstanding safari!


After parting ways at Klein's camp, our clients flew on to Rwanda to track gorillas while Solomon and I drove the long road back to Arusha, making a pit stop at Lake Natron. We all returned home in early July with wonderful memories, new friends, and loads of photos to sift through...and an urge to plan the next safari in Africa.


And now for the photos behind the words:


[email protected] (Witt Duncan) africa blog guide lion photo photo safari photography safari serengeti tanzania travel wildebeest wildlife https://www.wittduncan.com/blog/2016/8/recap-june-2016-photo-safari Thu, 04 Aug 2016 20:35:56 GMT
Recap: Heart of Tanzania Photo Safari https://www.wittduncan.com/blog/2016/3/recap-heart-of-tanzania-photo-safari

Just over one week ago, two highly contented (and exhausted) clients and I went wheels up over Arusha from Kilimanjaro International Airport after spending 11 days experiencing some of the best Tanzania has to offer on safari with my partner Everlasting Tanzania Travels.

Our clients - a retired couple from my hometown of Austin, TX - were treated to a private safari led by myself and two top-notch guides from Everlasting Tanzania Travels (ETT). I functioned as the tour's dedicated photographic instructor while the ETT boys handled the driving and guiding; between the three of us every base was covered (we even took turns switch-hitting as bartender). No questions went unanswered and seldom a scene went uncaptured. The most difficult part of our journey together was recognizing that all good things must come to an end. As we approached that horizon, our clients willingly confessed that our safari had been 'the trip of a lifetime', and I can wholeheartedly agree that it was nothing short of that. 

Life has been a whirlwind ever since I set foot back in the States - the pace here is much faster than even the most jam-packed day in the bush - and I feel as if we could have just landed yesterday. I still catch the words 'ahsante' and 'habari' (Swahili for 'thank you' and 'good morning') on the tip of my tongue in conversation, and it wasn't until today that I found time to upload photos from the trip to see them on a screen bigger than the 3" LCD on my camera.

Reliving our travels through my photos today transported me through time and space - into a two week span that both my clients and I have identified as a couple of the best weeks of our lives. Making new friends and sharing bucket list-caliber experiences with them is a special - often once-in-a-lifetime - experience to look back on, but times this good deserve to be shared beyond just the three of us - for others to experience vicariously. And that's why I'm at my desk typing on this beautiful Sunday afternoon rather than outside enjoying the sunshine with my pup.


First off, I'll give a brief recap of our itinerary - to add a bit of context to the images that follow:


Air to Africa (too many hours):

Before embarking on our voyage, my clients and I felt it prudent to indulge ourselves in an array of tapas and cocktails as proper preparation for an international flight. 

We arrived to the airport with full bellies and tired eyes for our 9pm flight that routed us through Istanbul for a brief layover before continuing on to Kilimanjaro International Airport (JRO). 

And the layover in Istanbul was exactly that - brief. After walking what must have been nearly a half mile through the airport I hardly had time to get down a cup of Turkish coffee before boarding back up to complete the journey. 

Arusha (1.5 nights):

After an early morning setdown at JRO (2 AM), we enjoyed a leisurely day and night at Meru House Lekisilai - a fancifully homely farmhouse that used to function as a coffee plantation - getting acclimated to our new time zone, testing our camera equipment, and briefing for the days to come

The following morning, we boarded a single prop Cessna to fly over the lush volcanic landscapes of the Maasai Steppe and Loliondo Hills to the Kogatende airstrip in the Serengeti's northern reaches, near the Kenyan border; from the air one can truly appreciate the vastness of the Serengeti ecosystem

Northern Serengeti (4 nights):

Lamai Serengeti, a masterfully designed luxury camp situated on the region's highest granite-adorned hill, served as our home base

We spent our time roaming a region in the northern Serengeti known as Kogatende, which sits on the banks of the famed Mara River; with its cool climate, riverine forests ,rocky outcroppings (known as kopjes) and open plains, the northern Serengeti’s varied landscape supports a huge number of resident herbivores and cats outside of the great migration

Sightings were plentiful, including: lions, mother and baby rhino, topi, feasting cheetahs, impala, giraffes, baboons, zebras, elephants, wildebeest, Thompson's gazelle, hyenas, jackals, and more species of birds than I have fingers and toes

Southern Serengeti (4 nights):

Along our drive south, we stopped at a remote Maasai village (or boma, as they call it) in the Loliondo area to visit with the family, observe their traditional ways of life, and purchase their wares; we made extra efforts to stray off the beaten path for this cultural visit, which turned out to be well worthwhile - it was the most authentic interaction I've yet had with a Maasai tribe

Throughout the drive, the high grass and hills of the north gave way to the open plains of the southern Serengeti, where the Great Migration was located during our time - a dramatic change in geography, flora, and fauna

The region's open plains were filled with plains game - mainly wildebeest, zebras, and Thompson's gazelle - key players in the world's largest terrestrial migration

Chaka Camp, the seasonal mobile tented camp in which we stayed, and its staff took great care of us 

Our luck (read: excellent guiding) continued: African wild dogs, leopard, lions, cheetahs, elephants, impala (grazing directly outside the posh canvas tents in which we slept)

Ngorongoro Crater (2 nights):

After visiting the lesser known magnetic shifting sand dunes and driving through the Olduvai Gorge en route to our accommodations at Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge, perched atop the Crater's south rim, we spent the afternoon relaxing and eating before a dramatic sunset over the Crater drew us closer to rest before an early morning

The following day's game drive required a 6:00 AM departure, and when we were one of the first vehicles to enter the world's largest intact, inactive, and unfilled volcanic caldera for the day, it was totally worthwhile 

We saw every animal previously mentioned except leopard, wild dogs, giraffe, and a few species of birds

After our game drive we drove up and out of the crater to the nearby Ngorongoro Farmhouse, a uniquely elegant sustainable farm/resort, for a much-deserved day of rest and relaxation (and some of the best and freshest coffee I've ever tasted)

Arusha and onward:

Paved roads were a welcome sighting on our drive back to civilization

A relaxing afternoon and fantastic last dinner at the Arusha Coffee Lodge served as an appropriate cap to our safari before hopping aboard our flight back home


We all parted ways having seen new sights, made new friends, learned new things, made new memories, and captured extraordinary imagery of a few of our earth's most special creatures in some of its most beautiful places.

Until next time, under the wide African sky...


Speaking of new images, how about I put my money where my mouth is?

Feel free to enjoy the slideshow below, or head straight to the image gallery



[email protected] (Witt Duncan) africa guide houston instruction instructor ngorongoro photo safari photographic photography safari serengeti tanzania texas travel trip of a lifetime wildlife https://www.wittduncan.com/blog/2016/3/recap-heart-of-tanzania-photo-safari Tue, 08 Mar 2016 04:44:56 GMT
Witt Pit: The Best BBQ Joint You've Never Heard Of (that happens to share my name) https://www.wittduncan.com/blog/2015/11/witt-pit-bbq

As most folks out there know, Texans are a proudly unique breed with our own distinct culture and set of traditions. And when it comes to Texan traditions, barbeque (or BBQ as we commonly abbreviate it) is near the top of the list. I've developed a distinct palate for BBQ throughout my years, and I've tried it all - good, bad, great, meh. And last week I was fortunate enough to discover a new BBQ joint that falls solidly in the 'gahdamn that's tasty' category. For all of you Houstonians looking for a fresh BBQ join to tickle the tasters, look no further than Witt Pit BBQ & Catering!

Gotta love that logo!

When I discovered that a BBQ restaurant bearing my own name - Witt - existed near my hometown of Houston, well my lunch plans had essentially been made for me. From Houston I made a quick 30 minute jaunt down to Witt Pit BBQ & Catering in Rosenberg, TX to see what it was all about. The establishment resides in a cozy old cottage complete with a screened porch, and when I pulled up I could sense I was in for a treat just by the look of it. 

Upon entry, it's clear that you're in Texas; complete with wood-paneled walls, interior corrugated tin roofing, and numerous Texan insignia the decor is homey and inviting. As I approached the counter my first question wasn't about their variety of meats but the name of the restaurant. In 27 years I've only met one other guy named Witt (and a few other Whits...but that doesn't count), so I was eager to know the origins. Turns out that the couple behind the counter were Randy and Shaunna Witt - the proprietors of the joint who have spent many years in the catering business and opened this brick and mortar eatery in January of 2015. After a bit of small talk over our common name, I made my way to a table toting a hefty 2-meat 2-side platter. Shaunna Witt servin' it up hot!

As any good Texan knows, a BBQ joint ought to be judged on their brisket and ribs...and of course their sauce, if it's homemade. When I took a fork to my brisket it was clear that a knife wouldn't be necessary; it pulled right apart then melted in my mouth with the perfect amount of tender texture. And the ribs - even this picky eater can't imagine any improvements that could have been made there. Their in-house sauce was the icing on the cake, and the sauteed onions in it really set it apart from most others I've tasted.

Impressed especially with the brisket, I asked Randy if he had any secrets to cranking out such a tender and flavorful brisket. He chuckled and likened divulging his secrets to handing out the launch code to a nuclear bomb. He's got a point - that brisket was undoubtedly explosive, and he's got it figured out. 

After putting my plate down the pipe and wiping off my mitts, Randy offered to take me and another interested patron around back and show me where the magic happens. The BBQ magic, that is. Behind the house sits a reverse flow wood-fired smoker that could easily accommodate enough meat to feed a village. Randy was pulling off a batch of chicken during the tour, and I wished I had saved room to give it a try...but that'll give me one more reason to head back that way for another meal. 

There are countless Texas BBQ legends, and Witt Pit BBQ & Catering is surely one to add to the list. Having only opened its doors in January of this year, there's no doubt in my mind that the story has only just begun.

If you're in the market for some of the best BBQ in Texas with a down-home and personal touch (they also do event catering from what I hear), I highly suggest you pay a visit to Witt Pit BBQ & Catering!

You can also check out their website here: www.wittpitbbq.com

Below are a few photos I snapped during my visit

Warning: content below may induce salivation

The inviting front entryway

  That's what I call a proper plate Eatin' on the patio Their cozy interior boldly says you're in Texas Their own spin on the Texas flag...I rather like it Two customers ready to have their taste buds rocked Randy Witt slicing his deliciously tender turkey breast A view into the fire box of their enormous reverse-flow smoker Randy Witt doing what he does best MMMM chicken Beware: terrific meat cooked inside

After a tour of the smoker, owner Randy Witt took a minute out of his day to talk BBQ with another patron and me


[email protected] (Witt Duncan) bar-b-q barbecue barbeque bbq catering eatery event food houston photo restaurant review rosenberg texas witt https://www.wittduncan.com/blog/2015/11/witt-pit-bbq Wed, 11 Nov 2015 20:19:41 GMT
Choosing the Right Lens(es) for a Photo Safari https://www.wittduncan.com/blog/2015/9/choosing-the-right-lens-es-for-a-photo-safari Photo courtesy of Nikon The lens: a photographer's most crucial piece of kit. That is, so long as he can properly operate his camera body - as discussed in my write-up on choosing the right camera body for safari.

Weight limits are often a constraining factor on the puddle jumpers you'll likely be boarding en route to wildlife photography destinations, and glass isn't light.  There is no 'right' set of lenses to pack in your bag, but every photographer will be better served by an informed and well-condsidered selection of the glass at their disposal. When deciding which pieces of glass to haul with you across the ocean you ought to know their capabilities and limitations well. In the world of lenses some absolutes hold true across the board while other factors depend on each photographer's unique vision the types of images he hopes to capture.

First off, a few basics; the essential defining characteristics of all lenses are focal length and maximum aperture

  • Focal lengths are designated in a millimeter-based scale in which lenses with a low focal length (small numbers) see more of a given scene than do lenses with longer focal lengths (high numbers). The two ends of this spectrum are known as wide angle and telephoto.
    • As the name would suggest, wide angle lenses take in a wide view of one's surroundings while telephoto lenses (also known as long lenses) allow a photographer to 'zoom in' and convey a sense of closeness with a far away object.
    • Aside from the obvious scale of what is contained within a photo shot at a wide vs telephoto focal lengths, physics impose other more subtle implications on photos captured at either end of this spectrum.
      • At a given aperture setting, shorter focal lengths result in deeper depth of field; conversely, all else held equal, longer focal lengths result in shallower depth of field.
      • Wider focal lengths create a sense of depth while the telephoto end of the spectrum compresses elements of a scene
  • A lens' maximum aperture is a measure of how large the iris that allows light through the rear of the lens (aperture) will open. The lower the number, the wider it opens. A wider aperture has two implications: more light on the sensor and shallower depth of field.
    • When more light is able to travel through the lens onto a sensor, all else held constant, faster shutter speeds or lower ISOs can be used in a given situation. This is a great thing on safari when some of the most compelling opportunities involve capturing moving animals in low light. 
    • We're all familiar with those photographs in which a subject is isolated against a buttery soft background. Those were taken using large apertures, which confusingly are denoted by small numbers (i.e., f/1.8). Generally speaking, the larger a lens' maximum aperture (again, the lower the number of the f-stop) the better. You won't always want to shoot the lens wide open (and with some you should avoid it as much as you can), but having larger apertures available affords the photographer more creative latitude and more opportunity to capture photographs in low light. 

As I mentioned in a prior blog post, photographers typically elect to tote two camera bodies with them on safari in order to have quick access to a wide range of focal lengths. Changing lenses in the field can result in both missed shots and dusty sensors, so if you can afford to you should strongly consider bringing two camera bodies with you on your photographic safari.

When most people think 'safari lens' they conjure up an image of an 8-pound, 2-foot-long telephoto behemoth. Because long telephoto lenses allow us to convey a sense of closeness with far away subjects - and animals often won't allow us to get close - they are the go-to lens for many wildlife photographers (and will likely be the most important lens in your wildlife kit). But telephotos aren't the only suitable lenses for wildlife photography. In fact, everyone should have a standard and/or wide angle lens in their bag on safari. Animals sometimes get close enough - or allow us to come close enough - to fill the frame with a standard lens or create an interesting perspective using a wide angle lens. Once a leopard walked right up to our vehicle and passed under its rear bumper. Another time a rhino charged our vehicle, coming feet away from tearing off the rear bumper. And it's not uncommon to come within 20 feet of a 12-foot-tall, 10,000 lb elephant; opportunities and compositional possibilities are endless. But even if you're keeping your distance, large animals like elephants and giraffes fill a frame nicely at shorter focal lengths. Nick Brandt, for example, shoots almost exclusively with standard lenses (in order to convey depth and avoid the telephoto compression mentioned earlier) and has created some stunning results. 

Also mentioned in a prior blog post, the field of view and depth of field attained at a certain focal length will depend on the size of your camera's sensor. All factors held equal, full frame (35mm) sensors produce a wider field of view and shorter depth of field than do crop (APS-C) sensors. This is a very important factor to consider then selecting equipment that is appropriate for you and your budget. Not only do crop cameras tend to cost less, but they magnify the effects of a telephoto lens. For example, a 400mm lens becomes a 600mm equivalent. Generally speaking, the longer the lens the bigger the price tag, and using a crop camera is a common strategy to achieve longer effective focal lengths.

Teleconverters are another method of eeking out more distance from a telephoto lens. These small elements that fit between the camera body and lens do just as the name implies - multiply (or convert) the focal lengths of telephoto lenses. On first though using a tiny teleconverter to amplify the zoom of a cheaper, smaller lens to achieve the effect of a larger, more expensive one sounds like a no-brainer, but these little devices do come with their caveats. First, only fairly hefty (and expensive) lenses are able to accept teleconverters in the first place (think 70-200 f/2.8, 300 f/2.8, 200-400 f/4, and the likes). Second, teleconverters reduce the maximum aperture of your pricey glass by one stop; this turns a f/2.8 lens into a f/4 and a f/4 lens into a f/5.6. Third, teleconverters inhibit the metering and autofocusing functions of your camera; the degree to which this phenomenon occurs, however, will depend on the combination used (do your research first). In order to reduce compatibility issues, be sure to only use teleconverters made the same brand as your lenses. Finally, teleconverters tend to slightly reduce image quality. So while you do get more bang for your buck with a teleconverter, it does come with trade offs. All things considered, I believe it's worth having one in your bag.

Speaking of bang for your buck, prime lenses (fixed focal length) will always deliver superior results to zooms per dollar spent. As a general rule, prime lenses are sharper than comparable zooms. You also typically gain a few stops of light (larger maximum aperture) with primes. What you lose is versatility. I can't tell you which route is right for you, but it's generally prudent to have at least one prime in your bag.

A few specs worth paying attention to when shopping for wildlife lenses:

  • Vibration reduction (image stabilization in the Canon world) is hugely beneficial in achieving sharp photos in challenging circumstances, and the benefit is amplified as focal lengths get longer
  • A large maximum aperture (remember, low number) will allow you to start shooting earlier and keep shooting later in the day
  • A short minimum focusing distance will allow you to keep shooting during the lucky chance that animals get comfortable with you; this is more important with telephoto lenses that typically have longer close focus distances
  • Weight may impact whether or not you need to check your camera bag; I certainly wouldn't want the baggage handlers chunking my lenses around!

Lens recommendations:

Below are a few lenses I recommend Nikon full frame (FX) shooters consider when selecting lenses for their safari kit. Canon makes comparable lenses across the spectrum, which can be found easily. I generally recommend that you steer clear of third party lenses unless you're considering high quality brands such as Zeiss or Sigma. 

       If money is tight...

  • Nikon 20 f/2.8d*
  • Nikon 24-85 f/3.5-4.5
  • Nikon 35 f/2d*
  • Nikon 50 f/1.8d*
  • Nikon 85 f/1.8d*
  • Nikon 70-300 f/4.5-5.6
  • Nikon 80-200 f/2.8
  • Nikon 300 f/4


       If money isn't an issue...

  • Nikon 35 f/1.4g
  • Nikon 50 f/1.4g
  • Nikon 85 f/1.4g
  • Nikon 24-70 f/2.8
  • Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 VRII**
  • Nikon 200-400 f/4 VRII**
  • Nikon 300 f/2.8
  • Nikon 400 f/2.8
  • Nikon 500 f/2.8

* Nikon d lenses will only work with high end bodies containing a manual focusing screw

** Steer clear of the VRI version of these lenses


That's all for this time - be sure to leave your questions and comments below!

[email protected] (Witt Duncan) africa blog camera canon information instruction lens nikon photo photography safari https://www.wittduncan.com/blog/2015/9/choosing-the-right-lens-es-for-a-photo-safari Thu, 17 Sep 2015 21:46:15 GMT
Battle-Proofing Your Tripod https://www.wittduncan.com/blog/2015/5/battle-proofing-your-tripod Tired of dinging up your expensive tripod? Battle-proof it!

I recently shelled out the bucks for a slick Gitzo 1-series mountaineer tripod. After taking it into the field for the first time I noticed that I had put a big white scuff up and down a section of its leg, incurred by brushing up against an old, white-painted metal fence post. Being primarily an outdoor photographer, I'm well accustomed to my gear taking the brunt of the elements from time to time...but not my brand new, exorbitantly-priced tripod!

This got me thinking about ways to protect the carbon fiber of its legs. Modern multi-section tripod legs have tight tolerances between lower leg sections so there's no hope in shielding the lower sections, but the upper sections that are exposed 100% of the time can be covered. After researching a bit the only real solution I found on the market was the neoprene LegCoat wraps made by LensCoat. They come in all sorts of snazzy camo patterns and look pretty slick, but I saw a few weaknesses in their offering:

  • The thickness of the neoprene would prevent the tripod from fully folding down onto the center column, creating a slight flare in the closed position
  • The neoprene wrap, although rubber backed, will likely shift with use; I've got enough gear to fidget with!
  • The neoprene will likely absorb water and become slick when wet; why carry a damp, slippery tripod?
  • They cost $50; I'm already deep in the hole from my new purchase

After considering multiple options and spending way too much time browsing materials on industrial suppliers' websites I came across my holy grail: textured shrink tubing. This material negates all of the weaknesses of the LegCoat product mentioned previously:

  • The material is approximately 1mm thick
  • Once it's shrunken into place, it's there to stay; and when it gets worn out a small nick with a knife will allow it to be peeled off and replaced
  • The most common use for this material is fishing rod grips; it's made to perform in wet conditions
  • All-in it only set me back about $20

I cut the lengths slightly longer than the upper sections of the tripod itself to allow for a slight overlap onto the metal fixtures for extra protection. After hesitantly taking a heat gun to my precious new tripod the tubing locked securely into place. My tripod came out unscathed, and the diamond pattern looks excellent!

As I first laid a hand on it I instantly became confident that this is far and away the best solution to toughen up tripod legs. The textured surface feels far better than the slickness of carbon and gave me extra confidence when carrying or manipulating my tripod, and the bulk is negligible. It may not be padded, but the tough material will protect against dings, and the grip is unparalleled. 

The only drawback is that the manufacturer is located in the UK and exclusively accepts bulk orders. There are a few distributors in the US, but their markup is pretty severe. So this stuff ain't exactly easy to get your hands on (although it feels superb when you do lay a hand on it).

Want to battle-proof your tripod as I did mine? I'd be glad to make a bulk order to distribute this awesome material in the US - just email me or post a comment below.

And now for a few pictures of the final product - let me know what you think!


[email protected] (Witt Duncan) blog camera canon information instruction nikon photography protect protection sand shrink tube textured travel tripod weatherproof https://www.wittduncan.com/blog/2015/5/battle-proofing-your-tripod Thu, 07 May 2015 03:01:21 GMT
The Painted Churches of Texas https://www.wittduncan.com/blog/2015/4/the-painted-churches-of-texas After having visited my family's ranch near Schulenburg, TX for my entire life I have long been vaguely aware of the painted churches that stand in the surrounding countryside. Recently I finally made the time (yes, after 26 years) to visit a few of the painted churches, and I can't believe I let so much time go by without paying them a visit.

What is a painted church? These churches, most built around the turn of the 20th century by German and Czech immigrants, are rather unassuming on approach and appear to be no different from any old single-steeple country church clad in white frame siding. But once you set foot inside the meaning of the term painted church becomes overly clear. The interiors of these 20 unique chapels are ornately decorated in colorful brushstrokes ranging from vibrant and playful murals to faux-granite patterns cloaking wooden columns. Each church has its own character, and each is truly a work of art.

My outing took place on a whim on a Sunday around noon. I was at first hesitant about my timing (Sunday, churches...yeah that), but I set out knowing that, if nothing else, I'd at least be rewarded with a pretty springtime drive through some of my favorite country roads in the state of Texas. As it turned out, Sunday is a perfect time to visit. The churches were all relatively empty and, with the exception of Saints Cyril and Methodius, completely open to the public. Although I would have appreciated running into some locals to borrow a few historical tidbits, the vacancy of the churches offered a uniquely private and intimate experience.

Due to geographical reasons, I limited my first visit to only 3 of the churches in Fayette County - Nativity of Mary, Blessed Virgin Catholic Church; St. John the Baptist Catholic Church; and Saints Cyril and Methodius Church.

Although I am not deeply religious, I found the churches historically fascinating and architecturally inspiring.

Below are brief accounts of what I encountered and photos I captured at each church:


Nativity of Mary, Blessed Virgin Catholic Church - High Hill, Texas

Built in 1906 and designed by noted Texas architect Leo Dielman, this parish is known as the Queen of the Painted Churches. The intricately painted vaulted ceilings were, to me, the central feature, but the 100+ year-old stained glass windows were equally impressive. The entire interior is intricately ornamented and masterfully painted. The confession booths in the rear of the church were a surprise to me, as well as the numerous depictions of the crucifixion.


St. John the Baptist Catholic Church - Ammansville, Texas

After the Ammansville settlement's first two churches were lost to a hurricane and fire in 1909 and 1918, respectively, one may have expected the locals to give up. Instead they persevered and, in 1919, erected a third church which still stands today. Aptly known as 'The Pink Church', the interior surfaces conjure up images of cotton candy. Although I didn't encounter anyone at the church, candles were still burning near the altar. An old graveyard lies adjacent to the church.


Saints Cyril and Methodius Church - Dubina, Texas

Dubina's first church, built in 1876, was destroyed by the same 1909 hurricane that took the first Ammansville church. Soon after, in 1912, this church was erected in its place and survived a fire that destroyed most of the town. In Czech the word dub translates to oak grove, and surely some of the oaks in the area were alive to see the church's construction; there are a number of enormous old oaks in the direct vicinity. The front doors were open, but a locked gate stood directly inside. Of the three churches I visited this was definitely the most colorful, and I wish I could have gotten a better look inside.




[email protected] (Witt Duncan) architecture art blog church nikon painted churches parish photography rural schulenburg texas https://www.wittduncan.com/blog/2015/4/the-painted-churches-of-texas Mon, 20 Apr 2015 16:42:08 GMT
Astrodome Turns 50: The Eighth Wonder After Half a Century https://www.wittduncan.com/blog/2015/4/astrodome-turns-50

On April 9, 2015 the Astrodome celebrated its big 5-0, and the festivities were of the same magnitude as the structure itself. Thousands gathered to celebrate the half-century mark for Houston's iconic domed arena, and I was lucky enough to stand at the center of its floor to witness the condition in which stands and, of course, take photos so you can get a glimpse inside as well (see below).

First opened in 1965 and initially operating as the Harris County Domed Stadium, the structure we now know as the Astrodome was truly a marvel of its time. It was almost immediately dubbed The Eighth Wonder of the World - and rightly so. Its 200 foot-tall roof and 9-acre footprint made the Astrodome was the world's largest indoor sports venue and and world's first multi-purpose domed stadium. Before its introduction, an enclosed and air-conditioned structure of that scale was flat out implausible, and it became the most distinctive and influential stadium ever built in the United States.

Records may be fleeting, but history is permanent. A host of notable events and performances occurred in the Astrodome over the years, for example:

  • It was host to hundreds of professional sports games and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo - the world's largest live entertainment and livestock exhibition
  • After the skylights were painted over in response to complaining outfielders, the grass was ripped up and AstroTurf was invented
  • The 'Game of the Century' was played in the Astrodome when the U of H Cougars upset the UCLA Bruins and ended their 47-game winning streak in January of 1968
  • Iconic musical acts such as The Rolling Stones, Elvis, Selena (her last televised act before being shot), Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan, The Jackson 5 and Metallica all performed there
  • Muhammad Ali fought for, and retained, a heavyweight title there
  • Evil Knievel jumped 13 cars on his motorcycle inside the Astrodome
  • Over 25,000 Hurricane Katrina evacuees were temporarily housed in and around the Astrodome in 2005

More importantly it served as an emblematic model that pushed the envelope and inspired generations to reconsider what is possible.

But its booming history has come to an unfortunate decline. The Oilers and Astros left for new homes in 1996 and 2000, respectively, and after hosting its last concert in 2008 the Astrodome sits shuttered and lifeless next to its replacement, NRG Stadium. The air inside the dome has become dank and stagnant. Most of the stadium seating has been removed and now sits, stacked 3-chairs deep, covering roughly half of the arena's ~150,000 square foot floor. Dozens of ideas have been proposed to repurpose the great old dome, but none have mustered the support or financing to come to fruition. Most recently, it was proposed that it be converted into the world's largest indoor park - a logical progression for a structure that has set records since its first day in operation.

The Astrodome has become an icon that not only represents Houston but one that, as James Glassman said, is a "physical manifestation of Houston's soul." Its construction was instrumental in shifting the world's perception of Houston to that of a progressive city. Although it remains uncertain what will become of the Astrodome, its impact will continue to be felt.

Do you have suggestions for what should be done with the Astrodome?? Post them in the comments section below

And now on to the photos I captured during my recent visit:

[email protected] (Witt Duncan) 8th wonder anniversary astrodome astros blog dome eighth wonder houston nrg oilers party stadium texas https://www.wittduncan.com/blog/2015/4/astrodome-turns-50 Tue, 14 Apr 2015 18:47:20 GMT
Choosing the Right Camera Body for Safari https://www.wittduncan.com/blog/2015/4/choosing-the-right-camera-body-for-safari Thus far we've covered the ins and outs of planning for safari and when to go on safari now let's move on to the fun part - gear. Because such a wide array of gear is available to us in this day in age, his will be the first of a few posts focused on gearing up for safari.

Going on safari is a big commitment - of time and money - and it may be a once in a lifetime experience. Chances are it will be one of the most photogenic experiences of your life as well. Which, to me, makes safari a great excuse to upgrade your gear. That is, if you've done your homework and know how to properly utilize it - good gear alone will not make you a good photographer.

Today's topic: camera bodies

Your camera body is, by far, the element of your rig with which a photographer has the most interface. If you don't feel at home with your camera body or know how to leverage its functions to execute your creative vision, it doesn't matter how many thousands of dollars of glass are mounted to the front of it - it's a losing equation. Capturing a scene in focus at the right moment with a crappy plastic kit lens is far better than missing the moment and getting an out of focus image through a $5,000 telephoto. Having a decent camera body and knowing it like the back of your hand is one of the most essential requirements for capturing quality images on safari.


Below is a list of important factors to consider when selecting a camera body, in order of importance, each followed by a brief description of the impact on your shooting experience and the resulting images:

**Hint: an extra piece of my most important advice is buried beneath this list, so make sure to keep reading**

  • Format: This refers to the size of the camera's sensor. Although other formats exist, full frame and APS-C are the only two worth considering. Full frame camera sensors measure 35mm diagonally while APS-C (also known as crop format) sensors are approximately 28mm diagonally (this varies across different manufacturers - see image below). A larger sensor translates into either more pixels or larger pixels and, generally, translates to better low light (high ISO) performance and better image quality across the board. Crop sensors, aptly named, deliver a cropped version of what full frame sensors capture. Images shot at a given focal length (let's say a 50mm lens) on a crop sensor will have a 1.6x zoom factor compared to those captured on a full frame sensor. This means that subjects captured on a crop sensor will fill more of the frame in a crop camera than they will in a full frame camera - almost a built in zoom. However, this zoom effect comes at a cost. Namely, pixel density and depth of field. Higher pixel density means smaller pixels on the sensor, and smaller pixels cannot physically capture as many photons of light as larger pixels; this is why full frame cameras generally deliver superior low light performance. I won't get too far into the physics, so take it at face value, but images shot at equivalent focal lengths (a 35mm lens on a crop sensor is roughly equivalent to a 50mm lens on a full frame sensor due to the 1.6x crop factor - 35 x 1.6 = 56) will result in a shorter depth of field on a full frame sensor. Short depth of field is achieved by shooting at larger apertures and is generally seen as a visually appealing way to separate the subject from a background. The format of your camera's sensor will determine which lenses you purchase - both because full frame lenses cannot be used on crop sensors and because of the 1.6x crop factor's zoom effect - and is a fundamental decision in determining which body is best for you.


  • Autofocus system: Autofocus is a beautiful thing these days - cameras are able to track and achieve sharp focus on moving subjects as fast as cheetahs (which you'll likely see and want to capture on safari). But all autofocus systems are not created equal. A primary consideration here is the number of focus points and how many of those are cross-type points. Generally speaking, more focus points are better than fewer because you can achieve focus across more of the frame (see illustrative comparison between the Nikon D600 and D800 below). And strictly speaking, cross-type points are superior to basic points (typically only a fraction of the focus points are cross-point, and this will be listed in camera specs) because they are able to detect contrast and achieve focus more effectively. More expensive camera bodies, as you might guess, will typically have more sophisticated focusing systems and more focus points than low-end bodies. Another feature to look out for that I find essential for moving subjects is the AF-ON or thumb focusing button. I'll write more on this later, but for now it suffices to say that the paint on my AF-ON button has nearly all been worn off by my thumb.


  • High ISO performance: The day's best light is during dawn and dusk - low light periods. Because of this, low light performance is very important. Capturing a sharp image of moving animal in low light conditions requires the photographer to use fast shutter speeds, and producing a properly exposed photo in these circumstances requires use of high ISOs. All camera bodies are not created equal in high ISO performance. Older and lower-end camera bodies produce garishly grainy images at higher ISOs while newer and higher-end bodies will produce much cleaner and more appealing images. I recommend you read reviews and tests of the cameras you are considering to determine where they fall in this spectrum and place a high level of importance on this factor as you make a purchase decision.

  • Frame rate: This refers to how many frames per second (FPS) a camera is capable of shooting. To give you a general idea, Nikon's flagship D4 is capable of shooting a blazing 10 FPS while Nikon's D800 only shoots 4 FPS. As many of us have heard running the motor drive (spray and pray) is not the best way to capture a world class image, and it is a great way to blast through batteries and memory cards. But, in certain circumstances (i.e., a running cheetah, lion taking down a gazelle, bird in flight) it is a necessary means to capturing 'the moment'. This is yet another case in which high end bodies typically out-do lower-end bodies - but not always. High resolution bodies (the 36MP D800) require more buffer to write large files to the card and, therefore, cannot shoot as fast as their lower-resolution counterparts. Having a camera body capable of shooting high frame rates can be the difference between capturing 'the moment' or the scene just before and after it.


  • Dynamic range: This is a measurement of the light intensities, from the darkest shadows to the brightest highlights, that a camera is capable of rendering detail within a single frame (no, I'm not referring to HDR photography). Camera's are not capable of capturing high contrast scenes as our eyes see them, and I'm sure you've been frustrated when a beautiful sunset didn't look nearly as good in the camera as it did when you looked out on it with your own eyes. Significant advances in cameras' dynamic range have been made in recent years but some cameras still have an edge. DXOmark performs excellent in-depth testing of camera bodies, including dynamic range, and I suggest you take a look at the research they've done when making your decision.


  • Vertical orientation: Shooting in the vertical, or portrait, orientation for long periods of time with a standard camera can strain the wrist and make your shooting experience altogether less enjoyable. Many pro bodies, like the Nikon D3 or D4, have a built in vertical grip with secondary controls and shutter release that allows the photographer to roll the camera over to portrait mode and continue shooting without wrenching your arm and wrist into an uncomfortable position. But if a body of this caliber is not in your budget battery grips, which add the same functionality and extended battery life, are available for nearly all modern DSLRs out there.


  • Resolution: This is the most commonly talked about metric among camera bodies and, realistically, one of the least important ones. Nearly all modern digital cameras are plenty capable of producing nice prints at 18x24 or even larger. The Nikon D3s - a heralded sports and action camera used by many top professionals (and yours truly) - is a 12MP body that produces stunning results. Truthfully, anything above 12MP will cut it, as long as you put good glass in front of it. One of the only reasons to spring for a higher resolution camera body is cropability (is that a word?); a 36MP image can be cropped heavily and still result in an image containing more than 16MP of data.


  • Form factor: Mirrorless cameras have been gaining a lot of ground recently, but this point comes in at the bottom of the list because the autofocus capabilities of mirrorless systems are far inferior to those of DSLRs which essentially rules them out for wildlife photography in which fast autofocus is key. If you have a mirrorless camera and don't want to shell out for a DSLR and the accompanying lenses, it will do the job. But even a low-end DSLR will far outpace a high-end mirrorless body in autofocus. 


  • Brand: Another one of the most-discussed topics that comes in low on the list. The two big names out there are Canon and Nikon, and the two camps will forever stick to their guns that their system is superior to the other. While there are significant differences in the interface, the capabilities of one is on par with the other. Your decision on brand should come down to which interface is more intuitive to you and which lenses you hope to pair with it (each manufacturer's lens lineup is slightly different from the next). 


  • Price: Price isn't important, you say? Well this is a very subjective topic, and that's why I've nestled it down here at the bottom of the list. To some it may be at the top of the list and to others it may be an afterthought. As has been mentioned throughout this post more money generally translates into better performance, but the marginal gains achieved as you step up the price scale are diminishing. Today, exceptional camera bodies - the Nikon D7100, for example - can be had for around $1,000. The same rule of diminishing returns applies to the age of a camera body. As you consider the price-to-performance tradeoff, consider looking into a used body that was released two or three years back;slightly dated technology will be a much better bargain than chasing today's cutting-edge technology.


If you've made to the point, congratulations - I'll now offer an exceedingly important piece of advice. Bring two camera bodies on safari with you! It may sound like an expensive proposition, but it will pay off in multitudes. The action unfolds quickly in the field, and moments only happen once; you've got to be prepared to exercise your creative vision to its fullest during these once-in-a-lifetime events. This may mean shooting at 500mm one moment then switching to 24mm the next. Sorry to break it to you, but there ain't a zoom lens out there with that sort of coverage. And you often won't have the time to properly stow your telephoto and reattach a short lens (not to mention the dust that will likely get into your camera from constantly switching lenses - another topic that I'll cover in-depth in a later post). One option that can afford extra versatility is using one full frame body and one crop sensor body, essentially extending the zoom range of your lenses (remember 1.6x crop factor). Whatever the combo may be, bring two camera bodies. I really can't emphasize it enough.


Getting properly outfitted for a photo safari is no doubt an expensive proposition, but you don't have to buy the gear yourself. There are plenty of establishments and web-based companies who rent the finest equipment that money can buy for a fraction of the purchase cost. Whether or not this an economic solution for you will depend on how long your safari lasts and whether or not you anticipate having a use for the equipment once you return. If you do choose to rent equipment make sure to rent it all at least a week before your departure. This will give you a chance to familiarize yourself with it and determine if you've received a properly functioning copy. 


Now you may be asking, which camera bodies do you use? I'm a Nikon shooter, and I currently use a D3s and D800. The D3s affords supreme low light, autofocus, and frame rate performance while the D800 offers 36MP of excellent dynamic range. I find this combination to be an excellent one-two punch that covers nearly every scenario the African bush can throw at me.


Well that about covers it for camera bodies, but if you have any questions that went unanswered be sure to let me know in the comments section below!

[email protected] (Witt Duncan) africa blog body camera canon gear nikon photo photography safari https://www.wittduncan.com/blog/2015/4/choosing-the-right-camera-body-for-safari Thu, 09 Apr 2015 04:43:08 GMT
Birding at Smith Oaks Rookery https://www.wittduncan.com/blog/2015/4/birding-at-smith-oaks-rookery I took the liberty this year of partaking in a nontraditional Easter Sunday and spent the evening shooting (photos, not shotguns) at the Smith Oaks Rookery - a bird sanctuary protected by the Houston Audubon Society. I recently discovered this little gem roughly an hour outside of Houston, and decided I had to make the trip.

The rookery, located on the east edge of Galveston bay, on High Island, is a temporary home to hundreds of migratory birds. The pond on which it sits, known as Claybottom Pond, was originally developed in 1936 when dirt was needed to build a bridge over the Intercoastal Waterway. Initially the reservoir this created was used to augment the surrounding community's water supply. As it turned out, the location sits in an ideal geography that funnels in migratory birds from all reaches. After this realization the land was generously donated to the Audubon Society in 1994 by Amoco, and the no hunting policy that soon followed resulted in a flourishing annual population of numerous aviary species. 

Nesting season is upon us - each Spring hundreds of Great Egrets, Little Blues, Tricolored Herons, White Ibis, Cormorants, and Spoonbills arrive to nest. It's the perfect time to visit, and I highly suggest it!

These birds are quick creatures, especially in front of a long lens, and they kept me on my toes!

Here are a few images I captured on my first (and surely not last) visit:

[email protected] (Witt Duncan) https://www.wittduncan.com/blog/2015/4/birding-at-smith-oaks-rookery Tue, 07 Apr 2015 04:30:45 GMT
Happy Trails: A Record-Breaking Year at the Houston Rodeo https://www.wittduncan.com/blog/2015/3/happy-trails-a-record-breaking-year-at-the-houston-rodeo

Rodeo season has come and gone once more in Houston, Texas. Time to fold up the pearl snaps and shove the trees back into all 5 pairs of boots you sported out the the events this go-round.

The immense scale of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo (HLSR) never fails to impress me (and frustrate me when I'm behind the wheel) when it makes its annual appearance in NRG Park. From the trail ride to the livestock show to the carnival to the performances - it's one hell of a production, and tens of thousands of employees and volunteers work their asses off to make it happen. After all, it is the largest live entertainment and livestock exhibition in the world.

After spending a couple of nights at the rodeo this past year, I got to wondering about the numbers behind an event this large. Turns out it's a well-documented event, and this year was nothing short of record-setting.

The 2015 HLSR records include:

  • Rodeo/concert tickets sold: 1.37 million
  • Single-day rodeo/concert attendance: 75,357
  • The Grand Champion Junior Market Barrow (a male pig) sold for a record-setting $208,000 (also a world record)
  • The Grand Champion Junior Market Lamb sold for $260,000 (also a world record)

Although they may not be records, here are a few more impressive statistics:

  • Over 3,000 people saddle up, pack a wagon, and embark on a 100+ mile 'Trail Ride' that ends in Houston's Memorial Park each year in the days leading up to the HLSR
  • Total attendance for all activities on the grounds was 2.48 million (just shy of the 2014 all-time record of 2.49 million)
  • Rodeo contestants won over $2 million in prizes
  • This year's livestock competitions and horse shows boasted 28,592 entries
  • Peaches, the 2015 grand champion steer, drew $300,000 at the Houston Rodeo auction
  • More than 1,500 kids participated in Mutton Bustin in the Kids Country Arena, and more than 280 participated in Mutton Bustin in Reliant Stadium
  • The show ran 30,000 feet of copper and fiber network cable throughout NRG Park
  • HLSR and entertainer merchandise sales reached upwards of $3.6 million
  • Seventy semi-truck loads of teddy bears, minions and basketballs were won by visitors
  • Over 800,000 tamales were purchased
  • 143,000 pounds of potatoes were served
  • 116,000 BBQ sandwiches were served


And now on to a few images I captured at the HLSR this year (hover over images for captions)...

A HLSR crew member cleans up as the livestock show comes to an end. Nearly 30,000 animals made their way through the NRG convention center during the 3-week livestock show.   A total of 54 piglets were born during this year's HLSR. Once a piglet takes its first sip from its mother nipple, it returns to the same nipple every time it feeds...and sleeps plenty in between feedings. Exhibits of all sorts captivated children and families. Shown here is an incubator in which chicken eggs hatched. Boots and denim are high fashion during HLSR A roper rides through the arena in NRG Stadium A steer wrangling participant wrenches the neck of his adversary as a race against the clock Ropers spectate from within the arena as a bull riding contestant hangs on for dear life Wagon races in full swing - watch out for dirt! A contestant jumps from the back of his bucking bronc after going for a bareback ride

Mutton Bustin participants are without a doubt the cutest rodeo attraction. In this event, young boys and girls aim to hang on to the back of a sheep while it runs through the arena. More Mutton Bustin! Blonde hair, cowboy hats, pearl snaps, and cotton candy...doesn't get more rodeo than that The setting sun beams in through the windows of NRG Stadium as Luke Bryan takes the stage Luke Bryan struts the stage during his sell-out act on the last night of the HLSR Fans couldn't help but join in as Luke Bryan belted his upbeat tunes that inspire one to put a beer in their hand and sing right along Luke Bryan wasn't the only one shaking it on the HLSR's closing night; these two fans wanted to shake it for him During one of Luke Bryan's closing songs, he invited fans to raise a light as he dimmed the stadium lights. To which thousands responded by hoisting their cellphone flashlights - a modern homage to the old tradition of waving a lighter concerts.

All content © Witt Duncan

[email protected] (Witt Duncan) HLSR carnival d800 fair houston livestock nikon rodeo texas https://www.wittduncan.com/blog/2015/3/happy-trails-a-record-breaking-year-at-the-houston-rodeo Tue, 24 Mar 2015 02:44:37 GMT
Port Aransas Sunrise https://www.wittduncan.com/blog/2015/3/port-aransas-sunrise I recently spent some time down in Port Aransas - along with thousands of rowdy spring breakers, which made the days interesting and the beach congested. Flashing red and blue lights were a recurring theme.

But those weren't the only red and blue hues I got to see throughout the weekend. After forcing ourselves out of the comfort of my bed in what seemed like the black of night, my girlfriend (yep, she's a trooper) and I made it out to the Horace Caldwell Pier just as the sunrise lightshow began to unfold.

The same beach that had been packed littered with pickup trucks, dogs, and half drunk, sunburned people of all ages was literally empty - availing itself for us to enjoy its beauty in solitude as the sun graced us with its light and warmth.

And there was a surprise; the Big Foot drilling rig - with a platform the same size as four football fields - had finished repairs and been launched out of Port Aransas the night before. We (and a few pods of dolphins) were some of the last Texans to see her off before her voyage out off the coast of Louisiana.

I couldn't be more grateful to have risen early on this sandy morning, and here are a few images to further convey why.


All content © Witt Duncan

[email protected] (Witt Duncan) beach d800 long exposure nikon photog port aransas spring break sunrise https://www.wittduncan.com/blog/2015/3/port-aransas-sunrise Fri, 20 Mar 2015 21:59:23 GMT
When to go on Safari in East Africa https://www.wittduncan.com/blog/2015/3/when-to-go-on-safari-in-east-africa Last week's post was a broad overview of the steps necessary in planning for the best safari you'll ever take in East Africa. Topics were far-reaching, and depth of discussion really only scratched the surface - an awareness builder and teaser for what is ahead of you. 

This time around, let's dive deeper into timing. Just like your current home, Africa has distinct seasons. Not only does the weather change but, more importantly, so do animal patterns.

There is no one right time to go go on safari in East Africa, so don't expect me to answer that question. There is, however, a time during which the conditions would be most optimal for each of us. These times may overlap, or they might not. The important factor is that you go into it with proper knowledge, knowing what to expect. Factors to take into consideration include: crowds (and therefore prices), weather, migrations, birthing, and scenery.

African cheetah cubs eating gazelle in Amboseli Kenya AfricaMeal for TwinsCheetah cubs pick at a Thompson's Gazelle
Amboseli National Park, Kenya
East Africa has two distinct seasons: dry and wet
. The dry season runs from June - October and the wet season from November - May.

As the name would suggest, rain showers are few and far between during the dry season. Characteristics and implications include...

  • Because the bush is less dense and water is more concentrated in fewer locations, game can be more predictable and easier to spot
  • Days are typically sunny with clear skies (photographers - this means high likelihood of harsh light during the majority of the day)
  • There are fewer mosquitoes
  • Higher concentrations of tourists, especially during August and September, which translates into higher rates

The wet season has its own distinct set of implications for safari-goers:

  • Foliage is lush and green
  • Aside from the peak rains of April and May, rains are typically brief showers in the afternoon or evening that will not compromise a safari
  • Migratory birds are present, and birdwatching is much better
  • Dappled clouds can provide the soft, pleasant light that photographers long for
  • Newborn animals are more commonly seen during the beginning of the wet season
  • The parks are less crowded, and rates are lower

wildebeest migration crossing in serengeti tanzania africaLeap of FaithAs a part of their annual migration, a herd of wildebeest over 1,000 strong frantically scramble across the Mara River. What began with hours of pacing along the banks in anticipation precipitated in roughly five minutes of chaos, after one leader took the leap of faith.
Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

Even more importantly, these changes in weather drive animal patterns. The largest of these is the great wildebeest migration - the 8th wonder of the world. This migration occurs in a roughly clockwise manner within the Serengeti ecosystem, which covers an area of nearly 11,600 square miles in Tanzania and Southern Kenya. It's a rather intricate dance of nature and cannot be described succinctly. This page has an excellent in-depth description and visualization of wildebeest migration patterns.


All content © Witt Duncan

[email protected] (Witt Duncan) https://www.wittduncan.com/blog/2015/3/when-to-go-on-safari-in-east-africa Wed, 18 Mar 2015 19:48:01 GMT
Beginning to Plan Your Ideal Safari in East Africa https://www.wittduncan.com/blog/2015/3/planning-for-your-ideal-safari-in-east-africa This is the first of what will be a series of write-ups on all aspects of planning for and embarking on safari in East Africa. And not just any safari, but the best safari for YOU

I emphasize YOU because we all have unique motives in embarking on travel, and safari is no exception. Like most things these days, safaris come in all shapes and sizes. And all safaris are not created equal. These two facts make planning the most important and essential part of process, so let's get down to brass tacks.

Before diving into the sea of information available out there, I suggest you do one activity first that will guide your planning efforts. Sit down with whoever it is you plan to go on safari with and each generate a list of what you hope the excursion will materialize to. If drinking beer in a Land Rover and snapping selfies with lions is your ideal safari, the considerations you take in planning will be far different from someone on an ambitious expedition to capture world-class imagery. There's nothing wrong with either route - to each their own - as long as you remember to respect the wildlife. Your list should include the likes of types of animals, landscapes, foliage you hope to see, what you hope to avoid, priority of photography, tolerance for foul weather, desire for solitude, internal transfers, allowable travel time within camp, amenities you can't go with out, proximity to other camps/tourists, lodge or tented camp...this is only scratching the surface. Make a detailed list of what is it YOU want, and the rest of the planning process will flow much more smoothly. Surely you'll hone in on your vision of an ideal safari experience as you become more educated, but it helps to lay the groundwork up front. 

Once you've got your parameters laid out, keep one simple piece of advice in mind as you proceed: utilize all of the resources available to you. It may sound pretty basic, but there's more information out there than you might think. And small pointers can add up to completely transform the experience and determine the success you have on safari. When I say utilize all of you available resources, I mean all of them; ask friends and family who have been, read articles, buy books, research online (forums, databases, weather services, encyclopedias, and blogs...just like this one). No matter how high your hourly rate is, this investment of time and energy will will be fully repaid during your time in the bush.

The most important factors in planning are the first two decisions you'll have to make: where to go and when. There are far too many considerations within this realm to discuss in one post, but let's talk about a few of the fundamentals.

For starters, where you go will largely depend on when you go. A great majority of the wildlife in the ecosystems of East Africa is migratory, so presuming you're taking this trip to see wild game rather than take in the landscapes (which aren't too shabby either) you'll want to plan your travels around their patterns. Wildebeest are the lifeblood of East Africa's migration. The migration begins after hundreds of thousands of fresh calves are birthed in the Southern Serengeti during January/February and culminates in the Northern Serengeti/Masai Mara during August/September. Other hooved plains animals join in and large populations of predators follow along with them in search of a meal. This page breaks down the dynamics and implications of the wildebeest migration quite nicely. Bear in mind that migration patterns are general and can't be predicted to a T, but if you've planned well and made it to the right region at the right time of year a good guide ought to be able to get you to the action.

Landscapes vary greatly, even within the confines of Tanzania's Serengeti ecosystem. If you've always wished to see elephants walking through a starkly flat landscape whose horizon is adorned by none other than Mount Kilimanjaro, Amboseli is the place to be. If baobab-decked hills are more your cup of tea, check out Tarangire. Lions perched atop granite outcroppings (known as kopjes) are a common site in the Northern Serengeti. The list goes on, but the point is that each location - even different areas of the same ecosystem - is unique and will provide different scenery and experiences from the next. The list you generated at the beginning of your planning process will help you to make decisions as you get a better feel for what is available. In my experience, Africa Travel Resource is a comprehensive and reliable place to start the discovery process. 

Booking a preset package tour is a convenient means to an end, but it can be tough to satisfy your entire checklist on one of these trips. These preset tours aim to appeal to the masses not to YOU. There may or may not be a good deal of overlap - that's for you to determine. A few factors to note: your guides and fellow travelers will be with you the whole time (this can be a good or bad thing, depending on who is assigned to your group), they are typically all-inclusive deals so you may end up paying for services you don't want or need - read the fine print, and if you're traveling solo this is a great option - just make sure you work through an operator whose mission is in alignment with yours. Two good places to start on this front are the Kenya Association of Tour Operators and the Tanzania Association of Tour Operators.

The alternative to preset package tours is self-planning a custom-tailored itinerary - admittedly more work-intensive but arguably worthwhile. Africa Travel Resource is an excellent resource to get a feel for different camps and what they have to offer. If you opt to plan your safari individually, you'll want to place a priority on camp location and guide quality.

Guides can make or break your safari experience. As a general rule, your success on safari is only as good as your guide. And, as any decent capitalist might suggest, the best guides tend to work at the higher-end properties. The rates charged at the more posh private camps aren't just for amenities; knowledgeable guide teams who exchange real-time information about sightings via walkie-talkie, as well as ideal location, are the real value in making the spring for more expensive camps. Guides often tout training and certification via various organizations, and these are good signs to look out for. But there's only one sure-shot way to take guesswork out of the equation, and this is to hire a private guide. Operators like Everlasting Tanzania Travels will work with you through the planning process to tailor the trip to your needs and desires then dispatch private guides into the field with you to ensure that you have a top notch experience, from planning to execution. 

If photography is a high priority for you on safari, your planning process ought to be a bit more rigorous than most. And I say this for a few reasons.

Good guides are even more crucial to photographers. This starts with knowledge of picturesque locations, continues on to properly calculating habits of certain animals to be in the right place at the right time, and gets right down to the small details like turning off the engine while clients use telephoto lenses (yep, the rattle of the engine will greatly effect the sharpness of your images - but we'll talk more on technique in the weeks to come). 

Another vital tip for serious photographers: plan your trip with other photographers or cough up the extra cash to secure a private vehicle during your game drives. I've been in a Land Rover with tourists swinging from the railing and snapping selfies with lions while I'm attempting to steady a 10-pound telephoto lens on the same cat. Holding my breath between shots (a measure I generally take to further steady the rig) was a lost cause in this instance, and I was not a happy camper. We both paid for the same trip but had vastly different intentions, and that's why I continue to emphasize the need to plan for YOUR ideal safari. 

Getting the great shots comes along with a host of challenges. It generally means leaving camp earlier, driving further, waiting longer, returning back to camp later, and expending much more mental effort than the majority of tourist cruises through the savannah. Many average safari-goers will not be receptive to your suggestions that they bear with you as you chase ideal locations and images, but private guides and other photographers will likely share these desires and acquiesce such wishes. Skipping the afternoon nap and eating a sack-lunch in the Land Rover really isn't such a steep price to pay for amazing imagery of your once-in-a-lifetime experience, now is it?

Going on safari is a large commitment of time, energy, and money. Proper planning is a necessary step to ensure that your commitment is worthwhile. I know we've touched on a lot of bases in a relatively brief write-up, but don't fret; as you begin the planning process the world of possibilities will get less and less daunting, and I'll soon be covering topics that got brief mention in this post in further detail

Don't be shy now - ask questions and post comments to make sure your questions get answered!


All content © Witt Duncan

[email protected] (Witt Duncan) africa blog camera east instruction kenya nikon photo photography planning safari tanzania travel trip wildlife https://www.wittduncan.com/blog/2015/3/planning-for-your-ideal-safari-in-east-africa Mon, 09 Mar 2015 02:36:39 GMT
Hello world // Sunrise in Torres del Paine https://www.wittduncan.com/blog/2015/2/hello-world It's the dawning of a new age on wittduncan.com; great things are coming. What sort of things, you ask? 

Blog posts from yours truly - filled with photos, stories behind the shots, and tips that'll have you out there capturing stunning images of your own!

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but images cannot speak for themselves. And that's what this blog will be dedicated to: providing insightful context behind the images contained within my galleries.  

If ever a post leaves you with questions, ASK! That's what we're here for. (see the comment button at the bottom)

We'll start things off proper with the story behind one of my favorite images - dawn at beneath the iconic Torres in Chile's Torres del Paine National Park (TDP). If the location doesn't sound familiar, that's because it's at tip of South America in a region that straddles the border of Argentina and Chile known as Patagonia (it's not just a clothing brand).

torres del paine sunriseLos TorresLos Torres, the iconic shards of granite for which Torres del Paine National Park is names, pierce into the clouds as the sun rises over Lago Torre
Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

Yep, that's the place right up there. The park is aptly named after these three hallmark features that extend toward the heavens. And that's not to write off the rest of the place - it's all pretty spectacular. This photo was taken early in the morning on the last of 5 days spent completing the W Trek. Having seen photos similar to the one above, visiting TDP had been on my bucket list for quite some time. But once you hop off the bus and onto the trail the paradoxical nature of the place becomes immediately apparent. Its beautiful looks convey a peaceful and serene essence, but TDP is in actuality a fierce and harsh land. Unforeseen downpours stampede in on a nearly daily basis along with gale-force winds that toss beads of rain against you so hard that they feel like ice. Simply put, it's an unforgiving landscape full of sights that make the adverse conditions make it more than worthwhile. 

Capturing the image above came with its fair share of challenges as well. After a full day of hiking, we set up camp at Campamiento Torres (Torres Camp) which is nestled into a fern-laden forest in the valley below these three shards of rock. Having been itching for years to lay my eyes on them, another hour and ~1,500 vertical feet of steep, rocky hiking up to Mirador las Torres didn't sound so bad...even though it was foggy and raining. Maybe I'd catch a break and be the only one up there for a killer sunset. So I loaded up a light pack, strapped on the rain gear and set out with high hopes. But I wasn't so lucky. After making the slog up I spent the next two hours huddling under a boulder in the cold rain without so much as a glimpse at the Torres; they were covered in fog. As the sun set without casting a single color into the sky, I packed up and plodded back to camp to scarf down a warm meal, chat with other trekkers a bit, then retire early to wake up and do it all over again.

Come 5 AM, the iPhone robot tone (so annoying that I have no choice but to get up and turn it off) rattled me out of my warm sleeping bag and into the cold, dark morning. After fumbling with my camp stove, lit only by headlamp, to make a cup of coffee I began retracing the slog up to Mirador. I was the first person on the trail that morning. The beam of my headlamp, snowflakes drifting down through the light it cast at the path ahead, guided me toward the silhouette of the valley's edge. 

Light was still faint by the time I reached Mirador and clouds hung low, as they had the night before. But I danced through the boulder field, looking for an ideal spot to frame the Torres, hoping the warmth of the sun would lift the clouds enough to provide a glimpse of what I'd travelled thousands of miles to see. I hopped onto a boulder in the water and set up my tripod as low as it would go...waiting. By this time, a few other folks had trickled in to the area, but I had my spot claimed. I liked this vantage point because of the rocks that lay between it and the Torres, which I would use as foreground elements to draw the eye into the scene and provide a more engaging composition.

After testing camera settings and continuously wiping condensation off my lens, the scene finally began to reveal itself. Warm morning light began to pour in above, and the Torres were clearly visible. Because cameras do not see the world like human eyes do - I'm sure you've all seen something, taken a picture of it, then been frustrated because your camera cannot convey the scene as your eye saw it - we must use tricks to capture all the information available in the field in order to translate it in postprocessing into a scene more similar to what our eyes saw. In this case, I bracketed 3 exposures - a base exposure, one underexposed (to capture highlight definition), and one overexposed (to capture shadow definition).

The below three images are the bracketed RAW files I captured:

RAW images RAW images RAW images

All of that for only three images? Yep - that's the name of the game. The means to the end are much more than the simple click of a shutter (or in this case 3 clicks of the shutter).

On first glimpse, the look nothing like the final image above. And that's the nature of RAW capture; the images contain much more information that a standard JPG but look flat and unsaturated without proper processing. After getting the memory cards safely back to the States I processed the RAW images in Adobe Lightroom then compiled them into a single high dynamic range (HDR) image in Photomatix. Essentially, this method uses algorithms to pull information from each of the images to bring detail into the light and dark areas and achieve an end result more like what you're able to see with your eyes (or a garish, oversaturated misrepresentation of it - depending on how the software is leveraged). Once the HDR was compiled, I brought it back into Lightroom to refine the look; this is a definite oversimplification, but we'll talk more about postprocessing techniques in later posts.

As the sun rose higher, harsh light poured into the scene, and it was clear that the ideal moment was indeed fleeting. But I had toughed out the cold, snowy morning to be there for it. And it was all worthwhile - the early bird got the worm. 

Knowing that I had captured an image my minds eye had for years sought after made the hike back down to camp a breeze - and I'm sure the warmth of the sun and companionship of good friends helped too.

We'll end it on a high note this go-round. Til next time - cheers!


All content © Witt Duncan

[email protected] (Witt Duncan) adventure blog image instruction landscape nikon photo photography stories tips travel wildlife https://www.wittduncan.com/blog/2015/2/hello-world Fri, 27 Feb 2015 01:01:18 GMT