Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens Review

To say that my anticipation for this lens was fever pitch would be a mild understatement!

I have been using the new generation of Sigma Lenses (Art & Sport) for the last four years, one of the greatest missing elements in the Sigma range was without doubt a fast and fancy prime, the bread and butter of Wildlife & Sport Photographers across the globe.

Enter the 500mm F4…


So, looking at the release pictures of the 500mm had me salivating at the mouth and having the lens in my hands I was not disappointed, it’s a bit of a looker. The lens is exactly what you would expect a high-end pro level prime lens to look and feel like.

The 500mm f4 has the look of a serious and well thought out lens. Picking it up you are immediately satisfied with both the balance, weight and ergonomics of it.

Over the last few years Sigma has undoubtedly brought the heat when it comes to build quality with all their recent releases being all but bulletproof…trust me I have given them a good thrashing!

The 500mm is no different, although they have moved in line with the major manufactures with a more modular build, including the lens hood which is a big improvement on the older range of lenses. The lens comes in at 3300gr only marginally heavier than the Canon by 100gr and slightly shorter at 38cm.

So, from the outset the unboxing of this lens was a fantastic affair, it ticks all the boxes, it’s got the looks, specs and all the required buttons you would expect…but does it have the performance…

To say I gave this lens a tough test would be selling it short.

I have tested the lens in some of the harshest condition we experience in Africa in a soaking wet Botswana and a scorching hot dusty desert…so let’s get to the detail.

My only criticism of the build would be the use of the tiny screws on the lens hood that without doubt with strenuous use would start to loosen.

The weather proofing on this lens is exceptional as I can attest, having got stuck in some of the heaviest rainfall in Botswana in decades recently! Dust proof, splash proof and bomb proof is all you need right!

Aperture Range

Wildlife and Sport togs are a notoriously fickle and demanding bunch we want the longest, fastest and sharpest lenses with the greatest DOF available. So, when we look at this lens the widest aperture of F4 is a huge improvement for Sigma from the older versions and the other sport ranges variable apertures.

The lens aperture range is from F4-F32 a broad range but for the purposes of this review I will be focusing on the wider apertures.

Image Quality & Sharpness

The lens was tested with a Canon 1DX mark 2 and a 5D Mark 3.


When considering purchasing a lens with the size weight and cost of a fast prime, you are likely intending to use the lens at f/4 and that means wide-open image quality is of utmost importance.

I’m pleased to say that wide open the 500 F4 is sharp corner to corner at F4 and there is a marginal improvement in sharpness at F5.6. The brightness and depth of field wide open are what you would expect from a lens of this cost and promise.

A small caveat to this is that initially I had some mixed results with the focusing accuracy forward and back focusing, but as soon as I updated my firmware on my bodies (which admittedly I’m terrible at) I had an immediate improvement in accuracy. So, it’s worth bearing in mind that being a third party manufacture it’s essential that you ensure that the firmware is up to date on your bodies as well as the lens.

Here are some real-world examples in Raw shot off a bean bag…

Canon 1DX Mark 2 with Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports 500mm F4 ISO640 1/1250 (Raw, Unedited & Unsharpened)

Canon 1DX Mark 2 with Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports 500mm F4 ISO800 1/1000 (Raw, Unedited & Unsharpened)

Canon 1DX Mark 2 with Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports 500mm F4 ISO1600 1/1250 (Raw, Unedited & Unsharpened)

Canon 1DX Mark 2 with Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports500mm F5.6 ISO500 1/800 (Raw, Unedited & Unsharpened)

Canon 1DX Mark 2 with Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports 500mm F5.6 ISO800 1/640 (Raw, Unedited & Unsharpened)

Corner sharpness is so often seen as a differentiator between lenses and the Sigma 500 Sports lens performs exceptionally. Honestly, I’m not sure that it is the most important factor? For wildlife togs like myself it is of little consequence. But, having sharp corners can still make a big difference in some images including when part of the subject and plane of sharp focus meet in the corner.


Evaluating Bokeh from lens to lens is tough thing to do, but it must be said that this lens provides a very clean, deep and creamy Bokeh.

I often find that unnatural looking Bokeh’s render things like tree’s and branches in to a double vision sort of look. I am happy to report that this is generally not the case with this lens and thus far I have been exceedingly happy with the results I have achieved.


With all telephoto lenses vignetting is to be expected, of course not all lenses are created equal as is the case with this lens.

The vignetting on this lens is very manageable with at most a 1.5 stop vignette wide open at F4. With basic lens correction, I found the vignette to be incredibly manageable and not a factor with this lens at all.

Chromatic Aberration

Getting into the minutia of the performance of the 500 F4, chromatic aberration is an often-overlooked factor.

Given the pro level expectations of this lens…you would expect the lens to perform on the level of its competitors it delivers very little aberration at all and is well in line with acceptable levels.

Shown above is a 100% resolution image cropped from the extreme top-left corner of a frame. There should only be black and white showing in this image and, mostly, that is what we see.

In conclusion, the Sigma 500 f4 offers an exceptional level of Image Quality. Image sharpness is fantastic corner to corner sharpness and at the critical wider apertures it performs admirably. It offers a creamy and delightful Bokeh and there are very little concerns when it comes to any of the lens aberration factors. So that ticks that box…now onto the big one Focus!!


All the image quality in the world is rendered completely useless if you cannot achieve sharp images due to the focusing performance of a lens. To evaluate the ability of this lens I’m going to look at a few critical aspects…Focusing System, Low-Light Capability, Optical Stabilization and Tele-Converters.

Focusing System

The lens’ AF system is driven by Sigma’s HSM (Hyper Sonic Motor) and it internally focuses very quietly, incredibly quietly in fact. Focus speed is decent in the default “Standard AF” mode, but program one of the two custom modes for “Fast AF Priority” (via the dock), switch to that programmed mode and watch this lens focus extremely fast.

I also tested the lens at a Track & Field meet with the subject moving directly toward the camera, a situation that requires the highest performance of both body and lens and found that attached the Canon 1Dx Mark 2 the keeper rate was exceptional!

The third AF speed option available via the custom mode is “Smooth AF Priority”. The latter is described by Sigma as “Priority smooth autofocusing. Offering a slightly slower but very smooth autofocus, ideal for use with video.” While I did not find the smooth mode to be drastically different from the standard mode, the fast mode was very noticeably faster, with subjects locking into focus nearly instantly.

A top tip to prevent any focus “hunting” issues in to select the focal distance range for which you are shooting, which should drastically reduce any “hunting” issues.

Another rather cool AF feature is focus preset/recall with a beep confirming either.

Essentially what this feature does is allow you to preprogram a focal distance and switch it to that focal distance with the preset switch which you set by focusing on said spot and the hitting set…so those pesky bird shots with birds coming into a habitual perch, you can nail with abandon!

Low Light Capability

Something that is of utmost importance to us wildlife and sports shooters is the ability for a lens to focus quickly and accurately in low light and back-lit scenes. The bane of my life is lenses that struggle in these situations as it’s the sharp end of where we find ourselves shooting a lot of the time.

Happily, this lens operates as great as I have seen on any of the Sport range lenses recently released, as you would expect from a lens of this magnitude. I shot a great deal of low light shots in testing including shots with very busy backgrounds and found the lens to be adept at finding and locking focus quickly and accurately.

A few images examples:

Canon 1DX Mark 2 with Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports 500mm F4 ISO1600 1/50 (Raw, Unedited & Unsharpened)

Optical Stabilization  

With modern lenses the OS system is a key factor in producing consistently sharp images in tough conditions and added to that assisting with those wonderful artsy motion blur shots we all know and love. Needless to say that any high-end lens worth its salt has to have a very solid OS system attached to it.

This lens has a 4-stop-rated OS system. I achieved a great deal of consistently sharp images at 1/50 second shutter speeds and still mostly sharp images at 1/40. Results at 1/30 were mixed and a low percentage of sharp images were captured at speeds as slow as 1/10. The OS system comfortably deliverers great Optical stabilization performance between 3 and 4 stops of assistance.

Canon 1DX Mark 2 with Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports 500mm F4 ISO1250 1/40 (Raw, Unedited & Unsharpened)

In sticking with Sigma’s theme of ultimate customization you can further still adjust your OS settings to your liking with the USB Dock.

Those that are unfamiliar with the USB Dock should check it out, it’s a handy piece of kit for fine tuning your lens and as mentioned previously, you can really push this lenses performance to the next level with a bit of tweaking.

There are three custom setting you can achieve via the dock:

Dynamic View Mode – This mode offers a recognizable OS effect to the image in the viewfinder. This helps to ensure the composition of images quickly.

Standard – This is the default setting. The OS effect is well-balanced and suitable for various scenes.

Moderate View Mode – This mode offers an excellent compensation of camera shake, and achieves very smooth transition of the image in the viewfinder. The composition of the image remains natural even when the angle of view keeps changing.

The dock software and interface with give you very easy way to establish which option is best suited for your type of shooting.


The addition of tele converter to lenses is always such a divisive topic. Although there can really be no argument for the fact that adding a 1.4 or 2x converter to any lens has too have a resultant image quality effect…but sometimes you know…you just need that extra reach!

I tried this lens out using both 1.4x and 2x converters.

Beginning with the 1.4 there was a visible shortfall in image quality and sharpness, but overall it performed very well with the 1.4x, in reality I would say that the keeper rate with the 1.4x drops by around 30% but considering that this lens has a very high keeper rate to begin with I found the drop off to be quite reasonable.

The 2x converter again reduced the IQ by a further margin and as a standard rule I would avoid using the 2x converter unless it was absolutely necessary. In saying that of course I would have to say that this is always the case no matter the lens.

Have a look at these shots taken at 500mm and 700mm (1.4x)…. (Raw, Unedited & Unsharpened)

Canon 1DX Mark 2 with Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports & 1.4x Tele-Converter 700mm

F5.6 ISO800 1/1600 (Raw, Unedited & Unsharpened)

Canon 1DX Mark 2 with Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports & 1.4x Tele-Converter 700mm

F5.6 ISO1600 1/1250 (Raw, Unedited & Unsharpened)

Canon 1DX Mark 2 with Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports 500mm F4 ISO400 1/2500 (Raw, Unedited & Unsharpened)

Canon 1DX Mark 2 with Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports & 1.4x Tele-Converter700mm F5.6 ISO800 1/2000 (Raw, Unedited & Unsharpened)


It’s one sexy bit o­f kit!

So, aside from it looking cool and it having all the other togs’ drooling at your arm candy, it is a firm win for Sigma in its first new Fast Long Prime lens endeavor.

This lens delivers on its hype! It is built for rough use, although $6000.00 I’d wrap it up, Its image quality is on par, it’s sharp, fast, innovative and with little to complain about from a stabilization point of view it’s a real win when you start compare price vs value against other manufactures it really is great value.

Having waited for this lens for the last 4 years I can happily say that it is worth the wait & weight… and is certainly a pro level drool worthy edition to any camera bag.



Creating Compelling and Emotional Monochome Imagery….Part 2 Post Processing

quintessence-monoSo following on from my blog post last month about creating compelling and emotional monochrome images, I thought it would be a good idea to run through an example of my own post-processing workflow that I use to create my mono images.

It’s worth saying that post processing of monochrome images is a very varied topic and one can go a million ways with the process. It’s also worth noting as I mentioned in the previous post that monochrome imagery allows you a far greater scope for exploring your own creativity in creating these images.

So this post is merely a guideline from my own perspective…I will be using Photoshop and Nik Software as these are the two programs I use mainly in my conversions. Of course there are very effective ways of producing these images in Lightroom as well.

So before getting into the detail I want to reiterate some of the points from my last post:

1.) Start with a quality raw image

2.) Look for Images that will convey emotion.

3.) Contrasty good light images will work best.

4.) Look to convert images with clean, less distracting backgrounds.

When creating a mono image I often begin with fully editing the image for colour…at least fully editing the image in Lightroom before exporting to Photoshop. So that’s were I will begin this tutorial…

I will be using this image taken on The Khwai Concession in Botswana’s Okavango Delta. I really like the clean BG so I feel it will work well in B&W. I have added all my Lightroom adjustments and will continue in Photoshop.screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-12-37-00-pm

Generally my first step in converting to B&W is to open the image in Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro (if you don’t already have the Nik suite I highly recommend you download’s free). screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-12-39-32-pmscreen-shot-2016-10-06-at-12-45-12-pmThe Silver Efex workstation is simple and very easy to use as you can see above, it has a number of very handy preset on the left side that you can play with for endless effects. I normally prefer to create my own effects be it low or high key and feel you have tremendous control to add filters, contrast, structure, tonality ect.

Generally my first step is to run through the colour filters and see if there is an effect that I find pleasing, this is why I prefer to bring in the image in colour into Silver Efex as if you bring in an already converted image of course these colour filters will not work.screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-12-53-06-pmI will select each colour and see if it works with the image. For this image I like the effect of the green filter as it brighten the Leopard nicely and darkens the edges of the frame as well. Once you select the best filter you can adjust the strength of the filter under details.screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-12-55-34-pm

After the selection, I will move over to the basic adjustments panel and begin there. Often none of the colour filters will work with the image so in that case you can move straight to the basic adjustments and start creating from there.screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-12-58-21-pmscreen-shot-2016-10-06-at-1-02-17-pmI find contrast here very effective, I also really like the tonality protection sliders and they work well to prevent you pushing your highlights too far when adding that critical contrast. It’s also useful looking down at the histogram at the bottom to ensure you are not going too far.

Once I am happy with where I have taken this base edit, I’m pretty much done with Silver Efex. There are many additional feature to this software that you can deploy such as using the film types and level and curves feature but I prefer to keep in simple at the beginning, once again this for me is just about creating a workable base conversion that I can take further later. Once you are happy you click OK and deploy the filter.

Once I am happy with the base image I will often flatten the image or save it as a tiff file if I’m worried about destructive editing.

Next up I open up the image in Colour Efex Pro, it may seem counter intuitive as it’s a colour editing tool…but it has some great filters that can take a mono to another level.screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-1-13-53-pm

screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-1-20-45-pmSo if you haven’t used Colour Efex before you can spend a whole span of time getting to grips with the endless filters available in the filter panel on the left side, most of which you probably never use and in most case really shouldn’t use…trust me I have tried them all ;).

I have created my favorite filter in the filters tab as you can see and you can do that by simply highlighting the star next to the filter in the All tab.

Now the most useful of these filters for mono conversions are the Pro Contrast filter which I use on every image, and I more often than not use it with set parameters that I find work incredibly well for adding just the right amount of contrast. You will see i have it set at 5% correct contrast, 10% Dynamic Contrast with the tonality protection sliders set to 30% each.

Now one of the real redeeming features of this software is you can simply keep adding filters via the add filter tab until you get your image to where you want it to be, instead of applying one of these filters at a time which is time consuming.

So from here the options and directions are endless!!

You could go Low Key or High Key, Glamour Glow which is a filter that works well with mono’s, you can and any imaginable tone, or film styled affects. For this image I feel keeping it simpler work better.

So what I chose to do is add a low key effect to create some depth( I have a love for this type of mono image but in the end it’s up to your own personal taste). You will see that the filter applies globally to the image, which I don’t want. This brings me to the next redeeming feature of Nik, as now I can use the very handy control points to remove the effect from the areas I don’t want them in. The control points are tonal based and very accurate as below.screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-1-27-55-pmFilter Globally Appliedscreen-shot-2016-10-06-at-1-29-27-pmFinal Filter with the two negative control points applied to the cat to remove the effect accurately.

You can easily see where the effect is applied and removed by using the mask view, by simply clicking on the mask icon and toggling the control point boxes on and off….screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-1-33-14-pm screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-1-35-03-pm

which will show in white where it is applied and in black where it is removed.screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-1-29-18-pmAt this stage I am quite happy with where this image is, I feel the darkening of the tree stump and BG really bring the attention into the Leopard and creates lovely depth and the contrast is looking good to me…screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-1-41-13-pm

You can explore further by adding useful filters such the Darken and Lighten Centre filter which is a great vignetting tool or even the Glamour Glow Filter…but for me this image is good where it is so I am going go ahead and apply the filter by clicking OK.

Once back in PS I will save the file as a tiff in case you want to go back at any stage…then flatten the image.

From here there  are a few things that you could play with to see if you at your end point…firstly I will always create dodge and burn layers, although this image doesn’t require it, it’s a great way to add some really fine contrast and depth to the image.

I have a shortcut key to create these layers but you can do it by creating two layers by pressing command/N on a mac or control/N on PC.screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-1-51-34-pmscreen-shot-2016-10-06-at-1-51-49-pm-1I also like to add a layer mask just so I can mask out any areas that I don’t want affected. you can do that by click the layer mask icon bottom right.screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-1-51-49-pm-2-copyYou can then change the blending mode to soft light as i find this helps keep the brushing subtle.screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-1-51-37-pmAfter that you can adjust your brush opacity to 5-10% and use the white brush to dodge the light areas and the black brush to burn the dark areas.screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-1-51-49-pm-3screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-1-51-49-pm-4copyAt the very end I will check my levels by adding a levels adjustment layer.

I neat trick is to hold down the alt/option key while dragging the slider will create a mask view and help you adjust your highlights without blowing them out.screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-2-05-47-pm screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-2-05-57-pm screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-2-06-06-pm Okay…there you go, I am happy with where the image has ended up and will now save my final edited Tiff file that I can always go back to and edit further if needed then resize and sharpen for the web and save that as a JPEG…


I hope this tutorial was helpful and that you give it a bash and remember that mono photography is a creative pursuit…so don’t be scared to give things a go, they wont all work but you’ll learn.


Creating Compelling and Emotional Monochome Imagery….

The-Local...MonoPersonally I have a huge love for monochrome imagery as many people do. Monochrome has the advantage of removing the distraction of colour from an image and allowing you to focus on the content, composition, subjects, tonality and emotion present in that image.

When we look at a good monochrome image it draws us into the thought process and mind of the photographer in a much different way than with colour images.

QuenchWe can push our creative boundaries in a myriad of different ways with monochrome photography as opposed to colour, it’s a deep, rich and alluring form of photography that has many complexities.

Side-Lit-Heart-ThrobFor me creating a powerful monochrome image is a complex and detailed process that begins in camera, selecting the correct image for conversion and pre conceiving an image in camera are important factors in creating a fantastic end result…but before we can get into that, I firmly believe in some truths when it comes to monochrome.

  • Bad light no problem I’ll convert it…

There are some fundamental problems with this mindset. Harsh flat light or dull lifeless light is not a prerequisite for conversion. In certain circumstances High-Key monochrome can use harsh light in your advantage but having a great deal of contrast in your subject is vitally important in this regard…so simply converting an image when faced with bad light is one fallacy we should dispel from the outset!Xiviti's-PoiseSimple-Nstongwaan

  • You need to start with a quality in camera image…

Starting with a quality raw is foremost. You can’t cure an image with poor composition, lighting, background, contrast or subject by simply converting it. A quality raw image will lead you to a deep, rich and intriguing monochrome.Heartbeat

  • A monochrome image should provide something the colour version does not…

There is no use in a monochrome image if it doesn’t improve on the colour version, I often edit a colour image completely before converting to mono and seeing if the image will improve on the colour version.Painted-Pups

  • Dynamic, contrasty quality light leads to alluring monochromes…

Conversely the best golden hour light that is contrasty and rich often leads to the best monochrome imagery.Dark-CubEndless-Blur-MonoHidden-Fear

  • Background, Background Background!!!

When it comes to monochrome background is of utmost importance, as distracting busy background can completely ruin a monochrome image. Clean background that emphasize the subject often are the best candidates for monochrome conversion.The-DescentPerchedSuper-LeopardBeyond-Beauty-Mono

*There are many exceptions to all rules, but in general that holds true for monochrome photography.

  • Work an image till you are satisfied then take a step back…

As mentioned previously monochrome allows more of a creative license, I am all for pushing mono images to include more contrast, tonality, adding deep dark rich layers, using low and high-key affects and glows, but this comes with a caveat…go as far as you are happy with in creating something deep and interesting then take a breath and a break come back and see if you have pushed it too far then adjust accordingly.Determined-Brotherhood-monoCrossed-Paths Brotherly-Love

  • Look for the emotion…

Monchrome has the ability to really bring any emotion in an image to the forefront be it emotion from in front or behind the lens…look for emotional moments or for experiences that are emotional to you and those will lift your monochrome images to another level!!Get-behind-those-earsMother-&-CubStormy-Future-MonoShelter-MonoFallen-Brother's

  • Use directional lighting…

The use of direction lighting like side-lighting and back-lighting can really help a monochrome image along. Look to combine lighting with background to enhance the tonality of an image and often it will create an interesting mono image.Gelada-DarknessA-Dwindling-Few!

  • Have Fun…

The whole point of exploring monochrome is the pure joy of pushing your creative boundaries. You are not constrained by the boundaries of saturation, contrast and composition as you are with colour images, so get stuck in and have fun. Monochrome such a valuable learning tool when it comes to post-production you have a myriad of tools at your disposal in both Lightroom and Photoshop…I would also recommend plugin’s such as Nik Software, their Silver Efex Pro and Colour Efex Pro have some great filters to take your mono images to the next level.The-Gathering

In conclusion I would say the most important factor in creating compelling, rich and emotional monochrome is injecting some of yourself into the images. Put your perspective, emotion and creativity into it, push the envelope and see where that creativity leads you. Start with a great raw product and work it into something that makes you feel something. When you get there you are allowing the people that view your image the chance to feel their own feelings about what they are seeing.

Most of all, give it a go and explore…14mm-ElephantUnmistakable-Beauty-Mono

Next month I’m going to run through a monochrome workflow using some of the tools I like to use in creating my monochrome images…in the meantime go check out Nik Software it’s free!!


Creating Deep, Rich & Impactful Back-lit Imagery

The-Kalahari!In the beginning of most of our photographic journey’s we strive for the best light from over our shoulders that illuminates our subjects in late afternoon golden loveliness. Which it must be said is truly wonderful and makes great images of course.

But…the moment I spun that first & last 10 minutes of glorious light on it’s head and had it over my subject shoulder, my photographic journey changed forever!

What is not to love about deep rich reds and oranges dancing across a dusty scene creating moody and wonderful wildlife images.Scuffle

When it comes to creating these wonderfully colourful frames there is a fair amount of nuance involved so lets begin with unpacking some of those helpful tricks…

1.) Positioning & Timing

While I am out and about shooting in this wonderful back-lit light I am often amazed by photographers and their lack of positioning especially when these wonderful back-lit opportunities present themselves. Firstly we need to rid ourselves of the fear of positioning the sun behind our subjects, it really is glorious…go on give it a go.

The ideal position for these type of shots is to position the sun just off to the left or the right of the subject and not in a direct line with the camera. The more direct the light is into the lens the greater the unappealing lens flare will be.

Screen Shot 2016-07-07 at 6.56.10 PMThe further you move to the side of the light source the less deep and rich the colour and back-lit effects such as rim light become, so the idea is to get as close to a straight alignment as you can without being too straight as to effect too much lens flare.

Of course timing is ultimately critical in creating these images…there is at best 10 mins. of this sort of light available in the mornings and afternoons and it is of course better in winter than in summer. Another aspect to timing is using the dust created by vehicles to enhance the scene, especially when there are a number of vehicles rushing back to camp in a national park, Find a group of subjects and wait for a few cars to drive past in that precious 10 mins. and got some dramatic shots!Dusty-Glory

2. Focusing

Very often just the thought of very bright back-lit scenes will send your lens and camera body into a mid state of hysteria which will send it searching for something to focus on, leaving you with that very unwanted ZZZZZZZZ of the lens as it tries to figure out what the hell is going on.

Often the best plan is to use a smaller focus point selection of just a single point or a cross hair selection if possible and then seeking out the area of highest contrast and focus locking on that. Often the areas of the edges of the subject that are rim lit are great areas for locking focus.Jackals-&-FalconRim-Lit-Defassa

3. White Balance

One of my bigger photographic epiphanies was the exploration of white balance settings. The use of Auto White Balance is of course very common and with our modern sensors, most produce a very accurate white balance for the scene in front of us. However if we wish to create more depth and interest in a back-lit image we have at our disposal up 12k Kelvin to play with. Now you may say well I could just adjust the white balance in post with the same results. I’ll challenge you to compare your results with an in camera temperature selection and then match it on the same image with the same temp in post…you will see my point, the in camera colour is far better. Starting off you can play with your in camera preset like Shade, Sunshine ect and then where the real joy lies… selecting specific temps on a manual basis.Dawn-Patrol

4. Diffusion

Using artifact in a scene such as tree’s, clouds or foliage can really add a fantastic dimension to back-lit images. It can also aid in gaining more detail in the exposure of your actual subject as it allows you to increase your exposure and brighten the scene leading to a very pleasing result. Motswari-DawnWhile assessing a scene and figuring out where best to position yourself for such shots, have a look and the surrounding vegetation, cloud cover etc. and see if you can diffuse the Sun with one of these options.Framed-in-Fairy-Dust5. Forward Thinking & Luck

” A bird in hand is better than two in the bush” is very applicable to wildlife photography. Often when I am in the field with clients I try and find suitable subjects earlier on in the afternoon and try and stay with them until the magic happens (Often I move with the subject trying think about where it will move and what the light will do in the scene). This is of course fairly easy with cats like Lions as they generally will be resting up in the heat of the day and may be active for some late afternoon back lighting.The-Mana-ShuffleOf course luck plays a crucial role in the mornings, but one of the great things about back lighting is that just about anything looks good in it…so even if you don’t have one of the iconic species available an Antelope or otherwise will work wonderfully.Heart-goes-Flutter Fight-Club Deep-&-Rich-KalahariPatriarch

Happy Shooting…


The Best of March…

I really should get these posts out on time…It’s been a busy few weeks, with me just getting back from a glorious few weeks in South Africa. Aside from my expanding waistline from all the delicious food and wine of the Cape, I did manage to snap a few pic’s in some old stomping grounds as well as some new.

My visit to the renowned Makuleke region of Kruger was as good as the hype and I whole heartily fell in love with the area especially the magnificent Fever Tree forest. My mind admittedly wandered to big grey pachyderms grumbling through the green tinged forests but alas such luck was not be be…although seeing anything in it’s outrageous beauty is truly photographic, I’ll be popping a full trip report up on here soon…

Onto the most popular images I posted in March…

14mm Ele…


Looking at the image one might not appreciate just how close this is at 14mm, I can assure you it VERY close. In fact I was lying under the Kanga Camp deck waiting for this bull to come in and enjoy a drink of the fresh water being pumped from under the deck, as is his habit, so I was quite safe.

Elephant are always such good wide angle subjects and getting a very low P.O.V. tends to exaggerate their grandeur. For me I love the OOF foreground and the diagonal line of the water, the Bulls posture and tail also add to the interest of the image for me, I often try to capture the ears full out as it gives Elephant a more 3D appearance in the frame. Another great example about great experiences creating great photographic opportunities.

Properly Poised…Mangawane-3

A very fortunate scene with this young male leopard in a dead tree, it’s not customary for a Leopard to be out in the open and it often makes them quite uncomfortable. Luckily for me this male being quite sated from a recent meal, and with his sibling and mother occupying other prime trees left him with no choice but to rest up in the open.

The Leopards posture again really makes the image and with some great catch light in the eyes makes for a great portrait. This was shot with the Sigma 120-300mm f2.8 Sport so naturally I didn’t have to work hard for a sharp image in the low light.

Brotherly Love…Brotherly-Love

I have a real thing for deep dark conversions of late and just love the interest, contrast and drama they create. As with most conversions they don’t just happen you have to first off have the right image. Then in order to get them where you want them to be they do take a bit of work.

This image was converted using Nik Software Silver Efex Pro using some of the color filters provided and after that I often find that manipulating the tone is best done in Nik Software’s Color Efex Pro. In this situation I used a number of different low key filters that I brushed in or out in various parts of the image to create the contrast required. I then finished off the image with Pro Contrast, Toning and a Vignette both done in Color Efex and some dodging and burning in PS.

Pretty In Pink…Pretty-in-Pink

This image was taken on the Khwai concession in Botswana’s Okavango Delta. It’s shot with the Sigma 150-600mm Sport, a lens that will do nothing but surprise you every time, sharp and reliable!! It was shot surprisingly in some pretty harsh light in the late morning bit luckily the Leopards position was in the shade and the BG was fairly well covered and deep as well and that helped the bokeh.

I played around with manually selecting white balance in this case and ended up some where around 7000k which gave it a very pleasing pink tinge, I like it anyway 😉

The results on the camera’s Auto White Balance was dull and lifeless at 3500k. There is very little done to the image in post, and there was a great deal of contrast and depth in the raw file so aside from sharpening it’s pretty much as is, in so proving all you need is a pretty Leopard on an impossibly sharp termite out in the open mound posing just the right way for long enough to capture it…easy as that!!! haha.

Golden Boy…Golden-BoyShot again with the splinter sharp Sigma 120-300mm Sport, this image was shot early on an autumn morning in the Timbavati. The wonderful thing about this area at that time of year is the Bushwillows as seen in the BG are a wonderful mix of soft pastel colors…which really pushes the image up a notch. I am a big believer in backgrounds being more important than for grounds and for that matter even subjects, a beautiful background will always produce a good image, you just need a cooperative subject to put into them, therein is the real trick!! Again the image is edited fairly basically in Lightroom and finished off in PS using Nik Software’s Color Efex Pro with just basic contrast, polarization and a very slight vignette and finally light dodging and burning in PS.

The Best of Febuary…

Well that’s a rap for the month of February 2016 and a busy month for me indeed.

Although it didn’t see me out in the field, much of my month was spent deep in planning of this year’s and next year’s client adventures.

2016/2017 will see some magnificent adventures to Mana Pools, Namib & Skeleton Coast, Ethiopia, Zakouma N.P., Kilimanjaro, Nxai pans, Okavango Delta, Etosha, Kalahari , Serengeti and Volcanoes National Park. An exciting few years ahead!!

Anyway enough of that for now and on to my favourite images posted in Feb….along with some tips and site info.

The Enchanted Forests of Mana Pools…

Canon 5D Mrk 111 Sigma 120-300mm f2.8 Sports ISO 500 @ 300mm, f2.8, 1/400 sec


Taken in the gloriously beautiful Apple Ring Albida Forests of Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe, a destination renowned for these types of shots. The beauty of Mana Pools is your ability to move around on foot and gain compositions otherwise impossible in other destinations, it also gives you an incredible feeling of immersion into this unreal part of Africa.

I am a huge fan incorporating dawn and dusk colours into my images and with that comes the question of exposure.  Capturing deep rich dawn and dusk colours is a matter of sliding scales of exposure and white balance.The brighter your exposure the shallower your colours the darker the deeper your colours (to a point of course ;)). The same goes for white balance the cooler your in camera White Balance the less rich your colours in reference to the dawn dusk colours…again to a point!! I often focus on mixing up both of these elements (White Balance/Exposure) to get the result I’m looking for.

I am very much for bucking the rules as they are often stated, saying you can and can’t do something…staying within your Auto White Balance setting will for sure  give you decent results but breaking out of that mould and manually selecting WB will expand your creative approach to capturing colour.

Personally I don’t by into the concept of photographic trends and generally I hate debates on the topic i feel it really limits our creative ability. If we buck these trends we are far more open to experimenting and creating as apposed to what the rules or other people say…capture what you want you feel!!!

A Monochrome Marvel…

Canon 5D Mrk 111 Sigma 150-600mm Sports ISO 1000 @ 600mm, f6.3, 1/320 sec


Contrast, Leading Lines & Clean Backgrounds…

Leading lines play such and important role in the drawing of our eyes to our intended subjects, in this case what a beautiful subject it is!

In converting images to monochrome I feel that your monochrome image has to surpass your colour version to work…it has to offer something that the colour version cannot. Added to that an essential part to good Black&White imagery is in my view contrast. Without contrast monochrome images are flat and frankly boring.

One can create additional contrast by applying colour filters to the image to accentuate certain colour tones and it can be pushed even further by selective dodging and burning (Darkening the Darks/ Lightening the lights) as I did here with the trunk of the tree in order to draw attention into the subject.

Slow Motion Dust Bath…

Canon 5D Mrk 111 Sigma 120-300mm f2.8 Sports ISO 400 @ 200mm, f5.6, 1/40 sec


Slower Shutter speeds creating interest. As shown above this image was taken at 1/40 sec which was slow enough to blur the dust spray enough to create an interesting effect. What would have been even cooler was if I could have caught the trunk in motion blur!! Of course this was made possible by the Elephant standing dead still while taking his late afternoon dust bath.  Again the contrast in the image created by the dark folds in the Ele’s skin after recently having had a mud bath, created the great conversion opportunity. As before the contrast was enhanced by selective dodging and burning emphasising the mid tone of the Ele. while darkening around him and deepening the dark tone in his skin folds.

Using a portrait orientation also serves to accentuate the Elephants heigh much as it does when photographing Giraffes in the same way.

Timbavati’s Golden Glory…

Canon 5D Mrk 111 Sigma 120-300mm f2.8 Sports ISO 2000 @ 240mm, f7.1, 1/3200 sec


Golden light is the thing of our dreams and catching an active Leopard in a tree for those 10 mins of exceptional light is every photographers dream. Golden light however can sometimes be a handful to deal with…sometimes the light is so damn good that it sends your camera sensor into a full blown nervous breakdown.

Auto White Balance in this situation sent the sensor into crazy mode and the result was that the temperature was very difficult to get back the way it actually looked. Once again when faced with these situations with our heart rates through the roof and the frame rate to boot…it is vitally important to take a breath and analyse your images back of camera and adjust accordingly!

Walking into the Sun…

Canon 5D Mrk 111 Sigma 300-800mm f5.6 Sports ISO 400 @ 800mm, f8, 1/160 secStrolling-into-Sunset

Captivating Chobe!!…who doesn’t love a good cliche’?

Taken on a photographic boat on the Chobe River, Botswana on a fairly hazy day that cut down the strength of the sun as it was setting through winter dust. Again by manipulating the White Balance in Camera I was able to produce an appealing warmth to the image. The compression of the 800mm also goes a long way to producing an image like this of course.

As you can see the shutter speed is way down at 1/160 sec so any movement would have been tough to get sharp…which leads to a very big point that I am very clear in making…

Sharpness is not everything!!!

Although sharpness can be seen as a critical component to most images the obsession with sharpness has lead us down a path where we value it above all else…this is a major mistake! Composition, Contrast, Emotion, Feeling, Subject, Interest and Light are far more important it in most instances.

When you look at an image…how that image makes you feel is the one thing that will keep drawing you back to that image…not the fact that each eyelash is crispy sharp.

When we create images these things should be in the forefront of our minds and not how incredibly sharp our image is….

The Best of January…

Se’ La Vie’….

So the first month of 2016 has come to pass so here is a recap of my personal favourite images of the month, along with my thoughts on the lens used and some background info on the images.


Seeking Protection…

Canon 5D Mrk 111 Sigma 120-300mm f2.8 Sports ISO 800 @ 300mm, f5.6, 1/400 sec

Creating emotion in my images is always at the fore-front of my mind when shooting, and this scene provided just that. This shot was taken in the early afternoon and as such the light on the little Elephant was quite harsh. I compensated by underexposing the image slightly giving the raw file a nice contrast, essential for creating interesting monochrome imagery. I often stop up to f5.6 or 6.3 when shooting Elephant so to try an get more of the head in focus, As always the Sigma 120-300mm Sport is pin sharp and never disappoints.

The image was converted to black & white using Nik Software Silver Efex and a number of colour filters were used to create a more low key effect along with some dodging and burning to accentuate the little guys face.


The Essence of Zakouma…

Canon 5D Mrk 111 Sigma 150-600mm f5- 6.3 Sports ISO 640 @600mm, f6.3, 1/200 sec

This image was taken on my recent trip to Zakouma National Park in Chad, apart from being one of the last few true wildernesses on the planet it’s also a breathtaking and eye opening new safari destination.

The image was taken at first light on one of Zakouma’s famous floodplains and with the haze present from dust blown in from the Sahara it creates a almost dreamy pink backlighting that I have never seen anywhere else.

I love the depth and drama backlighting gives images and with the amount of birds around I just had to wait until a flock flew by this Saddle Billed Stork to give the image some more interest.

I often play around with over and under exposing backlight images by 2/3 of a stop or so just to achieve the result I’m looking for in this case the haze allowed for over exposure and the result turned out great. It was also shot at 7000k white balance as I find a warmer white balance works very well at first light.

I have utmost confidence in using the Sigma 150-600mm in backlit conditions, I have often been amazed at it’s focusing ability in situations where lenses battle to lock on to focus.

The image again was edited in Lightroom and Photoshop using Nik Software’s Color Efex Pro, Contrast, Detail Enhancement and Polarisation filters were added.

Keep an eye out my full blog on my Zakouma adventure in the next week or so…



Canon 5D Mrk 111 Sigma 150-600mm f5- 6.3 Sports ISO 1000 @600mm, f6.3, 1/320 sec

This shot was taken in the glorious Khwai community concession in the Okavango Delta. We were spoilt with this young male Leopard who has an apparent love of climbing up and into tree trunks. We spent the majority of the a cloudy, overcast morning with him as he treated us to some superb shots.

I enjoyed the leading line of the Camel Thorn trunk leading you into his face as well as the deep background giving a nice out of focus bokeh. The colour of the grass in the background really lifted the image.

This was shot with the 150-600mm Sport at 600mm f6.3 and as you can see the result was pin pin sharp, something that has amazed me to say the least!!

The Raw file was edited in Lightroom and then finished in Photoshop using Nik Software Color Efex Pro using just the Pro Contrast, Polarisation and Brilliance and Warmth Filters along with the usual Dodging and Burning.


Rim Lit Defassa…

Canon 5D Mrk 111 Sigma 150-600mm f5- 6.3 Sports ISO 1250 @600mm, f6.3, 1/1250 sec

It’s pretty much impossible for me to ignore a gorgeous backlit scene, and when you combine that with Waterbuck their furry coats allowing for that so sought after rim light effect, it has me closing the shutter every time.

This shot of these two Defassa Waterbuck was again taken in the captivating Zakouma National Park at sunrise. Here I tried under-exposing the image in an attempt to allow for the full effect of the rim light on the Waterbuck. Again the Sigma 150-600mm didn’t miss a beat and focussed without hassle.

The image was edited in the raw using Lightroom and finished in Photoshop using Nik Software Color Efex Pro.

Nook-MonoSleepy Hollow…

Canon 5D Mrk 111 Sigma 120-300mm f2.8 Sports ISO 1600 @ 300mm, f 2.8, 1/80 sec

Monochrome images are certainly not about converting images that don’t work in colour, quality mono images have to first be quality images. This image was taken in the Greater Kruger on a very overcast day. I love the bokeh created by the light coming through the canopy of branches. Light coming from behind the subject often provides this type of pleasing bokeh.

The image was shot with the Sigma 120-300mm which is without doubt the sharpest lens I have ever had the pleasure of using. Even with a relatively slow shutter speed it gives incredible results.

Again I used Nik Software’s Silver Efex to convert the image and using a number of colour filters brushed in using Photoshop to create the effect.


Bokeh Panorama…

Canon 5D Mrk 111 Sigma 150-600mm f5- 6.3 Sports ISO 1250 @600mm, f6.3, 1/320 sec, 32 frames stitched in PS

I spend a lot of time exploring and investigating other genres of photography in the hope of finding techniques that may transfer to wildlife photography. In this case I believe I found one.

This technique is called the Brenizer Effect or Bokeh Panorama. It require the use of a long, fast lens to create a very OOF background. The principal is to create the effect of a wide angle lens using a longer zoom lens replicating a bokeh created by something like a 50mm f1.4.

In total this images is made up of 32 close up images stitched together using Photoshop. The detail and IQ in this image is incredible and has over 40 000 pixels on the long end.

It’s a fairly tough thing to pull off and i’m looking forward to exploring the possibilities of this technique in future.



Canon 5D Mrk 111 Sigma 150-600mm f5- 6.3 Sports ISO 1600 @558mm, f6.3, 1/320 sec

One of my favourite and more memorable moments was this shot taken in the Kalahari. This image was shot as one of the biggest storm cells I have ever seen descended on the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.

I drove around frantically looking for a subject to place in front of these clouds. As the sun was setting the massive clouds slowly turned pink. I sky I wont soon forget. Luckily I found a herd of Oryx on a dune ridge as things started to look amazing.

I shot a lot of shots from this scene and it was a tough one to capture with the correct White Balance and Exposure. In post I added some clarity to the clouds and dodged and burned to get the most out of the Oryx in the foreground.

The 150-600mm variable zoom was an absolute saving grace in this situation as I was able to capture both a wider and tighter POV without having to change lenses in the heat of the moment.