Elephants with a Serengeti Sunrise
Photo: Nick Delany
Capturing nature’s most awe-inspiring moments takes much more than good luck and a quick trigger finger. Careful planning, serious skill, and a little bit of luck are needed to create the kinds of unforgettable images that make an African safari so enticing, even from thousands of miles away. The photographs these guests snapped are so impressive, we wanted to learn more about what went into them. In this ongoing series, our most avid photographers share some of the secrets behind the stunning images that make us all wonder “How’d you get that shot?”
Professional photographer Nick Delany joins us today.
ABOUT THE PHOTO
What do you like about this shot?
With no doubt, this photo highlights one of the best moments of the trip. It represents for me some of the most beautiful elements of Africa, the majestic elephant with its gentle dignity, the grandeur of the Serengeti plains, the unique Acacia trees and the warmth of the early morning African sun.
I was born and raised in Tanzania and left in 1968, so this trip was more than a photographic safari, this was a pilgrimage back to my roots. There is a song by Vusi Mahlasela’s called “Say Africa” has the wonderful chorus of “I may be walking on the streets of a city called Amsterdam, Well the dust on my boots and the rhythm of my feet & heart Say Africa” and it represents the awareness I always have of my African roots. So does this image, as it can only be AFRICA! It also reminds me that at that moment, I was awed by the beauty of everything around me and was deeply content.
Elephants are really hard to photograph due to their size and their almost monotone grey color, which makes it a challenge to incorporate a story into the image. I feel I succeeded with this image because you can sense their size and the awesomeness of their environment.
What type of planning was involved in order to capture this image?
We were staying at Thomson’s Southern Serengeti Nyumba camp. We left before dawn and drove directly north of the camp onto the plains so we were ready for the sunrise. As dawn came, we spotted three distinct herds of approx. 30 elephants each. We anticipated their route and positioned ourselves where they would intersect with the road, we parked the Land Rover to waited quietly. Two herds passed between us and the sun, the third herd passed behind us. This afforded us over an hour of elephant photography from a single position. There were moments when we stopped photographing to just watch these magnificent animals glide majestically past us.
Which camera did you use, and why?
Nikon D850 & Nikkor 200-500mm lens f/5.6 ED VR. The Nikon D850 is the latest FX full frame camera from Nikon. It captures an extraordinary amount of data on the image allowing you to optimize the image’s dynamic range as the detail will be in the RAW file.
Which settings did you use? Are there any technical tips you have for photographers who are more advanced?
The settings were ISO 180, aperture f/11 exposure 1/500. Focal length 200mm. Just enough aperture & speed to give the depth of field and freeze the elephants’ motion.
My camera was in manual mode with auto ISO & shot in RAW format. For this type of photography where you need balance the sun, the elephant silhouette and some detail of the plains, it is essential that you shoot in RAW format at the lowest ISO possible in order to capture the full dynamic range detail.
Which tools, during either the shooting or editing process, did you use to enhance the photo?
RAW file processed in CaptureOne v11. Here I adjusted the HDR setting by increasing the shadow by 100 and the highlight by 50 to balance the light to what I saw with my own eyes.
What advice do you have for safari goers who want to capture the perfect shot?
Get out of bed before sunrise! More than 80% of my top photographs were taken within 2 hours of sunrise and before the average tourist has finished his breakfast and left camp.
What’s your favorite tip to give fellow photographers?
Learn to use “Back Button Focusing”. This is where you move the focus function way from the camera button to another designated button operated by your right thumb. This will facilitate more control and better application of the continuous focusing function for more of those sharp in-focus shots of moving animals and birds.
My name is Nick Delany and I live in the beautiful north west of the United States. I am semi-retired and still have a role as Chairman of a Consumer Electronics Company called VTech. This affords me the time to indulge in my passion for photography & travel.
How many years of professional photography experience do you have?
I took up serious photography 47 years ago. Somehow making a living and raising a family got in the way until about 10 years ago. I love to sell my photos as fine art prints as it is the ultimate compliment that somebody can give you to want to own something you created.
What’s your favorite thing to photograph?
I love to photograph all forms of wildlife with my particular favorite being either the Leopard or the American Bald Eagle.
What do you think of Tanzania or a safari as an overall photographic opportunity? What made it special to photograph?
Tanzania, the Serengeti and Thomson Safaris were a best in class experience for a photographer. The Serengeti has been untouched and conserved like this for millions of years. They are relatively few people and it affords endless animal and bird photo opportunities all day. Thomson Safaris’ guide team were not only trained wildlife experts but they had an understanding how to quickly position photographers relative to the light and composition opportunity.
Where can we find your work?