Tanzania Ngorongoro Crater Elephants

by David Huffman

Top of my bucket list was a photo safari in Africa.  I dreamed, planned and prepared for this for a very long time.  I finally booked the trip to visit Kenya and Tanzania, and I choose to go in February because it is the birthing season, just prior to the Great Migration.  The trip was lead by an experienced photographer who made sure, like Arizona Highways Photo Workshops does, that you get what you came for…great photos and exciting experiences.

Out of the 10,000 images this is my favorite, here’s why, and here’s how…

Copyright David Huffman
Copyright David Huffman

Why?  As a photograph, it has a simple elegance.  Nothing extra is in the frame, and the posing of the mother and baby show the intimacy of the moment.  But it’s not a static shot, both are walking and the mother looked my way and flared her ears just as she connected with me.  The fact that she is looking directly at the camera also connects the mother with the viewer.

How?  Technically, this was among the most demanding situations I have encountered. First of all, the light level was extremely low because it was pre-dawn, and the heavy morning air and overcast reduced the light even more.  It was taken from a distance of about 100 meters.  So exposure settings were tricky because I had to stop the movement of the elephants, reduce the possibility of camera shake and get a good exposure.  I used a Nikon D800 camera (what can I say? I’m obsessed with sharpness) and a Sigma 50-500 mm lens of the latest vintage.  I chose A (aperture preferred) mode and set the aperture at f/8, the focal length was about 120 mm and because of the low light level, I used ISO 2400.  Upon returning home, I downloaded the image (in RAW) using Nikon NX2, and then opened the image in DXOptics to adjust the global exposure and used the grain reduction technology to dramatically improve the image, choosing to sharpen it just a little at the end.

I prepared for three months for this trip, tested several lenses and then practiced with walks in the park at all times of the day.  The practice paid off and this image hangs in my home in 40 x 60 framed print.  It’s probably the sharpest image of its type I’ve ever taken (and I used to shoot view cameras.)  I experimented with ISO settings and software during my preparation so I could reliably predict the outcome.  It’s great to know that after over 30 years of photography experience, there is still a lot to learn and excitement to be had.   Good luck with your photo endeavors…keep learning and keep practicing.