Thursday, November 17, 2011

Book Review – Serengeti – The Eternal Beginning

I was excited to get the opportunity to review a photography book that wasn't technical in nature. It gave me a chance to read for once and not have to think about the technical merits about the subject material being discussed.

At first I thought it might just be a pure photography book, nothing but pictures and little text. When it arrived I realized that there was a fair amount of story that surrounded the photos. The story about the Serengeti was very interesting and unique and an important part of the book.

Book Title: Serengeti – The Eternal Beginning
Author: Boyd Norton
ISBN: 978-1-55591-593-3
Publisher: Fulcrum Publishing
Hard cover - 265 pages

The Review
One of the first things that struck me about the book was the experience and depth that the author 'Boyd Norton' had with this area of Africa. While its not exactly clear, it appears that he has spent more than 25 years visiting and getting to know this area intimately about the life and its nuances in the Serengeti.

The book is not only about Serengeti as its title suggests but also includes the Maswa Game Reserve, Ngorongoro conservation area, Loliondo Game controlled area and the Masai Mara National Reserve. As with most geographical features, country boundaries do not define its scope.

This geographical area defines the coverage, for the most part of the 'Great Migration' that we are all familiar with. Where thousands upon thousand of larger African animals such as wildebeests are seen to run for thousands of miles in search of food as the weather patterns change. While the predators lie in wait for the dinner train to run by.

The author discusses the parks earliest beginnings when there wasn’t a park but only early explorers and big game hunters. The early problems all countries seem to have when they want to control activities within an area with competing demands from indigenous groups, expanding farming base and other users of the resources.

This is not only a book about the big and small animals that are found here but about the life of the people who have lived here for aeons. It’s interesting to read how the locals, weather patterns and what was a perfect balance of nature all worked together to create a faultless ecosystem. Especially when you think of this place as the dawn of human kind some 3-4 million year ago.

The author’s writings give a life to photos that are not apparent directly from the photos. As an example, he discusses how certain rock outcrops called Gol Kopjes seems to have extra gravity that applies only to the big cats. In that whenever they arrive on these outcrops the local rock gravity immediately pulls them flat on the rock and holds them for hours.

The book covers the Great Migration when it seems most of the life in the Serengeti is on the move and about the carnivores who patiently wait for their turn at the Great Feast or migration as we call it.

The next chapter is about the lions which is a fascinating subculture all unto itself. Who gets to lead, who eats and who gets to live with the group.

The 4th chapter is about Ngorongoro which is the remains of a huge volcano called a caldera, like a giant cauldron. In this crater life is different due to its unique ecosystem.

The next chapter deals with creatures both large and small and how like any balanced system they each depend on each other for survival. From control of foliage to providing food for the predators. If your visit is to only see the big game animals then you are missing so much more about the life in the Serengeti.

The next chapters deal each with the other more famous of the big African animals such as the Rhino, Leopard, Cheetah and Elephant and how they live and communicate. There are personal stories around each encounter with the wilds of Africa and this is what makes this book more exciting than just a lot of photos.

There is Anna who can talk Rhino talk and the perception that they are stupid is really outdated. There are also the Acadia trees who can communicate when the giraffes arrive for dinner.

Recommended Audience

This book doesn’t tell you how to use your camera or take better photographs, which I'm glad as sometimes we just need stories that surround images we are seeing. Inspiration rarely comes from a technical how-to-manual.

I now know that if I were to go on an African photo safari I would not expect or want a 1 or 2 day quick tour and photo-op around the park. The book has conveyed to me that there is just so much more to see and experience that it can only be fully appreciated if you take the time to watch and wait. When there, live in the flow of the Serengeti's life.

If not for yourself then this would make a great gift for any friend who has been talking about going on an excursion to see those big game animals of Africa. A time before man, at least modern man, has had an impact on the natural world.

Link to:
Boyd Norton`s Wilderness Photography website with info on supporting the Serengeti.

I have provided an amazon link for the book, below.

Niels Henriksen

Other than receiving a book to review, which will be given away, I did not or will not receive any remunerations, gifts or any considerations for this review from the publisher, author or anyone affiliated with this book.

Thanks to a comment from Mike I realized that I hadn't fully reviewed the book by also commenting on the photographs within the book.

I found every photo crisp and clear and representative of the its natural environment.

The photos are taken as found and therefore the lighting is natural and not staged. Nor are the images manipulated to give extra punch as I am prone to do. All are color prints with no B&W.

Since most of the animals by nature's design want to blend in with their surrounding there is not always a lot of high contrast, but they all stand out in the photos. The photos are all of the caliber that you would find in the National Geographic magazine.

The front cover image is representative of the quality of images whether they are up close or distant landscapes contained within the book.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Reviewing your photographs from Older Archives

Sometimes its just plain fun to go through your archive of older photos. Now with a distant memory of the scenes and events your photographs may appear better than previous scans. This is in part due to that at the time there are too many good photos and those not with the highest rating but still with merit tend to get drowned out.

This image was taken at one of the great Buddhas in Kamakura Japan. The hawk like bird may seem small but this Buddha is very large.  Without the bird it would be hard to understand the scale of this image. It could be in anyone’s home garden. Besides scale the bird helps to give height to statue as there is the appearance that the head is up high where birds soar.

The next image with people in it does convey the scale of the Buddha. In theses type of metal statues the green colors are soft and muted and it is easy for green foliage to overpower the scene. That is why I have mute the greens in the background to give the Buddha statue more visual punch.

The Great Buddha of Kamakura (Kamakura Daibutsu) is a bronze statue of Amida Buddha, which stands on the grounds of Kotokuin Temple.  It's the second tallest bronze Buddha statue in Japan, at a height of 13.35 meters, surpassed only by the statue in Nara's Todaiji Temple.
The statue was originally built in 1252 and located inside a large temple hall. The temple buildings were destroyed many times by typhoons and a tidal wave in the 14th and 15th centuries. So, since 1495, the Buddha has been standing in the open ground. 

Do take the time to review your collection as there may be hidden gold or at least fond memories of places you've been.

Niels Henriksen.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Playful Indulgences with Adobe Pixel Blender for Photoshop

Sometimes I just find I have a need to play. Not the sand lot type, even though that might be fun, but more along the lines of creativity with my artworks. With painting I can just slop the wonderful colors around and see what happens but clean-up is more effort. But with photography it's not always as easy.

I could throw my camera up in the air with a timed shutter and see what happens, but I am afraid of dropping it and then seeing a lot on money becoming dust on the ground with a broken camera.

Digital editing allows me that freedom and the only cost is my time. Definitely less risky.

I came across a video that shows the use of an Adobe Labs plug-in for Photoshop CS 4&5 called Pixel Bender. Being also a painter I was more interested in the oil painting effects as demonstrated with the image I 'bent' below. I may take this further as I will need to get rid of those bright white objects at the top of frame to make this image useful.

The above image was run once in pixel bender to give texture in the parrot, but I found that the remaining detail was all too much the same and still too fine in detail for the background. I masked out the parrot, used the blending too to see if this would help. Not much, so I ran pixel bender again on several iterations on just the background to get the final image above. I didn’t realize until later that the smudging of texture actually added to the larger texture in pixel bender.

One again for above image I ran pixel bender to get the effect for the chairs and table and then playing around with iterations on just the background and with the smudging tool to get a less contrasty detail here.
In trying to use other images to see how they worked it became apparent that for it to work well there should be sufficient detail and contrast in image for it to produce better results. I also noticed that image size from 800 to 4,000 pixels each had different effects. The largest brush size was 15 pixels and with the large images the effects became smaller. 

The 2 photos of the fall scene are identical except for image resolution. The above was 1,000 pixels wide and below was 4,000+ wide

It's easy to see the difference in effects. For the smaller image I even had tor reduce the brush size so as not to over-dominate the bending effect.

From the experiments, or is it playing around, I noticed that when areas were smudged in linear or curved arches it increased the detail effects to make them larger as in the parrot's background and with the same fall scene but with smudging on the trees in image below.

These may not be exactly to your taste but if you are digitally creating painting-type images then by combining different effects for areas within the photograph, a more pleasing painting effect can be created. It is important for any effect type that there be variation in texture detail, size and contrast, like a real painting to create harmony and vision flow within the image.

The most important aspect is to create images that you like and not for others and that you have fun doing this. While I was playing around I completely lost track of time which for me is a sign that my creative juices are really flowing and I'm exploring new avenues.

Please send me some links if you have any digital creations that were just fun and you enjoyed the outcome.

Niels Henriksen


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