Lions roaring, leopards hunting, buffalos galloping and eagles soaring; these are the scenes of the grasslands and the subject of Husain’s photographs. He has a passion for candid portraits, but it is nature and wildlife that he adores most.
Husain started taking photos with a film camera when he was young in the late nineties. It was during this time that his first camera got stolen, and this was the catalyst that made him realize that photography is something he truly loved.
He began teaching himself the rules and techniques of photography through a range of websites and forums.
For many years, Husain tried his hand at capturing an array of subjects, and eventually he found his strength in candid photography, ranging from action sports, street snaps, to travel photos. Documentary and journalism have played a big role in building his fundamental skills. “I don't really think that I have a certain style, but I believe in true, real moments.”
When it comes to nature, everything is more raw and fascinating. “Sometimes I forget that I am there to photograph at some point. Learning how to love nature and habits of animals in the wild clears my mind from things like busy roads and loud city noises. I just feel a peace of mind after spending time watching animals in their natural habitats. One appreciates nature a lot more when he or she spends time to witness it in person.”
“In Monochrome, lion gazing away at the horizon in Masai Mara, Kenya” - Nikon D800, ISO: 450, Aperture: f/5.6, Shutter Speed: 1/800 seconds, AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR at 250mm
“Cheetah walking among a herd of hundreds of gnus in the savannah of Masai Mara, Kenya” - Nikon D800, ISO: 2200, Aperture: f/5.6, Shutter Speed 1/2000 seconds, AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR at 310mm
“Great Migration of wildebeest in Northern Serengeti, Tanzania” - Nikon D800, ISO: 280, Aperture: f/4.0, Shutter Speed: 1/1250 seconds, AF-S NIKKOR 200-400mm f/4G ED VR II at 310mm
When people want to take good photos of wildlife, the first thing that comes to mind may be: where to find them? For Husain, choosing a good location heavily depends on what kind of species he wants to photograph. How they live, what they eat, what time of the day they are active, knowledge like this is crucial for him to get started.
Husain gives an example of capturing wildebeests. If you want to photograph them, you have to know about the great migration, during which these migrating animals travel on a certain route. Keeping the times of migration season in mind will definitely help you keep track of them. Meanwhile, extra help from professional guides and more research will lead you to the right locations as well.
However, not everyone everyone gets a chance to go on African safaris. When capturing wildlife nearby, he suggests getting to know what type of species live in the area first and start by going out looking for them. An example would be finding out what the local birds are around and getting to know their migration patterns in order for you to get closer to them. In this situation, books and websites are always there to provide the things you need to know.
Husain’s setup varies from case to case. If he is looking to photograph larger animals in their natural environment, a wide-range zoom lens will do; whilst looking to photograph birds, he would go with a lens no less than 400mm, especially when the birds are small in size. “Lens with focal length ranging from 14 to 600mm will do just fine in wildlife photography, depending on the vision of the photographers and how they want the final image to look like.”
Husain works well with all his gear. Upon understanding where their strengths truly lie he uses them accordingly to get the desired results. He prefers to have two camera bodies in order to avoid switching lenses in dusty environments. His setups often include the Nikon D800 with the AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR, the Nikon D500 with the AF-S NIKKOR 200-400mm f/4G ED VR II and AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED in the bag.
He thinks the D800 produces excellent crisp prints that he enjoys a lot, whilst the D500, with a very fast frame rate and excellent focus system, also has extra reach on the DX-format image sensor. He believes that crop sensors can be either negative or positive, depending on whether a photographer is in the half-empty or half-full state of mind.
When it comes to the lenses he uses, the AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR is selected for its excellent range and fast focus, and most importantly he loves its lightweight feel, which is important for outdoors photography. Meanwhile, with a constant f-stop of 4.0, the AF-S NIKKOR 200-400mm f/4G ED VR II can perform exceptionally in low light. As for the AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED, Husain shares, “You never know when you are going to use it, but you love it when you do”.
It is not always necessary to use the same setup for two camera bodies, as it all depends on how the photographer understands his or her gear and how it works within its limits. Of course, plenty of SD, CF or other flash type memory cards are also essential.
Husain suggests that a zoom lens that varies from 18-300mm, 70-300mm, 70-200mm to 200-500mm is good to start with. “If you are someone who is new to wildlife photography or do not want to get too technical, these are the lenses you could start with. Of course you do not want to invest in the professional super telephoto lenses and then find out that this type of photography does not suit your desires. When you get more serious about it, you have the option of prime lenses of 300mm, 400mm, 500mm and 600mm; and they all have their pros and cons.”
“Lion roars on lioness during mating, Masai Mara, Kenya” - Nikon D800, ISO: 400, Aperture: f/5.6, Shutter Speed 1/1250 seconds, AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR at 400mm
“Leopards and trees mix very well, one of the best scenes you can witness in the wild. Kenya” - Nikon D800, ISO: 200, Aperture: f/5.6, Shutter Speed: 1/640 seconds, AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR at 400mm
Husain sets his camera according to different light conditions. Since our eyes might not process everything during an action sequence, he suggests setting the camera on Aperture Priority to let the camera do most of the work; this setting helps to ahcieve the correct exposure, grabbing those fleeting moments in the right light.
“There are some tricky situations when taking photos of silhouettes or in low lights, where other factors play an essential role as well, such as ISO and shutter speed settings, or even exposure compensation +/-.”
Husain suggests playing around with modes and settings and to keep snapping whilst in the bush. Because things happen so quickly in the wild; you don’t want to find your focus locked in or your shutter speed too low when a stunning scene presents itself.
He normally photographs and displays photographs in colors. But when he feels like expressing the image in a more artistic manner or honing in on emotions, building contrast within the frame, he will adjust the photos to black-and-white.
For Husain, the most important thing about photographing animals is to have fun, whilst also respecting the animals’ presence. “Remember that it is their territory, and you are a visitor. Be patient, and keep your eyes open, less talking, more watching.”
He does not deny that he feels afraid from time to time; or in other words, feels himself become small and weak. “Just witnessing what these creatures are capable of makes you think twice before doing anything crazy, like shouting at an elephant or walking outside a vehicle when you are not suppose to.” But in most cases, he thinks it is safe enough as long as people stick to the rules and respect the distance.
Husain spends much of his time observing such animals, which is crucial to catching those “wow” factor moments and immortalizing them. Actions happen within a fraction of a second, so he has to constantly keep his finger ready on the shutter-release button. He has different feelings for each and every animal; amongst all the animals he has captured through photography, leopards fascinate him the most for their unique way of living and their uncanny hunting skills.
“Photographing in the nature and wilderness is unpredictable; nothing will go the way you want it to. It is a mixture of luck, patience, and being prepared for the moment to come. Never get disappointed and remember to have fun, enjoy the scenery and the experience. I always remind myself that there is no failure in trying; every experience, regardless good or bad, has a lesson for me in building my skills in photography.”
“A Leopard checking the area, before relocating its prey from other predators to a higher tree branch, Serengeti National Park, Tanzania” - Nikon D500, ISO: 2000, Aperture: f/6.3, Shutter Speed: 1/1600 seconds, AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR at 400mm
“Lioness having a small conflict with a male lion during mating, Seronera, Tanzania” - Nikon D500, ISO: 250, Aperture: f/5.6, Shutter Speed: 1/1250 seconds, AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR at 400mm
“D’Arnaud’s Barbet, when a bird lets me get as close as I possibly could, I take advantage of it. A slight breeze made it look very fluffy which shows beautiful details of this colorful bird, Seronera, Tanzania” - Nikon D800, ISO: 280, Aperture: f/5.6, Shutter Speed: 1/1600 seconds, AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR at 400mm
1. Never underestimate your skills, and the features of your camera. Push it up an extra notch.
2. Practice your skills with using AF-C autofocus mode, and dynamic area AF 9 points, 21points or 3D tracking, and see which works best under different situations.
3. Take advantage of the Focus Tracking with Lock On feature, especially with birds in flight. Look up how it works as it varies between older and newer Nikon models. This handy feature basically tells you how long you want your AF to keep locking onto the subject, before it refocuses.
4. Learn from experienced photographers in their field, usually those who blog constantly. It helps a lot and keeps you updated.
5. Study your camera and get familiar with your gear. Know what they are great at, and where they may lack.
Husain Alfraid has a career in Occupational Health and Safety as a safety engineer from Saudi Arabia. But his love for photography has led him to the centre of “unsafe” nature to capture wildlife in their natural states. He enjoys his adventures and always has fun photographing in the wild.