Zebras on the MacBook Pro - how the picture was taken

You may have seen the picture of zebras being used to demonstrate the incredible quality of Apple‘s new MacBook Pro Retina display. Here is the story behind the making of the picture, as told by the photographer that captured it. 

Steve shot this photograph on film, using a Canon EOS 1N and a Canon 70-200mm F2.8 lens

The raw smell of the earth and a lingering sense of primeval energy draw me back to the Africa of my birth. There remain some wildernesses on our planet that are especially captivating. A jewel in the desert, Botswana’s Okavango Delta is perhaps the finest of them all.

I was in the small town of Maun in Botswana, gathering photographs for my books UntamedSpirit of the Wild and  Living AfricaLight is delicate and fickle when photographing from the air, so the helicopter was booked for an early morning shoot to maximise the chances of good visibility.

I arrived at the offices of pilot Peter Perlstein for a briefing and a cup of coffee, but I already knew when I walked in that we couldn’t fly that day. Local farmers had been burning grass to prepare the soil for the planting of new crops and smoke had spread into the wilder areas of the Okavango Delta, hampering visibility. There were dark and heavy clouds in the air.

Only three days remained before I was committed to fly back home to England, so I knew we would just have to wait it out. Peter is among the most experienced of helicopter pilots, a specialist in working with photographers and film makers such as the BBC Natural History Unit.

The next two mornings came and went while visibility continued to deteriorate. There was no point in attempting to fly then because, even if I’d had the most spectacular sightings, the photographs would have looked flat and indistinct.

I had almost given up when the day of my long-haul flight home came. I knew it was my last chance to get aerial wildlife images. Miraculously, the light improved slightly and we decided to take a chance and fly. But the air traffic control centre was not due to open for another couple for hours, by which time the light may have become too harsh. So we prepared everything, went to the helicopter and waited for permission to take off.

We removed the door from the helicopter, as it was essential to get sharp pictures. The thick glass on aircraft adds a layer which has the effect of softening the image. Peter was in the front of the helicopter and I took up the entire back seat, but leaned out from the opposite side of him to give the helicopter as much balance as possible.

We took off as soon as air traffic control allowed us to and headed for the Delta. The clouds momentarily parted to let the morning light in and we found the zebras moving in the swamp. The encounter was brief. The diaphanous light faded quickly; the weather closed in behind us. The picture shows how the strong herd instinct protects each individual against predators.  After we landed, I rushed over the the public terminal at the airport and managed to catch my flight home in the nick of time.


About Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom is an internationally renowned photographer and author. He has published many titles for both adults and children. His adult books include Untamed, Living Africa and Elephant! His children's titles include his latest book My Big Cats Journal, as well as Elephants - a Book for Children and My Favourite Animal Families.

To find out more about Steve's work and to view more of his award winning photography visit Steve's site at http://www.stevebloomphoto.com.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions held by dpreview.com or any affiliated companies.

Comments

Total comments: 69
bibiki78
By bibiki78 (10 months ago)

Nice to see film getting some love!

0 upvotes
afsheenaziz
By afsheenaziz (Jul 18, 2012)

Since the caption indicates it was taken with a film camera that was made between 1995 and 2000 or so, none were digitally retrofitted, as far as I know.

0 upvotes
Chris Epler
By Chris Epler (Jul 12, 2012)

TLDR: Went to ride heli for pic, smokey, waited till end, took picture.

Not very much substance to this, or is it just me?

2 upvotes
funnelwebmaster
By funnelwebmaster (Jul 10, 2012)

Chasing zebras from a low flying helicopter to photograph them in their "natural state" hardly qualifies as much of anything other than animal harassment.
That's what I say, anyway....

1 upvote
rajivp
By rajivp (Jul 11, 2012)

Happy now?

2 upvotes
BaconBit
By BaconBit (Jul 26, 2012)

Were you born a jerk, or did you become one later in life?

2 upvotes
funnelwebmaster
By funnelwebmaster (Jul 31, 2012)

no need to get insulting, now....

1 upvote
BaconBit
By BaconBit (Aug 3, 2012)

Then stop demeaning this photographer's achievement with your personal notions of animal harassment. No living thing was harmed by this photographer's actions, so why must you be so condescending?

0 upvotes
Itai42
By Itai42 (Jul 10, 2012)

Very beautiful shot. Thanks for sharing.

2 upvotes
Manic Tuesday
By Manic Tuesday (Jul 9, 2012)

what is with all these postage stamp-sized photos? this is utterly ridiculous. the story is pointless if i can't see the photos it relates to. i even stopped reading it once i discovered the miniature pictures are not clickable.

if this guy, whatever his name is, won't let you LOOK AT his photos unless you pay him 60 to 1440 pounds than this not a guy whose pictures i want to look at.

what the hell happened to good old showing of photographs to other people? for free?

i'm surprised the stamps above aren't covered in watermarks. or maybe they are, they're just so tiny you can't even see them. ridiculous.

5 upvotes
thinkfat
By thinkfat (Jul 10, 2012)

Says the man with no photos in his gallery and zero challenge entries. yeah, right.

1 upvote
BaconBit
By BaconBit (Jul 26, 2012)

There's a decent size image right here that I can see perfectly fine. I have no idea why you need a bigger version. Do you need to inspect the blades of grass or something?

The sense of entitlement displayed here is incredible.

Comment edited 4 minutes after posting
1 upvote
GiovanniB
By GiovanniB (Jul 9, 2012)

No word about when the picture was taken? Film was still supreme until just a few years ago. Anyway, an interesting "making-of" report.

Comment edited 36 seconds after posting
2 upvotes
Superka
By Superka (Jul 9, 2012)

Film is the best for shooting zebras! No moire, no demosaic false colors on stripes, no sharpening artefacts! Digital can be used for grass only, because of many-many green pixels.

4 upvotes
Petka
By Petka (Jul 9, 2012)

Still no word about when this shot was taken. I bet it was pulled from stock, and shot before the digital era, maybe 2005 at the latest. So it is not a question of sudden film love, but something else.

2 upvotes
Dennis Linden
By Dennis Linden (Jul 9, 2012)

Since the caption indicates it was taken with a film camera that was made between 1995 and 2000 or so, none were digitally retrofitted, as far as I know.

0 upvotes
jalywol
By jalywol (Jul 9, 2012)

Both the camera and lens were introduced in 1994-95, and the IS version of the lens was released in 2001, so I would assume it was taken some time within that time frame. Nice image but not sure why Apple had to dig up a 15 year old film image for its new product....You'd think they'd have at least given lip service to digital images, since that is what their products are used to process these days....

1 upvote
thinkfat
By thinkfat (Jul 10, 2012)

Like, newer photos are better photos? Makes me wonder... What is a good photo, for you?

0 upvotes
Petka
By Petka (Jul 11, 2012)

Newer photos are not better as photographs, but certainly newest digital cameras are considerably better than even the best film. Both in dynamic range and color rendition. Not to mention high ISO and shooting speed, AF etc etc.

Nothing basically wrong with KodaChorme and Velvia, but they both are history as far as quality goes.

Still, if a film shot pulled from a stock archives looks good enough for a computer maker, I have no complaints. Some posters here seem to have an impression that somebody doing pro wildlife actually still uses film and this choice was deliberate from Apple. I strongly suspect it was just random thing, a nice picture happened to be old enough to be on film. That's all there is to it.

Comment edited 35 seconds after posting
1 upvote
ajacona
By ajacona (Jul 11, 2012)

Petka I think you're incorrect about your assumption that digital has better dynamic range and colour rendition. I shoot both and to me when shooting portraits in natural light digital can't match film in the way it retains highlight information or the way it renders skin tones and colour. There's a reason why high end wedding photographers have migrated back to film.

1 upvote
Petka
By Petka (Jul 12, 2012)

Which film has 14 stops of dynamic range, like Nikon D800 has?

0 upvotes
SiliconVoid
By SiliconVoid (Aug 1, 2012)

Stop reading DxO, push yourself away from the computer, pickup just about any brand of film you want, learn a little about photography, and you will find out which can produce greater dynamic range and color..

Photography is not about a dynamic range rating from a commercially funded website, it is color and tonal accuracy and proper exposure that alleviates the concern for super high dynamic range to begin with. The industry's focus on dynamic range isn't about what is needed for good photography, it is about what is needed to sell cameras to people who do not have proper technique. To the average user (most consumers buying digital cameras today) industry leading dynamic range is about recovery of a poorly composed and exposed digital image - not a necessity nor substitute for proper knowledge and technique.

0 upvotes
plasnu
By plasnu (Jul 9, 2012)

Nice story, thanks.

1 upvote
Superka
By Superka (Jul 9, 2012)

I tried film after DSLR, and now mostly shoot film. I just love film (both negative and slide). I'm not the only one!
Being scanned on a good scanner film can show great resolution and colors. I'm sorry Nikon has stopped the production of it Coolscans.

Comment edited 6 minutes after posting
1 upvote
thinkfat
By thinkfat (Jul 9, 2012)

The most important question remains unanswered: what film did he use?
:-)

3 upvotes
Superka
By Superka (Jul 9, 2012)

It was slide film. No matter what slide, all slides are great.

3 upvotes
RichardAB
By RichardAB (Jul 9, 2012)

What a great shot. As with so many other photos that stand out, the background story is one of patience and determination on the part of the photographer.

It proves, yet again, photographers take great shots, not cameras.

5 upvotes
Mark Kneen
By Mark Kneen (Jul 9, 2012)

So, let's get this right. Take away all the journo fluff and "how the picture was taken" can be summarised by; hire a helicopter (with someone else doing the skilful bit) and get them to fly low enough to scare the bejeezus out of some wild animals and take some pictures - preferably not through the plexiglass coz that will mess it up a bit. Great, well done.

21 upvotes
acidic
By acidic (Jul 9, 2012)

I thought this was DIGITAL Photography Review? (emphasis added). Why in the hell is a film shot featured here?

0 upvotes
viking79
By viking79 (Jul 9, 2012)

If you can see it on your monitor the image is in digital form.

17 upvotes
Dennis Linden
By Dennis Linden (Jul 9, 2012)

Agreed, at some point the film became a digital image.

0 upvotes
Itai42
By Itai42 (Jul 10, 2012)

film was then digitized and used to show off one fantastic monitor which you probably thought was very relevant to this site... are you wondering which scanner he used to scan the slides from that trip?

0 upvotes
Karl Gnter Wnsch
By Karl Gnter Wnsch (Jul 9, 2012)

How ironic that the Macbook Pro Retina Display as it is currently used is useless for editing photos as you either can have a sharp picture but impossibly small control elements and unreadable menus or usable control elements but an upscaled picture which isn't rendered sharply...

3 upvotes
fmian
By fmian (Jul 9, 2012)

Interfaces will have to be changed to accommodate the high res screen, which will happen over time.
What irks me more is the fact that this is being marketed to the photographic professional, yet does not even cover the entire sRGB colour space and has a glossy coat on the screen. More marketing brainwashing. Same with the iMac screens. Just low end 8-bit IPS panels.

1 upvote
John P.
By John P. (Jul 9, 2012)

I'll stick with the non-retina display Macbook pro.

1 upvote
xcentricphoto
By xcentricphoto (Jul 9, 2012)

have you used a Pro with retina display? it's designed to give greater detail at same nominal resolution - so (for apps engineered for it) it doesn't simply make control elements smaller.

5 upvotes
Dennis Linden
By Dennis Linden (Jul 9, 2012)

The display is phenomenal, viewing images is phenomenal, editing within the limits of a laptop is phenomenal... if you have never used it, why express your negative opinion?

3 upvotes
hcms
By hcms (Jul 11, 2012)

I think fmian has a point there, although I have to ask, on desktop models we know there are high quality brands like Eizo Nec or Lacie producing the best monitors money can buy for the pros, and the typical mac is quite far behind, however on the laptop market I don't know if there even is any monitor matching (or even getting close ) to those products. Someday I'll have to buy one so I can edit pics "on the fly" and the best i've seen are macbook pros and sony vaios, are there better ones?

0 upvotes
fmian
By fmian (Jul 11, 2012)

Dennis Linden: Not sure if you are replying to me or not, but I have a gen 3 ipad that I bought specifically for the high PPI count to use as a digital portfolio. Even though I shoot film.
High pixel density screens are long overdue in the consumer and pro market, and it's true that it brings us closer to print quality viewing. Having said that, colour is also of vital importance to serious photographers, so when a product is touted as being aimed for that market segment, but so conveniently disregards any mention of colour accuracy, then I see that as marketing deception. If a manufacturer truly makes a product that is worthy of pro use, then it is up to their marketing department to educate and inform their customer base on the merits of the product.
When a product does not meet said pro requirements, but they will want to market to that segment, then important info will be left out and consumers will be misled.

1 upvote
fmian
By fmian (Jul 11, 2012)

cont.
The result? Paid people in the industry who don't know what they are doing, and when things are pointed out to them, respond with 'Oh, it's meant to look like that.' Really? That white plate is meant to look orange? etc.
I've come across plenty of people like this. From pro wedding photographers, to photography teachers.

1 upvote
fmian
By fmian (Jul 11, 2012)

HCMS:
Asus, Dell and HP also make decent panels under the $1000 mark that display a much wider gamut than any Apple screen.
Sony made a ~16" laptop a few years ago with a semi high pixel density, and it covered 98% of the Adobe RGB space. ie 10-bit.
They make nothing like that now however. I guess when pros are buying into macs on the basis of the 'Guy at the mac store told me it was best for photo editing' then consumer buying patterns dictate what tech we have on the market, and what gets shelved.

1 upvote
BaconBit
By BaconBit (Jul 26, 2012)

You show a deep misunderstanding of how these computers actually work. Wonderful job.

0 upvotes
brunobarolo
By brunobarolo (Jul 9, 2012)

Steve Bloom has proven to be a renowned photoshopper. So I would never look at his great images without a grain of salt.

3 upvotes
adiprcike
By adiprcike (Aug 16, 2012)

I think this image is fabulous.

0 upvotes
ronandroscoe
By ronandroscoe (Jul 9, 2012)

I think chasing frightened animals from airplanes and helicopters sucks.

24 upvotes
skimble
By skimble (Jul 9, 2012)

you think to much, just forget about other creatures feeling like they did in the early days when they gave big praise to the great white hunter when they hung up their trophy on the wall.
But good suggestion to may use a balloon next time but they may don;t run in total fear ;-)

1 upvote
oysso
By oysso (Jul 9, 2012)

well it is not very nice doing nature photography like that. All nature photographers should try to get their shots without impacting too much on the life they want to photograph.
But that shot is unfortunately not easy to get without using helicopter. I hope some make silent helicopters for nature lovers soon.....

1 upvote
dpjoe1
By dpjoe1 (Jul 9, 2012)

Skimble,

I like the balloon idea. Then we'll know that the photographers will be scared as hell not the zebras. Sounds fair. You can take my picture if you respect me, and have the patience, and balls to travel by balloon over an African jungle.

2 upvotes
Chris Epler
By Chris Epler (Jul 12, 2012)

Your post scared my cat, you're an evil person who sucks.

1 upvote
BaconBit
By BaconBit (Jul 26, 2012)

I'm sure you've NEVER frightened any animal in your entire life...

0 upvotes
boarman
By boarman (Jul 9, 2012)

awesome background story to a great image.. Thanks for sharing without your commentary - no one would know the efforts involved in getting such a shot. The timing, the planning, the blind luck.

0 upvotes
Jolon
By Jolon (Jul 9, 2012)

What film was used?

7 upvotes
BBViet
By BBViet (Jul 9, 2012)

What a clever way to promote a product (new Macbook). The title itself makes it kind of obvious.

0 upvotes
Petka
By Petka (Jul 9, 2012)

When was the shot taken, 16 MegaPixels ago?

3 upvotes
Peiasdf
By Peiasdf (Jul 9, 2012)

Do you have a full res (5mp) picture of the above photo?

3 upvotes
tongki
By tongki (Jul 9, 2012)

this is how a professional do the job,
perfect gear, perfect tools (chopter) and perfect moments

EOS 1N is the latest EOS film, right ?
this one with the eye focus system ?

0 upvotes
Redteg94
By Redteg94 (Jul 9, 2012)

No the 1v was the latest. The 1n was the previous model with only 5 point AF. Shows you don't need much fancy if you know what you're doing. Though af wasn't critical here

1 upvote
tongki
By tongki (Jul 9, 2012)

EOS do have great AF technology that time right ?
eye controlled focus, I forget the brand name,
which EOS series has this feature then ?

the image we seen here are reproduced using negative scanner, then ?

0 upvotes
fmian
By fmian (Jul 9, 2012)

The EOS 5 has eye focusing. Not sure about other models.
The feature pretty much sucks though. I've turned it off on my camera.

0 upvotes
Woody W.
By Woody W. (Jul 9, 2012)

The EOS 1N, while the best-in-class of its time, is several generations old even by film standards. It predates the eye-controlled focus capability of the EOS 5, 3, and the various Elan II and 7 -series bodies. This is all about the skill of the photographer, and the equipment managing to not get in the way. :)

As to the film, I'd guess it was a nice positive media, suitable to nature work, like the Fuji Velvia family.

0 upvotes
Kwick1
By Kwick1 (Jul 9, 2012)

Nice to see film getting some love!

6 upvotes
Rowbear
By Rowbear (Jul 9, 2012)

It sure is a nice shot :)

2 upvotes
fmian
By fmian (Jul 9, 2012)

replied to wrong comment.

Comment edited 3 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
ryansholl
By ryansholl (Jul 9, 2012)

Of all the news to place on the homepage of Digital Photography Review, what is chosen is about a photo taken on film.

Comment edited 22 seconds after posting
4 upvotes
Barney Britton
By Barney Britton (Jul 9, 2012)

It's an excellent picture, used in the promotion of a high-profile device aimed at digital photography professionals - it's relevant :)

7 upvotes
Alec
By Alec (Jul 9, 2012)

I remember only a few years ago, at the dawn of digital photography, how the pundits carrying the first DSLRs were talking about "film equivalence" of 2...6 megapixel cameras.

How ironic is it that we have the film image chosen to show off the amazing sharpness of the retina display.

6 upvotes
Woody W.
By Woody W. (Jul 9, 2012)

Yeah, and I was blowing the "Film Rules" folks away with 6mp EOS D60 images. Great fun!

1 upvote
bossnas
By bossnas (Jul 14, 2012)

All this talk of megapixels is totally missing the point. The beauty of using film goes way beyond megapixels. If you love the look of film and the tactile experience of using it and the HUGE variety of cameras and formats to choose from then there isn't a digital camera on the planet that can compete. Faking the look of film with software is just that, fake.

0 upvotes
Keith Golon
By Keith Golon (Jul 18, 2012)

Well.. nearly everything today is cropped'n'shopped, especially advertisements and fashion magazines. So why not a little fake film grain thrown in for good measure?

Now, I find this to not be aesthetically pleasing photo. The lower left corner shows a lot of turbulent & violent motion happening in a hurry. They could have done better.

I'm sure I've seen the ad and photo before, but it is un-memorable and I'm only commenting because I'm testing out a new keyboard! G'night!

0 upvotes
Total comments: 69