Thursday, October 20, 2011

Photographing Kenya

I have just returned from hosting 30 days of safaris. The majority of time was spent in the predator rich Maasai Mara in Southern Kenya but I also “slipped away” with the Diskin family to Lake Nakuru and Bogoria where we caught up with thousands of Pelicans and flamingos before setting off to the stunningly beautifull and drier northern reserves of Buffalo Spring and Samburu. In stead of doing the normal “we went there and saw that” bit, I decided to share some thoughts on the actual photography that happened on these action packed days.

So if you would forgive a somewhat lengthy post here are some of my admittedly personal views on how to make the most of your east African trip.

Being so well known for its predators its understandable that most people would like to concentrate on the cats. The open horizons and abundant predators of the area allows photographers to get classic images of the big cats.

This year the wildebeest have depleted the grass which made for great Serval viewing. For Southern Africans it’s a great treat to photograph the ever elusive Servals and during our time there we managed no less than 5 individual sightings of these cats. So the above two images are almost standard Mara sightings and can be bagged quite easily.

Now for the first trap and one I fall in way too regularly. Going in too tight. As you can see from the first two images its just too easy to go in too tight. In order to try and capture the essence of the Mara one must go wide. Its difficult enough seeing these highly endangered animals in the first place let alone seeing them out in the open. So to show its unusual open surroundings I opted for the pano.

Two lionesses sleeping in a tree was quite an unusual sight and knowing that they would start getting active at around sunset we waited it out. Again the wider angle proved more rewarding as tight shots of them in a tree would fail to convey a true sense of space. And it only took two hours wait for one minute of action!!

Speaking of patience! We spent another afternoon waiting for two male cheetah to wake up only to have the sun set on their innate bodies. On our way back we serendipitously stumbled on this fantastic scene. The last remaining sunlight streaming into the valley to illuminate this Black Bellied Bustard. Sheer luck that the bird decided to stretch at exactly the right time. Despondent as we were after the cheetahs, if we had packed away our gear we would have missed one of the most photogenic scenes of the trip.

Which brings me to the next point. Everyone is always so determined to capture the big cats on camera that they drive away from other interesting scenes. I am of the opinion that a picture of Impala in good light far outweighs a lion or leopard image in harsh or poor light. So make the most of any subject when the light is good especially in this case when two animals are engaged in interesting behavior.

My favourite is the soft back lighting one gets during the very first and last minutes of the day. If applying the principle of utilizing good light, before long ones luck changes and you do in fact find the more interesting subjects, in this case a group of foraging Bat eared foxes, another favourite of mine.

Lion portraits though are of course hugely popular and even though it has been done millions of times it still remains a hit. Here positioning is key. Due to the fact that most guests are shooting from a vehicle the vast majority of portraits are shot down into the background. In this case the lion was lying on an elevated piece of ground while a storm developed in the background. All features that would help create a great portrait. Prefocussing on the male and checking exposure while just waiting for something to happen allowed for this portrait.

Light is of course everything in Photography and many people pack their gear away once the sun sets. With today’s technology photographers can photograph well into the dusky evenings. We also made full use of the fact that one can get out of your car in Lake Nakuru National park to get this image of a Great White Pelican at eye level.

Amongst the many appealing factors of the north of Kenya is the unique array of wildlife of the area. And because we have been photographing predators in the Mara the week prior to this trip we could concentrate on the unique animals of Samburu such as this highly unusual Gerenuk. So in stead of repeating the usual pictures of animals encountered all over Africa, research an area before your safari and focus (excuse the pun!) on the specials.

And then much to our surprise we caught up with Africa’s second most endangered carnivore. African Wilddogs hunting Gunthers Dik-dik in the late afternoon! No one could see this one coming.

Back in the Mara for the last two weeks of exclusive safaris I caught up with Shem and Greg where we discussed at length how to up ones game in photography. One of the topics was how to capture the essence of an animal. Jokingly we decided it should be the leopard. So whether we succeeded or not here is the best that I would manage?

For any wildlife photographer, animal behaviour is key. And there is very little one can do but do your best to predict what an animal is going to do and be ready to capture the scene as it unfolds. This lioness was seen carrying a cub no more than a few days old to a new den site. Anticipating that she may have more stowed away we positioned the vehicles in the correct spot and waited. We didn’t have to wait long before she went to fetch the next two. All we had to do was sit, enjoy the sighting….and of course photograph like crazy. A most fitting end to a very exciting safari. See you in the sticks.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Sabi Sands Wildlife Photography Workshop

Nothing beats daybreak in the bush.

For the past few months we at Africa Unlocked have presented the very popular C4 Images and Safaris wildlife photographic courses in Hoedspruit in the Lowveld. This past weekend we have had the wonderful opportunity to host the course on a private concession in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve adjoining the Kruger National Park, an area encompassing more than 2 million hectares! This acclaimed region didn’t disappoint as within the first two game drives we managed to log up all of the big five!! Quite a feat considering the course only officially started on the Saturday morning, well after our second game drive!

A group of White Rhinos mud wallowing in perfect light.

It’s always such a pleasure hosting likeminded and very enthusiastic photographers and from my side a huge thank you to you all who made the stay in the “Sands” so enjoyable. In order to maintain our high level of personal attention all future courses will be limited to small groups only.

The apex of any safari - An elusive leopard only metres away from the vehicle.

Night drives creates the perfect platform to view the big cats in action.

Some comments from the participants:

The course was very educational and I found the subjects help full. The course material was also very use full afterwards.
The instructor has excellent knowledge of the subject. - David Bertram

The course was very educational and I found the subjects helpfull. The course material was also very use full afterwards and the instructor has excellent knowledge of the subject. - Christiaan Willemse
I can honestly say that the course was very helpful especially the following subjects:1. Light and types of light helped me a lot2. Different functions of the camera especially when shooting a fast moving subject3. I learnt a lot about the camera that I use, functions that I never knew exist or have never used before - Neels de Kock

We will be hosting another course during the first weekend of April. Click here for more details or contact us directly for more info and to secure your place.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Praying Mantis Eating Spider

Some birds are supposed to eat spiders and spiders eat insects, right? Well seems like they don’t always follow the rules. After witnessing a very unique scenario almost a year ago of a spider eating a bird I thought it was quite interesting yesterday to witness another instance of this spider in an example of predation. Unfortunately this time the poor arachnid was the one being scoffed by a very ambitious Praying Mantis. So there you, go another example albeit on a small scale, of the complete opportunism of predators.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Coypu. An alien in East Africa

Who has ever heard of a Coypu? I certainly haven’t. This water dwelling rodent originates from South America. It was introduced to Kenya for the fur trade in the 1050’s and, guess what, they escaped. Now they are digging up river bank and dams and eating away reedbeds and other aquatic vegetation. It is also thought that they may have been responsible for the periodic collapse of Lake Naivasha’s waterplants. It’s not only in Africa where feral populations exist but also in many other parts of the world. This is a habituated animal which I was able to get close enough to photograph with a wide angle. I wanted to capture, without sounding overly emotional or anthropomorphic, the essence of what so often happens. An almost sad looking creature just doing what it’s intended to do, yet with man’s influence it became unwanted in a foreign country far from its native home.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Make hay while the sun isn't shining

Intricate patterns in a tree frogs eye.

Here are a few pics from around my local patch, Mariepskop, in the Lowveld Drakensberg. Over the past few weeks it has been raining heavily, normally a time to put the camera away and, well, wait for better weather. But its also a time when numerous other creatures make an appearance. So I got out the camera to see what I could can find in the garden.

An excuisite Leaf Mantis in the forest undergrowth.

A painted Reed-Frog clambering about.

Perched on a branch, a Grey Tree-frog or Foam-nest frog.