Wild Dogs of Sossian – First Encounter

I recently led a photo safari to the Lewa and Sossian areas, both in Kenya. Located in the the middle of literally nowhere with the nearest village some 2.5 hours drive from our camp, the Laikipia Conservation Area is the place to see and photograph wild dogs in Eastern Africa. Until some 4 or 5 years ago, the dogs were thought to be extinct in this region. Now a number of packs are making a wonderful come back in this conservation area. Under the back county guidance and expert tracking skills of Steve Carey, these dogs can be located and photographed (with some luck). Once located, the photography can range from easy to very challenging, all depending upon light and brush conditions. The dogs run or are active very early in the morning and again late afternoon, often after sundown.  Every image has a story, so here is the story associated with the image below.

We had been tracking the dogs for two days, with little photographic opportunities.  While we spotted them midday on day two, they had moved to a river bed far below our access road later in the afternoon, offering little chance of good a good photograph.  We positioned ourselves along a road above the river bank so we could maintain visual contact. Our thought was that they would cross the road, either behind us or in front of us, as they began to move for the evening hunt. With any luck, we could reposition the truck to take advantage of their movement, all before the last light. With the sun now below the ridge line and only atmospheric reflected light, I knew any photos taken at this point would require a very high ISO if I had any hope of a capture. I let out a deep sigh after taking a meter reading off of some nearby grass. Ouch – an ISO of 12,800 might work if my shutter speed was low. Shooting with my Nikon 200-400 f/2.8 VR, I knew I would be facing a potential vibration or focus issues due to lens movement. A few minutes went by and suddenly the dogs sprang into action, heading up the hill. Within a minute, it begin to look like they would cross directly behind us. We decided to not move the truck, in hopes that the dogs might come to us. Shooting to the rear of the truck, a tripod would not work and would take more time to set up than I had.  Here they come, and man were they moving fast.  I now have only a few seconds to make an exposure decision and move into a shooting position. I fell over the spare tire and wedged myself between the spare and the side roll cage support for a shooting platform.  As forcefully as I could, I crammed by arm and elbow into my chest and supported my 200-400 the best I could.  As the last of the light left the road, two young dogs appeared on the road and walked directly toward us, as if they owned the truck. I was able to take two shots before the dogs spun around and disappeared into the grass and on up the hill.  With the low light conditions that I was shooting in, I knew in my heart that the shots were going to be worthless and full of blur. When I looked at the images after I returned from the trip, I was very pleasantly surprised: tack sharp – and our first photo experience with the dogs. The remainder of the trip was filled with more imagery of the dogs and a truly unique experience.  Thank you Steve Carey and my travel partner, Steve Kruger.

Nikon D3s, 200-400 VR f/2.8 @ 400mm,  f/5.6@ 1/30 sec,  ISO 12,800

This image was taken here.

Cheers and happy photo’ing