Rwanda and the Masai Mara – March 2014

2014 SAFARI ALERT

As I write this, I’m off to Tanzania to lead another exciting photo safari / workshop featuring the RUT season and all of the crazy activities that go on during the period of RUT. I described the RUT to someone the other day as the “Serengeti being awash in a sea of testosterone, with all animals fully involved.”

Before I kick this safari off, I wanted to toss out a teaser for my March 2014 trip featuring the Mountain Gorillas of Rwanda followed by several days in the wonderful Masai Mara. While I am still pulling together the final logistical details of the trip, I can share with you that we will have two full days of gorilla treking, one day of treking for the endangered Golden Monkeys, and 5 days in the Masai Mara Plains area of Kenya. The trip will be limited to 12 people and based on the interest that I have received, it will sell out fast. For those of you whom have already requested a spot on this trip, I have your name on the list and you will be the first contacted with final details.

Photographing and viewing the gorillas and monkeys, will a moving experience for all. For the photographers, it will be fast paced and some of the most technically challenging shooting that you will likely have ever undertaken. Between the complex light levels, constant motion, and thick vegetation; you will have your hands full I will be there with you to ensure you get the most out of this trip. After our daily treks, we will spend some time visiting local villages, markets, and doing some post processing or image review.

As far as the Masai Mara goes, it is a game rich area and full of action. The term sensory overload comes to mind when photographing in this incredible area. From the big five, to exhilarating cheetahs chases, we will likely see it all.

Nikon D4, 70-200mm f/2.8 @200mm, ISO 640, 1/125 sec at f/3.5, elevation 8497 ft.

Nikon D4,  70-200mm f/2.8 @ 200mm, ISO 6400, 1/125 sec at f/5.6, elevation 8435 ft

Heavy bamboo made getting a clear shoot of the fast moving monkeys one heck of a challenge.

Cheers and happy photo’ing

Mother On Guard

Elephants are one of my most favorite animals to photograph in Africa.  I think it is a combination of their sheer size, their sense of family, and the efforts that they go to in protection their young.  More importantly is the needless killing over poaching for their ivory.  With an estimated killing of more than 30 elephants per day (1), one has to wonder just how much longer we will be able to view these magnificent animals (2).  With an estimated population of 70 – 80,000 free roaming elephants in Tanzaina, the government of Tanzaina is stepping up their efforts in combating poaching.

In the image below, a mother is  protecting her exhausted calve after the young one finished playing near the side of the Tarangire River.  Almost always, the mother places herself in front of the her young, often with only the shape of the young ones partially visible to photograph.  I consider myself lucky to have captured this image.

Nikon D3x, 200-400mm f/4.0 @ 400mm, ISO 320, 1/250 sec at f/5.6; Google maps location for this image.

Tolerance

During one of my visits to the Serengeti and the Massai Mara Plains, I followed this large male lion around for a while.  While I was in hopes of getting an image with some really harsh back lighting, the sun and camera angles never really worked out.  Just before we decided to depart the area, he turned directly to me and presented me with a simple portrait. Back at the camera tent, I took a look at the image and suddenly I realized just how much pain this fellow must have been in.  Looking closely, you can see a massive amount of ticks on his face and those crazy fairly flies are biting his nose to the point that they are bringing blood.  All the time, he just sits there and takes it in stride.  And we think we have bad days?

Feb 2010  Nikon D300, 70-200mm f/2.8, ISO 250, 1/125 sec at f/10

Cheers and happy photo’ing

The Maasai Legend of the Sun and Moon

Every time I go on safari to Kenya or Tanzania I make a serious effort to spend some quality time with the Maasai, mostly the warriors.  With just a little bit of coaxing and some good ‘ole southern charm, they will open up to you and before you know it, you will soon be learning all sorts of wonderful facts and folk lore about their way of life.  For a quick and fun read giving you a glimpse into a young man’s transition from a Maasai child, to life in the western world, give Facing the Lion: Growing up Maasai on the African Savanna (National Geographic) by Joseph Lemasolai Lekuton a read.  It is a rather fast read however it is a truly amazing story about a boy growing up with his Maasai people in Kenya, and later – through incredible twists and turns in his life – comes to the United States for college, all the time never abandoning his African roots.

According to the Maasai, there is a reason why the sun is so bright, which they tell in the following folk tale:

Long ago the sun married the moon but one day they fought and the moon struck the sun on the head. Of course, the sun hit back, and damaged the moon. When they had finished fighting, the sun was so ashamed of his battered face that he became so dazzlingly bright that humans could not regard him without half-closing their eyes. The moon, however, was not in the least bit ashamed and anyone looking at her can clearly see that her mouth is cut and one of her eyes is missing.

More Wild Dog Encounters

On one of our last days with the dogs, we found them lounging around in a small open area surrounded by low brush and trees. I really wanted to walk away with a low angle shot of the dogs; sort of an image taken from a dog’s view.  Steve Carey, our guide (AKA Wild Dog Man), mentioned that he thought I could get closer to the dogs by exiting the vehicle and maintaining a very low profile as I worked my way into the bush and to the edge of the clearing.  When I asked Steve just how close he thought I  could get, he simply answered ‘you will know’  – a man of few words, that Steve.  We repositioned the truck to cover my dismount and down I went into the brush.  Ouch, Ouch I thought as I crawled on my knees to a position just forward of the outermost tree, then it was down into a low crawl position.  Between the pain of the sheeps’ head burs and the acacia thorns,  I was in a great deal of pain with my every move and thought about just  giving it up.  As I made my way to the edge of the grass, I found myself concentrating on the dogs and their interaction with his 6.2  foot guy laying in front of them holding a really large camera and lens.  The pain that was previously killing me, was no longer in my attention span.  On several occasions the inquisitive young dogs would approach me to the point that they were outside of the minimum focus of the zoom that I was using.  Below is one of the up close and personal shots of one of the dogs  taken while in this position.  I used a shallow f-stop in conjunction with minimum focus range  in an attempt to blur theforeground grass that I was shooting through. Steve Kruger is in the background (in the truck) shooting me shooting the dogs.  BTW, I was crawling on my stomach With a D3s -200-400 and a D3x – 70-200.  What a load to crawl around with and maintain a low to the ground profile and not spook the dogs.  It was another great day in the bush with the dogs.

Nikon D3s, 200-400 f/4.0 VR @ 310mm, ISO 720, f/8.0 at 1/400 sec (8:38 am)

This image was taken here.

Cheers and happy photo’ing

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

Safari Time Again

Sitting in Zurich awaiting our flight to Kenya for another wonderful safari.  This safari will focus on two locations, Lewa and Sosian.

Lewa is Lewa Wilderness Trails Lodge is located on a 60, 000 acres Lewa Wildlife Conservancy to the north on the foothill of the snow capped Mount Kenya which is Africa’s second largest Mountain.

Its topography is characteristic of mountains, rocky outcrops, acacia woods, plains and a river valley all in the immediate vicinity. Lewa Conservancy is rich in wildlife and is haven for Black Rhinos, Sitatunga – a spectacular aquatic antelope as well as the Grevy’s Zebra. Our focus at Lewa will be photographing the Rhinos.

Sosian Ranch is set amid stunning scenery and overlooks snowcapped Mount Kenya.  The old ranch house sits within the 24,000 acre working ranch on the Laikipia plateau.  The variety of habitat here, open plains to the north and dense scrublands to the south, supports plenty of game.  However, our focus on this trip is to photograph the wild dogs.  Once thought to be extinct in this area of Africa, the wild dogs have made a great come-back in this area.  Armed with tracking equipment, I am very hopeful that we will have little trouble in photographing these wonderful dogs.

While I am unsure about internet connectivity, I will try to post from the bush as much as I can.  For now, it’s off to Nairobi and the Fairview.  We will overnight at the Fairview, my all time favorite place to stay, where will be reconfigure our bags for the early morning push into bush.

Cheers and happy photo’ing.

45 Days and Counting until Safari time.

It has been a cold snowy past week (actually last week) in the Seattle area.  On the heals of this, the 48 hour flu ht me right between the eyes, just as I was planning to travel to San Diego to do some nature photography.

On my mind these days is my next safari in March.  I’m leading a private safari focusing on Wild Dogs and Rhinos in Kenya.  Operating exclusively in private conversation areas, off-roading and foot tracking will be the order of the day as we strive for outstanding up close and personal photography of these wonderful subjects.  We will also be spending time with a local Samburu Village for some wonderful travel shots.  Below is a shot from my recent trip to the Mara Plains area.  Place this in Google Earth to see where the image was taken at:

1 24.12921S, 35 8.3947E , elev 5182ft.

Drinking in the Mara

Nikon D3s, 200-400 VR @ 200mm, ISO 320, f/8 at 1/320 sec

 

Cheers and happy photoing.

2014 Photo Safari Schedule

Safaris for 2014:
1. Rwanda – Gorillas in the Mist 1 Jan thru 8 Jan  DETAILS ARE POSTED HERE. Trip completed, full trip report in draft.
2. Tanzania – The Great Migration – Feb 15-25, 2014   TRIP IS FULL
3. Chile – Torres del Paine – March 2014,  Adventure Series Only*
4. Tanzania – The Great Rut – May 31 – June 10, 2014. Some openings remain.
5. Iceland – The Land of Fire and Ice – 10-19 Aug 2014 – DETAILS ARE POSTED HERE  Strictly limited to 8 participants, 4 openings.
6. Tanzania – Fall Migration – Sept 16-25, 2014 – DETAILS ARE POSTED HERE
7. Botswana – November 13-22, 2014 – DETAILS ARE POSTED HERE.

Looking forward to 2015:
Namibia – Landscapes of a Lifetime – April or May 2015- Details will be released in March of 2014.
Tanzania – The Great Rut
Tanzania – Fall Migration
Botswana – Adventure on the River
Lots More to Come So Stay Tuned.

*Adventure Series – Open only to previous clients and those who are willing to travel in conditions that require maximum flexibility as we explore new areas.

Shallow F-Stop Usage

I almost always shoot in aperture mode, as it allows me to control the depth of field or zone of focus.  I use this technique to control what the viewer “sees” in my photograph or to call attention to a particular part of the image or to isolate the primary image from the foreground or background.  Combing this technique with the image compression of a telephoto lens, one can really start to isolate the subject.   In the image below, I used a wide open aperture on a 200-400mm zoom set at 310mm and focused just in front of  of the cheetah.  Focusing in front of the Cheetah allowed me to keep the first cat in crisp focus while allowing the second cat (only three feet behind the first one) to go past soft focus and begin the transition into the blurred background.  The result is a tact sharp cat in the foreground with a pleasing out of focus background, yet showing enough detail in the second cat to maintain interest.  Having shot with the 200-400 for a number of years, I am pretty good at guessing the hyperfocal distances (I’ll save that topic for another post) within my normal shooting ranges.  Like most shots, when you take your time and make use of your knowledge, you will increase your chances of walking away with a solid image.

Outside of the Massai Mara Plains, two brothers on alert.

Nikon D3S, 200-400mm VRII, set at 310mm, 1/320 sec, f/5.0, matrix meeting, aperture priority

Cheers and happy photo’ ing.