Friday, October 21, 2011

Photographing Kenya - Albie Venter

I have just returned from hosting 30 days safaris for C4 Images and 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 beautiful 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.


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Your daily dose of C4 Masai Mara action, continued...

This year C4 is leading photo tours in the Masai mara for 35 consecutive days.
Being extremely excited about being in this wonderful place, we want to share some of the excitement with you. For that reason we we will be sending you updates direct to this blog from the open plains on a daily basis.
Posts will be via a variety of mediums: short videos, iphone photos and DSLR photos all taken by our C4 guides and our clients.
In them, we hope to share some of Natures spectacle with you and give you an idea of what travelling with C4 Images and Safaris is all about.

Have a look at our Mara teaser video clip here.

15 October

The last day is always a bitter sweet day. You never know what to expect nor what you may leave behind. We saw a lot, 3 sets of lions and the 2 month old cubs of one pride.

But in all our minds, we were absorbing more than photographing. It is the end of the tour, but the beginning of the editing fun.

So ends 35 days in the Mara. The mind is stronger than the camera for me and I recall back on a great season for C4 Images and Safaris in the Mara. I will be back again this year, but for now, its goodbye and good memories.

14 October

Our last full day in the Mara- and what a day… Each year on my last day I have a memorable sighting, and this year was no different.

2009- it was three cheetah playing endlessly across the plains. 2010 it was seeing the famous cheetah and her 6 cubs for the first time she had brought them out into the open. 2011- it gets even better… a lioness carrying her new born cubs across the plains! We were in the core area of the Lions territory and luckily one of our vehicles spotted her carrying the first cub. With only the C4 Images and Safaris group there, we watched as she carried 2 more tiny cubs across the plains and into some croton bushes. Adrenaline was flowing, words were few and many a LCD was checked in anxious fervour!

I cant say much more than that other than a cheetah shaking off water was the highlight of the afternoon. But heading back to camp in the afternoon we could only manage one recollection from the day- and that was seeing the tender loving care of a lioness with a tiny cub in her mouth.

13 October

Lions playing in the Talek Riverbed, elephants playing on the plains and cheetah hunting a Tommie. What a morning! The cheetah hunt was one of the best I have witnessed. She conned the tommies into running along a rocky ridge and then accelerated across the plains and cut them off in one smooth dash of speed and grace. What a Sight!

The afternoon was spent photographing sprinting zebra and wildebeest trying to cross the Talek River. However, they were thwarted by lions who were eating one of their kin in the river bed- so no crossing action, but we did get some lions playing. The last hour of the day was spent watching an elephant herd cross right in front of us. Such an amazing feeling.

12 October

A jackal with its own buffalo kill was our first sight in the morning. Of course it hadn’t killed the buffalo, but it was guarding it as such! Then a secretary bird posed for us beautifully; ruffling out its feathers in its morning preen. This led us down to Lookout area where we watched herds gathering along the Mara River. In the afternoon we headed to see if we could see a crossing. Instead of actually crossing, the beasts started running madly to and fro in a mad rush. Of course this got our cameras really going and we had great fun trying out all the panning techniques that one can use.

After the fun we headed home…, only to stopped by a serval cat in beautiful golden light. we stayed with her right until the last rays of light and let her continue hunting on her way.

What a way to end another day in the Mara!

11 October

Hardly time for a blog today- it was action stations all the way.

Crossings, full moon rising, lions galore, jackal pups playing, massive mara skies and elephants in the greenest grass you can imagine. Enjoy!

10 October

Male lions are imposing animals. When they are walking across the open plain with a warthog kill at dawn they are not just imposing, but dominating! As we headed out of camp at 06h05 we had saw the famous notch dragging his prey, providing us with some serious action before we had even woken up properly…

From there it was hyena pups, secretary bird, tiny lion cubs and then a cheetah on a mound.

For the afternoon we headed south on our own private safari where we photographed giraffe suckling with wide-angle lenses and finally found a cheetah in perfect afternoon light. The whole afternoon we spent on our own- with no other vehicles around us, enjoying the silence and solitude of the Mara. When you know the place like we do, this is very possible in the Mara!

9 October

We decided to check on the three leopards again this morning and, lo and behold, they were where we left them. In one instance, the male walked right through shafts of golden morning light towards us. A perfect start to the day.
We then found the Rekero pride playing in the morning sun and followed them down to the Talek River, where to our surprise, out popped the tiny 2 month old cubs of their one female. We watched and photographed them playing in an open glade before heading back for breakfast.

I found a beautiful old elephant bull in the afternoon which entertained our cameras with some wide angle images. This was just before we found the Entim pride of lions and had a choice between Notch (pride male) or the cubs with their mother. We chose the cubs and then watched in glee as they played and pranced around at a furious pace- giving us some excellent action photography! Of course the way home was a sea of colour and we had to quickly stop and catch the last rays as they disappeared over the Ollololo escarpment.

8 October
Our plan was to head directly to the hyena den for some good images of the pups sunning themselves at the den. However, along the way we encountered not one, not two, but three leopards all together! Being in the park we had the first part of the sighting all to ourselves and we marvelled at the interaction between the male, the mother and her cub. The photography was fast and furious too, with some great images had. We left them when a few vehicles came and we had had the best of the sighting- only to bump into the rekero pride playing on an open hilltop. We stayed with them until they walked into the shade of their core area- only to be greeted to three tiny cubs! These were the cubs of the female who caught the gnu at the river crossing 2 days ago. They were tiny fluffs of fur and gave us 4 minutes of their life before retreating back into the bush. Cheetah (the two brothers: the third brother died on Saturday of a snake bite and so the legend of the 3 brothers comes to an end) stopped our onward progression and before we knew it, it was time for breakfast and we had not even managed to get to the hyena den… Such if a morning in the Mara!

The afternoon we watched the leopard feeding on a carcass before seeing the two brothers again, three caracal and finally at sunset a serval cat. Again, being in the park we could stay with the cat till it was completely dark, watching it hunt and pounce quietly through the thickets. Another amazing day of sightings comes to an end!

7 October
50 hyenas fighting at dawn. That is what we woke up to. We thought it was over a dead buffalo that had been bellowing the night before, but rather, it was over a wildebeest. The sounds attracted us and we watched in awe the strategies of fighting and chasing each other away. This is one of the best natural history sightings I have seen in a while. On their own, the sounds were just simply amazing!

This day was a real showstopper- with cheetah and cub found shortly after the hyenas, some wide-angle elephant work over a beautiful sunset sky, hyena pups- so tiny they were still black- at the den and lastly an amazing sighting of a black rhino out in the open. The leviathan gave us a great show by chasing a hyena away right in front of us- a brilliant end to a brilliant day.

6 October

We are on the third full day of our Mara exclusive tour, where our clients are personally being driven by Shem, Albie and Greg. Not only are the clients being positioned by professional wildlife photographers, but with their 21 combined seasons of experience in the Mara, they have access to some of the best knowledge of the Masai Mara in Africa.

And then they crossed. The wildebeest moved back towards us and we had a crossing all to ourselves in the late afternoon. The unexpected happened though- a lioness - with tiny cubs nearby- hunted the wildebeest in the riverbed,c attaching a yearling gnu. She scattered beasts everywhere and caused one of the most action packed scenes Ive witnessed in a while!
The rest of the day was a mix of time with buffalo, finding 5 male lions at dawn, good portraits of general animals and then the action of the crossing.
in bed tucked into our blankets, we heard the lions fighting a buffalo right outside camp… the sounds of it bellowing were amazing. now to see what the morning brings us…

5 October
We are on the second full day of our Mara exclusive tour, where our clients are personally being driven by Shem, Albie and Greg. Not only are the clients being positioned by professional wildlife photographers, but with their 21 combined seasons of experience in the Mara, they have access to some of the best knowledge of the Masai Mara in Africa.

The day started by finding a hyena feeding on a freshly killed wildebeest carcass. Naturally, backlighting was the first type of lightings and we caught the first light of golden rays hitting the hyena. Being inside the park means we can be out on the open plains way before any of the other camps, allowing us to find a subject and then set up for the best light available.

From there it was off to see a leopard, jackal pups playing and then two more sets of lions- one a group of males chasing some younger lions away and then the Marsh pride. If you follow the action in the Mara, you will have heard that there has been a pride takeover in the Marsh Pride and that Clawed is now on his deathbed. The 3 new males have been chasing the younger males of the marsh pride all over Topi plains for the last couple of days: serious action indeed.

The afternoon we found both the rekero and entim prides. With the massive thunderstorm approaching, some excellent images of the lions with slate grey backgrounds were had. A potential crossing got the lions and us excited, but this turned to nought. However, on the way back to camp we stumbled across a serval out hunting. This was the highlight of the day: as we watched it pouncing in the grass. Of course, we were all alone, as all the other vehicles had to be outside the park a long time ago. I suppose you get what you pay for…

4 October

The day started with backlit zebra and ended with one of the most fierce storms I have seen in years. The storm lashed our vehicle, rocking it from side to side- but being true photographers, we found something to photograph in the rain. In true Mara fashion, the rain ended in 30 minutes and cleared to leave a beautiful sunset sky that would have had most landscape photographers running amok!

The in between parts of the day were filled with hyenas at the den, jackal pups, fighting hyenas at a kill and watching ostriches court. The last activity is one that would give Swan lake a run for its money in terms of choreography! Enjoy and chat soon!

Client Images

A few more client images taken on last weeks tour. These are all by Aaron Burstein.

2 October

The first afternoon with our new group led us out along the ol kesho Rongai river- one of the best places in the Mara for finding your own sighting. Indeed we had elephant herds to ourselves, excellent birding and then finally the lion cubs of the entim pride at sunset. Just as we were heading home, we spotted the others of the pride waking up and against the setting sun, we listened to them roar for a full 5 minutes. What an introduction to a new safari!

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