Thursday, December 13, 2012

Children in the Wilderness

Take 3 minutes today to watch how these children are gaining real life experiences of nature that would not happen if it were not for the Children in the Wilderness program. We are happy to have helped in some small way via the C4 Images and Safaris' underground photo hide at Mashatu Game Reserve. It is very inspiring to see the amazement that children get from being so close to these animals. Long may it continue. The underground hide provided some amazing sightings and experiences for these children visiting Mashatu. We are proud to help such a great project and cause and glad it could provide real world experiences with nature. Enjoy this excellent video and please do have a look at Children in the Wilderness' page and website.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Trip Report: Masai Mara October 2012

Words and images by C4 client, Willem Kruger. What an amazing trip! That is all I can say about our trip with Albie Venter and Greg du Toit (organised by C4Image-safaris) to the Masaai Mara. Words cannot really describe the experience but hopefully my photos would be able to tell some of the stories. Therefore, I am not going to write too many words – just enjoy the journey with me.
Even though we arrived in Kenya a day late for the photographic safari due to our previous committed weekend trip to Giants Castle in the Drakensberg, it was still another experience of a life-time. Some people will ask: “The Masaai Mara and the migration/crossings in October?” Well, like it is put on C4’s website and how true it was: “We have booked this specific date, later in the season when all the tourist traffic has reduced yet the migration is still the Mara.” I’ve decided not to do this trip report according to what we did every day but rather looking at the type of photographic opportunities we’ve encountered and experienced. Therefore, just the following details on our daily routine. Wake-up around 05H00, to start the morning drive around 06H00 before sunrise. Looking for some interesting photo opportunities with the rising sun and every day we were not disappointed. After the initial early morning photo shoot, it was driving around looking and listening for some interesting sighting. Around 10H00 we’ll stop for a picnic breakfast. After breakfast we’ll slowly make our way back to camp for a nice lunch (around 13H00) and a relaxing early afternoon downloading the photos onto our laptops or doing some macro photography. Afternoon tea was at 15H00 and back onto the vehicles again around 15H15 looking for some action. Just to return around 18H30 (just after sunset but not yet dark) at camp for a relaxing time around the fire, a photo and lecture session by Albie or Greg regarding their experiences with wildlife photography. Great sessions, guys and thanks again. Now, let’s start with the early morning photo opportunities and here are a few examples – I’ve struggled with it as it was not easy to get the shots and the post-processing was even more difficult. But Albie was always available to assist and to advise.
The next photo opportunity was the serval (Tierboskat). Twice during our stay we had the unique opportunity to take some (very close-up) photos a serval. On the first day after a rain shower on our way back to camp – the serval was just walking slowly through the grass, very relaxed. The second encounter was on Day 5 – also in the afternoon – and it was hunting. Wow, what an experience!! Here are some of the photos- the hunt was unfortunately underneath some bushes in a grassy area. Nevertheless, the experience was – again – once in a life time.
How about some of the shots taken around the camp area? I was lucky with this shot as my wife directed me towards this Burchell’s Starling with its catch while we were waiting to leave on our afternoon drive. I think this is the first time I’ve taken a photo with my 600mm shooting without any support – “handheld” with success – as there wasn’t time to look for any type of support. Just a quick aim and shoot before it took off with its lunch. Not easy taking a shot with a heavy 600mm handheld.
There were some many opportunities for some macro photography around the camp – like this chameleon Albie brought to our attention. Unfortunately we didn’t use all the opportunities but we got a few shots of the chameleon with the assistance of some flash light (another first for me – macro photography with a flash light.
One cannot leave the Mara without a landscape photo or two. We experienced rain during our first few afternoons and this type of weather creates beautiful landscape scenes like this one
During this particular afternoon we did not see any major activities, so we’ve asked Pedro (our local guide with Albie) to pose for a photo or two and we practised (once again) our photography skills with fill-in flash.
And not to forget the tree(s) of the Masaai Mara – or the absence of the trees:
Next up is the big cats – the cheetah and the lions. First the cheetah mom and her cub kept us entertained for hours. Even jumping up the vehicle of Greg’s group looking for a possible hunting opportunity. The photo below was taken in the rain and the light conditions were horrible – just to show the potential of the Nikon D3S camera to handle high ISO levels. I did not use any noise reduction whatsoever in the development of this photo.
We were also very fortunate to meet the famous Marsh pride of lions – for those who followed the “Big cat diaries” series on TV. The two pubs below are part of this famous price – unfortunately no signatures up for grabs.
And on the last afternoon – lions feeding on a wildebeest carcass and this lady had some trouble with the flies.
And next up what this trip is all about but we did not expect to see many – but we were hoping to experience it – the migration and the crossings. How lucky can one be!!! I am not really going to comment but just to say we saw about four crossings during our stay of which three happened next to our camp (about 300m to walk to the river and enjoy the spectacular scenes). One crossing lasted for about 1 hour and after 45 minutes of shooting (about 1000 photos), I’ve just decided to put down the camera and enjoy the moment. First the gathering on the other side of the river banks – I’ve never seen so many wildebeests together. They were all over the place – as far as the eye can see – full 180 degrees
Then the dust as the wildebeests started to move down to the river.
And then the crossing itself – I saw it several times on TV but this was my first real experience. And I did not realise it was so chaotic. The wildebeests and zebras swimming across the river and some turning back, others still undecided what to do. And then there were the lions as well taking advance of this chaotic situation catching a wildebeest or two. Luckily (but not so lucky for us as photographers) the crocs were just lying there sleeping – not bothered by the crossing).
And I wanted to capture the emotion of the crossing with some close-up shots. See and decide for yourself
Another successful trip organised by the wife (she is the photographer in the family – I am just tagging along), thanks Liefie. What an experience. I’ve already entered some of these photos into competitions as well as national & international salons and I’ve received a few acceptances along the line. There are some many great shots taken during this trip – this is just a small selection of those I liked. Message to take home: In the past few months I came to realise: It is not just about photography or getting THE one and only shot. It is all about enjoying the moment as well as enjoying what Mother Nature is offering us. One needs to relax and enjoy Nature around us. This is now my second trip with C4Image-safaris and during both trips I had the same experience. This time Albie and Greg made me to – once again – realise there is more to photography than just getting the shot. It is all about the experience of getting the shot. It is all about learning about nature and not only about the shot itself (the photo is just a bonus). The reason why I’ve put down my camera during one of the crossings and just enjoying/living the moment. Until my next trip (Mokala – November 2012), keep on shooting


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Masai Mara Migration Safari Images

C4 clients, Paul Vorster and Barbara Jensen recently joined on our Masai Mara exclusive safari. Below is a collection of images taken by them. Read more about our 2013 Exclusive Mara photo safari here.


Friday, November 23, 2012

Serengeti Lamai

The most commonly associated aspect of the serious visitor to the Masai Mara is the vehicle traffic. Unless you know where specifically to go to or go out of season you will encounter vehicle traffic in the Masai Mara like no other wildlife place in Africa.
What may people don’t realise though, is just south of the border lies the Serengeti. Also just south of the border, the Mara River turns to an east-west direction before flowing into Lake Victoria. The wildebeest come up from the south before entering into the Mara and it is here where some of the largest crossings take place. Tanzanian parks have designated this part of the Serengeti a Low impact area- with only a handful of camps allowed in the area. Thus it was with two intrepid clients that myself through C4 Images and Safaris planned a weeklong trip into the Lamai area to witness and photograph the migration. 6 days later and a few hundreds and thousands of animals later, we were satiated.
The Lamai is a remote wilderness just south of the Mara. I could see all the landmarks and at times the vehicles too. But we were removed in our own little world of animal sightings and photography. It was bliss beyond belief.
Of course with the migration came the predators and we watched cheetahs hunting and killing and lions a mating and fighting. It showcased just how good a wilderness concept can be when my clients proclaimed, “This is exactly how we envisioned Africa” after lions mated on an open plain with no one else in sight… Lamai was and is a very special place in one of the most productive ecosystems in Africa. Long may it remain as such.


Friday, November 16, 2012

Photo Hides Workshop Report

Words and images by Mike Dexter.

November on Mashatu is traditionally a green time of year. The first rains of the season would have fallen, blanketing the land with short grass and yellow flowers. Images of elephants in a green meadow-like landscape are iconic of this time of year. The scent of rain on dusty roads drifts on the breeze which brings with it the call of a distant Diderick Cuckoo.

November 2012 however, is anything but traditional as the clients on the recent photohides workshop were to find out. The rains are late, the ground is bare, and cracked baked earth lines the thirsty waterholes. Mashatu was revealing the colours of a raw, uncensored and unforgiving Africa. The animals have had a hard year and wait, in parched anticipation, for the clouds to burst and give them some respite.

The first thoughts after crossing the great sandy Limpopo (nothing green or greasy about it) at the Pont Drift border post are of what this harsh environment is going to offer to photograph. The question is slowly answered, piece by piece, as the open landcruiser makes its way along the dirt road to the Mashatu tented camp. At first it’s the contrast of the fresh green leaves on the mopane trees against the dark soil that catches the eye. Then you notice the clouds of dust kicked up by impala herds and the unobstructed views, from hoof to ear, of numerous giraffe as they feed on the Sheppard trees. An eland bull slowly climbs a distant hillside, his dark grey coat evident against the red rock.

On our first afternoon drive we were blessed with the sighting of what must be one of the most obliging leopards I have ever encountered. It was a young male, sleeping blissfully in the fork of an enormous Mashatu tree. We were the only vehicle at the sighting and, as the shadows were growing long, decided we’d stick around. As is so often the case in wildlife photography our patience paid off and he gave us an amazing show of yawning, stretching and a graceful elegant pose in perfect light. After half an hour of constant shutter firing he descended the tree and walked by a mere meter from the vehicle (I’m sure he knew something about minimum focus distance and was out to taunt us). We followed him as he stalked through through the riverine vegetation. The dry conditions working in our favour as the lack of undergrowth meant many opportunities for unobstructed shots. What a welcome!

That night we had an impressive thunderstorm and I couldn’t help thinking, as I lay in bed, about the young male out in the dark and rain and what he was doing now.

Another sighting which stands out amongst the rest was of 2 lionesses and 5 cubs. 2 of the cubs are 2 months old, the other 3 are slightly older. We came across them in what was clearly play time. The cubs were chasing, biting, pouncing and stalking; all skills which will need to be honed for success in later life but at this age they appear as no more than clumsy, hilarious antics. After a while the lionesses decided it was time to head for cover and they moved off down the river bed, the cubs reluctantly followed.

Other memorable encounters are of 6 cheetahs on the move and a special moment at a hyena den where a fearless and curious pup sniffed my hand.

This workshop was more than a photographic safari, it was an exploration of an arid land and the discovery of the inhabitants that call it home and have adapted to survive where many others would perish. It was also a journey and a lesson; that Africa has many faces, some prettier than others, but all of which are rich in drama and beauty and deserve to be photographed.