A quick guide of what to expect on a African photo Safari.
What is it? How does it work? What do I need to know? What stuff do I need to take? How do I use the stuff I humped through all of those security check points? Just a few of the questions I will try to answer for those who have inquiring minds about the mystical thing called safari.
First I am not an expert on African photo safaris. Few who profess to be really are. The experience is just too varied to consider myself an expert. I have just been there enough to wear the" been there, done that" tee shirt and ball cap. On the other hand I have been photographing in unique and sometimes hostile environments long enough to know what works and what it takes to be productive. So in this series of articles I will layout what I think will make your African photo safari enjoyable and productive.
In order to prepare yourself for your African Photo Safari you will need a little basic information, such as.
1. How does the day go?
The somewhat upscale Mara intrepids "tented camp" will be our example of the classic photo safari camp.
Here your morning will begin well before sunrise when the tent attendant softy calls, "Good Morning" from the outside of your tent. At your reply he or she will unzip your tent and deliver a thermos, cup and cookie tray to a table just inside the tent door. If you prefer, they will happily leave your waiting hot chocolate or eye opening kenya coffee on a small table just outside the door. We usually choose to have the morning drink brought inside so we don't have to rush to beat the monkeys to the tray.
Now that you are out of your mosquito netted four poster bed you can sip your morning drink as you prepare to leave your tent to meet your guides and leader in the near by parking area.
Tents at the Mara camp come equipped with a couple of desk/tables, chairs, a shower and normal bathroom facilities. That along with tent attendants, four poster beds, turned down beds after dinner, make up your accommodation at the Mara camp.Oh! and did I mention the hot water bottle placed in your awaiting bed? Just right for the small of your back after a long day in your Land Rover.
When you meet your group in the parking area at the predetermined time daybreak will still be very faint in the eastern sky. Your Land Rover will have two seats in a row and two rows, an aisle down the center leads to the rear bench seat. Each of you ( no more the 3 photographers per vehicle) will have a row with a roof hatch and opening side windows for your shooting. The extra seat in your row is great for equipment. You will have to keep an eye on your gear since the roads can be lively and you will want to cover your gear with some form of dust protection. I will discuss the logistics of equipment use and storage in other chapters.
As you pass the guard at the gate of the fenced camp you will begin you morning game drive searching for your first sunrise photo opportunity. If your tour leader has done his job this will be a short search. Many mornings your first shots will come without much driving. How does your tour leader assure this? Easy. He hires the best outfitter and guides available. These men will have a vast network of local friends and knowledge. They will use these resources to short cut much of the daily searching. The Mara, (swahili for dotted plain) is world renown for it abundance of wildlife. Even when the migration is not "in" finding photo subjects is not the trick, the real secret is how you use your time in the quest for great photos. This is a matter of team attitude, if your first priority is "do we get back in time for my massage?" or "will we get back for a nap? I spent too much time in the lounge last night?". You might find you are missing good shooting situations. Being flexible, changing with the conditions and having a good support network will make your team more productive. That said it is also important that you are comfortable and rested to enjoy your trip.
One of the things often over looked is drinking plenty of water. Tap water in East Africa is not safe to drink! Bottled water should be in endless supply on your safari vehicle. Use it. While there are few restrooms in the Mara with a little time guides can always find a safe and modest place for a pit stop. Much of East Africa is arid country like my home in the high deserts of the western US. You are in a vehicle with an open roof hatch most of the time the equatorial sun can be brutal even when not hot. You will want a wide brimmed hat or a cap that shades your face and neck. Sunscreen is not optional if you wish to be comfortable. Insects rarely seem to be a problem in dry areas.
In a couple of hours your guide will find a comfortable place for your boxed breakfast. Seldom do any of the photo tours return to the lodge for breakfast while the shooting light is good. Boxed breakfast usually consist of juice, a biscuit or roll, a boiled egg, sausage or bacon, a yogurt cup and three or fours pieces of fruit. After a refreshing chance to stretch your muscles and discuss the remaining mornings plan you will resume your game drive while the light is good.
The decision of when to return to the lodge and end the morning game drive can be determined by many factors. If the light is harsh, the sun hot, and the predators are only hunting shade, it is time to head in for the coolness of a buffet lunch under the thatched roof of the main lodge. These conditions allow plenty of time and opportunity to charge the batteries for your equipment and yourself. Time for downloading and editing images can be a premium on many trips. This is also a great time to ask questions about photo technique or get a quick critique from your tour leader/instructor.
Of course if there are a half a million wildebeest crowding the banks of the Mara river waiting to cross, it would be a gross misjudgment to follow a predetermined schedule and drive back to camp to have lunch while the main migration takes place. I have seen tour leaders with scores of trips under their belt do just that, missing this often once in a lifetime photo event.
Our rule is, if we are waiting for a event to develop, we will only send a vehicle back to the lodge.if at least 2 people want to return. In that case the leader will take the unoccupied place next to the driver. Rarely is the wait un rewarded.
After lunch you should have time to take care of the chores already mentioned, catch a short nap or just relax in the shaded porch in front of your tent before the afternoon game drive.
At 3:30 you will again be boarding the Land Rover for your next adventure. Soon the lions will be waking from their midday nap (they only sleep 17 or 18 hours a day it would seem). The leopard may be ready to return to the impala left hanging in the tree. In any case your evening game drive will be much like your morning. Always searching, looking for the next great scene or event. Too soon sunset brings your evening drive to an end. This will come with a quick drive back to the camp done so that you can arrive before the park mandated curfew of 6:30. We usually make it just in time but very occasionally when something special is happening, our watches have seemed to run slightly slower that those of the game wardens.
The evening meal is usually served a 7:30. This gives plenty of time for a hot shower and downloading the days images. Dinner is served in the southern European style of 4 or 5 courses served over a hour and a half or so. At first this can seem a little drawn out but you quickly become accustomed to the leisurely discussion of the days events, tomorrows plan and dreams for the future.
When you return to your tent by flashlight you will often be escorted by a staff member to assist you in unfamiliar surroundings. As you zip up your well lit tent you will find your covers turned down and a hot water bottle for you comfort. Then slipping under the mosquito netting and turning out the light you may hear the call of the hyenas and possibly the cough of a lion. All of course outside of the fenced camp. Priceless even for an insomniac!
So that is my impression of a day on the Mara, Kenya, East Africa.
To follow I will give my views on,
1.The proper equipment for your Africa Safari. Subjects will includes lens, camera supports, images storage, electrical conversion, to flash or not and more.
2. How to manage you equipment and shoot from the safari vehicle, how to use various supports, how to protect your equipment and best shooting positions.
3. How to pack and transport your equipment so you can arrive with all of your equipment and your spirit still intact.
Enough for now. If you would like to get more updates on this and other subjects subscribe to our newsletter at newsletter@JessLeePhotos.com
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and design protected by U.S. And international copyright laws. No right
is given to save or Download any images or components
of this site unless written permission is granted by Jess Lee Photography.