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        AN AMATEUR'S GUIDE TO WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY IN EAST AFRICA


The wide range of animals and the vibrant colours of the birds and flowers have given me a great love of Kenya and Tanzania. These are the only two East African countries I have visited. Although I visited The Gambia in West Africa and Namibia in Southern Africa. A lot of people who go on safari are interested only in the big game, particularly the 'big 5' – Leopard, Lion, Rhino, Buffalo and Elephant but there is so much more to see.

There are plenty of tour operators who organise safaris, some more expensive than others, but up until 1999 I had only been with Kuoni and was very satisfied. However, in 2004 I started going with like minded people led by professional photographers after which I felt I could not return to a 'normal package' holiday.  In both types of holiday, some safari accommodation is in luxury tented camps and others in lodges; I have stayed in both. When going on a safari there are a few things to consider.

Cape Buffalo


1. When to go


There is no actual Summer or Winter as you are virtually on the Equator. In East Africa, the length of the day is the same throughout the year: the sun rises between 0600 and 0630 and sets twelve hours later. The seasons are defined as wet and dry. The big rains are usually in April and May, when it rains heavily every day, and the small rains are in November and part of December, when the rainfall is not as heavy or prolonged. Although accommodation is cheaper in the rainy seasons, photographically I do not believe it is very good because the animals do not go to the water holes, although I have not actually been there in the wet season to see for myself what it is like. The dry seasons, - January to March and June to October are better. I have visited mostly in late January / early February, but I have also been in August and October.    



2. What to wear


This depends a great deal on where you are going. In general, wear  lightweight, washable clothes, as the weather is mainly hot and dry and the reserves are very dusty. If you intend visiting places like Treetops or the Ark, you are likely to be staying up all night game watching, so although some blankets are supplied, it is advisable to have a pullover or at least a sweatshirt as it can get chilly at night.   For the daytime game drives, whether you are going with a tour operator or privately, there are some very important points to bear in mind.  Firstly, there are places where you will get out of the safari vehicle and walk, so wear comfortable sturdy shoes; good trainers are OK, flip flops are definitely not! Secondly, wear a hat with a brim, and neutral coloured clothes – brightly coloured clothes are frowned upon, not only by the organisers but also by the animals! Travel as light as possible; it is very easy to wash shirts, shorts, underwear etc.  Take plenty of sun lotion, if you are wearing a baseball cap, put some on the top of your ears, or suffer! As you are so near to the Equator, you can easily burn, even on an overcast day. Take plenty of insect repellent some of which you might have to put on your clothes, as some parks are rife with tsetse flies and they will bite through thin clothing. DO NOT wear aftershave or perfume when on a game drive, the animals will not like it but the insects will love you! If you wear aftershave/perfume at night, there is an even higher risk with the insects. On one of my visits, a young lady in my vehicle wore a brightly coloured dress, heavy make-up and a lot of perfume, and our minibus was attacked by a lion: we had to make a quick get away, the young lady was a nervous wreck but this taught her a valuable lesson! Lastly, before you go, DO NOT FORGET vaccinations and inoculations.  I have found Imodium tablets most helpful when I have experienced a stomach upset and bottled water is essential.  



3. Where to go


In Kenya, I have visited Tsavo East and West, Amboseli, the Maasai Mara and Lake Naivasha, which are all south of the Equator; Lake Nakuru is virtually on the Equator, Samburu, Nairobi National Park and lakes Baringo and Bogoria are all in the North. In Tanzania, I have been to Tarangire, Lake Manyara, The Serengeti, Ndutu and the Ngorongoro Crater. They are all very good but my favourites are Samburu, the Maasai Mara and Lakes Baringo and Naivasha in Kenya, and the Serengeti, Ndutu and Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania. In August 2004, I visited Southern Tanzania, which is not as tourist orientated as Northern Tanzania, and therefore the accommodation is not as good. The parks I visited were Selous, Ruaha and Mikumi game reserves, but August is not a particularly good month if you want to see plenty of birds, as the migratory birds are not there because it is summer in Europe.   



4. Equipment


Before mentioning photographic equipment there is one item I found essential, - a notebook or voice recorder. As there is so much to see, it is very easy to forget where you see what. I always keep a journal with details of what I took and where it was taken, as it makes very interesting reading later.    

Digital Cards - You will take a lot of images so make sure you have enough storage space on your cards because there is so much to see and so much happening that you can soon be out of media.  Since I have been using digital media I have been taking a small laptop plues two portable 1 terrabyte drives onto which I downloaded my images after every game drive.  The second drive was a backup of the first.

Lenses - These obviously depend on your budget, but take the longest focal length you have, in order to get close to the animals and birds; as a minimum, I would suggest a 300mm. I take two camera bodies and a range of lenses from wide angle to 400mm plus 1.4x and 2x extenders, sometimes I take a macro lens for the flowers and insects.

Other equipment - Batteries for the camera; take plenty of spares, you will get through them quite quickly if you shoot a lot of images, and you will not be able to buy them out there. Tripod/Monopod – I found a tripod very useful for photographing the birds with a long lens or the flowers with the macro when in the gardens of the lodges, and I use beanbag to support the camera and lens on the roof the vehicle.

Flash - this is not essential but handy, as you never know what may come into the grounds or even the lodges at night! I also found the pop-up flash on one of my cameras very useful for putting a catchlight into the eye of the birds and animals. Finally, two useful tips:

         1)  Do not stint on memory cards if you see something you particularly like you may not see it again even if you have subsequent visits.
  2) Some of the birds are not very timid and you are able to take quite a few shots. I found that after the first shot, when the bird has heard the shutter, it became more alert and subsequent shots were much better as it tried to trace the sound. The same applies to some of the animals, particularly the cats.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

            Burchell's Zebras

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

            Lesser Flamingoes