Magical Tanzania

November 1st, 2011

As a professional nature photographer and traveler I often get asked, “What is your favorite location to photograph nature?” And, while it’s hard to choose a true “favorite” location, East Africa seems like an obvious top choice for anyone, including seasoned world travelers.

If you’re lucky enough to visit East Africa in the flesh, even just once, you will never be the same. For a repeat traveler and workshop instructor one of the things that excites me these days, aside from the obvious plethora of scenery, wildlife and the cultural experience, is seeing the faces on my clients for the first time they venture out on Safari.

Soaking it up - Grab shot of a client on safari soaking it all up during a boxed breakfast break in the Serengeti.

During one of her first safari drives, and shortly after appearing in the grab shot above, the same client once again raised her arms and turned to me to say, “We’re in Africa!” with immense excitement in her voice and a big smile on her face. A big part of why I do what I do is because of these magical moments—I thoroughly enjoy sharing the experience and excitement of Tanzania with others!

This upcoming January, I will be lucky enough to again host a small group of clients in Tanzania for their first African experience. And I will get to see the excitement on their faces as we set out together to see and experience all that Tanzania has to offer.

When bringing new photographers to a place like Africa as a leader I have a responsibility to share as much as I can with my clients in terms of not only my knowledge of the region and it’s wildlife, but also my knowledge from the perspective of a professional photographer. This includes the technical aspects of photography but also sharing some basic tips, some of which are not so technical, that can apply whenever visiting a new area.

Here are just few quick tips I share with clients when traveling to Tanzania for the first time that can apply to any location:

Slow down!

One of the worst things a photographer can do is to rush through your image making process because you are overwhelmed with all that you’re experiencing. It’s so easy to get wrapped up with everything that you’re seeing and to shoot a large number of average images just trying to capture “everything.” It’s always better to slow down, think about each image and visualize what you’re trying to convey. If you have to take a break from photographing altogether and just look and think about what you’re experiencing you’ll also enjoy it more. Slowing down will go a long way toward coming home with compelling images.

Wildebeest and Clouds - It is easy to get overwhelmed with everything that is going on. Slow down and focus on what you're trying to convey—here I wanted to show as many animals as I could and needed to use something to balance them out—a cloudy day made the perfect situation to include a large area of the sky and give the viewer a feeling of space. EOS 5D Mark II, 24mm.

Be ready for action.

When action starts happening it’s easy to forget to check your exposure, or to adjust your ISO, etc. The more you think consciously about the process before the action happens, checking your settings between sessions, etc., the better your images will be for it.

Leopard in Thorns - Leopards will scale any tree, thorns and all, to keep their dinner away from others. EOS 1D Mark IIn, 500mm.

Back up or use a shorter lens!

Everything is bigger in Africa, from the landscapes to most of the animals. It’s too easy to focus on just the animals and to take a lot of pictures of them with nothing else in the picture to tell the story. Back up or zoom out and look for other elements to bring into the scene—when you shoot wider scenes with animals in them you capture more of the whole story.

Giraffes in Landscape - Compositions in a place where animals roam in large spaces, and in groups, should be much wider! While close ups are great too you want to focus on telling the whole story as often as you can. EOS 1D Mark IIn, 70-200mm.

Don’t see everything in color

The muted colors, textures and dramatic landscapes in Tanzania just scream black and white and infrared. Sometimes the harsh lighting of mid-day is ideal for capturing these types of images that call for contrast and drama.

Acacia in Infrared - During mid-day hours you can create dramatic black and white or infrared images and take advantage of the contrast, textures and shadows. Canon Digital Rebel converted to infrared, 10-22mm, handheld.

Get Creative!

One way to get creative is to slow down your shutter speed to give your images a sense of motion to them. There are three ways to slow down your shutter speed which can enable you to capture a sense of movement in your subjects: 1) lower your ISO sensitivity, 2) make your aperture smaller and 3) use a filter such a neutral density filter or polarizer. These techniques reduce the light that is entering your lens, or the sensitivity to that light, thereby lowering you shutter speed. If you quest to keep your shutter speeds somewhere between 1/5th and 1/80th and are willing to experiment, you should be able to capture good movement. There are multiple ways to take advantage of slow shutter speeds and to create a sense of movement. Here are two of them for example:

Wildebeests Road Crossing - When working with slow shutter speeds you have the option to hold the camera still and allow the subjects to blur which helps keep the non-moving elements sharp. This can be especially effective with a wide-angle lens—the wider the lens the slower the shutter speed you can use and still manage a sharp background and foreground. Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 24-105mm at 55mm, 1/5th of second @f22, ISO 100.

Wildebeest Pan Blur - By panning the camera with the subject this time I was able to render the subject sharper and the elements around them blurry. This is especially effective with a long lens and slightly faster shutter speeds. EOS 50D, 600mm, 1/25 @ f8, ISO 200.

A visit to Tanzania provides photographers with stunning landscape, scenic, and cultural photo opportunities and an experience quite like nothing else. I’m eagerly anticipating my return in late January and look forward to sharing more of the magical moments and tips for capturing them that only an African experience can provide.

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