African Photo Safari Review
Earlier this month at the start of our African adventure we were in charge of taking some amazing photos around with Africa with our Safari mates. We lead a photo tour on the Gorilla portion of our tour with Acacia Africa. We traveled through Kenya and Uganda taking some pretty stunning photos along the way. Adam held photo talks and a few photo walkabouts with our other safari goes to help everyone get the most of their pictures.Kenya and Uganda taking some pretty stunning photos along the way. Adam held photo talks and a few photo walkabouts with our other safari-goers to help everyone get the most of their pictures.
Our photo safari departed Nairobi bound for the mountains in western Uganda. These mountains hold the last 800 remaining Mountain Gorillas in the world. Along the way, we had plenty of other things to point our camera at. Our first stop outside the city was a breathtaking panorama of the Great Rift Valley. The wide gash in the earth runs for several thousand miles from Jordan down to Mozambique. From high above the valley, we took panoramas and we found a few local wooden shacks to add some interest to the photos.
After leaving the valley, we drove to our first national park of the trip Lake Nakuru National Park in Western Kenya. The weather didn’t cooperate with us, but we still had a nice game drive on the rainy day. Some of my favorite pictures came from a herd of buffalo during the rain storm. Using fast shutter speeds, we were able to show the rain drops in the picture and give a sense of the day. I also like these pictures because the buffalo seem to be almost posing for the picture with great eye contact.
Toward the end of the day, we stumbled upon a large pride of lions that were playing on a fallen tree in the middle of the rain storm. We watched young lions climb the tree, while the adults watched us watching. They were a bit in the distance, but we made the most of our shots by using long lenses with a lot of zoom.
Lastly, the park is famous for the salt-water lake within the grounds. Several years ago the lake flooded and expanded its footprint swallowing up trees and everything around it. The salt water killed the trees leaving bare gnarly looking trees set in the still waters of the lake. The trees made for some interesting subjects to aim our cameras toward. There is something appealing about the dead twisted trees in the water that keep our cameras clicking.
After the park, we were on our way to the beautiful country of Uganda. Our first photo highlight in the country was in Queen Victoria National Park. The park itself seemed to stretch far into the distance. From high above the park, we had a great view with the mountains that formed the boundary of the park and between Uganda and the DR Congo.
Once we dropped down into the park we slept on the fringes of the park before our early rise to find the Chimpanzees that call the park home. In the middle of the park, a huge valley cuts the Savannah plains and leaves a swath of land with dense wet rain forest. Inside the jungle environment is what the chimps call home. We trekked down into the valley with a Uganda Wildlife guide take leaded us on a two-hour trek through the thick rain forest.
Our guide was armed with an AK-47 while we only had our cameras outfitted with our long safari lenses. We caught up with the chimps and our guide rushed us into to position so we could be ahead of them as they passed us in the valley. The chimps began to call as the approached us. First we saw the lead male who watched us from the tree as we snapped pictures of him. Soon after a family of 11 chimps made their way through the section of forest we were in while we took photos and watched.
We left the Valley of Queen Elizabeth National Park with some great shots and a few stories to tell. At one point, we got very close to the chimps as they made their way through, so close one of the adult chimps didn’t like it. One adult cleared the way for the rest of the family and took one of our group members by the ankle and politely shoved her out of the way. It’s not every day you get that close to wild animals and have that close of an interaction.
We left Queen Elizabeth and headed south toward the border of Rwanda for the tour highlight, trekking for the Mountain Gorillas. Our base for the Gorilla trek was the beautiful Lake Bunyonyi in South Western Uganda. Surrounded by tall hills the lake was a beautiful spot to set up camp for a few nights. The landscapes in the area were stunning, all around there were massive rolling hills cover in patch-work-like farms. The hill looked like they had been covered in hand made green blankets. Mix in some mist and the lake and you’ve got some pretty stunning pictures.
Our campsite on the lake faced due west and gave us beautiful nightly sunsets. We took the group on a walk around the lake at sunset to try and capture the last light of the day. We got a nice golden yellow sunset with the lake and a few of the traditional wooden boats in the foreground.
The group rose early on the big day to see the Gorillas. We drove up windy mountain roads in the early mist of the morning. Traveling trough this area there is no wonder where the movie ‘Gorillas in the Mist’ got its name.
Trekking the gorillas requires a permit and dictated which family of gorillas you could trek with and where within the park. The site that we drew was ‘The impenetrable forest”. The terrain was a dense jungle. There were paths cut into for the main portion of the trek, but once our guides located the Gorilla family we went off road. Our guide hacked paths with machetes to cut a trail to the family.
Our guides brought us within a few feet of the massive 400-pound gorillas. The first one we came across was the silver back alpha male of the group. They stared us down as he munched on leaves and branches. The area we found him in was not the brightest so we adjusted our cameras to take shots for the situation. We needed to add some ISO to make sure we could take fast enough pictures to not turn out blurry. We still used our zoom lenses to get nice tight shots on the silver back’s face.
Soon after spotting the male a female joined the group. After she sat down we found out that she was carrying a baby in her arms. They were in fairly thick foliage and we had to work to get our shots and wait for them to look our way to get those sharp eye contact photos.
Toward the end of our day the large male moved out from the thick canopy and into a path of brush with lots of light. This is where the best shots of the day came from. We had plenty of light to get some amazing shots and he even gave us a few looks. The group had patience and made the most of the nice lighting.
With the primates behind us we made our way back to the eastern side of Uganda to camp along the Nile river for a few nights. We enjoyed one night where the sky was clear and the millions of african stars twinkled. A few of us stayed up and watched the stars swirl over the water of the Nile river. A few clouds snuck into our pictures and gave our star trail photos some trouble, but it still made for some cool photos.
Along the river we tried out a technique of time-lapse, which is a technique of a series of still shots and turning them into a short video. The clouds floating over the nile made for a perfect place to try this technique out.
Before we knew it our time in Uganda was over and we were on our way back to Kenya. On our drives and throughout the trip we made plenty of memories and thousands of pictures. Some of the fun and memorable ones were the ones we caught on our phones as they faced us in the many selfies we took. Part of the tour involves a competition amoung the safari goers on who can take the best shots. Acacia Africa challenged our fellow safari goers to take their best shots. They setup a photo competition with three different categories. The prize for each is a gift card to activities in Victoria Falls. The three categories are best wildlife, best camping shot, and best selfie! To enter everyone needs to hashtag #Acaciainfocus, and one of the following #Camping, #Groupselfie, or #Wildlife. The winner will be announced when we are in Victoria Falls. The competion open to all the passengers on our trip. Search the hashtags on instagram and facebook and like your favorites.
Incase you missed the bus, or truck rather, we have been cruising around Africa in our big white truck named Shire. Equipped with a massive rack of Ugandan Ankole cow horns our truck takes us from place to place and country to country. We snapped a few pictures of Shire at night while in western Kenya on a cloudy, but starry African night.
To round out our photography tour a spent 3 days in one of the premier African Game parks, the Maasai Mara. The Mara is a huge swath of land, that is home to a large number of wildlife including the big 5.
On our first day, we had a great game drive checking off all of the big 5, the lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, and rhino. We even saw a leopard up in a tree, something that was high of our list. Other highlights included a few large male lions, plenty of elephants and some great landscapes.
The part of the Mara that will always stick out in our minds is one large lion pride that march right past our safari vechiles. A pride of 14 strolled through the thick green grass of the savana and right between our trucks as we snapped pictures of the group. The thick grass made it tricky to get the focus just right, but we go some nice shots of the pride.
Outside the Mara lives a community of people that the park is named for, the Maasai. Living as they have for hundreds of years the Maasai people live in mud and stick huts on the fringes of the unfenced game park. At the end of our game drives we got a chance to spend some time with the Maasai people in their village.
They performed their traditional jumping dance and we got to participate and take pictures. We got out camera down low to show the Maasai and their jumping rituals. After the ceremony we played with the children and some almost insisted we take their pictures. Getting down at eye level, we took some nice shots of the kids and some adults of the village.
The Maasai Mara was the perfect end to out photography tour with no shortage of amazing things to see and photograph. We hope everyone that participated in the tour took away with a better understanding of photography.