Masai Mara, Kenya January 2019

JensM

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Background/Intro:

This may be somewhat long, but I write it mostly for myself and for other possible first timers to Photo safaris.

In January 2019 I travelled to Maasai Mara for a 5 days safari, with 3 to 4 daily game drives from three lodges belonging to Basecamp Explorer, these were Basecamp, Eagles View and Leopard Hill. The travelling party spent two nights at each of the first two and one night at the Leopard Hill.

Camera gear I brought was the GX8 house, the Pana 8-18, Pana 12-35 and the Olympus 40-150 f:2.8 with the MC14. I also brought along a Mephoto tripod, a Manfrotto table top tripod, the Meike flash and the Olympus 17 f:1,7, four batteries, and a Lowepro card wallet. The camera gear was packed in a small Fjellreven rucksack, which I stuffed my lowepro Jogger into, and a Barbour bag with additional padding in the main compartment for the Oly 40-150 for the legs of travelling, and supporting the camera with the big Oly while out and about in the countryside.

The rest of the gear was a Leica 10X25 binoculars more on that later, clothes, washbag and sundries.

I took slightly less than 4000 pictures over the 5 days and could/should have taken a lot more. I am no wildlife photographer and this outing consisted of the first foray into this segment that I ever had, not including snapshots of targets of opportunity while out and about. I also brought into this a couple of year worth of interest in “landscape”, “street” and “architecture” shooting, with the caveat that I hadn’t touched the camera since early last fall, utilizing the camera on my phone for the daily snapshots/documentation style photos I have needed.


About the gear choices:

I brought the best I have, simple as that, with a few add-ons due to not knowing exactly what to expect. I deliberately choose not to bring the Pana 100-300MkI, relying on the “betterness” of the Olympus to make up for the lack of the 50mms that the Pana would have offered in usable longer focal lengths. Gear I brought but didn’t use was the flash, the Oly 17 nor any of the two tripods or the Lowepro Jogger, other than for the travel legs for that matter.

The Gear in use:

100% of the time I shot RAW. 95% of the time, I were using the Oly 40-150 with the MC14 attached, so had de facto 56 to 210mm at f:4.0 at my hands all of its “up-time”. The second most deliberately used lens, are by recollection the 8-18, but I think I actually shot more with the 12-35, but more of that later.

Battery life was surprisingly good, I did run the camera solely on the viewfinder, with the screen tucked in. I turned the camera off between shooting, and used the screen to toggle between ISO settings when applicable. I needed to swap batteries just once in the field, and that was with a aftermarket battery used throughout the day, on the day I took most pictures, tallying 1425 exposures. Don’t think I lost out of the Nat Geo cover of the year award due to the swap, though.

About the shooting situations:

Generally, we went out for the first foray at 0600, then in for breakfast at about 0900, out again at about 10, in for lunch between 1300-1400, out again somewhere after that and depending on situation, came in for supper somewhere between 2000 and 2100 hours. I normally didn’t bother with the between breakfast and lunch forays, due to the rather harsh lights and usually had a little nap and a break for the midday. The experience are strangely intense but at the same time seriously tranquil.

The shooting platforms was open Toyota Land Cruisers. This was good, but not having experienced working like this before, I will the next time around bring a soft bush hat instead of the linen baker boy cap, sunscreen with 50 rather than 20 and depending a bit on circumstances, trousers instead of shorts. Shorts worked fine for the morning shoots, but the sun for the later outings was quite hard on the legs and neck. Sandals were good footwear whilst in the car but on the ground they left something to be desired, to the tune of needing to pull a thorn out of my big toe and as well as the sole of the sandal, my swiss tool came in handy for extracting this peskiness.

Shooting from the cars was good, some pictures was missed due to others moving around, and the car then rocking on the springs, others probably missed shots due to me moving around as well.

The amount of wildlife was seriously dense, antilopes and gazelles so plentiful that one runs the risk of tuning them out, so are the amounts of giraffes, gnus and warthogs. In hindsight (pun intented), I should have been somewhat more keen on getting them, as it is now, the shots of them are if not few , then somewhat far between with the exception of the Giraffes, those fellows I could stand to have fewer of.

Something that I took a “lot” of pictures of, were birds. There are waste amounts of those around as well, and when the opportunity knocked I shot them, they were the “blinding flash of the obvious” when I got there. Never thought of them before, but that’s what growing up on a steady diet of David Attenborough and his Norwegian equivalent Sverre M Fjeldstad does, I guess.


Lessons learned:

Run higher ISOs.

Many of the pictures taken, I have F.U by trying to contain the ISO in the 2-800 range, much of this is probably due to having worked with the topics I have done after coming back to “serious” photography in 2016, after a hiatus of some 15 years with a couple of false starts and with that background, on two occasions having pressed an Ilford HP5 to 1600ASA.


Get longer reach.

The 40-150/MC14 combo worked, but I could have used extra reach on several occasions. I mostly rode in a “photographers” car, with a pro and a semi pro sporting Canon gear and the semi pro fellow had a dedicated D7MkII with a 600mm Sigma on, which he used quite frequently and another one with a 70-210 on, giving him somewhere around 800mm and 280mm at the far end, the pro running two of last models EOS5 with what I think was the 200-400 on loan from Canon Norway running on one house, and some sort of premium 70-210 on the other.


If possible, sport two houses.

I had a plan last year of picking up a G9 and round off my lens line-up with the Pana 100-400 and had a yearning for the surprisingly marketed 50-200 as well. It has not happened yet, but I do think I could have done better with such a set-up, than what I did with the 40-150 with extender, and needing to swap for anything less than 56mm on the go, which I was not eager to do due to some amounts of dust. It would anyhow be a good idea to have the redundancy of two proper cameras. I used the camera on the phone for a bit of social shooting and such, but even with an advanced phone with a good camera (Samsung Note 8) it left something to be desired.


Learn and train for the “fight”

Borrowing from my field of work, I should have prepared better but was content with where I was. This is always a mistake. I have the GX8 somewhat in my fingers, but that is by running it more like I did analog back in the day in contained settings, not as a specialized digital picture taking machine for action shots.

Possible fields of learning include, in no particular order:

Find some technical game photo books, recommendations appreciated.

Learn to use the camera, either with glasses on, or start with contacts. The on/off with the glasses are a sub-optimal solution.

Utilise the possibility of shifting focus while composing, makes for more possibilities and more dynamic photography. As I ran it now, I feel that I ended up with a lot of 70s schoolbook photography not the fun and games that is possible.

Utilizing my telephoto lenses more in less light at mornings and evenings, possible venues are local sport matches, birding and such.

Work with higher ISOs. The already mentioned pro fellow, ran up towards 100K of them. :O

Study the camera harder to get it properly under my skin.

Trust the functions of the camera, but not blindly.

Don’t be content where I am at.

Use larger binos, the 10X25 are proper good, but using it for spotting in a moving car is an underwhelming experience. Probably should have brought the 8X30s, instead of the breast pocket ones.


Conclusion:

Things can always get better, I have learnt a lot from this experience and hope to bring the experience to bear the next time around, at the very least, I have written it down so I can consult with the writings and refresh the lessons learned and hopefully others can benefit from it too. I have a seriously long way to go, before I am anything other than a noob when it comes to Digital photography.

*Edited for typos and wording, 070219.

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Lupin 3rd

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With regards to iso, one thing that has worked for me has been taking photos of the sunset at different iso settings to see how high I can push it while still looking acceptable.

This photo for example: I had previously taken it at iso 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400, 12800 with the same aperture but different shutter speeds. I tossed out the 12800 iso image immediately, but the 6400 iso would have been acceptable. So if I have to choose between a grainy 6400 iso image and a blurry one at 1600 iso, I know which one I'll get. Hope this helps!

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Holoholo55

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Thanks for the informative article. Good to hear from a first-time safari shooter and learn from your experience. You got some good shots too! The leadoff sunrise/sunset photo was lovely.
 
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paddy567

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Mar 31, 2013
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I have very happy memories of a trip to Eagle's View over 5 years ago now. I think conservancies are certainly a better experience than the park itself, which felt like a safari theme park, was swamped with drivers, and had a disappointing amount of rubbish in the busier areas.
 

JensM

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  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #6
Eagle View was easiest the "best" of the locations, with its prime location in Naboishi conservation area and splendid savannah overview. Basecamp is a smoothly run "machine" with room to, if not, roam so walk about. Leopard Hill is a fresh from the build site, with a location in the "woods" so to speak, if I understands it correctly it will be some sort of premium lodge with some added services, when finished.

Basecamp, view from the platform at the restaurant:
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Eagles View, view from the platform in the reception/lounge area:
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Leopards hill, from the porch on my tent:

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All cell phone pics, and most are early to high noon, so the light are not particulary good for photography. :)
 
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