Thursday, February 11, 2016

Tanzania, Africa - Day 4 - Landscapes and a visit to a Maasai Village

For the first 3 days of our safari we concentrated on seeing as much wildlife as possible. On our 4th full day, we decided to change things up a bit. We decided to spend the first part of the day checking out the local landscape, followed by a visit to a local Maasai tribe. Both were great, but the visit to the Maasai village was exceptional!

Come along and join me (virtually) on Day 4 of our safari.

Our day started with a really nice breakfast at Olduvai Camp, with good food and lots of laughs. At this point of the trip, everyone was time adjusted and slowing down to the relaxed pace of Africa. After finishing my omelet and cup of coffee, I went back to my tent to grab all my camera gear. As I was walking along the path to our waiting vehicles, I saw this Rock Hyrax hanging out on a nearby rock. I grabbed the Canon 1DX, which already had the 100-400mm lens on it, and shot this photo. Actually, before I shot this, I moved my position so that the tree was positioned behind the Hyrax. If I had the bright sky behind the animal, the photo would not have been very good.

My Maasai friend was waiting near the vehicles, standing near some of the hand made jewelry. I decided that this would make a good portrait. I had him turn slightly so that his ears were more visible.

We started driving off towards Olduvai Gorge when we came across these Dik dik. These are actually tiny little antelope which only live in Africa. And yes...they are really called Dik diks.

As we were driving, I saw this one Maasai walking and liked the way that his bright red outfit contrasted against the green field and mountains.

And then we came across these Maasai who were tending their goats. I asked our driver to move us into a position where the mountains would be in the background and got this photo. I really like this photo, because it shows these Maasai in their environment.

After shooting the other photo, the Maasai continued on their way, and I continued to shoot to get this action shot.

We came across more Giraffe. Even though I had many photos of Giraffe from the day before, I liked that these were in a completely different environment.

I also liked having wide shots of the Giraffe in their surroundings.

I saw this Maasai woman walking with her baby through one of the fields, and captured this portrait. The colors that they wear are really striking.

And here is another wide shot, showing the Maasai tending a herd of goats in front of the Tanzanian background. (Photographer's note: You will notice that I like to shoot tight and wide shots of the same subject matter. But you will also notice how different they are. Each type of photo tells a different story. When you travel somewhere like this, I recommend that you shoot tight shots to show detail and wide shots to show environment.)

After a couple hours of driving and photographing, we arrived at Olduvai Gorge. Looking at the colors of the rock here, I decided that this was a great place to teach our guests about polarizing filters. I grabbed my Canon 5D Mark III and attached a Canon 16-35mm lens. I also attached my Tiffen Circular Polarizing filter, which pulled the colors out of the rock and helped increase the contrast in the cloud sky.

For those of you who have never heard of Olduvai Gorge, this is the location where they found what is believed to be the oldest signs of mankind.

There were Acacia trees lining the rim of the gorge. Since we had this nice blue sky with puffy clouds, I once again used the 5D Mark III, wide lens, and circular polarizing filter to get this shot highlighting this one tree and it's shadow.

After visiting the gorge and exploring the countryside for most of the morning. we returned back to Olduvai Camp for some lunch, another photography lesson, and some rest.

Then, late in the afternoon, we drove to a nearby Maasai village. This turned out to be a favorite stop for many of our tour attendees (and myself).

For this part of the trip, I did something that I usually do not do. I used my Black Rapid Yeti strap and carried two cameras with me. I had my Canon 5D Mark III with the 24-70mm lens and the Canon 1DX with the 100-400mm lens and a Canon 600EX-RT flash). I don't usually like having two cameras hanging on me, but knew that I would want cameras with a wide and a long lens for this visit.

Upon our arrival, the tribe members got together and did a traditional dance.

You can see that part of this dance has the men jumping.

This is part of the Maasai culture as the warriors jump high to make themselves bigger, and therefore more threatening to predators.

As interesting as the dance was, I was fascinated by the people who surrounded me.

I used the longer zoom lens to zoom in tight and capture the character of these tribes men and women.

I saw this beautiful woman standing with her baby and waited, for what seemed like forever, for the baby to look up. It was worth the wait.

More great details, not only in the face, but also in the jewelry.

I did mention the beautiful colors that they wear.

I saw these two women standing by their Enkang (hut) and grabbed this shot. I was invited into one of the Enkang. They are very low and very small inside, but it was really interesting to see how these nomadic people live. The Enkang are made mostly with brush, cow dung and even cardboard. There was a small fire pit near the entryway, where they would cook their food. Also inside, there were two rooms, one for the woman and children and another for the man. The Maasai men are polygamist, so they are at different Enkang throughout the week. We heard about one chief who had 30 wives. Yikes!

A little more dancing from the men. (I do have video from the village and will edit it soon to share with you all.)

I was walking around and saw this great composition. I had the Acacia tree, the Enkang and the brightly colored women off center, all in one shot. Another favorite from the trip.

And then I was back to taking portraits. Looking at these faces, you can probably see how I was captivated be these individuals.

I stood outside their little school hut and shot photo of the children. Michelle had stepped in and was teaching them an American song at this very moment.

The kids loved it.

Kudos to Michelle for having the guts to sing in front of the kids! I can take photos but I definitely can not sing!!

As I was walking away from the school hut, I saw these three women walking away from the village, and just had to get this photo. I know that they are not looking my way, but this is another favorite from the trip. I love the colors, the background and the placement of the three subjects.

Yep - and then I was back to taking more portraits.

This boy had such unique characteristics and such an intense look about him. His long hair signifies that he is one of the tribe's warriors. All others have shaved heads.

And if you have ever photographed with me, you know that I love turning the camera around and showing people what I am capturing. These tribesmen could not wait to see the photos on the back of the camera.

One of our guests, Hal, had been on this trip with M&M Photo Tours once before. He was nice enough to print photos of many of the tribe members from the previous trip and bring them this year. That was a real hit, and I plan on doing the same thing next year with my photos.

Right before leaving the village, I got this photo of Tina, Joanne and Michelle with the tribesmen.

This was the end of yet another great day. Not only did we get great photos, but we got a chance to learn about and experience the Maasai culture.

Stay tuned for the blog of Day 5 and more.

And, for those of you who missed this amazing opportunity, we are going to do this amazing safari again next year...check out the site HERE to sign up for the 2017 trip! We have a limit of 12 people.


If you are interested in purchasing any camera equipment, please click here to go to B&H Photo, as I get a referral from them if you enter this way. It does not change the cost to you in any way, but it helps me keep this blog up and running.

And also, remember that you and your friends can enter your email address at the top right of this blog to get an email any time I write a new blog post or send my monthly newsletter.


Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Tanzania, Africa - Day 3 - Another amazing day in Ngorongoro Crater

Hopefully you have seen Day 1 and Day 2 of our safari on the blog, and now we move on to the third day of the trip, with a bunch more animal sitings.

Come on and join me to see what we saw on our second day exploring the Ngorongoro Crater.

We decided to take it easy on Day 3 and let everyone sleep in a little. Everyone met at 8:30am for a nice breakfast in our main tent. For those of you wondering about the food in Africa, I can tell you that we ate well, with food that is not too far out of the norm for us. My typical breakfast consisted of a Spanish omelette with some toast or pastries, and some fresh fruit. And the Tanzanian coffee is excellent. Trust me, we were not roughing it!

At 9am, our awesome drivers were all set and ready to start the day. We had three vehicles with no more than 4 people (including the driver) per vehicle, This made it really easy to have all our camera gear in the Land Cruiser and still have plenty of room to move around and get a good shooting position, no matter what direction we were pointed.

Within a couple of minutes of leaving the camp, our drivers spotted a couple of large male Lion coming down a hill far to our left side. Using every bit of reach with our Canon 100-400mm lenses, we were able to get some nice shots of these amazing creatures.

And since the morning light was behind them, this created some really nice rim lighting on our subjects.

This male had come down the hillside and stopped to check out the surroundings. Using the slower burst mode of the Canon 1DX, I took a bunch of photos with his tail in all positions. I like this one the best.

It was great to see everyone loving this experience as much as I was. Here is Tina and her big smile.

And here is Michelle soaking it all in. I should add that Michelle is just learning photography. I arranged for her to get loaner gear from my good friends at Canon and she did an awesome job. By the end of the trip, she was fully aware of her camera settings and capturing excellent photos. She is proof that you do not need to be an experienced photographer to go on these trips and come home with amazing photos.

We came across this family of Wart Hogs as the little ones fought for some nursing time.

These are not the best looking creatures, but take one look at this photo and you can see how the creators of Disney's "Lion King" would want to create a character from this face.

Of all the Cape Buffalo that we saw on the trip, this was one of the rare sightings of a youngster.

As I mentioned on the last couple of blog entries, I was always on the lookout for Zebra in interesting patterns. Here, I spotted these 5 Zebras all in a row, almost as if they were waiting for the oncoming vehicle to pass by before moving on.

There were many times when I captured photos of the surroundings, since the colors were just so beautiful.

It was about 11:30am when our drivers stopped the vehicles and, using their binoculars, spotted two Black Rhinos out in the distance. We sat in the same spot for a while, hoping that the Rhino would come our way. And sure enough, they did. This is one of my favorite photos of the Rhino with an Elephant in the distant background.

Once the Rhino passed by, we started moving once again. We stopped and photographed some other animal before coming across a group of Impala. I saw these two Impala chasing other and quickly cranked up my ISO to 640, framed and shot them as they sped past. I was photographing these guys at 1/2500 sec. A little faster shutter speed than I needed, but I did not have time to make minor tweaks since this all happened so fast.

It is hard for me to resist the baby Zebra.

This photo above and below both show baby Zebra who are still sporting some of their brown coat. Baby Zebra are born with full brown coats and then, as they mature, lose the brown and earn their stripes.

For some reason, I really enjoyed shooting photos of Zebras when they were behind other Zebras.

This is a common position for the Zebra as they stand opposite each other to watch out for Lion and other predators.

Almost in the same location as we had seen Elephant the day before, we came across these older Elephant tucked away in the trees.

This Elephant was bathing itself in mud.

After lunch, we came across another group of Baboon. And once again, we could not resist photographing the baby with mom.

There were so many great moments between these two, as the baby nursed.

 I just kept taking photos capturing all the subtle exchanges.

I know this looks like mom is saying "Ouch - that hurts!" but the mother is actually yawning.

Although, this looks like it hurts.

After about 10 minutes of nursing, the mother Baboon scooped up the baby and they were off.

Then we stopped for a lunch break (with food packed up at the camp).

There were a couple of times on our trip when we stopped for food and had to deal with animals trying to get to our lunch and snacks. This Monkey and baby did their best to get our food. I scared them off, doing my best to direct them to a nearby tree. As luck would have it, they hopped up on that tree and stopped in the perfect position for me to grab this photo of them.

Another shot of these two up in the tree.

Speaking of animals trying to get our food. I have no photo to show you, but I do have a funny story to share with you all. While we were stopped at this remote location eating our lunch, Mike (our fearless leader) was standing out in the open with some food in his hand, when a really large Eagle swooped down and stole his lunch right out of his hand. He even had a small cut from the bird's talon to prove it. It shocked him, and we all stood their in disbelief as this took place. All of that camera equipment and nobody got the shot. Darn!

These Vervet Monkeys are called Blue Ball Monkeys. If you have to ask why...just look at this photo.

Here are a couple more photos of a mother Monkey and her baby.

 It amazed us how easily the mother could run and jump amongst the trees with the baby holding on.

You might wonder why I have this photo of Matt and his suitcase, and why he looks so happy. Well...from the time that we started our trip in the U.S., this was actually our 5th day of the trip, and Matt's luggage had been lost the whole time. The poor guy had to live in the same clothes for all that time, washing whenever he had the chance. On this day, we were able to meet up with another vehicle to get his luggage. He (and all of us) were very happy for this big occasion. :)

After spending most of the day inside the Ngorongoro Crater, it was time to head up and out. As we crested the crater and came down on the backside, I saw this pretty scene, with the Maasai village. I asked Sam, our driver, to stop for a shot. Out of nowhere, these three Maasai came by the truck and I asked them to stand in the foreground of my shot. Their presence and their colors really help make this photo much stronger.

Here is another distant shot of a Maasai village. Most of the Maasai are nomadic and will move throughout the year, but some stay put.

We drove for another half hour and then came across our first Giraffe. We were all excited to see these amazing creatures in the wild.

I liked this vantage point because there was so much separation between the Giraffe and the background.

It was fun to watch this Giraffe get down low to pick up some fresh leaves.

After photographing the Giraffe for a while, we had to get moving to get to our next camp before dark.

We pulled in to Olduvai Camp about an hour before sunset and all got settled into our luxury tents. The plan was to meet at 6:30pm and hike up the hillside for sunset. We did just that, and arrived with 20 minutes to spare.

I saw this amazing golden light on our Maasai guide (who called himself my brother since we share the same haircut), and started to teach portrait photography to the group. Trust me, in this light, it was almost impossible to take a bad photo. I even took a shot with my iPhone and posted it to my Instagram and Facebook pages un-retouched. Even that looked awesome.

As part of this impromptu portraiture class, I stressed the important of shooting tight and wide shots. This photo is taken from the same location as the previous photo, but shows a much different scene.

After shooting the portraits high on the rocks, we moved down to a lower position, to have the Acacia Tree in the shot. I asked our friend to stand in this position and I took this photo. I only had one flash with me and between it's limitations and the difficult camera metering, this photo needed some work. But I knew that I could easily correct this in Photoshop.

Here is the completed photo. In case you are wondering how I got all this color and detail from the original photo, it was easy. I adjusted the shadows and highlights to darken the sky and brighten the foreground. Yes - all this detail is in the original photo. This is why I always recommend for people to shoot in RAW. Not too shabby for 5 minutes of tweaking. Right?

Thanks for checking out Day 3 of the safari. Stay tuned for the blog of Day 4 and more in the coming days.

And, for those of you who missed this amazing opportunity, we are going to do this amazing safari again next year...check out the site HERE to sign up for the 2017 trip! We have a limit of 12 people.


If you are interested in purchasing any camera equipment, please click here to go to B&H Photo, as I get a referral from them if you enter this way. It does not change the cost to you in any way, but it helps me keep this blog up and running.

And also, remember that you and your friends can enter your email address at the top right of this blog to get an email any time I write a new blog post or send my monthly newsletter.