Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Preparing for an "African Photography Workshop"

As I sit back and reflect on my 9 day trip to Tanzania, I am left with memories so vivid I still feel like I am there in the safari vehicle on the Serengeti plains. It was there where I first noticed a herd of wildebeest off in the distance. From my seat they appeared to be trees on the landscape as far as the eye could see. But as we drove closer, what I thought were trees on the edge of the Acadia woodlands turned into the form of wildebeest. I realized that I was witnessing one of the world’s most spectacular migrations … the wildebeest migration.

As we approached the large herd we slowed our vehicle and entered. Like magic they parted and closed in behind as if to welcome us as one of their own. It is then that we stood from our seats and peered out of the open canopy, cameras still at our sides and silently scanned the landscape in all directions. As far as our eyes could see, wildebeest and zebra grazed on the open fields and we realized we were witnessing one of the sights we had all dreamed of.

Our guide, Emanuel, estimated the herd between 400k and 500k and was probably the main herd of the migrating 1.5million animals that make this annual trek from where we were, westward over the Grumati River and then north for the infamous Mara River crossing and into Kenya before their return for the calving season near the eastern border of the Serengeti and Ngorongoro conservation areas.

Slowly we lifted our cameras into position, me, a camera body with my Sigma 150-500 and a second camera body with a Sigma 12-24mm wide angle lens. That is when the action started. As if on cue, the silence turned to the sound of shutters firing and joyous sounds from all 5 of us as we captured the animals jumping and moving in all directions. The more they moved, the more excited we got, the faster the animals began to run in different directions.

This stirred the wildebeest even more... from a slow and steady movement, they turned to erratic movement and panic shrouded in a cloud of dust as they tried to escape an unknown foe, our land rover.

This is what a visit to Tanzania is all about. Appreciating the incredibly beautiful and diverse African landscapes that have formed long before man could even measure time and admiring the animals that dot this amazing landscape as merely a perfect decoration to this ancient land.

As photographers though, we were also there to come home with amazing photos. Preparation and executing playing a huge role to achieve that goal. So how do you prepare yourself and your gear to get the photos of a lifetime, and how to you make sure you execute in the moment?

One – A ritual of cleaning lenses and the camera, making sure you have enough batteries and memory before you leave and making sure the camera and gear are in good working order is something that should be done constantly. This should be done before you leave for the safari drive and a few times throughout the day.

Two – Constantly check your exposure throughout the day. The weather conditions can change constantly during the day and if you shoot in manual, the light is far different in the morning than it is at mid-day. Making constant adjustments will ensure you do not get drastically under exposed or over exposed photos.

Three – Take the right gear with you. There is nothing worse than realizing that your telephoto lens was not long enough or too long. Have a range of lenses with you. I take a few different lenses that range from 12mm to 500mm and a few camera bodies to make sure I have the correct lens for the situation.

Four – Care of your gear in harsh conditions. On a safari you will be driving in a vehicles with large windows and an open roof. Sun and dust are not a friend of camera gear. When not using your camera and lenses make sure they are stored safely on the seat beside you and cover them with a blanket to keep the sun and dust off of them. On my safari’s my attendees get a row to themselves with two seats. One to sit in and the other to place their camera bag to store gear and make it readily accessible.

Five – Ask your guide and accompanying pro photographer questions. Both should be a wealth of knowledge on animal behaviour and how to maximize photography opportunities that you will see on a safari. I have a guide, Emanuel that use exclusively. He is a wealth of knowledge on animal behaviours and all the species we encounter and I am always available to help the workshop attendees how to get the angles and shots that they dreamed of capturing on a safari. Emanuel and I also work together to make sure that the vehicle placement maximizes the  natural light and proper backgrounds to make your photo subjects pop from the image.

Six – Take as many photos as you can from all different points of view. This is the digital age, it does not cost you to take 100 photos of an animal sitting there. You never know when a lion will yawn, or a hippo will bolt from the water, mouth gaping open and thrashing in the water.

Seven – Go through your photos every day with your workshop or tour leader. That one on one time at night back at the lodge is invaluable for your learning experience. Having constant feedback in the environment will only make you better every day.

Eight – Practice before you leave for your safari. You will be doing a lot of hand holding of your telephoto lenses. Practicing stabilizing the camera and shooting moving animals will make you a better photographer before you step foot in Africa.

Nine – Do your own research on animal photos before you leave for your safari. We each have our own styles and only you can take that photo… your guides and PRO photographer can put you in the right location and give you all the advice they can, but at the end of the day, it’s all up to you to click that shutter and get that shot of a lifetime.

Ten – Go with a company that is experienced and offers more than just a trip. While the trip itself is great, make sure they think about the little things… water for long hot days, safe environments to stay in, airport pick up and drop off to make sure you and you gear are safe. These little touches are often overlooked and can have a large impact on your African experience.

I hope you can join me on one of my workshops. They are a great learning environment and we always have lots of laughs.