This image is one of my favorites from a safari last year and not just for the main subject. One of the things I love about incorporating the African landscape in my wildlife photography is how backgrounds can reveal layers, or stripes, of tone and color.
Using a long lens can amplify the effect as it did here. I used Canon’s 500mm lens with a 1.4x extender giving me a 700mm total and the result is a stacking effect of the different shades of grass from foreground to background. Because this was taken in the Ngorongoro Crater, the foliage in the back extends up and out of the frame. And it helps that the elephant, which is a dark subject, was standing in a lighter strip of grass which makes it stand out.
In honor of Valentine’s Day, here’s a little love, African-wildlife-style. Seeing mating lions is not common and to photograph it, you must be both patient and quick. Patient because the two lions will spend about 30 minutes between mating just loafing around. Quick because, without much warning, the male will get up, walk over, and before you know it, he’s done in about 10-15 seconds. This cycle will repeat for about 2-3 days. King of the Jungle indeed.
There are probably 12-15 black rhino in the Ngorongoro Crater but they are shy animals and tend to stay far from the road. On this day, we saw this mother and calf grazing far from the road but nicely lit in the short grass. Using Canon’s 1.4x extender on their 500mm f/4 telephoto helped me get enough reach to place them nicely in the frame.
We tend to see many Grey Crowned Cranes on my photo safaris, especially in the Ngorongoro Crater. It’s a beautiful bird and the national bird of Uganda. The trick to photographing them is to get the light to the side, to accentuate the texture of the grey feathers, and slightly behind, to backlight their crown.
Last December 3rd, I was the guest speaker at the Huntington Camera Club’s meeting. Afterward, Darin Reed of the club interviewed me for their January newsletter and kindly granted me permission to reproduce the interview here:
This morning, we had a cloudy and foggy start to our final game drive in the Crater – that’s a great thing because it means interesting skies and dramatic clouds. We saw large herds of buffalo and zebra and the mating lions again. We then drove through the Lerai Forest which always has the potential for close-up elephant sightings and, if we’re really lucky, some black rhino. The Yellow-Barked Acacia trees showed a lot of signs that elephants had been eating there recently. We did see four rhinos who had come to drink at the pools in the forest but were too far away from us to photograph.
In late morning, we left the Crater and drove into the Serengeti. On the way to our camp in the Moru Kopjes, we saw several lion, elephants, and reedbuck. After settling in with a welcome hot shower in my tent, I joined the group around the fire to trades stories and have a glass of wine. The lions outside of camp called loudly to each other while we sat around the fire and, after dinner, I fell asleep to sounds of lions calling and zebras barking.
Today was our only full day in the Crater and we made the most of it. The Crater is actually the collapsed caldera of a large, ancient volcano and it is 10 miles across, forming what is essentially a giant bowl of wildlife. We descended into the Crater at 6am to get the golden light – it’s always nice to be the first car in.
We started off with yet another pair of mating lions! Normally we’re luckily to see one pair the entire trip but love must be in the air this week. We drove on and saw herds of wildebeest and buffalo and then we came to the main event for the day.
As we drove down the road, we came upon a recent buffalo kill with a lion resting next to it. Surrounding the kill and the lion were about 6 jackals and over 25 hyena but instead of trying to take the kill from the lion, the hyena were keeping a healthy distance and lying down. After scanning the area, we realized why: there were 3 other male lions hidden in the long grass nearby. A group of hyenas can overwhelm one lion but four is a different thing.
We stayed and watched as each of the lions took turns, having their fill and then wandering off. When the fourth lion started walking away, the fun began. The hyenas approached all at once and the last lion jumped back at them, warning them off of his kill.
But each time he would walk away a little further and the hyenas eventually swarmed the buffalo. At one point, the last lion came back with one of the others and chased everyone away. By now, more hyenas from across the crater has joined and the howling of 40 hyenas at once is an overwhelming sound. This loud and violent dance went on for 20 minutes but the lions knew they couldn’t win and eventually left for good.
We ate lunch at our usual lunch spot near a small lake with hippos and watched a large bull elephant drinking on the other side. We finished the day in a mellow way by driving up to Kiliman cha Meza, Table Hill, where there isn’t much wildlife but the views across the Crater in the late afternoon light are stunning.
Tomorrow, we start with a morning game drive in the Crater again but then leave the Crater before noon for the drive out to our camp in the Serengeti. Access to the Internet is tenuous there so I’ll post more updates when I return to Arusha next Thursday. Until then, safari njema!
Today, we rose early to check out of our lodge and head to the Ngorongoro Crater. We took our time getting to the park gate and we weren’t disappointed with the fantastic light on the baobab and flat-topped acacia trees.
From a distance, we saw a herd of zebra and wildebeest at the top of a hill, heading down to the river for a drink. They were kicking up a cloud of dust as they ran downhill which was illuminated from behind with sunlight. We raced down the road to get closer and stayed for half an hour, trying to capture the amazing scene, feeling lucky that the herd was large enough to give us the time to try different compositions.
After leaving the park gate, we drove further across the Maasai Steppe and up the Rift Valley escarpment, feeling the air get much cooler as we climbed higher. In the late afternoon, we arrived at our lodging on the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater and settled in.
Before going to bed, I heard some noise outside my window. I turned out the lights and went to the window to see what might be there. I looked down and 3 feet from me was a zebra, peacefully munching away on the grass.
My new African photo safari in March 2014 is now ready for sign ups and there is a discount if you sign up before September 1st! It’s an 11-day, 10-night safari that hits the best locations in Tanzania’s northern circuit: