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Elliott Neep on Safari with David Lloyd

The Essential Guide To African Photo Safaris | Part 4

Part 4 of my knowledge-packed 5-part guide to safari photography. This time, I’m discussing low-light photography, dealing with harsh-light, how to shoot high-key, and panning motion blurs. Over time, this entire series will be re-edited and refreshed. Bookmark it now, so that you can refer back to it later…

Making the most of it

It’s not always golden light or blue skies. There are challenging conditions to be mastered: Thunderous skies, white skies, low-light, hard-light, torrential rain, dust storms, etc. And your photography will be all the better for it. Trust me. Below you’ll find useful advice and example photos that will inspire you to make the most of every situation. As long as the animals are looking good or doing something interesting, you’ll want to capture a photograph worth keeping.

Low-light Photography

What do I mean by low-light? Essentially, when the ambient light-level is so low, that your shutter-speed is no longer fast enough to ‘freeze’ the subject, or prevent camera shake. It’s just not possible to capture sharp images, even with the camera supported, stabiliser switched-on, and the aperture is wide-open.

Out on the savannah, you’re going to encounter low-light at either end of the day (obviously), around sunrise and sunset, and when the skies fill with threatening thunderstorms. You’ll also have to watch out for slower shutter-speeds in dense undergrowth, in the shade of trees, and when you close down your aperture too far, e.g. f/16, f/22, etc.

To get a faster shutter-speed in ‘the old days’, you’d either break out the flashguns and sync cord, and/or load faster film (high ASA). Now, all we need to do is increase the ISO sensitivity setting. And forget about using just ISO100, 200, and 400. I mean really use the ISO, as in 1600, 3200, 6400+.

“But image files must be clean and noise-free.”

Really? Says who?!

My noisy rant…

It’s high-time to rethink an out-dated mentality. Analogue/film photographers appreciated the character of film grain. In fact, many insisted on grain for the photograph’s particular character and the photographer’s identifiable style. In contrast, digital photographers are obsessed by clean images. Why? Are we all suddenly high-end studio-based fashion photographers?

First and foremost, the only person that will seriously analyse your images at 1:1 or 100%, is you. Personally, I’m concerned with subject sharpness and composition. Not noise. You don’t see image noise in web images and it’s almost entirely lost in print. Competitions do not throw out potential award-winners because of digital noise. Stock libraries? Potentially. If it’s ridiculously bad. But, professional stock shooters won’t be reading this and even their ‘noise acceptance bar’ is rising all the time. I should know. I’m one of them.

In truth, unless you have some weird noise-fetish party, where you and your pixel-peeping buddies huddle round your screen for a session of ‘Guess The ISO’, again, it’s only you seeing that level of magnification.

“Have a look through this image slider above. Every image has been photographed between ISO1600 and ISO3200. Both the ‘cheetah cub leaping up at its mother’ and the ‘roaring lion’ images are among my very best sellers. They’d simply not exist, if I was worried about noise.” 

Let’s breakdown the myth of noise

Every camera creates digital noise when capturing an image. Some cameras create less noise than others. Unless you’re throwing £5,000+ at one aspirational DSLR body, like a Nikon D5, you’re going to have to live with some noise. The trick to shooting with high-ISO is nailing the exposure. Compared to a low-ISO RAW file, a high-ISO RAW file creates disproportionately more noise when you adjust its exposure during processing. Get the exposure correct to begin with and the difference is marked. The less adjustments you have to make, the cleaner the final image will be.

The majority of DSLRs currently on the market (even as far back as 2010) have superb low-noise sensors and inbuilt noise-reduction technology. We’ve come along way from the Canon EOS 10D where anything above ISO800 was like a dot-matrix printer (sorry, you’ll probably have to be over 30, to appreciate that one). Furthermore, Adobe Lightroom, Camera Raw, Capture One, etc. all have extremely effective noise reduction tools.

Saying all that, perhaps this hardware/software noise-reduction argument is irrelevant anyway. When you upload an image to social media or your website, the resulting image size reduction, resampling, and compression, practically eradicates all digital noise. It’s the same when printing. When I print my grainiest images, the digital noise almost entirely disappears into the grain of the print and paper texture. I can only see it if I stand with my nose against the print with a loupe. So I ask you… “Who looks at a print on the wall like that?” Shall I conclude?

  • Images for web use: Noise removed during resize and compression.
  • Images for print: Noise lost in print grain, paper grain, print dots, etc.
  • Only place you will notice noise: On your screen at 100% 1:1 zoom.

Ranting aside, above all else, if there’s something amazing happening, don’t worry about the minutia of aperture settings and image noise. Just get the shot! Make sure your priorities are in the right order for wildlife photography. Your primary focus should be capturing a stunning photograph. Not worrying about pixels. Crank-up the ISO and shoot! Don’t fear the ISO – it’s your best friend. Quite simply, it’s better to have a sharp shot with noise, than a clean shot with blur.

“When the light is low… Use the ISO!”

Manual ISO vs Auto-ISO

Manual ISO is a real asset. Perhaps entirely under-appreciated unless you previously shot with film. No more changing/pushing film for different light levels. No more worrying about whether the film lab will push the film as requested. Need a faster shutter speed? Just turn the dial and shoot. Marvellous! As mentioned above, there is a general resistance to using high-ISO settings, for fear of noisy images, but for goodness’ sake, just use it!

Auto-ISO is a relatively new feature and not every DSLR has it. In essence, you can set a manual exposure (aperture and shutter speed) and the ISO sensitivity will scale up and down, depending on the available light. You set parameters for both the baseline ISO (your default), the highest ISO you wish to use, and the slowest shutter speed. On some cameras, this ‘slowest shutter speed’ can be set automatically with the camera identifying the current lens in use. Clever! In theory, Auto-ISO works 90% of the time and I’ve been using it more and more. It’s one less thing to think about. Here’s the Auto-ISO blurb from Nikon:

“Auto ISO sensitivity control lets the camera adjust ISO sensitivity automatically if optimal exposure can not be achieved at the value selected by the user.”

Maximum sensitivity: Choose the maximum ISO sensitivity (ISO 200 to Hi 4) to prevent auto ISO sensitivity control selecting too high a value. The minimum value for auto ISO sensitivity control is ISO 100.

Minimum shutter speed: Auto ISO sensitivity control will automatically raise ISO sensitivity to prevent shutter speeds slower than this limit in exposure modes P and A. Choose from values between 1/2000 s and 1 s, or select Auto to allow the camera to choose the minimum shutter speed according to the lens focal length (CPU lenses only). For example, the camera will select a fast minimum shutter speed with telephoto lenses to reduce the camera blur that tends to occur at long focal lengths.

Manual override

There are certain situations where I still switch to Manual ISO: During sunrise and sunset went I want full manual control of exposure; When I deliberately under-expose; When I don’t want the Auto-ISO kicking in as I recompose a shot. In these situations, I tend to use Manual Mode and Manual ISO.

If you’re using Auto-ISO, be aware that unless you use Exposure Lock, when you recompose your shot, the Auto-ISO will change your overall exposure. For example, when you focus-lock a subject on the horizon and recompose the frame to include more sky. You might find the ISO drops as there is more light hitting the metering sensor. Just something to look out for.

The Panning Motion-blur

pan |pan|

verb (pans, panning, panned) [ with obj. and adverbial of direction ]

swing (a video or film camera) in a horizontal or vertical plane, typically to give a panoramic effect or follow a subject.

As light-levels fall, you can either: Pack-up and go home; Capture some very average photographs of animals in poor light; Learn to spot opportunities and experiment, making the most of each and every game drive. I’m going for the latter. Panning ‘motion-blurs’ hit mainstream popularity decades ago but they can still generate a “Wow!” They shout ‘Creativity’. Originality? Not so much. However, they are fun and the results are often surprisingly good.

In my own humble opinion, a good motion blur has a recognisable subject with a reasonably sharp head/face. It’s a highly subjective style and most photographers will have their own preference. It’s always a ‘marmite shot’ with lovers and haters equally vociferous. As motion blur photography involves sustained panning, you’ll need either a very steady hand, or panning tripod head (maybe a panning plate on a beanbag).

When I’m handholding, I find it best to tuck my left elbow into my left ribs. I then rotate my torso from the waist. The effect works best on subjects moving laterally, i.e. from left-to-right or right-to-left, rather than head-on. Below you’ll find a technique breakdown for beginners. As your skill improves, you can set the shutter-speed slower (my slowest is a one second pan) and use a manual exposure to set both shutter-speed and aperture. I’ve added instructions for both Canon and Nikon:

  1. Set camera focus mode to AI Servo (Continuous);
  2. Switch your Canon lens IS mode to Mode 2 for panning, Normal mode for Nikon lenses;
  3. Set the program mode to Tv (S);
  4. Set shutter-speed to 1/30th sec initially – slower when you’re more experienced;
  5. In brighter conditions you’ll need to reduce the ISO sensitivity to L.03 (ISO50 or less);
  6. Use centre focus-point (group or expanded is fine) and focus on the subject;
  7. Pan the camera (rotate your position/torso) in the same direction, matching the subject’s speed and trajectory;
  8. You may find it easier to match speed by focussing for several seconds on the subject before pressing the shutter release;
  9. As you match speed, pulse the shutter.
  10. This is a numbers game – the more you shoot, the higher the probability you will capture a decent shot.

Harsh Light, White Skies

After about 8:00am, with clear skies, the sun really starts to burn with ultra harsh light. We’re fighting stark, desaturating, high-contrast light with deep shadows and black, lifeless eyes. Not a great look for any animal. 

You could manage these harsh-light conditions in a selective way – only shooting if something truly spectacular is happening, wait for a little cloud cover, or simply drive on and head back to camp. Standard animal portraits are relatively easy to come by, so why do it when the sunlight is so fierce? Turning your back on bad light is one option, but if you want to maximise your time, consider the following techniques as part of your ‘Ready For Anything’ arsenal.

Panning in harsh light

Although the majority of photographers reserve panning ‘motion blur’ for low-light, there’s nothing to say that it cannot be deployed in broad daylight. In fact, it’s a very useful technique for creative photography in harsh sunlight. Blurring the photograph creates a soft painterly effect that works brilliantly when you want to blur a scrubby grassy background.

Take a look at the African wild dog images above. These were photographed within 1-minute of each other, in broad daylight. I didn’t have time to attach a filter, so I quickly dropped the sensitivity from ISO400 to ISO50 and closed the aperture down from f/5.6 to f/16. The last image is a Lightroom preview using the Spot Removal tool and the “Visualise Spots” overlay. Each circle is a dust spot! Horrendous, isn’t it?! 

So, how do you capture panning motion blurs in bright daylight, without spending the rest of your days removing dust spots? The trick is knowing how to slow your shutter speed, without closing the aperture and exposing a dirty sensor…

The answer is quite simple. Use a 6-stop ND filter.

I briefly discussed screw-in ND filters in Part 2. Essentially, these are circular filters that screw into the ‘filter thread’ located at the optic end of your lens. The 6-stop ND effectively slows a shutter speed of 1/1000th sec to just 1/15th sec – perfect for panning motion blurs. Because a 6-stop ND filter (aka ND1.8) is so dark, I’d recommend using them with fast lenses, like the 70-200mm f/2.8 – an excellent panning lens. The faster the lens, the more light enters the viewfinder, the more you will be able to see through the 6-stop filter and, critically, still autofocus.

Forget 10-stop filters for panning as they are basically opaque black. You can’t see through them, no matter what lens you have and autofocus is completely inoperable. Here’s a useful buying guide to ND filters on TechRadar.

The Polariser Filter

Polarisers are well-known for their ability to add a punch to blue skies, but they can also reduce contrast by controlling glare – the same effect they produce when you use them to take the reflection off water. But this time, you’re taking the ‘glare’ off animal fur.

There are three filter options: Screw-in polariser for the filter thread at the end of your standard zoom and wide-angle; Drop-in polariser for super-telephoto lenses; Slot-in circular polarisers for Cokin or Lee Filters et al 100mm adapters. If you’re buying a screw-in circular polariser filter, it’s definitely worth investing in a high-quality product with a low-profile, so the metal bevel doesn’t vignette on your wide-angle lens.

Be sure to check reviews and experiment with your polariser before the trip. Some polarisers can adversely effect image-quality with horrible colour casts. Also, be wary of using polarisers with super-wide lenses. There can be an uneven effect on expansive blue skies, with areas of intense and unnatural dark blues.

High-key

High-key (also high-keyed)

adjective. Art & Photography. 

having a predominance of light or bright tones.

My favourite subjects for high-key photography are: Any mammal or bird in a bare-branched tree; The long necks and elevated heads of giraffes; Monochromatic patterns of zebras; Animals in long sun-bleached grass. These subjects would be with or without a washed-out sky. Sometimes, I use a polariser to control the glare and help protect highlights from blowing, especially on the bright white-stripped pelts of zebra, or any animal that’s been in water.

For high-key photographs, you need to over-expose the image, taking the highlights and whites to the point of clipping, e.g. 2+ or 3+ stops. White’s should be bright white. When you over-expose an image to such an extreme, you’ll also capture increased detail in the mid-tones and shadows. You then control and correct the contrast, saturation, and exposure during RAW processing.

Generally speaking, my high-key photographs require a boost to contrast, clarity, and saturation (if processing a colour image), as well as fine-tuning the tone curve, along with black and white clipping. I find that monochrome high-key photographs can usually benefit from varying degrees of sepia toning, using the “Split Toning” panel in Lightroom.

“As sensor technology advances, a disproportionate level of detail is captured in the highlights, compared to shadows and mid-tones.”

I routinely over-expose images by 2+ stops or more with or without the polariser and still retain full detail in every aspect of the image. Even when the JPEG preview on the back of the camera looks to be clipping (flashing black or red), I know that the RAW image file, with it’s greater bit-depth and tonal latitude, will still retain highlight details.

It takes practice to work out how far you can push the over-exposure (shooting to the right), before detail is truly lost. Every camera model is different. It’s worth mentioning that the histogram displayed on the camera is also from the low-quality JPEG preview and cannot be relied upon entirely – just use it as a guide. It’s still far more accurate than just looking at the preview image on the rear LCD.

It’s worth bearing in mind, that if you intentionally under-expose (shooting to the left) for fear of blowing highlights, you will have more noise and moiré-effect in the mid-tone and shadow areas, when you correct the exposure during RAW processing.

Working With Obscurers

If you’ve photographed wildlife, then you know the frustration caused by The Obscurers. You know… That twig, those leaves, that stem of grass. All those naturally occurring elements that fall directly between your lens and the subject. On the savannah, it’s usually tall grass stems that miraculously appear right between the eyes of a male lion. The precision is amazing. It’s so frustrating! Sometimes, it feels like a damned conspiracy.

The savannah is not a manicured garden. Practically every shot will have something to distract from its perfection. With leopards in a tree, it’s that thin useless, pointless twig with just two leaves on it. With cheetahs, it’s that one extra tall blade of grass, swaying right in front of the face. Bush, stem, grass, branch, it’s all very annoying. Unless you have a pair of 30ft telescopic secateurs (I’m working on a patent), you have no choice, but to smile (through gritted teeth), issue a gracious nod to Sod’s Law, and persevere.

Framing & Diffusing

These situations always challenge your creativity and your patience. Standing up in the vehicle rarely works, if ever. You just bring more grass and scrub into the background, resulting in a record shot with messy vegetation. If there is vegetation ‘around’ the subject, then that is something you can work with. Make sure you’re sitting down, with your longest lens positioned as low down in the vehicle as possible. Open the aperture to its maximum and focus precisely on the subject’s eyes. With this combination, the vast majority of the vegetation will now be diffused, creating a pleasant haze of colour.

  

“Have a look at the example image selection above. Each photograph was a challenge. If the grass is swaying, or the subjects is walking, I time the shots for when the eyes are clear. I may have to move the vehicle to find a window. I use precision focus and a shallow depth of field to enhance the focal point – the subject’s eyes. The monochrome images show how well distracting foliage can be softened when you remove colour.”

The eyes are the windows…

I can make most situations work. Just as long as there is enough of a view, through the clutter, to capture sharp focus on the subject’s eyes. The viewer connects to the  subject through the eyes. If these are clear and sharp, then the viewer can engage. In some ways, having a partially obscured subject can actually improve the composition and increase the power of an image. The vegetation frames and focusses the viewer’s attention on the subject.

Get in close and tight

Using a super-telephoto (400mm+) with a teleconverter, you can cut right through to the subject and diffuse almost anything between you. You then need to master composition of abstract details and elements. This is my primary tactic when photographing in dense vegetation and long grass. Using a 600mm f/4 has enabled me to capture plenty of images in difficult situations. My friend and colleague, David Lloyd, uses a 2x teleconverter with his 400mm f/2.8 to get even closer, selectively isolating abstract details through the obscurers.

Move the vehicle

When you first pull-up to a wildlife sighting, you might not spot the grass or foliage in between you and the subject. It’s only when you look through the viewfinder that you spot it. So, take decisive action and move the vehicle, if you can. With just a slight repositioning you might find a window through the vegetation. Admittedly, this is easier if you’re on your own, not so easy if you’re already surrounded by other vehicles.

Always remember, just because the vehicle has stopped, doesn’t mean you cannot move again. I have moved the vehicle 360°, inches at a time, around feeding or mating lions, just to find a clear window through the grass or to change the background. Same with cheetahs. Same with practically every animal.

Timing the shot

Thankfully, unless they’re sleeping, animals do eventually move. You have to be ready to snap that shot as soon the obscurer is out of frame. If there’s a breeze, you might be lucky. Time your shot with the breeze, as it blows the grass aside. If the animal is walking through the grass, time your shots for when it passes over shorter grass, or vehicle tracks. There are usually windows through the vegetation. Often it takes just a little patience and methodical observation.

Monochrome

Unfortunately, when the obscurer is right next to the animal’s face, there’s not much you can do. Moving the car won’t help. However, processing the image in monochrome can be quite effective. The bright yellow of the straw-like grass is far less distracting in grey-scale. Have another look at those monochrome shots above.

Thunderstorms & Heavy Rain

I love a good thunderstorm! Especially on the savannah. Golden evening sunlight, illuminating the plains, under towering gun-metal blue thunderheads. It’s an awe-inspiring sight. Not to mention, photographic nirvana. It’s a joy photographing plains animals in these conditions. Everything glows. The sky is worryingly ominous, but somehow I feel quite at peace with it all.

It’s very common to have afternoon showers in the Masai Mara and Serengeti. The heat builds, the clouds develop, the rain pours, it all clears ready for the next day. Pack a light jacket and you’ll be fine. Pack a rain jacket for your lens too. In heavy rain, we pull the covers over the vehicle roof, but the lenses project out the side and will get a soaking. A neoprene cover is enough to protect lenses. Full rain jackets might just put your mind at ease.

Photographically, I like to find subjects on a ridge, silhouetted against evening skies, under stormy clouds. If there are sun rays punctuating the gloom, all the better. I underexpose my shots to really give punch to the clouds and define the sun rays. If you spot-meter off an area of bright sky, your shots will be underexposed by roughly 2-stops. This is how you reveal the sun rays. With under-exposure, the beams of light become mid-tone and the surrounding clouds are dropped into deep shadow and near-blacks. Moody!

Lions always seem to wake up when it rains. Adult lions take longer to wake, lying around, licking the rainwater from their fur. But lion cubs seemingly burst with energy and scamper about, play-fighting in the rain. A word of caution through. Light levels are always deceiving. Our human eyes are so good at adapting to light levels, we barely even notice the change. But, you’ll get a shock when you look through the viewfinder and see your exposure. If you’re hoping to freeze-frame lions play-fighting in the rain, you’ll need 1/500th sec minimum – ideally 1/1000th sec, so it’s time to crank-up the ISO.

Eland in heavy rain

Eland in heavy rain. Photograph by © Elliott Neep. Photographed in the Masai Mara, Kenya. 1/160th sec f/8 on ISO640

Rain Drops

If you want to completely freeze falling rain drops, you’re going to need a shutter-speed of 1/1000th sec or faster. Not easy in the gloom of a thunderstorm, so (again) you’re going to have to push your ISO. You can capture definable rain drops with short streaks with 1/125th sec to 1/500th sec, but the effect really depends on how heavy the rain is falling. For really long streaking rain drops, you’ll want to shoot slower than 1/100th sec, ideally less than 1/30th sec with heavy rain.

Closing Tip: To really emphasis the rain, photograph the subject with a dark out-of-focus background with the light coming from the side or behind the subject (backlight). The eland photograph above works well because the rain was very heavy (close-up you can see rain drops bouncing off the eland) and the background was fairly dark, making the rain drops really pop.

A plea for cheetahs: Help not hinder!

On the 4th December, it’s World Cheetah Day

And it’s time we all took responsibility…

…for how our actions affect the lives of plains animals. I’m talking about me, other Photographers and Tour Leaders, Tour Operators, Camps and Lodges, and YOU!

Hounded Cheetahs

On the open plains of the Masai Mara and Serengeti, the cheetah is hounded, persistently and aggressively. Why? Because it’s the one ‘big cat’ predator that remains visible during the day and everybody wants a piece. Lions head for dense cover or shade and simply sleep all day. Leopards are hard to find and are typically obscured by bush or take to the shaded crowns of tall trees. Frankly, tourists really don’t care about seeing hyenas – the proverbial pantomime bad guy.

Cheetahs face a wall of noise and steel

Tourist vehicles lined-up to view cheetahs as they feed on prey. Photographed in the Masai Mara, Kenya

The wall of noise and steel

When cheetahs are walking, the standard procedure for vehicles is to drive well ahead of the cheetah, in order to photograph them ‘coming on’ to the cameras – essentially getting ahead of the cheetahs for head-on walking shots. When the cats are stationary, tourist vehicles habitually ring-fence the cheetahs. Especially, when they are resting or sitting on termite mounds, attempting to look for prey and potential threats.

Collectively, vehicles form a barricade of noise and steel, preventing them from being able to see approaching lions or hyenas. It’s unintentional, I’m sure, but it’s there and it happens all the time. Tourist vehicles also drive too close and too aggressively, disturbing cheetah’s hunting and pressuring them whilst feeding. It’s not just the vehicle’s physical proximity, but the accompanying engine noise. It’s practically deafening to a cheetah! Cheetahs have exceptional hearing. Imagine what it’s like to have more than 20 diesel engines roaring around you… Pretty intimidating!

Cheetah coalition followed by tourist vehicles

Cheetah coalition (Acinonyx jubatus) followed by tourist vehicles. Photographed in the Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya.

Recent experiences

During my last tour of the Masai Mara (August 2018), the “Fast Five” male coalition was spotted near Fig Tree Camp. At first there were less than 10 vehicles, 4 of which were our group. This kind of situation is easily manageable and does no harm. Every vehicle drove respectfully, keeping their distance and allowing the cheetahs acres of space to roam.

Sadly, within minutes of encountering the cheetahs, mobile phones had brought down a swarm of over 45 vehicles! It wasn’t just the sheer number that was alarming. It was their behaviour. At first, everybody kept their distance, driving well ahead of the cheetahs, allowing them to ‘walk on’ to the vehicles’ position. But then, new arrivals jostled for position, seeking to get closer and closer.

Shamefully, once the cheetahs showed an interest in hunting nearby wildebeest, all decorum went out the window. As soon as the cheetahs began running, engines fired up and vehicles roared all over the place. It was utter bedlam. The cheetah coalition were split up and forced in different directions. In the ensuing chaos, one cheetah managed to pull down a young wildebeest. And here’s the crucial bit. A vehicle then pulled-up right next to the kill site, leaving a gap of under 5m – a car length.

“The current implied rule for drivers is that the first vehicle sets the precedence, regarding distance.

As this driver was right on top of the kill, all the other drivers crammed right in. It was absolutely appalling. As a group, we drove away, leaving more and more vehicles arriving to crush in on the cheetahs. It was disgusting. Akin to metal vultures fighting for carcass scraps. Like myself, our clients were appalled and visibly upset.

Cheetah cub climbing on vehicle

BBC Big Cat Diary crew filming cheetah cubs (Acinonyx jubatus), climbing on their own vehicles in the Masai Mara, Kenya

Endangering cheetahs

Cheetahs, like all cats, are curious animals. Especially when they are young. Cheetah cubs will often play hide’n’seek and games of tag and ambush around, underneath, and on top of tourist vehicles. A cheetah made famous by the BBC’s Big Cat diary learned to use vehicles as mobile vantage points. She would climb up onto the roof to have a better view across the plains. This cheetah’s cubs picked up the habit of climbing vehicles and suddenly there was a generation of cheetahs on vehicle rooftops.

This quirk of behaviour generated keen interest from photographers and tourists, all wanting the same close-up view on their roof. Drivers were finding their pockets filled with US$ and their vehicles filled with enthralled and grateful tourists. It spurred on the demand and the behaviour. Tourists only wanted to see ‘those vehicle riding cheetahs’.

However, it wasn’t long before the first ‘accident’ – a cheetah slipping off the car bonnet and getting caught-up in the bull bars. Broken legs are a death sentence for all animals out on the plains. Then reports of cheetahs falling through the roof hatches and clawing at the passengers inside.

Thankfully, this practice has been stamped out. The generation that climbed vehicles has passed. It should be banned outright. But you find that certain drivers have a disregard for guidelines and rules and care more about US$ tips. If a cheetah looks like it will climb the vehicle, the tour leaders and drivers (with the cheetah’s welfare at heart) will start the engine, to deter this behaviour. As it should be.

The tragedy of ring-fencing

There has now been several incidents where cheetah mothers (with cubs) have been ring-fenced by vehicles, with tragic consequence. In one incident, in Ndutu, the barricade was so complete, the female cheetah wasn’t able to see or hear an approaching lioness. She escaped, just. Her cubs were killed. It is sickening. What a price to pay for a picture!? The lions, hyenas, or baboons aren’t to blame. We are.

Cheetahs followed by tourist vehicles

Cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) followed by tourist vehicles in the Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya

An endangered species

Cheetahs are now endangered. Since the year 1900, cheetah numbers have declined by 93%!!! There are an estimated 6,700 cheetahs left in the wild. In most cases, cheetahs are persecuted by man in response to cheetahs hunting goats and cattle. Compounding the issue, cheetahs have lost a considerable percentage of their natural habitat over the last 100 years, thanks to human encroachment. Over the last 3 cheetah generations alone, the cheetah’s geographic range has declined by 29%. In total, the cheetah now only survives in just 9% of its previous historical range. The Mara-Serengeti Eco-system remains a stronghold for the cheetah.

Crucially, as a species, cheetahs can no longer withstand the added pressure of ignorant tourism, along with poaching, habitat loss, disease, and cheetah cub abduction for the illegal pet trade (can you f***ing believe it?!). So, I implore you, to act responsibly and with consideration. Life is tough enough for cheetahs. They are in desperate trouble as a species. Do not just sit in the back of Land Cruiser and allow his horror show to unfold, passing off responsibility to the driver alone.

The power to make a difference

You have the power to make a difference. When there are so many vehicles, take the ethical high-ground and drive away. At the very least, insist that your driver doesn’t get too close! Tourism can be a valuable asset in the fight against wildlife crime and protecting valuable habitat. We all want to see cheetahs in the wild. If you would like to help the conservation of the cheetah, or even just learn more about this astonishing animal, please visit the Mara-Meru Cheetah Project operated by Dr. Elena Chelysheva.

I had the great pleasure in meeting Elena at Entim Mara in August (2018). Her talk was fascinating. Educational, enlightening, and hopeful. Like me, Elena believe tourism has enormous power and a profound role to play in the conservation of multiple species and habitats across the Mara-Serengeti Ecosystem. Elena tells us that the cheetah is high adaptable and still manages to hunt, despite tourist vehicles. Occasionally, cheetahs have even used the vehicles to blindside prey, using the vehicles to hide behind as they stalk. However, the intolerable pressure on cheetahs, the sheer-number of vehicles, especially ring-fencing mothers with cubs needs addressing. Urgently.

“So, next time you’re on safari, please remember the cheetahs. Remember that they are fighting for survival. They need your help and respect. Give them room to walk. Give them the space and time to hunt. Never encircle them. You’re just as responsible as the driver.”

Useful links:

International Cheetah Day

Cheetah Conservation Fund

Mara-Meru Cheetah Project

An excellent cheetah article by Dr. Elena Chelysheva (PDF)

The Essential Guide To African Photo Safaris | Part 3

Part 3 of my knowledge-packed 5-part guide to safari photography. This time, I’m discussing a ‘state of readiness’ and a golden rule of safari photography. Over time, this entire series will be re-edited and refreshed. Bookmark it now, so that you can refer back to it later…

A quick tip before we get going

You’ve made it through international check-in. Your baggage has arrived safe and sound. You flew from Nairobi or Kilimanjaro with your camera bag and let the tour operator transfer your luggage. You’ve arrived! It’s hot. It’s sunny. The savannah lies before you… Now what?! Well, if you’re not careful, sunburn. I know, it’s probably overly parental of me to show this level of concern, but then again, I am a Tour Leader. Sunburn is no way to start your safari. So, my first tip is to pack your hat and sunnies in your camera bag and slap on the sun lotion. Do this before you fly.

Why? Because, on your drive from the airstrip to your lodge or camp, you may spot something that you want to photograph. Chances are, it’s going to be in the middle of the day. You’ll be sat there, under the scorching equatorial sun, skin frying. Then you’ll have to spend the rest of the week wincing and cowering away from the sun. Not a great start. I speak from experience. My first ever drive in the Masai Mara… Photographing giraffe and hippos on the way to camp. Then sunburn, quickly followed by annoyance and frustration. So, this is what my Essential Guide is all about. Not just photography tips, but much more…

Caravan plane landing at Mara airstrip

Arriving in the Masai Mara. Photograph by © Elliott Neep. Photographed in Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya

Welcome briefings

First things first… upon arrival at your camp, you’ll be sat down (hopefully with a nice cold drink) and have your welcome briefing. As well as telling you about the layout and facilities of your accommodation, it’s the camp’s obligation to inform you of the potential risks. “Risks?!” Yes, there are certainly risks and dangers on safari that you need to be aware of.

Fundamentally, you’re now in the middle of a vast wilderness. An unfamiliar environment. You’re surrounded by hugely powerful, dangerous animals. You need educating. So listen. Even if you’ve been on safari before. Every camp has their idiosyncrasies, whether it’s a resident leopard or local hippo pool. Briefly, the main risk to your well-being is you. More specifically, your lack of experience and potentially naive ignorance of where you are and how to behave.

Know the risks

Most visitors to Africa are well aware of the obvious risks like malaria and drinking water. But, for some reason, even the most level-headed, intelligent people seem to forget themselves when on safari. As if by magic, they turn into infants, the moment the plane touches the airstrip. Please act responsibly and follow instructions and rules set down by the camps and guides. They are for your benefit, not theirs. They are in place to keep you safe.

Hippos and more!

Many of the camps in the Masai Mara are located in bushy scrub and woodlands bordering the Mara River or Talek River. Consequently, this means hippos! They emerge from the rivers at night, climb the river banks, wander through the camps and woodland and graze on the savannah. Hippos are lethal. Period. You do not want to come face to face with a hippo in the dark, or at any other time. Other animals that may wonder through camp at night include: Lions, Leopard, Hyena, Elephant, Buffalo. They can all put a swift sad end to your safari.

The single rule that applies to everybody (including us guides) is: Never leave your tent after dark, without an escort. The ‘escorts’ are local Maasai warriors known as “Ascaris” (pron. Ass-car-ree, translation. guard). They are warm, friendly people, keeping you and the camp safe from both man and beast alike. Needless to say, they’ve spent their entire lives side-by-side with these animals and know exactly what to do. Trust them and do exactly what they say.

Drinking water

It’s crucial that you stay hydrated and drink plenty of water. Dehydration is a serious issue. It might surprise you to know that the Mara-Serengeti Ecosystem lies at an altitude of 1,500–2,180 m (4,920–7,150 ft). The air is dry and the days are hot. You can quickly dehydrate, without realising it. But, people are afraid of drinking water because they don’t want to get ‘caught short’ out on the plain. Please drink plenty of water. At least two litres per day. Most common cases of illness, out on safari, can be linked to dehydration – dizziness, light-headed, lethargy, headaches.

Most of the camps and lodges in the Mara-Serengeti are now trying to reduce the amount of plastic that they use. The camps I use, like Entim Mara, have central water coolers and issue every guest with their very own reusable water bottle – a stainless steel flask. It’s a great idea and I hope other camps catch on. When you see piles of plastic bottles washed up on the banks of the Mara River, you realise how pressing this initiative is. Safari vehicles usually carry cool-boxes and with a selection of chilled soft drinks and water.

Toilet breaks

For the shy and reserved Westerner, it’s the stuff of nightmares. You’re in the middle of an open plain, sitting with complete strangers, no trees or bushes, and you need to pee. Or poop. Urgently! What are you going to do?! Simply tell the guide. They will drive to the nearest area of trees and bushes. After the area has been checked for ‘wildlife’ you’ll be able to leave the vehicle and relieve yourself!

If there are no trees and bushes, then you will be asked to go around to the back of the vehicle. The engine is left running to disguise any ‘sounds’. Guides and drivers will keep an eye out for other vehicles and radio them if they are approaching. We always carry loo rolls and hand cleansers. It’s all very discreet and after a couple of turns ‘checking the tyre pressure’ or ‘marking your territory’, you’ll think nothing more of it.

Nikon lens pointing over the Mara River

Looking across the Mara River. Photograph by © Elliott Neep. Photographed in Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya

The First Game Drive A.K.A. “The Shakedown”

When visiting the Maasai Mara, I always prefer to take the first available flight from Nairobi’s Wilson Airport. This departs at approximately 10:30am. The flight is about 25-30mins, depending on which ‘stop’ you are. There are several airstrips in the Maasai Mara. The internal flights act like a bus service, stopping at each airstrip in-turn in a circular route, before returning to Nairobi. Once we’ve landed at our stop, grabbed the bags off the plane, we drive directly to camp in specialised safari Land Cruisers.

After the welcome briefing, some time to unpack and refresh, a spot of lunch, it’s time for your first game drive. There’s always butterflies. Sheer excitement and mouth-watering anticipation, for what awaits us out there on the savannah. Afternoon game drives leave camp between 3:00pm and 4:00pm, returning between 6:00pm to 7:00pm. Times vary with each tour operator, but you do have some leeway in this. If you only want gorgeous evening sunlight or you dislike the heat, then leave later. If you want to squeeze every second out of your safari, then leave earlier. It’s your call… unless you’re in a group. Then it’s decided by the Tour Leader.

Safari Briefing

I like to have my initial group briefing before the first drive. Although everybody is eager to get going, there is also a keen attentiveness. Really, I want to make sure everybody is on the same page: Ground rules for inside the vehicles; Photographer etiquette; General plan for the week ahead; Baseline settings for cameras and lenses; The spotting clock (front of the car is 12 o’cock, rear of car is 6 o’clock, etc).

Leopard on fallen tree (August 2007)

My first ever game drive in Africa and we encountered a female leopard. Photograph by © Elliott Neep. Photographed in Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya with Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II and 600.0 mm lens at ¹⁄₃₂₀ sec at ƒ / 4.0 on ISO 400

Shakedown

The first game drive is the “Shakedown”. This is your chance to get to know the vehicle, your driver/guide, sort out where you will keep you gear, familiarise yourself with beanbags and beanbag placement. Importantly, be ready. Some photographers are rather complacent with their first drive. They never expect to be ‘that lucky’ to see something worth photographing on their very first drive. Big mistake. Huge!

I can’t remember the last time I didn’t see something great on my first drive. More often than not, a leopard. Yes. A leopard! Check out that leopard shot above. That was from my first ever game drive in Africa and we encountered a female leopard in a yellow-fever acacia, that then sauntered down and climbed this fallen tree. You’re just not expecting to be that lucky. Even now, after more than ten years of safaris, I am shocked with amazement. But, at least I’m ready for it. Below, you’ll find my essential tips to speed up your reaction time. Combine them into your daily game plan as they will save you critical seconds.

Etiquette

Something rarely discussed (although damn well should be) is photographer etiquette, i.e. each passenger’s behaviour and responsibilities in the vehicle.

Movement

So, the one thing that will irritate fellow photographer when photographing (more than anything else) is excessive movement. If you are going to change shooting position – from sitting down to standing up, or vice versa – then tell your fellow photographers in advance. If you need to stand on the vehicle seats, please remember to take-off your shoes. It’s just good manners and nobody wants to get a muddy butt.

Most importantly, please keep movement to a minimum when people are photographing. When you’re looking through a super-telephoto lens, even the slightest movement can jar the lens. In low-light conditions, it could mean the difference between a sharp shot and camera shake.

Noise

If the vehicle stops abruptly near wary animals like antelope and zebra, followed by a frenzy of ripping velcro and sudden movements, the animals will be gone in a heartbeat. Always approach wildlife calmly and quietly, with lens covers and lens hoods already removed. Keep voices to whispers and try not to gesticulate, point, and wave your hands outside the vehicle.

Another major irritant to other photographers is the ‘focus beep’. Please turn this off before you start your safari. You may think it’s quiet, but for your fellow passengers, concentrating on their photography, it’s like an alarm bell!

Wildlife Spotting

Most, if not all drivers and guides use the ‘spotting clock’. For example, the front of the car and dead-ahead is 12 o’clock, directly behind is 6 o’clock, and so on. It helps everybody, if you spot something, to add the clock direction, e.g. “Lion at 10 o’clock!” Local guides have remarkable eyesight and it always blows my mind, just how they manage to spot animals at such a distance, in long grass, while moving. It’s incredible.

As much as the driver and guide can and do spot wildlife, there are usually 3 or 4 pairs of eyes in the back, that could help enormously. I’m talking about you, obviously. Passengers that sit behind the driver have an elevated 360° view. It’s essential that you continue to scan and look for wildlife. You have the advantage in being able to look further to the side and behind, without needing to concentrate on the road or track.

Ready, Steady, Shoot!

When you’re out on your game drives, always keep your camera to hand, powered on, with the lens cap OFF. Keeping your camera packed away in a camera bag (to keep it clean, I guess) will cost you. It’ll take time, fetching it out, unzipping, wrestling with velcro partitions, removing the hood and cap… It’s time you rarely have. I can practically guarantee the zip will snag, or the lens cap or hood will get stuck at that critical moment. You’ll also lose sight of the subject, while you dive down into your bag. Again, costing you valuable reaction time.

If you’re worried about dust, invest in a lens rain jacket (serves just as well as a dust cover) or slip the camera and lens into a pillowcase. With afternoon rains (common for migration season, November, February, March), dust will be minimal and nothing to worry about. For my larger lenses, I use neoprene hood covers that slip off in an instant. There are no nasty drawstrings that are guaranteed to get snagged.

Ready to shoot. Always!

Whenever I head out on a game drive, my camera is ALWAYS switched-on and ready to shoot, normally with a fresh battery and empty memory card. It’s NEVER stowed away. There is ALWAYS a spare battery and formatted memory cards in my front pocket. It’s good practice to keep formatted memory cards close to hand. If you fill a memory card, then replace it, only to find there are already images on there, you’re going to waste lots of time deciding whether to: delete some, format the card, find another card. Tick tock, tick tock… Every time I leave camp, my camera is set-up with:

  1. Aperture wide-open (f/2.8 or f/4);
  2. Centre focus point pre-selected;
  3. Continuous focus (AI Servo);
  4. Auto ISO ready;
  5. Lens switches set and checked. 

In fact, I go through this setup during the evening before. Then, I don’t even have to think about it in the morning. I know the camera is ready. If anything happens, I can grab the shot very quickly. I can experiment with compositions and refine the exposure, if the animal decides to hang around.

Pre-dawn departure

Nothing is more mystifying to me than photographers and wildlife enthusiasts, having paid oodles of cash for their safari, electing to stay in bed… Just to enjoy a leisurely breakfast?! Madness! Have a look at those shots above. They’re all shot between 6:00am and 7:00am. The vast majority of quality encounters occur in the twilight, blue, or golden hours. If you want great light and beautiful photographs, get out on the plains before sunrise.

If you’re still in camp, waiting for your fresh-cooked breakfast, by the time you hit the plains, it’s practically all over. The light will be fierce and the animals that haven’t already disappeared into the bush for shade, will simply stand around panting, until the late afternoon. Most camps offer picnic breakfasts, so there is no excuse for staying in camp, I don’t care how good the breakfast is. As the old saying goes…

“The early bird photographs the leopard and cubs in a beautiful acacia tree.”

In Broad Daylight

Once the sun is up and cooking (and it really can feel like somebody has opened the oven door), animals generally either seek shade or flop down in the grass. Passed 9:00am, plains animals seem to do very little apart from sleep, stand stock still, or chew the cud. The main drawback, for us photographers, is not the heat, but quality of light and the dreaded heat shimmer.

Unless it’s an overcast day, you’ll find that after roughly 8:00am, the light is harsh and blanching. As the morning’s haze burns away, the contrast increases and colour saturation decreases. Animal eyes appear black and lifeless and it’s all rather horrible. There are techniques for maximising your opportunities when the light is this fierce, such as hi-key and panning motion-blurs. I’ll discuss these techniques later.

With my photo groups, I’m usually back in camp for 11:00am at the absolute latest. That includes a picnic breakfast on the plains at around 9:00am and a slow drive back to camp. Full-day safaris are a thing of the past – they were rarely, if ever, productive and only made me tired and irritable. If I’m working on my own, I’m more inclined to finish earlier in the morning. I’ll breakfast at 9:00am, after squeezing everything out of the morning’s best light, then head straight back to camp.

Do I miss opportunities by coming home ‘prematurely’? Potentially. But you can never be everywhere at once. You will always miss out at some point. You just have to accept that. I prefer to prioritise the light. If I have a great sighting, I really want it to be with great light.

Cheetah Hunts

The one exception that’s guaranteed to keep me out on the plains, even in scorching sunlight, is the cheetah. Cheetah hunts are more about action than aesthetics. Yes, their eyes may appear black in this contrasty light, but this can be corrected in RAW processing (very easily) using the ‘Adjustment Brush’ tool. For me, it’s all about the stalk, the chase, and the kill.

Cheetahs can hunt at any time, day or night. It was thought, for many years, that cheetahs were purely diurnal hunters (active in daytime only). This has been proved to be an incorrect assumption. With the benefit of GPS trackers and starlight cameras, cheetahs have been recorded and documented hunting through the night. The cheetah’s predilection for daytime hunting is more aligned to the increased presence of lions and hyenas at night, than anything else.

However, it’s still reasonable to state that the middle of the day is prime cheetah hunting time. Especially where us photographers are concerned. Major plains predators (lions and hyenas) are either sleeping in the shade somewhere or back in their underground dens, respectively. During the day, there’s less competition and fewer animals willing to push full-grown cheetahs off a kill. But, it doesn’t take much. Even persistent jackals could eventually drive off a lone cheetah. I think that’s why I like cheetahs so much. Despite their size and speed, they remain the underdogs of the predatory hierarchy.


The significance of eye-level

The single, greatest move you can make, to advance your safari photography, is to change your shooting angle. It’s a golden rule. Arguably, the most important rule.

There is a temptation for most photographers to stand-up in the back of safari vehicles. All that long grass is in the way and you want a clear shot. Right? Wrong! I cannot stress the importance of this enough… Striking wildlife photographs are created from intimacy with the subject. You gain intimacy when you photograph a subject at its eye-level.

“Always photograph animals at eye-level or below.
If you’re below, then a large animal looks even more imposing.”

Take a look at the image slider above. Images #1 and #3 are taken from a standing position. The other images are from a seated position. It’s the same explosive scene. There’s behaviour, drama, and ferocity in all. However, the best by far are those taken from the seated position. The angle is lower. You’re at the same level as the fighting lions which pulls the viewer in much more intimately than the ‘overhead’ view.

Arguably, photographing from a standing position, looking down onto the animal will produce nothing more than touristy record shots. It’s unflattering for the animal and the background of scrubby grass is brought into sharp-relief. That’s not what you want. You want to strive for greatness. Aspire to be creative and artistic. Anybody can wave a lens at an animal and press a button!

When you sit down in the vehicle, you’re automatically at or near eye-level with the majority of animals on the savannah. OK, it’s not easy to be eye-level with a mongoose, but for big cats, elephants, antelope and zebra, you’re right in the ball park. With a telephoto, now aiming parallel to the ground, the background is automatically dropped out of focus. If you now focus the lens on the subject’s eyes and open the aperture wide (f/5.6, f/4), the foreground and background will be even more diffused. The subject is now isolated from the grass and ‘pops’ out of the image.

Diffusion Effect

This foreground/background ‘diffusion effect’ is relative to the subject’s distance from your camera. Essentially, the closer the subject, the more shallow the depth of field, the more diffused the foreground and background, at a given aperture (f/number). The lion images above were all shot at f/5.6. You can see how much more of the background is in focus, depending on the focus distance. Here are two examples to help clarify:

  • Photographing a subject 8m away, with a full-frame camera and a 500mm f/4 lens: At f/4, the depth of field would be 6mm. If the aperture is closed down to f/8, the depth-of-field is doubled to 12mm.
  • Photographing a subject 16m away, with a full-frame camera and a 500mm f/4 lens: At f/4, the depth of field would be 24mm. If the aperture is closed down to f/8, the depth-of-field is doubled to 48mm.

This is the reason why many wildlife photographers prefer big cats on termite mounds. It lifts them up, out of the grass, and brings them up above lens level. You can now see straight into their eyes, not down through their brow. Importantly, along with elevating the cats, the background is also thrown far away and becomes a soft haze of colour with the sky.

Closing Tip: A slight change in camera height can have a dramatic effect on the position of the horizon – lift your lens and you lift the horizon, drop your lens to lower it. It’s helpful to know when you’re composing a portrait and the horizon is cutting through the animal’s head from ear-to-ear.

Continue reading Part 4

Welcome to the new-look blog

As you may have noticed, NatureInFocus.co.uk has been given a refresh. It’s now a fully responsive site that will both look great and work as well as the large screen, desktop version. All the important information, latest posts, and feature articles are all available from the home page, without requiring to go to the other pages.

The main reason for the refresh is to bring the branding and menu layout in-line with my portfolio site at elliottneep.com. This hosts both my print portfolio and Rights-managed Image Library. I also felt that the previous entity was a bit ‘messy’ and I like white space and clean design.

My portfolio site at elliottneep.com has also been given a minor refresh. As I am continually adding new prints, the existing collections were growing too large for easy viewing. Therefore, the Print Collections have been categorised into these smaller collections:

  • Tiger: A gallery dedicated solely to the Bengal Tiger
  • Manes & Prides: A collection of African lion photographs, with males, females, and cubs
  • Spotted Cats: Cheetahs, Leopards, and Servals
  • Plains Giants: A collection dedicated into the elephant, rhino, hippo, and giraffe
  • Stripes & Horns: A new collection for zebra, antelope, and gazelle
  • Countryside: The home of my British wildlife collection, with a focus on the field and forest animals
  • Coast: Supporting collection featuring otters, seals, and puffins
  • Life on Ice: Exclusively for polar bears and penguins
  • Feathered Friends: A varied collection from all continents, including flamingos, pelagics, and little owl
  • Living Landscapes & Vistas: Animals in their environment and pure landscapes from Africa, The Arctic, and Antarctica

I hope you enjoy the new-look site. Any thoughts or recommendations? Feel free to comment below.

2019 Photo Safaris: Tigers, Polar Bears, and Great Migration

2019 is already shaping up to be a busy year for photo safaris! After teaming-up with David Lloyd earlier this year, we’re set to put on even more incredible photo safaris in the world’s best wildlife hotspots. If you haven’t travelled with David before, check out this blog post – a summary from my time co-leading the Great Migration in August.

Creative photography coming to the fore

As you’ll tell from that blog, David Lloyd Photo Safaris really focus on the creative aspect of wildlife photography. We’re not just getting you into the right place at the right time. We’re taking our role as Leaders to another level! We want you to be able to say you’re “a better, more creative, more visionary photographer” than when you arrived. You’ll learn an array of techniques, an arsenal of skills, to be deployed in all manner of situations.

Returning to the Arctic

I am also co-leading tours with Tatra Photography. I’ll be bringing my creative A-game to a ridiculously fantastic photo-expedition to the Siberian Arctic, in search of Polar Bears. So, below you’ll find my current itinerary for 2019. There is also a permanent Photo Safaris page, always accessible from the top menu.


Tiger's Gaze (December 2006)

Photograph by © Elliott Neep. Photographed in Bandhavgarh National Park, India with Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II and 300.0 mm lens at ¹⁄₆₀ sec at ƒ / 4.0 on ISO 400

Tigers of India with David Lloyd

A 9-day tour to the world-renowned Bandhavgarh National Park in Madhya Pradesh, India’s Tiger State. This trip has been designed so that we can see and photograph India’s magnificent Bengal Tigers for six days straight. Plus, we secure the best zones in advance for our twelve incredible drives within the National Park. To read more about this stunning tour, click here. To reserve your spot on this safari please send your enquiry email to email@davidlloyd.net

INCREDIBLE INDIA: You can combine this tour with Wildlife of India

The first Tigers of India tour immediately follows on from the Wildlife of India photo safari (see below). You can combine both amazing tours for a 24-day wildlife and tiger extravaganza! You’ll have a staggering 20-days in the parks 37 drives!

Tigers of India: Dates and Costs 2019

The cost of this all-inclusive safari is US$4,700 per person. Bookings are secured with a US$500 deposit per person, with the balance being required 12 weeks before. All payments to be made in $US. An optional single supplement is available at US$1200 extra. Single supplements are for single travellers who want their own room. Otherwise single travellers are paired with another traveller of the same gender.

30th Apr – 08th May 
07th May – 15th May

The first date here can be linked to our 16 day Wildlife of India Photo Safari. If you join us for both, then the cost of this safari becomes $4400 with the single supplement at $1100.

Never photographed tigers before? Click here to read my comprehensive guide to the Tiger Safari.


Through the forest (December 2005)

Photograph by © Elliott Neep. Photographed in Bandhavgarh National Park, India with Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II and 70.0-200.0 mm lens at ¹⁄₂₅₀ sec at ƒ / 2.8 on ISO 200

Wildlife of India with David Lloyd

Join us on a 16-day tour of India to photograph its amazing wildlife. This trip has been designed so that we can see and photograph as many species of Indian wildlife as possible. We’re going to Kaziranga, Satpura, and Bandhavgarh. Our 12-days in the parks gives us a total of 24-drives!

Kaziranga is where we will see and photograph Asian elephant and the prehistoric-looking and critically endangered Indian one horned rhino. Satpura is renowned for both Asian leopard and sloth bear. Bandhavgarh hosts one of the highest densities of tiger in India for virtually guaranteed encounters. We travel at the best time of the year for photography, in April and May when tigers and leopards are easier to find and photograph. To read more about this stunning tour, click here. To reserve your spot on this safari please send your enquiry email to email@davidlloyd.net

Wildlife of India: Dates and Costs 2019

The cost of this all-inclusive safari is US$8100 per person. Bookings are secured with a US$500 deposit per person, with the balance being required 12 weeks before. Payments to be made in $US. An optional single supplement is available at US$1600 extra. Single supplements are for single travellers who want their own cottage. Otherwise single travellers are paired with another traveller of the same gender.

15th April – 30th April

This safari can be linked to our 9 day Tigers of India Photo Safari. If you join us for both, then the cost of Tigers of India becomes $4400 with the single supplement at $1100.

Never photographed tigers before? Click here to read my comprehensive guide to the Tiger Safari.


Polar bear on ice floe No.3 (July 2012)

Photograph by © Elliott Neep. Photographed in Sjuøyane, Svalbard Archipelago with NIKON D800E and 600.0 mm f/4.0 lens at ¹⁄₁₀₀₀ sec at ƒ / 8.0 on ISO 200

The Wrangel Island Expedition with Tatra Photography

Make no mistake. This is an epic tour! In July 2019, we’re heading to the Siberian Arctic on a unique photographic expedition with Tatra Photography. I’ll be part of a team of three seasoned professional wildlife photographers, guiding you through this extraordinary wilderness. Your Tour Leaders for this incredible journey will be myself, Andrew Parkinson, and Ben Hall.

This mind-blowing expedition crosses the Arctic Circle and includes the isolated and pristine Wrangel and Herald Islands and a significant section of the wild North Eastern Siberian coastline. Wrangel Island is a breeding ground for polar bears (having the highest density of dens in the world), seals, walrus, and lemmings.

During the summer it’s visited by many bird species. Arctic foxes also make their home on the island. Cetaceans such as bowhead whales, gray whales, and belugas are regularly seen close to shore. Since the 1950s, reindeer and musk ox have also been introduced.

Wrangel Island Photo Expedition: Dates and Costs 2019

7th July – 23rd July with  Elliott Neep, Andrew Parkinson, Ben Hall

£500 Exclusive Discount To Newsletter Subscribers

Tour Cost: From GBP£8,495 (Including Flights)

As an exclusive offer to my subscribers, we’re offering a £500 discount. For more information and booking this incredible photography expedition, click here.

If you haven’t photographed in the polar regions before, my Gear Guide will come in very handy. Click here to view my essential kit guide for polar safaris.


Wildebeest crossing the Mara River No.2 (September 2010)

Photograph by © Elliott Neep. Photographed in Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya with Canon EOS-1D Mark IV and EF600mm f/4L IS USM lens at ¹⁄₁₀₀₀ sec at ƒ / 4.0 on ISO 400

Masai Mara Migration Photo Safaris with David Lloyd

These will mark our 12th year photographing the Maasai Mara and the 70th trip there since 2007.

The Great Migration is one of the most spectacular events in the natural world, sometimes referred to as the greatest show on earth. The migration is a movement of 1.5 million wildebeest with 400,000 zebra and 200,000 gazelles accompanying them along the way, making a total of over 2 million migrating from the Maasai Mara into the Serengeti in Tanzania between July and October. To read more about these iconic tours, click here. To reserve your spot on this safari please email me at email@davidlloyd.net

Highlights

Location
Our camp is located inside the reserve, close to the action with quick access to the main migration crossings on the river. We are located on the Mara River on one of the main crossing points where we can see wildebeest crossings from our camp itself, away from the tourist traffic found elsewhere.

Photographic Vehicles
Our new photographic vehicles have open sides and maximise the space and flexibility that a photographer needs. Each participant has a whole row of seats, as well as provisions for beanbags and clamps on the open sides and on the roof.

Lens Hire (new)
Lens hire is available from our base here in the Maasai Mara, so that you do not need to worry about the hiring and delivery and return of it in your home country. It also alleviates any potential problem of airline carry on weight restrictions. Currently we have 300mm f/2.8 lenses with matching 1.4 converters in both Canon and Nikon mounts.

Documentation
Included in the tour price is an exclusive 36-page book written by David entitled Photographing Wildlife in The Maasai Mara. Other documentation includes animal and bird lists, rules and ethics guidelines, and detailed maps of the area.

In Camp Workshops
We are also offering optional daily workshops in camp when we are not on drives, which will cover such topics as basic camera usage to wildlife photography techniques, focussing for wildlife, photographic composition, to flash and macro photography.

Lightroom and Photoshop Tuition
Included in the trip cost is tuition for image processing in either Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop. We demonstrate post-processing techniques as they apply to wildlife photography. Both colour and black-and-white treatments will be covered.

iMac Workstation Access
We have iMac workstations pre-installed with Photoshop and Lightroom so you can edit your images or backup your files.

Ground Transportation
Because flights from Nairobi to the Mara have strict weight restrictions on luggage of only 15 kg/person, we provide transportation for the rest of your luggage to the camp by road.

Masai Mara Migration: Dates and Costs 2019

Aug 03 – Aug 10 – With David Lloyd and Elliott Neep
Aug 10 – Aug 17 – With David Lloyd and Elliott Neep

The cost of this all-inclusive safari is US$5800 (2018) or US$6100 (2019) per person. Bookings are secured with a US$500 deposit per person, with the balance being required 12-weeks before. Payments to be made in $US. A single, optional supplement is available at $1200 extra. Single supplements are optional for single travellers who want their own room and tent. Otherwise single travellers are paired with another single traveller of the same gender.

New to African photo safaris? Need some fresh insight into recommended gear and techniques? Read my comprehensive guide right here.

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Photographic career began in 2002, freelancing as a commercial photographer. In 2005, I turned full-time 'wildlife pro', winning my first award and gaining agency contracts. Since then, I've travelled the world, photographing in the greatest wildlife hotspots.

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