2013 saw me spend some eleven weeks in Kenya, hosting three private and six group photo safaris as well as spending a couple of weeks with just myself and the animals for company. These pictures are what came out of those eleven weeks in terms of my own photography. Equally satisfying though, was the opportunity to play a role in realising the ambition of forty or so other keen photographers and to see them achieve their own photographic dreams too.
Meanwhile at home, it felt like I never stood still with British Wildlife Centre and London Zoo workshops as well as two shows of my pictures cumulating in Bronze Black and White exhibition in London in November.
The thumbnails below are all clickable so click on them to view a larger version.
Ask me what my favourite subject is and I’ll happily tell you, but today’s answer may be different from yesterday’s or tomorrow’s. But often it will be the leopard. February afforded me many opportunities, I think we encountered seven different individuals all told. Of the seven, it was Shujaa and Bahati who provided most of my pictures.
We never have off-season, almost every day yields a surprise, like the afternoon we encountered a lone black rhino just two minutes out of camp…
I had two hours of with this one for company, just him, me and my driver, and no-one else.
On another day, a hyena got in the way of the most picturesque misty river sunrise.
It’s so often all about the light. Sometimes just you just have use the light no matter what’s underneath it.
Don’t let anyone tell you it’s not about the equipment, because it is. Yes, you need to think about what you are doing and have all the relevant skills, but so much of it is about the gear you use too. My lenses of choice this year were a 400mm f/2.8 and a 35mm f/1.4 with some 70-200mm f/2.8 in between. The Nikon D800E is not what a lot of photographers would use for wildlife, but it suits me, so much so that I now have two. Some day I’ll write up a blog post about it.
I think I get the most satisfaction from making the simplest of portraits.
Every migration year is different, and every year can bring fresh images – so long as you look for them. Wildebeest do much more than leap fearfully into water, and as frankenstein as they appear, they have their own inherent beauty too. Look a little harder, and you find they have one of the more appealing of colour palettes of any antelope. The more you study any given subject, the more opportunities you will see.
I made my aerial photography debut in August too, and fortunately the balloon fly-by route was right on top of the wildebeest migration route.
To pair with my above statement about equipment, you do have to know what it can do and what it can’t do. There will be times when you will be witness to an unrepeatable encounter and the more familiar you are with your gear, the greater the odds are that you’ll get your picture. Maybe a few years ago I wouldn’t have got these pictures in the way I did here. I still mess up sometimes, but each mess up should really mean you won’t mess up next time.
This poor unsuspecting gazelle walked straight into these cheetahs, who just waited for it to venture a little closer before giving chase. They ran far and wide before heading straight back towards our vehicle, so while it was unfortunate for the gazelle, it was fortunate for the cheetahs and ourselves. This picture won inclusion into this year’s Sunday Times Magazine’s Animal Pictures of the Year edition.
When there’s a opportunity of a picture, you take it, but when there’s a opportunity to sacrifice that for an even better picture, you take a chance. That thinking in no small part resulted in this picture. While a few contemporaries went over there, we went a different way, and we got these pictures of two male lions fighting at close range. It doesn’t work every time, but when it does, it’s very satisfying.
Lions eat, and the one week where much eating was done was dubbed the Blood and Guts Tour by one enthusiastic member of our group.
While it’s always considerate to afford your subjects a respectable distance, at the same time you can never get too close. So a 400mm f/2.8 telephoto lens coupled with a 2x converter often gets me there.
For the zebra, it was a simple matter of aiming 800mm of focal length in the exactly right place and focusing right over the eye, all before he scoots off, which is usually within a second or so. It appeared nigh on impossible at first, but it often surprises what a little dedicated practice can do.
Black & White
One or two of these were taken in 2012, but I processed them as black and white pictures this year. The lion here is known by the name of Mohican, and to the Maasai guides he is known as the Perfect Lion.
Bronze, Black & White
In November I held a two week exhibition of black and white wildlife photography in Pall Mall, London. It was in collaboration with wildlife sculptor, Rosamond Lloyd (no relation). Along with ten sculptures in bronze by Rosamond, I exhibited some sixteen black and white photographs taken over the last four or five years. It was successful, and fun too, and it goes without saying there’ll be another one in 2014.
While Africa is twelve hours and several hundred dollars in airfares away, Richmond Park in London is only a fifteen minute taxi fare away. To have a place like Richmond Park so close has proven to be a valuable asset, by going there it keeps your eye in and provides wonderful opportunities for good wildlife photography so close to home in the city. My first pictures of 2013 were taken in January, in the snow.
Rest In Peace
In 2013 we lost two popular residents of the Masai Mara, Olive and Notch. Olive was a leopard made famous by the BBC’s Big Cat Diary, a mother to seven including that of Bahati. Sadly she fell victim to a lion at the age of thirteen. My own last encounter with Olive was just a couple of weeks before she died.
Notch was the oldest male lion in the Mara at fourteen, and given he hasn’t been seen for some nine or so months we have to now surmise he has also gone. I took my last picture of him in February this year. His legacy remains with his four adult sons who still reign supreme. He was one of my own favourite subjects, and he was the biggest, meanest, yet most endearing lion you could hope to meet.
This picture of Notch was taken in 2011, but I’m putting it in this post because I think it is entirely appropriate in his year of passing, and if you ever had the privilege of meeting Notch, I’m sure you’d agree.
If I could have afforded to post more pictures I would have done, but you have to draw a line somewhere. Anyway it’s always wise to hold a number back sometimes. If 2014 holds as much promise as 2013 yielded, and I meet similar expectations, then writing next years post will be enjoyable as this one was.
If you’ve come to this site for the first time, I run photo safaris to the Masai Mara. If you wish to join me in taking pictures in 2014 then I have a few spaces remaining on my Great Migration Photo Safaris here.
In the meantime, I trust 2014 will serve you well.